The trail had other plans.
It wasn't long at all before the AZT taught me a thing or two about hiking. Luckily, I'm a fast learning.
1) This isn't the PCT
The PCT is a beautifully maintained trail, free of rocks and debris. It is gently graded for pack animals and offers gradual climbs up the mountains. The PCT had spoiled me to a large degree. I was expecting to pull 20 mile days right off the bat. But this isn't the PCT.
The AZT starts off with a 3000 foot climb in the first 5 miles, up to 9000 feet. It doesn't gently acclimate you to the elevation. And it's windy. Windy and cold and dry.
Day one had me feeling the elevation and the steep inclines. It had me cursing the slow pace I had to maintain in order to climb those first 5 miles. It had me huffing and puffing and realizing pretty quickly that my 20 plus mile day pace was a pipe dream. Luckily, I always carry more food than I think I'll need.
2) This isn't the AT
The AT is a single trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. It is clearly marked at regular intervals with white blazes- on trees, on rocks, on fence posts. It is almost impossible to get lost on the AT. But this isn't the AT.
The AZT is more like a collection of existing trails that are connected by road walks and connector trails stretching from Mexico to Utah. A day's hike may take you on 5 or more trails as they criss cross their way along. Most of the time, the trail changes are marked with AZT signs or stickers. But not all of the time. It is quite easy to make a wrong turn on the AZT.
Which I did. On day one.
Leading me in a wandering, meandering path in the wrong direction.
3) I'm not in love with the shape of me
This past winter, I had a bout of the flu. Which turned into pneumonia. And then a lingering bronchitis that lasted for weeks. So when people would ask me "How are you training for your hike?", my answer was: "Trying not to get sick again." That was pretty much it. Try not to get sick.
On the bright side, I was able to make it to my start date without getting sick again. On the other hand, I wasn't nearly in the shape I had hoped to be in on day one.
Combine my lack of fitness with the difficulty of the trail and the confusing side trails and the result was: making poor decisions. Such as- continuing down a trail that I KNEW was going in the wrong direction. Pushing on when I KNEW I should stop and eat something. Making landmarks fit the trail description in the guidebook, rather than looking for the correct landmarks.
For somebody who considered herself a long trail veteran, I was making an awful lot of rookie mistakes!
4) The trail will provide
No matter what the trail, it always provides. More accurately, the trails are filled with trail angels who appear at just the right time to give you just what you need.
Just as I was finally accepting the fact that I needed to backtrack until I found the right trail, I ran into a couple of day hikers. The confirmed that I was, in fact, on the wrong side of the mountain. But I was close to the trailhead they started on, so they offered to give me a ride back into the town of Sierra Vista where I could regroup and get myself back to the trail.
And the very next day, I was able to secure a ride to the next section of trail from another trail angel.
I sure wasn't expecting to spend my very first night on the AZT in a hotel in town. But I sure was happy I learned these lessons early on.