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.