Kathy Simko’s Arizona Trail Trek – Entry 2 – A Shaky Start

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

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Scott Morris says:

    My wife Doris and I know Kathy from having been the beneficiaries of her great service at Summit Hut. We talked with her briefly on Tues, April 12, on Psg 15 (Tortilla Mtns). She was doing well and headed for Ripsey Wash. We didn't know that she was thru-hiking the AZT, so were happy to see her far from civilization.

  2. Crystal S says:

    Stay strong Utah Zuke! Recently saw a snake while hiking as I cam around a bend it was next to the trail. Fully stretched out and on the move, I couldn't see the head or the tail and hightailed it out of there full of adrenaline! Looking forward to future posts!

  3. Sandy says:

    Great job..I relate to your honesty ..enjoy the journey

  4. Hank says:

    Don't forget to hike your own hike. Our perception of what we are capable of is sometimes bigger than the reality. In time you will find your stride. Don't forget to eat, eat A LOT!

  5. Kat Gerber says:

    You go Utah Zuke! I think it is so awesome that you're doing this. I too ran across a rattler on the AZT. It wasn't a Mojave Green (YIKES!) but it was my first encounter so, pretty scary. It was a large diamondback and we saw each other at the last second as it was crossing the trail less than 2 feet in front of me. It rattled, and I ran. I was rattled for the rest of the hike. I was solo hiking too and spent the rest of the day-hike wondering why I ever thought this was fun, lol. It did take me a few weeks to get back on the trail, so I feel ya for not enjoying it for a bit. I'm so glad you have Dave and Dave to support you! It sounds like you had your trail legs back by the end of the day. That's awesome. I hope you're having the experience of a lifetime. I will be following you, you're so inspiring! I remember going to Summit Hut when Sirena came and talked about her solo thru-hike. She ran across 2 snakes along the entire trail so you're half done with that adventure 🙂 That's what I tell myself 🙂

    Have fun and God Bless!

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