Julie Polovitch has been an avid hiker and backpacker since she was 15, but her biggest adventure began just a few months ago. Over a two-month period, she walked eight hundred miles, moving from the U.S./Mexico border to the Utah state line – her very first long-distance hike, and her first time solo in the backcountry. Before heading out, she learned about the Tahoe Trail Bar from the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, an environmental non-profit. She was charmed by the TTB back story and thought the bars looked perfect to bring along (good call, Julie!). She ended up with 32 Tahoe Trail Bars for her journey.
“We saved our Tahoe Trail Bars for the toughest days. Eating them became a bit of a ritual: mid-morning after covering some quick miles, I’d pull a Tahoe Trail Bar out of my pack’s waist-belt pocket to soothe my grumbling stomach, nibbling it slowly as to not miss savoring any chocolate chunks or craisins. These energy-packed, calorie-dense bars warded off our trail-hunger unlike any other trail bars we tried out. It was only an added bonus that we could get our chocolate fix from them without feeling like we were being over-zealous. Tahoe Trail bars were the most satisfying to all degrees. Hands down, no competition. They were the difference between thinking about food all afternoon and having a quick snack, hiking on, and fully experiencing the natural beauty along the trail.”
That’s what we like to hear. Read on for Julie’s play-by-play on the Arizona Trail.
Authentic adventures begin when you become receptive to the mysteries of the universe. For Brian and I, our adventure began March 1 at the U.S./Mexico border, the southern end of the Arizona Trail. Over the next two months we would hike 800 miles to the Utah state line, crossing some of the most remote, arid, and rugged country in Arizona. This was our first through-hike, and we didn’t fully know what to expect.
When you begin a through hike, you’re really beginning a journey of learning about yourself, the world, and how you fit into it. I hadn’t quite realized this or what we had accomplished until I reached the San Francisco Peaks, about 200 miles from completing the AZT.
The San Francisco Peaks are one of the most iconic features of Arizona, more visible throughout the state than any other mountain range. In the southern and central sections of the AZT, the peaks were discernable from high points, looming in the distance as a mere abstract notion of where we were headed. But as they grew closer and closer, they materialized as these very real, tangible entities, and I began to feel that the mountains had their own gravitational pull.
Brian had pinched a nerve in his ankle about 100 miles south of the Peaks, so I was traveling alone when I finally reached the mountainous base. Spontaneously, I decided to make a 14-mile side trip to the summit of Humphrey’s Peak, the tallest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet. The mountain had just received 14-18 inches of snow. Even though I’m not much of a snow creature, my heart told me that it was absolutely necessary to get to the top. And there is no arguing with a heart’s will.
I followed deeply imprinted tracks, thankful that others had made the trek after the snowfall. The going was steep, but I was too stoked and awed to care. I had never been that high in elevation before.
“You made it to the top!” A man in a grey t-shirt, tan hiking pants and boots strapped with crampons, carrying nothing and looking casual with his catalogue-perfect long haired dog, shouted insincerely. He seemed bothered that he wasn’t the only person at the summit and surprised to see this blonde girl in a pink dress traveling alone on a snow-covered mountain. He was beginning his descent, a group of three about to follow suit.
The moment the other hikers left, I began to sob. It wasn’t your typical trickle of tears onset by overwhelming beauty. It was a full-hearted outburst of emotion, flooding out like a collapsing dam. It came out of nowhere. I was moved by the view and the sudden recognition of how I got there. Six hundred ten miles of walking to be standing at that very point. Six hundred ten miles of varying landscapes: canyons, sky islands, Sonoran desert, oak savanna, pinyon-juniper woodlands, ponderosa forests. Six hundred ten miles of navigating, observing, reflecting, collaborating and learning. I could see some of the country I had crossed southward. All those mountains and valleys, shrunken. Myself even smaller atop a sacred once-super volcano. The blood-red earth of the Grand Canyon and Utah lay northward, where I was bound. I proceeded to find the registry, which was tucked inside an ammo box mostly buried in snow. I signed, “Julio (with Beast in spirit) My heart is so full right now 4/30/15.”
I expected to feel a similar wave of emotion at the end of the AZT. But truthfully, the finish hardly felt like a finish at all. It never really hit me that my journey was over. Sometimes I still feel like I’m on the trail; my approach to life hasn’t changed much since re-entering the front country. It’s like Ed Abbey puts it, “A living tree, once uprooted, takes many days to wholly die.”
The Arizona Trail will forever be a part of us, including its landscapes and lessons; and so long as we remain receptive to the universe, react positively to what it presents, and continue following our hearts’ will, the adventure will never end.