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.
So, I got to sleep far too late and woke up to the wake-up call at 4am. Maybe 4 hours of sleep. Ouch.
What with the bathroom visit and repacking a few items for the plane I had out, I could see I wouldn’t make the shuttle I had scheduled for 4:30, but I didn’t need to leave for the airport that early anyway so I didn’t worry about it.
I ended up going down to check out around 4:45 with my two microwave breakfast croissants in hand. I left behind in the room my last root beer and my last beer and the remnants of my carton of iced coffee.
The shuttle driver was in the lobby and said he could take me right away. So I popped into the breakfast lounge to nuke the sandwiches and hopped straight into the van. He had me into the airport by 5:30.
I was able to walk right up the counter and check my backpack, but they said I could not leave my butane lighters inside. I had flown with them in a checked bag previously without knowing, but I was good and took them out. They said I could carry one of them in my carry-on, so I tossed one and kept the wolf design one that had consistently worked the best on the trail.
ABQ is not a particularly large airport. It’s one of the bigger ones in the southwest, I think, but at that hour, there was basically no wait for security either. I was through security and headed to my gate within ten minutes. Said gate was all the way down at the end of the terminal, of course. I sat down and waited 45 minutes to board and totally forgot to go to the bathroom before getting on.
I didn’t go on the plane either. It was a five hour flight back to Atlanta, so there was only one full drink service, unless I slept through one. I tried to work on this blog at first, but ran out of steam. I had downloaded some shows, but fell asleep before I could get to them, or watch any of what was on the seat-back entertainment system. The lack of sleep during the night just caught up to me all at once.
I woke up before the final trash collection and descent. Right before landing, I joined the multi-seat game of word scramble being played just ahead of me and absolutely crushed them in the two rounds we got in before the plane parked.
ATL is, of course, home ground and deeply familiar. I could get home nearly on autopilot. I had to ride all the way from concourse E to baggage claim, so of course my bag well and truly beat me there.
I got out my coat and put it on because it looked like a cold, rainy day out, then went to the MARTA station. I could get halfway home on the trains and save a solid 50 bucks. It would just take a little longer, and I was in no hurry.
An hour and a half later, I was getting into a Lyft and heading home. My mom must have been watching out the door like a dog with separation anxiety because she was coming out to get pictures the moment I arrived in the driveway.
I was very sleepy, and I only got a handful of things done before I fully ran out of steam and headed to bed. You’d think my sleepiness would compensate for the change in time zones, but daylight saving time undid that and I would end up being up late for several following nights. And there was just so much to be done with regard to upcoming life events but also finishing these trails off.
Firstly, some things need fixing. I need to fix the zipper trucks on my tent. I checked out the website for my tent, and it looks like I can do that repair myself in a few minutes.
My sun gloves need stitching. Again, I can do that by hand in an hour or so.
I need my Darn Tough socks replaced. I’ve already got the warranty slip for that, but I need to mail them.
My old Big Agnes sleeping bag could use restuffing. I’ve got to pay them for that service. But they’re pretty good to hikers and they’ll give a reasonable price. Still, it’ll be a lot of shipping cost.
I really want to look into some alternatives to my gear I’ve heard about on the trail that are much lighter and smaller than what I carry. Obviously, summer packs are already lighter, so I think, with a relatively small expenditure, I could end up with a much lighter pack next year.
Next year? I hope to get back out there next year. What do I have left on these trails? Let’s see…
358.9 miles of official CDT in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico
349.5 miles of official CDT in southwestern Montana and Idaho
29 miles of PCT in Socal (east of LA)
86.5 miles of PCT in Central Oregon
I’d also like to do the Gila Alternate of the CDT (105.2 miles)
That totals 928.9 miles. At an average pace of 18 miles a day with a 3 day transition time between trails, I can get that done in 61 days. Here’s how I would choose to do it IF the sections in question reopen. I don’t know why they wouldn’t reopen the PCT sections next year, but there could be parts of the Montana section closed:
Start with the Oregon section in mid-June, maybe flying into Portland or Butte or Eugene
Head out to Montana (method to be determined) at the end of June. Section should take about 3.5 weeks
Fly Bozeman to Silver City (or to somewhere with bus service there), do the Gila River (about 6 days)
Hitch, etc. through ABQ to Ghost Ranch and hike north at the end of July to catch the tail end of the nobo season. Actually, the bubble will be way ahead, but the weather through the San Juans should be the best it gets all year (about 4 weeks).
Hitch etc. from Monarch Pass, fly out to LA to finish off the PCT last at the end of August (about two days).
This is just an ideal scenario, and there’s a lot that has to happen between now and then for it to be possible. Most of it is on me. Mostly, I need to raise the money. And to do that I must work and not hike. Which means no more daily posts for a while. Doesn’t necessarily mean no posts. I may throw up some random unscheduled things related to these trails, but the daily thing is on hiatus as of today. Thanks for reading this far!
(NB: Day 171 failed to upload for some reason and I only just realized it a couple of days ago. If you were looking for it, go back and check. It’s in the timeline where it should be now.)
I didn’t manage to get to sleep until like 4am, but then I couldn’t sleep in until 8 because my roommates got up and started talking and making breakfast and such. So, I got up and started getting ready myself.
This mostly meant packing while my frozen breakfast sandwiches warmed in the oven. (The hostel, running only on solar power, lacks any microwave ovens, so I needed a good hour to defrost them through.)
Margaret and Anna Grace arrived a little after nine as I was taking my clothes off the line. I got them some of the bacon my roommates were cooking and hurried to finish packing so we could get started. Because Anna insisted my mustache was wrong, I took a few minutes to wax it, then all that was left was loading my stuff in the car and taking my bedclothes to the washer.
After a couple of wrong turns, we got on the highway headed out to the eastern side of El Malpais. Our first morning destination was La Ventana Natural Arch. It was an easy stroll from the parking lot to the base, no need to stock up on snacks, though Anna insisted on carrying a banana (and on not being called Anna Banana). I made a very difficult climb onto a tall boulder for a photo so that I had to jump off. Anna pretended that a sloped section of ground was equally treacherous. Kids, eh?
After Anna ate her banana at one of the picnic tables, we set off for the bigger adventure. A few miles south, we turned down Pie Town Rd, then a mile later, hung a left onto a ragged sandy road out into the prairie. Margaret said it was still a better road than the one to her house. We couldn’t go all the way down the single lane road because a truck was parked in the middle of it, but we just waited a couple of minutes for the coyote hunter driving out to walk back across the country. He stopped to tell us about the bear sign he had seen, and Margaret decided to carry protection as a result.
We couldn’t drive much further anyway. The trail into the canyon was blocked to vehicle traffic. So we parked and got snacks and lunch packed up to walk 2.5 miles into the canyon.
It was a pretty easy hike all told, basically level ground. But it was tough for Anna because the sand kept getting in her shoes (no gaiters) and the thorny sticker plants kept leaving pointy bits in her socks and pant legs. Being a child, she found this absolutely insufferable and had to stop often to pick at her socks and shoes. She also did not want to wear her sun hat, preferring to risk a scalp sunburn over getting hot from the lack of airflow over her head. Plus, a two hour walk in the desert is not super entertaining by itself, so she entertained herself by picking bouquets of grass for her mom or just to throw in the air. Eventually, I got bored with holding back my pace, put on some music, and went ahead at a slow but comfortable speed, only stopping to wait every ten to fifteen minutes.
The last break, less than a half mile from the destination, took a lot longer than expected, so I just gave Anna a piggy back ride the rest of the way there.
We had lunch in the dilapidated house (with an oddly new metal roof) we encountered there, then I went on alone to track down the petroglyphs that were supposed to be carved in the canyon. There were supposed to be many more than the two I found on a boulder right nearby, but although I found some areas interesting from a natural beauty perspective, I couldn’t find any other petroglyphs.
So as soon as I got back to the house, we headed out again back to the car. The way back proceeded largely as before with Anna causing delays in the same ways and being just as unwilling to wear the hat. She tried hard at the prospect of the holiday Oreos I had stashed there, but again, over an hour of walking is not the most engaging prospect for a child. So I carried her most of a mile on my shoulders.
It was about a 5 hour little hiking trip by the time we got back to vehicle and started rolling toward Albuquerque. I was out really starting to feel the lack of sleep, so we stopped on the way for a bathroom break and got me to grab some caffeine.
An hour later we cruised into ABQ over a rousing game of I Spy. Despite the 5 mile walk in the sun, Anna did not sleep a wink on the car trip. Our destination was a small Mediterranean restaurant in the Brick Light District. After some running about the parking lot where Margaret was paying the fee and I was injuring myself falling down in a gambit to entertain Anna, we made it safely into the restaurant.
As far as the Greek food went, mine was great. Souvlaki and Dolmades were exactly the reason I had chosen the place. The baklava was about average… neither great nor terrible. Margaret’s kebab was a bit below average in my opinion while Anna’s cheeseburger seemed to be way above average as kids meals tend to go. Although she had no interest in anything but the bun in the long run, they did actually include onions, tomato, and a sizeable serving of melted cheese.
After dinner, we crossed the street for the Insomnia Cookies. I got a regular chocolate chunk cookie I found to be not even as enticing as the one I could have gotten next door at the Jimmy John’s. Not bad, no. Margaret got an enormous peanut butter cup cookie which was equally okay. Anna’s strawberry ice cream, on the other hand, was pretty great.
My hotel was five minutes down the road, and that’s where they left me around 8. I scheduled a 4am wake-up call and a 4:30 airport shuttle when I checked in, then spent the rest of the night in my room hanging on with a friend online while drinking one of the remaining beers I had brought. I should have brought one in with me at dinner because the other one I was never going to drink.
I got to sleep around midnight following a long relaxing shower/bath. Not much time to sleep, but it wasn’t like I would be having a big hike ahead of me.
Tomorrow will be my last daily post for the season. Believe me, I’m as sorry as you are to be back in the real world.
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.)
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 (Tzoodził). 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 bytrees. 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)
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.