Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 4 - More Good People

by Kathy Monday, May 16th 2016

On the morning of April 2nd, Dave Baker drove us back to the exact spot we exited the trail two days earlier.  Dave Boyd joined us as we cruised through the Rincon Mountains, camping at the beautiful Grass Shack site, which was equipped with a babbling brook.  The next day, we split off from Dave at Italian Spring and began a grueling descent along the North side of the Rincons.  This section took a toll on all of us and we camped about three miles short of our goal in Tanque Verde Canyon, which was flowing nicely.  We got up super early the next morning with high hopes to make up a few miles. 

April 4th was one of toughest days I've ever had hiking.  It was hot and we knew it would be.  Despite drinking six liters of water and supplementing it with electrolyte capsules, I struggled mightily all day. I had no energy in my body and no appetite.  Dinny and Gary did much better than I did, even though they're from England and I'm a native desert rat!  To add insult to injury, this passage ended with a punishing 1,000 ft. climb at the very end and then finally plunged into Molino Basin Campground in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Prior arrangements had been made, and my good friend Royce Marion was there for us when we staggered in after twelve hours of tough hiking.  She brought us treats: avocados, cold beer, fruit juices, salty potato chips and what have you.  This Trail Angel also went above and beyond the call of duty...she provided each of us a clean damp face cloth with a dab of peppermint soap in it!  What an unexpected, refreshing magnificent treat!  This kind and thoughtful act truly aided our recovery and we had a fabulous evening camping out in Molino Basin.  As you will see, Royce helps us immensely again higher on the mountain...

The always refreshing Hutch's Pool

The next day, we knew it was going to be really hot again AND we were aware of the monster day awaiting us the day after; therefore, we decided to pull up short and "rest" at Hutch's Pool.  Hutch's Pool is a spectacular swimming hole and I have been cliff jumping here since I was in the seventh grade.  We arrived in mid-afternoon while it was still warm and took a very refreshing dip, which re-energized us.  Boy, were we going to need energy...

The next morning, boots were on the ground at 5:30 sharp.  We needed to gain 4,139 ft. in 10.3 miles.  It was hot as well.  This climb truly challenged me, both physically and mentally - I felt like Rocky Balboa taking one huge hit after another and refusing to go down.  Gary and Dinny felt beat up, too.  In fact, Gary had a "heat episode" and barely made it to camp at Marshall Gulch that afternoon.  We got Gary hydrated with a salt capsule supplement and he was in bed at 6:30PM.  At this time, I received a text from Royce asking if we needed anything the next morning in Summerhaven.  I asked Gary and Dinny and a very faint voice from Gary's tent uttered, "Orange mango juice..."  You see, two days earlier at Molino Basin, Gary had orange mango juice from Royce and absolutely loved it.

Deer carcass on Oracle Ridge

The next morning, April 7th, we popped over the ridge into Summerhaven at 9AM and Royce was there for us with a warm meal: breakfast burritos stuffed with egg, potato and cheese...plus a nice selection of salsas!  We did not ask for this scrumptious surprise!  We devoured this delicious fare, washed it down with a big bottle of orange mango juice (Gary had three glasses) and then headed North down the backside of the Catalinas via the Oracle Ridge Trail.  I have phenomenal friends!

Early morning on Oracle Ridge

Even though it was a 3,365 ft. descent into the Oracle, AZ area, it was arduous - the steep grade covered with loose cantaloupe-sized stones made for weary legs and wobbly ankles.  A storm was moving in as well, so we pulled up little short and made camp on the ridge in a protective stand of trees.  Besides, the next day we had a short hike into Oracle for a rest day.  It rained during the night and I was tucked into my warm Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag in my dry Nemo tent, happy and content.

Dinny and Gary at the Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, AZ

Dinny and Gary had a reservation at the Chalet Village Motel in Oracle, AZ and invited me to stay with them.  Marney and her husband Jim own and operate the Chalet and have for almost thirty years.  We were about to be amazed... We called Marney from the High Jinks Ranch to give her a heads up we were about an hour away.  She picked us up at the Anerican Flag Trailhead, gave us cold bottles of water and was extremely pleasant.  As we drove to the Chalet, she offered to stop anywhere we needed.  Once at the Chalet, she showed us the free laundry facilities and provided us loaner clothes while we did our laundry.  She also had put a variety six-pack of Mexican beers in our refrigerator (on the house).  As we did our laundry and got all our gear re-organized, she checked in with us periodically to see if we needed anything, or, a lift to the store.  The rooms at the Chalet are clean, cozy and quirky and we had a fun and restful night.  In the morning, Marney brought fresh hot coffee to our room and asked when we wanted to leave for the trailhead!  She drove us back to the American Flag Trailhead and even stopped at the Dollar Store on the way so we could pick up some last minute items.  Marney is truly thru-hiker friendly and provides exemplary customer service with a positive and upbeat attitude at a very, very fair price.  I highly recommend Marney's Chalet Village Motel for thru-hikers and anyone else visiting and exploring the Oracle area.  Marney truly is a Trail Angel.

Inside the Chalet...

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Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 3 - Good People Along the Way

by Kathy Wednesday, May 4th 2016

Now that the "Gurus of Trail Angelism," Dave & Dave, were totally onboard, things started to smooth out a bit for me.

Campsite outside Patagonia with Mt. Wrightson in the background

I woke up the morning after the Patagonia resupply just in time to meet two other thru-hikers ambling up Temporal Gulch Rd.  David Kurneta and Jordan Burke are hiking the AZT as participants in a program called Warrior Hike.  Warrior Hike is for combat veterans and entails a tedious and competitive selection process.  Jordan served in Afghanistan; David served in Iraq - they applied for the AZT and were chosen out of hundreds of applicants.  The therapeutic benefits of thru-hiking long trails are amazing and that's how Warrior Hike came to be.  After the hiking is done, these combat veterans re-integrate into civilian life better than utilizing traditional therapy and medications.  And check this out - Jordan had NEVER backpacked before and he is excelling on the very difficult 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail!  Check out warriorhike.com for more information.  The Warriors and I ended up hiking together for several days and I enjoyed their company.

David Kurneta and Jordan Burke - Warriors on the AZT

The next day was Easter Sunday and Dave & Dave met me at Kentucky Camp for a resupply... and more.  A few days earlier at a resupply stop, they noticed that all my fingers were cracked wide open near the nails.  This was quite painful, made simple everyday hand tasks difficult and posed a threat for infection.  In addition to my normal resupply provisions, treats, and cold beer, Dave Boyd also brought everything necessary to remedy my beat up fingers...and I had never mentioned anything about it.  He had several gallons of WARM Epsom Salt solution, a soft cleaning brush, Neosporin, cotton sleeping gloves and a bottle of Super Glue Gel.  After soaking, cleaning and sealing the cracks, my fingers were 100% healed and functional within twelve hours AND I have not had a problem with this since.  Dave & Dave are compassionate, generous, thoughtful  and loving human beings.

On day nine (March 30th), I met two more thru-hikers near Colossal Cave.  {At the time of this writing, it is day forty-two (42) and we're still traveling together!}  Dinny Pocock and Gary Halliwell are avid hiking buddies from Gloucestershire, England and have always wanted to hike a long trail in America; moreover, this is her FIRST time in the United States.  We linked up in camp that evening and I liked them right away - they immediately felt like kindred spirits.  We got to talking and I realized they could use a hand with a rest day, a resupply and a permit for Saguaro National Park.  I already had plans the next day for a rest day at Dave Boyd's gorgeous home in X-9 Ranch, so I quickly texted him regarding my two new friends.  Well, Dave & Dave had previously met Dinny and Gary near Patagonia and really liked them too!  You guessed it - Dave & Dave immediately took them under their collective wings and treated them just as wonderfully as they were treating me!  It was a beautiful experience to witness and will stay with me forever. 

Dinny, Gary and I atop Mica Mt., the highest peak in the Rincon Mts.

The three of us left the La Sevilla Picnic Area of Colossal Cave Mountain Park together and only had to hike about six miles to X-9 Ranch Road, where Dave Boyd picked us up.  We were treated like royalty by both the Baker and Boyd families during our day-and-a-half rest/resupply period.  Kindness, gourmet snacks, hot showers, cold & delicious IPA's (Dragoon and Hop Shock!), magnificent home-cooked dinners, big cozy beds and interesting conversation were all provided for us in 5-Star Accommodations!  But wait, there's more: The next day, Dave Boyd drove us all around Tucson to get supplies and whatnot.  First we visited the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center and got our permit for Grass Shack squared away. We went to Summit Hut, where I fit Dinny's feet for a new pair of hiking boots and Gary and I picked up a few things.  We stopped by my house so I could grab a few items.  Dave treated all of us to a fabulous lunch at Zayna Mediterranean Restaurant.  I got dropped off at Great Clips and had all my hair cut off.  We went to grocery stores to buy food for the hike.  The busy day culminated with a delicious home-cooked Mexican dinner at Dave and Irene Baker's gorgeous home in X-9 Ranch.  The previous night, Dave and Debbie Boyd treated us to a scrumptious home-cooked vegetarian lasagna feast.  This hiking trio was absolutely blown away by this outpouring of generosity and support.

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Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 2 - A Shaky Start

by Kathy Wednesday, April 20th 2016

Almost everybody has many demands on their time; I am in this group.  Long story short, I started the AZT exhausted.  Because I was exhausted, I needed some rest and therefore got a late start leaving Tucson for the trailhead in Mexico.  Thankfully, I was well organized ahead of time, so it could have been much worse.  In any event, Nick and I pulled up to Montezuma Pass at about 11AM, grabbed a few items and headed to the Mexican border.  

You cannot drive to the southern starting point of the AZT.  You park at Montezuma Pass and hike 1.8 miles to the border, dropping 730 feet.  Then, you start the AZT.  Nick and I had a celebratory beer on the border and then headed back to Montezuma Pass.

I ate an avocado, banana and a protein bar, shouldered my backpack and started walking - it was 2PM, extremely windy and my Deuter backpack was fully loaded with enough provisions to get me to Patagonia, AZ...or so I thought.

My butt was handed to me on this first day!  With 1,225 feet of elevation gain in the first couple of miles, a "heavy" pack and wind gusts up to 50 mph, which literally blew me off my feet several times as I traversed the Crest Trail high in the Huachuca Mountains, I only covered about four miles on my first day.  I had planned to go 17.5 miles on day one.  I finally found a tiny patch of flat ground out of the wind and made camp at 6PM.  There I was - tired, cold and already a whole day behind schedule.

The next morning, I pulled it together and made it to Scotia Canyon, where I planned to be on first night.  Got up early, was hustling and missed a turn early in the day.  My internal compass alerted me after about 5/8 of a mile, so I backtracked, found the route and headed to the Canelo Hills, which had   A LOT of adventure in store for me.

As I was cruising through the Canelo Hills East, a helicopter popped over a ridge and hovered over me aggressively.  I truly did not know what the pilot was trying to communicate to me with his hand signals, so I gave him the thumbs up and kept hiking.  He instantly pulled away from me, but did not leave.  That bird landed in a precarious spot in the Canelo Hills!  Moreover, the pilot jumped out and ran after me yelling, "Stop!  Stop!"

So I did.  As it turned out, this was a Cochise County Search & Rescue helicopter looking for a lost hiker wearing a long sleeved light blue shirt and khaki pants.  That's exactly what I was wearing.

As the day wore on, I realized I was virtually out of food - I was supposed to be in Patagonia tonight getting a resupply from Dave Baker/Dave Boyd.  I was not going to make it.  Remember, I was a day behind my initial itinerary.  From a high saddle, I sent them a text message.  They met me at Canelo Pass Trailhead, where I'd be camping that night, with all kinds of goodies, smiles and encouragement. 

Even though Dave & Dave saved the day on the night of the third day, I still needed a resupply the following day in Patagonia.  I was too cold, tired and overwhelmed with everything to think clearly that night.  I set my tent up in the dark as they drove away and managed to eat dinner - Dave Baker had gone to the Summit Hut and picked one of my favorite vegan entrees, Backpacker's Pantry "Pad Thai." 

Fred Ronstadt Hardware Company - Tucson, AZ

I woke up and was grateful for the generous assistance Dave & Dave had given me.  I was also psyched to get to Patagonia - it was only 16.6 miles away.  As I was hiking through the Canelo Hills West, I took pictures of some cool stuff.  A fully functional windmill from the Fred Ronstadt Hardware Company, Tucson, AZ...An intriguing man made rock structure that seemed to be a gigantic hearth that morphed into a tiny house...I walked up to this rustic building through the tall grass to take my photo and that's when I spotted it - a large thick Mojave Green Rattlesnake cruising through the curves in the layers of rock.  This guy never rattled.  I saw him lift his head and make eye contact with me...oh those hooded eyes!  He immediately approached me...my heart stopped beating and I ran away without a picture of the King of the Mojave Mansion.  Due to the additional neurotoxin Mojaves deliver, a bite while in an extremely remote area like this would have most likely be fatal.  I was shook up for days following my encounter.

The 'Mojave Mansion' - Canelo Hills, AZ

Even though it was only 16.6 miles, it was a long 16.6.  It was a very warm day and I hiked up and over ridges all day long.  It got late in the day. The final approach into Patagonia is three miles along a paved road - yuck.  I finally rolled into town at about 5:45pm and my spirits were very low. Dave and Dave were there waiting for me and I could tell they saw the look of despair in my eyes.  We went to the ice cream store and Dave Boyd bought me a cone, but I couldn't eat it.  I felt like my thru-hike, an opportunity of a lifetime, was slowly slipping away from me.  Right then and there, we had a heart to heart talk.  Dave Baker initiated it.  In his calm and eloquent way, he basically said my initial itinerary wasn't working and I totally agreed with what he was saying.  I had overestimated my daily mileage and this way of hiking was not fun at all. 

Utah Zuke makes it to Patagonia, AZ

Arriving at your campsite exhausted as the sun is setting is not for me.  Furthermore, being in calorie deficit and now feeling cold because you're wet with sweat from hiking all day make it even worse.  But wait, there's more!  You still need to find a good spot, make camp, eat and do your evening chores before going to bed.

So, that evening in Patagonia, we all agreed to hit the reset button on my thru-hike.  Also, we initially just looked at a new itinerary in three-day increments.  Dave & Dave were totally into sticking with me and being extremely flexible with their time and personal schedules.  Additionally, they told me not to worry about anything - between the two of them, someone could help me when I needed it.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude and was unable to verbalize how wonderful this reset made me feel.  Mostly though, I felt a wave of relief wash over me.

We decided to cut the daily mileage back to 13 a day and build it back up again when I could.  This new plan totally changed my resupply schedule and locations, but Dave & Dave assured me everything was fine.  We loaded my pack with three days of food and I walked out of Patagonia towards the Santa Rita Mountains tired, hungry and feeling ecstatic.

I had to hike another four miles before I left the residential areas and could camp, but I didn't care at all.  It was 9PM when I finally found an acceptable campsite along Temporal Gulch Road and I was joyful because my thru-hike had been salvaged by my friends, Dave & Dave.



Utah Zuke



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Kathy Simko's Arizona Trail Trek - Entry 1 - The Journey Begins

by Kathy Wednesday, April 13th 2016

Hi there!  This is Kathy Simko and I am employed full-time by the Summit Hut.  I am usually fitting feet in the footwear department, but currently I am thru-hiking the Arizona Trail, which traverses Arizona 800 miles from the border of Mexico to the border of Utah, and my trail name is Utah Zuke.

I began this adventure on March 22, 2016.  I realize this blog post is tardy and I apologize.  This solo trek has been truly challenging and frankly, I've been too exhausted and/or too busy with meeting my basic needs - water, food and shelter.  However, I now believe I've got my legs under me and can begin sharing some of my stories and thoughts with you.

Utah Zuke on the Mexican border, 3-22-16

First though, I want to address the common question: "Why are you doing this?"  The one word answer is selfishness.  Let me explain... 

1) I am truly happier on the trail.  I have backpacked a fair amount in Arizona and it has been a long term love affair.  The trips have never been long enough though; after three to five days, just when you're getting into the swing of trail life, it's time to go back to the city.  This has always given me the blues.  So, backpacking across amazing Arizona, through some of my favorite places, for about SIXTY days is immensely appealing to me.

2)  I had become bored and complacent with the "routine" of everyday life.  I work in customer service, and have for ten years straight, so I knew I needed an extended break from it.  I love helping people, but knew I needed to do something just for me.

I needed to be challenged cognitively and physically.  I needed some "unknown."

I am not trying to raise awareness for anything.  I am not hiking for a cause.  I am not trying to fund a project.  Like I said, this is a selfish endeavor. 

Camp One in the Huachuca Mountains, 3-22-16

About a year ago, I was backpacking with my dear friend, Jennifer Hnatov, in the Rincon Mountains and we discussed thru-hiking the AZT in Spring of 16, so the bug was in my ear.  Nothing really came of it until January 2016.  Then a perfect storm of planning came crashing down on me in the lunchroom at Summit Hut on January 8th.  I was eating lunch with my good friend and colleague, Nick Johnson, and out of the blue he asked, "When are you going to thru-hike the AZT?"  Immediately followed by, "I can take care of your dogs while you're away."  Nick had recently thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), so I was encouraged by his bode of confidence in my abilities.  Right then and there, I decided to do it and submitted my time-off request before clocking back in.  Within three days, Summit Hut granted me the time off.  Then I found the funding needed from a forgotten IRA.  It was time to plan and purchase a lot of Backpacker's Pantry dehydrated meals!

Day Two - still very cold at elevation in the Huachuca Mountains, 3-23-16

Dave Baker, founder and previous owner/operator of the Summit Hut, is a friend of mine and crushed the AZT in 2008.  He was the first person I contacted to get an idea of the magnitude of a hike like this.  He and his best buddy, Dave Boyd, were extremely gracious and agreed to help me with not only planning, but resupplying me along the way as well.  As you will see, Dave & Dave not only helped me, they saved my trip and more...


Utah Zuke

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The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!