CDT NM 2nd Section Off-trail

Day 13: Silver City

I had set an alarm for 5am, but I managed to turn it off and then sleep nearly until 6. Fair enough. I hadn’t gotten to sleep early.

The sun was well and truly risen by the time I got started hiking… and was soon hidden by an unexpected haze. I was an unaccustomed dim morning. Clearly it didn’t seem like morning to Banshee. He was still snoring when I walked out.

My water bag was nigh empty. I had used most of the last of my water on my breakfast smoothie. It couldn’t be helped. I had carried all the water I could and had not wasted it. But it looked like there was a spring just 4 miles ahead in the Saddle Rock Riparian Area.

It was cool, easy downhill hiking with plenty of views. Views of clouds. It was overcast as heck and the sun was barely shining through.

The tank in the river wash was indeed filled with sedimenty water, so I stopped for a snack and filtered some to carry away.

But then there was an even bigger water tank just 2.5 miles further down the wash. And then I was being passed by trucks going up the dirt road into the wash. One stopped to say hi and told me Highway 180 was not heavily trafficked. And then I was in a herd of cows. And then I was at the highway and there were tons of cars and big trucks. And moments later I was in one of those cars headed into Silver City.

To be clear, I was still on the trail. The last 13 miles of the CDT into Silver City is a walk along that busy paved highway. And if there is anything I did not come out here for, it’s walking well into the evening with cars and big rigs zooming past. Better to see the trail from inside one of those cars.

Riley dropped me at the Triple Crown Hostel. A voice on the doorbell speaker told me to go sit in the courtyard until he came. Rory was already in the courtyard exercising, trying to heal his wound knees. Blitz shooter up just in time for the owner to arrive and check us in and give us a tour together. He had walked on that highway for 13 miles because he is a crazy purist.

After showers and leaving some laundry to be done, we headed out to the Toad Creek Brewery for lunch. We ate a ton, including green chile cheese fries, Baja fish tacos, New Mexico Reuben, all of which we shared. I finished it all off with a root beer float of course.

Since we had borrowed bikes from the hostel to get around, we decided to explore the downtown area, visiting the two outfitters. While Blitz took time agonizing over which new shoes to buy, I visited the co-op grocery store, which was so small there was a line outside to get in so it didn’t exceed its 8 person capacity. I got a box of Virgil’s Root Beer and some Siggi’s Skyr for breakfast. Then I went back for my bike and told Blitz I was heading back alone.

But no sooner had I gotten back than I realized I hadn’t gotten any moleskin at the gear store. Rabbitfoot, still exercising on the patio, suggested leucotape instead, and it turned out that that’s what I could get at the gear store when I got back to it (after finding the wrong kind of moleskin at the other gear store). I found Blitz there finally leaving with a brand new pair of shoes. He went off to the post office and I returned to the hostel.

I got back with just enough time to go through my food to see what I needed to buy before Brendon left to go pick up Annika at the airport. He would drop me off at Walmart on the way out and pick me up on the way back. Banshee arrived and checked in just before we left. He had done “half” the road walk before getting a ride.

Once at Walmart, I bought what was on my list quickly (plus some A&W root beer to share at the hostel since the Virgil’s wasn’t very good) and spent most of the half hour I had there waiting in line at the register. I spent another fifteen minutes or so sitting in front of the building waiting for my ride back. It rained on me. All those clouds had been for something after all.

Once back at the hostel, Annika was being checked in and Rabbitfoot was finished with his doctor prescribed exercises, so I proceeded to cut up and distribute the amazingly sweet watermelon I had acquired. Soon, though, I realized I had neglected to acquire better headphones or a razor at Walmart. So I hopped on a bike and went back out. I made two stops. At a local grocery, I got cheap razors and a new toothbrush and toothpaste set. At the Family Dollar, I got some cheap headphones (2 for me 1 for Blitz), a Gatorade to hike out with, and a Hot Pocket for supper.

Back at the hostel, I mostly skipped out on the socializing and yoga sesh happening on the porch in favor of packing up my resupply, phoning home, and working on this blog until I gave up waiting for pictures to upload and fell asleep. Plans were in place for the next two weeks. Hiking would recommence in the morning.

Trail miles: 20.7 (13.1 by car)

CDT NM 2nd Section

Day 12: The Rolling Hills

It was nice and cool in the morning and I snuggled under my sleeping bag until after 6am. I wasn’t really comfortable because of the whole feet-above-head thing, but I didn’t seem to want to get up either.

When I did, I halfway packed up, put on my slippers, and went to the activity room. There was a pair of trekking poles leaning outside and a hiker I hadn’t met inside.

“Hi, I’m Blitz.”

“I thought you might be. I’m Blast.”

“Oh? Banshee must have mentioned me. I got in at midnight last night.”

“And how is it I passed you on the trail and never saw you?”

“I took a long nap through the middle of the day and didn’t start hiking again until late.”

“You came in at midnight and you’re already packing up to leave at 7am, walking up that hill instead of getting a ride?”

“I hate walking in the heat. I’ll get a few miles in during the cool hours and catch up on my sleep when it gets hot out.”

“But the first of those few miles is straight uphill…”

“I know. I just can’t wait. I want to be in Silver City in two days.”

“I’m in no rush. I’m fine with getting in on the third day.”

“I started so late, and it’s always like this. It was so hard to get here in the first place. I had to go to Mexico… I just feel a constant pressure to go faster and make up time in case I never make it out here again.”

“Well, I’m gonna make some coffee.”

“I had some coffee too… but not that real stuff, just instant. Anyway, I’m headed out. See you in Silver City.”

I did make coffee. Hot fresh coffee full of sugar and creamer. Like 24 ounces of it. And I was just sitting down to drink it when Banshee came in.

“You just missed Blitz.”

“Oh, I saw him last night. Did he already hike out? I guess that’s why he’s called Blitz.”

I found a water bottle under the sink for Banshee to drink coffee from, so he started setting up the coffee maker for other pot while I sat quietly drinking all my coffee from my Nalgene I had brought for the purpose. He pressed the button on the maker, wandered aimlessly around the room, headed for the bathroom…

I turned around and saw the light on on the maker and nothing happening.

“Hey, did you fill that thing up with water?”

“Oh, crap!” He dove for the button and started filling the pot in the sink. Classic Banshee.

“Well, it seems my coffee has done its job. I’m off to the bathroom….”

“Oh, that guy from last night said he’d make us breakfast at 9.”

“Then I’ll try to make sure I’m packed up by then.”

It was actually 10 after 9 when I went over to “that guy’s” trailer. His name was Chris, by the way. Chris Hamilton. He was already up and cleaning the window.

“Did you see Banshee already?”

“Yeah, he came over here seeing if we were doing breakfast. We weren’t.”

“Ah, well, I just came to see if you were still offering that ride up to the trailhead.”

“Sure, as soon as you’re both ready. Banshee said something about getting water.”

“I’ll go see about the gate code then. Mind if I leave my pack here?”

“No problem.”

I went to the camp store first. (On the way I met a man with an owl feather in his cap. I hope he doesn’t get caught because the fine for keeping a feather like that is outrageous.) I bought a couple of cans of root beer and a breakfast sandwich for cash. And the lady wrote the code for the back gate lock on a post-it for me.

I took the frozen breakfast sandwich to the activity room to cook it in the microwave, and there I found Banshee just sitting at the table writing in his journal. I started the sausage and egg cooking and told him about the store. I assembled the biscuit and cooked the whole thing and told him Chris and I were ready to ride. I drank one of the root beers and told him to meet us at Chris’s trailer as soon as possible. And then I went there myself.

When I got back to the trailer, Chris’s son wanted to come out and say hi to “my friend.” He asked me questions from inside the trailer door, real stumpers like “Where are you going?” I didn’t see how to meaningfully convey to a three-year-old child “to the trailhead so I can walk to northern New Mexico and then down through Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming after a brief detour through Northern California” so in lieu of all that I pointed meaningfully at the picnic table then walked to it and sat down.

“Yeah I’ll be back in a few minutes!” Chris shouted through the door. Then to his son, “Go inside and keep that door closed.”

“Can’t let that air conditioning out,” said I.

“You’re probably going to wish you had some of that soon. Making me feel kind of lazy knowing what you’re going out there to do.”

“I just saw Banshee in the activity room. He’s probably buying breakfast now.”

“Is he coming here or should we go pick him up?”

“Well, I told him to come here, but if you’re all ready, we let’s just go.”

I loaded my pack in the back of his ATV, we took a selfie, and then we drove over to the activity room. Banshee had just started microwaving.

“I’d say give him another minute or two,” I told Chris, knowing that’s how long it took to microwave the breakfast sandwich. Then I went to go take pictures. Chris got involved in conversations with other guests in the meantime.

When the sandwich was cooked, I showed Banshee where to stick his pack. Then he sat down to eat the sandwich while I went to meet the dog the man Chris was talking to had been walking. Then I got involved in the conversation. It ended up being about all the hikers that came through and topics of interest to me. But I was still glad when it ended. The minute or two had turned into ten, and it was getting hot out already.

Finally, we were driving up the hill. I opened the gate, gave Chris the post-it to get back through later, and we were out into the domain of the cows and climbing that steep hill without any effort on the part of our legs! Totally worth it.

Chris and I got so engrossed in conversation (about things such as what he liked to hunt, how bad javelinas smell, how best to barbecue them, how far it was to the nearest highway, how nice it must be to live in that community…) that we drove right past the trail and none of us spotted the signs. We passed another road that I didn’t remember seeing. I looked at the off road GPS but failed to orient correctly and didn’t realize we had passed it. We had gone another quarter of a mile before we figured it out and turned around.

It was past 10am by the time we were unloaded, and Chris was headed back home. Banshee and I applied sunscreen and started walking.

It had only been a mile when we encountered a Debra at the next road junction. Banshee knew her from Lordsburg. She said I had talked to her husband the night before, and I think I might have but I hadn’t gotten his name. It was Hawkeye, it turned out, due to a once passing resemblance to Donald Sutherland, and he was hiking that day the section I had done the day before. She was trying to leave him a note on the sign, but I explained he would probably be taking the previous road down to the campground and wouldn’t even see it.

Banshee and I left that spot together and then leapfrogged all day. We were like the tortoise and the hare: he hiked slower but I took longer breaks and he always caught up again. (Blitz, meanwhile, is more of a gazelle I suppose. Very fast hiking, very long breaks. We didn’t see him all day. There is a fourth category of hiker too, but you only hear about them from the people they passed ahead of you–the ultralighters who set out to proof that humans evolved to be long distance endurance runners.)

It wasn’t long before lunch and there was no shortage of trees under which to have my picnic. I picked one well off trail, so sometime after lunch I came up on Banshee confused as to how I got behind him. He was stopped at a small water cache containing the last water we would see all day. My bag was still full so I took a liter in my Nalgene.

He caught me again at my afternoon snack break and passed me as I was finishing my dinner break. Somehow I managed to drop my pack on a cholla I couldn’t even see, and it was pricking my back through my shirt. When I caught Banshee at his next break, I took off my shirt and asked him to check my back for spines, but they are small and he didn’t know how to look. I managed to get a couple out of my pack but I could feel one more pricking me the whole rest of the evening.

I knocked off at 8pm and found a flat open space perfect for a tent. Banshee came by while I was setting up and found a place nearby but out of view.

For some reason, I couldn’t get to sleep at the normal hour. I think I laid awake until 11pm or later after knocking off from the day’s blogging and watching a video. I could hear from the snoring in the distance that Banshee had no such problems. My guess is that I had just stayed up way too late and gotten started hiking so late that my clock got shifted somehow. I would strive to reset it soon.

Trail miles: An easy, comfortable, slacking off 15.3

Distance to Silver City: 21.7 miles

CDT NM 2nd Section

Day 11: Burro Mountain Homestead

I slept in a bit. I woke up at 5, let some air out of my mattress, then fell asleep for 45 more minutes. I guess my body knew I had a big day ahead.

Although I had been climbing for some 14 miles already, when I set out at sunrise, I still had another 4 miles of climbing to do. Fortunately, the mountains were perfectly placed to shade me from the sun for the first hour. Also, during this climb, I saw the biggest, noisiest, and fastest javelina yet. Getting a picture after a surprise like that would have been impossible.

I stopped just before the highest point for my morning break. Then it was a boring descent down to the first water cache of the day. It was like the desert, but with a few more trees and on the sides of hills.

At at first cache at the C Bar trailhead, I sat behind a rock and snacked, then filled up my water bag, then doused my Buff and shirt before heading out. As much as I enjoy sitting, I can put the hammer down when I have a goal.

At noon, I managed to find a nice broad tree to crawl up under to make lunch. The shady (and cow-dung-free) parts weren’t particularly good terrain for lying down, but I could sit with my back to the trunk, and that was a position I was unlikely to fall asleep in–a good thing when you have a deadline.

The next goal was the second water cache at the Jack’s Peak trailhead. The elevation profile showed it was mostly a level trek from where I was, but it was actually one of those sections with frequent and short ups and downs. All day long, the shape of the trail and my state of mind was giving me flashbacks to similar places on the PCT in California.

Finally, I reached starting line. I stopped next to the water cache under a nice wide pine. I snacked, drank, then laid down for 45 minutes. I figured I could spare this much time at least if it meant more energy for what was to come.

The junction to Burro Mountain Homestead was roughly 7.5 miles away. I had about 4.5 hours of daylight to spare. Between the parking lot and the turnoff to the campground stood a series of mountains requiring thousands of feet of climbing over the next 4.5 miles or so. In other words, I wanted to climb fast.

To that end, I didn’t want too much weight. So I filled up my Nalgene but added no water to my water bag, thinking I had enough to do a few hours hike even if I occasionally used it to wet my sleeves.

The plan was working. The section started out already fairly steep, but I was making great time. A mile in I passed Banshee, who I had not seen pass me because he had taken a “shortcut” along the highway. Somehow, that feels like cheating doesn’t it? Getting a ride to skip a road walk doesn’t, but adding a road walk to skip actual trail? What a waste. Anyway, more about him later.

Two hours into the climb, I was running out of steam. I’d gotten a respite where a new reroute went around Jack’s Peak instead of over it, a clear, beautiful, and nearly level section of trail. But just past that, I still had to climb again. And it was steep. The carbs I had loaded at the bottom had run out, so I had to stop for a break.

I ate some snacks and then went to wash it down with water from my bag… and discovered carbs wasn’t all I had run out of. 8 ounces of water would have to be enough for the last 3 miles.

Or would it? Just as I was getting up to walk on, Banshee showed up with a bunch of extra water, and I filled up my Nalgene from one of his bottles.

Now I had water and carbs and motivation. I ran for the top of the hill. Banshee arrived at the gate marking the highest point right after me. It was all downhill from there. But it was already well after 6pm. Sun set at 8:15. I had 2.5 more miles downhill to the junction, and then probably another mile to the campground from there.

I should mention at this point that my heels were killing me. The moleskin protecting then from my boots had been pulled down by the rubbing action and now my heels were being chafed with every step and had been for the last few miles. By I’d be damned if I were to stop and fix that if it meant getting to the campground after sunset.

The trail wasn’t that smooth either. It was strewn with rocks and very narrow. So the challenge was to go fast, not brutalize my heels too much more, and not roll my ankles on a rock or let my feet slip out from under me. Somehow I managed to get past the worst of it without any major mishaps. And I cruised up to the campground host’s trailer around 7:30 or 7:45. Enough time for him to explain things and show me where to camp and for me to pitch my tent before the sun disappeared.

Unfortunately, I didn’t make it down before the store closed. There was no way that could have happened. But I wasn’t opposed to sticking around until it opened in the morning.

I went back to the activity room with a bag full of things for making supper and collecting water. I sat under a ceiling fan while my food soaked in water I’d heated using the coffee maker with my face pressed into my water bag full of cool water just trying to cool down without immediately falling asleep.

I wasn’t alone. Two ladies came in and went to the corner to try to make something work. They told me they were coming back later to play some pool, but they wanted to make sure the baby monitor signal could reach the activity room. Then they left.

I finished eating dinner and made a double dose of my after dinner drink. I was just getting the coffee maker going for hot chocolate when Banshee walked in.

I want to say Banshee is a little bit spacey. Absent-minded maybe, perhaps on the spectrum. Not dimwitted by any means, and by all appearances a solid hiker. Maybe this piece of conversation will explain:

Me: “After going so far out of my way and hiking so hard to get here, I’m willing to stay here until 9 tomorrow when the store opens.”

Banshee: “You’re going to stay here all night?”

Me: “Well, sure. I’m not about to hike…”

Banshee: “Right here in this room?”

Me: “No, of course not. I’ve got my tent set up.”

Banshee: “Oh.”

Me: “Here in this campground.”

Banshee: “Sometimes I take things a little too literally.”

Anyway, there was enough hot water and instant cocoa for both of us. Around about the time we were finishing it, the activity room started filling up. The women from before returned with a stroller and a bunch of men. Things got real lively and we started chatting. So I did what any hiker does in such circumstances: I started yogiing.

Soon, me and Banshee were following Chris out to the cooler on the back of his ATV, and soon we were holding in our four hands two beers, a soda, and a Gatorade. And since he was being so nice and had such a sturdy looking ATV handy, I figured I’d try asking for a ride back to the trail in the morning too. Success on that front as well.

With that arranged, I told Banshee to unpack whatever he’d need to make supper, then follow me with the rest of his pack to where we hikers were supposed to camp. I left him there, dropped off my stuff in the tent, grabbed a towel, and went to the bath house.

There’s no better feeling than a night you get to go to sleep clean, even if it means you have to wash your hair with hand soap. Hey, it works!

By all accounts, the festivities continued at the activity room well after I went to bed, but I had hiked 20 miles over two mountains and was already up well over an hour past my bedtime putting me on track for a 17 hour day. There was no way I was going to be awake a minute longer.

It wasn’t the most comfortable night’s sleep because I’d accidentally set my tent up so my feet were above my head, but I was out until morning anyway.

Trail miles: 19.7

Distance to Silver City: 37 miles

CDT NM 2nd Section

Day 10: Engineer’s Canyon

Because I had stayed up past midnight getting blog posts uploaded, I set my alarm for 6:30 this morning, but I woke up unable to sleep anymore at 6am anyway.

I had set up the coffee maker the night before, but it didn’t work, so no coffee for me. Luckily, I had Gatorade in the minifridge. I took that and the snacks I had set aside for breakfast and took advantage of access to a real bathroom while I had it. I took a shower and shaved even though I would be out in the dust and dry cow manure covered desert an hour later.

I left my room and checked out a little before 8, and decided to get some extra morning energy by swinging by McDonald’s. The lobby was closed, but I ordered curbside pickup from the app and they brought my Sausage McMuffin Meal with orange juice out the door within a minute of my hitting “Complete Order.”

The extra calories really helped with the next bit. The first five miles were just walking down the side of the highway out of town, at which point I missed the bit of barbed wire I was supposed to duck under because I was on the wrong side of the road.

From there, the trail struck out straight across the desert, on a “ten foot easement” across a ranch. I can’t imagine I was within the easement as much as 10% of the time because the trail was very sparsely marked. Sometimes even incorrectly marked.

Just before noon, I found what passed for a shade tree on those flats and had lunch. Shortly after that, I came upon a tire trough and shooed the cows away so I could cool off.

Then I misjudged which side of the trail the tire was on and set off in exactly the wrong direction and jumped the wrong gate. I thought if I followed the power lines, I would eventually cross the trail, but I grew discouraged that this didn’t seem to be getting me any closer to it on the GPS. So I turned south and soon ran into a very sturdy barbed wire fence separating me from the trail. Luckily, there was an open gate just a bit up from it, so I was able to keep going south, getting ever closer to the trail.

Until suddenly the GPS was showing me south of the trail. And I had seen no sign that I had crossed it. So I angled back north again, and yet again I didn’t seem to be getting closer to it. Then I saw that there was a wash near me and the satellite picture showed that it crossed the trail a bit north of me.

So I followed the wash until I saw a trail marker. To summarize: an hour later I was back on the official trail again, and who knows how much extra I walked. (Also, the power lines did eventually cross the trail if I had stuck with them for another three or four miles.)

I should mention that this desert plain was not exactly flat. It sloped subtly and continuously upward, like the continental shelf approaching the shore. (I do not use this metaphor haphazardly; this ridge and valley terrain is an ancient seabed.) I had been going uphill all morning and early afternoon with almost no shade to be found besides the occasional passing cloud.

So it was time to sit down in the tiny patch of shadow cast by an unusually tall and wide yucca and have an afternoon snack. And it turned out the patch of shade was just big enough to curl up in the dirt with my head on a bag of candy and take a little power nap to let my legs get their mojo back before continuing the climb.

I did not lose the trail again. It soon joined a road leading up into Engineer’s Canyon behind Gold Hill. My next destination was the water trough at Engineer’s Windmill. The trail kept getting steeper, but I did not flag or allow myself to be intimidated by the cows guarding the pass until I reached it. It was about 6pm, and that seemed like a perfect time for dinner. So I laid out my picnic next to the barbed wire fence separating me from the local bovine denizens (who seemed to tolerate my presence well enough to come drink while I sat there). It happened to have a decent bit of shade from the afternoon sun too.

After I finished eating, I scared off a cow to collect and filter some water from the trough. The barbed wire separating us crossed over the center of the trough, so we could have shared if she hadn’t been too cowed by my intimidating attitude.

And since I had another hour of daylight, I kept climbing into the hills, scattering herds of cattle in my wake. At dusk, even more animals started getting active. Rabbits, quails, chipmunks, noisy birds. On multiple occasions I saw little javelinas running around. Mostly they wouldn’t sit still long enough to have their pictures taken (and I did not have the storage available for a video at that moment) but the pack of five or so bear where I set up camp at sunset did not run quite so skittishly. I managed to get one clear photo, though it was already so dark out, the contrast was abysmal.

I found a nearly flat spot and got everything and myself under my tent just in time for a light sprinkle of rain. I would have loved for that to have continued until I fell asleep, but you can’t expect such things in the dry season.

Trail miles: 17.8

Burro Mountain Homestead tomorrow!