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CDT NM 5th Section

Day 29: Cerro Brillante

After walking so long and starting up so late the previous day, I decided that this day could be a breather. A chill day with few worries. After all, I had six days to get to Grants, which meant I needed to average less than 15 miles a day. Sure, getting there earlier meant more zero days in town, but I was already going to get a zero in Grants and most of one in Albuquerque, and it seemed like Grants wasn’t exactly a party town with so many things to do on a Thursday. I had the food, so it was cheaper and easier to take it slow in the woods.

So I slept in until after six. The sun was already rising when I got busy. And what I got busy doing was sewing up part of my boot that had just broken. Then I packed up and made breakfast from the water cache. I didn’t leave my dumb little roadside campsite until nearly 8.

The trail did not follow the county road, but set off across the open range, briefly following a barbed wire fence, giving me flashbacks to leaving county road 163 near Adobe Ranch. But only a few minutes later, I climbed up onto a lava flow and chased cairns across cracked, craggy crevasses, stepped around sinkholes, and tripped over warped, wavy wrinkles. It was a little bit fun and interesting, but I’ve walked on lava fields extensively before, and it gets old far, even when there’s an actual cleared trail, which there wasn’t here. This little bit was the perfect length, less than an hour’s worth.

Right before the trail came off the flow and back onto the range, I stopped under a tree next to a collapsed sinkhole for morning snack. Trees and plants grew everywhere in the lava flow, but hardly anywhere in the prairie.

I did find one spot a couple of hours later where there were a handful of trees, two of which were basically cleared underneath. Even though they were sparse on leaves and didn’t offer the greatest shade, I lay under one and made some lunch. Round about here is where I started noticing the fly problem, but with my headnet on, it wasn’t bad.

It got worse. The flies chased me all day. They buzzed around my head when I was walking and tried to land on the backs of my knees. At a parking lot with an empty water cache, I took a long break behind a tall tree, but it wasn’t the most relaxing because I was constantly swarmed by dozens of flies. I kept my legs covered with my towel, but they sometimes got under it, or under my shirt. If I exposed any skin, they would land all at once in tight clusters.

These weren’t like gnats or flying ants or anything. Most of them were what you’d call houseflies. The kind that can make tight circles around your head at high speeds like they’re trying to win an airplane slalom race.

Since there was no water in the cache, I had to go a couple more miles to find water, circling a small volcanic caldera called Cerro Brillante. It wasn’t tall or spectacular, but it actually looked like a volcano cone. I had been seeing conical peaks in the distance for a while, and I had many more like it to see. Eventually, I came to a cow or heifer maybe standing guard in the middle of the trail. As soon as I passed, it stepped in behind me and started following. The rest of the herd was gathered in the two track road leading to their water trough.

They parted–some of them–as I passed, but closed behind me, lowing cryptic messages to their friends. Others stood their ground and stared me down, making me go around.

I dropped my pack near a small tank with the tire trough’s float valve inside, then went to scoop a bag of water from the trough. I decided that I didn’t want to stick around long enough to filter it with the whole herd watching me judgmentally, waiting for some signal or offering of which I was clueless. As I was putting the bag of water in my pack, one smaller boy came up and took a drink, then started inching closer to me every time I looked away. I got the feeling once he got within striking distance, he’d stick out a hoof and say, “Hey! You leavin’ widdout payin’ for that wada ya took?” He backed off a bit when I put my pack back on. It always makes me more intimidating to cows.

The cows slowly parted again as I left. The sentry for the northbound part of the trail let me pass before I even got there.

I only went a little further before stopping for supper and to filter the water I took. Once I had my water boiled and my dinner in the pot with it, I lay down to wait for it to cook and knocked the stove and pot over with my shoulder. The lid popped off and half my dinner came out. I said, “Aw!” then stopped when I remembered I had packed out more dinners than I needed for this section and I still had enough water to reach the next source even if I cooked another. So I had 1.5 dinner servings that evening.

The rest of the trail was more of the same and nothing to see or say. A couple more ungated barbed wire fences to get past. More constant nagging by flies.

The sky was clear blue and partly cloudy all day by the way. Very rare occasions of cloud shade. Zero rain. Zero thunder. Plenty of wind. It was like being in the desert near the border again, but only in terms of the weather.

I just stopped wherever I happened to be at 8:15 when the sun went down and found a clear and vaguely level spot to put my tent. An early night, asleep by 10. I figured I’d take it easy again the next day too.

Trail miles: 16.2

Distance to Grants: 56.1 miles

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CDT NM 5th Section

Day 28: York Ranch Road

This was a long day with very little of interest happening for most of it. I got up, packed up, started walking down York Ranch Road. 14 hours later, I was still walking down York Ranch Road.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a bad road. It’s a well-maintained and lightly trafficked dirt road. At first, it went up and down some and occasionally slightly left or right with a goodly number of trees lining either side, though later in the day, it arrived onto the (clearly labeled) Open Range, after which it was flat and straight for miles in the open with no trees for miles in any direction. When I saw a view I liked, I was guaranteed to keep seeing it for the next few hours.

There were dozens of cars going in each direction over the course of the day, which is honestly not that bad. Not so many I wanted to immediately hitch to the end of the road, even though it was boring. Some of them slowed down to avoid kicking up dust in my face; some flew by at full speed. Two stopped to talk to me.

The first was a lady who stopped to tell me she had just restocked the homestead porch at TLC Ranch with fruit and water. She was gone by the time I finished thanking her, but I’m guessing she was probably Charity, one of the owners.

There was indeed a bag of Granny Smith apples and a couple of bananas in the cooler at the ranch, along with several tanks of water and a few packs of ramen. There was an outhouse for hikers, but for certain ironic reasons, I didn’t use it. I wanted to stay in the shade all afternoon, but it was early, and I had miles to go and a road to be rode rid of, so I took a packet of chili ramen and made first lunch of it a bit up the road at a more lunchable time.

The clouds started coming in early that afternoon, and I was already being rained on by the end of second lunch. It turned into a full blown storm as soon as I packed up and got into my Packa. A full frontal driving rain that kept me looking only four feet in front of me to keep my rain hood visor between the water missiles and my face. Then it stopped. Closer to sunset and many miles later, the sun actually became visible below the clouds for a while. Indeed, I had a bit of sun on me while I sat in the wide open on the side of the road eating supper.

Right at sunset, a man in a truck stopped next to me and offered me a bottle of unsweet tea, which I accepted graciously. Then he proceeded to talk about everything for the next 15 minutes, and I got his life story. After being drafted #11 to Vietnam, he spent 28 years in the Army, stationed all over Georgia for training, and as a military attache for 17 armed conflicts. Then he became a nurse for a decade, mending people instead of breaking them. Then he retired, moved up a canyon by himself, and hasn’t seen a stabbed, shot, or dead body since. But apparently he’s seen plenty of cougars, wild donkeys, and even the occasional wild llama up in those hills. Thanks for the tea, Mitch Henderson.

It was another 1.5 miles to the county road by twilight. There was a water cache at the sign and I filled up. But this was a relatively busy paved road, and I didn’t want to camp on the shoulder, so I had another 2 miles to go until the trail left the road.

Walking the white line down the side of a long, level paved road at night is a surreal experience. I could see the haze from the headlights of oncoming cars ten minutes before I could even hear them.

At one point, a car lit me up in passing, surprising a small rattlesnake right next to the road. It started rattling at me right next to my foot. I jumped, but I didn’t know which way to jump since away from the snake was into the road writers the car was passing. What tiny glimpse I caught of in the headlights showed it was curled and ready to strike, but I managed to avoid disaster anyway. And I kept hiking down the road in the dark.

There were few enough of those distant headlights that I could see the clouds clearing overhead and the stars coming out. It was 10pm by the time I arrived at Cibola Country Road 42 and the trailhead, so I set up my tent in a sandy patch right next to the turnaround and info board. I didn’t care that cars (and two late night cyclists?) would be lighting my tent up in passing all night. I was too tired to let that keep me awake.

And more importantly, I was done with that long, boring road.

Trail miles: 26.9

Distance to Grants: 72.5 miles

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CDT NM 4th Section

Day 26: Pie Town

After being up so late, I think I did pretty well getting out of camp by 6:50.

The trail started with a bit of flat road walk, then climbed onto a ridge and just kind of mindlessly went up and down along that as the sun came out and the day got hotter.

I stopped for my morning snack just before what would be the longest steep climb of the day. It was a nice little moment of relaxation in the shade on a day that would not have much of it.

The climb turned out to be no big deal. Over in no time. Then there was a few miles of that same sort of mindless up and down walking along the side of the ridge. The trail randomly went straight up the hill for no apparent reason sometimes, only to immediately start heading down. Somewhere on a short climb out of a mini ravine, I passed a small snake curled up by the trail. It didn’t react to me at all. Maybe it was napping. I took a picture and went on.

About 11am, I reached the north trailhead for the section. I turned off the trail down a dirt road headed for a well that was to be the first usable source of water in some twenty miles. I ran out of water as I approached it, turning off the road and setting out overland directly for it.

It being nearly noon, the only shade near the water tank was a tiny sliver cast by the tank itself. I squeezed myself into it up against the cool metal and made lunch while my water filtered.

To return to the trail after lunch, I followed a cow track headed toward the tree-lined ridge to the west, where I assumed the trail would be. But when I glanced at the GPS finally, it said I had just passed the trail. I looked back and saw a wooden post standing there. The trail had set out across the prairie itself, with no shade to be found. Just a sequence of posts to follow. And those soon stopped appearing as well. They seemed to say “just go straightish until you run into that fence over there, ” so I did.

The next few miles were a CDT classic by now: walk along that barbed wire fence in a straight line no matter what the terrain does. Boring for the most part, except for the occasional antelope or rabbit sighting.

And then I came upon the fawn. It just lay next to the fence all curled up and didn’t react to me at all. Until I squirted some water on its body. Then it squeaked, scrambled under the fence and went running off at a good clip to who knows where. Maybe to find its mom. Maybe a shadier spot to rest. Either way, I hope it learned to fear humans who come near for the day when they are shooting lead instead of water. (After all, a deer that just stands next to you and lets you shoot it isn’t a very fun deer hunt, is it?)

By 3pm, I reached the highway, and by 3:30 I had made a sign. But no one was biting. In fact, they were signaling “no” before they were even close enough to read the sign. On the bright side, the cloud cover had increased somewhat, so I was boiling under the sun only half the time.

Finally a lady pulled off the side road behind me and invited me to go with. Only an hour and a half wait this time. And who was my first human contact in a week? Her name was Mesonika. It’s Polish. But she was diehard rural conservative, riding with a pistol in her lap, proud that her town had held a parade in the middle of the pandemic against the governor’s orders, referring to masks as “face diapers,” and insinuating I’m a crazy idiot for getting vaccinated. I changed the subject as soon as possible. Turns out Pie Town is named that after someone who sold pies to the folks coming through on cattle drives and the like long ago.

Anyway, she dropped me at Toaster House, which is a hiker box the size of a building. Almost all the food inside is free for the taking. There are beds. But most importantly, there’s a shower, which I availed myself of post haste, scrubbing away a week of accumulated dust.

Hawkeye greeted me at the door. He was holed up with GI issues, possibly Guardia. He said Banshee and Moving Average were there as well. The latter walked up just as he said that, and after a brief chat, I ran off to take over the bathroom for a while.

I spent the rest of the evening chatting with the guys, then standing in the street to get enough cell service to get some posts uploaded and handle other future business, and then grazing my way through the vast variety of free food, including soda, frozen pizza, hot pocket, pickles, an assortment of tea, canned yams, and I even baked a late night potato. I slept upstairs in the penthouse with Banshee, leaving my pack out on the porch because why not.

Trail miles: 29 (12.7 by truck)

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CDT NM 5th Section

Day 27: Pie Town

I didn’t get very far, but the day was all work work work. Mostly not very interesting stuff, but there were a couple of highlights.

I was the second person up in the Toaster House. Moving Average had already hiked out by the time I realized I couldn’t sleep in any longer. I had been up quite a bit later than usual and wanted another hour maybe, but my eyes saw the sunlight and told the rest of me to get up.

So I made a big pot of coffee for everyone. I took some, went to the bathroom, and came back for some more. Banshee had come down to get some as well. Jefferson, the permanent resident and house sitter of sorts, also got up for some. Hawkeye did not appear.

The RV Park next door would allow hikers to sit in their public area from 7 to 7, and that was where the best cell reception was found, so I went over there next and started the long and laborious process of uploading media for this blog from the entire previous week of hiking. I don’t want to get into all the technical issues and annoyances on a hiking blog, but the biggest one was having to come down to the RV park to do the work.

Hawkeye came to join me a few minutes later to call home. He was arranging for his wife to come pick him up and take him to an actual medical professional to find out the reason for his GI issues. He would tell me later at breakfast that he didn’t think it was Giardiasis anymore. He had had that twice, and this malady was affecting him very differently.

After 8:30, I went to the post office to get my resupply box. I passed Hawkeye headed to the cafe on my way back. I told him I’d join him in a minute. I dropped off the box, asked Jefferson about borrowing his bike, and walked over to Pie Town Pies.

It was a very interesting and unique cafe. There was a limited but high quality selection of reasonably priced short order items, half of which were breakfast. But it wasn’t like a typical diner. The food could take as much as an hour to come. Mine didn’t, thankfully, but it was close to half an hour. They keep true to their promise to make your order fast, no matter how long it takes.

Why? Because half their staff was given over to the pie making operation in the other, much larger, kitchen. It seemed like they must be cranking out a hundred pies a day of a dozen different types, and selling completely out every day. They go through so much Blue Bird flour that the curtains are sewn from the empty bags.

I quite enjoyed nearly two glasses of orange juice while waiting on my eggs and bacon, while Hawkeye carefully sipped at his then gave me half. Likewise, as much as he wanted to guzzle down water, he take small careful sips. He asked for a smaller portion breakfast and gave me half his potatoes and bacon. (He did not share the best part of the breakfast though, and this is something we both agreed on: the “Miracle” toast. I could eat bread like that for every breakfast. Thick enough to make the perfect sponge for every last drop of yolk from my over easy eggs.

By the time we left there, Hawkeye said he was actually feeling almost normal. He did end up going to the bathroom once we got back though.

Also, when we got back, Banshee was ready to hike out. He got his picture for Nita’s memory book and hiked down to the RV park with me to make one last call. I got another set of things uploading and he walked out of town.

I got to another stopping point, annoyed by the sun, and went back to unpack my resupply box. Hawkeye was writing a story in the house guest book while I did this. He interrupted my packing to ask me how to spell “throat.” I interrupted him to get him to help me pour my breakfast powder into its bag. He also gave me a handful of snack bars when I noticed my resupply did not contain enough and the pantry had none. Thanks Hawkeye.

Once I was done packing the food, I was ready to do laundry. I got my phone doing some uploads and left it plugged in on the stoop where it could just barely see cell service. Then I went to get Jefferson… but he was sound asleep in his room. But he had left his keys in his door, so I snagged them to unlock his bike, and off I went. I didn’t see Hawkeye again.

The three mile bike ride to the Top of the World General Store and Laundromat was a breeze. The highway was almost all downhill to it.

While there doing my laundry, I bought a handful of things from the store as well, including some razors, which I availed myself of to shave immediately, and some root beers, two to drink then and four to put in the Toaster House fridge as replacement for the sodas I had taken from it to drink at supper.

Just as my washer was finishing up, with a literal building shaking rumble thanks to a balance issue during the last spin cycle that the store refused to actually fix, a couple came in with a beautiful and curious Great Pyrenees puppy who took quite a liking to me instantly. Also, they were great folks to talk to about life in the area (and puppies).

The ride back from the laundromat was exhausting. All uphill and upwind. And since I couldn’t raise the bike seat, all the work was on my quads. And there were some derailleur alignment issues that made it difficult to impossible to select certain gears. And yet it was still much faster than walking.

Jefferson was still napping when I got back, so I basically had the house to myself. But I didn’t really need it. Everything was done except for internet chores. Calling home and elsewhere, sending emails, scheduling enough more blog posts to cover the days until Grants. All of which meant spending more time sitting on a bench in the RV park. I ran out of energy after the phone call portion of these chores and went back to the house to get some lunch. A small cheese pizza and a Hot Pocket.

Jefferson got up and gave me the keys for the bike lock and then said never mind leave it unlocked. He said tell him when I was ready to leave and went back to his room. I ate and returned to the RV Park. While I finished up, both a dog and a cat came up to me to beg for pets, the cat quite loudly so. It was basically 6PM by the time I had gotten everything uploaded and posted and could therefore free up 2 gigs on my phone for photos and videos on the next segment.

So I went back to the house, put the last few items in my pack, and got Jefferson up to come take my departure photo. Then I began the long walk down a dusty road.

There were plenty of clouds for shade as I set off into the evening. They kept raining on me. Some of that rain came with storm winds. But I didn’t mind. It wasn’t an intense soaking rain, just an intermittent drizzle. The rabbits and the deer wandering the roadside didn’t mind it either, continuing their evening business.

There were a few cars, but less than one every ten minutes, and the road wasn’t paved, so I didn’t mind it much, though I suspected it would be miserable in the middle of the day–which I would have to deal with the next day.

When the sun went down, the rain suddenly felt a lot colder than before. Maybe the wind was harder or the drops were bigger. Either way, I scrambled to put my Packa on and wore it for the remainder of the evening’s hike, even after the rain sputtered out.

I walked on the road until the end of civil twilight, well past 9pm, then swung up behind a row of trees lining the road. I was probably far enough from the road to be on private property, but it was dark and I would be gone without a trace in the morning, so who could care?

As I was getting my tent set up, I watched a tiny mouse run up and climb the tree next to my tent. I was a bit worried it would come poking around my pack in the night, but I never saw any evidence of tampering in the morning.

The rain briefly started to come back while I was inflating my mattress (this time with the tent flap closed to minimize insect incursions). I rushed to through everything inside and get out all tucked away, but it ended up being only a light sprinkle. There was a slightly heavier rain around midnight accompanied by some powerful winds shaking my tent flaps and some distant thunder, but it was only a pleasant sound to once I was high and dry in my tent.

I wonder if New Mexico might not have already been on its way out of the dry season? As I was to leave the state in a week, I was looking forward to not sticking around when the storms got really going in earnest.

Trail miles: 7.2

Categories
CDT NM 4th Section

Day 25: Highway 12

This day was not remotely a repeat of the previous.

Some things were similar. The weather, for example. The morning rapidly heated up once the sun rose, with clear skies until midday, when the storm clouds started gathering to provide shade and occasional sprinkles. In other words, pretty much the same weather as the last two days.

But the critical difference was that I did not experience sudden bout of narcolepsy halfway through the day. I can’t say that I changed much or the trail changed much, but I was full of energy the whole day through.

Well, actually the trail was a bit easier. The morning hike started before sunrise with brief climbs over a couple of small ridges separating me from the broad flats and floodplain. But as soon as I had completed that, and the sun was already enough to start beating down on anyone not in the shade, I took a sudden right off the nice meandering single track dirt trail onto a straight flat gravel road.

This was one of those places where there was basically no shade to be had, nor any interesting scenery. And it wasn’t even on trail. (Guthook thinks it is, but that’s another story entirely.) Why would I choose to do such a thing? Because the road led to Aragon Well, a giant well-fed tank for cattle, and one of the best water sources for miles. Also, a home for quite a flock of goldfish and one carp that looked to be an easy ten pounds. They eat the things that make tanks get gross, you see.

I took my morning break in the shade of the tank and walked out with a full bag of water. I didn’t really need that much for this stretch, but better safe than sorry.

Finding an underused and rockstrewn road nearby, I found my way back to the highway right where the trail crossed it. Where once there was a water cache and trail magic, I found a dozen empty water jugs and a lot of smashed soda cans. What a mess. Oh well, I didn’t need the water, obviously.

The next few miles were relatively flat, running between national forest land and ranch land, including the perennial barbed wire fences. This section was distinct, however, thanks to its unique metal gates in said fences, with laser cut metal CDT logos welded to them.

With little shade through here, the sun beating down, and knowing more water was available on trail, I began practicing the Colder Shoulder Technique, speaking each sleeve from shoulder to wrist with an entire mouthful of water. The relief was immediate, especially when the wind blew.

Since the sun was out in force, when it came time for lunch, I hid directly under a pair of trees just before the day’s longest climb. A relaxing stop in which I lay in the shade while a cool breeze blew across me. And by the time I was ready to go on, the clouds had started rolling in.

Frankly, the climb was much easier than the ones I’ve been doing the last few days. It was longer than some, but a lot more gentle. And a couple of clouds came over as I went to try to keep me cool.

The trees started to get thicker finally even as the trail leveled out and my pace picked up.

Soon I dropped into a canyon where there was an oak growing all crazy. A little way up the canyon was a boxed spring and I wanted to check it out, so I spent more than an hour in that canyon and came out with my water bag full again.

There was another nasty climb soon after this, short but very steep. But soon it was easy walking again, fast and shady.

In fact, it continued much like that for the rest of the afternoon. The clouds and trees providing sufficient shade. I felt good enough to go on for nearly three hours at a stretch before stopping for dinner.

And after dinner, after losing my way on game trails a couple of times, it was mostly downhill to the flats. There was nothing to slow me down then. It was a dirt road walk across flat ranch land. Where the trees had entirely burned away there were incredible views of buttes and conical peaks lit by the setting sun. The occasional elk crossed the plain and not a single beef in sight. (The several empty tire tanks said they were usually around through.)

Some time after sunset, I came to Rincon Well, another metal tank, which was reported to have good water. But it was just a muddy mire when I got there, with bats continually diving for moths and such close to the puddles.

I put on my headlamp and hiked up the hill. It was dark enough that I needed to stop soon. It had been more than three hours since I finished supper. As soon as I could find some level ground not dotted with enormous rocks, I pitched a tent and crawled inside.

Trail miles: 24.4

Distance to Highway 60 and Pie Town: 16.4 miles. Tomorrow!

Categories
CDT NM 4th Section

Day 24: Linking back up

I’ve come up with a rating system for trails based on my pace over them. It goes like this:

  • 4+ miles per hour: Literally a walk in the park. (Example: Hat Rim on the PCT)
  • 3-4 miles per hour: Easy Trail (Example: any of a number of mostly downhill road walks on the CDT)
  • 2.5-3 miles per hour: Moderate Trail (Example: Most compacted clear footpaths that aren’t uphill)
  • 2-2.5 miles per hour: Challenging Trail (Example: The harder bits of the PCT, uphill sections graded for horse)
  • 1.5-2 miles per hour: Strenuous Trail (Example: Climbing Stone Mountain)
  • 1-1.5 miles per hour: Bullshit Trail, and at the lower end of this range, Complete and Utter Bullshit Trail (Example: The 45 degree climbs strewn with rocks and fallen trees I’ve been dealing with the past two days)
  • Less than 1 mile per hour: What Trail? I Don’t Think There Was A Trail… (Example: The Mt. Hood Fiasco)

On this day, I was fortunate enough to be back on mainly moderate trail.

I left camp before sunrise this time, a bit worried about the water situation. I had maybe 20 oz left and put it all in my breakfast smoothie. I had 3.5 miles to go to the parking area, and from there it was a mile down to Dutchman Spring on the road. And the first bit of trail was a couple more of those ridiculous climbs I’ve been dealing with that easily earn the Bullshit rating. But on my Fresh Morning Legs (FML), I knocked them out fairly quickly.

At the top of the second and larger hill, blessed be, there was an actual footpath! And soon that became a full-on road! Downhill and basically free for 1.5 miles. It was here I spotted a group of elk below and could hear their calves squeaking loudly when they left.

Then it was another steep climb next to a barbed wire fence (of course), but at least there was somewhat of a track up it, and it was short if not mercifully so.

Anyway, I made it to the parking lot by 8, and yet another miracle occurred. There was a row of four 5 gallon boxes of water next to the fence. I made a morning drink to go with my morning snack and filled up everything and more to go. No mile round trip to the spring required! At least an hour of time savings! A great way to kick off a supravigintal day!

(I should mention that the title of this post refers to the fact that this parking lot is the north end of the Gila River Alternate. The next few miles from here are hiked by every CDT thru-hiker, though the confluence doesn’t last long.)

The sun was out and the trail was exposed ridges (more burned forest) for the next few miles. A couple of short climbs but nothing too bad. I took an early first lunch to celebrate my advanced schedule for the day in a flat area with trees dotting it irregularly. I picked one short enough that its shadow was unlikely to leave me and ate and laid in the shade, psyching myself up for the day’s first big climb coming up in less than two miles. I made my weird vitamin C drink to keep me pumped.

Approaching that climb, the clouds got a little thicker. One actually sprinkled on me for about a minute at noon. I went across the long flat section approaching the climb as quickly as possible begging a cloud to give me shade once it started. And the clouds obliged. Some of the worst parts of the climb were in the shade. Which isn’t to say it was anywhere near as difficult as the previous day’s climbs. There was an actual track and switchbacks for goodness sake! But carrying a pack full of water up 700 feet in less than a mile is never going to be easy.

So once at the top, I stopped at the first nice sitting log I could find and cooked one of my extra dinners for second lunch. I figured I’d restore all the energy lost on the climb. While it was cooking, I had to resist curling over on my pack and falling asleep sitting there. Even once I finished eating and started hiking, I didn’t feel my energy return. I still felt a bit sleepy.

I stopped again 4 miles later after a section full of views and shade and little challenge just to lie down and feel better, maybe power up with a dozen or so Starburst. The clouds had dissipated and there was little reliable shade at this point, nothing but tall pines. I found a semishaded spot and laid there for 3 minutes or so, until around 5pm. It only made me sleepier. But I packed up and pushed on, approaching my second big climb of the day like a sluggish narcoleptic zombie.

I decided to take this climb in the tortoise fashion. Drop into low gear with much longer slower strides and much fewer breaks. It worked out and got me to the top in about the same time as the hare method, not feeling too bad, though still sleepy.

On the north face coming down, it became clear why the trail designers thought it would be a good idea to run the trail over Wagontongue Mountain. It ran through a burned out exposed section with 180 degree panoramas of the entire countryside for a hundred miles. And the skies were filled with separate gray drooping rainclouds. One rained on me for a minute as I continued the descent.

A few minutes later, I came into a flat that seemed like the perfect place for dinner. I sat on a log and cooked dinner and an after dinner drink. In the past, this combination has given me a bunch of after dinner energy. Or perhaps it’s just the caffeine in the vanilla chai. I know it has nothing to do with the food by itself, since eating exactly the same sort of thing at second lunch had not picked me up at all. And anyway, not even the combination picked me up this evening. I still felt worn out, used up, broke down, flat busted, broke, and sleepy. But I still had an hour of daylight, so I went ahead and finished descending the mountain.

Very carefully. It was much further down than it had been up, and frequently quite steep. My knees let me know they were there. And so did the bleached skull of some small predator (fox? coyote?) that someone had hung from a tree.

But 45 minutes later, I was at the base and working my way across the flats on a twisted, rutted dirt road. I went as far as where the trail left the road. Someone had made a nice, wide flat campsite there, and it was time for sunset. I finished making camp by twilight. There would be no night hiking for me in this condition. I just needed sleep.

Trail miles: 20.5

40.7 miles to Highway 60 and Pie Town!

Categories
CDT NM 4th Section

Day 23: The Burned Forest

Slow going again on this section. Not necessarily as draining, but definitely less interesting. And, for the most part, just as hard to get a good pace going.

As expected, I slept in a bit, which is to say, I stayed in my tent doing some maintenance and self-care tasks, as well as finishing a blog post it was too late to finish the night before. I didn’t leave camp until 7:30.

The first part was a breeze. Up to the shoulder of the mountain and down the ridge on what amounted to an actual footpath, if a bit overgrown. At the bottom, the trail soon joined a brand new perfectly cleared and compacted section through a bit of forest. After a mile, the forest continued on about the same while the trail switched to a more overgrown and easier to lose state. I took my morning break behind a nice rock formation.

As far as elevation goes, it was pretty gentle rollers all morning. Climb over a ridge, come down the other side, etc. The trail came down to an open area with a fence across it. Where there once would have been a gate someone had replaced it with a section of wired in barbed wire fence. And if that wasn’t rude enough, the bottom wire of the whole fence was not barbed except in that section, where they knew hikers would be having to crawl under it. I bent the separator wires to give as much crawlspace as possible for me and the next person, but I would have liked to have just removed the wire altogether so whoever was responsible would learn that that sort of thing was unacceptable. Put the gate back!

Just after a road crossing, I had a gut feeling it was time to stop. I had lunch there and by the time I left a bit over an hour later, some heavy clouds were rolling in. They would, throughout the rest of the day, go from partly cloudy to completely overcast. At this particular moment, they intermittently gave me long periods of shade.

Just a bit after lunch, I went through a tension gate and crossed the floodplain of East La Jolla Canyon. There was a sign saying the area ahead was full of obstacles due to a fire. It wasn’t lying.

On the first ridge, I kept losing the trail. In places it was marked only with yellow ribbons, possibly because I was on a future reroute. Other times, I was following cow tracks around the side of the ridge when the trail was way above me. But with all the downed trees, the cows seemed to have the better sense of it. Eventually, I climbed up to a nice section of brand new trail, clean and clear of the ankle breaker rocks. It lasted all of ten minutes, dead ending into a series of fallen plastic and wire flags showing where it would continue. Straight up another hill, that’s where. I crawled under a tree near the top and had a second lunch as my afternoon snack.

I came up to the shoulder of Pinon Knob and the descent there was through a light jungle gym of fallen trees, some with CDT markers still attached. It was not as long or as dense as the Mt. Hood fiasco, thank goodness. At the bottom of that began the day’s first serious climb. It was just like the day before, 45 degrees straight up, grass and chunks of rock, occasional markers and cairns. But this time the challenge was increased by the way being constantly blocked by fallen trees. Up 500 feet I went in a half a mile.

My first animal encounter highlight of the day happened on this climb. An enormous Horned Toad Lizard, much bigger than I am used to seeing, got scared off my path. I ran it around a bit to get a good look at it.

The burned forest continued. No footpath in sight, but even if there were it would have been crossed by fallen trees. This section was a nightmare to navigate by sight. For the most part, though, it was predictable. It tried to stay on top of the ridge the whole way.

And there were markers enough. Three kinds: cairns, tree cuts, and plastic CDT logos. The next marker visible from the last could be any of the three, and usually only one marker could be seen if any at all. If it was a cairn, it was probably too short to be seen over a rise or a snag until I came closer. And there were plenty of natural rock formations that resembled cairns from a distance. If it was the CDT logo, it might be so melted in the fire that it has shrunk down to near invisibility. If it was a tree cut, the cut and the surrounding bark might both be burnt black, but it was probably cut in a tree where the underlying wood was the same color as the bark anyway. Either way, I had to scan both the ground and the trees for the next marker each time, something easy to forget to do.

And there was a good heuristic for spotting the next marker: look straight up the hill, straight down the hill, or toward the center of the ridgeline. Head in that direction until you see one. I got so used to this tactic working that I lost the trail doing it.

I came upon a bull in the trail and had to bully him and evict him from my path several times in a row to keep going. Then I looked at my GPS and saw that I was walking down the wrong ridge and had been keeping him running for no reason. Sorry!

Back to the trail and over the next ridge, I found a good log to sit on for dinner. It wasn’t under a tree like usual because the cloud cover was so final that everywhere was shady. It took an hour or so to cook and eat and so a number of other chores, even though I hadn’t even been hungry yet. But I knew that I could hike faster if I ate something substantial.

And I did. The trail did not change by much. Somewhat fewer fallen trees. But I did hike faster up the hills and over the rolly rocks. I kept going past sunset until it was just about too dim to be able to make out the next marker and stopped in a saddle. The first piece of ground I came to was perfect, but was right next to a tree leaning on some other trees and groaning loudly whenever the wind blew. I moved just far enough away that that wouldn’t be so loud to keep me up all night and made camp. Asleep shortly after ten.

Trail miles: 18

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Categories
CDT NM 4th Section

Day 22: The Watering Hole and the Cabin at O Bar O Mountain.

Oh boy. This was a beast of a section of trail. The miles may not show it, but I put in work this day.

I got out of camp before 6:30 with the sun just above the horizon. I finished descending the ridge I had been coming down all evening the day before by coming through a gate into cow territory, chasing away the cows, and dropping into a canyon.

When the canyon bottomed out, I was at Batton Pond, the local watering hole. The water was murky and full of sea monkeys, so I only took a liter for my midmorning drink, figuring what was left in my water bladder would carry me to the next watering hole, which would hopefully be cleaner.

While I was slowly (because of the stuff in it) filtering my one liter behind a tree up the hill, I watched all the animals come to visit. Mostly cows, of course, bringing along their calves. But right next to them an elk cow. I could hear turkeys up the hill probably on their way as well. I watched the cows slowly increase the level of threat they saw in me, at first just drinking and chilling, then later running full speed past me when they couldn’t get around the pond on the side opposite me. I packed up and hiked out the way I’d come in, finding a road that led past the pond again from a higher vantage point. From there, I saw a coyote leaving the pond. It was the only water around, muddy and gross or not.

What followed was a several mile boring road walk to the next pond, which did turn out to have cleaner water. I took one liter to drink immediately and added two more to the one already in my bladder. I figured that would be enough to make it the 11.6 miles to the water source where I planned my dinner stop. A half liter with lunch and the rest spread out over the other approximately 6 hours of hiking that would take seemed about right. (The cows at this pond were far less intimidated by me, and the birds and chipmunks coming for drinks were fun to watch too.)

But I definitely underestimated the trail. When it started climbing, at first it was steep but not that steep, following a barbed wire fence (again!). Then, it was down me switchbacks into a canyon with a red-tailed hawk circling and screaming overhead. The switchbacks continued on the other side of the canyon, but this time I was climbing. Alright, not so bad, at least it was a clear trail, no matter how rocky. There was sometimes wind for air conditioning. There were almost always flies.

After surviving that hill, I found a nice shade tree for lunch. I experimented with a new beverage mix. It was strange and simultaneously “just okay, good I guess” and “you know what, I’d probably drink it again and one day come to truly crave it”

Chasing cairns over rough ground, I went up to the base of Coyote Peak, circled it halfway, and came down the other side to a road where I passed up the last cow pond until dinner. Across the road was an easy walk up a draw, but it was a climb, it was the hottest part of the day, and the flies were getting worse.

I told myself I could take a break when I was within 4 miles of my water source dinner destination. I was hungry and hot enough that every shade tree started looking like the perfect one, with no more good shade trees ever likely to turn up again. So I stopped with 4.2 to go.

Knowing the next 4 miles were all climbing, it took most of 45 minutes to psych myself up and feel like I had eaten enough to power through it. I wanted to relax in the shade and breeze all afternoon, but miles don’t hike themselves. (Unless you have a pair of twenty league boots. Let me know if you have some for sale.)

Right after I started, the climbing got serious. “Go straight up this ridge, no foot track, no switchbacks, minimal shade,” said the line of cairns going straight up the impossibly steep hillside. Until the CDT, I had yet to see such a thing called a trail. And climbing isn’t easy when foot-sized rocks are littered among the springy tufts of grass. You have to watch where you’re stepping and move your legs in a very energetic way, even when you’re not going that fast. I got through it by catching my breath every time I got to a tree big enough to cast a shadow I could hide from the sun in. It took ages. But at least this was the worst it would get.

Because right after a short section of flat (but still not a real trail–just cairn chasing), it was exactly the same thing again. It didn’t get worse. It just stayed tough.

This time I ran out of energy and got really hungry when I was only 80% to the top. I just plopped into the ground behind a tree and ate some more. Lost a little more time.

That gave me enough energy to hit the top of the ridge, and I was about to continue following a game track to the top of the mountain until I noticed that the trail had dropped into an adjacent canyon. I worked my way carefully down to it diagonally along the steep canyon hillside, since going straight down was definite slip and fall bait and I didn’t want to backtrack.

When I reached the trail, I was extremely relieved to find it was an actual cleared compacted foot track. It was still climbing at pretty decent incline, but my pace improved considerably not having to carefully judge every step. Also, it was 100% in the shade. I didn’t need quite as many breathers.

Of course, I did run out of water while still 0.4 miles from my destination. It seems like my pack should’ve felt much lighter than it did with no water, but my legs were rubber at this point. Still, I kept climbing.

I popped out at the top of the canyon finally, and turned off the trail into a cow track that went straight down the hill, over some craggy rocks and rocky crags. I could see the cabin right away, but it was an agonizing several minutes working my way down to it.

But once I did, and found that spigot in the yard, and dropped my pack on that bench next to it, I could finally relax and celebrate with…

Another new drink concoction!

Two consecutive dinners! (I had severely underestimated my pace on this section and had far more food than I needed.)

Filling my pack with 7 liters of water and hiking back up the craggy hillside in the dark by headlamp light!

Yes, it had taken me more than three hours to do those 4.2 miles, so dinner was late and it was already dark. Still, I made it back up to the trail, which, despite the extra weight, didn’t seem quite as hard as it looked. I think it was the combination of sitting and resting for a couple of hours and the belly full of food and water that made my legs work better.

I got on the trail (still an actual track!) and continued to the top of a saddle which was level enough to find a campsite on. It was after ten by the time I was in my tent. I quit blog writing at 11 in the middle of a post, deciding that it could wait until morning, that no one would blame me for sleeping in a bit after a day like this.

Trail miles: 17.7

Categories
CDT NM 4th Section

Day 21: Pelona Mountain

I made much ado about nothing in yesterday’s post. Nothing really interesting happened, even though the trail itself was really interesting to see. This day was the exact opposite. Very little of it interesting to see, but there were plenty of highlights.

Got out of camp no problem about 6:40, taking maybe 2 liters from the cache. One for my breakfast smoothie, one for my morning break somewhere along the way to the water tank.

The trail started by going up a draw then onto a hill until it ran right into a barbed wire fence. The terrain wasn’t level and there was no cleared track, but it was perfectly straight. 2.8 miles with nothing much to look at but that fence beside me and the occasional rabbit warren or anthill. I took my morning break in a place hardly distinguishable from any other except a trail marker signpost was nearby.

One thing there was very little of our on the prairie was shade. I found the only spot of shade on the trail that morning when it turned off a road and climbed up a small rise to skirt around a fenced property. On the western side of that rise, next to the fence, was a face of vertical rocks with soft dirt beneath creating a little shaded niche that would only last for another hour while the sun was in the east. So of course I took another break there.

To my right ran the trail, around the end of the fence. To my left I could see a windmill marking the last source of water for the rest of the day. Other hikers would follow the trail to a road that ran south through a gate straight to the windmill. But I could see the windmill! Why go out of my way? In front of me was the fence. The bottom wire was more than a foot off the ground and not even barbed. It’s like they designed it so creatures like me could crawl under. So I packed up again, rolled my pack under the fence, and set out across the prairie on the direct route to the windmill.

I had a grand old time at the water tank. First of all, it created a bit of shade, so I could hang out while the water was filtering and watch the rabbit and the birds and the cows and not get too toasty.

But it took quite a long time too. I lost nearly two hours there because my filter was running so slow. I got it flowing again with some serious backflushing, but that meant refilling the bag I had already filled, so that took time too.

And there was no avoiding filtering the water from that tank, given the dead bird floating in it. Thanks 0.1 micron filtering! (I fished the bird out with my trekking poles as a gift to the cows who had to drink the water unfiltered.)

It was nearly noon when I left, but I ate some granola bars so as to postpone lunch due to lack of miles gained.

I took a road back to the trail that cut off a mile of fencewalking. After climbing up a wide draw that would normally be full of water right next to the trail, I turned off into a 2 mile cross-prairie unmarked choose-your-own-adventure. There were some pronghorns out there, but they scooted away doing that weird two-legged run the moment they saw me a mile away.

A mile in, I spotted a group a three bushes on a hill each about human height. They were the only thing for miles that could possibly provide any shade, so I climbed up there for a lunch stop. The middle bush had a rock seat underneath it. With the wind starting to pick up, the tiny quantum of shade was actually fairly comfortable. Not big enough to lie down though.

At lunch, I discovered that I had failed to remove and discard the folding sporks that come with the the Bumblebee tuna packets. Normally this would mean they were taking up needless space in my canister, but this couldn’t have been a more fortuitous mistake.

The choose-your-own section ended by colliding with yet another barbed wire fence. The trail followed the right side of fence for 0.4 miles, passed through a gate, then followed the left side of it for another 0.3 miles before turning off to join a road. Are you sensing a theme for this section of trail?

The west wind had felt fairly pleasant up to this point, offsetting the lack of shade. But once I was on the road, it began an active hindrance. Heavy pack full of water. Road going subtly but continuously uphill. And a torrent of wind in the face trying to push me back down the hill. It took less than two hours of that fight and the soreness in my back before I was looking for another break.

Thankfully, the road carried me into an area with a few scattered trees, mainly small. Well, there was one wide one with a ton of space underneath, but as soon as they saw me coming, a bunch of cows got up and walked over to stand under it and claim it for themselves. Watching me as I walked by, I could see the scorn on their faces.

Since it was getting into the afternoon, even some of the smaller trees had sizeable shadows. I found a nice one and crawled under it for a mini nap. I gave myself thirty minutes to relax as I liked, but then the climb must continue.

I had a hard time tearing myself away from that spot. I gave myself a few extra minutes to get up the motivation to get going again and pack up.

The road, still generally climbing, brought me to a gate. On the other side of that gate, the trail followed, you guessed it, a barbed wire fence. An increasingly steep continuous climb up a canyon following that fence for two miles with no established trail to speak, just an assortment of meandering horse and cow tracks.

I decided to have dinner early, just before the steepest part of the climb out of the canyon and onto Pelona Mountain. In part because there was a really nice shade tree right there, and even more because I was getting hungry, but mostly because if I did, I wouldn’t have to carry the water I cooked with up that hill on my back.

After dinner, I felt ready to tackle the big climb I had had my mind on all day. I had already been climbing all day, so it was about time I had some panoramic views to show for it.

And, of course, the first thing I did before cooking was tape the handle of my long long-handled spork to the plastic Bumblebee spork. It was like they were made for one another how well that worked. But maybe I should have used a different kind of tape, because the medical tape seemed to hold water.

It really wasn’t that bad. It was fairly gently graded, with actual switchbacks going up to the saddle. Elk on the ridge watched me curiously, not running away, for some reason, until I was nearly at the top.

At the top of that climb, the graded trail vanished. From then on, I was playing chase the cairns and had to find my own footing between them. There was only one more steep climb to get to the highest point of the ridge I would descend all evening, so there wasn’t much to get me breathing. But the hillside was tufts of grass interspersed with foot sized rocks or occasional small boulders or fixed volcanic formations. To enjoy the sweeping views or the sunset, I had to stop because I needed to carefully watch every step coming down that ridge.

The sun was set and I had to keep going. But it couldn’t go on all night. I didn’t trust myself not to twist an ankle trying to walk on that terrain by headlamp.

Eventually, I came to a slight saddle with all those rocks gone. I threw up my tent right there up on the ridge, like someone might do for a photo for an outdoor gear advertisement. The wind had greatly decreased after the sun set, so it seemed like it would not only do, but be a quite comfortable spot for a good night’s sleep.

Trail miles: 19.7

Crossed 300 total trail miles this day, and could be as little as five days from Pie Town. Mayyyyyybe.

Categories
CDT NM 4th Section

Day 20: Adobe Ranch

Not too much interesting happened about this one, but I’ll lay it out in excruciating detail anyway.

Started hiking at 7, after trying some new tricks regarding heel blisters. A bit of slip and a splash while making breakfast resulted in the loss of a small amount of smoothie powder and water, but not enough to cry about. It did get all over the side of my bear can, but I’ve not yet had the chance and extra water to clean it.

The first part was just following an ATV track on gently rolling ridgelines alongside barbed wire fences and occasionally through gates conveniently hung between adjacent trees.

I pulled up under a shade tree at 9 for a snack and at noon for lunch. Both times, I filtered some 20 ounces of water from my dirty reservoir, leaving my water bag alone to get me through the rest of the day.

Right after lunch was a monstrous steep climb followed immediately by another twice as long. It went straight up a hillside, barely switchbacking, then turned slightly and went straight up again. It was midday and blazing hot with not nearly enough breeze. I made it by pushing for 100 feet or so to the next shady spot and stopping to cool off and catch my breath until the flies caught up to me and started buzzing around my head and legs to urge me onwards again.

The descent after that seemingly pointless hill climb (what views?) was equally steep and quite hard on the knees.

Having accomplished that, I crawled up under another tree, put on my headnet, draped a towel over my knees, and just lay there for an hour while the flies buzzed around me as they pleased. I didn’t really sleep, worried I might forget to keep hiking, but it did give the sun a chance to get lower and make more shade.

The trail was largely downhill for a while and not steep. I could zone out a bit as long as I followed it. It joined a road at one point, and I zoned out a bit too much, missing a turnoff. But a nearby sideroad connected back up after just climbing a small hill. Then there was another long climb. Not as steep as the afternoon ones–it had proper switchbacks. It got me up high enough to feel a proper breeze and see the sky had gone hazy for miles around. The breeze had brought in smoke from one of the wildfires around, perhaps the one near a bit of trail I’d already done by Silver City.

I stopped halfway up the hill because it was dinner time and there was a shady tree. It turned out the area was owned by ants, but they weren’t the biting kind, so I stuck it out with them until dinner was done.

One more little short climb put me up on a long, narrow mesa. After a mile, I went through a gate onto an easement through the Adobe Ranch property. It was just a flat dirt track stretching away as the surrounding prairie rose up to meet the mesa. It definitely looked like a ranch should. It put the “range” in “home on the range.”

After going down the road awhile, I checked the map and saw the trail had left the road a quarter mile back. I had seen nothing indicating a turn. I went back to the spot, and there was a signpost marker there with just the CDT logo and no other indication. There was no track there either. It would be easy to think, as I did, that it was just another “You’re on the right road!” confidence marker.

But if you stopped and looked out into the grass behind it, you could see another marker, and another one beyond that. And further ones were obscured by trees or by having to look directly into the setting sun for them.

Again, there was no track. It was all just “hunt for the signpost.” At one point, there stopped being trees altogether. And yet I could not see the next post. (It had fallen.) But the last two posts had me aimed at the sun, so I just kept walking at the sun until another post turned up.

The sun finally set, which was my usual stopping time. I didn’t want to camp in the middle of this open prairie on this ranch, so I kept chasing markers by the remaining light. I would stop if it got too dark to follow the trail.

But before it got too dark, the trail dropped into a low area and started following a cow track. Much easier to follow than the signs. After a few miles and a great loss of light, the cow track joined another dirt road.

“Great!” I thought. “This road will lead me right off of the ranch and out to county road 136, where there may still be a water cache!”

Wrong. I checked the map a few minutes later and saw that I was way off course. The road that did that had forked off somewhere I didn’t see in the near dark, so I turned around and cut diagonally across the grass to intercept it. I found it a few minutes later, and it was a much bigger and better maintained road. I could walk it in the dark without even looking at it and not worry about tripping. So I looked at the constellations that were coming out.

A third of a mile later I was stepping over the front gate of the ranch. A small jog down the county road put me at the marker where the trail left it again. And under that marker, some water. Great! I was getting low, and it was still almost 8 miles to the next guaranteed water source.

I decided to pitch my tent beside the road in a little sandy dip some kind of offroad vehicle had made. When unpacking, I noticed my long handled spork had gotten bent again, this time to the point of breaking. I didn’t know how to go about fixing it or what I would eat dinner with, but I would figure it out later. It was already too late, and that cool night air that had been so pleasant to keep walking in was turning straight up cold. To bed!

Trail miles: 21.8

Tomorrow: Pelona Mountain!