Coming out of Oracle we felt great. Spirits were high and we were ready for big-mile days through the desert.
The first day out was lovely, very beautiful under blue sky with wispy clouds and slight breeze. Hiked steadily over rolling hills, no major elevation gain or loss, not much shade, a few miles of dirt road walking and a surprisingly good water source at a cattle tank. Heavy packs dug at our shoulders and we ate all we could to lighten the load. Eat, eat, eat, hike, hike, hike. We met Freebird, full-time thru-hiker, where the AZT and GET meet up (the GET jumps on the AZT for about 70 miles) and talked to him for a while about trails. Maybe we’ll see him on the CDT next year for his sobo hike. Felt very optimistic about hiking and trails and doing it all. Found a nice campsite a few miles later for sleeping under the stars, waxing crescent moon shining down on us.
And then I woke in the middle of the night feeling nauseous and feverish. Didn’t sleep much the rest of the night and in the morning felt awful. Belly sapping all my energy, couldn’t eat or even think of food. Hiking was slow and painful, stopping every two hours to lay down in the shade. The terrain through the tortilla mountains was easy at least so we were able to put some miles in. At every break I slept and Spider ate. A big siesta from 2-4 got us out of the sun and heat and our little naps helped us power through. Filled up on water at a cattle trough and cowboy camped in Ripsey Wash.
In the morning my stomach was better but still protested against food and drink so I took it easy. Beautiful, cool morning hike went up from the wash to an exposed ridge. Very hot afternoon was spent hiking more or less along the Gila River not in the lush green river border, but in the rocky hills beyond. Looked flat on the elevation profile but all the little ups and downs plus the heat and sun wore us down a little and the miles or no easier as the day went on. Saw our first rattlesnake, rattled us away while poised to strike, reluctant to move off the trail so we bushwhacked around it. Got water from the Gila then climbed up a little ways to camp.
Our big mistake was not getting more water from the river. We assumed the info we got from other hikers was sound and the water cache at the top of the 10 mile, 2000 foot climb was stocked and looked after. That we wouldn’t need any of the other water sources from there to Superior, so it didn’t matter if two of them were dry and one was vague.
We started hiking up out of the valley at 6am this morning and finished the long climb by 9:30, just as the sun was coming into her full power. It was a great climb, lots of gorgeous views and nice to get the ridge line breeze at the top.
When we saw the empty water cache, we were 11.5 miles from the highway into Superior. When we couldn’t find the cattle trough a mile down the trail uphill of a wash, when we knew the next two water sources were dry, when we saw we only had half a liter of water between us, we knew we needed to get down that mountain and get into Superior as quickly as possible. This was the hottest part of the day, there was no shade on the trail, and soon we would be in a situation we didn’t want to be in.
I have never been so thirsty. I was trying to swallow saliva as if it were water. I checked our progress every 20 minutes to see that we had hiked a mile and focused very hard on decreasing the distance between us and cold drinks. I fantasized about what I would drink first, about the best thirst-quencher, about how different drinks feel in my mouth. I did not pay any attention to be feet, my hips, my glutes, my back, or my shoulders, I just made sure each step landed and I was making progress down the trail. I prayed for breezes, visualized flowing streams, and checked to make sure Spider was close behind. I did not stop.
We made it to the highway. We hitched to the grocery store and went straight to the water section and chugged a gallon in the middle of the store.