Sometimes when you are thru hiking, you come into a magical area and all you want is to take your time, bask in the natural beauty and explore every nook and cranny you can find. You long to set up camp early under the perfect tree, perhaps build a fire and look at the stars all night, then sleep in until your tent is bathed in warm sunlight. Unfortunately, as a thru hiker, you can rarely do this. Why? Partially because you generally are trying to get to the terminus before weather makes it impossible, but also because in many cases, you would run out of food.
When I resupply, I look at how many miles I need to hike until my next stop and what the terrain is like to determine how many days' worth of food I will need. The more I hike, the better I get at this calculus, but sometimes I still get it wrong. On this last stretch through the Gila River Wilderness, I definitely got it wrong and my hiking partner and I ended up a bit at odds, having some severe food anxiety for days and being VERY hungry. How did it go so wrong?
There were a number of factors that contributed to our very hungry situation, but the main forces at play were rushed planning and an underestimation of the terrain and our capabilities passing through it. We entered the 125-mile stretch with 5.5 days of food, anticipating keeping our 25 mile per day pace plus some wiggle room. Extremely cold weather, short days/limited daylight deep in the canyon, challenging routefinding around beaver dams, washouts and flood debris, plus multiple rocky river crossings every mile dropped our daily mileage considerably.
By day 4, we knew we were in trouble and began rationing, but this meant we had less energy and less patience. We wanted so badly to relax and enjoy the incredible canyon views, explore the rock and climb the walls, but our food anxiety pushed us forward through dozens of ice-cold river crossings and past innumerable rock faces just begging to be explored. We knew we wouldn't starve, but the thought of running out of food loomed in our minds. Every break felt too long, every mile passed too slowly.
Midday on day 7, we were confident that we would get to our next stop that evening and were pushing hard despite running on fumes. We realized too late that our resupply point closed at 4pm- we would have to run to make it. I told Spacemaker to go ahead- get there if he could. He literally ran to get there and just missed them. They wouldn't open until 11am the next day and our hiker hunger was at a breaking point. Our stomachs were rumbling and our heads were spinning, both snapping at each other for our shared predicament.
We got a campsite at an RV park and the camp host took pity on us, giving us some instant oatmeal and two bananas. Another kind couple gave us an apple, some snap peas and some carrots. Despite this not being a lot of calories, we were thrilled to be able to put something in our bellies and it soothed our raw nerves. We apologized to each other for what we said when we were hangry.
I have run out of food before but never had the prolonged food anxiety that I had during this stretch. This definitely taught me a few lessons and reminded me that things can -and will- go wrong at any time. Once the store opened in the morning, we were back to our normal jolly selves, and have now overpacked for the last two sections. I would absolutely rather carry a little too much than go through that again!
Usually I make my food before I leave home, dehydrating and measuring and preparing every meal with nutrition, calorie content and weight in mind. I sort all of my food into resupply boxes and label them for post office drops along the way. Sometimes, however, things get messy. A box gets lost in the mail. I arrive on a holiday weekend and would have to wait 3 days for...
Honestly though, this hike has been worlds apart from my thru hike of the PCT. The trail itself has a very different feel, the people are different, and I am a different hiker than I was on my last journey. This hike has been such a unique experience from any of my other hikes and I am so grateful for it.
Water is becoming scarce and carries are getting longer and longer as the days continue to get shorter. Getting to camp with enough daylight to set up is becoming difficult! The upcoming landscape is favorable for big miles, but the long water carries and hot sun may prove to be challenging. I can't believe that I'm entering my fifth month on trail and have less than 600 miles to go!!