CDT NM 5th Section

Day 33: Grants

I think it’s reasonable that I was in no hurry to leave camp this morning. After all, I knew I was only a few hours from town and there would be plenty of time to get done what needed doing. On top of that, the canyon walls kept me in the shade until well after sunrise. It was 8am before I hiked out, continuing to follow the old road bed until I came near an easy place to climb up to the new road.

Somewhere between where I left it the previous night and where I rejoined it this morning, it had switched from gravel to paved. Ick. At least the traffic remained pretty light. I wondered if I shouldn’t have stayed on the cow track on the old road even though it was on the sunny side of the canyon and went through private property.

Not that there was much shade on the side of the new road. The canyon walls were getting shorter and shorter–or else I was rising to meet them. Regardless, as soon as the city came into sight–and sound–I called Mama. We had business to discuss and I needed distraction from the heat as I walked a paved road through a neighborhood on the outskirts of Grants for nearly five miles.

We had it somewhat worked out by the time I reached the bridge over the interstate and turned onto Route 66, so I hung up and crossed the road to get lunch at a Mexican eatery, the kind obviously adapted from a fast food place. I had a chicken fajita (which only came with one tortilla for some reason, but there was avocado so who could mind) and a couple of A&Ws because the Barqs I had had at Ice Cave just left me wanting–nothing is as good as A&W. But the real star of the show was the life-changing Cucumber Lime Agua Fresca I got to go.

It was actually interesting to walk through downtown Grants. It’s a very neat town for having peaked in the 60s and been on the decline since the arrival of the interstate made Route 66 redundant and all the mining operations shut down. It seems very likely to become the next Moab given a couple of decades.

I found my way to the Lava Flow Hostel, where I had booked a room while in Pie Town. There was no front desk–it worked like an AirBnB (and is listed there too). You can walk right in using the door code you’re emailed. My room in the back cottage was ready when I arrived.

And Banshee was in the shower. In the only bathroom. Which I desperately needed. Thank goodness he was quick about it.

Anyway, after I got a shower of my own, I got my dirty laundry together and went up to the dorm house to put it in. Banshee was in there watching TV and waiting on the linens in the washer. He indicated he intended to hike out that very afternoon since he’d already been there a couple of days. I asked him to drop my stuff in the washer when his was done and headed off to the grocery store to buy party foods on one of the loaner bikes.

I got a ton of stuff. Lots of drinks. Chips and dip. Cheese sticks and cookies and pastries and a ton of fresh fruit. And somehow I managed to get it all in my small daypack and the basket of the bike.

When I returned, Banshee was hanging the linens on the drying line, so I got him to have some dip and a bit of watermelon before he walked out and told him I’d take in the wash. Then I settled down in the living room to catch up with friends online.

I brought in the linens for the room Banshee stayed in, but the one wash hadn’t really gotten my clothes as clean as I wanted. I threw in a couple of different kinds of detergent and set the washer for a more intense cycle, then went back to my room.

While passing an hour on YouTube, Ranger Ross, the proprietor, returned in his ranger uniform. I introduced myself and soon went out to hang up my wash. He was doing all kinds of maintenance on the cottage the whole time. He disassembled, repaired, and deep cleaned the stove. Later, he painted labels on the doors of the guest rooms. He probably did a ton of other stuff, all while drinking Diet Coke with ice from an enormous glass he carried to every work location. For most of the evening, I was working on stuff for my blog on the cottage desktop computer while he was working nearby, telling me interesting stuff about the area. Super nice guy with some sharp thoughts.

It was well after 9 by the time I got all my blog posts scheduled and I could go to bed knowing I was free and clear the next day to just hang out and explore anything interesting the town had to offer. Or even just lie around and do nothing for hours. So I went to bed, leaving Ross to keep working out in the common area.

Speaking of the next day, there will be no hiking happening for the next two days, so no normal posts either. There will still be posts, but it won’t be this sort of post. I’ll cover the highlights of the next three days… three days from now.

Trail miles: 6.2

CDT NM 5th Section

Day 32: Bonita Canyon/Zuni Canyon

This day was another relentless scorcher with little shade to be had along the way, but I didn’t have to be too bothered by the heat because I was trying not to get anywhere fast.

I walked out of camp at 7, turned off the CDT at Encerrito Junction, and was at the highway trailhead a few minutes and a mile and a half later. Even after I blew most of an hour on the toilet there, I still could have made it to Grants by sunset without even trying too hard. It was just an easy 23 mile road walk away.

By road, I don’t mean the CDT. Where I turned off it, it continues across the lava field for several more miles before heading north down the side of the highway for several miles. Not fun. Instead, I opted for a nice untrafficked dirt road up Bonita Canyon for 11 miles, followed by a gravel road east through Zuni Canyon to Grants.

The first goal of the morning was to grab some water from the windmill at the south end of Bonita Canyon. I was there in under two hours and the windmill was going at it. If a good gust got it up to speed for at least 30 seconds, it would pull clean, cold well water out of the ground and down a pipe into a tank… unless I was there to catch it in my water bag. I took a nice hour here in the shade of a small tree enjoying the breeze and then hiked on at 10:30.

I made a deal with myself that I would walk until I had walked 8 miles total or until 12:30, whichever came first, and then stop for lunch at the first good shade I could find. I went a little more than 8 miles, and the shade I found wasn’t great, but I was already down for the count by 12:15. Aside from lunch, I just wanted to skip hiking in the hottest part of the day. So I hid there under the tree until 2pm when the shade had very nearly completely left me. Banshee walked by about 1:30. Though he didn’t say much beyond “Hi” and “See ya”, I reckoned he must have already gone into to Grants and arranged a slackpack down the canyon, since he wasn’t carrying a full pack that I could see.

I decided I would hike from there nonstop until I reached the water tank at mile 13.7, more than five miles away. Then, when I got there, have an early supper and relax a while. I arrived around 4:30 and was eating by 5. Banshee was just leaving as I arrived, but too far ahead to notice me. He seemed on track to get back to Grants by sunset. But I stayed right there lying in the shadow of the biggest tank until after 6. Then, water bags full and with expectations that the low sun would give me plenty of shade in the canyon, I hiked on.

The canyon got higher and narrower, and there was a lot more traffic on this road than on Bonita Canyon (there had been absolutely none), none of which was interested in slowing down enough that I didn’t have to breathe their dust. But with the high walls on both sides, it also felt a lot more like a legitimate canyon.

Just before 8, with less than 5 miles to go to Grants, I pulled off the road, crossed a ditch, and climbed up onto an old railroad or road bed. I followed a cow track down it looking for a nice campsite as far from the road as possible. The one I decided one was clearly visible from a tight turn in the road–not at all “stealth”–but reasonably level and not too close to any chollas (which have a habit of dropping their spines on the ground around them). It also appeared to be the epicenter of some strange kind of flying beetle I had never seen before. A few got into my tent while I was setting up and I had to kill or remove them one by one all evening. The ones outside the tent weren’t much better, frequently making this strange sawing sound like I would wake up to find all the straps on my pack severed. Anyway, it was still possible to sleep even with that and the occasional passing truck.

One more short day of hiking in New Mexico to go!

Trail miles: 18.3

Distance to Grants: 6.2 miles

CDT NM 5th Section

Day 31: Ice Cave!

Somehow I woke up at 5am feeling like I couldn’t sleep much more. Turns out turning in early works. I still managed to get a couple more winks in by changing position, but I hiked off up the road by 7.

I walked out of the National Monument and onto the land of fire and ice. It was only 8:30 or so by the time I reached the highway, so I took a break on a log under a tree next to a field under a volcano all on private land where I would spend most of my morning. Munch. Drink. Walk down the highway. Over the Continental Divide. Turn right on Bandera Rd and leave the trail. 10 minutes later and I was there.

Bandera, coincidentally, is the name of the volcano (and the hill west of it too?), even though I could not see any flags on or near it. Bandera is also the name of one of the lava tubes that once drained it, considered one of largest and longest in tree country. And right here next to the volcano, here where the Anasazi once settled, long ago, that lava tube collapsed, leaving behind a massive sinkhole and a truly marvelous pit. A pit that catches water and freezes it and keeps it frozen all year round. Down at the bottom of Ice Cave (not really a cave), there is a 20 foot thick floor of ice, insulated by lava and surrounded by walls perfectly designed to trap the frigid air and prevent the temperature from ever rising above 31 degrees Fahrenheit. And you can walk down a staircase and look at it for just 12 dollars here at the old trading post.

Okay, it’s not that incredible a sight to pay 12 dollars for, but it also isn’t something you can see just anywhere. Also, the trading post is now a souvenir store filled with nice folks and cute friendly dogs. More importantly, I could buy cheap root beer, ice cream, and even a microwaveable pizza. So early lunch it was. I also could charge my phone and mobile battery and empty my trash and grab a bit of water and toilet paper. Altogether a worthwhile hour or two off trail.

The next bit was not as fun. 3 more miles of walking along the highway. I walked on the inside of the curves where I had to walk on the edge of the road, but when the shoulder wasn’t too low, I went way off the road and walked in the ditch. Even when they changed lanes to avoid me, those semi trucks are scary to have flying past. But it wasn’t like I was going to get a three mile hitch in less than the time it would take to walk it, and that’s the way the trail goes.

I entered El Malpais again, and at the visitor’s information center (closed), I completely filled my water bag, since it would be some ten miles until the next water. The CDT continued behind the building along a boring gravel-covered path that didn’t visit any sites except what appeared to be a series of manmade earthen dams. There was evidence of fairly recent prescribed burns too. Which is good, since the smoky haze that filled the sky that morning said a wildfire was happening not too far away.

Anyway, I stopped under a tree for one of my usual lunches because a man cannot hike on pizza alone, then I lay around under it in different spots, chasing the shade until 3pm. It was still way too hot and relentlessly sunny when I started again, and the pine tree hadn’t really provided that great of shade.

Soon the trail got more interesting. It went over some lava for a minute or two, the terrain strewn with those small ankle roller lava rocks that actually rolled if stepped on. Then, a little later, it came right up to a sinkhole with a “Cave Closed” sign and then went through a fence at the park boundary.

Right next to the fence was another cave entrance, part of the same lava tube, that had no such sign. So I took off my pack and climbed down into it. At the bottom, across from a single tumbleweed that had found its way in (as they do), there was an opening to a low pancake crawl. It went. It presumably just went over to the other sinkhole. But I wasn’t going to check without my helmet and kneepads. Anyway, the conclusion was obvious given the cool breeze that came out every time the wind blew the right direction. I wished I had taken my lunch break down there where the air was cool and the shade didn’t need to be chased.

On the other side of the fence, the trail stayed wild. Lots of walking over the craggy broken tops of lava tubes and looking for the next cairn. Very little established single track.

The trail took a hard left at the brink of an enormous sinkhole that I couldn’t imagine having to cross. You’ll know what it looked like if you just think of that scene from The Land Before Time where Cera stubbornly wanted to go down into the ravine that crossed their path. But the trail stayed on the near side and followed it for half a mile or so. Not easy trail. Not easy to follow. Hard on boots and on feet. But it did carry me to the highlight of the afternoon, an uncollapsed section of the lava tube that showed off how enormous it was. So I climbed down and walked into it. Check out the video.

The “trail” kept on like that for another mile or two, the ground getting even more treacherous and rocky, the next cairns getting ever harder to spot. Finally, after a particularly nasty bit brief section across a narrow but steep sinkhole and vast pile of foot sized rocks, I arrived at the base of the encerrito (a long narrow hill–this usage of the word may be peculiar to this area), which, most un-CDT-like, the trail decided to circumnavigate rather than surmount. On the far side, I spotted a campsite so perfect, I decided to stop even though the sun had not yet set (as I couldn’t see it set from the eastern side of the hill anyway).

Tomorrow’s post will document another inevitable road walk. The following day will be the stunning conclusion of the New Mexico portion of this year’s hike. Are you ready?

Trail miles: 16.1

Distance to Grants: 24.6 miles

CDT NM 5th Section

Day 30: Chain of Craters

Another perfect day.

By which I mean another day of relentless sun that makes you want to just lie down in the shade and let the breeze wash over you for hours on end.

And though I’m on a very loose timetable, I do have to get some miles in. Not that many, but some.

Thanks to pitching my tent just west of a tree, I was able to sleep in until well after 7. I didn’t hike out until 9. My latest start yet, and that extra hour or two of sleep sure felt nice as a change.

I set off into the Chain of Craters Wilderness Study Area, which is basically a sparse forest of pine and fir dotted with lava rocks and occasional volcanic features, with a small caldera rising over the landscape every mile or so.

When I stopped for morning snack, I ran out of water before I could even get my Nalgene full, and it was nearly 4 miles to the next water source. How could this have happened? Was it because I knocked over my pot the night before and made a second one? That only cost me two cups, though. No, I blame the herd of judgmental cows creeping up on me when I took their water. If they hadn’t been there, I would have filtered an extra two liters before leaving.

I stretched that water until I was within a mile of the road to the water, despite the heat and a good bit of climbing around and even into one of those “craters.”

So I walked, waterless, the dirt road the half mile to a small metal trough with a nearby valve that turned on a spray of cold clear water direct from a buried pipe into my bottle and bag. I didn’t bother to filter it. It had clearly been untouched by anyone or anything. It was like tap water basically.

Then I spent two hours under a tree eating lunch and passing the hottest part of the day, returning to the water several times. Then I soaked my shirt and walked on two more hours before stopping for dinner. Nothing interesting to see but squirrels, chipmunks, and the omnipresent flies.

I’m starting to get used to the flies, I think. A few more days of this and you might see me walking down the trail covered with and swarmed by flies, like a corpse from a movie, totally ignoring them. On the other hand, some of the larger ones are actually really easy to kill, so that’s pretty satisfying.

After an hour for dinner, I finished up the final bit of offroad trail, and rejoined County Road 42, which I parted from not 30 miles before. This time, it was my route into El Malpais National Monument. I was tempted by a side road, Lava Tubes Rd, leading to Big Tubes Area, but it was too late to go caving, and I would be seeing a cave the next day regardless. I made camp on national park property, a random spot in the trees way off the road, though I never saw nor heard a single car in those parts all evening.

All in all, a hot, dry, boring day with no interesting highlights. I promise tomorrow’s post will be somewhat more interesting. And will report more than this meager number of miles, but not many more:

Trail miles: 15.4

Distance to Grants: 40.7 miles

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

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

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)

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

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!

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!