I got one of my favorite emails a few days ago, this time from Shreyash in India who wrote:
I bought 3 notebooks for my assignments. They had a QR code at the back of it, which I scanned. It took me to your website. It took me a little while to figure it out but I eventually did, thanks to your article. This notebook is from a local manufacturer. I am attaching the images of the notebook for you to look at.
Stephanie and I didn’t come to the Arizona Trail with any predetermined ideas about “zero days”, but the weather was so miserable during our first four days (snow-covered trails, gale-force wind, freezing rain, drizzle, clayey mud) that we took a zero during our resupply in Patagonia, AZ just to let the weather pass. But from that point on, we almost always planned a zero to resupply, and if at all possible, preceded it with a morale-boosting half-day of hiking (or “nero”) on the way into town.
Over the course of the hike I ended up resupplying 8 times (all but 2 of which were during nero-plus-zeros), which effectively punctuated the trail into 9 discrete sections. I ran into a few day-hikers and backpackers along the way who found the scale of hiking the AZT “in one go” almost incomprehensible. I always reassured them that “thru-hiking is just a series of backpacking trips, glued together with zero days.” I didn’t feel like I was doing anything that special—I just had the “luxury” of going on 9 backpacking trips, back-to-back. While I was hiking, I started to visualize the following infographic to convey how the trail felt for me less like a linear journey, and more like a collection of related but distinct adventures (in no small part due to the evolving role Stephanie played in each).
Of the 53 days I was on trail (from March 9 through April 30, 2019), I slept in a hotel for 13 nights (after neros, zeros, and the last day). Which meant that for 40 days, survival depended on finding a patch of flat, clear, dry, spacious, and wind-shielded ground to pitch my tent. Even though these were sites chosen for their essential utility, I felt compelled to capture each scene—often picturesque only in the contrast of the alien-looking Plexamid against Arizona’s diverse landscape. More than the miles I racked up (788.7, per the Guthook Guides AZT app, though most round the trail to 800), I viewed these nightly rituals as the true measure of my progress.
Remarkably, even though more than 7 months have elapsed since we set off, each of these photos, some with only the slimmest of context, transports me right back to the trail, and to the day that led to that moment in time. What follows are my recollections, stories triggered by 40 photos of my campsites along the Arizona Trail.
You’d think I’d have found time to write this while “snowbound in Tahoe”, but my priorities then were jigsaw puzzling, snowshoeing, and cooking good food from scratch, full stop. In truth, Stephanie did most of the jigsaw puzzle, because I had begun puzzling over something else: where to live once she had chosen Fresno State for grad school.
We’d already surveyed several apartment complexes, so we had a good sense of the quality and price points available. But still I found myself asking the question, what if we bought a place? How would 3 years of rent compare to the costs unique to buying a house (i.e. real estate agent commission, property tax, homeowner’s insurance, closing costs, etc.)?
My simplistic and admittedly flawed analysis (flawed because I assumed both a flat stock market and a flat housing market; also I didn’t foresee the extent of the renovations we’d take on, nor can I predict the impact they’ll have on a future sale) suggested that we’d throw away more money renting over three years than buying, even without any price appreciation. So I started looking at listings, got in contact with an agent, and we found ourselves in contract on a house while still in Tahoe.
When I wrote that “we’re heading to Tahoe for the bulk of February, fulfilling a dream we’ve both had to be ‘snowbound’” there was no way I could have known that we’d be there during one of the snowiest Februaries on record, and thus, literally snowbound. And when blizzard after blizzard strategically hit right before each weekend, almost no one could come up from the Bay Area (including some friends who made a valiant effort to visit). We felt as though we had Lake Tahoe entirely to ourselves.
With the snow falling so heavily, there were some days that we didn’t even risk going out, so the jigsaw puzzle we brought, a 3000-piece Ravensburger, was our chief entertainment—aside from refilling the pellet stove and watching the snow accumulate. It was particularly therapeutic for Stephanie, who anxiously awaited a positive response from the grad schools she’d applied to. Her tension was released (and our future was decided) when she received word that she’d been offered a spot at her top choice, Fresno State.
While we were in France, eating and drinking with gusto, Stephanie started to pine for the lighter fare she hoped I’d make when we returned home…to Fresno! Of course the home we returned to has no kitchen—only a refrigerator (because renovations), so for the last four weeks (and likely three still to come), I’ve been making a sort of insalata caprese alla California for dinner almost every other night.
It starts with a handful of arugula (enough to mostly fill a small disposable paper bowl while our things are still in storage). Sure baby kale could work, but arugula is smaller and more flavorful, in theory (somewhere along the way, I feel like its peppery bite has been breed out; note to self: grow my own). Then I halve enough heirloom cherry tomatoes so there’s nice coverage in the bed of greens. I cut 10 small balls of fresh mozzarella (aka ciliegine) into eighths and divide them between the two bowls. The tomatoes and mozzarella get a healthy grind of sea salt before I halve and distribute 10 pitted Kalamata olives. Each salad gets half of a sliced avocado, sprinkled with a little more salt, and a generous broadcast of pine nuts. I garnish with several coarsely chopped basil leaves, and then the whole affair is drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s basically all of our favorite things together in one bowl. And with so much in flux right now, it’s comforting to end our hot and occasionally hectic days with something so reliably satisfying.