CDT NM 6th Section

Day 173: Grants

My last day on the trail, I did not feel particularly eager to start hiking. I did wake up in the middle of the night again (feeling a bit stuffy and confined and needing to lose some heat and get a cool breath), but I got plenty of relatively comfortable sleep or half-sleep, tossing and turning a bit to stay comfortable until 8am. For no particular reason except that I was being lazy, I didn’t start hiking until 10 (once I found my way back to the trail–it would be incredibly easy to get lost on the Acoma Pueblo as it looks exactly the same in every direction).

A painful hour later (thanks to the ongoing toe issues), I stopped for a snack break, realized I was close to the edge of the plateau, convinced myself to keep going, came to the edge, rang the bell, descended to the trailhead. I sat on a rock in the shade and ate an early lunch and contemplated the five mile highway walk into Grants. But while I ate, a man drove in with a dog and let it run around a bit. And then when I was done and I went to toss my entire bag of trash in the bin, we got to talking for a while.

His name was Kenneth and his dog was some unfathomable name starting with a B. The dog was mostly Czech Wolfhound. The man lived in the hills on the other side of Grants. After a long discussion of geology, history, and dogs, the dog was ready to leave and so was I. I asked him for a ride into town. He dropped me at Smith’s, the grocery store, and I stocked up on treats to celebrate the end of my hiking season and carried them back to Lava Flow Hostel, where I had reserved the same room.

The folks I had met in the previous section were there, and after a long shower and putting my clothes in the washer, I hung out for a while with Chile Pepper and Loose Leaf having snacks in the front yard. Ross soon joined us with a keypad lock that Home Depot had not removed the theft prevention device from. The alarm it made when the cord was cut was surprisingly quiet and stopped after a surprisingly short time (10 minutes). It had not tripped any alarms coming out of the store. I think it’s safe to assume you really don’t have to work too hard to shoplift from Home Depot.

I hung my clothes to dry and put my jacket in the wash even though the entire clothesline was already in the shade and the sun was on its way out. In fact, it was soon so cool out that the party moved back inside the cottage. Loose Leaf started making cookies and I took a call. Soon, My Trail Name Is Jesse showed up and I left to have dinner at the steakhouse.

Despite the signs saying No Mask No Service and the fact I had left mine drying on the clothesline, they seated me no problem. I ordered the Carne Adobada and a ribeye no sides. The former was pretty great, the latter nothing to write home about but not bad. They wanted to charge me full price for the steak dinner even though I had turned down the potatoes and salad. Apparently 26 dollars was the price of the 10oz of steak alone, the fries and salad were free. So even though I was stuffed silly and had no interest in eating them, I had them bring me the fries and salad to go. I walked back to the hostel and left them in the dorm house for anyone to eat, but I don’t think anyone ever did. I put my jacket on the line even though it was dark out and went back to the back cottage.

It was brimming full of people. Every kind of weed imaginable was arrayed on the floor while intense discussions of money and math took place. It was a Netflix party interrupted by a massive drug deal. Apparently, one of this tramily had stopped at the local dispensary and bought enough for everyone and then neglected to get an itemized receipt and was having trouble getting reimbursed as a result. Loose Leaf and Chile Pepper sat to one side watching passively and eating enormous salads. I dragged in a camp chair to sit in middle of all this and use the computer for a minute and then went to bed.

Trail miles: 10.8 (4 by car)

Number of trail miles left to do in future years: 724.2

(NB: This is not the last daily post of the year.)

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 172: Acoma Pueblo

I was right in sleeping with my filter this night. I woke up at 3am once from the cold and discomfort. (I hadn’t fully inflated my pad.) Also, I needed to rip the gloves and hand warmers off my hands because the pressure on my palms was affecting my circulation. But the warmers kept cooking away in my pocket until morning.

I did manage to get a few more winks even with the cold wind still blowing, but every position was painful and the dreams were bizarre. After a few “it’s too cold to get up” false starts, I started moving about at 7:30. What with it being so cold my water was half frozen, broken zippers being even harder to operate with gloves on, it still being cold and windy, my head being a bit fuzzy from lost sleep, needing to refill water from the cache and losing and finding the cap to my bag in the process, etc., I didn’t actually hike out until 9:30.

Not even half an hour in, Squints came up behind me on a steep hike. We chatted for a moment and then he fell behind checking stuff on the map. He caught me again on the next climb, proving he’s the faster hiker, so I let him pass. I stayed close behind chatting with him about gear, audiobooks, and how he was one of the few to get some of my trail magic in Montana until the next water source, at which point I went ahead while he collected some. But yet again he caught me on the next steep climb and passed me. I chased him a bit longer, but when I stopped to take a picture, he left me behind for good.

Until I caught up to him taking a break at a picnic shelter sans picnic tables. He was leaned up against a post on the sunny side. But I wasn’t interested in lunch yet. I hadn’t even been hiking three hours! I was only interested in the privy across the road. In addition to using it, I wanted to remove my snow pants. It was not quite cold enough to warrant them, and with all the climbing, they were chafing the backs of my knees something awful.

When I emerged, Squints was packing up. He was continuing along the official CDT, probably aiming to make Grants that night. I waved goodbye and went a different way: up the road toward the ridge of the San Mateo Range. It was an easy climb, a gently graded dirt road. I was on the ridge in 45 minutes.

I joined the Gooseberry Trail up the back side of the ridge, and this one was much steeper. On the other hand, it was on the leeward southern slope with plenty of direct sunlight, so even if I had to stop frequently to get my breath, at least I wasn’t as cold. (It was a much warmer day than before, but the wind and shade had made it easy to get cold on the downhill sections even while I was too hot on the climbs.)

At the end of the sunny section, where the trail was set to climb up onto the ridge and into the shade of a dense forest, I stopped. My stomach said it was lunch time, and my common sense said I should stop while I was still in the sun and not in the wind. I piled my stuff on rocks and started by putting some tape on my left toes. My socks were chafing them and they didn’t quite fit into my left boot’s toe box. A problem I always have thanks to asymmetrical feet. I was just about to start making lunch when another sobo by the name of My Trail Name Is Jesse came up. He was part of the group that had camped with Squints a mile behind me the night before. We didn’t have much of a chat before he went ahead, promising to see me in Grants the next day, and I went back to eating lunch.

After lunch, I pushed for the top of Mt. Taylor (TzoodziƂ). I was basically right there already. A few switchbacks in a forest on a trail still covered in crunchy snow from the night before. The trees were also still holding onto some ice. But in spite of that, the summit itself wasn’t too cold. Despite being out in the open, the thick forest along one side kept it out of the wind.

I had the place to myself, and the whole trail down as well. All the others were well ahead. The only people I saw were a few miles down the hill, after the Gooseberry Trail ended and I was taking a road back to the CDT for a mile, during which the same truck with two guys passed me three times. Once I joined the trail again, I was again on my own.

A few miles along, I turned down a side road to Big Spring. I got to where it was supposed to be and followed its drainage for a while, but it was dry the whole way. The comments for it on Guthook said something about a cache, but there was no cache.

I backtracked to the trail, and found another Ranger Ross water mug just a hundred feet past the turn-off to the spring. The moral was clear: stop being proactive about water and it will just show up for you.

So I did top off my water bag, though I still had plenty, as there was probably no more water to be had until Grants, plus I wanted the option to boil a very large quantity should the night be too cold for comfort. I swapped shades for headlamp and walked on another hour and a half, until I stopped seeing any sort of glow on the horizon.

At half past 7, I was ready to call it. It was almost the point where I’d be shivering as I set up my tent given that the cold wind was still blowing. I turned off the trail and went until I found a spot totally surrounded by trees. They didn’t block the wind altogether, but they did slow it a bit, making it swirl more than gust. I was reminded of my second to last night on the PCT last December, when I camped just off trail totally surrounded by shrubs. Then, it was more to hide from humans than wind because I wasn’t supposed to be out camping, but it felt a little the same somehow.

I set up much more efficiently than the previous night, put on some extra sleeping layers, and started cooking. I was ready for sleep a good quarter of an hour earlier than the previous night, and it seemed like it was going to be a much better night’s sleep on the whole.

Trail miles: 17.2 (but actually 20 because of the alternate)

Distance to Grants: 10.4 miles (but only 5.3 to the trailhead–the rest is road)

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 171: San Mateo Mountains Near Spud Patch Canyon

The weather read my previous post. New Mexico has decided to remind me what season it is.

In fact, I didn’t even make it to midnight the previous night before putting my coat on.

I was expecting rain, of course. That was in the forecast. And it was supposed to be colder too. I knew that. There was some sprinkling on the outside of the tent as I was packing up. And there was a wind shaking the tent all morning. So I put my Packa on before I left camp. Good for wind and rain.

(Side note: It is not a good idea to repair DCF fabric with that rubberized extra sticky tape you’ve seen on television. It doesn’t flex quite as much as the fabric, peels off, gets stuck to another area, and when you in unfold and have to separate it, tears a new hole in that new location. It creates the very problem you’re using it to solve!)

I was expecting something more like the light sprinkling from the scattered rain clouds I had gotten in camp. The sun was shining! I saw I was walking toward a much larger cloud, but I didn’t realize I was about to get five minutes of a cold hail and rain in a driving wind that left my finger tips almost unusable for the pain and my bare legs chilled to the bone. Even once the cloud passed and the rain cleared up, I stopped to put on gloves (with chemical hand warmers inside) and snow pants. I thought I might regret this later, as the forecast had said only morning showers.

I wound up keeping both on all day. Sure, the clouds went back to being patchier and the sun came out, pushing me to the brink of being uncomfortably warm when it shined directly on me. But then it would go behind a cloud and another gust of wind would hit, forcing me to lean or step to the side to avoid falling over. I struck a balance by unzipping my coat most of the way but keeping it on.

Also, the precipitation did not confine itself to the morning. Every big cloud that went over wanted to drop a little hail or snow. No big cloudburst like the one I started the day with, but on multiple occasions, I pocketed my sun hat, pulled my hood up against the pin pricks of ice falling from the sky, then dropped the hood and donned the hat again when the sun came back out. Very frustrating.

What was most annoying was the trail. It was just the dirt road all day. After the big morning shower, it was annoying because the mud built up into big balls under my heels like snow does on microspikes. At midday, it was about annoying because it left the trees and ran across the wide open plateau where the wind could pummel me at will.

I was ready for lunch, but stopping out in the open would mean the wind snatching the food right out of my hands, or tipping over my water bottle as I filled out, wasting my precious water.

My bowels seemed to have forgotten I had just emptied them the day before. They’ve got the memory of a sea slug, I reckon. But I had to very forcefully enjoin them to wait because… well, I’ve already described how the wind affects that process in one of my posts from the Basin of Wyoming. Besides that, there was just no privacy on the open grasslands.

Anyway, point is, I was very annoyed as I walked on for another 45 minutes before reaching the trees again. And when I came near them, I hurried into them in search of a bit of protection from the wind. I can’t say they were thick enough to keep the wind off. There was still plenty of wind. But, in mathematical terms, they transformed the wind from vector to a scalar. There was plenty of wind swirling every which way, but it didn’t have enough direction to steal my hat.

For hours after lunch, back on the road and in the wind, there was no need for the sun hat, so I tucked it away. There was not a single break in the clouds until much later. I also put up the Packa. I thought the precipitation was done, but I was wrong. Still I didn’t really need the rain protection when it was always hail or snow.

It was more road walking, though there was more civilization. Late in the day, I saw camps with trucks and trailers, probably hunters.

I missed a turn at American Canyon and by the time I noticed I was most of a mile from the trail. Luckily, at that moment I happened to be standing at a cross road that went up a canyon parallel to the trail to a road that crossed the trail. I could make more forward progress even as I found my way back to the trail. And it was quite a lovely little canyon to walk up. All these shallow little canyons out here are. Easy walking, except for the waning twilight making the rocks in the road harder to see.

Yes, all the dirt roads out this way are filled with lava rocks. The roadwalk is much like the Basin in terms of excitement level, except that the deep sand is replaced with rock and the chill wind is not as welcome.

Anyway, it was well past dark when I found the trail again, nearly walking right past it. There was nothing to set it apart, and I just happened to check the map when I was close to it. A few minutes down this trail brought me to the Ranger Ross water cache that was my “full day’s hike” marker. I ignored the cache for the moment, and turned aside into the woods looking for a tent site. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of broken wood, and anywhere the ground looked clear, there were actually rocks poking up everywhere. I ended up manually clearing a spot that was on a significant tilt.

I cooked in my sleeping bag. And I slept with my water filter. With the temperature dropping and the wind still along whipping, and sprinkles of rapidly melting snow coming down every few minutes, it was clearly not going to be a cozy night.

At least the next day would be clear again and slightly warmer.

Trail miles: 19.1 (but actually hiked maybe 2 more)

Distance to Grants: 30.5

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 170: Near Cerro Colorado

I woke at 7 and started working on my gloves again, but I was only two fixes in when the needle got stuck and I snapped it in half trying to pull it through. That being my only needle, the other four holes in my gloves are going to be coming with me to the end of the trip.

The sun was up far enough to turn my tent into a greenhouse by 8, but it was not unpleasant. I got packed and on the trail by 9.

From my campsite, I could see a house and a line of parked semi trailers. I knew I was near a road, but I didn’t know how near I had camped to a homestead when I had found the only tree in the area in the dark.

My first destination for the day was the spring at Cerro del Ojo Frio, or Cold Eye Spring as I call it. It was four miles in, and it was the most interesting bit of trail the whole day. Across the road and down into a wash right to the edge of a deep ravine, across the mouth of an arroyo (Canada de las Lomita), up onto the other side of it, then back down into it and across it again. I couldn’t make the whole section without a stop, running down into a shady mini ravine when my bowels finally insisted. While I was taking a break anyway, I finished my breakfast and had some snacks.

But I did make it an hour later, before noon, taking the direct cross country route as soon as a reached the road that passed through the fence. I took less than 3 liters, preparing one to drink right away, on account of wanting less weight to carry up the big climb ahead.

I didn’t eat anything while filtering the water, but I stopped a few minutes later, only 500 feet and a half a mile into the big climb, and gathered some edible energy to push on a rock in the shade of a tree, a spot I really had to force myself to get going from again.

I should note it was a mind-power-only kind of day. I couldn’t distract my mind with podcasts because I had already used up too much battery getting online and taking long videos the past two days. I needed to stretch what I had for four more. It’s hard to push for long sections when you have nothing to steer your thoughts away from the pain and the hunger and the heavy breathing and the heat. It’s easier to stop and harder to keep going. Only the promise that I could have a full lunch when I reached the top got me going again.

Two more miles of climbing went by pretty quickly. It was just after two when I finally got onto the plateau and started cruising along at 8000 feet for the first time in five days. This massive plateau spans all the way down to the San Mateo range, Mt. Taylor, and the edge of Grants. And for the first thirty miles or so, it hovers right at this same altitude.

Gaining a couple of thousand feet in elevation is supposed to correspond to a significant temperature drop, but it was such a hot, sunny day, I noticed no such thing. In fact, although I was initially in a bit of a forest at the edge of the plateau where I ate lunch, the trail soon left the trees. Or perhaps the other way around. The trees were dead or burned in patches and the patches of live ones grew sparser. There were always more trees in sight than there had been down on the desert floor, but they were rarely close enough or tall enough to give me any shade, so there was a brief window there I got uncomfortably hot.

I had come to fully take for granted that I was not in the cold and snow anymore. Just one thin layer is enough for comfort. It had been just over a week since a sudden urge to pee might mean struggling to remove two sets of gloves and then fighting through three layers of pants while straining to not wet myself with all the extra time that takes. Now, there was no such concern. Back then, when I felt like stopping, I kept walking until I could find a nice rock or log with full, direct sunlight and wind protection. Now, I was searching for one in the shade with a nice breeze. It was hard to remember when things were different.

Not that I wanted to take breaks often in the afternoon. With all the morning stops and the big climb, it had taken six hours to go just seven miles. The trail was now clear and easy and I needed the speed to make my goal at a reasonable time.

The goal was the spring called Eye of the Indians or Indio Spring for sure. The turn for the side trail was 9 miles from where I stopped for lunch, and I needed that water to make dinner. I only took one break in the middle of the next push, and prepared a strange brew from the last of my water to hydrate for the finish.

It was 6:30 when I reached the turnoff, just 3.5 hours from the beginning of the push, and the 0.5 was the one break. In other words, I maintained 3 mph the whole time I was hiking. And that required nothing but a steady pace. The trail was basically level and clear. It was like walking in the Basin again, but somehow even more boring. Except for one brief moment skirting the edge of the plateau, the trail offered nothing to see. Just dry grass and sparsely separated trees.

As boring as the CDT was, the side trail to the spring was dramatic, a quick 1000 foot drop off the plateau and into a canyon. But the water there was good and plentiful. I made my dinner with it, and then packed out more than four liters filtered when I was done. Then it was climb back up 1000 feet again, which was much easier than the descent now that I wasn’t running on an empty stomach.

I left the spring just before 8, and I was originally planning to stop at 8 when I reached the trail again, but I still had some dinnergy to burn, enjoyed looking at the stars, and didn’t feel like stopping. I went on until 8:30, and stopped in a flat clearing beside the road where a bicycle frame had been left to rust. Despite all the moths that I had seen around the spring and that had flown past my headlamp on the trail, none invaded my tent while I was setting it up and furnishing it. I was in bed by 9:30 and ready for sleep an hour later, after one last check to make sure everything was tucked under shelter away from the expected morning rain.

Trail miles: 18.1

Distance to Grants: 46.6 miles

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 169: Near San Luis Road

NB: If you didn’t see a post yesterday, it’s because there was some issue in its getting scheduled. Probably the issue was me not hitting the button once I finished it. Anyway, go back to the previous post if this one seems out of order.

This last week through the desert keeps giving me flashbacks to last December, my last week in the desert of Southern California. The terrain is more dramatic here–what with its volcanic origins on full display–and it has far fewer people recreating in it–I met no others on this day, not even a single cow–but there are enough similarities to conjure up the same feeling.

In particular, the weather is the same. It was a beautiful sunny day all day, but it was never hot enough to seriously break a sweat. The way the clouds do is the same. The rapidly vanishing contrails of the jets. The colors of the sunset. The vast expanse of stars coming out between the end of dusk and the rise of the waning moon.

When I was in the desert south of San Jacinto, headed for the Mexican border, I came across civilization almost every day. Here there was a restaurant just off the trail, here there was a little town with a tiny house for rent, here there was someone’s house with a water tank I could draw from.

It’s not quite as posh in this desert, but there is still a lot of civilization to be seen beyond the ever-present footprints of the sobos just ahead. I could see the highway from the edge of the mesa I woke up on at first light, once I put a good 45 minutes into stitching up my gloves and could come out to see the world as I packed. The distance passing trucks came into and out of view throughout the day, depending on the height of the trail and what features obstructed the line of sight.

And whenever the road could be seen, my phone could see distant cell towers. I tested this fact once in the morning, to share with a friend the photo I had just taken and which you saw as the featured image on this post, and once in the evening during dinner, to download an album and some podcasts I planned on listening to and to share the images of the sunset you see below.

The water I encounter out here is just as much of a sign of civilization as it was at the southern end of the PCT. I passed up another cache this day, 15 gallons left near a major road crossing, to go on to another source, a spigot connected to a mains supply in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mostly empty metal tanks and hoses that could be used to fill them. There was a single tree among them all, so I Jerry-rigged a chair and ate lunch underneath it before filling my water bag and walking out over a wooden box bridge some human had dropped across a deep chasm nature had carved through the canyon.

What I never saw in California is rock formations like the volcanos, rain, and wind have left across this landscape. My best guess is that volcanic ash built up and compounded into the loosest, crumbliest rock imaginable before thick lava flow covered it in hard weather-resistant protective layers. And where that hard rock has been undercut and toppled, the soft stuff it protects has been quickly washed away. This accounts for the steep, step-like edges of the mesas, and for the temple-like columns that I tried to climb but couldn’t due to the lack of footholds and exposure near the top that is beyond my skill and confidence level as a climber. I could get close enough to see how easy it would be to tree myself like a scared cat if I got any further.

The PCT also didn’t subject me to barbed wire fences across roads that had been thoroughly wired shut, forcing anyone passing down that road that crawl under or climb right through the fence after throwing their pack over. That just has to happen every once in a while out here to remind us that this is the CDT, which is not a Piece of Cake Trail.

It’s not hard to find views to take pictures of even where there is less wildlife than there has been recently. Don’t get me wrong. There is still wildlife. I saw a rabbit the previous night, and there are occasionally small critters like chipmunks, beetles, tarantulas, plenty of ants at dinner. And I go to sleep and wake up to the sounds of distant coyotes most nights. But I had gotten used to seeing critters almost all the time, particularly birds. I woke up this morning to the sounds of birdsong all around, but they had all flown off elsewhere by the time I emerged. I saw very few the rest of the day. Anyway, the point is, I’m constantly seeing the shapes of the rocks, the way the storms and snowmelts have carved it through the years, the way the trees and shrubs and cacti have decided to grow on and through those formations, and it is just as attention-grabbing as all that wildlife was.

And the human influence somehow draws even more attention to the state of nature. A single yellow deciduous tree grows behind some “tanks”–ponds dug in the valley to be kept filled for the cattle. Some abstractly twisted trees are marked by discs of sheet metal painstakingly hand-punched with a series of holes depicting a version of the CDT logo. Shafts of steel rebar restrain rocks on the steepest climbs highlighting the fundamentally fragile nature of these rock formations. Cairns serve to mark the incredible viewpoints the trail passes just as much as they mark the trail’s route.

I had a goal for the day and I achieved it. I surpassed it, modest as it was. I got where I wanted to get to. I needed miles to make sure I made my reservation in Grants. But I wasn’t always eager to get hiking. Even on a day with such perfect hiking weather in a section with mostly gentle easy-to-traverse terrain. I stopped for a break in a tree’s shadow in the afternoon and, even with a cold wind urging me on, I sat still for 45 minutes. I just didn’t want to be on my way, on my feet. I had stopped to smell the roses, as it were, and I didn’t feel like starting again. Maybe I just need others around to motivate me, or maybe I’m just being dilatory because I know I won’t be out here in another week and I’ll probably miss it.

Well after dark, by the light only of the stars and the Milky Way, a distant light on the highway, and my headlamp on its dimmest setting, I passed my landmark that I had decided the previous night I must pass this day. And I actually felt good. I wanted to keep going for a while. Not just for a mile, but for even another half mile after that. All the way until 8, a half mile later than I’ve been stopping. I went down a ridge that I bet would have been beautiful by daylight and into the flats. I found a nice site until a lone tree somewhat off the trail, and finally got off the feet that had been paining me half the day.

I took off my left sock to tape up some hot spots before I got ready for bed. I noticed that my left pinky toenail was now completely gone. Not that I need it or anything, but that certainly never happened on the PCT either. Maybe it’s time to end this hiking season after all.

Trail miles: 18.5

Distance to Grants: 65 miles

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 168: La Ventana Mesa

It was actually a perfect day for hiking and a pretty straightforward section of trail, but I just took the day so easy that I didn’t really make any progress. I slept in until 8, and even though I was packed before 10, I stood on the edge of the cliff until nearly 11 downloading a movie to watch at night later. I probably could have let it download while I hiked, but I didn’t know if I would be in signal range again for the rest of the section.

Within an hour of setting out, it was time to descend the side of the mesa, a fairly steep and rocky section of trail, short but slow going. It was basically like walking where the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad goes with the sandstone rock formations.

Once I reached the desert floor again, it was an easy stroll out to a fairly busy dirt road where an SUV was parked in front of a 24 pack of half liter water bottles. I reported the cache on Guthook but didn’t take any. There was supposed to be a very nice spring in 1.5 miles and I was more eager to get to the privacy of the trees than I was in desperate need of water.

Throughout this part of the day, the very middle of the day, there was still plenty of shade because, given the season, the sun never reached the top of the sky and there were plenty of trees. And also it was partly cloudy, so the intensity of the sun was merely pleasant where it came through. Moreover, there was a nice gentle breeze throughout the middle of the day, only annoying when the occasional gust blew over my empty water bottle or tried to steal an empty plastic bag.

I stopped in the next stand of trees for a bathroom break and lunch. For some reason, only 3 hours into the day, I was absolutely starving.

Then I continued until I reached the Jones Canyon Spring which was indeed a very nice water source in a very pretty nook of a canyon. The source was fenced off so only the birds and small critters could reach it (i.e. not the cows and other ungulates of the area), but a pipe carried a constant trickle of clear water into a large trough. If I stepped on the end of the pipe, I could dump an entire liter of water from the pipe into my bag at once (and then filter it while the end of the pipe refilled).

Despite the fact that I had only walked a mile since lunch (and only 6.6 miles since I started), for some reason I was starving again, so I took another big snack break here.

It was almost 4 when I set out again, and the trail immediately started climbing over little half-formed mini-mesas and across bulging expanses of white volcanic rock, cracked into a Voronoi diagram of perfectly fitted pentagons and hexagons reminiscent of an Incan rock wall. It was a lot of up and down for a while, including some steep rock faces with staircases chiseled into them. The trail had so little dirt that only the frequent cairns indicated its route.

It was at the beginning of the biggest climb, the edge of La Ventana Mesa, I stopped to maybe dinner. I was not quite starving yet, but the pain of my pack was starting to overwhelm, so it was worth going ahead and eating just for the break from wearing it. And it would give me the energy for the climb.

The sun set out of view while I ate, but I set out with headlamp ready as twilight and the oranges on the horizon faded. Everything I saw during this golden hour was absolutely gorgeous. I took so many pictures of things that looked somehow more beautiful than they did in normal light.

I continued after full dark until 7:30, finding a nice sandy spot with good visibility to the eastern sky. I had to rebury my tent stakes a couple of times before I had them firm enough in the loose sand to support my tent, but the wind had departed with the sun, so that weak support would be enough to get me through the night.

It was a short, lazy day and left me 3 miles behind schedule, but the weather should be good enough the next two days to make it up.

Trail miles: 12.8

Distance to Grants: 83 miles

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 167: Mesa Portales

After such a late night, I was happy to sleep in in a warm room well after my alarms went off. It was not the most comfortable bed but it was still better than my usual air mat, and I still heat the thermostat for the heater set to 70. I lay in bed until past 8am looking at the internet and thinking about how I had stuff to do and no breakfast ready to make in the room.

After checking what sort of resupply I needed, I walked back over to Family Dollar and got most of it along with razors, some frozen breakfast sandwiches, a hot pocket, and a carton of Oreos. I took all of this back to my room and began microwaving and eating my breakfast feast (including the root beer from the fridge) while watching the first episode of Inside Job on Netflix since it had just come out. This took until well after 10am, leaving me less than an hour to go to the real grocery store (Mickey’s Saveway) to get the items the Family Dollar had not carried (and even they had no protein shake of any sort), carry it back, unbox it, and repack my pack with it all. I ended up getting a few things I didn’t need in the hurry and forgot to get more sunscreen and had to go back after I left my room at 11.

I should mention at this point that the temperature this day bore very little resemblance to the previous night. As my next stop was the laundromat to wash as much of the clothes I expected to need as possible, I spent all morning walking around in just my jacket and snow pants and boots. It was not comfortable. I wasn’t exactly melting, but I was glad to get out of the sun as quickly as possible.

So I carried all my things down to the laundromat to spend almost all the remaining cash I had on me. I had to sit and wait half an hour for a small $2.50 washer to open up. I did blog work while my one load washed. When it was done, my socks didn’t smell much better than they had started, but I didn’t have enough cash left to run them again with more soap, so I just tossed them in the dryer and went to shave, fix up my mustache, and sunscreen my face in the bathroom.

When the dry cycle and the five dollar bill I had converted to quarters were both done, 8 could start changing into hiking clothes while my phone recharged. I got dressed and sunscreened my legs, then started consolidating my clothes and relocating everything I had gotten out back to my backpack ending with my phone charger. It was past 2pm and the Cuban Cafe down the street closed at 3. I got in a bit of a hurry.

The cafe was a pretty traditional diner but with some modern conveniences like phone charging outlets at every table and wifi. Very useful because I had some more charging to do and plans to make for how to get from Grants to Albuquerque to Atlanta at the end of this trip. This required some research and some phone discussion with home. But the chicken-fried steak, fries, soup, chips and salsa, corn, toast and root beers all for thirty bucks was more than worth it. Much better service than Bruno’s (the restaurant from the previous night) too.

There was another couple leaving town with packs on when I rolled out of the cafe after 3. I was eager to be done with 4.5 mile asphalt road walk out of town and passed them in a burst of speed. 1.5 miles later, I passed them going the other direction without my pack. I remembered in my hurry I had left my coat in the laundromat, stashed my pack in a ditch, and started walking back at the same speed. An hour later, I got back to the same spot again with my coat and much less energy. It was still a warm sunny day, but an extra 3 miles of a road walk I wasn’t into to begin with didn’t leave much pep in my step. Also, I was walking solo again.

An hour later, I was literally walking in the footprints of those just an hour ahead of me. The trail turned off onto a dirt road. A truck went by with a local rancher who desperately wanted to stop and talk to me. I watched the sun setting from the corner of my eye while being as friendly as possible in case he wanted to offer some magic or information, but no. I probably only lost five or ten minutes this way.

There were cairns and pointy posts with tips painted white down the dirt road indicating which branches to take, and soon those could be found marking a narrow dirt track heading off into the brush and sand. So, after a brief stop on a rock for a snack and to get my headlamp out and coat on, I wandered along the desert floor hopping over dry washes and sneaking past suspicious cows as the sunlight disappeared. After 7, I climbed up a little ridge onto the high ground behind the cliff edge of the mesa. At 7:30, the trail made a turn next to a kind of flat sandy area spotted with a couple of low bushes and only a handful of rocks and pebbles but with the perfect sitting log nearby.

For the first time in a month or more, the sun was completely gone and yet I wasn’t cold enough to want to cook in my tent. I pitched it, then made dinner while sitting on the log, comfortable bare-legged in only my coat. What an incredible contrast from a week before, or indeed, just two nights before.

I didn’t even need to wear my coat to bed, nor my furry hat. It was like way back when all over again, if only for one night.

Trail miles: 8.4 (but actually walked over 11 miles)

Distance to Grants: 96 miles

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 166: Cuba

I didn’t sleep in this morning, really. I just lay awake shivering in my sleeping bag. It was as cold as the previous morning was supposed to have been, and for some reason, despite placing my tent right in the middle of a wide clearing, it remained in the shadow of the trees well after sunrise.

It was cold enough a goodly layer of frost had formed on the ceiling of my inner tent. There was frost on the ground across the entire clearing and anything that stuck out from under the rainfly. When I did start getting ready for the day, I tried to do all the things I could do while mostly still in the sleeping bag and with my gloves on.

When I was finally ready and packed, it was 9:40. I didn’t end up leaving any sooner even though I woke up earlier just because of the cold.

Within a half mile of camp, I reached a nice stream with a deep pool. One of the hikers who had already passed me that morning had been kind enough to break the layer of ice across the surface. I filled a bag with water and tossed it on my pack, but kept hiking. It was certainly a waste of effort as I was hiking next to water for the entire morning.

The trail was level to slightly downhill all morning, patches of snow on occasion. The cold wind and the clear sunny skies together meant I could keep my coat and gloves on all morning and not get overheated, though sometimes just a bit warmer than I would like.

I was feeling uncomfortable from the way my pack sat around the time I reached the Cienega Gregorio (San Gregorio Reservoir) but I wasn’t hungry yet, so I did not stop. When I reached the trailhead parking area for San Pedro Parks, I was definitely ready to drop my pack. It was a strange spot, with a sign that said not to picnic there even though there was a picnic table and another sign that said no trash service right next to a trash can. I was very happy to see and use the privy there, and what with lunch immediately after at aforementioned table, I ended spending nearly two hours there.

The descent out of the mountains continued after, and I didn’t break again until the stream at the foot right before I joined the first road. I saw that I could make it to Cuba in time for supper if I hurried, though it would mean an extra expenditure to sleep there, but the alternative was stopping early right where I was with no good camping in sight. The remaining five miles to town was all road walk. I decided to go for it. It would be a waste of daylight if I didn’t.

In two miles, I reached the highway proper, though it wasn’t particularly busy. It was still painful and annoying to walk down the side of a low-shouldered paved road. I stuck out my thumb at every passing vehicle, but most were work trucks or expensive vehicles and there were only a handful of them anyway. I ended up walking the entire 3 miles to town, arriving just as the last of the dusk turned into night proper. My feet were killing me. I went straight to the Mexican restaurant across the street that I knew would be open for one more hour.

They didn’t seem understaffed. They had a full house and servers running every which way. But still they made me stand in the entrance with my pack on for five minutes with my dogs screaming about the asphalt and every couple of minutes a server passing to say they’ll get to me eventually. And then they let me sit with the menu for fifteen minutes once they seated me. Once they finally decided to take my order, the food came pretty quickly, but I have no idea how they were all so disorganized as to have so many people accomplishing so little. I wanted to eat fast and get out before they closed, but I was there some fifteen minutes after closing thanks to their own delays.

This is where the real adventure started. Since I was in town and it was night, I needed a motel room. I walked down to most CDT hiker friendly motel, but it was closed. Calls to the other two revealed the only one with rooms available was cash only and cost more cash than I had. A trip to the ATM failed to get cash from my expired debit card or cash advances from credit cards with unknown PINs. There was no option for cash back from a credit card at the Family Dollar, but the guy working the register there agreed to give me cash in exchange for filling his gas tank and buying him some Skoda at the gas station across the street. The store was about to close anyway. It took some thirty minutes to get all this worked out, but I managed to scrape together enough cash

I got checked into the motel after the guy gave me a lift there. I dropped my pack and put on the heater inside. Then I realized I left the drinks I had just bought in the beach of his truck and walked back to the Family Dollar to get them. (It was basically across the street, a fact we didn’t realize before I let him give me a lift.) I carried the drinks back and turned on the power to the minifridge then started getting undressed for the shower.

It was nice to get clean, but the shower couldn’t maintain temperature consistency and had very low flow because of a weird messed-up shower head. So I was either too cold or getting burnt the whole time, but it beat freezing completely, so I ended up staying in there a while. Then I started writing this post but got too sleepy to finish. It was pretty much midnight by the time I got to sleep.

Trail miles: 18.6

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 165: San Pedro Parks

I was super comfortable temperature-wise and slept in again. My hips were sore from the sleeping, but I was very sleepy and couldn’t get moving. I did wake up a bit early than the previous day, and even with taking the time to sew a big hole in the sock I had been unable to exchange in Santa Fe (while listening to cattle wander by outside, I still managed to pack up and hike out before 10…maybe around 9:45. Just before I took down my tent, I was passed by a sobo who greeted me and left to never be caught. I later learned he was probably Sandman.

Right off the bat, I was on a very steep descent down the mesa. The kind of descent that’s slow and hard on the knees. 300 feet in the first 0.4 miles, and then, starting half a mile later, another 1000 feet in the next 3 miles. Things leveled out a good bit for the next few miles after crossing the highway, except for the occasional drop into and climb out of a steep wash. But I was still in pain from the way my pack was pressing hard into the pointy part of my pelvis just to the right of my spine. I could adjust it to press less there by having it press more into my shoulders or into my hips. At one snack break, I adjusted the height of the shoulder straps, and I think that helped somewhat overall, though I never got an true relief and I’m sure to come out of this with a big bruise in that spot.

I stopped for lunch a bit early when I couldn’t tolerate keeping the pack on a moment longer. There was a nice log to sit on in a sunny spot. Just as I was finishing up, another sobo arrived named Grady. We chatted for a bit about the trail and our experiences with the snow in CO while I packed up, and then we hiked out together. When we ran out of conversation for the trail, he soon outpaced me on the climb, but I caught him again at the next water source. It was the first and only water I crossed all day, so I grabbed a few liters and made myself an energy drink.

Grady left just ahead of me again, but this time I didn’t even try to match his pace. It was nothing but climbing for the next several hours up into the San Pedro Parks wilderness area and the mountain top at nearly 11000 feet. I had seen and tried to match his climbing pace already and I stood no chance. I just put in my headphones and hiked at a comfortable pace for me. A couple of hours in, I stopped on another sunny log for a snack and then kept climbing. I had planned to stop at 6 for supper, but I didn’t like any of the prospects for spots to do that, and given that the sun was setting, just decided to hike on into dusk.

The temperature dropped as rapidly as the sun. It had been a pretty sunny and comfortable day all day, but that just means that temperature varies more wildly at elevation, and it was at these altitudes I began seeing more and more unmelted snow. But I had committed to walking on until 7 before stopping, so I just put up with my pack biting into my hip bone and my pinkys losing feeling and the general coldness as the light faded. I let my sunglasses hang on my chest rather than lose time packing them up and getting out my headlamp.

The summit was just covered up with excelled camping. Lots of flat open grassy fields between lines of trees. Perfect elk grasslands I guess, because there was an enormous herd of elk of both sexes beside and crossing the trail around me. I didn’t know if it was legal elk hunting territory, so I made sure I was whistling in a very non-elk-like way as I walked just in case there were any hunters around.

Just before 7, I called it and pulled off the trail into a small field and set up. The brutal cold was instantly ameliorated when I got my coat on. It was even better once I got the tent up and a few more layers of clothing on. And best of all once I got into my sleeping bag and got some hot food and drink in my belly. It felt much colder than the previous night despite the weather report, probably entirely attributable to being nearly 2000 feet higher in elevation. But it was still nowhere near as cold as my last nights in Colorado had been.

Trail miles: 17.0

Distance to Cuba: 18.2 miles

CDT NM 6th Section

Day 164: Mesa del Camino

I slept in for a while. I could hear trucks passing on the road, but my tent was somehow in the shade (because it was a very cloudy day, it turned out) and I was the perfect temperature, and I just didn’t want to get up. And I no urgent need to either. It was 10am by the time I packed up and left camp.

Weather wise, it was a perfectly average day. The kind of day where when the sun shined it was way too hot to have my winter coat on, but it shined less than half the time. And when the wind blew, it was way too cold to have my coat off, but it only blew half the time. Later in the afternoon, I removed the inner lining from my coat and just wore the shell for the first time ever. It was the perfect balance until the sun set and it was way too cold. Indeed, although it didn’t feel like it at bed time, it was set to be the coldest night of the week.

Just after leaving camp, I passed Big Eddy Boat Pull-Out along the Rio Chama. I popped down to use the privy even though I was not in desperate need yet, thinking to save myself some time later in the day for bigger miles. That would not work out as planned. I also relieved myself of what little bit of trash I had generated that morning in the trash cans there. Never pass up an opportunity to lighten your load, no matter by how little.

As I walked up the road into the canyon to meet the CDT, I noticed my nose was a bit stuffy and runny and felt weird. Sure, the air was cold and drier than I was recently used to, but it felt an awful lot like I was sick. My throat also felt a little sore, though perhaps only in that “snored all night in dry air” sort of way. It was like having mild cold symptoms that could have come about without the cold.

A couple of hours in, I joined the trail by crossing Skull Bridge over the Rio Chama. I soon left the road that crossed it for a much less maintained road that went up the canyon of the Canada Gurule. I stopped shortly after at a spring-fed cattle trough that supplied the easiest to collect water I expected to see all day. I had to tiptoe around the edge of a trampled-down pool day surrounded it to get to the flowing pipe without getting my feet wet.

Just south of here, the trail left the road through a narrow turnstile. So narrow that it ripped the mesh on the side of my brand new pack as I squeezed through. But I was headed into a wilderness area and the cattle weren’t welcome. Nor were any vehicles. The trail became a single track.

I ended up having to stop before lunch time due to gastrointestinal distress, and I went ahead and had lunch right after since it was time by then anyway. This was reason the second (after the late start) for my short mileage this day. Also, it fed into my belief that I must be sick, though again, it could have just been something I ate the previous day.

The next bit of trail was just following alongside the Canada Gurule for a mile or so, jumping back and forth across the little stream every hundred feet. It was not much of creek, just a little bit of clear flow over a flat sandy bottom. But soon, the trail turned off of this easy climb and started switching back and forth to climb straight up the side of the adjacent ridge to get to a road that ran along the edge of the Mesa del Camino to the Canada Camino cut.

As soon as I reached this road, I had to peel off for yet more gastrointestinal relief. I don’t know what was tearing me up inside, but I lost another hour here including the ensuing snack break, and it was getting pretty late in the afternoon. I had disassembled my jacket immediately after the climb up here, and I started getting cold as I walked down the road.

It was already past sunset when I reached the turnoff that left the road to climb up onto the top of Mesa del Camino, and I passed up a lot of great camping to do it. I had wanted to stop at 7, but there was no good camping from there until I was all the way on top, right up to the edge of the mesa.

It was 7:30 when I reached that beautiful flat area, pine straw strewn under tall pines next to the road that ran along the top. It wasn’t hard to find a good place to pitch a tent, though I did have to clear a lot of pine cones. I cooked dinner in the vestibule with coyotes yipping in the distance. The moon was bright and the temperature was supposed to drop, but it was all quite comfortable until I feel asleep.

Trail miles: 14.1

Distance to Cuba: 35.2 miles