Finally finishing the Arizona Trail
In 1997, I became one of the first people to hike the entire Arizona Trail. I started at the Utah/Arizona border and, over the course of the next two months, made my way toward the trail’s southern terminus on the Mexican border. It was one of the toughest of my long-distance hikes, because, back then, only about half the Arizona Trail actually existed. The other half consisted of mixing and matching various disconnected paths and dirt roads and, often, cross-country bushwhacking with map, compass and the very first generation of hand-held GPS, which seemed specifically designed to perplex rather than to orient. When I finally limped my bruised and battered self out of the rugged Miller Peak Wilderness down to Montezuma Pass — literally within sight of Mexico — I was told the last mile was closed for at least a week because they were blasting new trail in. I could hear explosions in the distance. So, after more than 800 miles of skin-ripping perambulation, I was stopped dead in my tracks a mere mile from the end of the hike. This was a frustrating turn of events.
I vowed to one day return and finish that last mile, though, as I learned last week, it was actually 1.7 miles each way. I arrived late enough in the day that I hesitated. After dark, this becomes the operational territory of the Dread Minions of the Night: Border Patrol, which had a bank of floodlights set up right at the trailhead. I dashed as quickly as I could toward the border, made it in 35 minutes, ogled at the beauty of Sonora, lamented the fact that, right then, thousands of desperate people were furtively slinking their way northward through cactus and ocotillo, took a few quick photos of my ugly mug in front the saggy barbed-wire fence that separates our two great nations, pondered for the millionth time the perplexing vicissitudes of border-based politics and dashed back to my 4Runner, arriving just as the Dread Minions of the Night were emerging from their burrows. Then I drove 45 minutes to a skanky watering hole to celebrate the fact that, after 19 years, I had finally completed the Arizona Trail. No one in the bar had ever heard of the Arizona Trail. Put things in proper perspective.