I completed the Maricopa Trail (Loop Only) in 69 Hours, 40 Minutes, 3 Seconds starting Monday December 28th 2020 at 5am in a self-supported fashion. Traveled in a counterclockwise direction starting and ending at the Pima Wash Trailhead. The route is approximately 244 miles long with 17,200’ of ascent. In all my watch tracked 468,726 steps and says I burned an estimated 29,258 calories!
Starting the previous day, I drove the course and placed 5 drop bags plus 1 water drop along my route including the Tres Rios, Beardsley CSR, Lake Pleasant, Spur Crossing, Bronco Trailhead, Tonto and in East Mesa where I crossed the highway 89. Each drop bag was consistent and had a mix of items that included 2.5 liters of flat water, 1 can of sparkling water, 1 can of Pepsi, 1 bottle of 5-hour, 1 bag of Carbo Pro containing 300calories to add to my water, 2 cuties, 6 Oreos, lays salty chips, 4oz trail mix, granola bar and one surprise protein bar that varied in each bag. Three of the drop bags had back-up battery supplies and two bags had some clean clothes. The rest of the supplies I carried in my Salomon ADV12 running pack from the start or would pick-up along the way.
I began my journey from the Pima Wash Trailhead at South Mountain. My intention was to get the climbs at South Mountain and Estrella Mountains out of the way early on day one and cover a lot of ground on the west side through the evening and first night. After climbing South Mountain, my intention was to refuel at my first drop bag which strategically placed at mile 20 near the entrance of the Tres Rios Wetlands. Upon arrival I discovered that I wasn’t the only one that enjoyed my goodies and that my drop bag had been raided in the night by something with small sharp teeth! Whatever it was ate my chips, Oreos and other goodies as well as nibbled holes in my water bottles. I quickly ate what was left without the luxury of choosing, as I needed every calorie. After refilling my water I was on my way through Tres Rios Wetlands and headed for the Estrella Mountains.
After exiting Tres Rios, I quickly passed the Phoenix International Raceway I arrived at the Estrella Mountains. Somewhat familiar, the Estrella’s are a beautiful classic desert mountain. Unfortunately, the Maricopa Trail only briefly visited the park, but I found the trails to be very runnable and continued a decent clip. By now it was approaching early afternoon and the sun was out and warming me up so I continued to take it relatively easy and walk the ups.
Once the trails in the Estrella’s deposited me onto the roads I continued through I fueled up in Goodyear at Roman’s Oasis and accessed two drop bags along the way. Their French Dip sandwich was exactly what I needed, salty and savory!
After goodyear I made great time on the flat ground that connected the Estrella’s to the White Tanks. I continued a walk/run method that kept my pace modest but didn’t exhaust me. By Sunset I had made it to the Nature Center at the White Tanks Mountains, but the temps were dropping fast.
For the first 8+ hours of night I kept with the walk/run method as I headed up towards Lake Pleasant. I hit my second drop bag early in the night at Beardsly CSR which provided me with another disappointment as again the gag was destroyed by rodents. Oreos were gone again as were my chips, the granola bar was half chewed and again my water bottles were nibbled open. Luckily, I was left with enough water to make my CarboPro and keep on moving north towards lake pleasant.
From this point on the night started to get very cold and my exhaustion was setting in. I still wanted to accomplish 100 miles in the first 24 hours, but the pace further slowed as the temps continued to drop. It was about 2 or 3am when I had finally made it to Lake Pleasant. No more than a mental marker, it denoted the farthest Northwest that I would travel and from that point I would be heading due East towards Anthem where I intended to get another hot meal and coffee! That was all the motivation that I needed.
In the first 24 hours I made it approximately 105 miles completing my first goal of the run, little did I know shortly after that time all subsequent goals would be centered around dead and dying batteries, cold weather, and even some winter rain.
After hitting the Circle-K in Anthem and getting an extra-large coffee, I didn’t see anything my stomach wanted so off to Jack-in the Box for a breakfast Sandwich and hashbrowns I went. While eating and watching the stormy sky start to lighten up, I realized my phone was low so I plugged in to get what available charge I could. After recharging my phone and tired body, I set off to tackle day two, which I knew would be the make-or-break day of the journey.
Upon exiting the very warm restaurant, I very quickly realized that along with the clouds came a stiff bone chilling wind that would keep me company for the next 26 hours. If the cold wind and the smell of the impending storm wasn’t enough to convince you, the random low grumble of a far-off storm cell let you know that Mother nature was in full control.
Day Two leaving from Anthem took me through some of the most beautiful sections of the trail including Andy Kunasek, Cave Creek, Spur Crossing, Bronco, Tonto and eventually to Granite Mountain TH. I managed approx. 81 miles on day 2 but had the majority of the climb to deal with as well some mild rain and very cold temps
Day 2 was all but easy. Cold winter storms came and went frequently, but the sun never made an appearance until it was time to set. With only a drop bag at Cave Creek Regional Park, Bronco trailhead, and Tonto to get me through the day, I didn’t have a whole lot to look forward to. The next time I would see town and have the chance of a store or hot meal would be Scottsdale some 100 miles on up the trail from Anthem.
The majority of the climbs were slow and deliberate as I made my way to the far Northeast corner of the loop. These miles felt the most remote with very little human interaction, a couple hunters and renegade mountain bikers were all that were seen. With a very low batteries, and nothing in my pack at Spur Crossing, I knew I needed to save what I had in case I didn’t make it to the next battery pack at Bronco Trailhead.
Throughout the day I “stress hiked” with the sole purpose of making it to Bronco Trailhead before dark, and luckily, I made it with about 30 minutes to spare. The drop bag at Bronco, the farthest out in the desert was actually the only drop bag not raided by the rodents. I spent some time at Bronco TH and enjoyed my Oreos and Lays along with a Pepsi and 5-Hour energy and fully recharged before stuffing my bag with everything else and setting off towards Scottsdale.
I fully expected everything to get easier on the next leg. I was refueled, had plenty of battery to run my lights and was finally able to turn my phone back on receive texts of love and support. What could go wrong?
The cold. The cold went wrong. After a day of storms and the clearing of all clouds, when the night arrived the temperatures plummeted, Along with cold temps the wind didn’t let up and I froze. I walked as fast as I could to keep the body heat, but after this amount of time on my feet I was slowing down and the cold dark night would continue its relentless attack for the next 12 hours.
After about 10 miles I decided try a trail nap. I set my alarm for 7 minutes and laid down immediately where I previously stood, in the middle of the trail. After dozing off for less than two minutes I felt the feeling of falling off the mountain and woke up in a fright. Once awake, the cold from not moving forced me up on my feet and on down the trail. The 2 minutes of sleep surprisingly worked well but it would be hours until I afforded the opportunity to try again.
For what seemed like forever I walked in the cold windy night, illuminated by the bright full moon. The fully exposed moon made it possible to walk without lights for much of the night, which was much easier on the eyes. But by now, battling exhaustion I was visited by the most lucid hallucinations, they emerged throughout the night which kept me entertained and the mind awake.
The cold wind continued wreak havoc throughout the night and I had every bit of clothing on. I kept my previously changed shirt and had it wrapped around my head to keep body heat in, my emergency rain poncho was used as a body wrap to fight the wind, and extra socks pulled up the arms were all I could do to keep from going numb.
Finally at Granite TH sometime around 1-2am I located what appeared to be a circle of tall wind blocking rocks and I knew I needed to try and sleep just a little bit. I curled up under my emergency rain poncho and slept for a blissful 20 minutes before rudely being woken by the flapping corner of my makeshift blanket as it let invasive the cold air in.
Now, back on my feet I charged for McDowell Regional Park knowing it was the last big leg before arriving at the City of Scottsdale. This was the coldest part of the night and my walk was more of a quick stumble through a surreal world of shadowy goblins that my mind created than an actual walk. I knew they weren’t real, but I couldn’t look up anymore as I found it to exhausting trying to figure out the try identity of every shadow, and although my focus was down I still managed to trip on every protruding rock.
I made it to the bathrooms at McDowell about 5am, it now had been 48 hours since starting the quest and I was exhausted. It was still dark, but the bathrooms created a wind block and I was able to warm up slightly and make a plan for the coming day. Exhausted as I was, I was close to Scottsdale now and I knew real food and coffee was just over the horizon maybe 10 miles away.
So back out on the trail I went, this time starting was different. Everything still hurt, but I knew the worst was behind me. I fought back tears as I knew I would finish, I didn’t know when but I knew I was close enough I would finish.
After hitting Scottsdale I realized the trail didn’t go by any real food until it crosses Shea Blvd., but that was close enough and now I was back on flat ground and moving. At Shea I found Jade Palace, I was elated to finally have the chance to eat real food! I was so hungry I couldn’t decide as everything sounded amazing! Eventually settled on steak and scallops, not a normal choice but I figured I was worthy of the most expensive item on the menu! Now I’m not sure if it was my wonderful appearance or intoxicating aroma, but they quickly made my food and ushered me out where I was afforded with a warm grassy lawn to rest on. It was the first time I was warm, resting and full since Anthem the early morning before. I had reception and was able to talk to loved ones and found the drive to knock out the last 40 miles along the canals knowing I wouldn’t have to endure another full night of cold, or would I?
After a few miles on the greenbelt, I passed a small coffee shop along a lake, yes I had to stop! A coffee to go was enough to distract me until I hit the canals and headed across the reservation toward Granite Reef. These miles were flat and easy to walk but pretty uninteresting. With my last drop bag halfway between Scottsdale and Granit Reef I had at least that to look forward to.
It was dusk when I arrived at my last drop bag, and again the bag had been destroyed by rodents. But this time, they even shredded my last clean shirt for nesting material. Laughing at the situation I took what they left me and headed for Granite reef knowing it was my gateway to City of Mesa and the path home.
By 8pm I was crossing McKellips Road and although I only had roughly 20 miles to go, I know I needed to get food. I attempted to stop at Taco Bell, but due to Covid only the drive through was open. Scanning the parking lot, I discovered another small Chinese food restaurant named Kings Chef where I quickly ordered Mogollon beef and Fried rice. In less than 20 minutes I was fueled up and on my way.
Only stopping for a 20 minute nap on a concrete bench I walked to Pima Wash TH completing my journey halfway through the third night at 2:40 a.m.