A Trail Tour East

Hello from Flagstaff, Arizona, where the sun is a-BUN-dant! If you’re not catching my pun, I channeled my inner Coree Woltering and threw on some buns (plus a whole lot of sunscreen) for a nice long run on the Arizona Trail with my friend KT.

We’re road tripping our way across the US for my move east, KT joining for part of it, and we’re unofficially calling it our trail tour. Starting in Oregon, we wound our way down California, following the Sierra Nevada and crossing the Pacific Crest Trail in six different locations: Willamette Pass, Castle Crags, Belden, Donner Pass, I-80, and Kennedy Meadows.

A highlight for me was Kennedy Meadows, also known as the “Gateway to the Sierra”, where northbound hikers arrive after traveling 700 miles through the desert of southern California. We saw tons of thru-hikers at this popular hub, and on our short out-and-back run on the PCT from that point, we couldn’t help but feel giddy and inspired for our own long distance trail dreams for the future.

Today, as I mentioned above, we ran/hiked a section of the Arizona Trail in the Coconino Forest just north of Flagstaff. I’m not familiar at all with this trail–when I think of Arizona I think of the desert–and I was delighted by how varied the terrain was even within a six mile section of trail. We made our way through a pine forest with pockets of beautiful birch groves, climbing around 1,700 ft from our starting point (topping out at an elevation of 9,134 ft!), until we reached a meadow where we were rewarded with some expansive views of the mountains beyond, and the landscape speckled with purple wildflowers.

After spending some long days driving (with many more to come), it’s super clear that my body loves to move and does not love to sit still. At a certain point in the car my back will start to ache, my legs get stiff, and I start to get really squirmy. As KT and I practically frolicked through the open fields on the slopes of the Kachina Peaks, I had the familiar feeling, no doubt fueled by endorphins and perhaps the lack of oxygen, that I was made for this! 

What does that all really mean? Where does the feeling come from? A couple letters ago, I wondered why people are drawn toward particular places. Now I’m wondering why long distance trails are so especially compelling. The most thrilling part of this road trip, so far, has been seeing with my own eyes what I’ve never seen before. The small mountain communities in the most remote places, the dried up lakes and riverbeds you might only read about in the news, a cool, vibrant forest oasis up in the mountains where the temperatures are reaching past 100 degrees just a few hours away. That if you follow this ribbon of dirt one way it’ll take you to Mexico and if you go the other way it will take you to Utah. It’s a simple concept, but the compelling thing is wondering what lies between you and your destination, what will you see, who will you meet, what problems will you encounter, and how will you solve them? The trail is the constant, as is distance and time; everything else is variable. I don’t know if there is anything more captivating to me than that.


Thanks for reading. As the trail tour continues I’ll be posting photos and updates on Instagram, plus you can check out my trail runs in all different places on Strava.

If this resonated with you or you just enjoy reading my letters, please consider buying me a coffee or becoming a monthly member! Your support helps keep this newsletter going, for which I’m so appreciative. Another great way to support is sharing this with someone that might enjoy it too. New readers may subscribe here. ‘Til next week! ~Mercury


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Who is Mercury?

Liz Derstine, trail name “Mercury”, is a distance runner, endurance hiker, writer, and musician residing in Boston, MA. She holds fastest known times for women on the Appalachian Trail (supported, northbound), Long Trail (self-supported), and Pinhoti Trail (self-supported).

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