I woke up at 5 and started packing immediately. I packed up in a much more efficient way than usual, except for that moment where I spilled half my water I was about to make breakfast with and ended up draining my water bag to make 3/4 as much breakfast drink as I usually do.
I was out of camp just after six and back to the CDT 5 minutes later. I hiked as fast as I could the 3 or so miles down to Benchmark, and yet I passed a man (with dog) hiking in that told me I was the 5th person he’d seen hiking out…and this was within half a mile of the trailhead. Clearly, I was hot on the heels of some early risers.
It’s worth noting why I was in such a hurry. I realized that, even though I had my food package waiting at Benchmark Guest Ranch, just 2.5 miles from the trailhead, there probably would be no one there and hence no way to get a shower, no way to charge my phone. And and an unenergized means no pictures or videos for you guys. (Yes, I carry a mobile battery. I completely drained getting my phone battery up to a mere 69% the previous morning. By not listening to any podcasts all day the previous day, I still had 29% when I turned it on this morning. That’s not enough last another day, much less an entire week.)
So, it looked like I was going to need a ride into Augusta. But I had no intention of spending the night there. I wanted to get in, get clean, get some energy, get back to the trail. So I was hurrying to pick up my package so I could start working on getting a hitch as soon as possible.
Coming off the trailhead into the campground, I made a brief stop at the water pump to fill my bottle, then climbed out of the campground along a trail next to a bunch of folks taking down tents and loading things into horses. It spit me out onto the road. Then I was walking on a dirt road for miles. Two trucks passed me going out, one pulling a horse trailer, one an excited old couple pulling a fifth wheel camper, honking like mad and then waving as they passed. Then, as you can see in the video, I was accosted by a herd of horses before a man chatted me up from his truck going the wrong direction.
Turned out this was Frank the shuttle driver. He was going up to the trailhead to find out who had texted him, and would be happy to give me a ride in on his way back for $15.
I passed two other hikers (Heaven and Punisher) who were just coming off picking up their own packages, and they hitched a ride with yet another truck back to the trailhead, deciding to skip town entirely and go into Lincoln instead. My plan was to be only half a day behind them and then skip Lincoln, so it was possible I would see them again.
No sooner had I arrived at the guest ranch, found my box, and signed the log, than I heard Frank’s truck waiting there at the front gate of the ranch. So it was that I was headed into town. He had a lot to talk about on the way, including an in depth explanation of why he wasn’t mad that there had been no other hikers at the trailhead waiting for him but also how he would really prefer larger groups and less speculative trips since it was a 45 minute trip each way for a paltry 15 bucks. I didn’t really care because he was willing to pull over and let me get my snacks and water and such out of my pack since I was thirsting to death having not had a spare moment to drink the water I’d grabbed or take my usual morning snack break. I got a decent amount of the water on my shirt from the bumpy dirt road.
He left me at the happening hiker spot in town, the Wagons West motel and RV park, which also happened to be where he lived. I went to the front desk to purchase a shower and laundry, then went to the building for said amenities and began right away. My phone and battery were charging while I put my dirties in the wash. My clothes were washing while I showered. I started unpacking my box at the end of the wash cycle, then as soon as my clothes were drying I walked to the general store for some limes, a root beer, some more DEET, and some new headphones since I had just run the old ones through the wash in my hurry.
There was a group who had planned to ride back to the trail with Frank and they agreed to wait until after 11 when my laundry would be done, and I didn’t want to keep them waiting. Nor did I want to spend more time in town than I absolutely had to. So I didn’t go to the cafe for breakfast. Instead, I ate Twix and Mike and Ike and Pip Pop Movie Theater Popcorn out of the hiker box. And I didn’t upload any blog posts. (For a comparison, I also did an in and out in Winston, NM, and I did upload posts and eat lunch. I was in town for a solid five or six hours. So I got at least 3 extra hiking hours by rushing.) I was shaving and finishing packing my resupply as my clothes were finishing drying.
By 11, the dry cycle was done and all I had to do was change into my hiking clothes and get in the truck. Everyone else was already in there and ready to go. My mobile battery wasn’t quite finished charging yet, but I could give it every last minute of energy possible by plugging it in in the truck for the 45 minute ride back. (In retrospect, why didn’t I charge on the ride in too? I guess I thought I would have enough time.)
We had five people plus driver in the extended cab already, but we swung by the general store to add a couple more to the bed. Frank would be getting his money worth on the trip back.
The last thing I did while leaving town was call home and get information on the Dry Cabin Fire burning somewhere west of the trail in the direction I was headed.
Now, I guess I should name the other people in the cab. Little Skittle, Ben (now Hat Trick), and Rocket were in the back. I’ve mentioned them before (five days ago), but the other two members of their group were staying behind at the motel. In the front seat with me was Wild Card (Ravi). She’s a pre-med student at Tulane just trying to get to Idaho (if the fires don’t prevent her) before fall classes start. She is more like me in terms of hiking speed and the number of resupply boxes she sent out. (Kind of a necessity for her because she’s vegetarian and it’s hard to get TVP in these little trail towns.) She says NOLA isn’t that fun for a vegetarian who isn’t into drinking.
At the Straight Creek trailhead we all poured out, unloaded, paid. We took me pictures with Frank. I was the first one down the trail.
While I was on the phone with Mama discussing the fire, she said I should stay with the rest of the group. But that just wasn’t going to happen. These kids had spent the night in town. Big dinner, big breakfast. I had just grazed from the hiker cache. They came out with all their water and all their town energy. I hadn’t the time to fill my bag and had already hiked five miles that morning. On top of that, they all seemed considerably younger and more energetic than me.
A few hundred yards down the trail, they caught up and passed me. I left the trail to establish a shady spot on a sort of peninsula on the creek. I made a big lunch and collected some water. By the time I finished, everyone else surely had at least two miles of lead on me and the energy to lengthen it.
I got a good stretch of hiking done from there to where the CDT joined the trail near a ford of Straight Creek. It was a nice place to stop, a tree on the other side casting a small shadow on the sandy shore. But I was still hot, so after my snack, I took a very quick dip in the creek. Then I scooped some water and it filtered while I put my boots back on.
It was still supremely hot all the rest of the evening. Even though I wet my shirt every chance I got. My back was aching from the way I was wearing my broken pack by the time I stopped for dinner. I popped an Aleve before I even started cooking. An hour later, when I hiked out again, it still hurt as soon as I got my pack back on, though somewhat more dully.
It was all uphill from that random spot I stopped for dinner, and even though I had planned to hike until eight, I just didn’t have it in me. The heat, the climbing, the heavy pack, the aching back, the dry mouth that could not be sated no matter how much I drank: it all came together that I decided to stop at the first campsite I could find. And I found one at a quarter to eight. A little after eight, I was lying on my mattress, shirt off, evaporating a small pool of water with my chest to cool off.
I had two days worth of blogging to get done, but after two hours (with a break in the middle to brush my teeth), I had only gotten 1.5 days worth done. And it was long enough after sunset that it had finally cooled off enough for me to get sleepy. So I called it quits for the night in hopes a full night’s sleep would improve my back and give me the strength to walk at more than the snail’s pace I had rolled into camp at.
Trail miles: 20.0 (though the actual distance hiked was more like 17.2 miles since the Straight Creek Trail is shorter than the official CDT on the same section)
Distance to MacDonald Pass: 110.1 miles