The Arizona Trail travels 800 miles across the state, traversing diverse terrain that holds desert, forest, mountain, and canyon habitat. A dream 30 years in the making, the community behind this trail spans from the man who originally envisioned it, to the individuals, government and non-profit groups that continue to cultivate the path today.
Living high on the Kaibab Plateau on the North Rim of Grand Canyon, the northernmost section of this trail lies right in my backyard. The trail and the wilderness that surrounds it has become a friend, a place for evening hikes, overnight backpack trips, and trailside knitting.
In my second year of being fortunate enough to bring Camp Tolt patterns to life in the wilderness, I began thinking about the similarities between knitting and backpacking recently while out on the section of the Arizona Trail that straddles the Saddle Mountain Wilderness.
They both allow me to slow down.
I adore backpacking. When I have a pack strapped to my back, my job for the day is simply to put one foot in front of the other and observe the world around me. I get to enjoy the simplicity of life and nature.
I knit English style, and while sometimes envious of those who knit by faster means, I’ve come to love that my knitting is slow, methodical and grants me time to get lost in a tactile world of wool and wood. The slowness of the craft makes the end product an even greater reward.
Anytime I day hike or backpack, I throw a small knitting project in my pack. Whether it’s a trailside break or knitting at camp for the night, it is the ultimate combination of the two activities I find to be most meditative and restorative to my soul.
They both challenge me mentally and help me to learn.
Traversing unknown terrain can be intimidating. The harshness of an alpine or desert climate can be downright terrifying. Hauling a 40-pound pack for 50 miles over extreme elevation changes can make you question your abilities. But as you push your limits, gain familiarity with terrain, and learn how to adapt and respect the natural world you’re walking through, it becomes a friend that allows you to learn more about yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
I remember picking up knitting for the first time. And then putting it down. Taking a beginner class. And then putting it down. Asking my mom to teach me. And then putting it down. Then one day, I picked up those needles one more time and all those stops and starts, brief successes and the subsequent failures, clicked together and I was knitting. With each new pattern comes a new challenge that can be intimidating at first but allows me to develop my abilities to read fiber, problem solve and become more adept at the craft.
They are both things I can enjoy in solitude, but that are made that much sweeter when shared with a community of like-minded individuals.
I spend a lot of time traveling trails alone and knitting in solitude. I love these moments. The quietness is something I value and find to be a necessity to my happiness. But when you find that one individual or community of people to share the experience with, venturing into the wilderness or creating with fiber becomes that much more special.
In early 2015, Anna from Tolt Yarn and Wool connected me online with Ashli Tyre, another fiber and outdoor enthusiast. Then, through complete random chance this past October, we met while hiking the trail to Mount Rainier’s historic Fremont Lookout. After parting ways in the wilderness that day, we kept in touch and Ashli ended up visiting me in Arizona this past June to attend Sheep is Life, a celebration surrounding churro sheep and weaving, the lifeway of the Navajo people.
This festival was one of the most beautiful life experiences. Everyone we met, from toolmakers to master weavers to sheepherders, were warm and welcoming, open to sharing, and interested in us. It reminded me of the beauty we can find when we take our craft out of solitude and share it with others.
On the last day of Sheep is Life, Ashli departed and I stayed behind on the Navajo Nation for one more night. The following morning, waking early to beat the desert heat, I hiked down to White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly. Normally being one that enjoys my hiking solitude, after days of sharing a love for fiber with like-minded individuals, that short stretch of trail was some of the loneliest I have ever traveled.
Follow Sara on Instagram @wanderwest
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