Yakushi the van and I depart the lovely and enchanting Gila River Wilderness in New Mexico, bound for Pine, Arizona. I seek familiar footing on the Arizona Trail. I’m remembering the colorful red rocks, vibrant cacti, and rough aligator bark junipers in this this transitional stretch between northern and southern Arizona at the edge of the Mogollon Rim. It was here in the fall of 2018 that I had been hiking with Mary and Dan and met Tarek and Andrea before we all assembled at THAT Brewery with David over burgers and beer.
This time it’s just me and my van and I’m only here for a few nights. I arrive on a Wednesday afternoon, I think, and van camp here for the night.
Thursday morning I wake and get ready for one night on the trail. I get a text – it’s Billy (Shepherd), a friend from the PCT, who is continuing on his Arizona Trail hike with a few friends including Herro, another PCT friend. He’s wondering if I’m still in Arizona because he’s hiking into Pine tomorrow. No way, I’m here now! And wait, is that his van parked in the corner? I thought it looked familiar. We’ll meet up tomorrow.
I set off on the trail headed north and mostly uphill. Familiar red dirt, manzanilla and oak, expansive views. I’m in my head when I hear a rattle and jump back, just a few feet from a coiled diamondback rattlesnake. Shit! That was close. I should have attached that dang osha root to my shoes, but forgot. Osha is supposed to keep rattlesnakes away. After another few miles I run into a few young hikers – Kara and Meow Meow – when they ask for ibuprofen. I share some meds and tape for Kara’s blistered feet and learn they’re friends with Andy, another hiker I know from the PCT, who started the company Pa’lante packs. Such a small world. I continue on and stop for a hammock and water break at Webber Creek. Four hikers from Phoenix arrive to set up camp, we chat, and I take off up the trail for a few more miles. Past a dude in his underwear washing up in the creek. Ok. At 4pm I turn around and head back to the spot at Webber Creek, thinking I might camp here with the Phoenicians. I show up just when a ranger arrives and tells the folks here they have to move out of the flood plain. Onward it is. The desert sparkles, bathed in lovely waning pink-tinged light. Dusk is always the best time to be on trail. I trek on for a few more miles and set up solo at a random switchback nook. Flat enough. Peeks of purples and oranges in the sunset. Ramen, tuna, hot chocolate dinner. Podcast and read.
Friday morning I’m up and at ’em. I pack up after coffee and have my oatmeal further down the trail. A handful of miles later, I’m back at the Yakushi and the Pine trailhead. Lo and behold – Shepherd, Herro, and friends! Such a great and random encounter with trail pals. No hugs in these covid times. I check out Shepherd’s VW van and give a tour of my Hiace. Then back to Flagstaff…