Finding My Way: Reporter Stina Sieg Goes It Alone On The Arizona Trail

By Stina Sieg
Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - 1:20pm
Updated: Tuesday, November 10, 2015 - 5:16pm
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(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
My hike was about a quarter of the 800-mile path, between Utah and Flagstaff. This is about 80 miles in, at the northern boundary of Grand Canyon National Park.
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
When it comes to long-distance hiking, the East has the Appalachian Trail. The West has the Pacific Crest. And here, we've got the Arizona Trail. This is deep in the Babbitt Ranch, about 150 miles from the Utah border. The trail stretches to Mexico.

I can’t tell you exactly what drew me to the Arizona Trail, to try to follow it the 200 miles from Utah to Flagstaff. It was an itch, which turned into a hunger.  

But as I planned and bought gear and dehydrated vegetables, the idea of spending three weeks alone in the Arizona outback became more real — and enticing.

Then there I was, 5 miles from the trailhead, where the rough dirt road turned into a washed-out ravine. My dad drove his RV to the edge, as I got my heavy pack, floppy hat, and got ready to walk into the unknown.

“Let’s do it!” he said, slamming the door.

So I started early, heading out alone, crunching into the sun-drenched desert. It didn’t stay sunny for long.

“OK, so I’ve gone exactly 1.1 miles,” I said into my recorder, under a suddenly ominous sky. “And now it’s raining. And I’m literally sitting on the side of the trail, holding an umbrella over all my stuff. And wondering what to do next.”

The answer was a simple trash bag and, like I’d find over and over again, to just keep walking. That meant without any distractions. It ended up being more a challenge than I thought. It all hit me full force the next night, as I ate dinner surrounded by dark mesas and bright stars.

“It’s really beautiful here,” I told my recorder, over the chirp of some evening creatures. “And what’s crazy is how hard it is to actually just eat and not have the TV on or a YouTube video or something, just eating. It’s so hard. It makes me feel like I have a lot to learn.”

With each 10- or 15-mile day, I was detoxing — from distraction and Diet Dr. Pepper. But I was choosing it, kind of looking forward to where it would take me, whenever I pulled that heavy backpack over my shoulders. Putting that beast on got easier every day.

I started to get into the rhythm of this new life. Set up the tent, take it down. Cook meals, clean them up. Walk. Sleep. Walk.

It wasn’t easy, but it was simple. I was always moving forward, with my umbrella for shade and solar panel on my pack for power.

I had nothing to do but keep going and going, through waving meadows and shimmering aspen groves. I was constantly alone, passing more cows than people. But every once in a while, my dad would meet me with his RV, with food and a reminder that this whole experience was a gift.

“You know, from the universe, really, that says, ‘Go forth, become thyself,’” he said, with a good-hearted laugh.

So onward I went, to the northern edge of the Grand Canyon, then down, down to the bottom. With only one fall along the way.

The hike out was humbling. Reaching top was momentous. I was 10 days and 100 miles in — halfway, and right on schedule. But now, surrounded by crowds of chatting tourists, I realized for the first time that I could quit if I wanted to. If I was going make it, I was going to have to dig in my heels — and really choose it. And keep choosing it.

That was especially true as a fought my way across the wide-open spaces that came next. After dozens of miles in the whipping wind, I stopped for some water my dad had left under a tree. It hit me in that moment that if I didn’t finish this trip, I’d be dragging it behind me forever.

Memories of those last few days blend together, a mix of more wind and mountain bikers, the reemergence of pine trees. And Flagstaff, always tantalizingly close. Until, there it was.

I had spent 19 days on the Arizona Trail when I veered off it, taking a right onto Route 66, toward my old life — and my dad, waiting at brewpub.

“Hey, Dad,” I said, walking up to outside table, pop music pumping through a nearby speaker. “Hey, Dad!”

And then, with a hug, my hike was over.

“You did it!” he said, crying and holding me. “You did it!”

We looked at each other, both amazed, still tearing up, but laughing too.

“Well, come in and have lunch,” he said.

Soon, I was downing French fries and mac and cheese, and facing the fact I was about to re-enter everyday existence.

I was scared, but more than that — excited. If I can do that trail, what else is possible?

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