10/7: 10.6 mi (2452.8 – 2463.4, ride to Mile 19 of Cebello Alt)
Grants is not really a hitchable town. Residents and people traveling don’t seem too keen on picking up CDT hikers, even if we are all cleaned up. Maybe it’s because it has three prisons within its city borders. The redline route out of Grants follows the “old” Route 66, and is a fairly busy roadway out of town… all the way to where it intersects with Highway 117. Being the creative route finders, we (Jan mostly) found, or rather created a route using Google maps that went along the east side of Highway 40. We walked along the road that led behind the town’s Walmart Super Center and found an underpass that took us under the busy highway as opposed to playing “frogger”. From there, we squirmed under two barbed-wire fences and then over another barbed-wire fence to an old road that was listed on Google maps.(Nothing was posted to indicate this was private or non-tresspassable land.
This allowed us to parallel Hwy 40 via a faint dirt road all the way to Hwy 117. This made for easy walking. Best part, we didn’t have to worry about traffic. The tread was fairly easy. The route was mildly scenic and it wasn’t particularly hot.
When we reached highway 117 we actually went left rather than the prescribed right turn. This was because we heeded the clarion call of a foot long Subway sandwich, and ice cream at the gas station a half mile away. We also thought we might be able to catch a hitch to the BLM Ranger Station a few miles down the 117, where there was running water, and continue from there.
We got the sandwich (and ice cream) but a ride from there was not in the cards. The dangerous road walk could not be avoided. What made this particular road walk dangerous, was the lack of a defined shoulder to safely and comfortably walk, even against traffic. It was a particularly busy time of the day (noon-ish), and it was hot. This made stepping off the road into dirt and pokey plants that hide rattlesnakes a grim reality. Headphones and day dreaming was not going to be an option to tamper this arduous section of the CDT.
At about six miles into our road walk to the BLM Ranger station for water, we actually got a hitch from a guy named Phil. He picked us up and let us ride in the back of his pickup truck, all the way to the BLM Ranger station. He told us that he regularly gives CDT hikers rides, as he thinks this road is way too dangerous. He offered to take us all the way to the Pie Town turn-off. We graciously declined, but countered that we’d gladly accept a ride to the Narrows picnic area. “No problem”, was his reply.
He waited patiently for us while we quickly filled up our smart water bottles with very chlorinated water, that was better than no water at all. The BLM Ranger station had been our intended destination for the day, but getting further down Hwy 117 without having to worry about traffic, was even better.
We clamored back into the bed of Phil’s truck, giggling with delight at our great fortune. One would not think so, but sitting in the bed of the truck allowed us to gaze, at length, at the passing scenery.
We took in the countryside in its entirety and marveled at the massive multi-colored stone walls that reached skyward. This was really cool. I couldn’t help but feel like a “ranch dog” looking from side to side in awe and excitement.
We passed the Ventana Arch and were soon at the Narrows Day Use area. Phil, once again offered to take us further, but we declined. We had already tempted fate enough with this ride. The CDT has a way of making those miles up to you in some way or another.
What made this place especially inviting was the covered picnic tables (aka hiker-trash “couches”) and the pristine pit toilets. Better yet, Guthook (FarOut) had this particular place listed as a campsite. It was a more than perfect place to spend the eveing. While there, we checked out the Narrows trail that traversed atop a stone cliff and mesa to the Ventana Arch a couple miles away. We explored it for two reasons: One, because we had time, and two, just in case we had to find another place to camp. In truth, the trail wasn’t anything different than we’ve been walking on for the past couple days.
Because we had eaten a giant breakfast at Denny’s before we left for the morning, and had then scarfed down foot long sandwiches from Subway, we weren’t really that hungry. We knew however, that we had to reduce at least some of the pack weight out of our food bags. Before bedding down for the night, we did our best to choke down some food. With no moon, it proved to be an inky dark night. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, type of dark. The plus side, was that the stars above us shown so brightly that the milky way was a twinkling white swath above us. At some point in the middle of the night, I rolled over and stretched. When I did that, something went “zing” in my neck and shoulder. The pain was excruciating. Shit. It was more than obvious to me that the CDT was paying us “back” for our extended ride. Damnit, we know better yet we still keep trying our luck. Hopefully it will be better by morning. We’ll see what 800mg of Advil and a muscle relaxant does for it. I fell back to sleep tentatively and afraid to move.
10/8: 27 mi (mile 19 of Cebella Alt to TLC Ranch/Pie Town Alt)
I awoke to feeling no better. The CDT was exacting its “pound of flesh” for daring to avoid its road walk. I could scarcely move my head without searing pain. Donning a pack didn’t help, but it also didn’t make it any worse. So, walk on we would. I swallowed another round of 800 mg of Advil, hoping it would allow me not to be in such searing pain from time to time. As we left fairly early in the morning, we had the remainder of the Hwy 117 road walk to ourselves.
The crisp morning air made for a brisk road walk, but not brisk in the terms of pace. We brazenly walked down the middle of paved road in defiance of common sense and traffic laws everywhere.
It was a fairly simple and serene road walk. Beautiful country that extended to the horizon surrounded us. Our goal for the day was to get to TLC Ranch, a mere 27 miles away. Jan had read that the TLC Ranch was known to serve dinner to hikers around 6pm. I was not confident I could make those miles in that timeframe, nor were there notes on Guthook that indicated they had recently served any SOBOS. But, food IS a great motivator…at least it is especially for Jan. Even so, this was going to be a tough one, especially if the pain in my neck did not diminish.
As the boys walk quite faster than I, and unless the muscles around my neck and shoulders loosen up, this is going to be a long day…on so many levels.
Morning light morphed into full sunshine and a dusty dry walk once we turned off Hwy 117 and onto Pie Town Road.
This monochromatic scenery was not without magic however. I mean ACTUAL magic in the form of TRAIL MAGIC!
Here’s how it went:
We met a former CDT hiker (“Snowball”) who had hiked the CDT some 30 years ago, when it was even more brutal. We felt it was a privilege to talk with him. He and his son supplied us with cold bottles of water. Then, while parked on the side of the road, two guys in a truck stopped to talk to us about the CDT. They gave us oranges. Still further down the road, a car passed us and then pulled over. A couple who had been hiking the PCT and had been “kicked off” due to the fires, were on a “trail angel mission”, and offered us beer and snacks! But wait, there’s more. At the cemetery, trail angels had left bottles of water. AND, just before we got to the TLC Ranch, another couple traveling in a truck gave us a plate of “special” homemade trail-mix fudge. I secretly hoped that the fudge contained some THC. Sadly no THC. They were “special” because it had been made with us hikers in mind.
Miraculously, we (I) made it to the TLC Ranch just before 6pm. Sadly, no dinner was to be found at the TLC Ranch, only water and a table to eat our packed meals. I got a well-earned fist-bump and congratulations for my most miles hoofed whilst on the CDT from Jan. (Who, btw, can regularly knock out that kind of mileage with “ease”.) Truth be told, we would have had to walk that far anyways, as there was no place to camp alongside the road without climbing over fences and trespassing on private land. This is what makes the TLC Ranch a hiker’s oasis. It is a hiker-friendly ranch that provides water, electricity and places to camp. It also has a quite unique composting toilet for use.
When we got to the TLC Ranch there was a roof covered and partially enclosed patio area where we were able to dine like “respectable” humans and sit at a table with actual chairs.
Needless to say, falling asleep was not that difficult.
10/9: 15 mi (TLC Ranch – Pie Town)
I got to say we’re constantly surprised with the terrain here in New Mexico, with this portion of New Mexico being no exception. Again, I think we expected it to be flat and super “deserty”. It was for a bit, but then evolved into rolling hills, covered in pinion pines and obviously filled with noisy elk. Nearly every ranch sign or homestead we passed had an elk incorporated into their signs, and, we could hear them bugling throughout the night, and well into the morning as we were packing up.
The walk to Pie Town was tedious in the terms of the wind. It was full on, in our face. All we could do was lean into it, and keep going. Pie was in our future, and so was my dad who was going to meet us there and feed us salmon. As the person who we had paid to deliver our resupply package from Grants to Pie Town had not passed us on the road, we were not confident it would arrive before we did. (We had failed to compile a package and send it from Cuba, hence we shopped in Grants. Two sets of Trail Angels offered to do a relay…for less than the cost of overnight mailing through the post office. Only problem was that they got their exchange site confused, hence the delay in the delivery.)
And then, eventually there was a mile countdown. Three miles to Pie Town. Two miles to Pie Town…which was uphill. Then, one mile. Had there not been signs counting down the mileage, and signs telling you you were in Pie Town, I dare say we would have walked on by.
Pie Town, for all its hype was definitely not what we expected, but then most of the things we’ve come across and/or walked through never amounted to what we expected. Sometimes it’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s an interesting thing. Pie Town is probably closer to the interesting. We didn’t expect the terrain. We didn’t expect the town to be so small. We did expect there to be delicious pie!
Within the town is a place called the Toaster House. It is a hostel of sorts, and is interesting, if not special, in its own right.
It’s owner, Nita has essentially, donated her home to the CDT thru-hiker and thru-biker community. While she no longer lives in the house, she lives nearby and frequently visits the house and the hiker trash it serves. I will say that it is perfectly placed along the CDT, especially for SOBOs. For us, it gives us a reprieve from the coming weather.
For the NOBOs, it’s probably one of the first opportunities to change out shoes, get a good resupply, and of course… pie. I’d have to say that the decor of the toaster house hasn’t changed since Nita basically left it for CDT hikers to use on their travels.
It is eclectic and it’s interior and kind of makes you smile when you walk through it. It’s a nice reprieve from the trail. Not to mention, it’s kind of like walking back in time. You could spend hours looking at all the CD collections, as well as the photos, letters and postcards that people have sent and/or posted on the walls.
On the exterior and perimeter of the house, toasters that hang from every fence post, wire and trellis, hence its name. During our stay, we were treated to a jam session of music from the locals and Jefferson who was one of the caretakers that lives at the Toaster House. We were entertained for about two and a half hours out on its cluttered deck listening to every form of “Oldies, but Goodies” (at least for my era), and some bluegrass. It was pleasant to just relax on the deck and listen to live music.
Eventually, we met up with my dad. He would have been there sooner, but the town was so small that he drove through it without thinking. Because we could, we ate pie first and then after a shower, joined him for a home cooked meal in his camper at the RV “park” next door to the Toaster House. We shared trail stories and assorted other adventures, and ate till we were pleasantly and uncomfortably full. A good evening was had by all. With hiker midnight approaching, it was time for a good sleep. We would return in the morning for coffee and a hot breakfast.