When I woke up, I knew I was done. Sometimes, an idea plants itself at an opportune time. If I'd decided I was done without a major road crossing the next day, I might have changed my mind, but I doubt it. Everything hurt and I had no sleep, again. Gonzales Tank looked like a big, algae-filled, muddy respite from the aridity and monotony of the state. I was not having fun.
My filter seemed to be passing solids through upon squeezing, even though I've taken such care to sleep next to the thing to keep it from freezing and have backwashed it as much as possible. I added an Aquatab to my bottle and carried a liter of unfiltered algae soup with me. The chlorine flavor nearly caused me to vomit, so I added Gatorade powder to make it drinkable. For some reason, I was very warm, very tired, and it took me a rather long time to get to where I needed to go. At a heavily used forest road crossing about a mile and a half from Highway 87, I decided to filter some more water and hope for a hitch. I was sitting on a rock when I looked up to see a very put-together woman hiker lumbering up the trail which I'd struggled with to stop here. Her pack was small, her strides long, and she poured forth an energy that I may have had once or twice on this entire journey. I called to her. "Is that another thru-hiker?!" She laughed as she approached and acknowledged it. I told her that she had that look. I didn't mention that most people don't move that fast with no pack, let alone with the usual backpacking stuff. "I'm Hustler," I said, extending my hand. "Anish," she replied. I flushed. I stammered. I'd literally been thinking about her an hour before, wondering how she keeps going, how she deals with dark moods on bad days. "Really?!" "Yeah." "Really?" She laughed again. I told her that it was a pleasure to meet her. She stopped to drink some water as well. Though I had no desire to hold up The Ghost, I couldn't help asking her about the man whom I'd heard was attempting the AZT in 14 days. "I hear he's a supported trail runner from Flagstaff, or Sedona, maybe," she said, a little guardedly. You never do know what another hiker's stance on supported hikes will be at first meeting, and I'm certain that she gets enough debates about it. "I figured he was supported! Are you gonna kick his ass?" "Maybe, I'm planning on 17 days." Fucking hell. I've just been through roughly a month of on and off torture on this trail. It's hard not to feel dejected in a situation like that, but, somehow, I didn't. Maybe her energy just buoyed me a little bit. We discussed muddy tank water and the trail for a moment, then she said she was off to the ranger station just off the trail for some faucet water before her night hike. She planned to reach Pine in the morning and asked if she'd see me there. I said I'd try...to hitch...from here. She would be walking the whole way. No hitches, even to towns, for an unsupported record-breaker like her. I smiled with admiration and waved her goodbye.
Of course, I got back up and started hiking. How could I not? I could at least make it to the damned legitimate road, for fuck's sakes. I trailed her, coming up on a group of day hikers whom she'd obviously passed at Ghost-speed. The three men looked wary of thru-hikers after she'd breezed past, they moved quickly out of my way, but I stopped them, laughing, saying, "no worries, I'm not with her. Nobody can keep up with her." They asked if I knew her, and I instead asked if they'd ever heard of her, then told them about her speed records on the AT and PCT. They were stunned. Then, they offered me water and told me which way to hitch when we all reached the 87. Eventually, a minivan pulled over, a medical transport van on its way to get serviced in Phoenix with a bored driver who thought I looked particularly pitiful. I got a very lucky hitch right to my destination after a perfect final encounter on the Arizona Trail.