I guess I must have been exhausted from that long hike the previous day because I slept in until 6am. My mouth was also so dry I nearly gagged on the very dryness of my throat while packing up. Because I had bent a stake trying to drive it into hard, dry ground the night before, I spent an extra half-hour while packing up using every tool and bit of artifice I could find to unbend and free the stake. I even had to spend time repairing my pocket knife when it broke while failing to do anything to the stake. (What ended up working was pounding with a rock at just the right angle and then wedging the ends of both trekking poles into the loop that the hook had curled into.)
Anyway, it was all downhill to the highway, so I still made it there by 8:30. Lunar had only had to wait 45 minutes and got a ride from the first vehicle to pass. That was the time to beat.
The first vehicle passed fairly soon after I arrived. I hadn’t even had time to draw my “CDT HIKER TO WINSTON” sign yet. I stuck out my thumb. But my hopes fell as soon as I saw it was some kind of small commercial truck.
The second vehicle came some fifteen minutes later. I had just finished my sign. I held up the sign and the truck pulled up and let the window down. Success! And it was a US Forest Service truck too…
…Wait, that’s not a good sign.
“I can’t let you ride in here, but do you need some water or anything.”
“There’s plenty of water here, thanks. Have a good one.”
Three hours and maybe ten vehicles passed, finally a fire and rescue ambulance pulled over and made some space for me in the jump seat in the back.
Shouting back and forth down the small corridor to the cockpit, I learned the passenger guy’s name was Toby, and they, along with many of the people who had passed me by, had just been let off the Dobie Canyon fire, which was completely out. They were on their way to a fire in Arizona after a stop at the Winston store.
Coming into Winston, they recommended a cafe, then dropped me at the store.
I left my pack behind the store and went in to buy a few things, including a shower and a root beer. I needed more sunscreen, but all they sold was spray in a metal can. Well, I guess I’ll take what I can get even if it weighs a ton.
After an hour in the bathroom doing all four S’s plus another (intense scrubbing) and generally prettying up, I put on my long johns and camp shoes and took my hiking clothes into the laundromat on the back of the store. With those started washing, I set off for the post office down the street. A local dog came with me for a ways. I passed the community center on the way, and saw that it had a large covered patio and a wifi password on the door, just as Lunar had promised.
I picked up my box and brought it back to the community center, then fetched my pack and boots etc. back to the community center as well, figuring they would be safer there. I plugged my phone into an outdoor outlet and got it on the wifi and started uploading pictures and videos. The connection was strong. They were uploading at a good clip.
I returned to the laundromat and my clothes were already sparkling clean, even cleaner than when Brendon had washed them in Silver City. I got the dryer started and set out for the cafe. It would only be open for two more hours and was a ten or fifteen minute walk from the store.
It turned out to be more of a food truck that never relocated. There were a couple of tables next to it with an awning. I order a tamale plate, a taco salad, and, you guessed it, a root beer.
The root beer was mostly ice, unfortunately, but I did get it immediately. I had to wait 20 minutes for the rest of the food and answer a lot of questions. Like whether it was all for me, whether I would eat it all there, whether I wanted sour cream or avocado. (Yes to all of the above!) But I forgot to say no tomatoes.
Both dishes turned out to be at least 25% tomatoes. I picked them out and quirks around them. I can’t say it was the greatest meal ever. The tamale plate was only a single thing that I wouldn’t actually call a tamale–more of a burrito, maybe, with a wetter filling? The taco salad was alright, though I sure would have rather had corn tortilla bits than the fried dough bowl it came in. No pictures of any of this, of course, because my phone was still charging at the community center.
Time was of the essence, you see. My best shot at a ride back to the trail was the store clerk who said she was leaving when the store closed at five. It was already 3. The only way to very a full charge and upload everything was to leave my phone while I got food.
Speaking of uploading, when I got back to the community center, Styrofoam cup full of ice in hand, I saw that a number of the photo uploads had failed and every time I retried the uploads, they just failed again immediately. Turned out my VPS storage was full, so I spent some fifteen minutes deleting stuff from my VPS that I could have spent uploading blog posts. I got the things started uploading finally and returned to the store.
My clothes were dry. I took them in the bathroom and put them on. And bought a root beer for my cup of ice. It was already 4pm
Back at the community center, I opened my box and repacked all the food in it into my pack. Then I returned to the store to get what I had learned was missing: apple cider powder and limes. I had to settle for lime juice instead since that’s all they had.
Back at the community center, I started furiously attaching pictures to blog posts and scheduling them. I only got three of them done before I ran out of time. But that was luckily enough to cover the next long stretch of hiking without interruption.
At 5, I went back to the store with my water bag and filled it in their kitchen sink. The clerk lady said to meet at her gray sedan in a few minutes. So I brought my pack and everything back from the community center to the store and began putting my boots back on. Just as I finished my final prep, she came out with her daughter and the trip back to the trail began.
We talked all the way out, about all the usual gossip: pandemic, economy, the state of the world, weather, wildfires, hunting seasons, other hikers… it was around 6pm when I arrived at the spot I had spent the entire morning. I hit the trail again, plodding out under my two ton pack with over nine days of food and a gallon of water.
After walking 0.8 miles in, I started looking ahead to see where the next water would be. Comments on Guthook indicated all the springs and tanks and streams were dry ahead. (A flyer in the post office indicated that most of New Mexico is in extreme drought.) There was maybe a gallon near the road in 25 miles, and there was definitely a tank filled by windmill well in 32 miles. Either way, there would be no water on the trail all the next day.
I hemmed and hawed for a few hundred feet, then finally admitted that the gallon I had wouldn’t be enough. I dropped my pack beside the trail, grabbed my dirty reservoir for filtration and my Nalgene, and hiked back 0.8 miles to the trailhead where I had seen a gallon in a water bottle. I put 3L in the containers I was carrying and drank everything else in the bottle. Then I carried the water 0.8 miles back to pack and added it to the already immense load I was carrying. Three tons now.
It was 7pm already, so I walked on another hour and some change until I saw the sun was almost set, found a nice spot and set up.
Rechecking my calculations, it seemed like even with having taken a nero, I was still on track to make it to Grants on time in two weeks as long as I could average 18 mile days from here on. An 18 seemed infeasible with that much pack weight, but I’d average 18 for the whole trail to that point (not counting this day), so I was clearly capable of putting down the miles once my pack lightened.
Trail miles: 6.8
Distance to Pie Town: 138.4 miles