Hiker Pivots From AT To The Arizona Trail

The Transylvania Times (May 10, 2021) by Jacob Myers

After a series of national park closures last year due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Transylvania County native Jacob Myers shelved his long-awaited Appalachian Trail thru-hike once reaching the Great Smoky Mountains.

While discouraged, Myers pivoted to another long-distance effort in the great American Wilderness: The Arizona Trail.

Spanning a length of approximately 800 miles from the Mexican border outside Coronado National Forest, the Arizona Trail traverses three iconic Arizonan mountains towering 8,000 and 9,000 feet in height, as well as 100-mile tracks of desert and, arguably, the most famous national landmark in the Western United States, the Grand Canyon.

Temperatures fluctuate more aggressively in the desert, where the lack of vegetation and abundance of sand means it can be in the 80s during the day and the 20s at night. On multiple occasions, Myers found himself encased in a tent of ice formed simply by the water vapor he exhaled during the night just to spend the day marching fully exposed to the radiant, oven-like heat that Arizona’s dry landscape offers.

Myers began his journey on March 10 and completed the trek on April 18, making the 800-mile journey through long, waterless stretches of desert, mountain ascents with over 5,000 feet of gain, early-morning trudges through thigh-deep snow and everything else Arizona had to offer in a total of 39 days.

“One of the strangest parts of the trip was approaching this knowing it was quite literally the driest year in all of Arizona’s recorded history, but still managing to find myself caught in, not one, but two freak snowfalls practically in the same week,” Myers said. “That, or being alone at night and stumbling upon a wolf at one of the game watering holes – it was pretty intimidating at times.”

The contrast of Transylvania County‘s abundant rainfall and temperate rainforest ecosystems compared to the massive amounts of sun exposure and dry, hot desert air took an initial toll on Myers’ body, but after one week of nosebleeds and two weeks of sun poisoning he felt acclimated to the desert and began taking the trek in his stride.

“It sounds silly, but there were one or two times where I was more concerned about designating my water for drinking, so I just walked around all day in the low desert with dried nose blood caked onto my face,” he said. “At the moment cleaning it off didn’t seem worth wasting precious water, so I’d go for 10 or 12 miles like that.”

All the better that Myers found his pace and renewed strength by the Grand Canyon (mile 691), so he could tackle one of the more iconic athletic endeavors the Arizona Trail has to offer: the single day rim-to-rim (r-2-r).

This gnarly push from either the North or south rim of the Grand Canyon to its opposite entails a 24-mile trek, with 5,500 feet of rapid descent down to the Colorado River and a constant uphill climb 6,500 feet back up (or switch those numbers if headed South) to the Kaibab Plateau.

“It was a bucket list thing for me. Folks book a spot in one of the canyon’s campgrounds almost a year in advance, but I knew I wanted a single day r-2-r,” Myers said. “Honestly, now that I’ve done it I know I need to go back for a single day r-2-r-2-r and just run through as much of the canyon as possible, so I can see more of it next time and tackle what many revere as the canyon’s elite endurance challenge.”

While big elevation gain days and wild weather do make for interesting storytelling, Myers insists that he rarely felt truly alone on trail.

“The number of trail angels (people who offer food, rides to town or other support to hikers) I saw was kind of mind boggling,” he said. “I distinctly remember passing by a camper that had water jugs set out for hikers, and the fella living in the camper just popped out of the door and thrust a couple of grill cheeses and soda on me in the middle of one of the hotter days out there. Not to mention this awesome trail angel camp, where 11 of us camped outside of Saguaro National Park. I experienced far more kindness and generosity out there than I deserved.”

For the in-depth story of Myers’ Arizonan trek from Mexico to Utah go to his website, http://www.ValhallaHikes.com, where he has documented many of his other, often more local adventures as well.

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