Friday, November 8, 2013

Day 145 - MEXICO!

Reached the border today

Will write more later, but we finished! Sky and I finished our triple crowns! And Gangles has a double crown! Thanks to Pony and Sparkle Cat for the glittery, wonderful crowns.

Mileage: 11mi from near Tres Hermanas to Mexico

Day 144 - Chili peppers and coins

Along the road today, saw signs we were closing in on Mexico. Roasted chili peppers scattered every few yards. Coins on the shoulder, mostly pennies, nickels, with an occasional *peso* mixed in.

Increasingly agricultural. Stands of pecan trees. A field of cotton plants. Flat, straight road. And for the first time since we started, we are below 4,000'. Creeping back down to sea level.

Got a ride back to Deming with Martin, who works at an algae plant in the desert. Nice guy. We bought him a beer at the local brewery. He invited us to his BBQ on Saturday.

Only 11mi left to Mexico.

Mileage: 26mi from Deming to near Tres Hermanas

Day 143 - Deming

Back on the dirt road. Just a few more days left until we get to Mexico.

Stopped in at Blake's, a NM institution. Ordered the green chile cheese burger, the signature dish. It was too spicy for me. Plus, Sky, Gangles and I couldn't finish it. We are losing our thruhiker hunger.

Decided to take the afternoon off, and see Deming. Visited the St. Clair Winery, where we met the amazing sommelier Megan. She's a former art teacher, now full-time wine enabler, painter, mother. She specializes in oil paintings, still lifes with skulls. She gave us a tour through the red wines, and patiently and insightfully answered our questions. Neat woman. Fun afternoon.

Megan also warned us to be careful here; dangerous being this close to the border. Heard the same warning from a pair of border control guys we saw today. On high alert.

p.s., Thanks to Miriam and Sam for the awesome care package

Mileage: 16mi from dirt road to Deming

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Day 142 - Wigs and bees

I'm starting to realize that the Gila was the last backcountry experience I will have on this trip. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, as the weather gets colder, I'm ready to sleep inside. On the other hand, I do miss lolling around in open meadows, looking at mountains and mesas.

But the character of the trail has started to change. Due to zoning issues, the trail has ceased to follow the actual Continental Divide. As a result, the trails are mostly dirt roads patched together with short windy sections of trail. We're going to carve out our own route, and get to Mexico on an improvised route.

The terrain is yellow and dry, and the walking fast. The walking is tedious, since the terrain doesn't change much. Luckily, Gangles and Sky are nearby for company. Plus, we've decided to make this more fun. At Walmart, we acquired costumes and a portable speaker. Hearing music is a deeply emotional experience, after hearing very little (maybe a few songs a week) for five months. I could imagine that not hearing music would make you go crazy. I was brought nearly to tears hearing so much music from my sister's collection. Old school rock n' roll (Carl Perkins, Sam Cooke), jazz (Sarah Vaughn, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington), and some random hits from this century (Goldfrapp, last year's song of the summer). Plus, we downloaded some podcasts, most notably RadioLab, and listened to some thought provoking episodes on waste disposal, MIDI and the conundrum of blame and neurological abnormality in the the modern criminal justice system.

Music and external intellectual stimulation, two things I've missed on the trail. We're starting our re-entry into the civilized world.

Mileage: 29mi from San Lorenzo to dirt road

Day 141 - Columbus

Here's the plan. We hit the border by Friday.

Sparkle Cat has stepped up her already extensive trail angeling, and will be slack packing (i.e., transporting some of our gear by car while we walk) us to Columbus. There is no official Southern terminus for the CDT. The most popular points are Antelope Wells, Columbus and Crazy Cook.

Antelope Wells is the Southernmost, and seems to be chosen for bragging rights. Columbus is the easiest choice logistically with bus access, and is the route prescribed by Jim Wolf / CDTS. Crazy Cook has a monument, and is the Bear Creek / CDTA route. Based on my quick skim of Nobos this year, CC was the most common choice this year. However, due to the untimely passing of Sam Hughes, longtime CC trail angel, the logistics of getting to the border and caching water are unknown.

As a result, some Sobos have gone down the CC route, but Columbus will likely be the more common choice. Water is also an issue on the Columbus route, hence the serendipity of Sparkle Cat slackpacking us.

We are going to Columbus. Water, logistics, and the excellent company of Skarkle Cat made this the right choice for us.

We decided to embrace this choice in gonzo style, which means... costumes. Trip to Walmart tonight to cherry pick the best of the post-Halloween leavings.

Oh, and we saw a javalina running across the road today. I was worried; I don't want to get mauled by an ill-tempered pig, but it scuttled off into the woods in a hurry.

Mileage: ~22mi from Spirt Canyon Lodge to San Lorenzo

Monday, November 4, 2013

Day 140 - Hitting the road

While we were at Doc Campbell's, literally every local person we saw at the store told us *not* to take the trail out of there. The trail was severely damaged by the flood, leaving steep cut banks and sections of missing trail.

So, we're on the road, headed South.

Oh, and my foot seems to be healing a bit, but still tender. Less blood.

Mileage: 22mi from Doc Campbell's to Spirit Canyon Lodge

Day 139 - Gila Cliff Dwellings

Woke up to a bright, crisp morning on the ridge. It was relatively warm, probably somewhere in the 30s. I was cheered by thinking that yesterday *might* be our last time at 8,000'. I could see my breath only for the first hour or so but the day warmed up comfortably.

The hiking today was relatively smooth, walking through long mesa tops. Which is good, since I've somehow worn down the skin of my right foot. It is painful when I step. My feet have been so wet from the river crossings that they've been exfoliated down from the hard, horny callus to the soft pinkness of new skin. And the soft skin has been abraded by the small rocks, sand and wetness of this section. All this despite the fact that I wear gaiters.

The other major note was our crossing of the West Fork of the Gila River, where we walked our last few trail miles down the canyon to the Gila Cliff Dwellings. As we emerged from the trail, we saw... Skarkle Cat! We joined them for a tour of the Cliff Dwellings with volunteer ranger, who really brought the space to life.

In at the RV park for the night, cleaned and bandaged my foot.

Mileage: 12mi from near the Middle Fork of the Gila River to Doc Campbell's

Friday, November 1, 2013

Day 137 - Halloween and Snow Lake

This year for Halloween, Gangles was a cactus, and I was a pincushion. We didn't go trick or treating, but we ate a lot of candy anyway. The trail is beautifully yellow, "amber waves of grain" if you will. The dry yellow grass is prickly, a mix of burrs, foxtails and thorns. The walking is itchy and scratchy (dangling Simpsons' reference).

The miles were strange today, and maybe an accurate microcosm of NM on the whole. We followed J. Ley to a tee, and covered ~28mi, which broke down into: ~22mi road, ~3mi trail, ~5mi bushwhack. Nita (of Toaster House fame) mentioned that as of 8-9 years ago, the CDT in NM was ~80% road. The percentage has declined, but still feels as though we're spending a lot of time on road, though mostly dirt and with sporadic traffic, which makes the walking easy.

We had a taste of the canyon bushwhack today, walking through T Bar Canyon to get to Snow Lake. This started off with a precipitous descent from a set of jeep tracks to a shallow, cow-befouled stream of water. We started off on a cow trail, which petered out, and we were bushwhacking along the water until we found another trail. The going was slow and arduous, requiring us to cross the water ever few hundred yards. The canyon also bore the traces of the huge flood in September, and was choked with debris and fallen trees. I would estimate that we were maxing out at 1.3mph. If this is a taste of the Middle Fork of the Gila tomorrow, we will be there all day, and possibly some of the next day. The Gila was especially damaged by flash floods, and accounts from other Sobos from this year suggest long stretches of washed out or non-existent trail, and brambles of boulder and tree fall.

We are going to look at using Wolf's suggested high route.

Camped at Snow Lake tonight, in the relative luxury of privies, trash cans, and potable running water. Feel as though we are living large with the latest amenities of the 20th century.

Happy Halloween everyone!

p.s., In true Halloween spirit, saw 5 tarantulas. All seemed purposeful, and probably off to some spider party.

Mileage: 28mi from near FS 3037 to Snow Lake

Day 138 - Crossing the Gila River

As mentioned yesterday, I have heard from multiple Sobos that the damage to the Gila River area has been extensive due to hell (Summer fire) and high water (Fall flooding). We decided for the sake of our sanity, sanctity of our shoes, and the relatively rip-free condition of our clothes, we would take an alternate around the Gila as described by Jim Wolf.

After much consultation with the GPS, we found the alternate, which required a roadwalk East, then taking the Meadows trail South to cross the Middle Fork of the Gila River. The road was relatively easy walking, dry and clear. The Meadows trail is primarily a pack trail. It was well-marked and recently maintained, though a bit torn up by horses passing while the trail was still muddy. As a result, the trail is mostly hard baked cups of dirt, like walking on the stippled surface of an egg carton. It was easiest to walk with a little flop in my step, allowing my ankles, knees to adjust to the uneven surface.

The trail walks dead South from the road to descend ~1,000' into the bottom of the Middle Fork of the Gila River canyon. The descent was steep, rocky and slippery. I relied heavily on my poles to keep from skittering off the edge of the switchbacks. When I got to the bottom, I had my first view of the post-flood destruction. It was awesome, and I mean this as in 'awe-inspiring', and not as in TMNT slang. Huge trees were uprooted and splayed across the broad washes of dry silt. The riverbed had extended to nearly the entire canyon floor, wiping out previously grassy sections, like The Meadows.

Since the sun was sinking low, we hurried to find the trail back up the other side of the canyon, for our ~900' ascent. The actual trail had been washed out, but we found a steep set of switchbacks, angled at > 70 degrees. Like climbing a ladder without handrails. It was slippery business in the eroding hillside, literally climbing up a step up, then sliding down a half step in the sand. Think naturally occurring Stairmaster. We finally climbed high enough to find the intact section of trail to the canyon rim. The switchbacks were nicely graded, and we made it up to the top just as the sun was setting.

All in all, a satisfying, albeit long day. Looking forward to a half day (~11.5mi) in to Doc Campbell's tomorrow morning.

Mileage: ~22mi from Snow Lake to crossing of the Middle Fork of the Gila River

Day 131-3 - Hiatus #2-4 Grand Canyon!

Wonderful visit to the Grand Canyon. Still guided by Nita's schematic, we spent three days at the GC: 1 day of oohing and aahing, 1 day hiking down, and 1 day hiking back up to the rim. We lucked out and were able to get a walk up permit, which extended our trip. But, honestly, when are we going to get the chance to camp at the bottom of the Grand Canyon?

We took the 7mi South Kaibab trail down to Bright Angel campground. We spent the afternoon taking a dip in the Colorado River, playing Bananagrams and sipping lemonade. The next morning, we climbed 9mi up the Bright Angel trail back to the rim, and drove back to Pie Town. In the spirit of the holidays, we had to pick up a couple of pumpkins to carve.

Wonderful hiatus from the trail. Ok, all business now, we have to get to Mexico. But thanks to Skarkle Cat for the adventure!

Mileage: 0
Pumpkins carved: 2

Day 135 - Goodbye, Pie Town

After much hemming hawing and general procrastination, we got back on the trail today around noon. The hiatus to the Grand Canyon was incredibly fun. While it should have been energizing, it actually extinguished my ardor for getting to Mexico. I was reminded of how fun it is to sleep indoors, drink out of faucets, and have heat at night. Plus, seeing the Petrified Forest, Painted Desert and Grand Canyon reminded me that I can *drive* to amazing places, and not have to painstakingly hike everywhere. And, I heard so much music, from radios, CDs, tapes. It was wonderful.

But, I must focus. We are less than 300mi from the end, and I can keep it together long enough to get there. We did buy plane tickets for November 12, so we have to finish by November 11th at the very latest. I think we'll probably finish on the 9th or 10th, but we'll see how it goes.

Today, we picked up where we left off, after passing the brown house on Ed Jones Road. The road walk was long, but broken up by an ascent of Mangas Mtn. Afterwards, the spring which is indicated as 'good' on the map is completely dry. Some hunters who have been seeing CDTers go by were kind enough to supply water and do a some "two old guys out hunting in the woods" comedy.

We night hiked with Sky for a while, great conversation about Islesboro, the US health care system, AT memories. The miles flew by.

Camped in some trees, hiding from the strong gusts today. Going to find water in the am.


Mileage: ~24mi from brown house on Ed Jones Rd to near Hwy 12

Day 136 - Bear, snow, cactus

I stopped to take off my jacket around 10:30am, since it was warming up. Gangles went on ahead, and I was going to catch her in a few minutes. I passed a fresh cone of bear scat, mostly pinon nuts, but didn't think much of it. Two minutes later, I heard Gangles yelling, "STEIN!" Apparently, she had just seen a black bear. They surprised each other, coming around a corner. The bear took a quick look at her, and then took off, South on the trail. We waited a few minutes for the bear to clear out.

Later in the afternoon, we had patches of snow, groppel and hail. I thought we were past the bad weather, but I suppose we procrastinated too long at the Grand Canyon. Strange to see snow on the cacti and other desert plants here. It's quite cold now, supposed to hit 19 degrees in Pie Town, so maybe single digits tonight as we're on the divide. Camped early, since it was so cold. Hope to catch Sky tomorrow at Snow Lake.

Really cold, ready to be done

Mileage: 24mi from near Hwy 12 to near FS 3037