Escalante, Utah to Tropic, Utah
Hayduke Trail, Days 19-23
Total Miles: 411.7
We spent a restful zero day in Escalante, Utah. The Escalante Outfitters offered a lovely coffee shop (including good coffee and free refills!) to sit, plug back into social media and email, and try to avoid looking at the news. Being in town is always nice (those showers . . .) but can be a difficult balance of connecting and not connecting too much, trying not to break the spell of the trail.
We woke up on Day 19 unsure of how much hiking we would do that day. We had 30-some miles of road to get back to the trail and had no clue how the hitching would go. Our first hitch was from a local rancher who took us about a mile. Then after walking a bit we got a ride from a family with Idaho plates. As we connected about Idaho (my birth state) it came out that they used to live in Forest Grove (near my current home of Portland, Oregon) and the guy knows my supervisor at Outward Bound . . . Small world! A doctor and EMT from Colorado picked us up next, then two girls from Missoula, and finally a young couple from Colorado took us the rest of the way. Five hitch success!
Once back on trail we headed up. It seems like each time we leave town with 6 days of food we climb! Up the 50 Mile Benches we climbed using dirt road and stock trails until we were on top the Kaiparowits Plateau. Moving a few miles across the plateau, we then dropped down a drainage to Monday Canyon.
The next day, instead of five hitches, we got five canyons – Monday, Rogers, Croton, Navajo, and Reese. We got into Reese Canyon as the weather started to shift and light rain fell as we set up camp. The next five hours we got a mixture of rain, wind, lightening, and thunder. While the wind wasn’t nearly as strong as the previous tent killing incident, we still were bracing the walls a bit hoping it died down soon. While we didn’t get much sleep, it was incredible to hear the thunder echoing off the canyon walls!
Day 21 started off dry but stormy looking. We broke camp and headed down Reese Canyon into Last Chance Creek. We had over 16 miles in Last Chance which was fairly easy walking, compared to other canyons we had walked in! At our lunch break we saw the clouds forming, growing dark and obviously full of rain. We got our gear and ourselves as protected from the water as possible and we’re on our way. The rest of the afternoon was full of intermittent showers (and some biting hail) as we moved out of Last Chance Creek and Paradise Canyon into a section of hills and road walking.
The following day we had some decisions to make. We knew the weather was supposed to be wet and our next section included canyons that the guidebook said not to enter if storms were imminent. In fact the next week was looking cold, snowy and rainy. Part of the freedom of the Hayduke is that there are tons of alternates and nobody hikes the trail the same way. We decided to create the Tim-Tam and Commando alternate connecting part of the section, a road walk, and then head into Tropic, Utah so we could walk through Bryce Canyon National Park. The official Hayduke route just skirts into Bryce near the southern park boundary but I’ve never been to Bryce and want to see as much as possible!
Our alternate included dropping into the Round Valley Draw Narrows, the only slot canyon on the official Hayduke route. For Kasey and I both this was one of our top moments of the trail so far! Dropping into the slot involved a 10 foot chimney climb down and lowering packs. Once in the slot canyon, we meandered between towering walls on a narrow sandy canyon bottom, climbing over some boulders blocking our way. I felt small in the slot canyon but peaceful as I marveled at the years it took to form this narrow walkway. I was super surprised to see another human down there heading the opposite direction, another Arizona Trail/Hayduke Trail hiker piecing together his own version of the trail!
Day 23 was a quick 12.2 miles into Tropic, Utah, where a super helpful coffee shop owner and post mistress welcomed us to town. We also hit our halfway point this day and over 400 miles (411.7)! As we went through our resupply boxes, prepped the maps for our next section and researched weather, we had decisions to make. The next week includes some cold, gnarly weather, both in Bryce and where we are heading.
There is so much unknown as we make decisions, sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the possible scenarios. Kasey and I talked through a lot of options yesterday but then at some point we just needed to be done, turn off our brains, and take one thing at a time. We are staying in Tropic for one night. Check. We will hike to Bryce today and check in with Park Rangers at the visitor center. Check. That is the known. One step at a time and then more decisions can be made. A good reminder to me that I don’t need to figure it all out right now. Tami, just rest in the known for a few hours.
This past section was a tough one for me for some reason. I’m generally a very happy and joyful person but I’m sure I wasn’t the most fun person to hike with this week! I’ve been thinking about why that is the last couple days. There are constantly moments on this trail where you have to make decisions, sometimes bigger decisions that involve teamwork and problem solving about how to get around some obstacle or sometimes just simple, split second decisions about which direction to move around a rock in your way. Sometimes the choice you make works out and sometimes it doesn’t and you have to walk back and try another way. Some days I just want to hike. I don’t want to, with every step, try and figure out the way that is best, that will hopefully take us through and not to a road block. I told Kasey at the end of one day, “I could keep hiking for a few miles but I can’t fight anything right now.” Meaning, I know I can roll on a defined trail but I don’t want another tamarisk branch to cut my legs right now or have to backtrack, make even the tiniest decision about a single step.
But reality is this trail is not as defined as I want. There are constant decisions, awareness, and challenge. There ARE times when I get to just roll on a trail or road and unleash my thru hiker legs. I’m learning to take advantage of these moments and enjoy that space. But more often then not, there is unknown, small decisions that may or may not work out, or branches grabbing at my legs when I’m annoyed. This is when the beauty of everything we are doing out here comes together. With each step, my mental fortitude is strengthened. I become more used to making those tiny decisions on the fly. I feel more confident in my abilities.
This reality of the trail is the reality of daily life whether in the backcountry or at home. Some days I can roll on a known “trail” and relax a bit but more often than not, I am unsure of what’s ahead each day. I build on what I have experienced and continue onward, becoming more self-aware and confident. Trusting that, even if one decision doesn’t quite work out, a canyon seems impassable, or I have to backtrack a bit, I will keep fighting . . . even on those days when I want to sit down in the middle of the trail and throw a tantrum.
What a journey we are all on, friends! There is learning each day that makes us kinder, more compassionate people to ourselves and others. I hope today you are able to recognize these moments in your life.
Much love from the land of the best sunrises and sunsets in the world.