Vail to Oracle, Arizona

April 8-We had 3.7 miles to get the the Gabe Zimmermann Trailhead. Last night and this morning lots of bikers have been passing by. As we were waking up, one exclaimed “a full on tent.” We laughed as he must of throughly we were riding the trail. We began the easy stroll towards the trailhead seeing lots of joggers as well. One biker told us “you know you guys are crazy!” I have been told that many times over the past few years. We cruised along winding around the trail and walking under I-10 under four lanes of traffic. We made it to the trailhead that had a trash can and a porta potty that he used. A nice woman stopped and offered us a ride into town. She has a home in Summerhaven and insisted we get her number to call her when we get there. She dropped us off at the Post Office and I realized I had the hours wrong. So a little after 9am, we were across the street eating 5 beef rolled tacos covered in cheese, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and some sauce. They were delicious!! We picked up my box and spread out the contents in the Post Office lobby. It was then time for a DQ blizzard. He resupplied at the Quick Mart as I hung out with the packs and let our devices charge. I had contacted a trail angel in Vail named Sandy. She met up with us along with her beautiful and soft dog Desi. She taught us a few names of the flora that we have been wondering about. She graciously took us back to the trailhead and pointed out the names of the mountain ranges. It is so much fun to meet trail angels along the way and we greatly appreciate your support. She also gave us a few hard boiled eggs that were delicious and a nice change from trail food. Thank you for your kindness and if we are back in the area we will meet up again.

We walked a quick .4 miles to a stream where we decided to wait out the heat of the day. It was so relaxing and rejuvenating as we rehydrated. It is quite windy today which is a pleasant treat. We decided it was time to leave our little oasis and begin hiking again. The trail wanders under the train tracks then back up to a road to go under another set of train tracks. As you turn the corner, you are surrounded by dozens of saguaro cactuses. It is such a beautiful sight and so close to a road that I highly recommend checking out this section. It was warm, but a slight breeze helped. We had to constantly move off the trail to let the bikers by. I also enjoyed staring at this huge castle on a mountain top. We had seen it this morning hiking it was a castle, but as you get closer you realize it really is. It does take something away from the feeling of being in the wilderness. We began a downhill on a steep edge toward La Posta which is part of Colossal Cave National Park. They currently do not sell any food at this location so we continued on. The trail winds around and around as you admire the variety of cactus. We also got to read some signs donated by REI about the history of the area.

We made it our next water source which was at a campground. There was a sign saying the site is reserved for a Cub Scout Troop. We enjoyed a few liters of cold filtered water and I ate a sandwich I had packed out from Vail. While Paperweight was in the bathroom, the troop leader asked if I was hungry and to come get a warm meal. We ended up eating a plate of greasy, meaty, and delicious jambalaya made by the Cub Scouts. The parents were wonderful and very welcoming. It was nice relaxing in a lawn chair and having a real meal rather then a rice side. They said we were welcome to stay, but we wanted to put in a few more miles so we bid farewell.

We spent longer at the campsite then we had planned, but the temperature had dropped. It felt wonderful as we cruised along. We ran into two guys looking for their friend participating in the bike race. They were looking for a bearded man… most of them were bearded. I joked that the last guys said there was beer at the next store and how that sounded so nice. Before I knew it, he was offering us each a beer from his pack. I was so excited and eagerly opened by Dale’s Pale Ale. (I first tried this beer on the CDT) we bid farewell smiling about what a wonderful day it had been. We barely ate any trail food and were showered with rides, story telling, a hot dinner, and a cold beer. We hiked on as the sun began to set. We searched for a campsite and it took longer then expected like usual. We luckily found as a spot just as darkness was falling. We are very efficient and before I knew it we were relaxing with a beer. What a magical day! Beauty everywhere, a variety of plant life, kindness all around, and sharing these memories with a very special person. Today may be our favorite day yet on trail! We had covered 13.1 miles as well with a town visit and lots of breaks. To many more wonderful days full of surprises. 

April 9th-

We woke up early again hoping to beat the heat of the day. The trail was mainly flat the first few miles and we walked quickly in the cool temperatures. We have entered the land of giant Saguaro cactuses and it is unbelievable. I am in awe! 

We entered Saguaro National Park where I still continued too look behind me expecting a bike rider to come zooming by. Luckily, it is a wilderness area so bikes are not allowed. The trail is well made and winds uphill. We have a reserved campsite tonight so there is not worry about where we will be camping. It was warm, but a steady breeze really helped. 

We made it to a water source that is just two pools of water in the rocks. Earlier in the season it would have been a stream. We sat down filtering water and chatting in the shade. When I saw it, my first ever Gila Monster. We jumped up and moved a bit closer as the Gila Monster was drinking from our water source. It saw us and proceeded to swim away into the rocks! It was an amazing experience and I felt so lucky to see my first Gila Monster. They are considered a “Monster” because of the hissing sound they make and that they can inject poison with their bottom teeth. They are very slow moving animals and if you got bit you must be way too close. They are officially my new favorite reptile. 

After the excitement, we packed up and continued the uphill climb. The trail has nice stone steps making it easy climbing. The views got bigger as did many of the plants! This is a gorgeous National Park. We had a nice lunch break together before pushing uphill for a few more miles. You can see for miles and before we knew it we had done our 13.4 miles to Grassshack Campsite. We got there a bit before 3 and set up in tent site 1. We could listen to the sound of flowing water and relax the hours away. I enjoyed the use of a privy even though hornets have a few nests in there. We both drank lots of water, snacked, and just chatted. I laid out my thermarest and lounged in the shade. This is what camping is all about. Often, we find ourselves hiking most of the day with minimal breaks, but on this thru hike we plan to relax more. We are not in too big of a rush this time around. It was a lovely climb and an even better way to end the day.

April 10th-

We slept great listening to the sound of flowing water. We collected all our belongings from the bear vault and ate a quick breakfast before the rest of the climb. Yesterday, we climbed a little over 3,000 feet and have 3,300 to go. The trail is so nicely built and it felt great doing the climb in the early morning hours. He got ahead of me as I took my time going nice and slow listening to the Moth Podcast.

I made it up to Manning Camp to be surprised at the beauty of the camp and all the resources. It says the campsite is at 8,000 feet and it was quite chilly up there. I joined Paperweight at a picnic table where we ate our second lunch. Manning Camp was built in 1905 by the mayor of Tucson as a summer retreat. It is now used by the National Park Services as a base camp for trail maintainers, researchers, and rangers. The building is on the list of National Register of Historic Places. I truly love coming across places like this. We had the whole site to ourselves until two small deer snuck into the horse corrals for a little lunch. Large ponderosa pines surrounded us as we rehydrated before packing up to finish the climb.

We walked together towards the top where we ran into a ranger and two National park service employees. They were out today surveying. We were a bit disappointed to not have an epic view as the trail does not climb to any summit. As we were heading downhill, we found a spot where we walked a bit off trail to see the beauty of the land below us. Wow!! We took a short break on a log before starting downhill. I’d still rather climb up as it does not hurt the knees as much. 

We met a couple from Switzerland and an older man who said he stayed at Manning Camp in the 1970s. I wish we had more time to chat with him. We enjoyed a long downhill for miles as the birds sang and we got closer to the desert floor. Down for hours until we came to a road crossing and the trail continues up and down through small washes. The sun was beginning to set as we neared a possible campsite.

We found a nice sandy wash to set up camp. It got very dark when we arrived and we watched the full moon rise to lighten up the campsite. My feet ached so badly! I was so uncomfortable and look forward to new shoes in Oracle. When you find your brand, you should stick with them. We also hiked 18.3 miles so that could be another reason my feet are so tired. We stretched out in the tent, looked at Guthook’s App to see what tomorrow would bring, and drifted to sleep as the moon shone bright without the rain fly on.
April 11th-
It was nice and chilly in the wash when we woke up to eat breakfast. Too bad it wouldn’t stay a comfortable temperature all day. The trail is very easy this morning as we made really good time. We had a planned break at our next water source which is actually a flowing stream. We are lucky that is still flowing as it may not be in a few weeks. We both filtered a few liters of water before packing up our things.

I left our morning break spot first and within five minutes I was frozen on the trail watching my second Gila Monster. The Gila monster was slowly making its way up the trail and it did not seem concerned at all by me. I could not see paperweight behind me so I continued to take pictures. When I finally saw him, I started doing a little dance and hurrying him along. He couldn’t believe it as he started taking a video. The Gila monster slowly moved off the trail and into the bushes. 

The two of us decided to walk together since it was an old dirt road. The trail turn back into one path and I took the lead. We had a steep climb uphill for a few miles. Towards the top of the climb paperweight pointed out an unusual noise. It was the sound of hundreds of bees coming our way. Suddenly, I’m guessing 300 to 400 bees zoomed over our heads. I felt like I was in a movie as I never experienced anything like that before. We continued to climb and took a break at the top staring down at the highway that would lead into Tucson. We are skipping this town since neither of us love big cities.

The downhill it’s just as steep as the uphill was. There were lots of people bike riding on the highway in a few old cars. We cross the road and into a picnic area. We both tossed our trash before heading uphill again in the heat. I was dripping with sweat so we both pulled out our umbrellas. He helped me rig it up so I wouldn’t have to hold at this time. The umbrella made a huge difference, but I was still sweating. We pushed on until we came to a parking area at the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground. This site was home to one of the many Japanese Internment Camps during WWII. A few days I had just listened to a history podcast about these camps so it was an interesting feeling being here. It is a beautiful part of our country and so sad that so many people were moved away from their homes and forced to live in these camps. We sat under a tree surrounded by ants to snack and wait out the heat of the day. 

We finally got moving around 3:30 as it was a bit cooler. I left first and felt strong so I moved quickly. Shreve Saddle rewarded me with a new view of Arizona and what climb awaited me. The trail is on the side of a cliff which is my favorite type of trail. I waited for him to catch up so we could take a few pictures together and hike the rest of the evening together. We met a man who said this area is “the Yosemite of Tucson.” I agree! 

We began dipping down to Sabino Canyon where we found a huge campsite to set up. We both filtered water and relaxed. I had to climb into the tent because the nasty noseeums, which are tiny buys the size of a pencil tip, were driving me insane. I didn’t even cook tonight, but rather snacked inside the tent. We covered 15.9 miles today and saw some beautiful parts of Arizona. I’d highly recommend hiking north from the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground. It is on our list of places to visit again. 

April 12th
Woke up early and packed up to get on the trail before the sun got too hot. The trail dips down for the first mile or so past a beautiful swimming hole. I could’ve spent all day here, but we chose not to stop knowing we had to do our miles. This is one of the negatives of through hiking. At this point, the trail begin to climb up from the canyon floor. Everything is in bloom in the desert and a variety of cactus still amaze me. We had a quick water and snack break before heading towards Ramero Pass. This part of the trail is easy walking as it wasn’t too hot.
After the past, the trail climbed steeply uphill. It reminded me of the Appalachian Trail as .3 miles took me over 15 minutes to climb. My calves are burning and I zoned out to my music to make the miles pass. This is wilderness area for many reasons as a bike would never make this climb. The one thing about climbs like this is the views are unreal. I was covered in sweat by the time we made it to the top. This is Mt Lemmon and the views did not disappoint. We entered a land of huge rock formations. My eyes were looking in every direction trying to take in the beauty.
We maneuvered our way around the rocks until we made it to our water source. We were both defeated and took a long break here. After an hour and a half, we began hiking again. We were back in the forest with lots of water sources running. The plan was to get to the town of Summerhaven to get some drinking water and charger phone as we were told everything closes at 4.

We made it into Summerhaven around 4:45 expecting everything to be closed as we had heard. The first place we passed was the Cookie Cabin and it said Open until 5. We bought a root beer float and two scoops of ice cream with all the toppings! What a treat! As we were walking to the store, the woman who drove us into Vail stopped to say hello. We bought chips, dip, a postcard, and he grabbed a big beer for our dinner. The town has a public restroom and the water fountain is marked as our water source. We hung out in that room charging our phone, using the bathroom, and free wifi. What a tough life! 

We walked up the paved road and realized we were on the Sky Island Scenic Byway. The trail turns down past the fire station towards the trailhead. Our app told us there would be a campsite to the right. We were surprised to see two tents set up and did not think they were thru hikers. We found Herbert and Monica, the couple from Switzerland and Richard who are all thru hikers. It was nice to have some company to chat with tonight. We all hung out until it got dark and the two of us finally set up our tent. We hiked 15 miles today and camped with other hikers for the first time in days. It was a clear night as usual as I admired the night’s sky. 

April 13th

At 4:50, our alarm clock went off and without hesitation we began packing up in the darkness. We tried to be quiet so we wouldn’t wake up the other hikers. We packed up and walked uphill from the campsite to a trailhead. There was a huge rock I climbed onto to eat breakfast. We got started as the sun was beginning to rise. It was a nice way to start the morning with a cool breeze. We were on the wrong side of the ridge for a sunrise, but enjoyed the hiking. There was still a bit of climbing, but we were motivated by getting to Oracle.

There were few campsites along the way so we were happy we camped where we did. Lots of lizards were zooming out in front of us. Stunning views looking back at Mt Lemmon and what laid ahead. We called the owner of the hotel and set up a time to be picked up at the trailhead. As we neared town, we came across three groups of trail crews bettering the trail. We met Serena who is the trail steward for this section. She was lovely and happy to hear we were loving our experience so far. We talked to some of the workers who are all in there early 20s and from all over the country. Thank you all so much for your work. We were also told that Serena did a lot of public out reach to the local businesses explaining that we are not homeless, but thru hikers. The Arizona Trail Association has done a wonderful job with their public outreach and gateway communities. 
At noon, we were at the trailhead early for our ride. We hid under the shade and looked at what was ahead of us in the next section. Marney, the owner of the Chalet Motel, picked us up and whisked us away to her hotel. She showed us the laundry room and to my surprise two litters of kittens. 4 larger ones and 4 that were only a few weeks old. I was in love! I have never held such a small kitten. Paperweight is in trouble! The hotel is a bunch of small A frame rooms that were cozy and comfortable. 
It has been a long time since we showered. Every time I would lift my arms up high I would cringe at the smell of myself. I was shocked to look into the mirror and see the mess that my hair had become. It had been left in a braid since we hiked out of Vail. I knew it was nasty, but I had a difficult time undoing the braid. I honestly thought I might have to cut it out… but with lots of time and effort it came undone. Lots of conditioner helped as well. It was the best shower I’ve had in a very long time. It was a long 10 days and 150 miles of desert walking. 
We had a delicious early dinner at Casa Rivera and brought home left overs. We did our resupply at the dollar store. We chatted with #2 and Paddler for a bit. We enjoyed a cold beer outside before spending the rest of the day lying in bed watching comedy channels. A perfect way to end a long hiking section. 

April 14th

Today marks our first zero day on the Arizona Trail. It was an easy day in the life of thru hikers. We got a ride to a delicious restaurant for breakfast, Patio Cafe, where we also each bought a slice of pie for later. We spent the majority of the day lying in bed watching tv while blogging, uploading photos, and catching up with family and friends. We made the short walk down the road for another meal at the Mexican Restaurant, Casa Rivera. Then it was back to the hotel room to watch a few shows and relax. My calves and feet have been pretty sore today so a zero day was needed. I know I’m not going to be able to convince him to take a double zero since we need to get out of the lower elevation before the 90s hit.


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