Many people have asked why I’m doing a thru-hike of the AZT, so here’s my attempt to answer that question…
It all began about eight years ago, when I became aware of a trail that ran the entire length of Arizona from south to north (or north to south, depending on how you look at it 🙂 And people hiked it all in one trek! A thru-hike across the state. I attended a presentation given by two guys who had each recently completed the entire trail, and that was it. I was going to do it. It wasn’t really a decision that I made – the notion took up residence in me, the trail called me, and it became something I just had to do.
At the time, my daughter was in middle school, and it wasn’t possible for me to be away for a few months during the school year – nor did I want to! So I chose the Spring of 2016 as the date – quite a few years off – following her graduation from high school. I knew the idea was solid and that it would happen. I didn’t quite know HOW I would do it, just that I would.
I began to meet others who had thru-hiked the AZT and other long trails, I read books and blogs, I researched equipment and how to treat water, and on and on. Two years before the hike would begin, I began to update my backpacking gear with lighter and better stuff – new tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, backpack, and so much more.
The “why” of doing this has evolved over the years. In the beginning it was a calling, something I felt I had to do. But why? And why hike it as one long, continuous hike? And why the Arizona Trail, which has challenges of water availability, terrain difficulty and variation, and elevation and climate changes? From temps in the 20s up to about 100, from riparian areas with creeks to dry desert expanses with maybe an occasional cattle tank for water, and elevations from 1800 feet to over 9000 feet — well, you get the idea — the AZT is one challenging trail!
I’m fascinated with the state of Arizona, which has been my home for the past 13 years. The diversity I mention above is part of that, along with the history, culture and big expanses of wilderness throughout this state. So it made sense to me to do my first long distance hike in my home state. (I did say first, didn’t I?)
I love being outside, especially in the wilderness — hiking, trail running, camping, Nordic skiing. And I love sleeping outside and waking up outside, to the sounds of birds and the beauty of sunrise. I wanted to experience living outdoors for an extended period of time, and see what that’s like.
I’ve been simplifying my life over the past year or so — downsizing my stuff and my activities, and I knew that life on the trail would challenge me to live very simply. Carrying only what is absolutely essential, and each day the focus is simple: moving forward on the trail, dealing with food and water and weather, finding a good campsite and getting restful sleep. There is a lot of freedom in simplicity, and I wanted to explore a simple life in nature.
I felt that doing a long hike would be an opportunity to practice mindfulness over extended periods of time. To walk and experience nature, connecting with nature and spirit — hour after hour, day after day, for weeks and even months — what would I discover?
I chose to do my hike solo, which brings in an added element of challenge and stretching my comfort zone. And also gives more opportunity for mindfulness and contemplation. Ultimately my adventure is a spiritual one, delving deeper into being led by spirit in all that I do and am.
My last thought on “why do this” is to inspire others to get out in nature, to take on a challenge, to follow your heart. Get out there and go for a hike or whatever calls you!