In great contrast to yesterday, I woke up feeling everything. I took a naproxen then dozed for another hour, finally starting to get ready at 5:40, getting just enough water for breakfast from the river, and finding the trail by a little after 7.
I didn’t have much hope to reach Doc Campbell’s to see if they had any trekking poles for sale before they closed at 4, but I set it as a goal anyway. I intended to stay there anyway, so might as well push hard and spend more time at the destination.
I got a really good night’s sleep, and the soreness was mostly gone when I woke up. Maybe it was the naproxen I took before bed, or maybe I’m just good at sleep posture.
Although the bright moon woke me a couple of times in the middle of the night, I figured it was time to get going when I woke at 5. While packing up, I got just enough water for my breakfast shake from the stagnant pool down the hill. It was covered with tiny water bugs, but I hardly scooped any, and the filter took care of them.
I also noticed a cabin up the hill but didn’t investigate. There was a CDT trail register just around the bend too, and I saw only one other name coming through a day ahead of me.
It was a mile down to Sycamore Creek. It was not much of a creek, a narrow rivulet of water, but it was cold and flowing so I stopped and filled my bag entirely before going up the canyon.
And just a little way up the trail, there was a spot where the dirt was soft and crumbling down the side of the hill. My lower foot started sliding down. It didn’t feel like an emergency, like I wasn’t going to call, but before I could consciously act, my upper trekking pole snapped clean in half.
I didn’t sleep all night. I did try, but it wasn’t working. I didn’t want to employ any chemical help because I needed to be functional at the airport early, so I got up in the middle of the night and had a big breakfast, showered, then just watched some shows until it was time to leave.
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.
Even though I was on a 9000 foot mountain taller than all its neighbors and I had bundled up in my bag with all my long johns on in expectation of cold, I was quite toasty in my tent. There was very little breeze. In short, there was nothing stopping me from getting up with the sun except I was sleepy from getting in late.
Still, I sort of kind of started putting things together and getting ready. I was slowed by the fact that I had forgotten to close the valve on my water hose the previous night and some small amount of water needed to be wiped off my mat and the tent floor. The sun was shining right through my tent wall urging me to hurry up. It was a bit after 6:30 by the time I started hiking.
I was a bit worried about water. Lunar had told me there would be no water on trail until Trick Tank 14.5 miles away. That would be at least 6 hours of hiking on the water I had left unless I could find some along the way that he hadn’t.
The first try was Diamond Peak Spring, just below where I slept. No luck. I couldn’t even find the thing. It used to be marked, but fires and wind had rearranged the area. And the area was dry.
So I started down the ridge. It was mostly downhill, but when it was uphill it was steep. There were views everywhere to the extent that I passed up taking pictures of some of them worried I was taking too many.
I was counting down the miles and the minutes and keeping my breaks short (and drinking slightly less during them than I usually would), hoping to catch lunch by some pools of water in the stream bed running siren the canyon the trail entered after 9 miles.
No luck. The pools had dried up since last month. I was going to have to go all the way to Trick Tank, another 5 miles, with the water I had. I couldn’t drink a while quart of water at lunch like I normally like to do.
Speaking of lunch, it was about noon when I came to the place where two canyons and their dry stream beds meet. And there I scared a cow. She was down in the ravine I was walking the edge of, and I saw her long before she saw me. She jumped and turned toward me, melt turning to face me as I passed. I stopped for lunch in a shady spot on the bank just would-be-upstream of her. I’m pretty sure she watched me the whole time I was eating. But I was too distracted by all the flies to really pay attention.
Coming out of that ravine, the trail crossed a road it used to turned down. The long road walk was replaced last fall by a steep climb over the hill to meet the road on the other side. It was shorter, but it was uphill almost the whole way, and frequently at a 30 degree incline or better. I was hesitant to drink, but I had to to get over that hill.
It felt like an unusually long 2 miles from where the new trail ended to the hill where Trick Tank sat. It went by quickly in absolute terms, and it seemed like I still had plenty of water, but the anticipation was getting to me, especially when I reached the steep climb just before the tank. I had to go all the way to the top of the hill on the trail and look back down way off trail to finally see it.
I spent most of an hour at the tank having a water party. It was a wide tank with a shallow pool of algae filled water in it covered by a fiberglass lid that kept it from evaporating while still allowing rain to flow in from the edges. Even knowing every animal in the area probably drank from it and seeing the dead moths floating in it, I was tempted to hide from the sun by taking off my boots, crawling into the tank, and just lying in the shade in the cool water. It had been a bit overcast all day, but the clouds had chosen this hour to thin out a bit.
Luckily, water is a great way to combat the heat even if you just drink it. I started by filtering directly into my Nalgene until it was full, tossed in a couple of Nuuns (blueberry orange), and emptied an Arizona honey ginseng green tea flavor into it. I took that to the shade with my snacks and drank it all while filtering into my water bag.
I carried away a full water bag when I hiked out–way more than I needed. And of course I poured some water all over my shirt too. It’s the only way to end a water party.
The trail was mostly downhill from the tank except for one short and, compared to the earlier climb, gentle uphill bit. I walked for about two and a half hours, and even started listening to a podcast on my one remaining functioning pair of headphones. I stopped just before 6 for supper, which is earlier than usual but I was getting hungry already and there was a nice picnic spot. In dropping my pack, the strap caught my headphone wire and gave it a good snatch without pulling it out of my ears or phone. That amount of tension is all it takes to complete shut down a one dollar set of headphones. But hey, I got two days of use out of them, sort of! That’s pretty good for cheap headphones on the trail.
I was much less excited about hiking after dinner. I had no excuse not to since there was still daylight to burn, but my feet were hurting. So I walked on, mostly downhill again, from 6:30 until a bit before 8, when I decided I’d had enough and spotted a good campsite. This time, instead of starting right away on the tent, I started by taking off my shoes and socks and popping and taping over the blisters I had made that day. It had been a long one, and my boots still aren’t a perfect fit.
It started cooling off after 9, once I was in my tent. The coyotes sang me to sleep well before 10pm.
At least the next day would be a town day. A little bit of social interaction and self-care before starting an even longer and more strenuous section.
I woke up at 5:15 and sort of got myself going in that “what can I do that doesn’t involve taking my feet out of this sleeping bag” way. Started hiking down the ravine again at 6:30.
In spite of the blowdowns and the twisty hard to find trail, I had a pretty good pace. It was all downhill and in the shade. I had my down puff on and didn’t get warm at all.
At 7:30, I walked out into an area where the ravine spread out and the sun could start to hit me directly. I had to climb up the ravine wall and back down again through patches of morning sun. I put my shades on.
At 7:40, I took them off again, and walked another twenty minutes in the shade of the ravine.
When I finally reached the confluence of the little stream I was following with Black Canyon Creek, I didn’t realize it. I was told.
Lunar hailed me from the other direction as he pulled up to sit down for a snack and smoke break. So I sat down with him and we had a short discussion about the trail ahead and behind and our plans. Like most people, he asked where I’m from, and like many, he had a connection to Georgia. He grew up in Temple.
The one thing he asked about the trail I’d just done is how bad the thorns were.
“Not too bad.”
“I can’t say the same for where I just came from.”
It would take a while for the import of that to become clear.
We parted ways and it was time for me to begin the long climb out of Black Canyon. It really wasn’t so bad. Occasionally broader so finding the intended trail was harder, but the thing that slowed me down more was the ready access to water. Every time I came near a relatively deep pool, I wanted to climb in. I even tried once, but it was way too cold to get all the way in. The bottom was freezing even at only a foot deep. But I still dunked my shirt on several occasions.
I held off on collecting water as long as possible since I would have to carry what I collected as long as possible. About noon, I came to a section of dry stream bed and decided the water had run out. I dropped my pack and hiked back down the creek to where the water appeared again and spent some time there collecting and filtering.
Carrying two hands full of water on the way back, I startled a red fox on the trail. Luckily, it wasn’t so startled as to run away, even as I set down a water bag and took out my camera to film. It seemed rather more sullen than scared.
I ate lunch and continued up the canyon. After crossing the creek for the umpteenth time, a turkey startled me on the trail. She sort of ran at me and then completely circled me, then even started to follow after me when I went to leave. All to protect her chicks. The video is pretty wild.
After a few more stops for one reason and another and a few steep climbs, I came out of the canyon a little before 5pm. I knew it would take the majority of my day.
In this area, I decided to investigate some local springs. I collected a small amount of water from the one that was floating, but it was going so slowly, I gave up after 20oz and 15 minutes. Then I set out to climb up onto the burnt out ridges.
It was fine at first. Nice even. There were big grassy areas, then an easy if uphill forest track. Then the thorn trees started. Apparently one of the first kinds of bush to come in after a fire is one just covered in thorns. And here there were all in the trail. The section seemed not to have been maintained in some time. So they were constantly scratching my legs abs pulling at my shirt. And of course sometimes the deadfalls required me to squeeze right through them to get by.
I ate dinner on a sandy bald spot surrounded by those bushes. There was no shade in sight. There were some clouds for a bit of sun protection, but it wasn’t consistent. Still, the sun is pretty low after 6pm, so I could shade my legs just by leaning my hat against them. And it’s impossible to be mad during dinner.
I hiked on after dinner, and after a bit, the thorns got a bit better as the trail entered areas along the ridge less affected by fire. The sun disappeared but I put on my headlamp and kept going. After a particularly steep climb, the trail went out along a face just smothered in the thorn bushes, forcing itself between and under them so that I had to also. I didn’t want to push them aside with my hands, and could just barely get a gap between them using my trekking poles. But my knees are scratched up worse than ever.
Finally, late in the 8 o’clock hour there came the final push straight uphill to the top of Diamond Peak. The views on this whole climbing section had been amazing throughout sunset and twilight, but I was going to be attaining the peak with only the full moon to light the landscape.
When I came past the summit, there was another sandy open flat area just below it, and I decided to camp there. It wasn’t all that windy, and sunrise would be as early as possible if I woke up on a mountain top.
It was so cold that I woke up at 3am and pulled my sleeping bag on all the way. When my alarm went off at 5, I refused to leave the warmth of the bag, even knowing that if I got started earlier I could do more hiking before it got hot.
I was finally out and packing up at 6, and soon Hawkeye was stepping out of the van underdressed for the cold to start some water boiling for coffee. I was almost done packing when he came to pour me some. It was incredibly strong. But I drank it just like that.
30 minutes later, I came back from the privy to give a final goodbye to and take a farewell picture of Hawkeye, Debbie and the support van, Alice. And that was the last I saw of other human beings for the rest of the day.
The first few miles was an easy walk up a mostly flat canyon to Sapillo Creek. This was the first time I had seen water flowing across the trail since I started. I drained my breakfast smoothie and refilled my bottle from the creek, making my orange health mix in it. Before I left, I washed my hat, and dumped water on my shirt and Buff. It was going to be hot as soon as I got away from the creek.
It was a steep and arduous climb out of the canyon and onto the ridge for the next 2 miles or so, and then I climbed slowly in the direct sunlight for another three miles while the day heated up.
Soon, I dropped into another, higher ravine. This one had a cold water seep, so I took an early first lunch break to cook some chicken flavored chicken and rice. I figured I might as well as long as there was copious water available and Hawkeye’s hospitality had left me with an extra dinner meal.
Then I had another steep and annoying climb out onto an even higher ridge in the light of an even higher sun. I was seriously sweating. The salt ring on my hat reappeared.
There was a series of short steep climbs interspersed with flatter terrain. But for six miles, I was gaining elevation regularly.
Early in the afternoon, I stopped next to a junction where the trail turned off and had a second lunch, this time of my usual lunch menu. I drank a bit less than the last stop since there would be no more water on trail for the rest of the day.
I got a brief little mile of descent to a road in the later afternoon, then began the most serious climb of the day. 700 feet or so in 3.5 miles, the largest part of that in the first mile. I took a break near the top of the first steep section even though I didn’t really want to because my heart felt weird. It stopped when I sat down and snacked and drank, then started again as soon as I put my pack on and stood up. I decided I would just have to hike it out and wrote it off as an anomaly.
At the top of the range, the trail came out onto an exposed face with some great views. The trail came out onto the exposed face of the next hill as well, then the next. Always new views, direct sun beaming on me, elevation going up. Finally, at a little after 7pm, I reached the saddle at the top of the ridge, the elevation I’d been working my way up to all day. I entered the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, the first nationally protected wilderness in the US. Aldo Leopold should have written more books if he didn’t want John Muir to get all the conservationism credit.
As soon as I came around to a nice shady flat spot, I stopped for dinner. Spamish Rice this time.
It was nearly 8 by the time I got back on the trail, so I had packed up my sunglasses and hat and had my headlamp and down puff on. I was feeling pretty energetic, so I figured I’d get in a little extra mileage after dark. I stepped over a snag too fast and it snagged my shorts, tearing a nice hole at the edge. I leaned on my trekking pole so hard to catch myself it nearly bent double, but it snapped right back into shape.
I hung a left at Signboard Saddle, the sun now gone and its remains on the wrong side of the mountain. The new CDT redirect plummets down a ravine which is scattered with deadfalls and scratchy plants. But it was downhill and I was feeling energetic. When it got too dim to see the hazards on trail, I put on the headlamp and kept going. I finally found a reasonably good spot to camp about a mile down the ravine and settled in.
Trail miles: 19.5 (a new 2 day record for the CDT)
It’s so hard to get going in the morning. It’s not that lying on my air mat is the most comfortable thing in the world, it’s just that the cool morning air turns me off from getting out of the bag. And then I fall back asleep for 45 minutes. Anyway, it was 6:30 before I finally left camp.
A mile down was the water cache and the highway. I drained my breakfast smoothie and topped off every bottle and crossed the highway. The next water source was nearly 24 miles away, so I would need to stretch my water enough to stay hydrated all day plus make a dinner and a breakfast from it.
Around 8 or 8:30, I encountered Debbie, Hawkeye’s wife, previously of the trail out of Burro Mountain Homestead, coming down the hill having parted with Hawkeye moments before. She said she would be meeting him with the van at the campground 20.5 miles ahead and asked if I needed anything.
There was plenty of wants I could have thought of, but there was one definite need.
“Could I trouble you to bring some extra water?”
Dry spell situation solved.
“Crap, I should have asked if she’d slackpack me.”
The trail from there was a brutal climb. Even though it was still cool and shady, I was stopping frequently to catch my breath and cool off. I stopped for a full-on snack break at 9.
Maybe 30 minutes later, I caught up with Hawkeye taking a break of his own. He is a fast uphill hiker and wasn’t carrying as much weight. And he had a lot of stories to tell about all his hiking adventures over the last 30 years since he retired, and… well, basically his entire life story, honestly. By pushing myself to keep up with him so I could hear what he was saying, I finished that five mile mountain climb at least 30 minutes sooner than I would have alone.
We reached the peak around 11:30 and my stomach was very insistent that it was lunchtime.
Me: “No, stomach, lunch happens at noon.”
Me: finds a shady lunch spot
Hawkeye and I had lunch together and continued hiking and chatting and even sometimes taking pictures together until our afternoon break at 2. Somewhere in here he offered me dinner and a beer. Then we needed some alone time and switched to leapfrogging, meeting only when we stopped for breaks or picture/video taking. (He is recording his hike to fundraiser for his foundation for grants for equipment for disabled athletes. See more at http://gohawkeye.org)
We both took breaks every two hours and four miles. My left foot was kind of killing me by the last section, a four mile descent into the campground. But the views were amazing and there was a dramatic shift of scenery when I entered the canyon at the final mile. It was so different and stark that dramatic was the only word that came to mind. But it didn’t completely distract my the pain in my foot.
When I finally spotted Debbie and Hawkeye’s yellow van across the campground, I turned off the trail and cruised straight up to it.
“Have a seat. Have a beer. Have some jalapeño chips,” she said. I did. I swallowed a naproxen with my beer, changed into my camp shoes, and a half hour later, the foot pain was gone. Coincidentally, that is also when Hawkeye finally arrived and informed Debbie she would be making dinner for three. I was not expecting rice and chicken and veggie stir fry for dinner when I woke up that morning.
In gratitude, I fixed them some Christmas in a cup, to which they added some Jameson, and that worked surprisingly well with it. I had pitched my tent nearby, and after a brief dumpster finding odyssey, I led the charge to bed and sleep.
The morning promised actual toilets and hiking out with plenty of water. But Hawkeye was headed up to Gila Hot Springs on a side trail instead of staying on the CDT, so I would truly be alone on this ever more remote section. But at least there would be a nice cool flowing creek for the first time on this trip in just 3.3 miles.
I was the first up at the hostel, and though my bunk was fairly comfortable, it wasn’t comfortable enough for me to stay in to finish uploading blog posts. I led the charge into the common room and plugged in the giant tank style coffee percolator. I sat down in a chair and worked while I waited.
I had my first cup with my first cup of skyr (strawberry rhubarb) and Blitz got up at this time too, along with the dad who had come in late to the private room. I went for my second cup of coffee and my second cup of skyr (spiced apple). Annika and Rory trickled in at this point. Two cups of coffee was enough to send me to the bathroom, but I kept working on the blog. I couldn’t waste a moment since I wanted to have everything uploaded before I left, but I didn’t want to leave so late I missed out on all the coolness of the morning.
When I returned to the common room, Annika had already left for her WFR course at the university, but no one else had any intention to try to get out early. Of course Rory and Early Bird weren’t going anywhere with their injuries, and Blitz said he wasn’t going until noon to give himself a full 24 off his feet. I started on my third cup of skyr (key lime, the best of the three) and finally finished putting together and scheduling the last post (which you read yesterday). Before I left, though, I shaved and cleaned up a little bit to look more presentable to potential angels I might meet later in the day. And I had one last root beer for the road. I tucked a cold Gatorade in my pack, said some goodbyes, and walked up the road.
Once I got to Alabama St. (which is next to Georgia St. of course) and was headed out of town, I started sticking out my thumb at every passing car and truck. It was 5 miles of road walking to where the trail actually veered into the woods on a dirt track, and I was lucky enough to find an old man driving out to a yard sale who was in so little of a hurry, he was willing to go out of his way to take me right to that junction. I probably wouldn’t have minded doing most of that road walk, since it eventually turned into a dirt road with very little traffic, but it also didn’t look very interesting so I wouldn’t have gotten much out of it either.
The first few miles from there were on an extremely popular trail network. I saw several day hikers and even more mountain bikers (as it was a multipurpose trail for hiking, biking, and equestrian use). It wasn’t very complicated or steep, but it went on for a while. I started walking from the road at 9:30, had lunch beside the trail at noon, and made it to the parking lot where all those day users parked by 1.
It was at this point I did the thing only 4% of CDT hikers do at this point; I kept going straight onto the official “red line” track up into the Black Mountains. As most hikers take the Gila River alternate here, most people I spoke to at the hostel just naturally assumed I would as well and forgot I wasn’t even after I told them. I’m a huge oddball.
I don’t know why this route is so much less popular though… it’s said to be equally beautiful. Perhaps it is that it is longer. Perhaps it is that it has more dry sections. Perhaps everyone just really wants to go to Doc Campbell’s. But I’m not in a hurry or desperate to stay with the pack since I’d be leaving them in northern New Mexico when I flip anyway. The upshot is I’m going to be the only hiker out here for the next two weeks or so.
The water isn’t very dependable in this first section, so late in the afternoon, I went off trail to visit a monastery known to give water to hikers. I still had a good 3 liters on me, but I could count on this water to be here, unlike the highway cache I might find in the morning. I had to pass through three gates on private roads to get down to the monastery, and I didn’t see a single human on the property. I could hear them though. All the nuns were down in the chapel singing and having a service. I found a faucet in the yard above the cloister, and got myself up to 6 liters (refilling the Gatorade bottle too). I climbed the hill back out without having spoken to anyone. Thanks nuns!
Back on the trail, I stopped just after getting into the woods for dinner. Same old. Then I hiked on another hour and stopped within a mile of the highway crossing, pitching my tent in a side road that had been blocked by a ten foot long wire fence. It seemed like a great campsite, so I just walked around the fence and set up. Hard to drive stakes into the old road bed, but it wasn’t windy, so I just dug holes, put the stakes in, then backfilled around them. Took awhile, so I got to sleep much later than usual. Otherwise, nothing particularly interesting to comment on.
I wasn’t expecting much interesting to happen for the next couple weeks honestly. In fact, I was kind of hoping for exactly that. Brendon said the trail might not be particularly clear, with a lot of blowdowns across the trail and such. I hoped he was wrong. After that experience at Mt. Hood, I wasn’t much into being slowed down by constantly stepping over or around trees. Anyway, the trail was good this far.