By the Time I Get to Phoenix: Thru-Hiking the Arizona Trail (AZT)

Get outside people.

For the love, take in some fresh air! Drop the devices and pick a flower or two. Life is a galloping horse and some of us never saddled up.

Speaking of living life, I thought I’d bring you all up to speed on my latest irresponsible act of capriciousness. Grad school is dwindling down and I will be entering my two-block summer break before the final capstone (i.e., thesis). These past several months I have been pretty bummed that my Israel trip got canceled due to COVID restrictions for international travelers and embassy recommendations (Israel is now in its third lockdown). Once this thing clears, I plan to hike the length of Israel from Dan at the Israel-Lebanon border to Eilat at the southern border. In the interim, it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. Maybe I’m overly anxious or am having a spell of cabin fever from Colorado’s interminable winters. Once I heard that if you start to lose your way, climb a tree and get some perspective. It’s mad out there and it’s time to regain my senses!

The passing scene is chaotic. What a crazy, mixed-up world this is. Heckuva way to spend life with a medical apparatus strapped over the mouth. Everything seems turned on its head. Common sense is abolished. Mankind, in all his ingenuity and skill, cannot excavate wisdom from this earth (Job 28). The worldly life is fool’s gold. This is a fallen and broken world. There must be more. We are seekers, you know? It is in the seeking that answers can come.

Label me a Houdini if you like but I have decided to sneak down south for a while to thru-hike the Arizona Trail (AZT). It’s an 800-mile long distance trail that stretches from the Mexico-Arizona border to the Utah-Arizona border. As one of the nation’s National Scenic Trails, the hiker winds through deserts, forests, canyons, and even mountains. The multi-armed saguaros (cacti) can grow up to a whopping forty feet tall. There are forty-three sections or “passages” to the trail and it goes through or near several trail towns (“gateway communities”), which facilitate resupplying. The border-to-border hike with a fifteen-pound home strapped to my back will be an abrupt change of pace from my desk job since my office is not equipped with a Nordic-track stair-stepper. Hiking the length of Arizona will be mentally difficult and physically grueling, especially considering the late start; however, with a positive attitude, I can achieve what I set my heart and mind to, even under the blazing desert sun.

Not to digress but I apologize for my long-windedness here. Hiking is one topic which excites me and I thoroughly enjoy sharing with others about my wilderness experiences. It is altogether preposterous being labeled “shy” (a codeword for “leprosy”) in some quarters. People do not mean harm; in fact, they mean well, but misunderstandings abound. I do suppose that I’m naturally more of a writer. Besides, it’s not all bad being one of the “quiet ones.” What’s that old proverb?—”A closed mouth catches no flies!” Maybe you like to talk incessantly until the cows come home. Good on you. But I have to think things through before a thought has permission to leave my lips. Life is full of teachable moments if we learn to listen. The poet W. Somerset Maugham is said to have always carried a notebook wherever he went and recorded his daily happenings that were later expressed as poetry. Acknowledging the perspicacity in this, I too have employed the “Somerset method” and recorded my observations on numerous subjects for many years. One should never leave home without a mini Steno pad and pencil in their back pocket! You never know when you might need it.

There is that odd but completely understandable question that people are prompted to ask, “Don’t you get lonely out there by yourself in the boondocks?” The irony for me is that it takes a crowd to make me feel alone. Out there I’m alive; it’s my Garden of Gethsemane! It’s where I talk to God. I guess you could say it’s where I go for healing. For me it’s not so much about the 800-mile feat (although that is a perk! plus I get to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon on the rim-to-rim section) but the time to figure out what I’m supposed to do next with my brief existence in this human enterprise. I find much comfort in the hymnic verses of Amos: “He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth—the LORD God Almighty is his name” (Amos 4:13). While I may be walking by myself, I am never alone! Loneliness and remote isolation can drive a man to his grave yet it can also bring forth hope. In the book of Ecclesiastes, a part of the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, the Hebrew author Qoholet (presumably Solomon) instructs, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (7:3 ESV). It’s in the tryingest of times that one is forced to make adjustments; sorrow can provide what laughter cannot.

The time has come to breathe some fresh air. Life’s seemingly random nature can be all too disturbing. All is hebel! But life does have meaning even when we cannot make sense of it. Life can seem so unfair: “Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all” (9:11). So what are we living for? In the final accounting, what will our lives add up to? We are but a blink in time and all of us will eventually be forgotten and erased from human memory. What then remains but to fear the Lord? Life is worth living but the participation is up to us.

Well then, before I turn this into a diary entry, the hike will take me an estimated seven weeks (50 days) to complete (sooner if I can pull off some forty-milers but much later to never if I get eaten by a mountain lion!). Admittedly, I have never been to Arizona, except Four Corners if that counts. In an age of self-promotion, sensationalism, and popularity-by-clicking, the “pseudo-life” (and “pseudo-event” to use a coinage from my favorite historian Daniel Boorstin) is replacing reality at an unprecedented rate. Thru-hiking is real. It requires more than words and carefully-edited photos; indeed, it demands grit and personal achievement. There’s the scorching heat as if being baked in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then there’s the drinking out of cow stock ponds with the occasional floating rat. Yet one also smells the fresh air and the plants and absorbs the wonders of creation in its rawest form. This will undoubtedly be an adventure-by-definition. According to my dusty but trusty OED, the word etymologically implies “precariousness,” “risk,” or a “dangerous undertaking” (e.g., hundred-plus temps, rattlesnakes, cholla “jumping cacti,” venomous Gila monsters).

No more living like ants in a colony. No more could-have-beens. Call this is my personalized COVID relief package, mental cleansing, distraction therapy, or “prescribed coping mechanism.” The AZT is the Rolex of hiking and I’m gonna wear it! Come along if you’d like.

So long.

-David “Outback” Mizer

P.S. The trail doesn’t actually pass through Phoenix but I just love that Glen Campbell ballad!

“When you get there, there isn’t any there there.” -Gertrude Stein

Message me on my Garmin and drop me a line:

Map of Arizona Trail (AZT) showing 43 “passages” and “gateway communities”

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2 thoughts on “By the Time I Get to Phoenix: Thru-Hiking the Arizona Trail (AZT)

  1. Hey. I know I haven’t talked to you in YEARS…literally, but I just wanted to say hi! Love reading about your journeys! Truly EPIC! Keep going and enjoy the next one. Lesley


    1. Thanks Lesley! This should be a lot of fun. Love to catch up with you and your family some day. Blessings

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