Monday, October 7, 2013

Day 113 - Trains, trucks and on our way

This morning, we were able to get the last 2 CDT hiker special tickets on the Cumbres-Toltec train! It was fun to travel in a non-hiking, non-car way up to Cumbres Pass. We opened the windows, and by the end, were covered in fine, black soot particles from the smoke stack.

The walk down was lovely in the nice dry weather. We saw a white truck parked on the side of the road, and an old cowboy was inside, tapping away on a laptop. Swirling outside the car was three hyper-intelligent looking cattle dogs (blue and red herders, aka Australian cattle dogs). Of course, we had to stop to talk to this guy. Turns out, Mike Williams was a Lousiana boy, born and bred, who has been cowboyin' for 30+ years. In the summers, he lives in the San Juans, and looks after the 3,000 head of cattle up there. I had a chance to ask all my random questions about summering cattle in the mountains. Like, do you get all the cows back? (Very rare to lose an adult, he's got riders looking for the last 20 out of 3,000). What about the calves? (Usually safe, but occasionally bears, and brisket, a heart condition caused by high-altitude). And what about hunters, any trouble? (Occasionally, he'll find a calf shot out of pure cruelty, and some will poach a few cows, but mostly alright). He was telling us crazy, hair-raising stories about how the last 3 Grizzlies in CO were shot in the section of CDT we just hiked near Cumbres Pass. He's also familiar with CDT hikers, having taken a few hypothermic ones out of the woods. Sadly, a few years back, he actually mule-packed out a CDT hiker who died of hypothermia near Dipping Lakes, which is ~17mi north on the CDT from Cumbres Pass. We knew the spot, since we stopped for a break there on the way in. The weather is a real threat around here, and he warned us we needed real winter gear this time of year. This made me glad we're roadwalking, taking the low route until we can pick up more cold weather gear in Ghost Ranch before we climb back up into the unforgiving high altitude. We left him to his paperwork on the side of the road, and kept on.

When we got down to Chama, we now had to hitch back to that spot where we left off yesterday. Craig picked us up. He and his wife hiked half the PCT in 1979, back when it was external frame packs and jean shorts. They were also eating sprouts which they grew with a cheesecloth in a portable planter. Backpacking was a whole different ball of wax. He and his wife had retired, moving from Albuquerque to Chama recently. He had spent his career as a waste water engineer, and travelled all over. Since my dad is a chemical engineer, I have a real soft spot for engineers. Plus, Craig is from Ohio, and went to school in Cincinnati. Of course, we had to talk about Skyline Chili. I could really go for a plate now. Anyhow, a real treat to meet another thruhiker. We commiserated over the awfulness of roadwalking, and he gave us a lift to yesterday's ending spot, to pick up our continuous footpath.

We walked a few more miles today. As the sun got low, we weren't sure what to do. We're still a few miles short of the national forest, so we have to camp on the side of Hwy 84. Both sides are fenced with private property, no trespassing signs. We found a stand of trees on the hillside, and are hiding back here, in our green tent, virtually invisible to the passing cars. Plus we have the treat of cell signal.

Feeling good about our decision to get to Ghost Ranch tomorrow, roadwalk be damned. I'm excited to hear my sister's news on 10/9. Let the countdown continue.

And, oh yeah, we're officially in NM. I'm trying to act casual, but really am very excited! Last state! Finish line, here we come!

Mileage: ~18mi = ~13mi from Cumbres Pass to Chama + ~6mi on Hwy 84

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