Sunday, April 27, 2014 8:41PM
CDT Day 15 – Zero Day
Zeroing today was not my intention. I planned to wake up, scoot my butt up the one mile paved road to Doc Campbell’s, resupply, charge my phone and my rechargeable batteries for my headlamp and GPS, MAYBE do some laundry and then shove off. Why do I even make plans? Sometimes I don’t know.
I end up chilling at Doc Campbell’s from 8 until it opened for business around 10am. The owner shows up. An elderly gentleman with a VERY thick German accent. He comes over and inspects all the outlets on the patio that are conveniently placed for me to take advantage of. He’s only making sure that I didn’t unplug his ice machines. Which I didn’t. We get to chatting and he, in fact, recognizes me from the Silver City newspaper. We get to talking about the service. He served many years in the German airforce as a radar engineer. He is clearly a very bright man. I’ve heard some people say he is a little off but I doubt they ever really gave the guy a chance. We talk at great lengths about many things and for my part the conversation and company was absolutely pleasant. He was very accommodating and had no problem with me loitering outside all day, relaxing and using his wifi. I also had most of my clothes and shoes outback drying in the sun since it had been in the river all day the day before.
Grayhound was with me as well. He was trying to shower and do some laundry while he waited for a friend that was to be showing up tomorrow. A friend that he had met while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I like Grayhound. He is one of the Warrior Hikers. In his late 40s and doesn’t like the limelight. Took awhile for him to open up but he is a good person as far as I can tell. Maybe a little misunderstood at times but who isn’t? He got his name Grayhound because he took a bus all the way from Seattle to get to the start of the trail and missed every interchange and it was a big fiasco. He accepted the name and was a good sport about it but it wasn’t funny to him when he showed up in Hachita much later than he wanted to. Anyways, Grayhound was about to do laundry offered to do mine if I needed any. I changed out of my dirty stuff and threw everything in I could.
After a few hours go by of me catching up on the digital world (no cell service, only wifi), Jim Zawacki shows up with our resupply boxes. I grab the food I need and repack my backpack so I can set off on the trail ASAP. I planned to cover 10 or so miles before night fall and it was already 1pm. But since Jim was there he had to wait for some of the others to show up so he could give them their resupply boxes before he could head back to Silver City. So I stayed there with him for a bit while we waited for the others. It’s easy to stick around and hang out. Sometimes all you need is one good reason not to hike and your ass ain’t goin nowhere.
2 o’clock rolls around and we get to chatting about the Gila Cliff Dwellings. They are just a little ways up the road but the route I planned on hiking doesn’t go directly by them so I was probably going to skip them. Jim then offered to drive myself and Grayhound up there to see them. As soon as that was offered I was on board and so was Grayhound. By this time there was another hiker that had strolled into Doc’s named Dash. I asked Jim if it would be okay to invite this new hiker along. Jim said no problem. I didn’t know Dash at this point but as far as I’m concerned, anybody else on the trail is like family and if there was room in the car I’m sure they would appreciate a free ride to check out the Gila Cliff Dwellings. I asked if he was down like Charlie Brown and he hopped on in for the ride. Seemed like a cool dude. Was around my age and turns out we all got along just fine.
The Cliff Dwellings were amazing. I don’t know what else to say about it. Research them. Go check them out. I was amazed. Truly incredible. We all had a blast and it was a very informative learning experience.
Once we got back to Trading Post it was around 3:43PM. I quickly began to realize that it was decision time. I either had to leave right then and there or I wasn’t going at all. Before I could put my pack on to beat feet, Jim asked if I wanted a ride down to the Gila Hot Springs Campground. I was curious so I said okay. It was probably less than a mile and once we got down there I was sold. I immediately knew I was camping here for the night. Three beautifully created natural hot springs rest right beside the Gila River. All of them averaged around 105 degrees. I dipped my feet in and It was heaven. I asked Jim to kindly take me back to get my things so I could come set up camp. I told Grayhound the good news and he was stoked as well. Dash accepted a ride down to the campground as well. We got back down there and set up camp. I hopped in one of the hot springs immediately and didn’t get out for a couple hours. Two of the other Warrior Hikers finally showed up and Jim gave them their things so he could skeedaddle before it got too late.
In the mean time another hiker showed up. Ben got in the spring with me and Dash. Ben was from Switzerland but I only found that out after guessing his accent to be Austrian. He was quiet but I liked him a lot and enjoyed what few conversations I had with him.
Since I had already been in for awhile I decided to get out and dry off before it got cold and dark. The sun goes down in the river canyon sooner than the light fades. I went over and set up my ground sheet and prepared my gear for the night. While doing this I noticed a new vehicle pull in to the campground. Girls. Two of them. They parked two sites away from mine and made their way to one of the vacant springs and hopped in. Maybe I wasn’t ready to dry off after all. I’ll be honest, this trail was lacking in the female department so far and I was eager to mingle with someone of the opposite sex after being surrounded by guys for the last two weeks. I strolled on over and asked if they minded If I joined to which they replied, “Of course.” Gabe and Claire were a couple of friends who were former co-workers from a job years ago back in Colorado. Gabe still lived there and was in the area to visit Claire who now lived in Silver City working for an environmental non profit that fights to preserve the Gila River, among other things I believe. She enlightened to some of the environmental issues in the region and in New Mexico to which I was eager to learn of and found to be quite informative. She had with her two dogs. One a six month old puppy named Nina who was skiddish and the other a 3 year old well behaved boy named Marco’s Critter Puppy or MCP for short. Apparently Gabe was in town celebrating a birthday and they were trying to check out the hot springs and do some hiking. After some good laughs and fun conversation I decide I should get my pruned ass outta the water and dry up a bit.
Grayhound had a fire all but lit back by the campsite. And a gentleman showed up driving a white blazer. It turned out to be a man named Peter who had been trying to link up with us Warrior Hikers to give us some trail magic. I told him we would be at Doc’s today and he tracked us down! He brought fresh fruit in two tupperware containers and brought us chocolate bard and orange juice as well. It turns out he is also a wildlife conservationist and did 28 years in the Army. Two tours in Vietnam as an officer. He didn’t stick around long but we made arrangements to meet him and his wife at a campground at Snow Lake in two days for some trail magic.
After some drying off and warming up time by the fire I hit the hay. This was a welcomed zero. Met a lot of interesting people and had a really fun day.
Monday, April 28, 2014 9:12PM
CDT Day 16 – 16 miles (approx)
This morning was cold. In the 20’s cold. I woke up at 6 am cowboy camping next to the river and decided to hop up and get my butt to higher ground where the sun would hit me earlier and I could thaw out. As I was packing up I noticed Dash getting out of his hammock and heading over to the hot springs with a book. I secretly wanted to be doing that but was just as happy getting higher out of the canyon and into the sun.
I made my way back up to Doc Campbell’s back patio where I could top off on charging my phone, camera and battery pack. Thawed out for a little bit and had some breakfast. After a bit I decided it was time to shove off and hike on.
Instead of continuing up the the soggy river right away, my maps showed an alternate, drier route that bypasses a 9 mile stretch of river. I heard this stretch was one of the most washed out sections and I was happy to find an alternate way passed this. The route I took was called Little Bear Canyon. It’s considered a slot canyon which is exactly what it sounds like. A very narrow canyon that is just wide enough to walk through in some places. A few springs trickled down it and I took turns walking in it and on either side of it. I was easily able to keep my feet dry as it was barely deep enough to draw water from it.
On the north end of the canyon it opened back up into the Gila River Canyon. Between walking through the slot canyon and the views of where it opened up, I felt like I was in a fantasy adventure movie. Like a mix between The Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. Sitting there in the shade was Dash enjoying his lunch. He informed me that “my friends” were down by the water. I had to ask him what he meant since every hiker I knew I left behind at Doc’s. He meant that the ladies I met last night in the hot springs were down by the river edge. I wandered on down and Claire and Gabe were down sun bathing by the water in front of a nice swimming hole. The dogs were aimlessly wandering around and Nina, upon noticing me, began her obligatory barking out of startling confusion based on this “newcomer”. We’d met before but she is an untrained puppy of 6 months so she gets a free pass.
I was planning on taking my lunch here too but I also wanted to cover some more ground and take a nice long break at Jordan Hot Springs. This particular hot springs were a much more natural setting and much more remote. You have to ford the river multiple times and walk 2 miles up river from where we were to get there. I asked the ladies if they were thinking of going and they said they were considering it. I believe I helped nudge them in the right direction and convinced them to join me up river. I ran over to Dash and asked if he wished to join too. He said sure and then the six of us were on our way.
We conversed and joked our way up the twisting and winding trail while we stomped our feet through the river. After about an hour or so we finally reached the hot springs. We climbed our way up an overly green embankment where a warm stream was flowing from. About 50 feet up sat this huge, rock-dammed pool of natural hot spring water. You could eeeeeasily fit a dozen dirty hikers in here with plenty of room to spare. There were already 5 people in the spring and we jumped in, Nina joined as well. We spent the better part of 60-90 minutes in here enjoying the conversation of each other and the new group of hikers. Four middle aged men and a woman. Two of the gents were full Monty and we learned that they were all friends from San Francisco. They were all very nice and good times were were had.
Finally the girls had to start heading back as it was going to take them some time to get back to their car before it got dark. We exchanged farewells in hopes of one day meeting again. You never know. It’s a small world and stranger things have happened. Dash and I decided we were going to hike until dusk and we started down the hill back to the river.
The other group of hikers were camping at a site on the other side. We went over to say farewell to them before pushing North. When we got there a few of them were perplexed looking up into a tree at their bear bag. Their counter weight had gotten tangled around the rest of the cord and the whole mess was stuck. Marine brute force to the rescue. It was too high up to cut down or untangle so I grabbed a stick and started rolling what cord was accessible around the stick. Once I had taken up all the slack I started pulling and tugging in the opposite direction like the ox that I am. “Adapt and overcome” as we preach in the Marines. Down comes the two bags and now for the fruits of my labors. The gentleman offers me a few nips off of his flask of Courvosier that was in one of the bags. Delicious. Dash had some too. Onward ho.
We hiked for the next few hours until the sun went down and it started getting cold. We found a “nice” silty campsite and called it a day. I’ve only been with Dash for a little bit but we get along pretty well and it’s nice to have someone along who you can, at the very least, tolerate and who hikes your pace. Another night cowboy camping under the stars. Twas a good day.
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 9:07PM
CDT Day 17 – 21 miles (approx)
Death March day. Woke up and Dash broke camp a little before me. You always hike out on your own whenever you’re ready. If you always wait for the last man you’ll never get as far as you want. Hike on when you want. While I was about to be ready to leave, NO2 comes walking by. He left Doc Rocket behind because he was sleeping in. He doesn’t do well with the cold and the river is freezing cold until the sun is high enough in the sky to hit the canyon floor directly. This usually happens around noon.
I eventually got ready and was off on the trail northward. I use the terms “trail” and “northward” extremely loosely here as both are only factual a fraction of the time during this stretch. You’re mainly walking in the river and this B – word of a river winds in every single direction imaginable as frequently as it possibly can. Which brings me to a new way of hiking. Socks and Crocs. I adopt this new tactic as to keep my feet in better shape and my shoes from getting destroyed. The Crocs are protection from the big rocks and the socks are protection from the little ones and the PLETHORA of silt can, in theory, filter out through the holes in the Crocs. Side note: until my half way point on the AT I was adamantly opposed to Crocs and anyone wearing them until I realized their usefulness to a thru – hiker. Do not judge me.
Once I started hiking this morning I put it in another gear. It was cold. My feet were numb. The faster I hiked the warmer I would be and the quicker I would be done with the Gila River route. I loved the views and how unique and surreal this place was. Every turn in the river presented a new picturesque view and I sincerely mean that. The overhead cliffs were majestic and incredible and vastly different in every new winding section. But the hiking on the ground level was slow, burly, cold, difficult, and mentally exhausting. Always climbing over boulders and jammed up logs and fighting your way through deep silt. I decided to make It my mission to get the hell up out of this canyon TODAY. 21 total miles to Snow Lake. A driving force of motivation was the fact that a retired Army Officer and Vietnam vet and his wife was meeting us there for some trail magic. I hoofed it.
I caught up to NO2 and Dash who were now hiking together and pressed onward. Never slowing. Seemingly going faster and harder as the “trail” became more difficult and challenging. I was exhausted. Only stopping once for lunch and another time for a water break, I pushed myself as if I were in a race against time. My goal was to make it to Snow Lake by 6pm. I made it at exactly 5:59PM. A full hour ahead of the other two. My bones were weary and my mind was spent.
The terrain opened up and I was out of the canyon. I turned around and audibly exclaimed a curse to the Gila River which I will not repeat here. The sun shone upon my face but the wind was harsh and cold. The sun would be going down soon and changing the temperature drastically. I had about a half mile to walk to Peter and his wife’s camp. When I arrived a load was lifted. I dropped my pack like it was 100lbs and the introductions began. Peter and Jean were retired but avid wildlife conservationists and enthusiasts. They had a special affinity towards the rare and endangered Mexican Grey Wolf, which they taught us all about and showed us a map with various dates of sightings and different pack territories. We’d be walking through several different pack’s turfs. These were lovely folks who had food. Sausages and fresh fruit. I devoured. There was a bathroom/outhouse where I went and changed out of my filthy clothes. We conversed for awhile and then Dash and NO2 showed up. After awhile we decided it was time to retire early.
Sleeping arrangements. This is where you get a little glimpse into the mind, life, and mentality of thru – hiker. The temperature was dropping fast and Peter informed us it would be in the 20’s tonight. NO2 and Dash were already freezing. The river walking all day had clearly drained our energies and core temperature. They decided they would both sleep inside the bathroom. This was nothing more than a glorified outhouse. I secretly wanted to sleep in there myself but figured I would concede the warmer spot to them so I said nothing. I did however sleep in the small three sided corridor leading in to the men’s room to protect me from the wind some. A cold night laid ahead.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 9:41PM
CDT Day 18 – 21 miles (approx)
Keeping up with this journal feels like homework. I hate homework. I didn’t care for it much during school and not much has changed. The only difference is this is something that I WANT to do and I enjoy sharing it with all of you. The most difficult part is having the energy at the end of every day to keep up with it. I have found myself getting behind by a couple days a few times. I will keep notes throughout the day so that I can remember the events and refer back to them easier when I go to write. I have a journal app that I use to keep everything in order nicely and neatly.
This morning was 21 degrees in the concrete three sided entranceway that I slept in. I might as well have slept in an ice chest. At least the wind didn’t get to me and we were on high ground so the sun was out fairly early without the canyon to block it. I woke up early and got my butt out in the sun ASAP. But not before taking a funny video of the manner in which the three of us slept. They informed me it was a cozy 41 degrees in the bathroom. I was jealous. There was no way I would have fit in there unless I was hugging the terlet. Gross.
This was a late start day as we allowed the sun to warm our bodies and dry our wet clothes and shoes until about 10am. No problem. Water was scarce moving forward moving ahead according go to the map so we cameled-up (drank our fill where water was plentiful) and topped our water containers off for the long haul. I carried about 5 liters out of Snow Lake. At two pounds per liter that’s a significant difference between the water I was carrying through the Gila River, which was none. I stopped and drank from the river when I was thirsty. My back was spoiled from the light weight. Back to a heavy pack. We still have over a hundred miles to Pie Town from here and between the amount of food for that stretch and the water for the day, packs were heavy.
The terrain was open and vast again as you you could see for miles and miles. Another day of putting my head down and hoofing it. I hiked on ahead until lunch time. A forest service road intersecting with the two track that I was walking on for some many miles. Saw a few herd of Elk during the morning stretch. I was walking in my shoes again as they were dry and there was no prospect of river crossings anymore. Took a nice 90 minutes break for lunch and let my sweaty feet air out.
Back to the grindstone. The rest of this day was on this dirt and rocky road. I probably was keeping a pace of at or just above 3 miles per hour. This turned out to the be stupid. My feet had recovered from old blisters but road walking brings a whole new level of foot rubbing for some reason. I can’t explain it. By late afternoon I began to feel hot spots on my heels. Makes no sense, my heels are fully callused. My pace slowed but I didn’t stop. Stopping feels more like a chore than hiking. Once you stop you find yourself tightening up and needing to warm your entire body back up again. I was already in rhythm. Onward ho.
Later afternoon, NO2 and Dash catch up after a make a hard left turn onto a different road as they cut across country and cut the turn off. Once they met back up with me we were only a few miles to where we figured our stopping point would be but we were all running dangerously low on water. The potential stopping point was a place on the map that indicated a SLIGHT CHANCE of surface water in a dried up creek bed at the base of the next set of mountains we would be climbing the next day. A looooong straight road led to the base of this spot as we walked through a vast plain between the mountains we just came out of and the ones we were walking to. You could see for miles in all directions. Including the sky that now appeared to be getting darker with clouds moving in as the sun got lower and lower in the sky. We were now clearly in a race against potential weather rolling in but drinking water was on the brain first.
In the distance we began to make out a couple of water tanks of trail to our right. We saw no cattle but we knew we to investigate before walking to the sketchy surface water in case it it was dry. There was on tank a mile off trail and one a little closer at maybe half the distance. We all made a B-line to the closest tank that was supposedly a water pump and well. Our hopes were high so they were crushed pretty hard when it looked abandoned long long ago and there was a warning sign stating that the water was bad. I sat my ass down in disappointment and kicked my shoes off to examine my blistered feet. They weren’t the end of the world and they were mainly a discomfort. It was only a couple more miles to our supposed stop so I decided to switch back to the comfy Socks and Crocs tandem that worked so well the day before. Dash decided to make the trek to the further tank. I wasn’t hopeful and neither was he. He left his pack behind and his mentality was that he simply HAD TO KNOW that the tank was dry before he moved on. I took no objection as my feet could use the break.
After 15 minutes he came back with the expected news. Empty. On the next hope. Our last hope. Our camping spot for the evening. Along side a dried creek bed next to a rocky road. As we approached a couple ranchers drove up on us in in a truck and informed us it might snow at night and said there may have been a couple pools but we were still highly skeptical. We knew better than to get our hopes up again. Sure enough when we got there there were some green algae or duck weed pools, I don’t know the difference. We pushed up the road until we found some clearer pools with flatter ground to camp on.
Night was setting in fast and so was the wind and clouds. We set up tents and flies, grabbed water, and ate dinner from our sleeping bags. Wind and scattered rain rolled in later. But we slept through. No snow.
Thursday, May 1, 2014 8:30PM
CDT Day 19 – 21 miles (approx)
Woke up to the sun beating on my tent fly. This is good news. It was cold again and the earlier I can get sun the better. A quick breakfast and filtered some water and I broke camp after Dash but before NO2. I had my Crocs on again as to not make any blisters worse. Se climbed to 9,250 feet at the highest and I caught Dash just before the final ascent to that altitude. We were huffing and puffing but it wasn’t too bad as it was a steady incline on a forest road. As soon as we crested the top we noticed the GPS had converging routes just past the top and there were multiple dirt roads intersecting here. We continued straight as this was where the official CDT route met back up with the Gila River alternate route that we had all taken. Dash and new a turn was soon to be coming so we were alert for that.
Just then two trucks pulling horse trailers came barreling from the opposite direction and stopped to talk to us. We conversed for a bit and exchanged pleasantries. There was a gentleman in the first truck asking about water for his horse and a woman in the second truck that we said hi to briefly. Both were nice but we only talked briefly and then Dash and I were back on our way. Walking and talking we carried on and after about a mile of walking Dash stopped and asked where the hell our turn was. We screwed the pooch. The truckers threw us off and we walked on totally forgetting about our turn and we were then lost in conversation. One mile. Which is really two miles. We turned around cursing ourselves and after about a half mile we cut straight up the steep mountain to pick the trail back up to avoid the switch back and extra footsteps.
Got back on the trail and took our lunch break at a sunny spot on the crest of our next highest point. About 15 minutes later NO2 catches us and we all take a nice long lunch break. We had service here briefly at 9000 feet and used it to check a few things and to make some calls.
Upon starting again we descended into a highly burned out region that was filled with downed charred trees. I got covered with soot climbing up, around, and through burned trees and brush. The next stretch was littered with long steep ups. Ups and downs of this caliber at this altitude was new to us. Lots of sweating and heavy breathing. A good work out and a good tune up for the bigger mountains that were further north in New Mexico and Colorado.
We get to a spot on the trail for decision time. Alternate route choices. Either take a winding dirt road 7 miles or take a 4.5 mile route through a trackless canyon. We decided to take the shorter route. We skirted up and around John Kerr Peak and made our way to a fork where we went right down a two track to go exploring for this canyon. Luckily our topo maps are good and match well with the topos in our GPS because we ended up taking a wrong road and had to cut across country down a drainage draw to find the canyon. It turned out to be a lot of fun realizing we were misplaced and getting back on track was rewarding because we successfully corrected our mistake. But before we did this we stumbled upon a couple of abandoned cabins and made our dinner there. Also there was a spring there that was slightly dodgy as there was an oil can at the bottom and an oily film on the surface. Don’t care. I grabbed a few liters and boiled and cooked with it. Water is never guaranteed moving forward. I wasn’t taking any chances.
After walking the entire way up the canyon we found ourselves on a perfect ridge that a sunrise would be facing and heating us up come morning. Another night of potential snow lay ahead of us. Today felt like a rewarding day and we felt accomplished by taking the shorter route and persevering after our mistakes. There is no telling how long the three of us will hike together but it has been a successful and fun group so far.
Friday, May 2, 2014 8:30PM
CDT Day 20 – 20 miles (approx)
Woke up to a beautiful sunrise view. It actually wasn’t the cold night we thought it would be. We took our time getting ready and basked in the sun. Apparently by taking the shorter route the day before, we passed a few other hikers. They hiked up on us while we were getting ready in the morning. Dusty (guy about 30), Kermit (gentleman in his 50s I presume), and Fireweed (a woman who is 62 that has 15,000 hiking miles under her belt). We talked for a bit and I took my time getting ready and instructed everyone to push on without me as I had some private “duties” to tend to.
I had first bumped into Kermit and Dusty in Lordsburg and exchanged brief hellos at the post office there. Then ran across them in Silver City only briefly as well. But now we were hiking in the same bubble for the time being and would probably be leap frogging often until getting to the next town, Pie Town.
I passed the three of them after I broke camp as I trucked on to catch the other guys. I was good on water and knew they were attempting to find a dodgy spring off trail before descending down the mountain switchbacks to the base of the range. I was back in my trail shoes as my feet felt up to the task again. I decided it best if I stick to the switchbacks. A longer route but on a trail. Dash does not do switch backs so I knew I wouldn’t be seeing his footprints and as NO2 was with him I doubt I would see his either.
When I finally got to the bottom of the mountain the trail turned a hard right on to a two track and I still didn’t see their footprints so I knew they were behind me still. It’s amazing how much you pay attention to footprints on this hike. I know who’s in front of me and who isn’t because you quickly learn what shoes everyone is wearing and can identify then by their tread. Kinda cool but you almost obsess over It.
Decision time lay ahead as I could continue down the two track or take a trail over more difficult terrain. I chose the two track. Now, I was good on water, but only for so long. My goal was to make it to the Aragon Well Windmill and I had all my hopes and dreams set on this as a lunch spot and to top off on water. As I walked in the blazing sun I sucked my water down to my last reserve liter. I never drink all my water in case the source is no bueno. That last liter can literally mean life and death potentially. Feet tired. Mouth dry. Sun baking me. I stagger up the road to the windmill. It’s spinning. The wind is blowing it. I’m hoping that means good news. But no telling until I get there. 9 miles hiked so far as I get to my lunch destination. If there is water here I’m drinking it no matter what the situation.
I begin my investigation. The windmill is spinning but there is no water pouring out the pipe into the tank. I climb uo and look into the tank. Ecto-cooler Green with dead moths and algae floating around everywhere. Puke. Luckily there are two troughs on the sides with slightly less green water in one and clearer water in the other. The greener one has a strange swimming insect going from below up to the surface and then back down. Weird. The other has plants living in it and has smaller swimming organisms in it.
I walk away to a tree about 50 feet away and set up my lunch area of operation in the shade. I’m getting water here. I’m taking a long lunch break here. So I go sit down and cool off before the others show up. I kick everything off but my shorts and dry off. The others all walk up in separate fashion one at a time with Kermit bringing uo the rear. They all inspect for themselves and we all decide upon the clearer trough as the way to go. Everybody filters except Dash. He carries no filter and uses no treatment drops. Ballsy. He drinks it straight, swimming creatures and all. To each their own. We all take an extended break and drink our fill, eat plenty and top off. The water was surprising cold and decision once filtered. I punch out first and my way down the two track.
20 mile days are the norm for us at the point and it just so happened that our next water source was supposedly a reliable spring at the 20 mile mark. And lucky for us it lay at the base of Mangas Mountain which approaches 10,000 feet. We make it there by around 7:30PM after me struggling up and down hills in the blazing sun. I feel drained of energy, I figure I am slightly under nourished and quite probably dehydrated.
Upon our arrival to the area that this spring is located in, there is a very small campground with a crappy (pun intended) outhouse style bathroom. We walk up the driveway to the campground off the road we were walking on and a woman starts running from her vehicle in near hysteria down towards us. My first thought is some drunken local crazy lady is about to unleash weirdness upon us. I ponder my options but there was no time and nowhere else to go. We are on a collision course. Here we go! As it turns out it was the woman in the second vehicle of the two trucks towing horse trailers. As it turns out the two of them were camping there and had their horses corralled right there as they were touring the surrounding trails on horseback. She apparently was overjoyed to see us as she was wondering to her friend if they might be seeing us again. Apparently she had also met Fireweed a couple days earlier and was deemed a trail angel by her for helping her out in some way. Her hysteria was nothing more than pure joy and excitement to be seeing us again and she came through with some more trail angel duties when she informed us that she would be giving us water since the spring we were relying on was bone dry.
What a relief to have her there to help us!!
Cowboy camping tonight and hoping the sun’s rays are unobstructed by the tall pines we are camping under. Just as we get in our bags for the night a couple of hunters roll in on their ATVs to their trailer campers that are parked a few hundred feet from us. Maybe we will meet them in the morning.
Saturday, May 3, 2014 11:25PM
CDT Day 21 – 28 brutal miles (exactly)
Woke up with the sun beating on me as was the plan. Up bright and early for some breakfast and to pack up to hit the road. 28 miles from Pie Town. The plan waas to pull around 20-21 miles to a water source and then have an easy hike into Pie Town Sunday morning for some breakfast at one of the small cafes. What have I learned about making plans? Apparently nothing.
So we’re getting around in the morning and the woman from the night before brought us a can of pineapples for breakfast and said they would happily fill our bottles up which was our chief concern since we didn’t know where the next water source was good. While that was happening the two hunters came out of their campers to come over and greet us. We got to talking and they kindly offered us some water as well in addition to some granola bars. At this point Kermit, Dusty, and Fireweed showed up from their campsite a mile back. They were counting on the spring water as well so they were in luck with the same trail magic that we were getting and it was all just so perfect. Good clean water and granola bars. It’s things like this that really make you appreciate the little things in life. You don’t take a thing for granted like a little clean water and granola bars. Helps put things into perspective for you. Not only that but the hunters offered to take all our trash off our hands. I determined that the lot of us needed to get a group photo and I made sure to include the trash bag that housed all six hiker’s trash as well as the large jug of water. After exchanging emails as to get everyone the photo it was time to be on our way. Big day ahead of us. Big mountain ahead of us immediately to.
Mangas Mountain had to be climbed before the trail got easier. Over 2,000 feet of up before topping off. Around 9,500 or 9,800 feet. I never really take notice all the time. Too busy pushing to care sometimes. The bottom line is that it was a sweaty morning of constant incline. There was a look out tower at the top that most people check out. I didn’t bother with it. I was just trying to make miles. I figure there will be plenty of mountains to come with even better views. Bigger mountains too.
It wasn’t until 1pm that I stopped for lunch. Covered about 8 miles so far. Slow going so far and we got a little later start than we wanted but it was OK because the morning was magic. Dash and NO2 were originally ahead of me but went to the lookout tower and that’s when I passed them. So they caught me around 20 mins after I stopped. Funny how we always seem to stop for lunch in the same places with no real plan for it when we start the day. After an hour of eating and feet drying we press on. It’s another 8 miles until the next water source at a pumped well on someone’s private property.
The next 8 miles are slow and hot. We get to the pump around 5 or so and take another long break. Only 16 miles by 5pm. This is not our best day of hiking. We have been out hiking without a shower or resupply or warm place to put our head for about a week now and clearly we need a recharge. The goal is to push another 5 miles to the next water source and top off and find a stealth campsite. While breaking at the pump the owner of the property makes his way over to us where Dusty and Fireweed are now with us drinking the good clean cold clear water. Gene is his name and he walks up with a pistol in his back pocket. He says not to be alarmed that it’s for the bears and mountain lions in the area. We chat for a bit and we thank him for the use of his well as he allows all hikers to use it. Time to push the final stretch. At least what I thought was to be the final stretch.
About 3 miles into this stretch I began to feel every single pebble under my feet pushing up into the balls of my feet. I assume I’m merely dealing with a pair of worn out shoes as these are the same exact pair that I finished the last 200 miles of the AT in. As well as countless miles in Hawaii over the winter. Add the already 300ish miles on this trail and a new pair is long overdue. Another mile up the road the pain gets worse. I’m wondering how it could hurt this bad. I stop in the middle of the road as I can’t keep pace with NO2 and Dash from the pain and I make the decision to go back to my ole trusty crocs. Upon taking my shoes and socks off I notice something I didn’t expect but should have. Blood blisters. Nasty ones. I decide to just hike on them and push on.
Another mile up the road and I can’t bare the pain anymore without medically addressing these bad boys.
I figure I’m not gonna see Dash and NO2 until I catch up to wherever they made camp. In my mind I begin thinking, “Fuck it, I’m gonna stop at the bottom of this next hill because I can’t push off of these anymore. Gonna perform some open foot surgery, carve em up, cut em off, pack em with ointment, and bandage them up. I’ll cook and eat my remaining to dinners and push the remaining 12 miles into town. It’s 630pm and I can make it by 10. 2 zero days will be enough down time for them to heal and I’ll make the push to Grants.” It’s amazing what a couple of blisters can make you do.
When I start approaching the bottom of the hill, what do I see? Good ole Dash and NO2 sitting on the side of the road cooking dinner. I inform them of my plans and they are both dealing with blisters and chafing and are DOWN with the plan.
DEATH MARCH TIME AGAIN. We block the pain out and hike at blazing speed with our sights set on the Toaster House Hostel. A place completely run by thru-hikers. More on that later. 3mph is the bare minimum for for the next 3.5 hours. With a pack on your back and 16 miles already down this is foolish. We know it. And we don’t care at all. A warm place with food and two zero days. That’s all that’s on our mind. We play games to pass the time by like “would you rather” and other hypothetical situational games. Anything to keep our minds off the pain. The sunset is epic.
Walk. Pain. Walk. Pain. We begin questioning our decision but are too committed to back out. This walk ends in Pie Town. At JUST after 10pm we make It. Ben, a dude from Switzerland greets us at the door as he sees us fidgeting around the gate trying to see if we found the right place. He shows us in and we take our packs off. I immediately take crocs and socks off and and rip the bandages off. The popped blisters grew new atomic sized tumor looking blisters which I immediately popped. Yum. Ben brings us beers and cakes and other food. This whole hostel is owned by a woman who stopped living in it in 2006 and it’s entirely lived in by hikers coming and going. There is food and drink constantly donated by the locals that number less than 50 in this small town. You are to donate what you can in a box and that goes to more food sometimes but mainly utility bills. After catching up with some of the other hikers there I grabbed a couch and got comfy for bed. Zeros the next two days plenty of food for my body, comraderie for my soul, rest for my spirit, and TLC for my spirit. NOT TO MENTION A WASH FOR MY NASTY ASS!! Truth.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
CDT Day 22 – Zero Day
Slept in. Until 7 am. Haha. Sleeping isn’t easy in a hiker hostel. We are used to getting up early and someone always does without fail. Ruining the hopes and aspirations of all of those who think they are gonna sleep in. It is what it is.
Today is a day for rest and relaxation and bonding with all the other hikers. I can barely walk today. And I mean that. Barely. I don’t get around to going anywhere until noon. There is a small RV campground next door that has the shower amenities and there is a deep sink for cleaning our clothes. I rummaged through cupboards and found some cold wash detergent. I go wash up and clean my feet as best I could and then hobble the few hundred feet back up to the hostel. It seems like the farthest walk ever. I find some herbal salve and coat my feet in it hoping it has ANY KIND of healing qualities to it. Anything will help in my opinion. Before dealing with repacking and stripping my pack of any unnecessary weight, Dusty and Fireweed say they are going to take a walk to the cafe for some food. Burgers. Eggs. Bacon. PIE. JABBA IS DOWN! Everybody knows I put the food away. It’s time to feast proper.
Luckily for me their pace is as slow as mine. The last stretch was a doozie for everybody. We get there and I order a breakfast meal and a lunch meal all at once. Dusty does the same. We all order pie afterwards. Blackberry a la mode. Delicious. I will be making another visit to this cafe tomorrow before it’s all said and done.
When I get back to the hostel one of the hikers in a bedroom leaves and frees up a spot for me to move in. Gentle Ben from Maine, different from Swiss Ben, moves on and Jabba moves in. It’s a futon laid out but it will absolutely do. There is also a bunk bed in there so when other hikers show up I will have some company.
The rest of the day is spent indulging in food and a couple beers but mainly babying my feet. Switching between lathering up with salve or triple antibiotic ointment. I will let them dry out over night and repeat the process tomorrow. In bed by 8pm. Heaven.
Monday, May 5, 2014 10:30PM
CDT Day 23 – Zero Day
Walking feels a little better today but the skin is still tender. More babying on the way. I start by eating some random food for breakfast. A couple strawberry pastries and a bowl of Kelloggs Corn Flakes with chocolate milk. Next a trip to the post office that was a hiker frenzy. 7 of us piled in a truck drove by none other than Jim Zawacki. He and his wife drove up to see us one last time and to bring us our resupply boxes. Such nice and accommodating people. So we all went to send boxes forward on trail (bounce box) and to ship unwanted gear home in hopes of lightening our packs. I think I may just have my baseweight down to 13 lbs. I still want to go lighter.
While at the post office a gentleman pulls up in a sport ATV with his dog on board. I starting petting the yellow lab and strike up a conversation with the gentleman. Apparently he is the neighbor behind the hostel with the chicken coop whose roster we’ve heard every morning. He says he will be coming by with some fresh eggs later. Great success!!! I can already smell my second breakfast.
By the time we finish and get back the eggs have been delivered. 5 dozen fresh eggs. I begun scheming up a meal fit for….well, fit for me. I had a wealth of ingredients at my disposal. Eggs, tortillas, sharp cheddar, asparagus, various peppers, and spices and hot sauce. Not to mention that Connie gave me some bacon and sausage on the way back from the post office. A light went on in my head. I know what you’re thinking and no it wasn’t breakfast burrito time. I took It to the next level. HUEVOS RANCHEROS. With a Jabba twist. I started by pan frying the asparagus in a giant cast iron skillet in bacon grease. Mind you this is on an old fashioned wood fired stove. Which makes this all the more awesome. So once the asparagus are perfect I throw two tortillas down and start melting cheese on top. While that’s going on I am frying up orange red peppers on the other side of the huge skillet with the bacon and sausage mixed in. Once the cheese is melted I sprinkle a generous amount of asparagus on one of the tortillas. I then place the other tortilla on top essentially creating a cheese asparagus quesadilla with a layer of melted cheese still facing up. With the newly acquired real estate in the pan in begin frying uo 4 eggs over easy (still in the bacon grease mind you) and as the bacon, sausage, and peppers are finishing up I pile the eggs over the cheese and the meat and peppers on top. Folks watched in amazement during the creation and during the consumption. It was a proud moment, I assure you.
After spending some down time in a food coma I went over to the RV park and set up shop by the fire pit to accomplish three things. 1) to point my feet at the sun so they could soak up the UV light and dry out more 2) to get my pale unexposed body parts some sun and 3) to catch up on Internet type things like current events and sports. I sat here for about 2 or 3 hours passing the time before the Warrior Hike event at the Town Center where the good people of Pie Town were making ALL of us hikers some food and deserts and pies.
When I got there they had quite the spread of spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, and a desert table that might scare a weaker stomach…but not a hiker’s. We all got are fill 3 times over and then I gave a little spiel on Warrior Hike and thanked the good people of the town for their hospitality and food. Snagged a good group shot and then we all went back to the hostel. Some people partook in all the beer that was donated but so far on this trail I haven’t felt a strong desire to indulge too much in the brews or alcohol in general for that matter. One or two and that’s been all she wrote for me thus far in town stops. Quite the opposite compared my first couple of months on the Appalachian Trail last year.
Once getting back the hostel, Nita showed up and she is the owner of the place. She gave my beard a tug and me a hug and we quickly became friends and she offered to drive me and anyone else to the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array) just down the road. Dash decided to join and the three of us were off. She gave us the brief tour of the small town accompanied by a nice history lesson. She was very sweet and let us know quaint little details about the place that we were otherwise ignorant to. Once we arrived at our destination this MASSIVE satellite dish stood towering over us. After a few minutes marveling in it my eye became distracted by a lone wild horse. I immediately began to walk over to it in hopes of petting it. As soon as I started calling it 6 other horses and one donkey came out from behind various bushes and trees that were out of view. I was surrounded. I was just praying I didn’t get kicked by one but it was pretty cool to have them all come to me when I then noticed that one of the horses had a brand new just born colt huddled up next to her. So young that it still had the umbilicus attached. After about ten minutes messing with them it was time to head back as then sun set and it was getting dark and cold. And it was bed time for this guy.
Once we got back the hostel was hopping. There were roughly 25 of us there at this point. I retired to my bedroom and Dusty, Kermit, Dash and I finished out out the evening exchanging old pictures of each other on our phones with some good laughs. Lights out.