Warrior Hike

Recently, I have been reflecting on how I got to where I am today. While it is true that I arrived here with great personal work and determination, I know that I have many people and organizations to thank for getting me here in the way that I have.  While I could sit here all day and list off every single one of them, today I am reflecting mostly on one organization in particular: Warrior Hike and the “Walk Off the War” program.

In the summer of 2012 is when I got linked up with their founder, Sean Gobin, by mere chance. The details surrounding that chance encounter are a whole different story altogether. Ultimately, I sought him out via Facebook after he completed his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in which he raised funds along the trail to purchase adaptive vehicles for seriously wounded veterans. It was during this hike that the vision for the Walk Off the War program first occurred and when he completed his hike, it started to take shape. After a few months and several conversations, I decided that I wanted to be a part of this organization and the program’s inaugural hike on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  It’s mission is to support combat veterans thru-hiking America’s National Scenic Trails to better help us transition from our time in service into civilian life. It is an amazing program that has far reaching positive benefits. I consider myself extremely privileged to have been associated with such fine organization whose mission I believe in so much.

I am blessed in many ways, but sometimes I tend to feel guilty about one way in particular. So many of my brothers that I fought along side of (those that I’ve known personally and otherwise) have come home different than they were before. Some of them come home missing limbs, some of them have paid the ultimate price and leave families behind, and some of them come home with pain that they may never share with you, me, or anyone for that matter. I am referring to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So many people come home and just are not the same. It’s something that most people will never understand. Even coming from a combat MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), I can understand WHY they might have it, but I will never understand what it is actually like to HAVE it. This is where I am blessed and at the same time what I feel guilty about it. Why does one person have difficulties coming to terms with the sights, sounds, and the implications of decisions and actions made in combat and another person can process all of that in a healthy manner? I don’t know if I will ever have the answer to that question and I am sure I am not the only one that feels this way. But what I do know is no matter what you are struggling with in life, you can find peace in the outdoors. You may not ever fully heal from whatever issues you are having, whether that is PTSD or even just the anxiety of normal every day life, but you can find a healthy break from all of this by getting outside and unplugging from the craziness that is our modern society. And trust me, it IS insane. It is chaotic. It is my personal opinion that our soul’s were just never meant to live this way. And yet here I am blogging and being a part of one of the reasons why life can be difficult. A lot can stem from being overly plugged in. The whole world is now connected. Probably to a fault. Breaking away from this can reset you and renew your spirit.

Warrior Hike aims to do this. And for me, it worked wonders. I never really felt like I had an issue living in our modern world before during or after my time in combat, but I recognized the difference in my peace and sanity once I had begun my hike on the Appalachian Trail with Warrior Hike in 2013. Warrior Hike gave me all the gear and support anyone could ever hope to have during a long distance hike. At almost every town stop along the trail there is a veteran organization (VFW, Legion Post, etc.) or a supporter of veterans there to help you out. Whether its a ride to town, a place to stay, a warm meal, or all three, you are taken care of. The best part is interacting with the members of these organizations. You get to spend quality time with veteran’s from previous generations who have served in previous wars so you share a common bond with these salt dogs who paved the way for you and me. So much respect between the generations of warriors, soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We share a common bond of selflessly serving our nation and fighting for freedoms that are constantly taken for granted by many. A bond that is shared between brother’s that have never met and yet was forged long before we were even born.  What a unique way to experience a trail and to travel by foot from town to town through the back country of our great nation.

I can’t begin to explain how fortunate I am to have the experience I’ve had. I may have made it to Mt. Kathahdin from Georgia all on my own with no help PHYSICALLY, but I’d be a fool if I sat here and told you that Warrior Hike didn’t play maybe the most integral role in the way my growth and experience on the trail unfolded.  I owe them so much and every supporter of Warrior Hike as well, whether that be a gear company that donated gear or the countless individuals that have been encouraging on Facebook, They all deserve recognition and the utmost thanks from me in my development and growth for the hiker and man that I have become today. I couldn’t have the peace in my life that I have today without everyone that has made Warrior Hike possible. And that start’s at the top with their founder, Sean Gobin.

If you have a chance, go ahead and check out their website and Facebook page as they have expanded to include other trails and adventures since my fateful AT hike back in 2013. And if you have a friend or know someone who is getting out of the service and they don’t know what they are doing in life, have them check it out too.  We’ve lost too many people who have come home that have found no direction or peace in their life. You might be able to do something about. At least tell them to get out and go for a hike and don’t forget that you can too!!

– This post is dedicated to my brother Travis Staats. May you Rest In Peace my friend –

The Tale of Onesimus and Super Sergeant Spencer

I had started this particular morning North of the small town of Blountstown, FL and began to hike across the long and winding bridge over the Apalachicola River and across the time zone border line into Eastern Standard Time. Just on the other side of the river was the even smaller town of Bristol where I had one of my famous double breakfasts. This stretch of the trail was an extremely long road walk into both of these towns and out of them as well. They were calling for a 60-70% chance of rain and I was hopeful that it would blow over. I had about an 8-10 mile road walk ahead of me and I don’t know about you but getting poured on is bad enough without the vehicles blasting past you on a shoulderless road where the sides slope off into drainage. Several miles into the road walk on a humid/sweaty afternoon, the clouds began to change from just overcast to looking more ominous. It even started to get a little chillier. This front felt to be more like a cold front than anything. I checked the weather on my phone while I was still in range of town to check the radar. I was about to get smacked in the beard with a good line of storms that were at best unavoidable. Several more miles down the road I heard that there was a teeny little mom and pop store. I picked up the pace to see if I could get there before the worst of it hit. It became quickly apparent that this was futile as the winds picked up and the dark clouds were upon me.

Now, A little over a year ago I made a purchase. I bought a Chrome Umbrella. Actually what I bought was the GoLite Chrome Dome but they went out of business and now I am shamelessly plugging the new Gossamer Gear equivalent which is literally the same exact thing, as far as I know. In any case, I bought it because I didn’t know what to expect from the New Mexico desert and what that sun would bring for me. I carried it on my first stretch on the CDT and used it sparingly and ultimately didn’t carry it past Lordsburg (the first town stop). Later on in my CDT hike there were definitely times that I wished I had it with me, especially since I carry a very thin and flimsy rain jacket that usually eventually wets out over the course of a substantial storm….anyways, I’m probably giving you all too much back drop but guess what, you’re gonna suck it up.  So to get to the point, I am now carrying the umbrella with me because I don’t know what to expect from Florida storms and figured my jacket could use the help, if indeed its cold enough for one. On this particular day I didn’t feel it was necessary to break out the rain jacket AND the umbrella so I went with just the umbrella for the first time in the rain. And I gotta tell you, I LOVED IT! It kept everything dry that I gave a damn about, my upper torso, and the top of my pack is all that I really care about. Feet and legs are going to get wet, screw ’em. So anyways, I’m walking along getting trashed by torrential rains on the side of this road, but what was awesome about this was the never ending stream of big rigs hauling timber to a facility down the road. They’d woosh past me with their hurricane drafts and the added water that came along with it, blowing my umbrella nearly inside out and out of my hands. I had to have it clipped to my shoulder strap, handle tucked into my chest strap, and both hands around the shaft (no chuckling). This went on for about 90 minutes until I finally passed the facility, now all I had to do was manage wind and the rain that was already happening. Not like that’s difficult or anything, just a minor annoyance. Finally the rain began to taper off and the winds died down, just in time for me to make it to that little store. Perfect timing (he says sarcastically). I’m bitching because I can, not because it is really merited here. I hung out in the store with the owner, Hubert, for about 30 minutes while I dried off and warmed up. Had a couple sodas and candy bars and exchanged pleasantries with him. He was born and raised in this area and it was nice to get a taste of the local flavor from someone who had been around. He was a retired gentleman with kids and grandkids. Once the spritzing had ceased altogether, I rucked up and said my goodbyes and shoved off.

Only another mile or so down the road until I reached the turn off to where the trail cut into Apalachicola National Forest. From that point I had another few miles of swamp walkin’ to go until a campground at Camel Pond where I was going to clean out my shoes from swamp debris and get ready for a nighthike. Ya see, I have been doing big mile days to get as close to Orlando as possible by March 20th so that I can enjoy some downtime in the area visiting with some relatives that I had not seen in some time. I still have some miles to go before I was content with my mileage for the day. But what happened next, well my friends, that is the real story here….and I am about to tell you.

When I reached the pond, the sun half showed its golden face from behind the rest of the grey clouds. I ran (literally) to the water’s edge to try and capture some photos but the lighting just wasn’t right. I took several shots anyways. I walked all around to size the place up. First I saw a pavilion with picnic tables and I thought to myself that I could cowboy camp on top of them protected from any future rains but then quickly remembered that I was going to do night hiking so I tried to block the thoughts of setting up shop from my brain. Although, I kept exploring the campground like I was looking for a reason to stay. I got to the vehicle entrance and I saw a sign that read “Camp Host” in front of a spot that had a Honda Odyssey towing a teardrop trailer behind it (if you don’t know, google it). I make a motion towards her and I began to walk her way assuming that she was, indeed, the Camp Host. Before I could get any words out of my mouth she said, “I bet you think I’m the Camp Host.” I quickly replied with, “If you aren’t, what have you done with the body!” She half laughed and quickly I laughed twice as hard to break the awkwardness. I am so smooth, it’s not even funny. We chatted briefly about what little she knew of the campground and then we talked about where we were from and where we were going. Her name was Polly (if I remember correctly) and she was from Ohio. I told her I was from Pennsylvania and she immediately declared me the “enemy”. She was barking up the wrong tree and she didn’t even know it, poor girl. She was retired and on an epic long road trip that was going to take her to Yosemite and a few other places. She was so excited about it and full of glee to share it. I told her I was a long distance hiker and that I would be out that way later this summer and that I hoped to run into her! She then started walking me down the road further into the campground which was beautiful. Spaces were big and open and the pond was visible from everywhere. A lot of the spaces had hookups for RVs. At the very least I was going to fill up on potable water and get a charge on my phone a little bit, I thought to myself.  As she was preparing to part ways with me she began to point at the farthest RV spot where an old smaller RV was parked. She said, “You gotta go down there and talk to the guy at that RV, he has claimed to have done the AT twice.” As soon as those words rolled out of her mouth and my eyes made contact with the RV….It all clicked!! I knew this RV. But there was no way. What were the chances of that?? I looked back her with pure excitement as we grew further apart, “I think I know this guy! Does he have a dog?” She replied with a yes. “Shut the front door,” was what I wanted to say, only not so PG.

Two years ago, I was on the Appalachian Trail and I had just come off of Max Patch. Let me rephrase that, I had just blasted over one of the best spots on the Appalachian Trail. A complete 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains from atop the bald that is Max Patch. Why did I just blast over this scenic spot you ask?? Because I was racing the clock to sundown. I was on a mission to make it to a particular spot where I thought that I would be getting picked up to head to a lodge that was doing trail magic for the Warrior Hikers. They were putting us up for the night and making steak dinners for us as well as breakfast in the morning. All you gotta do is say the words “food” or “trail magic” and I’ll rip the door off if I have to. So I was trucking along all day to try and make it to this alleged pick up point. I got there and I saw what I thought was my pickup vehicle. Only, this was not the case. This person informed me that they were merely doing trail magic for the hikers but he did direct me to to two pieces of paper in a plastic envelope that had a map and directions on it to where I was supposed to go. He said,”If you don’t mind saving my trail magic for the other hikers who aren’t getting steak dinner, I would appreciate it.” I, of course had no problem with that, but secretly wanted that chicken, burgers, and dogs he was grilling. Upon looking at the map and instructions, it was clear to me that there would be no ride. Damn it! I still have a ways to go. It was getting towards the end of the day and I knew I could still make it before dark but I had three other people behind me that were also trying to go to the same place. Two females (Joelle and Flo) and another one of the Warrior Hikers (Gary). Now, Joelle and Flo had actually decided to slack pack this day and didn’t have any of their overnight stuff, assuming that we would be making it to this lodge for the night. I forget how they planned it out but their packs were supposed to be meeting them at the lodge. But now came the hard part: getting the whole crew to this lodge together without getting separated. But at the same time, we were already late for dinner. I decided to break apart from them to make it there as fast as I could. You know the old saying, “Haste makes waste?” Well this could be applied here I am sure. In my rush to get to a place that I had no idea where it was…I didn’t snap a photo of the map and just assumed that finding this alternate trail off of the AT wasn’t going to be a problem.  As it would turn out, it was. I hiked for almost a half an hour and never found this orange blazed side trail. I turned around for fear that I would lose the other 3 behind me and finally met up with them and they hadn’t found it either. Flo and Joelle began to worry about what they were going to do for sleeping accommodations. It was a no brainer really. Flo was to sleep with Gary and Joelle was to sleep with me and we would use all of our collective clothing to keep people warm since we only had two tents and two sleeping bags. We would exhaust the majority of the food that Gary and I had to make sure everyone got fed and the next day we would make a strong push into Hot Springs, NC to sort out the mess of getting their packs back to them. Not to panic, just gotta think on your toes a little and cooler heads always prevail. We ended up making camp with a cool group of hikers, Surfer Dude and Caboose to name a couple. We were surely bummed about missing the food and warm bed but the new company, fire, and bottle of whiskey that was making the rounds made up for the loss.

The next morning, we woke up and slowly were getting ready to get out of camp. The other crew had already left while we were still discussing our strategy for the day. Before we could actually break camp, we had a couple of women walking down the trail towards us planting little American flags in the ground. We asked them what this was all about and they said that they were doing trail magic for the hikers, but more specifically for the Warrior Hikers!! I looked back at the crew with eyes wide open and then looked back to the women and was like, “You’re lookin at two of em right now!!” They got all excited and and we got all excited and urrbody got all excited. Excited! When one door closes, another one opens. I keep telling myself and others that ever since I started living the hiking life that “everything works out”. So we walk a few hundred feet up the trail to where there were a couple trucks parked and there were at least 4 people (if I remember correctly but there were other hikers there too and my memory is a little hazy) putting on trail magic. There was breakfast food of all sorts. You name it, it was either being cooked or was already made. I don’t have the time to explain it all since I am currently starving and the thought of detailing all the delicious food might actually kill me. We wouldn’t want that now would we? So while we were there, we got to know all the people that were taking care of us. I informed them that all the rest of the Warrior Hikers were at LEAST a day behind because they spent the night at the Lodge. Two of the people, Rebecca and Tom (husband and wife)  decided that, after hearing our story of the day before, they wanted to do us a favor. They lived on property nearby and had cabins for rent on their property and were prepared to offer us them to rent at a “very discounted price”. We told them that while that was very generous of them that we had to cover some ground today and that our predicament with getting the girls packs made it not a very easy situation for us to just up and decide to hop off trail for some R&R. They told us that the discounted price was actually going to be free!! That REALLY made the decision difficult but I knew that no matter what we had to make some miles on this day and there was no way around it. We thanked them kindly for everything and and reluctantly went on our way. We started rounding the hill and were almost out of site when I stopped for a moment and looked back at Gary, Flo, and Joelle. “What are we stupid?? We gotta go take them up on this!!” Haha and they were all in agreement. We turned back and told them that we wanted to reconsider. They told us that they would take care of everything. Food, Laundry, showers, the works. She told us that we could even hike a full day if we made to a particular road crossing and they would pick us up!! it was perfect. So we hiked on all day until we made it to the dead end dirt road road. They picked us up within 10-15 minutes and brought us to their property and showed us the cabin we would be staying in. It had several bedrooms and had a hot tub on the deck! That was all we needed. She gave us some snacks to hold us over until dinner and told us to get showered up and follow one of the dirt roads up the hill from our cabin to the property that they lived on. It was out of sight and past several other cabins that they rented. We did laundry and took showers and basically just reveled in the current situation we found ourselves in. 24 hours earlier we were under very different circumstances. It’s funny the way the trail life works out sometimes. After we were all cleaned up and ready for dinner we made our way up the hill to Rebecca’s Mermaid Lodge. It wasn’t one big open space in the shape of an L. The short side of it was the kitchen area with sink and wood fired stove and the long side of it was the dining area as well as a reading space or nook. It was custom wooden hand-built structure with so much charm. Windows and glass everywhere and the inside was decorated with a lifetime of items that looked like each one could tell a lifetime’s worth of stories. Most of it was mermaid themed, hence the name. Rebecca claimed that once you skinny dipped in the pool, you were a Mountain Mermaid (MAN).  Dinner was served and we ate like kings and queens. There was no shortage of food and while that took center stage initially, the real treat of it all was the companionship we shared with our hosts that night. To have two complete stranger take in 4 weary hikers who were down on their luck, well you just don’t know how much that means to someone until you are on one of the two ends of it. We were so appreciative and thankful for their generosity, words can’t even express. We must have sat and enjoyed conversation with them for a couple of hours until our bellies were stuffed, complete with dessert. Once the lethargy started kicking in and it began to near hiker midnight, we said our thankful goodnights to both of them and started back down the hill towards our cabin, but not without a bottle of sparkling wine that they sent us off with. Too kind. We capped off the evening with a relaxing soak in the hot tub and a couple glasses of the wine. Life doesn’t get much better than this day.

Am I getting to the point of the story yet? Almost. Shut up and keep reading.

When we woke up in the morning we took our time getting ready. We were in no hurry to get back to the trail. Rebecca was going to take us back to where she picked us up the day before but she wanted to take us, first, to a friends of her. Apparently one of her distant neighbors was a very interesting person with a very interesting home. Camille Shaffer was from France and she is the oldest living civilian WWII casualty. I hope I’m saying that right. What I mean is when she was a little girl she lost part of her arm when she was trying to pick up a booby trapped toy doll in the streets left behind by Nazi troops. You can read her whole story in the link I provided but she is a lovely woman and passionate artist. She runs a magical property made for artists of all kind to take up residency. This place is called Azule. And once Rebecca began driving up to it, we knew it was a magical place. Hands down one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever been to. And Camille was a real delight and let us roam the place freely. If I could ever build something as unique and magical as this, life would surely be complete. I encourage you to check out the links I have provided here. After an hour or more venturing through the caverns and secret places of this place we decided that it was time to get back to the trail. We thanked Rebecca a million times over with hugs all around and went about our way, onward to Hot Spring, North Carolina. For the record we made it there no problem and the girls were reunited with their packs and all was right with the world.

Now, time bring us present. Back to the Camel Pond campground we go. I am walking closer to the old, shorter-style RV and I make out what appears to be a woman, and immediately I think that this can’t be the same camper. I don’t recognize this person. And no sooner was I thinking this when out popped the bright blonde/white mop I remembered from that fateful day two years ago past Max Patch. It was Onesimus and his RV!! He was the one doing trail magic by the side of the road where the map was to the lodge I never made it to!!! I looked back to Polly and said, “IT IS HIM!” and I turned without a reaction to almost shift into sneak up mode. I came around the corner in clear view of him, the two people he was with, and his dog. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but we met two years ago on the Appalachian Trail” I said interrupting the party. He looked at me like somebody who has given trail magic to too many hikers in his day. Time to jog the noggin’. I recanted the ENTIRE story to him. He walked into his camper and came out holding two sheets of paper and said,” I remember.” There it was, the map and directions. The son of a gun saved them!!! I was holding the very map that would have led me into an entirely different direction that day!! Wow. I couldn’t even believe it. Not only was I holding the maps, but here stands before me a trail angel that I had met before on the AT two years ago?? What are the chances of this. He takes his winters to Florida apparently and he had been at this location for a couple weeks now. He had his mountain bike and kayak with him. What better spot? A Connecticut man originally but he served 30 years in the United States Army, which brings me to his companion. Super Sergeant Spencer. A part Australian Shepherd and part pit stray puppy that he found on Fort Benning Georgia while being stationed there. Onesimus was a Ranger and Delta aka Special Forces. He was a boss but he has the heart of a servant. He had my respect long before I learned any of that but once I learned of this I had a whole new respect and bond with the guy. He also had two other people with him. Enter Missi and Jack (or was it Jake, Onesimus’ real name was Jack or Jake, you can imagine my confusion). Missi and Jack/Jake were from Michigan and were retired. Jack (not remembering which was which is driving me crazy) was a heavy equipment operator and him and Missi were escaping the northern winter in their RV while towing their Harley. Now, the funny thing about these two (and there was a lot) was that they were each each other’s first and third marriages. Meaning this was the second time they were married to one another with another marriage in between. They were so much fun though and you would have never known they were ever divorced. He affectionately referred to her as the Cannabitch, he was the Cannaworms, and their RV was called the Cannabus. Did I mention that pot was medically legal in Michigan? They had funny stories for days. Anyways, so we make friends all around and Onesimus invites me for dinner. There was NO WAY I was going to walk away from this. Sometimes your ambitious hiking plans just have to be put on hold. Night hike through swamps? ORRRR enjoy grilled chicken and fire baked potatoes and good company? Hmmm, tough call here.

The temperature was rapidly dropping as the sun was beginning to set over the pond. I ran back down to the waters edge to grab a couple more photos before it was gone. Then made me way over to the bathrooms to use the sink to rinse out my shoes. When I walked in it turned out there was a shower. Jackpot. I climbed in to rinse off quick with warm water and rinsed out my shoes in the process. Its called multitasking people, maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s like taking a shower while you’re bathing your dog. Oh you’ve never done that either? Well then forget I said anything. I made it back to the camp and began to set up my tent before it was pitch black and before dinner was ready. We shared so much fun and good conversation that night. Mostly we were all just so astonished by the random connection of two travelers. I was taken back by it all. I must have said a dozen times how awesome it was that we all were spending the evening together. It felt like we were all old friends or something. We made the correlation between hikers and RVers that its really all about the connections you make with the people you meet during your travels. I could see a thousand sunsets and hike a million mountains, but the power of human connection will usually trump most of those. It’s the people you remember more. Dinner was served and the boys sat at the picnic table and enjoyed our meat and potatoes by kerosene lantern. Missi sat by the fire and enjoyed her beer as she had already eaten.  Not much talking could be heard during that time, mostly just the sounds of eating satisfaction. We continued to visit with each other for awhile until just before 9pm when we all decided it was time to call it a night. I said my good nights with sturdy handshakes for the men and a hug for the lady. What an awesome surprise evening this was. I still can’t believe it.

In the morning I awoke to a beautiful cool and sunny morning. I walked over to Onesimus’ camper where he said he would have coffee for me. We spent a good part of the morning enjoying a few cups and had some conversation ranging from all topics such as hiking, traveling, religion, and what our plans were for the rest of the year. His plan was to leave Florida in the coming weeks to start doing trail magic on the AT again. I informed him of my hiking plans and we figured that we would probably run into each other down the road again sometime. I’m sure it will happen. I walked over to Missi and Jack’s RV and said my goodbyes but made sure they had my information to follow along on my journey’s in the future. Sad that such a fun time was so brief and yet had to come to an end. That’s the nature of hiking. Eventually ya gotta keep moving. Fare thee well my trail magic friends. On the way out of the campground I had another camper run up to me. He had the look of a hiker. An older gentleman with a feather in his cap. He told me he had hiked the AT before and he was just traveling in Florida with a borrowed car to see what the Florida Trail was all about. He told me his trail name was Feather and asked what knowledge I had about the trail, which wasn’t much. It’s funny how hikers can easily spot other hikers. His first words to me were, “Are you a thru hiker?” Haha. What gave it away??

Then I hiked through 60 miles of swamps and other shit happened…..I’m done typing. There is your story. Hope ya liked it.

The Florida Trail: Week One

I’ve never been to Florida. You hear quite a mix of opinions about this place. But then, this state can’t quite be categorized as one place, can it? No state can, really, but Florida might be in a league of it’s own in that respect. First you have miles and miles and miles of coast which varies depending on which part of the state you’re in. Then you have the inland territories of the north and the south. The culture, from what I hear, is quite different. But that’s what I’m here for, to experience Florida. I am under no illusions about the trail in front of me. I know there aren’t any mountains, or crazy vistas, or wild country like that of the Continental Divide. This is a humid place with humid-loving flora and fauna. No, I am not here to have the experience I had on the AT, or the CDT. I am here because I like adventure in new places.

After a weekend in New Orleans with my oldest and best friend, Cody, I got picked up in NOLA by a Marine buddy who I met through another Marine buddy while I was on the Appalachian Trail. Justin offered to pick me up and bring me to Pensacola for the start of the trail. I can’t thank him and his fiance enough for putting me up for a few days while I rounded up the last of my supplies and did the last bit of loose-end tying, After one seriously gluttonous breakfast they drove me to the start of the trail at Fort Pickens. We said our goodbyes and there I stood, at a very unlikely place about to hike in a very unconventional environment. You don’t think of ocean and sand when you think of hiking. You think of mountains and dense forests with fresh water streams and grass. Yet there I stood next to a cannon atop a pentagonal fort that was closing in on being 200 years old.

I walked the beach for awhile until I decided that it was too much effort to trudge through the sand, so I bounced over to the road that paralleled the beach (it was a very narrow barrier island). I finished the day on the road, roughly 6 miles of blacktop walking. I forgot how much I loathed the feeling of my feet walking mile after mile on black top. I’m not carrying Crocs like I was last year when I started the Continental Divide Trail. They were a staple and a go-to for my road walking endeavors through New Mexico. I don’t carry a camp shoe anymore. I can’t justify the weight of things that aren’t needed anymore. Although, I’m sure once I get into some more swampy areas of the FT, I may be wishing I had my trusty ole ‘Socks N Crocs’.

The next day I vowed that I would stay on the beach all day. Sure it might be harder work and the miles might come slower, but my body in general felt better after doing miles on end in sand. And really, it was more beautiful. I might as well enjoy the beach while I’ve got it. Once I cut inland, I don’t think there is too much beach walking, if at all from here on out. I enjoyed walking on the beach so much that I decided to actually continue on the beach off of the official trail. Once you get to Navarre Beach the trail cuts inland around the west side of Eglin Air Force Base and then cuts east through the base to just north of Freeport. I decided to bypass Eglin Air Force Base altogether and stick to the beach. Not only do you require a permit to hike through Eglin but in my experiences, base training property/grounds are never really very scenic. Camp Lejeune (where I was stationed) was just one big swamp and briar patch basically. I found myself losing myself in thought along the beach, enjoying the sounds of the waves crashing. I drifted up and down the slope of the beach as the waves faded in and out. It became like a game to find the hardest parts of the sand so that I could more efficiently walk along the beach without my feet slipping in the sand. Luckily I wear gaiters or I might as well have been walking bare foot the whole time with the amount of sand that would have piled up in my shoes. I did, however, walk a ways barefoot, more so for the novelty of it than anything else. It was nice to dip my toes in the sand and ocean. The water was exceptionally warmer than I thought it would be. I eventually came to a stretch that was “off-trail” and forged on without a second thought. I just figured, “This is beach, I can walk it.” It was a cold and windy day and a couple miles in I started drinking some of the leftover whiskey that I had from my New Orleans trip the weekend before. You’re damn right I saved it. Now, I didn’t get shnackered (not a real word but I doubt it needs explaining), but I was feeling the right amount of good to be talking to myself and hollering at oncoming seagulls and pelicans. I laughed out loud to myself as I knew I looked like a crazy person, but really I was just having a good time, and nothing was going to stop me. Not even the restricted sign that said “permit required” that was on the beach could stop me. I was too far to care about turning back, there was no way that I was going to walk around. I kept trucking. The only thing that had me worried was what looked like a giant air traffic control tower. But there was no runway nearby so I just kept moving. My hope was that they could care less about some dude with a backpack walking along the beach yelling at birds minding his own business. And my hopes were realized, I passed no problem.

Eventually I made my way to Fort Walton Beach. This was where I would spend the night because one of my closest friends from the Marine Corps lived there. His name is Decoteau (last name). I haven’t seen Dakota (not how you pronounce it but what we call him anyways) since I got out of the Corps. It’s unfortunate when you lose touch with someone you were so close to for so long. We were together from basically the beginning. After boot-camp, if you are going to be in the infantry, you get sent to SOI, or the School of Infantry.  Dakota and I were squad leaders together at SOI and when it was time to get sent to the Fleet Marine Force we got orders to the same Battalion! Not only that but the same Company! Not only that but the same Platoon!! Now, it would be too much to ask to be in the same squad but being in the same platoon is damn close enough. We were brothers, and always will be. After we came back from our first deployment to Iraq we decided to make the move over to Scout Snipers together along with our friend G-Spot (I swear that’s what we all called him on account of his last name being Gearino, even my parents called him that). The three of us made the transition together and we deployed once more to Iraq as a threesome of best buds. After our 4 years of Active Duty service we all decided to take our honorable discharges and seek a new life in the civilian world and the three of us would never be together again, at least yet.  So Dakota picks me up at a Waffle House and man let me tell you it was like we were never apart. We didn’t skip a beat. I was so glad that I cam down here to hike this trail if for no other reason than to run into him for a night. We went out to Chili’s and had a few beers and reminisced about old times. I get a little emotional just thinking about how lucky I am to have served my country with such an amazing crew, even beyond Dakota and G-Spot. I crashed with him for the night and then he dropped me off at the trail head the next morning. Wished I could have spent more time with him.

The next day I finally got into some woods and off the beach and roads. I had no idea what to expect from this new environment but I can tell you that if there is a way to enjoy it, I’ll find it. The ground became soft and needle covered. The trail winds in and out of shallow sand creek beds in woods that appear like something out of The Lord of the Rings (I described it on Facebook as being like Fanghorn Forest). I enjoyed it. I liked the solitude. There wasn’t a person in sight once I left the road. Only distant sounds of a feint car engine. I saw plenty of what appear to be panther tracks. I have been keeping my eye out for one and I am hopeful that I’ll bump into one sooner or later. My first official wooded campsite was perfect. It had a fire ring and two benches. I enjoyed a couple of burritos there and camped with my rain fly off but there was a chance of rain that night so I had it handy in case.  The next day I walked into my first resupply spot in Ebro where I had a box sent to the Ebro Motel. Lovely people run that place and it was recently renovated to my delight. Clean rooms and everything a hiker could need. They did my laundry for free. Ironically, staying directly next to me were 3 other Florida Trail Hikers. Captain Glen came to my room to introduce himself and insisted that I come over and visit with him and his companions, Dos and Bat. They were on their home stretch heading in the opposite direction. It was nice to encounter some other hikers, especially since they had information about the towns and trail that were ahead of me. They also had a friend visiting them who is somewhat of a hiking legend himself, Nimblewill Nomad. We all had a great time talking about hikes and conversation over a few beers.

Man, It’s great to be back on trail. This life is what I need. I could be anywhere as long as I’ve got my pack with me.

It Is Time.

Time to do this again. Time to change gears. Time to flip the switch. Time…..to be free.

I don’t always get that pre-anxiety, or jitters, or butterflies when I am about to do something exciting. I usually don’t experience the gravity of what I am doing until I am knee deep in it. I don’t know if thats because of my time in the Marine Corps or that I have been living what I consider to be an exciting life or what the reason is. But for some reason, this year, I feel like I have set the bar just a little bit higher for myself. As if hiking the Continental Divide Trail last year wasn’t enough. As if completing the Triple Crown in 3 consecutive years wasn’t enough. Well…..it’s not. And it likely never will be. This is the drive that exists within someone who has that insatiable appetite for adventure. It’s what led me to this life. I have never been the one to settle for what is calmly resting in front of me. I have always wanted to go after the big fish. I have carved myself out of the confines and structures of what is widely considered the normal American life and I have begun to truly know what it takes to live MY life. And I now know, and am extremely happy, that they are two totally different things.

So, today, I have those pre-adventure jitters. Just a wee bit. And it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a feeling inside that helps me keep in perspective the gravity of my current and future actions. Its like my body telling me, “You know you’re just a little crazy, right?” Right on body, right on. Maybe I am. But then again, maybe thats just the old me (the one that grew up in rural Pennsylvania that didn’t get out much) trying to fight its way to the surface, trying to remain relevant. Step aside son, you’ve had your time.

For those of you who don’t know, here is the brief background on my hiking career. In 2012, I was working for an outdoor gear titanium manufacturer and was asked to run a vendor booth at Trail Days (a hiker festival on the Appalachian Trail) in Damascus, Virginia. I basically got hooked just from those brief couple of days interacting with thru-hikers. I had always known about the AT and loved the outdoors and hiking/backpacking but had never actually considered going on a long distance hike myself. Less than a year later, I was on the Appalachian Trail. I spent 6 months hiking from Georgia to Maine and the further along the trail that I went, the more I fell in love with the hiking life. The simplicity and freedom is what I loved most. After completing the trail I knew that I needed more. And I am not the kind of person that has the patience to wait years and years for the things that they desire. I knew that if I wanted to make a life of this, I needed to find a way to make a name for myself so that I could, hopefully, one day make a living and provide for myself within this life.  So, with help of my sister Laura, we began to brainstorm ideas on how best to get this bearded face of mine on YOUR screen (P.S. If you’re reading this you’ve all been hypnotized into liking me).  No matter what, I knew that whatever it was going to be called, it was just going to be me. My personality, goofball nature, idiotic antics, and my friendly spirit accompanied by the wonderful people that would come in and out of my life along the way. I wanted to show you all that there is more to life, more to this country, more to this world, and more to US as individuals than just going to school and then getting a job so you can retire after your career is over. Don’t confuse what I am saying, I am not saying that those are bad things. I am merely wanting to convey that there is SO MUCH MORE. You have options in this world and they don’t have to revolve around being a consumer of products. I have next to nothing compared to your average American. And I would be willing to bet that I am twice as happy (at least). I digress. So I brainstormed this baby, The Real Hiking Viking. It’s just me. That’s all this is. My adventures for you to see and enjoy.

The first order of business was to get back to hiking. So I started with the most difficult trail that this country has. The Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada over some of the most rugged terrain our country has. What better test for a Hiking VIking? It was a magical experience that I will always cherish as being a “coming of age” moment for myself in regards to this long distance hiking life. See, I got my start on the Appalachian Trail but it wasn’t until my experiences on the CDT that I really (and I mean REALLY) came into my own. All the pieces just starting fitting and I felt truly at peace. My hometown of Lewisburg will always be home to me, but this now felt like my new home. I felt at home with this wandering, adventure world I now lived in. And the CDT was only the beginning.

Before I continue I want you to know that I don’t care about spelling and grammar, this is a blog…..not my thesis. I write as if I would be talking to you. If i misspell something, it’s because I didn’t proof read this. My time is valuable and taking the time to write this is time enough. Grammar? Again….think of this as a completely one sided conversation that has been transcribed for you. Also, i do not pre craft my posts. Everything flows from the fingers in the moment. I speak from the heart, in the moment, and from my experience. That is it.  Any complaints about grammar, topic, or otherwise, please stop following. This world is full of enough negativity as it is and this is not the place for it. I aim do just the opposite. So lets all just be friends and enjoy.

Having said that, last year, I tried to journal every single day and it went pretty well…for the whole state of New Mexico. Every time I got to town I would upload my backlogged journal to my blog here and you would get to read detailed accounts of my journey. But by the time I got to Colorado, I was pretty burned out and I stopped having the time or energy to do that every day. So I gave up and focused on my hike. This year,  I would like to get back to journaling, but I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into failure like last year. I am going to journal as often as I can. And when I don’t feel like I have the time or energy to do that, i will mitigate those moments with video blogging. Let’s hope I can remain fairly consistent with this as I know it’s going to be a fun ride for everyone to following along with. Not to mention I would love to look back years from now and have these accounts of my adventures.

So that basically brings us fairly current. I am writing this to you from Pensacola, Florida. I am on the precipice of a big hiking year. Wednesday, I will begin walking from Fort Pickens on the Florida National Scenic Trail to the Orlando area. I got sick of not having that long distance adventure in my life. I have become spoiled in that sense. I need my scenery to be changing. It’s February and I have never been to Florida in my life. So here I am. I will spend roughly a month (600-700 miles, depending) as a tune up for the Arizona Trail (800+ miles) which i will begin no later than April 1st. After that I will hitch down to San Diego from Utah (with maybe a stop in Las Vegas) and grab a ride to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail at the Mexico border by May 10th. I have a (self-imposed) timetable for myself. I would like to finish these 4,000+ miles by the beginning of the last full week in August. That would be roughly 6 months from now. My time on the CDT taught me discipline in terms of my hiking routine and I know that if I stay disciplined that I can easily accomplish these goals I have set for myself.

This is my schedule through August. It is always subject to change, as goes this life. After August, I do not plan to slow down really. I plan just to take a little time off and then get back to it. You will be kept abreast of future plans as they come into the fray.

Bottom line here people, I am excited. I can’t wait to see new places, meet new people, and to be outside. Living outside, to me, there just isn’t anything better. The smells, the sounds, the wildlife, the stars, sunsets, sunrises, nature….nothing man has ever created remotely rivals the raw, untouched beauty of the wild…

…and getting back to that is thrilling.

Cuba to Chama – Giardia and Hypothermia aren’t so bad, except when you have them at the same time

Monday, May 19, 2014

Grabbed a couple breakfast burritos at the gas station/food joint just around the corner after I was able to sort out my package situation between the post office and the motel.  I don’t even wanna get into it. Fed up.  Didn’t even get goin until about 11-1130am which is much much later than I was anticipating.  Whatever, not like I’m not used to it at this point….miles and miles to go and minimal time to do it in. The others were at least a full day ahead of me. 

I had a 7 mile road walk out of town until I reached the trail head to start my ascent into the San Pedro Wilderness.  The moment I hit the trail there was a flowing brook less than 100 yards into it. Unbelievable. Where the HELL was this BEFORE CUBA….nowhere. It became apparent that I was going to be surrounded by water for the rest of the day as the San Pedro Mountains still had snow melting on them and that meant flowing water everywhere.  I drank directly from this brook even though I had plenty of water in my pack. I dunked my bottle in a rapid and filled it to the top and screwed on my filter and drank a liter just for the hell of it. I was making absolutely sure to do my best to rehydrate and keep hydrated from this point on.  The higher up I got the cooler it became and the lower the sun got. Once I reached the top of the first considerable up I was sitting at the 9,000 foot range and the vast forest of pines and aspens opened up to beautiful fields of grass surrounded by pockets of white snow.  The very first field I came across had several Elk grazing among the vivid green grass. I stopped and just looked 360 degrees around me and marveled at what a different environment I found myself in compared to my day hiking into Cuba. I smiled and got one of those feelings of sound happiness. This is why you suffer through those brutal conditions in the desert on this trail. This is why you push the fight north and keep moving your feet, one in front of the other. You eventually find yourself perpetually surrounded by the incredible and awe-inspiring power of nature and life……and WATER.

The trail followed in and out of boggy fields of grass and along mountain streams that were the products of snow melt.  The further I went the higher up I got and the swampier the fields became. For the most part the trail stayed out of the bogs but as the sun was about to set over the trees I came across the last “stream” for a while and decided to cook dinner here and fill up my water.  I had to travel through the bog to get to the stream and my mesh shoes started to saturate with water. I didn’t love this as the sun was setting and the temperatures were about to plummet.  No way of warming up or drying out once that happened until morning.  I was able to finish cooking and filtering before sundown but only just before. I had another 60-90 mins of light before I would need my headlamp and decided to hike until just before that.

During my next stretch I encountered even more bogs and my feet became completely soaked. There was no avoiding it, this was snow melt and it was all around. What am I gonna do, complain about water after my last couple of days? Keep it all in perspective, Jabba. Good with the bad, bad with the good. The bad makes the good that much more worth it and enjoyable….there is always a balance. There must always be a balance and it’s I always say, “You can’t win ‘em all!”

As chance should have it the trail brought me to the summit of San Pedro Peak which sat above 10,000 feet and had a spectacular view to the east which set up for the perfect morning sunrise.  The wind was cold and stiff and I was eager to get in my 17 degree down sleeping bag. I set my bag up on the calm side of a tall pine tree that had limbs and needles down to the ground to protect me from the brunt of the wind.  The sky was completely clear and I cowboy camped yet again, the stars were bursting and the sky was brilliant. Bitter cold was setting in though, time to zip the bag and pull the drawstring on the hood….seal that shit up tight tight tight!

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Woke up to the sun blazing my bag up. It was still cold out but a 17 degree bag is nice and toasty for my since I sleep hot, add that sun beating down on its synthetic skin and you got yourself a super cooker. I grabbed my shoes to put them on and they were covered with ice as they were soaked when I went to bed, I pulled the insoles out and placed them in the heat of the direct sunlight and one each propped up on my hiking poles that were punctured into the ground to thaw out while I tackled all my other morning chores. No time to lose, had to break camp and get a move on. Jocked up and hit it within 30 mins of waking up. Big day ahead. I sent a resupply box to Ghost Ranch near the Rio Chama and I told the other hikers that I would catch them by that point which was 53 total miles from Cuba.  I only knocked out 14 yesterday because it was almost entirely all up until the point where I camped. Extremely difficult to maintain a high MPH when you’re constantly going up. My goal was to hike 25-30 miles today and get within 10 miles to hit Ghost Ranch before lunch time tomorrow.

The day started nice and easy, water was plentiful and I was hiking at a good clip as it was mostly down for the better part of the morning. I eventually came to a fresh mountain spring after a few hours of walking.  It was incredible. It was the greatest thing my eyes had ever seen, it was like I was actually hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. The water was coming out from under a rock that was underneath the root system of a tree in the side of the mountain. It was so cold and so crisp. This water was drinkable right from the ground. I sat there and ate a few snacks and drank a couple liters unfiltered. As a rule I never filter anything that I can see coming right out of the mountain. This is the mountain’s purest form of water and I relished every drop I took from it.

I pushed on a few more miles and came to another stream but just before I got there another hiker came up behind me, it was Seminole. I met him briefly back in Cuba and he was accompanied by Texas Poo and Seeking. When we got to the stream there was the most inviting patch of green grass just beyond it.  This was the lunch spot. You don’t pass a spot like this up on this trail.  Green grass, wonderful breeze, sun shining, crisp cool air, and a babbling brook to top it all off.  We all kicked off our shoes and set in for a nice long lunch. We all whipped out our stoves and pots and drank our fill and ate til satisfied.  Seminole even cooked up bacon and brought cheese and veggies to make these awesome wraps. He made an extra one and cut it into thirds for all of us, it was incredibly delicious. We had a good time shootin’ the shit for a while, these were good dudes.  But as it goes with thru hiking, somebody has to hit it first and I felt the need to cover more ground so I packed up, thanked Seminole and slapped hands with all before shoving off.

The noon sun began to beat down harder the further I descended out of the San Pedros. To my surprise the further I went the more it began to feel like desert, yet there were still trees.  The dry and hot climate began to take hold of me.  I thought I was hydrated enough since my last encounter with the intense sun. I guess I wasn’t cautious enough, the further I hiked the harder it became. There was shade to be found all around but the sun found the trail more often than not and that’s where the action was.  I had plenty of water but it didn’t feel like enough. The further I went the closer I found myself approaching the bottom of a monstrous mesa or cliff wall, it appeared to be a couple thousand feet high. I prayed that I wasn’t going to be forced to climb it because if that was the case I’d be climbing it during the hottest part of the day. The closer I came to the beautiful and incredibly colorful cliff wall I knew that I would be going straight up it, especially when I cross-referenced the terrain with my topo maps and my GPS….the reality set in. Time to suck it the fuck up and keep going.  I knew the other three wouldn’t be too far behind me and while normally this would be motivation to push hard and not let them catch me, I knew that I was coming off a close call back in the desert south of Cuba and this was no time to let my pride get in the way of safety.  I took my time and ducked into the shade and drank water and took breaks as needed. About half way up I began to feel extremely fatigued and a part of me began to worry if that last heat exhaustion incident had permanently affected me…luckily that was just my brain playing tricks on me but the fatigue was real. While I lay ducked under a Juniper, the other three passed me and secretly my pride took a hit, I don’t like being passed. I don’t like being anything but dominant. But this wasn’t a sprint to Canada and I’ve seen too many prideful hikers come off trail for a plethora of reasons. This was survival and I aimed to make my mark.

I took my time and I eventually made it to the top not too far behind the other three and when we were up there we all bailed off trail to a spring that was down a gravel road. The road paralleled the trail for about a mile until the spring until they forked and the trail went straight up the ridgeline.  We made it to the spring and were all incredibly glad to be there, it was a freaking hot afternoon and the climb up the cliff was strenuous and took its toll. The others I gathered were all out of water, I still had a little when I made it there but I drank my fill and topped off. They sat down for a little bit of a longer break and I picked up and shoved off ahead of them.

The rest of the evening was gorgeous, the sun cooled off and the breeze picked up on top of the ridgeline above the spring. Little did I know that what I was about to walk down into was an incredible canyon. But before I did I stopped before the descent and set in for a long dinner break.  Time to cook.  My feet were tired as I had already hiked about 22 miles or so up until this point and it was pretty rough trail.  The other three pushed on ahead of me as we were all trying to make for the Rio Chama by day’s end to make for an easy 10 mile morning to have lunch at the Ghost Ranch chow hall.  I told the boys id meet them at camp no later than 11pm as the sun set where I was about to cook dinner.  Sometimes you just gotta sit the hell down and feed the body the calories it needs to push on. This was one of those times. 

After the feet and shoes dried out and my belly was satisfied I jocked back up and began the seemingly unending descent down the canyon. Switching back this way and that through canyon walls and down to a stream that wound around like a snake for miles, dipping up and down and in and out. The terrain was as winding as you would want when all you were doing was essentially walking a straight line to the Rio Chama miles out.  Makes for a long a mile, a very long mile, mile after mile. The further down the canyon I walked the more incredible the walls became and the more articulated the colors and nooks and crannies became as well. It was truly a marvel and a sight to behold. To be standing beneath these massive walls felt almost fake, that’s how puny I was compared to them.  

Finally it became too dark to safely walk without a headlamp and slapped that sucker on my forehead as I still had about 4 or 5 miles to go. As soon as you put your headlamp on in desert conditions like this you really get a sense for how dry it is as every step you take shoots the dirt at your feet into the air above and your headlamp lights each particle up like the 4th of July.  You really start to understand why it is that your nose has been dried up and blood-booger filled for the last several hundred miles. As I passed through the sage brush fields, the canyon began to open up further and further as I approached the river.  My headlamp was also lighting up each and every single spider’s eyes as they came out from the spider holes at night.  Millions of them everywhere.  If you aren’t content with the knowledge that you are sharing the ground with inspects and spiders and cow shit, then cowboy camping ain’t for you and that’s exactly what I intended on doing this night, yet again. 

I finally got close enough to the river that the other boys saw my headlamp and they flagged me down with their own headlamps from the other side of the river from about a half mile out.  I came up to their camp and they were perched right alongside the rushing river, it was clearly flowing heavily from the snow melt in the mountains further upstream.  I set up my site and was in bed asleep by 10. Roughly a 30 mile day and I felt pretty good considering. My body was surely adapting to these big mile days very well, excluding the dehydration factor.  Days like this on the AT came much, much harder for me.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to truly compare the two. The sound of the rushing river put me right to sleep before I even had a chance to try.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What happens every morning? I get the hell out of my sleeping bag, that’s what. It’s not easy every morning but on this particular morning it was very mild and I didn’t have to sleep with my bag zipped up completely for what felt like the first time on the trail since I started.  I crammed a couple snacks down my gullet and rushed out of camp before Texas Poo, Seeking, and Seminole.  They wouldn’t be far behind though, these guys keep a similar pace to my own if not faster. Seminole was definitely running damn near ultralight so his pace was noticeably faster and he usually had a little more pep in his step.

The morning sun revealed the true nature of the river canyon, as well as all the canyons that stemmed off from the main one. Pretty powerful views. I stopped several times just to look around and take it all in. Apparently this was the region that Georgia O’Keefe used as her inspiration for many of her most famous paintings and Ghost Ranch, where we were heading, was her home base for a lot of it.  Rumor was that you had to make it to the place by 11 to purchase tickets for the meal at noon, I learned this when I was about 3 miles out and I had exactly 40 minutes to make it there by 11….I was wearing my crocs at this point because it was a gravel road walk and my feet were a little sore from the big miles in the new shoes. So there I was in crocs and had to cover 3 miles in 40 minutes. Now, if you’re walking 3 miles an hour you can cover 2 miles in 40 minutes exactly. With a pack on 3 miles is moving at a pretty good clip…I made the call, time to punch it. I was just barely ahead of Seeking and Texas Poo at this point and took off like a bat out of hell. There was no damn way I was going to allow myself to miss a hot cooked meal that I didn’t have to prepare myself in a titanium camping cook pot. I ran like the wind and crushed the three miles in less than 30 minutes easily. Not bad for a hairy ogre with a pack on in a pair of crocs. Of course when I arrived there was no need for all the rush as you could buy your ticket right up until the time when they were serving dinner. But guess who didn’t care? Me. I was there and I wasn’t late. And now I had a good hour to chill out and learn the lay of the place before lunch time.  I came in just minutes behind Hikaholic and the other Warrior Hikers got in around midnight the night before as they decided to death march it on in, my first time not doing so at a town stop or place of significance.  Although don’t think it didn’t cross my mind the night before. 

Lunch was pizza and wings, what timing.  You couldn’t have planned a better meal for a group of thru hikers.  There were all sorts of other people on the campus as the place was huge. People were there to ride horseback through the vast canyons, hike, go on bus tours of Georgia O’Keefe painting scenery, and then there was the Hiker Trash, just there to be all trashy….polite and respectful, but trashy.  We stink, and badly.  We know it and everybody else knows it.  We are a different breed, so when we step off the trail into a place like this, we feel the gap between our different cultures.  We are practically second class citizens but we are proud of who we are and what we do.  You’ll rarely find someone with the amount of freedom that we possess and display daily.  Lunch was incredible. Instead of grabbing a tray and a plate to put on it, I just grabbed the tray sans the plate and pilled it high with pizza and wings of all varieties.  A mountain of food on a lunch tray lay in front of me at the cafeteria table. If you put anything in the way of me and that food you were probably going to lose it.  Bit by bit I devoured the mountain and conquered the lunch.  At the end I wasn’t as satisfied as I thought I would be, my stomach kind of hurt. It didn’t feel right.  This wasn’t how I normally felt after a scrumptiously, non-nutritious meal. I almost felt the need to head to the rest room and take care of some back door type business. But I got it under control and went back to main desk area where I left my pack.  By the time I staggered back there my stomach was getting worse. I grabbed my pack and made the walk back to the RV camping area which was where I would make my home for the next 24 hours. No more hiking today. I carried my box of food with me that I had mailed there for a resupply.

By the time I made it back to the camping area I was in desperate need of a bathroom. Now, I don’t wanna gross anyone out but this is the reality of what I was dealing with. THEE most severe diarrhea that you could possibly ever freaking imagine hit me like a Mack truck carrying a ton of shit bricks. And this wasn’t a one and done. This was a once every 10-15 minutes. After about a dozen trips to the bath house that was beside where I decided to camp I determined that I had, indeed, contracted giardia.  If you don’t know what giardia is, you get it from drinking contaminated water.  Usually from a water source that has animal feces in or near it, yum. They say that sometimes symptoms take 10-14 days to present themselves after actually ingesting the contaminated water. So really there is no telling what water source I got it from and it really didn’t matter. I was nowhere that I could seek medical help. My best bet was to hydrate as much as possible as the severe diarrhea would drain my bodily fluids, fluids that I needed to hike long distances.  I had no option for taking a zero day here, I had to hike out in the morning. As the day wore on my condition worsened, I felt ill, I felt queasy and I was burping up food constantly.  I tried laying down and napping and that didn’t really help too much. I just tried to rest and keep drinking liquids.

Dinner time rolled around and it was chicken Alfredo. I tried to scarf some down but nothing was appetizing and I shoved my plate away barely having eaten anything. I must have had to run to the bathroom 4 times during dinner too, this did not bode well for hiking.  I went back to my campsite and was camped away from all the others as I wanted to be closest to the bath house.

Now for the really embarrassing shit, pun intended. I woke up in the middle of the night having shit my pants. This was horrible. Luckily it was pitch black and nobody was around because I climbed out of my sleeping bag and ripped my underwear to assess the damage. Luckily everything was consolidated in there and the sleeping wasn’t touched. I walked naked through the dark night to the bath house hoping not to encounter another soul and made for the showers.  This was to be a two-fer as I washed my body and cleaned my underwear. A grown man shat himself and drank his own urine within one week, terrific. I came out of the shower and dried off with a few paper towels and walked outside yet again buck naked. This wasn’t a vacant camp ground either. There were people all over. All I needed next was to be charged for indecent exposure or defecation in public, yeah buddy! I casually strolled on back to my sleeping bag and slipped on in after hanging my underwear up to dry on a Juniper branch overhead. Back to sleep for this poor bastard. How was I going to hike tomorrow?

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Woke up early and packed all my things up first thing in the morning, after about a dozen trips to the restroom, of course. This was going to be tricky. I needed to eat but I still didn’t feel like eating.  I went to the main office and asked if their first aid facility was open to maybe get some anti-diarrheal medication but the lady informed me that it would not be open until their peak summer season which just happened to be in one week. All the other guys were going to be ready to push out right after breakfast. We all made it there and they all feasted on all the goodies, bacon, eggs, cereal, coffee, toast. I could barely eat a few eggs and a glass of orange juice.  The others finished breakfast and prepared to hike out. I sat there pondering how long it would take me to take a shit once I hiked out. Probably two freaking minutes, since that’s exactly what happened when I put my pack on. Pack down, back to the bathroom.  I pondered staying there an extra night but that would seriously mess up the mileage plan to make it to Cumbres Pass by Monday (which is officially over the Colorado border).  All our cold weather gear and snow shoes were meeting us in Chama which is a 12 mile hitch from Cumbres Pass. Before we ended up making our definitive plan we learned some new information about the next stretch of miles and apparently there was some substantially snow standing in our way between here and Cumbres. We decided to find an alternate way to get into Chama before we had to tackle the worst of it so we could pick up the proper gear. It was 54 miles to route 64 and Hopewell Lake. We coordinated a ride with a gentleman that lived in Chama who was friends with Rick Romero from Cuba and we arranged a pick up two mornings from now. That means I DEFINITELY had to get truckin’. 

I needed to hike out and couldn’t really afford to waste a ton more time thinking about it. Time to do some more suffering on this trail. Embrace the Brutality or get the fuck off the trail, that’s what I’ve been saying. I even told the Continental Divide Trail Coalition Director that when she asked me for a quote for some Denver news publication, haha. I literally told her she could quote me. Not sure if that happened or not.  I suppose that I will find out eventually. 

I hiked out by around 11ish a couple hours behind all the others. My goal was to push 23-24 miles.  And let me tell you those first several miles were some of the slowest and least productive of my life, every 50 steps I had to duck off trail to take care of business, I was seriously worried that I was going to run out of baby wipes. Not only that but the amount of fluids I was losing was leaving me in a vulnerable state and the hike out of the canyon was made that much more difficult for me while the sun beat upon me. Here we go again. Flash backs from dehydration city the other day. I just couldn’t seem to totally shake the symptoms. It had longer lasting effects than I ever could have realized.  It had me out of whack in all sorts of ways. Once I climbed out of the initial part of the canyon I began to make my way into the pine forest and actually got off trail without even realizing it.  That’s how easy it is to get lost on this trail, it happens all the time. You stop paying attention to your maps and GPS and you think you’re on the trail but you’re really not. I found myself in a canyon between two ridges. On one side was the official trail, and on the other side was the trail coming out of Ghost Ranch, which was the one I was supposed to be on.  There really is no reason to panic as long as you know where you are, and as long as you know where you’re going. Just make sure you have a plan and stick to it and PAY ATTENTION. I decided to bushwhack back up the ridge to the alternate route after following the canyon for a bit.  Once I got back to the trail I had been hiking for about 5 hours and had only made 6 miles. This was not good progress and it had me a little concerned. I had about 18 miles to go still and it was 4pm. 

At about 14 miles in there was a spring and I figured I could make it there before night fall to tank up, camel up, and cook dinner…this was the goal and I would figure out the rest of my miles once I took care of that business. I was still shitting constantly so this sucked ass, again pun intended. I was not having a fun day hiking but it was beautiful and tried to enjoy myself as best I could.  I definitely talk to myself out loud a lot. This helps keep me sane believe or not.

Made it to the spring around 7pm and was happy to find a beautiful field facing the sunset and a pipe pumping fresh spring water out of it into a metal tank.  I would take a nice long break here and kick off my shoes and socks, cook, the usual.  Unfortunately for me, the distant sound of thunder that was happening all day seemed to be finally encroaching on me. I wasn’t sure how long it would hold out before the rain started but the threat wasn’t quite yet immediate. The clouds were rollin in though. It was only a matter of time.  About halfway through my break, Hikesawhile and Hikaholic (no relation) showed up so it was nice to have some company for a little while before I shoved off. They had no intention of leaving that spot as they were going to camp there for the night. But I did find it interesting that I got ahead of them somehow even when they left before me and I got lost and stopped about a billion times to “release the hounds.”  Apparently they got even more lost than I did and on more occasions. 

I decided to beat feet before it got too dark and bid those two a very fond farewell. They didn’t even ponder joining me on more miles as their day was done and they were content staying safe out of the looming storm. 

Somehow, I was able to muster up the fortitude to push the next 9-10 miles at blazing speed, especially compared to how the first few went. My stomach calmed down enough (but not entirely) to allow me to move at a good clip. Before I knew it, it was 10pm and I only had 5 miles to go, I picked up the pace as the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in harder. I began seeing lightning in the distance from on top of the ridge and began to worry that I would be caught exposed at this high altitude while this electric storm pushed closer towards me. Every time the light flashed my heart skipped a beat as it got closer and closer. I decided it was a good idea to start running because it felt like the rain was gonna come crashing down on me any second but as soon as the trail started ascending up I immediately stopped running. I mean I didn’t wanna get wet, but I wasn’t trying to OVERexert myself, haha. It was only water. Besides, if it was about to rain I still had about a mile to go at this point and there was no way I was going to dodge it. About a half mile from where I had decided to camp the sprinkles started. I didn’t bother actually stopping to throw my rain jacket on but I did have easy access to it and threw the hood over my head and draped the rest of the jacket over my pack by flinging it over my head as if I had rock star hair (which I kind of do). I rolled up to the water source where I was to make my camp just as there was a break in the spritzing rain and I realized I had caught up to all the other Warrior Hikers AND Scarecrow as they were all camped there with their tents set up. Except for Greyhound who was cowboy camping and got woken up by the rain, he was setting up his tarp as I rolled in.

I quickly found the most level piece of grass that I could find at this hour and busted out my shelter lickity-split. If the lightning was any indication, I had mere moments before the brunt of the storm hit. I got the rain fly up and threw all my gear in in the nick of time and sealed it up with me inside. Within seconds of hopping in the rains came down. I stripped down out of my wet clothes and ripped my sleeping bag out of the bottom of my pack and climbed on in to its warm embrace.  For the first night on the trail I crashed out to the sounds of an all-out downpour as the lightning lit up the inside of my shelter every 5 minutes or so. 

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Friday, May 23, 2014

We woke up without any sort of vigilance as we were dealing with some soaking wet tents and tarps, packing those things away while wet can way your pack down and we took our time doing our best drying them out. I stayed in my shelter probably the longest and I was surprised that I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to “take care of business” if you know what I mean.  I was terribly worried I would have to do that while the storm raged outside.  That would have been pretty miserable.  But the sun shone bright in the morning and it felt like a promising start to the day.

Things didn’t get completely dry but it was time to pack up and get going. I tried eating a little bit before going and brushed my teeth before setting off. EMBARASSING MOMENT ALERT. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, folks. And that statement held true on many levels.  As I was brushing my teeth I felt a little gaseous and attempted to do something extremely risky. I attempted the release of this gas, or what I thought was gas.  PANTS SHAT NUMERO DOS! Awesome.  Of course, I announced it proudly to all around and ran off to the woods behind a downed tree to take care of it, luckily I still had plenty of baby wipes. Two combat tour Marine needs a diaper. But then again most people wouldn’t be hiking in my current condition so I still felt like a man, haha. Since I only possess one pair of underwear, the best I could do was to clean the mess the best I could and to shove them in a zip lock bag until we got to town. I would go commando from here on out. It actually felt pretty good, but there was no more safety barrier between my danger zone and the pants. Also my pants crotch had a huge blow out so if I was sitting in front of you with my legs spread, you were definitely getting an eyeful. Lucky you.

Time to hike. Scarecrow and NO2 and I decided to take an alternate route around a few terrain features to shave a mile or two off and ended up coming back on trail right behind Ursa who camped just a little down from us. Texas Poo, Seeking and Seminole were camped just behind us and I must have passed them in the night without knowing as I rolled in around 11pm the night before. Doc Rocket was moving slowly, he apparently hurt his ankle pretty bad the day before while he was hiking in the night. 

We hiked for several miles before coming to a nice snow melt stream that had a nice sunny plot of grass near it. I was first to arrive and I dropped my pack and pulled out all my wet things and laid them all out in the sun to dry while I took a snack break and grabbed water. I didn’t filter any, you’d think I would, but I didn’t. My reasoning was that I already had giardia and at this point I just wanted to build up my immune system while I let it pass through my system, although I knew the real reason was pure laziness. 

We stayed there for a solid 30-40 minutes and I took several bathroom breaks. When the hell was this going to end? It’s really a huge inconvenience and slows me down considerably. Ursa and I jocked up and pushed out and up the mountain. The higher we got the more the clouds began to roll on as the sun became blocked out.  He made sure to keep his distance from my posterior as I was running the risk of farting constantly. We talked at length for a while. A good kid, age 23. We enjoyed some laughs and he told me I should be a comedian, I’ve been hearing this my whole life and I told him that I don’t have the patience to be sitting down and writing jokes. I work better when I can feed off the people around me. And really I’m not all that funny, I trick people into thinking that I am funny. My secret is that I just laugh at everything I say and I mean everything. The trick is that my laugh is contagious, you can’t help but laugh along with me. TA-DA, I’m FUNNY…but I’m not.

After a few bathroom breaks that separated me from Ursa, I found myself on top of an exposed ridge. Thunder and lightning was rolling in and I knew I was about to get rained on, or worse.  And it was worse. I threw my rain jacket on for the first time on this hike while actually hiking.  What I thought was going to be rain ended up being an ice storm. Pellets of snow and hail came down and pelted my legs and face for about an hour before the trail began to descend off the ridge. The lower I got , the further I made it from the storm and the clouds. I began to hike back into the sun and took my jacket off and hung it off the back of my pack to dry. I was back into 70 degree temperatures before I knew it. What a contrast of conditions. The CDT is crazy. I actually rather enjoyed the ice storm just because it was something different, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it if I was stuck up there for too long.

I began to descend down into a lush valley with green everywhere and the sun beaming down into it. IT was about noon at this point and there looked to be a pretty nice brook flowing down the middle of it. This would be where I would take my lunch and let the others catch up. I kicked off all my clothes and laid them out like the Hiker Trash that I am to dry out. Cooked some instant mashed potatoes up and hoped that the storm I just walked out of didn’t follow me. The sun was so nice and warm and this small valley was gorgeous. I almost didn’t want to leave but I still had miles and miles to go. While I was sitting there I started to hear engines in the distance. The closer the sound got I realized there was some kind of ATV entourage approaching, only it wasn’t normal ATVs. It was those mud buggies and these things came RIPPIN down into the valley at an alarming rate of speed. There were about a dozen of them. It was memorial day weekend and these guys were taking advantage. They were gone before I knew it, and not one of them offered me a ride to Canada. Assholes.

While I was wrapping up all my cooking, the lot of the group were walking down the road to my position. When they arrived I was about ready to leave but we talked about the ice storm and they definitely got the worst of it. They said they all had to bail under a tree that it was so intense. Lucky for me, I must have been just ahead of the worst of it.  We must have had around 18 miles or so to go from this point and I felt the need to get trudging while the weather was good.  I observed the terrain on my GPS and looked at where the trail went and it seemed to mindlessly follow a few forest service roads. I decided to bushwhack to cut off a few miles that seemed to double back once or twice. Again, this isn’t the AT or PCT, finding your own way is encouraged and it’s more fun to explore this way.  The purist mentality does not exist out here the way it does on those trails. My goal was to make Hopewell Lake before night fall so shaving a mile or so was definitely a step in the right direction for that.

During a few of my bushwhacking moments I ran into a bunch of wildlife, a few antelope and some wild horses. The amount of wildlife that you find on this trail is incredible. Every day you run into something. And you ALWAYS see tracks of bears, mountain lions, wolves, elk, deer, etc. My bushwhacking led me to a ravine that I had to descend into to meet back up with the trail. Thunder was getting closer to me and I felt the urgent need to make it to the trail before the rains came down.  The trail was leading me to a river crossing about a mile or so away. I didn’t know what to expect from it. Was it going to be a small creek that I could hop over? Or a raging stream? I would have to wait to find out because the lightning and rain forced me under a dense grouping of pine trees. While under there I would prepare myself and my gear for the storm. I consumed as many snacks as I could as I felt my body needing the energy. I put pants on and put my rain jacket on and slipped my pack fly over my pack and secured it tightly. The rains were coming down pretty good.  To my dismay, I could hear the river from where I was and it didn’t sound very promising for an easy river crossing.  I sat there wondering if the storm would pass soon but the rains only came down harder. No chance in dodging this one, I was about to get wet, and there would be no drying out later for this storm was here for the long haul. 

I left the shelter of the thick pines and approached the crossing. As luck would have it there was a tree extending over the whole river. With a flat edge cut out for walking on. Unfortunately, a prior flood had turned the flat edge from upright to a 90 degree angle. The part of the log that was facing up to walk on was all slick, rounded, and knobby from broken branches, this wasn’t going to be an easy maneuver in the rain.  I did my best to shimmy over and across the first half of the log but I slipped and fell, smashing my knee and leg into one of the branches and my other leg almost completely dunked into the raging river below.  My foot got wet which annoyed me, but really every single part of me was about to be soaking wet so it didn’t matter. I really could have just forded the river and it would have been the same with the amount of rain I was going to be hiking through. But I just wasn’t prepared to be wet for the long yet and I shimmied across the rest of the log to the other side.

The trail followed a canyon up, up and up and up. And the further up I went the colder the temperatures became. I began to worry about the conditions the further I ascended in elevation. I found a road that paralleled the trail and didn’t quite go to the elevations that the trail did. It was actually a longer route but I decided to take the road the rest of the way to Hopewell Lake. I don’t know the actual distance but it was probably something like 8 miles to the lake where there was supposedly a campground. I didn’t know what kind of campground to expect but I did know that no matter what I was going to make it to that point as our ride was picking us up there in the morning. My real concern was the temperatures in this rain. I had ZERO cold weather gear minus the rain jacket I was wearing that was completely soaked, as was everything else on my body. I could no longer use my trekking poles as my hands were too cold to be out and exposed to the rain and cold. I tucked my fists into my soaking wet pants pockets. A little warmer for them and at least it was a break from the wind.

Now things took a turn for the worse, the muddy sloppy road that I was slipping and sliding around on had ascended to above 10,000 feet at this point and that’s when it happened. Snow. It started to change from rain slowly but the higher I got, the fatter and more consistent the flakes became. The temperatures kept dropping. At first it was kind of cool and I preferred the snow to the rain definitely. But I was already soaked to the bone and in the cold this spelled bad news.  The snow turned to an almost white out blizzard status and I quickly realized that this was going to be a march for my life. If I stopped my core temperature would surely drop. If I stopped it was only going to be to set up my shelter and to get in a sleeping bag to stay alive.  I began to feel all my limbs numb up and I started walking faster and harder. The mud turned into a sloppy snowy mud and my feet were completely soaked walking in the snow as it began to accumulate on the ground. I couldn’t feel my toes, I couldn’t feel my feet.  I was actually worried I was about go hypothermic. I just kept saying to myself that if I stopped, I’d be in REAL trouble. The campground was always the destination. I was going to make it and I was going to make it by nightfall.  Ironic that I’m getting slammed with a blizzard the day before I get all my snow gear. 

To make matters worse I had been holding “it” in for quite some time now and it was really doing a number on my stomach. There was a lot of pressure building in there and it was painful. It made breathing and walking painful. After so long of this I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to stop. I had to release the demon inside me.  Stopping was hard and it definitely dropped my core temperature even further but at this point it was 8pm and I was within 2 miles of the campground. I was gonna make it JUST before night fall but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. I was in pain all over. I felt like I was walking on cinder blocks.  I got to the entrance of the campground by 9pm and found an unlocked brick shithouse, which was just a glorified outhouse. The moment I set foot in there I knew I would be sleeping on its floor as it was much warmer in there than it was in the below freezing outdoor temps. I ripped off all my wet things and put on my base layers which were my only warm and dry clothes at this point. What a relief. I threw on my crocs over thick warm socks and I began to explore the campground for running water and found none.  I had about ¾ of a liter of purple Gatorade mix water left in pack and that was it so I decided to head back to my bathroom and cook my last remaining Mountain House meal with boiling purple Gatorade. I was starving.  As I approached the bathroom I reached for the door handle and practically had the shit scared out of me as SCARECROW popped out screaming to startle me. What a prick, haha. NO2 and Scarecrow had pushed hard to make the campground and were in the same boat as me, soaking wet and nearly hypothermic.  I was glad to see that they made it. I informed Scarecrow to get the hell out of my bedroom/king bathroom suite. I allowed him the use of it to change into dry clothes but really I had to get on that pot POST HASTE. Luckily for me I’d be sleeping directly next to a toilet. Some of you may scoff at the thought of sleeping next to an outhouse toilet but to me, this was as close to heaven as I could get in my current situation. I cooked my Chili Mac with Beef with my boiling Gatorade and it was surprisingly not the worst thing in the world. I threw my ear plugs in and climbed in my bag and set in for the night. The bathroom door didn’t lock so I anticipated being rudely awakened by some surprised individual in the morning. DON’T CARE. 

The Cuba Town Stop

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I neglected to mention that the night before I got a ride into Cuba with Scarecrow in the back of a New Mexico State Trooper’s vehicle. He actually ran our licenses before allowing us to get in the back haha. And it was one cramped back with our packs on our laps. Jokes on him though, we smelled like rotting rhino carcasses. I was half worried he’d find something on me from my past that was somehow never officially taken care of. The fear was real! Alas, my record was clean of course.

Woke up feeling surprisingly good considering the circumstances I was in yesterday. I drank a ton of water and Gatorade and topped it off with a beer before bed last night.  Got up fairly early even though I had every opportunity to sleep and me Scarecrow and Greyhound walked a mile down the road to a breakfast diner that was supposedly pretty good in Cuba.  What was frustrating about this, beyond actually having to walk a mile to breakfast and then back afterwards, was that this was technically part of the trail. Scarecrow and I made the commitment to head back to the trailhead where the trooper picked us up and to knock out the 6 mile walk back into town today.  Unfortunately for him, I knew that it was an empty promise on my part as I never planned to do ANY extra walking on this day, this was to be my zero day. But here I was walking two miles that wouldn’t be considered part of my thru-hike, that’s the frustrating part. 

Breakfast was delicious though as I ordered my usual two meals. I do this any time I eat out while on trail.  Best case scenario I eat it all and am pleasantly satisfied.  Worst case scenario I have leftovers and eat them later and am still pleasantly satisfied.  I can’t lose, I rarely do, not never, but rarely. Just before we finished up our breakfast, Hikaholic walked into the diner. He had got up early from wherever he was back on trail and made the hike in.  We stayed with him until he ordered and finished his breakfast while we all drank coffee and digested.  Finally we started our walk back to the motel. We really should have timed our breakfast better as we passed the CLOSED Post Office a half mile from the motel still. It opened in an hour. Too long to wait, but by the time we got back to the motel it would be just about time to get ready to head to the PO to retrieve all of our bounce boxes. 

Yet again I was left trying to track down a package that I had no idea where it was.  It was supposedly delivered to the motel but the motel people said they didn’t have it and the Post Office said they delivered it. If I couldn’t track it down before the PO closed at noon I would be forced to wait until Monday when they reopened, this trend was beginning to thoroughly annoy me.  But at the same time I also valued my zero days in town and for that part of it I was thankful, annoyed, but thankful.  Double edged sword though as it would mean bigger mile days again to keep pace with the schedule and not get too far behind the other hikers.  I don’t mind hiking alone at all, in fact I have definitely come to prefer it. 

After a bit I informed the other hikers that I would be forced to stay the night on Sunday. This didn’t feel too surprising to them as I have pretty much stayed one more day than everybody at every single stop and yet still seemed to always make it to town at the same time as them, at least the same day for sure.  I got with Scarecrow and told him that I didn’t have time to hike the 6 miles into town from the south trailhead today as we had some Warrior Hike obligations to manage the rest of the day.  I would get up and hike the 6 miles tomorrow after breakfast or something.

Hung around the rest of the day until our first of two Warrior Hike Events.  The first event was coordinated by a local doctor whose goal was to get people in the small town of Cuba out and walking around places for better health and exercise.  It was called “Step Into Cuba” and the director, when he heard that we were coming to town, decided to incorporate our hike into their community and invited community members to walk with use down main street for a mile or so.  Down the same exact stretch that I have now walked about 6 times to and from the motel.  I probably was already coming close to walking 6 miles but it doesn’t count for the 6 miles that I had to do still. There is no compromise when it comes to the integrity of my hike, one continuous footpath, unbroken from Mexico to Canada.

We got down to the South end of town and a handful of locals met us for the walk to the community center where there would be a ceremony with the mayor and a few others.  It was fun getting to walk with some of them as a few of them were veterans themselves. I am always eager to meet the people of these smaller towns as the Warrior Hike “Walk Off the War” Program really gives the opportunity to interact with these communities on an intimate level that most people wouldn’t normally have the chance to do, especially on a thru hike.  I really enjoy this aspect of the hike and it’s a welcome break from some of the grueling days of hiking.    That’s not a complaint about hiking, for the record. You will almost never hear me complaining about any aspect of this or any hike. While I do technically consider it my job, I fully appreciate the fact that I am not sitting in an office EVER.

Once we made it to the community center, the mayor of Cuba did a dedication to the Warrior Hikers as the group of veteran color guard escorted us into the building.  What an honor.  One of their state representatives also spoke to us in front of the crowd. Truly appreciative when these small towns come out in such a big way for people they don’t even know, the support is always overwhelming but in such a good way.  After everybody spoke who was lined up to, they asked all of us to speak a little about ourselves and why we were here.  I let the others go first while I wrapped it up with some background about the program and thanked them all for their efforts and making us all feel welcome and a part of their community.  After some snacks were scarfed down we got a ride back to the motel to chill out for a bit before we were taken out to dinner at a local Mexican joint.  The owner of Bruno’s, a wonderful woman named Hazel, took care of us for our meal as a good contingent of the community joined us. Hazel had the whole place decorated in red, white, and blue as it just happened to be Armed Forces Day. What a coincidence. Dinner was awesome, we had margaritas and several appetizers shared amongst everybody at the table.  I ordered the ribeye smothered “Christmas style” which means red and green chile sauce all over it. If you ever come down to this part of the country, try both, but the green chile is to die for.

After completely gorging ourselves it was time to retire to the motel where laying down felt like the only viable option. TV and beer until the lids became too heavy to stay open.  Slept like a baby.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Woke up and grabbed breakfast back at the diner on the south end of town. Rick Romero who was the local fire chief offered to pick us up and take us down there for a free meal. He and his girlfriend (maybe his wife, I forget) Albina were awesome people and were extremely helpful the entire weekend as we needed help getting to and from places on occasion.  Rick, Albina, the Doctor (whose name escapes me because I am pretty bad with names especially when we are meeting so many people all at once) and his wife, the mayor and a wealth of other locals and veterans that were at the dinner the night before were all there.  Ate two meals yet again and arranged with Rick to drop me and Scarecrow off at the trail head south as we still had to hike the 6 miles into town.  On my walk out of the diner I noticed an older gentleman walk in and sit by himself at a small table near the door. I could instantly tell he was a hiker, hikers can spot other hikers in an instant. As I walked passed him I greeted him and quickly introduced myself and asked how the hike was going. His name was Bigfoot but he was the antithesis of the word. A shorter gentleman with the feet to match.  We left and Rick dropped us off outside of town.

When we got to the trail head there were two other hikers sitting there that were preparing for the 6 mile road walk into town, Texas Poo and Seeking. Two friends that had met while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2013.  The new company made the 6 miles pass by quicker than I anticipated which was a welcomed surprise.  We were in town before we knew it and enjoyed the laughs and conversation with the fresh, social meat.

Upon returning to the motel there was a bunch of Hiker Trash (Bigfoot, Ursa, and Hikesawhile) hanging out on the stoop of our rooms while everybody was slowly getting ready to check out of the rooms to hike out.  I was the only one who was sticking around, with the exception of Bigfoot. Apparently he was going to stay the night and I offered to split a room with him.  He agreed to get a new, clean room and we would split the cost. We went out to dinner that night at Bruno’s after all the others hiked out and we got to know each other a little bit.  A retired man from the railroad who currently lived in Idaho who was a father and a husband.  I also found out that he was drafted and served in the army during Vietnam but was one of the few who didn’t deploy.  I enjoyed getting to know him and we had a good time together before retiring to our room early and falling asleep after watching the Billboard Music Awards, definitely my first time watching those, ever.

Grants to Cuba – What would you do if you had no water? How far would you go?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

After one last continental breakfast at the Red Lion, Hugo picked me up one last time to drop me off up the road at the Mount Taylor trailhead. My shoes performed well on the road yesterday so I knew they would be good to go on trail.  Usually road walking is when you will learn about whether your shoes will give you blisters or not.  I was confident that these wouldn’t let me down.

It started out being a sunny day down at the base of the mountain but I knew the weather report and it was calling for rain showers down in town and I knew that meant a possibility of snow on Taylor as it sits at 11,305 feet.  The official trail does not go over the summit and I had some serious miles to make up to make it into Cuba and to catch up to the rest of the other Warrior Hikers as they were probably a day and a half ahead of me, so with the prospect of snow and needing to make up miles I decided to bypass the summit.  The trail skirts the summit but the alternate adds elevation and extra miles so I stuck to the official trail. 

The Mumms have been caching water for the thru-hikers at an access road that is 13 miles north from where I started this morning and as there was barely any water sources to be found on this stretch it is a vital cache for all hikers to utilize.  I had lunch at this cache site and cooked a good meal to give me plenty of energy for the rest of the miles that I had in front of me.  I was attempting to knock out at least 22-25 miles to close the gap. It flurried on me many times this day and when you mix the cold wind with my sweat drenched shirt it made for a very cold hiking day.  The goal was to get up and over Taylor and down the other side to reduce the elevation at which I was going to camp at so that it wouldn’t be too terribly cold. Waking up in the morning when it is sub-freezing or in single digits makes it considerably more difficult to get going in the morning.

I made it just shy of 23 miles which was supposedly just before the second water cache that the Mumms told me about.  I found a nice open spot to throw down my sleeping bag as I am still cowboy camping as often as possible. Still not carrying my tent, only a rain fly for if and when it decides to precipitate. I made sure to find a spot that the sun would shine on immediately first thing in the morning to prompt my early rise to hiking glory.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Woke up with the sun beating upon my down sleeping bag, drying the condensation covered foot box and hood areas, just as planned.  My water bottles were both frozen and it was still chilly even with the sun out.  I accidentally slept in a little more than usual as it was 8am but the timing was perfect as there were some Elk grazing in the woods in view of where I was laying.  What a way to wake up.  I laid there and slowly cooked up some coffee and ate a few bars for breakfast.  Broke camp by 830am and was on the move en route to the next water cache…or so I thought. 

I camped about a mile or so just shy of where Hugo explained to me the cache was.  I was relying on this water to be there as I passed an incredible spring the night before and didn’t take a drop from it.  When I walked up to the area that the water was supposed to be, it was nowhere to be found.  Not good.  I only had about a liter on me and had over 10 miles to go to the next “possible” water source. The map showed that that source was a “tank”. This word means a cow pond that is rarely if not NEVER appetizing. Usually filled with cow shit and algae. Most hikers can make a liter last 10 miles no problem but I sweat more than your average hiker and require double that and prefer to drink even more. 

No sense in wasting time worrying about things when my new mission is to make it safely to the next water source without depleting what I have on me, which I KNOW is going to be tough as I descend in elevation back into desert like conditions in the heat of the day.  It’s definitely getting hotter and the sun is beating down with little to no escape from its rays as shade becomes scarce again the further away I get from Taylor and the forest that blankets it.

Finally I come upon the “tank”.  I had high hopes for it yet knew not to get to overly excited and prepared myself for the worst.  It was a big brown pool that was surrounded by cow hoof prints and shit.  I made the decision to take my lunch here and filter a liter of water because it was another 13 miles to the next water source which was a dangerous distance for me to be going 23 miles on only one liter. I sat down and took my pack off and looked for the best way to walk up to the water’s edge.  It was all boggy and super muddy around the edge so I tried building a stone bridge through the mud to get there without losing a shoe in the deep mud.  While I was constructing it I looked to the other side of the pond and noticed that somebody had already had the bright idea and hopped on over to use the pre-existing stone walkway.  I walked over it and up to the water’s edge and knelt down with my water bottle to fill it up.  It was in this single moment that I realized I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wasn’t on the brink of dehydration yet and this was a desperate man’s water source.  It REAKED of cow shit and was lined with a sludge and a green slime.  I wasn’t on this water’s level, yet. 

Returned to my pack and sat there disappointed. I wanted to cook and drink my fill, we call this “cameling up”. I also wanted to “tank up” too which means I fill all my water bottles and bladder. No such luck. I tried to eat as much energy as I could here as I knew I would need every ounce of it in my body for the long trek to the next possible water source which was a spring.  This spring could be dried up or flowing, there was no telling.  The idea of making a liter last 23 miles sounded horrible but the prospect of getting to this spring and discovering that it is dried up was rattling me even more. 

Time to push the fight north towards the spring.  I picked up the pace a little bit as I was feeling the need to make it before dark.  The miles seemed to take forever and I couldn’t help but begin to feel the reality of no water crashing down on me. The further and faster I went the drier my mouth got, I would take quick and short sips from my hose’s mouth piece.  The more the day wore on the lighter my pack got which meant the emptier my water bladder was getting.  With each sip I anticipated it being dry.  Finally about 4 miles from the spring, I tried to take a pull off my hose and all of sudden, nothing.  I hate walking up to water sources dry. I always like to keep a half liter in my pack in case the water source is dry.  Shit out of luck this time.  Luckily by this time the intensity of the sun had waned as it receded lower and lower into the evening sky.  By the time I had reached the place where I thought the spring would be I was sapped of energy and was pretty damn ready for a substantial amount of water consumption. But where the spring was supposed to be was merely a trail head to where the spring was, a half mile off trail.  At this point I didn’t care how far off trail it was, I was going to it no matter what.  I had to. I had no other choice. Luckily I had noticed footprints of other hikers who were a day or two ahead of me going in this direction as well, so at the very least I knew I wasn’t alone in my need for water. I followed the trail down into a canyon and my though was that the spring was in the canyon but when I got there I knew this was impossible as the whole canyon was dry, bone dry. Now the panic meter started.  I began frantically looking up and down the canyon for ANY possible surface water of any kind at all.  It was during this frantic search that I noticed that the trail actually continued on up the other side and out of the canyon. What a freaking relief that this dried up canyon wasn’t the location of the spring.  I trudged up the other side of the canyon and continued on to the next canyon, a much more substantial geographic feature. I descended into the depths of it as the sun begun to set over the cliff walls on the other side. This thing had better have water. As I get lower I see two large concrete water tanks, one appears to be completely bone dry but the other I can make out a reflective surface in it.  No matter what, that water was going to be mine, whether it was clean and clear, or infested with algae and dead or living organisms.  When I arrived I was BEYOND relieved that there was fresh flowing spring water coming out of a pipe from the ground and into the tank. I literally thanked God out loud multiple times. I don’t think I was in jeopardy of being dangerously dehydrated but had it been the heat of the day it may have been a different story. 

I sat down and kicked my shoes and socks off as they were filled with sweat and dirt.  I cooked two meals because it was needed. I drank 3 liters of water and drank one of them filled with an electrolyte mixture to replenish my body as it was also needed.  I cameled up and I tanked up and rested well, I still had a few miles to go after the sunset to keep pace with my bigger mile days.  Strapped my headlamp on and rucked up to travel another 4 miles. The moon began shining bright but it wasn’t bright enough to shine through the dense forest I was now in.  I found another good open spot that had plenty of standoff from the trees facing east to catch the sun in the morning. I was exhausted and knew I had another rough day ahead of me as I was approaching a dried up river canyon the next day, water was probably going to be even more scarce. 

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Woke up surrounded by cow shit under the burned out pine that I slept under, another cowboy camp.  It’s funny to me that I don’t think I truly cowboy camped one single time on the Appalachian Trail last year. I think the only time I never slept in a tent was anytime I slept in a shelter, and I can count those times on one hand. What a different trail this is.

The sun was inviting as I woke up early and hit it first thing in the morning. I had 2 liters on me and that felt like enough to get me going for a while. I didn’t feel any effects of any dehydration from the night before but then again it was still early and I hadn’t really started exerting myself yet.  It wasn’t until after several miles that I realized I was walking on top of a mesa and it wasn’t long until I realized that I would be descending a couple thousand feet down off of it into the extreme desert region of the dried up river canyon.  According to my maps and GPS I would be coming across a spring or well-fed cow trough and while I wasn’t desperate for water right then I knew I would probably be making a stop there. 

As I reached the mesa cliff wall, the land opened up and the vastness of what I was about to be walking into was revealed to me. You couldn’t even comprehend the views and how big the expanses were. The river canyon floor was pure white and it had steep cliff walls. Above that were more mesas all around and then there was Cabezon Peak, an ancient volcano core or plug. “This volcanic neck is formed of basalt and is part of the Mount Taylor volcanic field. A volcanic neck or plug is formed when magma from an existing volcano solidifies in the pipe or neck and the surrounding sediment is eroded away. Cabezon means “big head” in Spanish. One Navajo myth holds that it is the head of a giant killed by gods.” This information is according to Wikipedia.  The peak is located two miles south of the ghost town of Cabezon.

Once I descended down to the canyon floor (but not the riverbed), I reached the spring “Ojo Frio”. Intent was to cook here and drink my fill and tank up.  Unfortunately this water wasn’t as pristine as what I would expect from a spring and there was no pipe with fresh water flowing out.  There looked to be a possible alternate source below ground in a concrete like structure but upon further inspection I t was completely dry.  I figured I would fill one of my 1.5L bottles with this water in the event that I would need water later on.  This turned out to be a very, very costly and poor decision. You’d think I would have learned my lesson after yesterday’s H20 fiasco. I like to learn the hard way….and I was about to.

So I carried on with the plan of the day not knowing what lie ahead. I dropped into the even deeper river canyon as the temps increased and the wind died down. I felt hydrated enough and felt good to be honest.  Took a while to dip in and out of the river bed and by the time I found myself on the other side I was in great need for a shade tree and found a nice one to break under. It was about 330pm at this point and I stripped all my clothes off and hung them up to dry in the slight breeze that was present. I turned my phone on in hopes of getting a signal to jam some tunes on Pandora while I take my break.  I was in luck, 4G LTE service came through loud and clear.  After I drank a little and ate some snacks, I happened to get a phone call, and strangely enough it was coming from Hikeaholic!! What could he want? I picked up and was shocked to be hearing from him as most hikers don’t have their phones on, let alone have service!  Here we are, both with phones on and both with service.  His reason for calling was about water.  They were hard up for it.  He and Scarecrow were about 5 or 6 miles north of me on the trail at what was supposed to be a reliable water source.  The well was bone dry and they were in trouble. They told me to find any way to get water before I get to where they were and to fill the hell up.  Too late, there was no water between where I was and where they were. They only possibility was the ghost town of Cabezon 8 miles off trail that POTENTIALLY had a windmill or two, but there was no guarantee of it.  They told me they were gonna make for the same town. I thanked them for the heads up and I began to peer over my maps to figure out my new course of action and new route.  This would definitely tack on at least an extra half day or full day to my schedule before reaching the town of Cuba, which was the next resupply town and the location of our next Warrior Hike event.

So I’m getting ready and getting dressed into my disgusting (but dry) clothes when I hear my phone ring again! Its Hikeaholic’s number again but when I picked up it was Scarecrow’s voice.  He informed me that there was no need to travel the alternate route to water because he pulled some MacGyver shit. Apparently, at the bottom of the dry metal tank was a pipe with a grate over top of it where the well water would fill up the tank from the bottom.  He had the bright idea to use his Katadyn pump water filter’s long hose and feed it through the hole in the grate in hopes that there was water below where they could see.  Success, they each were able to fill up 3 liters and decided to wait for me there so I could do the same when I got there so that I didn’t have to venture 16 total miles off trail on a wild water goose chase. What an upstanding couple of guys to decide not only to call me and let me know of the water conditions ahead of me, but to actually WAIT THERE for me so that I could use his water pump to extract the water from the pipe. My particular water filter only works if there is running water of a pool of water that I can access. We determined that I could make it to where they are in about 2-2.5 hours and that I could make it there by 6 or 630pm.  I jocked up and started hoofing it, I was in good spirits and feeling rejuvenated after the break. I even began jogging after a few miles I felt so good. 

I got to where they were before our scheduled time and I almost ran past where they were, I had my music blasting as I was in the zone running and heard the feint yells of them to barely stop me in time.  I run up to where they were about 100 yards off trail all excited that I made it and that the plan was actually about to work.  So I get there and Scarecrow and Hikaholic and I begin exchanging the obligatory trail stories from the past few days but we quickly get down to business. WATER. Pump that shit baby. Scarecrow whips out his filter and feeds the hose down through the whole in the pipe and I line the other end up with my empty bottle. I was sitting with about a liter and a half in my bladder but I needed more, lots more.  The next water source wasn’t for another 20 miles. So while he’s pumping we are all waiting for the water to come out the other end into my bottle. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.  Apparently they each pumped out 3 liters (6 total) and the shit was bone freaking dry now.  Perfect. I keep my cool but Scarecrow feels like the consummate jerk for telling me I was good for water there and that they both waited the entire time for me to get there.  I tell him not to worry and that I appreciated the gesture. There was no way he or they could have known that it would be dry after they filled their water containers.  Is what it is, luck of the draw. 

So 1.5 liters for dinner, breakfast, and the entire day the next day. Not looking good. And I checked the weather for tomorrow and it was supposed to be the hottest day we’ve had in a while.  Even THEY were worried about the water situation for tomorrow and they had double what I had.  We decided to hike until dark which was about an hour away. We wove our way in and out of intricate rock wall formations and up the other side of the canyon onto a mesa that had nearly a 360 degree view of the region. We watched an epic sunset from the cliff where we set up camp and we knew we’d have an epic view of the sunrise tomorrow morning.  But tomorrow was about to be a different story.

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Friday, May 16, 2014

We decided last night that we would wake up at first light and hit it hard and try and cover the distance to the Jones Canyon Spring. About 18 miles from where we were camped.  I was able to get some information from a few hikers that were ahead of us and they told us that Jones Canyon Spring was good for water and that it was a good thing we didn’t try and head to Cabezon as all the windmills over there were locked up by the ranchers and there were no viable water sources that way. Thank God I didn’t attempt that. The situation I was in currently was bad enough, add an extra 16 miles of walking and we may be talking about me being in the hospital for sure….although the day was young still, very young.  I was on the move by 6:15am, by far my earliest morning but the situation demanded it.

We started cranking out the miles at a high rate of speed as the morning was cool and breezy.  We started passing abandoned windmills with my hopes being crushed every time I walked up to one and realized that there was no hope for water. I would have DEFINITELY filtered that scummy cow slop water from a couple days ago at this point. I was beginning to feel dehydrated and the heat of the sun hadn’t even begun to cook my brain yet.  Windmill after windmill passed by and nothing.  I came to the realization that my 1.5 liters had to last me until Jones Canyon. Everything was barren desert mesa and up and down and in and out of canyons all day. Rugged and strenuous, energy-sapping hiking. I started to get a bad feeling as 11am began to approach. We made it to the top of one of the ridges while I was ahead of the other two and I ducked under a Juniper while my brain began to boil.  They all followed and we took naps with our shoes off to regain some energy as we knew there would be no more dodging the blistering heat of the day.  We would now have to suffer through the sun until we reached the water source, our distant oasis. After about 30 mins we jocked up and continued on. I began to slow my pace as the lack of water began to take its toll on my energy level. The further we went the harder walking became. I probably had ¾ of a liter at this point and was beginning to feel the pain of having to ration it.  I also had a few sips in one of my bottles that I was using as my emergency water and would only use it if things became dire.  I decided it would be best if I mixed in some electrolyte powder for that reserve water.

We had about 10 miles to go when all of a sudden a wave of pain hit me, I couldn’t describe it to you but I just know it literally rocked my soul. I had to stop, breathing hurt, every step was excruciatingly difficult. I knew I was feeling the beginning symptoms of being a heat casualty and severe dehydration.  Scarecrow passed me and I did my best to act like I was just talking a breather and I said while he passed “It’s fucking hot! I’ll catch up after a bit”. I know he assumed I would be okay, because I was always okay.  But at this point I wasn’t so sure. I laid there for and just tried to catch my breath and get my sweating under control. At least I WAS sweating but that really didn’t provide me with any sort of comfort at all.  I figured I should try and eat some calories. I tried to scarf down a Clifbar but as I was chewing it I just couldn’t seem to swallow it. I just kept chewing and chewing and my body wouldn’t let me consume it.  The reality was I would need to swallow this thing like to big horse pills. In addition I knew that I was sapped of my electrolytes and figured I would use that electrolyte water to do this with while still trying to save as much of it as possible. I barely did it without puking them up and it was one of the most disgusting feelings ever. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a Cliffbar the same way ever again. Kind of like that first time you throw up from alcohol and you never look at that brand of liquor or beer the same way again, kind of like that. 

I had to use my hiking poles to help push me up and didn’t successfully pull it off the first time. I fell back.  Red flags should have been going up left and right but all I could think about was getting to water. I really should have just sat there and stayed out of the sun for the next 4-5 hours until it started to cool off but I wasn’t thinking rationally.  I wanted water, I needed it. I mustered up the strength to push myself up one last time and began the push forward. Every step felt like it would surely be my last bout of strength, and if I had to walk up an incline it felt like I was in super slow-mo.  I was winded after every single step. The sun hurt, it felt deadly, it really FELT dangerous to my life.  I’ve only ever felt this way one other time and that was after a 12 hour foot patrol in Iraq during 130 degree summer temperatures.  This was a different ballgame; I was all alone with my only hope for water was to continue pressing forward.  Scarecrow and Hikeaholic were well ahead of me and I had service enough to shoot them a text stating my current situation and to not turn back for me and that I would eventually make the water source but it would take a while.

I somehow found myself within 4 miles of the spring according to my GPS and normally 4 miles would be the home stretch but it literally felt like about a billion miles.  I could hardly walk a straight line and I was staggering from shade tree to shade tree.  Progress was about as slow as you could imagine.  It felt like every minute was an eternity.  This is when shit got real.  I actually felt the need to pee and that’s when it hit me…LIQUID. I didn’t even waste a moment thinking about it and whipped out one of my empty bottles which both were at this point as well as my water bladder.  I peed into the bottle and screwed my filter onto the top of it.  Here we go, I was about to do what you always hear about in this situation. You can drink your own urine in desperate situations, and that’s what I found myself in. I figured a little bit of liquid would help me push the few remaining miles and I thought maybe the filter would help.  It was the most miniscule amount of pee and it was almost the color of mountain dew, but worse.  Bottoms up without hesitation.  As soon as the first drops went down my throat I realized how incredibly toxic my urine was at this point, it was absolutely disgusting. I spit the rest out. No thanks.  Foul.  It basically “sobered me up”.  I realized if I was desperate enough to drink my own piss than I damn well better freaking make that water in one piece and on my own power.

I got up with newfound determination and newfound motivation. It didn’t hurt that the clouds that were somehow dodging blocking the sun all day began to find their way in front of its rays for me. The breeze picked up too.  I sincerely don’t think I would have made it if not for that breeze and those clouds.  I was counting down the tenths of a mile with my GPS to that water source like my life depended on it….and that’s quite literal.  Once I reached one mile out I began to feel like all was going to work out.  Half mile. Quarter of a mile. Tenth of a mile. I reached the canyon wall and knew the source was below me. I screamed down for Scarecrow and Hikaholic with a boisterous “WOOOOHOOOOOOOOO” and I heard Scarecrow reply “JAAAAABBAAAAA”. I had made it.

When I got down to the water I threw my pack down and grabbed my bottles and dunked them in. Apparently the water was contaminated according to a sign but I didn’t give a flying shit.  Screwed my filter on to the bottle and laid on my back in the sand against the bank and sucked on that bottle like a baby.  I drank three straight liters before I even contemplated doing anything else. Gasping sighs of relief in between gulps.  I informed my comrades of my dire situation and what it led me to do out there. We all had a laugh. When I arrived there I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave that canyon but after cooking two dinners and eventually consuming 7 liters of water total I decided I was going to push another 8 miles to the road that leads you into Cuba and I would hitch in from there, I required pampering at this point. I wanted access to Gatorade, water, beer, restaurant food, a pillow and a warm shower.  Scarecrow decided to join me as there was a motel in Cuba with Warrior Hikes name on it and I offered him a spot on the floor as it was free. So we pushed the rest of the way there and somehow I didn’t feel so shitty anymore.  The prospect of town always rejuvenates.  We made it in time to grab some Big Macs from the McDonalds in town; this was only my second time having fast food during this whole calendar year.  What a freaking day.  I drank my own piss. 

The Grants, NM Zero Day(s) Extravaganza

Friday, May 9, 2014

Woke up feeling probably the most sore I’ve ever felt in my hiking life.  Clearly, hiking nearly 70 miles in two days was a silly thing to do but sometimes you just gotta test your limits to know what you’re capable of.  Today was to be a simple day of recuperating and relaxing.  And that’s exactly what it was going to be.

After a made to order continental breakfast at the Red Lion Hotel in Grants, I went back to my room. Apparently Doc Rocket was faring slightly worse than the rest of us in a couple ways. 1) his feet were all jacked up from blisters 2) his body failed him many miles back on the trail 3) his limp was accompanied by swelling in his foot which he had me and NO2 take a look at after breakfast.  He lifted up his pant leg and invited us to observe what was going on; red streaking up the leg into his groin. My response was simple, “ Look Doc, I’m no doctor (like you har har) but in my underqualified opinion I would say you’ve got a pretty severe infection and should get to the emergency room stat.”  He took the advice, and within the half hour he was on his way to the hospital. As it would turn out he got an infection from one of his blisters that traveled all the way to his Lymph nodes.  He would be off trail for the foreseeable future.

The rest of the day was to be spent getting gear sorted out, clothes cleaned, and get mail drops from the post office.  The post office was supposed to have my new trail shoes but apparently they hadn’t arrived yet. Looks like I would have to wait and pick them up tomorrow before they closed at noon.  It was roughly a mile and a half walk to the post office so it was a real pain in the ass to have to manage going back, especially without a ride.  I was hopeful that I could get Carole or Hugo Mumm to facilitate a ride to and from. 

After a bit, all the hikers staying at the neighboring hotels and motels coordinated to convene at the Chinese Buffet across the street for a hiker family lunch.  Dusty, Samurai, Hamburger, Dash, NO2, Ducky, Hikeaholic, Scarecrow, and myself all found ourselves engorged at one big table with empty plates of Chinese food all around. It was a sight to behold.  After several plates and many fun laughs it was time to retire to the room to get back to doing absolutely nothing. And it was everything that I thought it could be.  Another zero on deck tomorrow and a Warrior Hike event at the local VFW.  

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Post office just screwing up left and right for me in Grants.  Not COOL! It’s Saturday at 11:30AM and I went down there to get my shoes and they didn’t have them, so they said.  I went back to my hotel room and double checked the tracking information.  It clearly stated that the shoes were delivered to the post office on THURSDAY and they have had them in their possession since then and refuse to admit that they have them back there. I called them and demanded to speak to someone who was half way competent.  I told them that they have basically forced me to be a jerk regarding this package and that they had it in the back somewhere and needed to find out. After waiting several minutes they told me that they indeed did have it.  As it was too late for me to walk back down there before they closed I asked if they would remain open because if I wasn’t able to pick them up today I would be forced to wait in Grants until they opened on Monday which would put me behind by a day for the Warrior Hike schedule.  No such luck.  Screwed again. They would close without me getting my shoes.

Time to game plan since I was now stuck in Grants until Monday to deal with that.  My new plan was to use Sunday (tomorrow) as my day for knocking out the few remaining miles of the trail that I didn’t complete into Grants and then knock out the rest of the road miles north of Grants at the trailhead to Mount Taylor in the Cibola National Forest.  Total miles would be 13 tomorrow, all road.

The rest of this day was used to relaxing and getting ready for our Warrior Hike event at 4pm.  My good buddy Chris Benoit and his wife Sarah were also going to be in town and invited me and some of the other Warrior Hikers over for a BBQ after the event.  His wife’s cousin lived in town.

A few of the VFW members came by and picked us up at the hotel and took us over to the VFW for some drinks and a potluck dinner that included T-Bone steaks.  Everybody that we met over there was incredibly awesome and extremely hospitable.  It always amazes me anytime strangers are willing to take people and take care of them, bend over backwards, and expect nothing in return.  I truly feel awful that the best that I can offer in return is my most sincere appreciation and thanks for everything that they do for us.  After an incredible meal and a gift bag for each one of us we parted ways and got a ride back to the hotel.  Some of us were hiking out tomorrow and needed to prep our gear for the next day. Myself and Doc Rocket would not be hiking out. I was waiting for my new shoes and Doc was laid up with a serious infection. 

Once we got back to the hotel I got in touch with Chris and he was going to come pick us up. I asked if a couple of the other hikers could join who were not affiliated with Warrior Hike and Chris was happy to oblige.  Viking (again no relation), Buffalo Shuffle, Hikeaholic, and Scarecrow were down to join the crew of me, NO2 and Doc Rocket.  Chris and his wife’s cousin’s husband came and picked us up in a shaggin wagon, a big van perfect for the whole crew.

Once we got over to their house which wasn’t more than 10 minutes away, they had a platter prepared for all of is. It looked awesome. Steak fajitas with all the fixins.  It looked amazing. The hikers that weren’t a part of the VFW event dug right in.  I was still completely stuffed and was getting shit from everyone for not digging in but after a few beers and several pleas to eat I regained my appetite and began the fattening process with a renewed sense of hunger.  The food and beer was flowing.  Great company and great people all around. Everyone was having a blast and it was fun to see all the different people interacting and getting along.  I love bringing good people together, warms the heart.  Chris and his wife are awesome people and Sarah’s cousin and husband were incredible hosts to invite a bunch of hiker trash into their home as family.  They also had two little boys that were a lot of fun.  Before we knew it, it was 10pm but the Jaegermeister was being passed around like candy, and the Tecate and Modelos were too.  Another relative of our hosts was there and he was playing his guitar and leading sing alongs of all varieties…I can’t remember them all but lets just say I did my fair share of participating, whether I knew the precise words or not.  At one point in the evening we learned that our host, Oscar, was the manager of the local gold course. Before we knew it we had decided that we were going to play the front nine tomorrow since some of us were going to be sticking around an extra day.  Scarecrow, Hikeaholic, and Doc and I committed to knockin it around the links. 

All in all it was an awesome evening but it didn’t necessarily end on the greatest note. An exciting note but not all together appreciated. We called for a cab to take us back to the hotel as there wasn’t anyone capable of legally driving us back.  We got picked up and started down the road.  We were all rowdy and boisterous.  The driver asked us who we were and what we were doing. I explained to him that some of us were veterans and it was just after this that he got all excited.  I began to discern that this gentleman was ALSO inebriated but that by itself wasn’t what was scariest, what happened next was when shit got real.  I was sitting behind the driver’s seat and the driver handed me a bag and told me he had a surprise and told me to look in the bag.  I grab it and look in it and notice a revolver.  He emphatically was yelling at me to pull it out of the bag and I was emphatically yelling at him that I would do no such thing, this was CERTAINLY not the time or the place.  He slammed on the brakes in the middle of the road in an absurdly drunken manner and basically forced my hand, quite literally. I pulled the gun out, immediately checking to see if it was loaded, which thankfully it was not. I screamed at him that I pulled the gun out and that he should keep driving.  He wouldn’t….He screamed at me to pass it around for everyone to see. His drunken thought was that everyone would find his prized possession to be a real beaut but as I looked around everybody looked terrified and nobody wanted to touch thing.  I told him that I was passing it around, which I wasn’t.  Satisfied with my response he continued to drive again.  Crisis averted but it was clear that a few people in the back were fearing for their precious lives.  We got dropped off and as everyone got out of the vehicle it was like everyone had a second chance at life.  Nerves were shot. We barely spoke as we got out of the car and everyone returned to their respective hotels and rooms breathing sighs of relief. What a day.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

MOTHER’S DAY! I called and talked to my mee-maw and thanked her for being the best mother in the whole world and that I loved her.  What a special woman to have 4 children with me last and being quite the handful that I was growing up. I’m big on family and I am very close to my parents and brother and sister’s. I’m an uncle to 8 (going on 9) nieces and nephews so I made sure to wish my sisters and sister-in-law a happy mother’s day as well.  And now to celebrate Mother’s day properly.

We got picked up by Chris and Oscar around 11:30am and made our way over to the golf course.  Winds were blowing about 30-50mph but nobody cared, nobody was good enough to care.  For all I knew the wind was about to make me a pro.  This was to be only my third time ever golfing! But what a way to be doing it, on a thru hike! Haha, I always seem to find something adventurous and different, even while I’m already on an adventure. 

First things first, a few six packs for the carts. This basically just turned into a day of drinking with golf on the side. Nobody was taking the golf too seriously but we ended up actually playing pretty well considering the wind, the hangovers, and the current brews in our bellies.  I surprised myself and only lost one ball in a water hazard and only triple bogeyed twice.  I was actually sort of proud of myself as my drives were basically straight most of the time.  My real issue is my putting, I blow, no other way around it.  Maybe someday when I’m old and gray I will take up this hobby a little bit more. We all had a blast and while we were keeping score, nobody was trying to beat anybody although I do think Doc and I tied. Back to the clubhouse after the front nine as nine was just the right amount of golf on this windy day.  Nobody got hurt, no clubs were broken, and no carts were smashed into each other even though we drove them in Mario Kart fashion sans banana peels and turtle shells.  When it was time to go and pay up the Club Pro and owner wouldn’t take our money and even gave us a ride back to the hotel.  What an amazing treat.  I’ll never get tired of people’s hospitality to hiker’s.

We reconvened back at the hotel room to watch some hockey and drink some brews….I passed out almost immediately after scarfing down a five dolla foooootloooooong. The Ranger’s ended up knocking the Penguins out and Scarecrow was ecstatic being that he is from Long Island and is a diehard Ranger’s fan.  I don’t live and die by the Pens but I do root for them. Doc, however, is a different story.  He is fanatical. A tough loss for him.  But so it goes.

Another great day and my body was beginning to heal well.  I originally planned to walk thirteen miles today but plans change and I was in no way upset by missing another day of hiking. I would just pick up my shoes in the morning and get Hugo or Carole to drop me back south on the road and continue my hike north from there in the morning and make up for the lost day by doing big miles again, maybe not 30+ mile days but definitely 25’s.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

Today started out bad.  Post office fiasco YET AGAIN.  On Saturday when I realized that I would be stuck here until today waiting for my shoes, I decided to order something on Amazon Prime 2 day delivery. An external battery pack to keep my devices charged while I’m out on the trail for many days at a time.  Guaranteed delivery by Monday morning yet when I got to the post office they told me that they didn’t have it even though the tracking information claimed that it was delivered. These people run one of the worst post offices I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with.  The package was in the back but they told me their procedure was that they didn’t go through new arrivals until the afternoon and that they wouldn’t release the packages until the following day. What kind of bull shit is this? You’re the post office and you have my package, it’s your JOB to give it to me.  I went back to the hotel and pondered my options.  And I opted to call them back and demand to speak to their boss, and then their boss’ boss, and then their boss’ boss’ boss. Who’s the boss now?? I demanded the release of my package on the account that they had already inconvenienced me on several occasions causing me to miss a couple days hiking already, and now potentially another.  The best they could do for me was to tell me that they would have it ready after noon.  I decided that my best bet was to knock out the 13 mile road walk and to spend one last night in town because A) Doc Rocket was stuck one more day before hitching a ride up to Cuba and B) there was supposed to be snow up on Mount Taylor tonight and sub-freezing temperatures. I didn’t have any of my warming layers yet as I was waiting to have them sent out until the last town stop in New Mexico before getting into Colorado so this didn’t sound like the worst option in the world. One more night of a queen size bed, one more shower, one more hot meal, etc. So the decision was made.  I at least had my new shoes. Spankin new right out of the box.  I figured I could knock out these 13 miles in under 4 hours and I was right. I was back in town at the post office after Carole picked me up at the trailhead before 3pm and picked up my battery pack. Thanks for nothing postal workers. This will forever scar me from having gear or packages shipped to Post Offices in a general delivery fashion in the future. 

Tomorrow back on the trail for real, hiking up Mount Taylor in the morning. 

Pie Town to Grants – Another Foolish Death March

Tuesday, May 6, 2014
CDT Day 24 – Zero Day

So I didn’t hike out today. My feet still needed a little pampering and time off. I had new shoes shipped to Grants which was the next town up trail which was about 71 miles North.  We don’t have an event there until Saturday so I still have plenty of time if I leave tomorrow.  I figured I’d give my feet an extra day and I found a new pair of insoles to slip into my seriously faded footwear to help mitigate the issues that I was having with them. Fool proof plan in place.

I decided to take it upon myself to make breakfast for everybody that I could.  Something about doing things for other people that just makes you feel good about yourself, especially to start the day. II had all the ingredients that were needed: tortillas, eggs, peppers, asparagus, cheese, bacon grease, the giant iron skillet, and the wood fired stove. Breakfast burritos for all. Viking (no relation to myself but a true Icelandic/German finishing his Triple Crown), Buffalo Shuffle, Dusty, Kermit, NO2, Doc Rocket, Hikeaholic, and Scarecrow, everybody had there fill of the giant egg scramble shmorgasbord that was created…I had two.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing and catching up on some internet world type things.  Sports, news, contacting mi familia, etc. Town stops are crucial for most but I tend to draw them out a little bit longer than others. 

The day flew by fairly quickly and before I knew it, it was dinner time.  Time to fire the wood stove back up and rummage through the fridge, freezer and cupboards for dinner.  Most of all the 20+ hikers that were here the night before had bounced.  All that was left was me, Kermit, Doc Rocket, Viking, Buffalo Shuffle, and two newcomers in Wolverine and Beeker.  I invited them all to partake in whatever dinner I was about to create. Everyone was in except Wolverine, he apparently had shipped too much food to himself and was relegated to having to eat as much of it before hiking out tomorrow morning. 

Spaghetti dinner time. I found loads of pasta of all varieties. But the kicker was the personally HANDcrafted specialty sauce (from pre-made ingredients). I found a can of crushed tomatoes, a can of peeled tomatoes, one whole tomato, a can of tomato paste, and two cans of three cheese cooking sauce, added in various spices and seasonings, as well as a little red cooking wine.  BUT I also found a bag in the freezer of some kind of meat. Wasn’t sure what it was but it was gonna get cooked and thrown in, rest assured. Meat sauce baby.  As it would turn out it was 4 pounds of ground elk meat and when I put it all together it was about the best damn spaghetti meat sauce I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.  Everyone else agreed once they were feeding their fat faces all at the dinner table together like one big happy family.  A loaf of baked and buttered Italian bread was served up with it. Smashing success. Bed time came early as we were all bloated with carbs and calories (and plenty of beer).

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Wednesday. May 7, 2014
CDT Day 25 – LOTS of miles

Woke up with all intentions of hiking out first thing. There I go with plans and intentions again.  Ended up not jocking up until about 9:45am after making a slamming breakfast for everybody again. Most important meal of the day right? Every meal is my most important meal. All five of them. Doc Rocket and I had plans to make it to Grants a day before our event on Saturday so we could watch the penguins game on Friday. This meant we were going to be pulling three 25 mile days back to back to back. No biggie right? Right.

We made it about 200 feet before we decided we should go have pie one last time before departing PIE TOWN. The cafe opened at 10…what impeccable timing.  We sat there until about 10:30 after eating pie and ice cream before hitting the road. Definitely a much later start than anticipated.  To me this meant I would have to be hauling ass to make 25 miles before it got too late.  I believe Doc had aspirations of hanging with me for the walk but as soon as we hit the trail (a road walk for almost ever) I put it in another guy and left him in the dust.  After the 4th or 5th mile he couldn’t be seen behind me anymore but that wasn’t what was on my mind.  My shoes!! I started feeling hot spots. This did not bode well for my healing feet and for the big miles ahead.  Command decision made. Socks and Crocs time baby! One last time before I fall in on my new shoes in the next town, shoes that I HOPE solve all these feet problems.  I stopped and made the change and continued on my course. As the day wore on I realized that I was making amazing time. 

I started to get it into my head that more than 25 miles was possible. As I continued to knock out more chunks of miles with the winds whipping and blasting sand against my body all day long, I began to think bigger. What is it with wanting to push myself to the brink of destruction all the time? Don’t know, DON’T CARE. I love the challenge. I began to think that it was possible to actually catch the other hikers that left the day before me.  Not only that but I began to think it was possible to make it to Grants in TWO days. 71 miles!!  Now things were bordering on ludicrous.  What was I thinking? Why would I even consider this? My reasoning is always foolish and I know it….but its still MY reasoning and I will do whatever I damn well please whether its good for me or not. Decision made.

Grants in two days.  Not only did I challenge myself….but I openly challenged NO2 and Doc Rocket.  Later in the day as the sun was fading I neared the 24 mile mark.  This was near a cattle trough that I topped off at and just happened to have service on my phone at as well.  The feet were tired but I was too stubborn to deviate from my self imposed challenge.  I sent a group text out to those two and told them my plan of Grants by Thursday evening.  NO2 and Doc both replied with their acceptance of that challenge…fools! Haha.  Their manhood’s would not be pushed around by the likes of me….and I did push them.

Doc was probably 10 plus miles behind me at this point and NO2 was maybe 10 miles ahead of me.  I decided to open the gap on one and close the gap on the other. I initially told them both that I was going to pull a 33 mile day which at the time was indeed my intention.  But as the evening wore on I decided to take an alternate route that would bypass the route that N02 took and I could in essence leap frog him in the night unbeknown to him. The new goal was 38 miles to put me a solid mile in front of N02.  I made my mark by 11:45pm. I didn’t look pretty doin it but I made it none the less.  I cowboy camped under a dead tree on the side of the road where I knew any hiker that passed me in the morning while still in my bag couldn’t miss me.  Lord knows my body could use a little sleeping in.  I cooked a meal while I nearly froze in the bitter cold night before hopping in the bag….surrounded by cow shit of course.  

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Thursday, May 8, 2014
CDT Day 26 – 33 miles (or so was the plan)

Woke up to the sounds of Dusty and Hamburger talking and walking up to my bivouac site.  We exchanged pleasantries and they asked how I got there and I informed them of all my stupidity the day before and the stupidity that was to ensue on this day as well.  Next came Hikaholic walking up on me, I was still in my bag afraid to move or get up and realize the damage that was done.  Also it was FREEZING cold out this morning as it was about 7:30am.  Hikaholic complemented the false sense of security being provided by the tiny dead tree that I was perched under.  Hilarious, now leave me be.  I decided it was time to stand up out of my bag as I could see Dash and N02 walking up in the distance.  They couldn’t believe I was there. “BEAT YA!”, I said to them and laughed, but the joke was on me because they were walking and I could barely stand up straight without losing my balance.  This is how most mornings are for many hikers but it was quite amplified for me this morning.  They didn’t linger long as they were also freezing and their goal was my goal, Grants which was 33 miles away. Definitely another extremely full day of hiking, at a very fast and brutal pace.  I was not sure how I was going to manage this in my current condition.  I knew I could walk, but the pace would need to be 3-3.5 miles all day with barely any breaks.  I scarfed down some bars and popped some vitamin I (ibuprofen) and packed my crap and hit the ground running…well, walking, as best I could. The first few miles took a while to warm up to the pace I wanted. I was doing it though. It seemed possible and within reach.  DEATH MARCH CITY here I come. Every single town stop I have pulled a ridiculous day of hiking to make into town a day early, or in this case two days early.  It is nonsense but it is reality, the reality I have created. At this point its getting to be a bit of a tradition.  Wouldn’t be a town stop without hobbling in like an idiot. 

The miles felt like they were taking forever. And I mean FOREVER.  15 down, 18 to go.  Next thing I know the clouds are rolling in hard. I had heard there was a chance for thunderstorms today but didn’t pay it any mind.  Now I was paying it mind.  These weren’t just any old clouds rolling in, they were snow clouds, snow and lightning. Great. Just what I need to make these next miles go smoothly. The snow began pelting my face and the wind would burn, I actually put my rain jacket on while I was hiking for the first time on this trail.  This continued on for a while and eventually I got to a water cache on the side of the road where Dash and N02 were just leaving as they had clearly already had a nice long break.  Their bodies were fresher than mine as they broke up the previous miles into two days as opposed to my one.  I resented them for having more able bodies at this point and cursed them in the back of my mind.  How dare they be able to walk faster than me right now. I knew there was no way I would be able to catch them and conceded the glory of them getting to town before me.

At the water cache, Hikaholic and Hamburger were chillin. I only intended to stop to tape up my feet as I was beginning to feel hot spot, the first time since feeling them the day before. Miraculously my feet were holding up to this point.  But now the old blister were beginning to form new ones underneath them.  POPPED and taped them up and stuffed a couple of bars down the gullet and Hamburger kindly brought me a bottle of water as I was clearly in no position to move more than was necessary to complete these tasks.  More vitamin I too, a hikers best friend while they are poundin some serious ground.  Getting started again back on the road was rough but at least I had two other hikers with me to keep me occupied and my mind off the pain. I was hoping to make it to town no later than 8 but my pace was gradually slowing as the pain became more intense.  These two weren’t trying to make it into town tonight and were gonna camp somewhere.  We had a good time exchanging stories and conversation for several miles before we passed by the ranger station and they peeled off for a break.  The fool pressed on, no breaks.  It was getting later and later and around 6pm i was about 1 mile from Interstate 40, which for the longest time I thought was the location of the hotel I was trying to make it to but it was a false hope.  I still had 6 miles to go from I-40.  My pace had slowed to 2mph or less and I physically COULD NOT hike any faster.  I began to realize that I absolutely bit off more than I could chew.  Total boneheaded idiot move.  I wasn’t dying and I wasn’t seriously injured, I just pushed my body to the brink and it was shutting down.  I began to have an inner battle with my pride and my new reality.  At my current pace I wouldn’t get to the hotel until 10 or 11pm even.  I was tired, hungry, hurting, exhausted. The battle then became one of giving up, of throwing out my thumb before it got dark and hitch hiking to the hotel (to return to my last spot and pick up there when it was time to hike again, of course). 

As I was having this inner battle, a vehicle came rolling down the road towards me. It began to slow down, slower and slower as it approached.  My only thought was that I must have looked so pathetic hobbling down this road that they were about to stop and take pity on me. The car stopped in the middle of the road and the window rolled down, “Are you a Warrior Hiker?” “Ummmm, yes?”, I said.  As it turns out they were the two well known older couple trail angels in the Grants area, Carole and Hugo Mumm.  Apparently they were on their way to pick up Doc who, in his pursuit of my foolish challenge, could not walk a step further. They informed me that he was roughly 19 miles behind me and called them for a ride.  Yikes.  They offered me a ride and I refused (but how badly I secretly wanted the ride). I figured I could make it another mile to I-40 where there was a Subway and gas station. I could eat dinner and rest and push the remaining 5 miles or so after a break.  They offered again and I again refused and thanked them anyways. Finally Carole, who was the sweetest lady, very grandmotherly, said why don’t you just get in the car and we will take you to Subway and get Doc and pick you up on the way back. Third time was the charm, I couldn’t say no one more time, the thought of a hotel bed and a warm shower was too much.  I ate two footlongs at that Subway and grabbed one for the road.  Got to the hotel and snagged my own room and locked the door. I was to be alone for the rest of the night to nurse my broken body. 5 miles shy of my mark I was a battered man emotionally….yet incredibly content to take an hour long bath before literally crawling into bed. Two zero days on DECK…the fruits of my stupid labors. 

German Air Force, Unexpected Ladies, More Hot Springs, Crocs N Socks, Trail Magic, Lack of Water, Suspect Water, Death Marching and More Death Marching, More Magic, The Toaster House Hostel, Pie Town

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.