10/3: 22 mi (2357.6 – 2379.6)
With the day expected to be fairly warm and without shade, we got up fairly early. While it was still dark, we ate our breakfast with our headlamps’ red light illuminating our Jumbo HoneyBun and coffee. Our tent and bags were somewhat damp, and we were equally surprised by the condensation that accumulated on our tent’s fly. We assumed it had to do with the dampness of the sand from the several days of record-breaking precipitation.
With headlights glowing we made our down-hill from the mesa in semi-darkness. This required careful footing as we made our way down the loose and crumbly sandstone trail.
The walking today was fairly straightforward. New Mexico had now transformed into what we had “expected” for most of the state. There was no mistaking that we were in a desert landscape. Most of the day was spent over flat terrain and dirt roads. Paul and Jan had “jetted” ahead, as they are infinitely faster at the walking thing, and frankly unconsciously competitive (a guy “thing”). While Jan has to see and/or experience a western rattlesnake, I on the other hand saw two along my solitary road walk.
While one of the snakes turned out to be just a gopher snake, the other was in-fact a rattler, albeit a small one. The little bugger even tried to strike at me when I tried to take its picture.
Even with an evidentiary picture, Jan still refused to believe rattlesnakes “exist”. He likens them to Sasquatch, and the Lochness Monster, as he has yet to see one for himself.
With the exception of the spring and trough pictured above, all other water “opportunities” along our route were in less than desirable watering holes/ponds. This led to a heavy water carry and disciplined hydration for most of the day. And , while we do our best to NOT rely on caches, we were hoping that the historically maintained cache at mile 2376.4 (SOBO) was partially, if not fully stocked. Or, it was back to the pea soup green “pond”, a mile or so behind us. Thus, had Hue and Krystal Trajejo elected to forego updating the water cache they regularly maintain to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary, we would have been severely shit out of luck, and enormously thirsty!
Just as we arrived to the empty cache, and we’re pondering our options, Hue, Krystal and three of their kids arrived to save the day. Krystal told me that they have been maintaining this cache since 2015. It started out as mostly for the NOBO hikers. But, since the number of SOBOs has increased, they have expanded their restocking window.
We spent well over an hour talking with Hue and Krystal. They told us that it was a treat for them to get to talk with actual thru-hikers, especially SOBOs. More often than not, they arrive to refill the cache and no one is there. They are remarkable people and true Angels in every sense of the word. They have hosted hikers at their home, and even allowed them use of their vehicle to run errands. Most endearing though, is that they have welcomed into their home, and cared for over 65 “Foster kids”, adopting (I believe) 6 of them. What wonderful people. And to insert taking the time to refill the water cache on their wedding anniversary, was for us, an absolute blessing.
With full bladders and water bottles, we continued down the trail. We walked until the light started to dim and a great campsite with soft flat ground, and NO pokey plants, appeared before us. We would have been silly to have continued on.
Our sunset was amazing, as was the day. New Mexico, we still find you endearing.
10/4: 25.2 mi (2379.6 – 2403.8)
Today the terrain changed up once again.
Down from our campsite we descended and over and across “classic” desert landscape we traversed, until we came to a silty river that required crossing.
The river edges and its bottom were comprised of silty slick mud that immediately caked upon our shoes as we approached the water’s edge. Before crossing, we removed our shoes so as not to lose them in the muck, and to keep them as “clean” as we could. The water was icy cold and felt good on our heat swollen (and worn out) feet. It took us quite a while to clean the muddy residue from our feet before we continued on to a water source that was not so silty.
We lunched at a spring that had cool, clear water, and used the cattle corral gates for “shade”. After lunch, we had yet another climb out of desert terrain and back up into a high alpine forest.
As we climbed, we would peer back periodically and marvel at where we had come from and the breath of terrain we had covered.
The evening found us camped on a road spur with 23 miles to the next reliable water source.
10/5: 26 mi (2403.8 – 2428.5 + “bonus mile”)
Not gonna lie. I got a horrible night sleep. I was definitely over-tired from the previous day. My shins were complaining, and calves were cramping. Over-night the temperature dropped dramatically, and required us to zip our bags together to retain heat. Getting up and out of the tent during the wee hours of the night to pee found our fly somewhat crusted with ice crystals.
Still, we got up at our prearranged time of 0430 am and at 0530am were back on trail, walking in the dark…shivering. Because we had 23 miles till the next water, and because of how horribly worked I was, we needed to get an early start to avoid as much of the heat of the day as we could.
We made 10 miles by 9am, and 15 miles by noon. In between that time we met Cathie and Josh’s daughter, “Happy Dance”. Being quite younger and obviously faster hikers than us (me), they had no trouble catching up to us. We had a brief conversation and leap frogged each other for a good portion of the day.
When they say not to rely on water caches, they are absolutely right. We are however, supremely grateful when we do come across them. Today, not a water cache that had been “labeled” as “current” in Guthook (FarOut) was correct. Hence, why one should never count on them. Not a single cache was to be found. Never to fear, trail magic appeared. As the boys had “sprinted” ahead of me once more, I had the absolute fortune of being the recipient of trail magic. A hunter heading back to his campsite pulled up behind me in his truck. He asked if I was okay, and if I needed anything. Water? Snack? Yes to both, was my reply. Triumphant in my good fortune, I continued on making sure I did not miss my turn-off from the road and back onto single track, as the redline dictated. When I reached our prearranged lunch spot, the boys were nowhere to be found. WTF? Surely, they wouldn’t have continued on without me?! I searched for their footprints. None to be found. I could only assume that they missed the turn. I would have messaged them via the Garmin, but our InReach was still attached to the back of Paul’s pack. So, I settled down to wait. No use going any further, and if worse came to worse, I would head to the elk hunter’s camp that I had passed and ask for help, or at least more water and hopefully a hot meal.
With a plan solidly in my head, I heard a shout and then a whistle. They boys were walking briskly, if not running, in my direction. “Where were you? How long have you been here?”, they asked excitedly. ‘Um, remember, I was way behind you guys that’s why I was surprised when you weren’t here’, I responded. I explained how they had quickly disappeared from my sight, and how I decided that I would just go to our predetermined lunch spot at my own pace, and that they were just going to have to wait. They explained how they had become worried, when they got to the highway and then realized that they had missed a turn. They didn’t know whether to “divide and conquer” or backtrack fully to where they missed the turn. Luckily, they had run into the same hunter that supplied me with trail magic, and he told them where and when he had last seen me. They, however got a beer, while I only got water and a couple snacks. Go figure. Reunited, we ate our lunch and spread out our gear, yard sale fashion, to dry.
It was 4 pm by the time we made it to the spring. The one that had been 23 miles away this morning. But not before having to do a “surprise” climb, that for some reason, we had not noticed on our maps. With another bout of predicted and severe weather approaching, we watered up and opted out of climbing Mt. Taylor (11,307 ft).
We drank until we couldn’t drink anymore and then filled our bottles. All the while, dark and foreboding clouds formed overhead and the temperature rapidly began to dip. We found a convoluted route that would skip the climb and more importantly, keep us at a lower elevation and out of the coming freezing rain, if not the snow. If successful, we would walk into Grants by noon the next day.
We, in fact were pining for Grants, as we were supremely hungry. We all agreed that we had done a poor job of packing enough snacks and remarked how hard it was each night NOT to consume the entire contents of our respective food bags.
Our convoluted route dropped us onto another forest road, where we eventually found a place to camp, just as the rain started to fall.
10/6: 18.2 mi
Up and early once again. The ground was wetted out, and so were our tents for the most part. I had rained hard ALL night, and had been extremely cold. Even Jan complained about how bitter cold it had been. Collectively, we were thankful for our decision to get to lower elevation. There was no mistaking that it had most likely snowed above us, it was that cold. In the early morning dark, we set off.
Headlamps leading the way. The wrong way actually! In our haste to get going, we failed to orient ourselves properly in the dark and proceeded to “back track” nearly 2 miles. Shit! Three’s a charm, they say. Once properly oriented and actually much warmer, having the now 4 mile “warm up” completed, we were on our way to Grants.
It was a road walk, but not a brutal one. I think the fact we were headed to town and more importantly town food, that any achiness was shoved aside from our brains. Along the way we passed a campground, where we stopped and ate the remaining contents of our food bags and drank what was left of our coffee.
We also passed a prison with signs warning drivers to not pick up hitchhikers, so hitching the remaining mile into Cuba was not even a consideration. Along the route, finding an appropriate place to pee became a bit of a challenge for me and my “old lady” bladder. Because of the lingering issues of COVID, public and business restrooms are most closed, so before I wet my shorts, I had to find a discreet place to relieve myself. It was quite comical.
Into Grants, proper. We gorged on Mexican food, and bought a mountain of snacks and chocolate milk at the Smith’s Market as we waited for the town’s free shuttle to pick us up and take us to our rooms at the Super 8.
While I would have liked to have taken a zero, I was over-ruled by the boys. We’ll zero at Pie Town was the response.