Some last thoughts on Day 15:
My last night in Arizona was gut-wrenching.
The only nice part was that I met two Canadians, Martin and Ian. They were thru-hiking the Grand Enchantment Trail – a trail which makes the AZT look, to be honest, a little wimpy. The Grand Enchantment Trail coaligns with the Arizona Trail for a few dozen miles and they had hitched into Oracle. Unfortunately, the Chalet was filled up. Fortunately, I had two extra beds in my room, so I made them move in with me.
My evening plans? Wrapping my backpack in cling wrap that someone left in the hiker box. I know how to have a good time.
The Canadians spent a lot of the evening speaking (in French) to their loved ones back home. Their travel insurance was going to be revoked due to corona virus, and from what I could gather, Canada was closing down international travel options. They wanted to keep going — they had permits for Avaraipa Canyon (Grand Enchantment Trail route, not an Arizona Trail feature) and were just getting their trail legs after two weeks on the trail — like me. Unlike me, they went to bed unsure what their next day would bring.
Now, Day 16.
Four thousand virus cases. Or maybe it was four thousand new cases. At any rate, it was the deciding factor – the Canadians decided to join my shuttle to Tucson, planning to get a motel near the airport and think through their next move. Wonderful Saina from the Chalet drove us. It was amazing to drive around Oracle Ridge and see the mountains hiding Summerhaven. And it was also really hard.
The Tucson airport was quiet, but I couldn’t tell if it was coronavirus related or if the Tucson airport is always quiet. I checked my backpack and waited in line for security. I had two whole people ahead of me in the security line.
Everyone in the airport seemed on edge. Only a couple of people wore masks. Some people had wipes and wiped down everything they touched, including seats they sat on. I had found a Harry Potter book in the hiker box which I intended to read, but I couldn’t concentrate, not even on Harry Potter.
About an hour before my flight I was walking laps and ran into the Canadians! They had managed to book the last 2 seats on my flight to Minneapolis, where they could transfer to a flight to Montreal. It felt like a little gift from the trail gods to have a couple of familiar faces on my flight.
I don’t know much about air travel. I don’t know if this is normal. But I booked my flight from Tucson to Minneapolis about 30 hours before I left. When I booked, at least a third of the seats were open. I was able to get my precious window seat. And as I said, the Canadians were able to get the last seats on that flight. I was very surprised that it filled up. Maybe that level of last-minute travel is normal. I don’t know.
On the plane, I wiped down every surface I would come into contact with. So did the woman I was sitting next to. Both of us tensed up whenever someone coughed. And yes, I watched Frozen II again because that was exactly the level of stressful programming I could handle.
We landed 40 minutes early, I retrieved my backpack, and I waited an hour and a half for my shuttle’s departure. I was relieved to share the shuttle with only two other passengers, a couple from Duluth who tried to have a Vegas vacation in the midst of coronavirus casino shutdowns.
Reflections will come at some point. Writing about the end of journeys is always the hardest part for me — even under normal, successful circumstances.
I’m struggling to allow myself to grieve. I have hardly allowed myself to feel sad about my hike, given the current world situation. Anytime I feel upset, I instantly remind myself how lucky I am, and I am — really really fortunate.
But it’s also not healthy to deny the fact that I lost a dream. My leave of absence isn’t something I can defer. Many Arizona Trail thru-hikers who had to leave or postpone will try again as a southbounder this fall, but I don’t get a second chance — not unless I want to uproot my entire life. And that’s something worth mourning. Even if it is a privileged first-world problem.