Archive for May, 2016

Tuesday, May 31 Um…where are we?

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

may-31-2SUMMARY: Well, we spent about 8 hours today either very lost or else not knowing where we were.  Everything was beautiful and we were enjoying the spring greenery, till we ended up losing the trail, and after that–argh!–we were dealing with trying to find a route through snowy forest and marshy meadows.  Finally we found a road that occasionally had CDT “stickers” on posts, and just started following it, not knowing where we were till 6:30 pm.  We are sore from the obstacle course we’ve been doing, but grateful that at last we do sort of know where we are.  Did lots of praying today!

DETAILS:  I’d heard that “for the first couple of days north of Ghost Ranch, it can sometimes be hard to follow the trail.”  Yeah, no kidding!  Yesterday was a bit tricky, but today we spent most of the day pretty much lost and wondering where the trail went, complicated by snow and snowmelt marshes.

At first we were having a great time, enjoying the bright spring greenery, but just before 10:00 am,  we came to a junction where my Bear map said “Turn right here” but the Ley map said, “Or, you can go on a bit farther before you turn right, and it’s an easier way to go.”  We hemmed & hawed a bit over what to do and decided to consult Guthook, which said to go the Ley way, so that’s what  we did. (Not a good idea, in retrospect!)

We found the Ley right turn, and it was “Oh look, nice trail!  This is great!” until suddenly the trail completely disappeared, with no sign at all of where to go.  So we beat about a bit in the woods (Fixit went one way, I went the other, but we stayed within shouting distance) and finally we located a sort of trail.  From what we could decipher on the Ley map, we were now on a proposed route for the CDT, that wasn’t built yet.  OK, we figured on just doing the best we could, but it was frustrating!  And to add to the fun, the weather was being totally bipolar.  If you looked in one direction, it was bright blue sky with white puffy clouds.  If you looked the other way, it was menacing black clouds, rumbling with thunder.

Well, we persevered on the “future route of the CDT” as best we could, despite the fact that it turned into an obstacle course of fallen trees, including a whole hillside where ALL the trees had been CUT down and were lying all over the “trail.”  We climbed and scrambled through the mess, and suddenly, to our amazement, we arrived at a paved road by a lake, with a picnic area and a post with a CDT sticker on it!!!  All the trees in the picnic area had been cut down, and were lying around.  It was very weird.  None of our maps showed a lake or road or any of what we were looking at, so we had no idea where we were.  But hey, a CDT post and sticker–that must be the way??  So we followed the “CDT” and it led us a merry chase over hill and dale, through a snowy forest, and finally into a long meadow.  A faint trace of trail was still available, so we followed it (dealing with mud & swamp & mess along the way) until all indication of “trail” of any kind completely disappeared.

Time to check Guthook again…it pointed us into the forest, and we did find a sort of trail, but the only footprints on it were cows.  We had not seen any other human footprints all day.  At this point, we were pretty much in despair, and only hoping to find something that could at least get us to some sort of civilization.  We were doing a lot of praying!  But finally we got to the edge of the snowy forest and found a meadow with hooray!  A road!  We had no idea where we were or where the road went, but we prayed and gave it our best guess and started to follow the road.  A little way along, yahoo!  A CDT sticker!!  We kept going, and yay!  Another sticker!  We looked at our maps but still could not figure out at all where we were.  Then in the distance we heard a welcome sound–the roar of 4-wheelers!  Pretty soon there they were–six of them.  We flagged them down and got out our maps and asked them if they could tell us where we were.  No luck.  Turned out they never use maps–they know all the roads–and could not give us any advice at all.

Oh well….we kept going and finally, at 6:30 pm, we reached a place that was unique enough for me to find it on the map!  At last we knew (or hoped we knew!) where we were.  A half hour later we found a nice campsite and collapsed.  Man are we tired and scratched up and sore!  But the sunset was unbelievably beautiful, and 3 military jets flew over really low (very exciting!).  We hope and pray that tomorrow will be better!

Monday, May 30 Views!

Monday, May 30th, 2016

SUMMARY:  A lot of our CDT hike so far has been miles and miles of endless forest with no views.  Not today!  First we climbed out of Ghost Ranch, through dramatic “badlands”, where the trail became a rock scramble.   Later on, we climbed to over 9,000 feet elevation and it was epic, sweeping views that stretched for miles and included green grass, aspen trees and wildflowers.  Following the “trail” there was not easy–it was just a faint track through the grass.  We could also see the snowy mountains of Colorado ahead of us–oh boy!  We are camped tonight in a meadow on the mountainside at about 9,500′ elevation.

may-30-5DETAILS:  We had our packs sitting by the door, ready to roll before breakfast–our last chance to eat lots of good food and talk to people.  We had fun talking to Yeti and her husband (don’t remember his trail name, unfortunately).  All the hikers are talking about one topic:  SNOW.  Many are planning to simply go home for a couple of weeks once they reach Chama.  Others say they will flip up to Wyoming and come back to Colorado later.  Yeti offered to help us do the “flip” if we want to, but we told her, “No, we’ll just keep walking north and do the best we can.”

So we took our trek poles in hand, and headed out, following the “Box Canyon Trail” from Ghost Ranch. We passed the Art Center with its very dramatic cliff backdrop (wow) and then headed into “The Badlands”–a rugged world of colorful rocky canyons, cliffs and rock formations.  At first the trail wound its way up a pretty canyon, repeatedly crossing a cute creek, but then it began a very serious climb where in several places it was a rock scramble so steep that I had to set down my trek poles and use my hands to help pull me up.   The views of Ghost Ranch down below were quite spectacular.

Finally we reached the top of the mesa, and it was back to “regular” trail through the sagebrush, with anklebiter cacti everywhere. We saw more and more cows and even (ack!) a couple of bulls, which gave us a very unfriendly eye.  We walked past them trying to look very humble and unthreatening.

Once again, we were also having problems figuring out where the trail went, and having to stop and look at maps, landmarks, etc. to try and figure it out. Then we met a guy who had flipped up to Chama from Ghost Ranch, and was now hiking back, waiting for the snow to melt.  He said he decided to put this “leisure” time to good use by doing some trail caretaking–picking up trash, building rock cairns, etc.  Good for him!  A short time after we met him, one of my trek poles suddenly collapsed, and Fixit had to repair it with a couple of bobby pins I had brought along.  My poor trek poles are seriously looking bad.  I probably should have gotten new ones before we started the CDT.

Finally we were out of the sagebrush and back into green forest (VERY green–the aspens have leafed out!) with lots of wildflowers, especially dandelions.  But this was a very open forest, with lots of EPIC views, including the snowy mountains to the north.  Some of them have a lot of snow, others less, but we eyed them with some concern….that’s where we will be in a few days.  Oh boy.  The trail crossed miles of grassland (where it was just a faint track in the grass and hard to follow) among rolling hills.  Everything is turning green and looking beautiful.  We are camped tonight in an open meadow at about 9,500 feet.h them

Sunday, May 29 Sabbath Rest – Ahhh!

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

SUMMARY:  A beautiful, cool morning with a breeze rustling in the cottonwood trees felt so good!  There was a church service with Psalm 46 included, which was very encouraging–“The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore we will not fear…”  This has been such a tough trail, and many times I have been at the end of my own strength.  But God truly is “very present”.  I spent time doing “chores” but very relaxed, with lots of eating the great food.  Fixit mostly just lay down and “turned into jello.”  We so needed this!  Sabbath rest is wonderful.  Tomorrow back to the trail!

may-29-8DETAILS:  This morning we stepped out into a cool, fresh morning and stood there taking in the sweeping views across the Abique valley.  The breeze was rustling in the cottonwood trees and birds were singing their morning songs.  No hiking today–time for a Sabbath rest.

After a great breakfast, we headed over to the chapel for church.  Turns out that the husband of Ghost Ranch’s administrator is a retired Presbyterian minister, and today he was preaching.  There was a small but colorful congregation of about 10 people attending.

Behind the communion table up front, there was a large clear window, with a panoramic view of the valley–what a view of God’s awesome creation!  It’s Memorial Day weekend, so the service focused on Psalm 46  “The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore we will not fear.”  I sat there thinking about how awesome it is that God is BOTH refuge (where we can go for comfort and safety) AND He is also our strength (so we can go out again and face whatever is happening and take it on).  I remember when I was basically an arrogant atheist/agnostic, and my reaction to people who were Christians was to pity them–“Poor little wussy babies!  They need to believe in God for a crutch because they’re too weak to stand on their own.”  That was before I discovered the powerful, awesome, loving beyond anything I ever could have imagined Person that God is.  Sure, I could stand on my own two feet and be strong, for myself, but to do that, I had to harden myself inside and concern myself more with “me” than with “others.”  Not good.  All that has changed since I stopped blowing God off and pushing Him away.  I “laid down my weapons” and surrendered to Him. Now I get to hike with Him, have adventures with Him, and make a difference in this very messed up world with Him.

Anyway, this HAS been a tough trail, this CDT.  I’m tired and uneasy from so often having to stop and say, “Where’d the trail go?”  Being able to sit and rest in church and listen to the Bible and just soak it in, was wonderful.   I’m 68 years old, and  many times in the last few weeks, I have been at the end of my own strength. But God truly has been “very present”, over and over again.  The minister also read some excerpts from the book “Grace Under Fire”, which is a collection of letters written by U.S. soldiers all the way from the Revolutionary War to Iraq/Afghanistan, about how they personally experienced God’s presence, strengthening them, when they were under fire or a prisoner.  I thought about the Wounded Warriors, who are hiking the CDT this year.  They are ahead of us by a couple of weeks.  Hope they all make it to Canada!

After church, I did our “town chores”–sorting food came first.  Once I knew what we still needed to get, I raided the awesome, well-organized hiker boxes at the Ranch, and found everything I needed to finish loading up our food bags for the “run to the border” (the Colorado border!).  Then I took the laundry, and while it was going through its wash cycles, I sat outside in the sun under an old apple tree, took my shoes off and gave my feet a good sunning.  They needed it!   For the “dry” cycles, I went to the library (just across the lawn) and indulged in a soft comfortable couch to sit on and read a book.  Like everything else here at Ghost Ranch, the library is very clean, well-organized and comfortable.  There’s no librarian–they operate on the honor system.

At lunch, while we were enjoying more great food, in walked HoB!  He was exhausted, fresh off the trail, and so hungry.  He plans to zero here tomorrow.  Other hikers also started coming in off the trail.  Everybody has tales to tell of their adventures up in the Pedro Peaks, with the snow, the icy swamp meadows, and the disappearing trail.

I spent a chunk of the afternoon lying down and studying maps for the upcoming section of the trail, trying to get an idea of what to expect.  We have both Ley maps and Bear maps, and I looked carefully at both.  After that, I just rested.  Fixit and I both feel like we are just turning into jello.  Wow, we are tired!  After dinner, Fixit went to the library so he could get wifi and do some internet stuff, while I wandered off to look at the plants and gardens and old buildings.

Tonight we’ll get a good rest, and tomorrow, we’ll be headed back UP to 10,000 feet again, in the northern New Mexico mountains!  Ghost Ranch has been wonderful.

Saturday, May 28 Creek and River Walk GHOST RANCH

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

may-28-15SUMMARY:  The day began with a long switchbacking downhill through spring-green forest to Ojitos Creek.  At that point, for some way, it was a creek walk with multiple crossings, just like the Gila River, but very cute and no wet feet!  Then out through a spectacular mesa-rimmed valley to a long walk by the rushing, roaring Chama River.  Groups of kayakers were riding it, though!  We finally reached Ghost Ranch and immediately felt the peace of this place.  Lots of hikers are here, and we are all being made very welcome.

DETAILS:  The CDT decided to play hide ‘n seek first thing this morning.  Only 20 minutes after we started hiking, down a dirt road, we lost the trail and could not figure out where it went.  We knew it turned off the road, but had seen no sign of the turnoff.  We fired up Guthook,  and it led us to what was obviously a totally abandoned trail that no one had been using.  Frustration!  I had an idea of a place back towards where we started that might, maybe be trail, so I ran back to take a closer look.  Fixit sat down and kept wrassling with Guthook, trying to figure something out.  By the time I got back, he had finally found the trail turnoff, not far from where we’d stopped and gotten frustrated.  We are finding that when the trail disappears, Fixit and I continue to have a totally different approach to the situation.  Fixit sits down and studies.  I like to run around and look.

But hooray, we were back on the CDT after the delay, and the trail took us down, down many switchbacks to Ojitos Creek. There were lots of oak trees just starting to leaf out, and we were walking on a soft carpet of last year’s brown leaves that covered the ground and the trail.  Ojitos Creek canyon turned out to be sort of a mini-Gila River canyon, with multiple crossings, but everything so small and shallow that we never had to get our feet wet  The only problem crossing we encountered was a place where the creek was in a narrow but somewhat deep chute, too wide to jump across, but a hassle to climb down into and up out of.   But the whole canyon was so pretty that we really enjoyed ourselves!  It sort of felt like back home in California, with a springtime oak forest.

Finally the creek left the canyon and we found ourselves in a much wider, sagebrushy valley surrounded by spectacular views of brilliantly colored sandstone mountains.  I kept just having to stop for a second and take it all in, it was so spectacular.  But then I’d hurry on, because now we were headed for the Chama River!  Hopefully we would easily make it to Ghost Ranch by tonight!

When we reached the River, wow!  It was a roaring, raging, muddy brown torrent, just tearing along.  Good thing there was a bridge–it would have been totally unfordable.  On the other side of the river, we began a 12 mile roadwalk  to Ghost Ranch.  What immediately amazed us what the amount of traffic on the road, in both directions.  The problem was the road at this point was a narrow dirt road– so narrow that it was very hard for cars to pass each other, and they had to sort of take turns.  On multiple occasions, we had to stop and stand well off the road, patiently waiting while a bunch of cars squiggled by each other.  Looking at the people in the cars, our best guess was that most of them were tourists.  The spectacular scenery might be a tourist draw, but we soon discovered there was more to it:  kayaking!

Groups of very colorful kayaks were bobbing down the rushing Chama.  As the road went up and down near the river, at times we got a pretty good view of them, and for lunch, we stopped and ate overlooking a kayak pull-out called “Big Eddy.”  The parking lot was full of cars & trailers and kayakers were everywhere.  We had a lot of fun watching them.  After that, the road moved away from the river and we couldn’t do any more kayak-watching, but a few miles later, along came a guy with a kayak on his car roof.  He stopped alongside us and said, “I just came from Big Eddy, and I’m done for the day–wish I had a beer to give you guys, but here, take these!” and gave us two granola bars!  We scarfed them up as we walked along, headed for Hwy. 84.  Trail magic!

The plan was that we’d take Hwy 84, then turn off onto a nature trail that made a nice shortcut to Ghost Ranch.  But when we got to the visitor center where the trail was supposed to start, we discovered to our dismay that the center had obviously been closed for a long time.  Big weeds were growing everywhere; the parking lot was chained shut, and there were very emphatic “No Trespassing” signs.  Bummer.  Now we would have to take the longer route of walking all the way along the highway till reached the side road to Ghost Ranch–two legs of the triangle instead of just one.  And we were so tired.  Sigh.  (We found out later that other hikers had ignored the No Trespassing signs, found the nature trail and reached Ghost Ranch that way, anyhow).

But we kept putting one foot in front of the other, and finally made it to the Ranch.  So beautiful!  And so hiker-friendly!  There were several large hiker boxes full of stuff, and there are lots of different options for CDT hikers who want to stay there.  We opted to rent a room and eat at the cafeteria, but started out with an ice cream from the store!  Then a shower, a short rest, and DINNER!   It’s all you can eat and the food was wonderful, and we were with the other hikers, including The Beast, but we found to our amazement that we couldn’t eat anywhere near as much as we thought we could.  Have our stomachs shrunk?  We’ve been so hungry so much of the time that we thought we could eat lots!  But we didn’t waste any food, fortunately, because we’d started with ordinary amounts, thinking we’d go back for more. The hikers said they heard that Newt Gingrich was staying at the Ranch tonight, but we saw no sign of him.  There did seem to be some groups on retreats (this is a Presbyterian retreat center).

After dinner, we did a little bit of wandering to find out where things were, and decided we were so tired that we might as well stay all day tomorrow.  That way we could go to church, and then do “town chores” without feeling rushed.  Back to our room we went, and bed felt so good!  Plus this whole place is so beautiful and so peaceful and welcoming.  It is good to be here.

Friday, May 27 Moosh, Goosh, Crunch Up & Down

Friday, May 27th, 2016

may-27-7SUMMARY:  It snowed last night–just a dusting, but it was really pretty along the trail this morning–even the old snowdrifts looked pristine and white.  But every meadow we crossed had turned into a swamp of freezing cold snowmelt water.  Moosh, goosh.  Not fun.  Then in the forest, it was crunch, crunch, whooompf as we walked on snow and sometimes postholed.  A very long (most of the day) downhill through changing forest suddenly ended with a killer climb up a colorful sandstone mountain.  Huff & puff!  But we made the top, ate some food and now we are cowboy camped despite some clouds that look a bit iffy.  We are tired.  But what a varied day!

DETAILS:  It sprinkled and splattered rain on us for a little while last night, and then the rain turned to snow. Fixit is an old guy, which means he has to get up a lot at night, and he said when the snow hit the ground, it mostly just melted, but the snow on our tent didn’t, so every time he got up, he also knocked the snow off the tent.

It was 30 degrees this morning when we were packing up, and there was a very pretty dusting of snow along the trail—even the old snowdrifts looked pristine and white. But a bitter cold wind was blowing, and the trail was mostly either downhill or level, so it was a bit hard to stay warm.  The trail tread itself grew muddier and muddier.  In some places, we had to make fairly extensive detours to avoid the mud.

Finally we came to a wide green meadow.  “Look, how pretty!” I said.  We could see where to go–there was a post–but when we started across, we made the discovery that the pretty meadow with its green grass was in reality a snowmelt swamp.  We had no choice but to slog across in the ice-cold water and mud and grass.  Moosh, goosh!  By the time we reached the other side, our feet were freezing.  Then the trail headed into the forest, where there was a lot of old snow, so it was crunch, crunch,  then whoompf, we’d posthole.  Fun!  But on the bright side, it was pretty obvious where to go, because there were plenty of footprints in the snow.

The same thing happened at every meadow we came to.  Meadow = freezing swamp.

Eventually the snow was less, and that’s when the CDT did one of its tricks where the trail LOOKS like you should go straight, but in reality, you are supposed to make a sharp turnoff.  We kept on going straight, but fortunately, only a short time later, I became uneasy.  I had been trying really hard to keep track of where we were on the map, and I asked Fixit to stop so I could check.  Sure enough, we weren’t going the right way. “We’re going south and following a creek,” I said.  “Not good.  We should be going east, and NO creek.”  So we turned around and went back very carefully, till we found the turnoff.

For much of the rest of the day, the trail mostly headed downhill, and through a lot of forest (some of it beetlekilled, sadly)  and aspen groves.  In the late afternoon, we found ourselves at the foot of a colorful sandstone mountain, and the CDT headed right up it!  Great, a killer climb at the end of the day!  Oh well, we tackled it anyway and made it to the top (though we felt pretty fried).  Across the top and down the other side we went, into a green valley with a corral.  And that’s where we stopped and camped.  There were some nasty-looking clouds overhead, but we were so tired that we just cowboy camped and hoped for the best.   This has been one varied day!

Thursday, May 26 No More Desert!

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

SUMMARY:  I was finally able to reach our daughter on our phone–not easy–the cell phone signal was very weak, even here in town.  She said she did not want a bunch of company, and that there were no plans for a funeral, because her husband was the kind of guy who hated being the “center of attention” and he would have been very unhappy about a funeral focused on him.  She just wanted to be with her kids.  “You guys keep on with your hike”, she said.  “I will be OK.”  So today after breakfast, Fixit lived up to his name by fixing the toilet in our room while I went and did the laundry in another country–well, that’s what it felt like.  Nobody at the laundromat was speaking English–it was all local tribal folks.  Then we headed back to the CDT, and it was UP into the mountains!  No more desert!  It was clear, crisp air, huge trees, wildflowers, creeks and snow!  Tonight we are camped at just over 10,000 feet, and it is COLD!

may-26-1DETAILS:  The first thing that hit us this morning was “We’re HUNGRY!”  The Del Prado restaurant doesn’t open till 8:00, so we went across the street to McD’s and got something to start with.  Then I took the cell phone and tried to call our daughter Joy–at first I could not get a signal, but finally found that if I went outside I could get service.  Joy is doing as OK as can be expected under such grievous circumstances.  She was able to be with her husband when he died–it was very sudden and very fast–less than 5 minutes.  Apparently the cancer broke into a major blood vessel and before anything could be done, he was gone.  Joy says no funeral & fuss are planned–that Craig, her husband, hated to be the center of attention, ever, and the last thing he would want would be a funeral.  “So Mom, don’t drop your hike and come all the way out here,” she said.  “I’d rather just be with the kids and have things quiet.  I’ll be OK, don’t worry about us.”  I shed some tears after hanging up the phone.  This is really hard.

Fixit had eaten a big breakfast at McD’s, while I only had oatmeal, so at 8:00 I went and had some pancakes with the other hikers while Fixit lay down to rest.  We are both really tired, but I was worried about calorie deficit, so I figured those pancakes were important.  Then I collected all our very dirty laundry and walked off down the street….into another country.  Well, that’s what it felt like.  Everybody else at the laundromat was Native American, and were talking to each other in their own language.  When I tried to talk to them, it turned out few of them knew English!  Basically it was a lot of grandmas doing the laundry and minding the grandchildren.

Meanwhile Fixit was busy living up to his trail name.  He decided to fix the toilet in our motel room, but to do that he needed to walk a ways down the street to a hardware store.  Since his “do the laundry” clothes are pretty skimpy, he went to the hiker box at the motel and score!   A pair of pants that fit!  Off he went, and by the time I got back, everything was fixed, to the great delight of Mrs. Yang, who owns the motel.  Fixit said she had about the biggest smile he’d ever seen when he showed her what he’d done!   By the time I got back from doing laundry, we technically had only 15 minutes before we had to check out, but Mrs. Yang said not to worry.   By 11:30, we had shouldered our packs and headed out. Dark clouds were gathered overhead, and it was a little bit chilly.

As we headed out of town, we first stopped at the grocery store, which had a nice big sign saying “Welcome, CDT Hikers!”   Since we hadn’t sent a resupply box to Cuba, I bought enough food for 3 1/2 days, enough to get us to Ghost Ranch.  As I was standing in the checkout, it started to RAIN.  Oh great!  The checkout lady commented, “Oh yeah…around here it’ll rain for 10 minutes and then the sun comes out.  Don’t worry.”  I carried all the food outside and we loaded our packs while scrunched up under the overhang.  On went the raingear, and we headed to McD’s for lunch.  Sure enough, while we were in McD’s, the rain stopped, and it was just cloudy.

A walk along the highway took us to Los Pinos Road, which headed up into the mountains.  From this point on, we will be seriously headed UP into the mountains of Colorado.  But then we came to a very confusing intersection, a sort of Y in the road, and we could not figure out which way to go.  We were just getting out Guthook, when along came Flying Squirrel and Early Bird, so all together, we puzzled over maps and Guthook, till we decided where to go, and whew, it turned out to be correct!

For some time after that, as the road climbed higher and higher, we had the fun of walking with the two girls.  Fixit and Early Bird charged on ahead (Fixit is feeling good now; no more slow and tired) while I did my best to keep up, walking with Squirrel.  She told me about her adventures (mostly in New England) in trail crewing, wilderness adventure programs, etc.  What a great life she has had, and really trying to make the world a better place!

The road climbed steadily, and left the desert behind!  We were back into tall green forests, with creeks and grass and wildflowers and crisp, clean mountain air.  We felt like we were home again, in the Sierras!  Finally we reached the end of the road–Fixit and I stopped for a Snickers break, while the 2 girls headed on up the mountain and were soon out of sight.  We followed them shortly after, and found that the trail basically follows a creek, up a mountain canyon.  No more worries about water!  When we finally stopped to eat some supper, The Beast caught up with us.  (Note: he’s actually very nice, not beastly at all!).  We all agreed that we plan to camp up at the top, where there is some flat ground.

Soon we were encountering some snow, but it was not a problem other than the snowmelt running down the trail.  The only problem really was fallen trees–quite a few to climb over.

At the top, wow!   We were at over 10,000 elevation, and it looked like a golf course!  Seriously!  There were large green meadows, with groupings of trees and patches of snow.  It was still cloudy, bitter cold and windy, so we hunted about for not just a flat spot to camp, but a protected spot.  The Beast was camped nearby–we could not see him, but he later told us that he could hear us calling to each other as we split up to hunt for a campsite.  We set up our tent and bundled up for what we expect will be a very cold night–but it is SO GOOD to be back in the mountains and out of the desert!

Wednesday, May 25 Mesa Climbing to CUBA

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

SUMMARY:  This was a sad day, but a beautiful one.  I was grateful for the beauty, because I felt very heavy-hearted and could not help but cry a bit while I was walking.  We feel so bad for our daughter who has lost her husband.  may-25-6We tried to call her, but there is no cell phone service out here, not even on the high points. We did get lots of practice today in climbing mesas—those huge flat-topped mountains that are everywhere here in northern New Mexico. Whoever figured out and built the trail was amazing!  For me, there still were some scary parts–like skinny steps chiselled into the rock right next to a big drop-off.  But once you are “up top”, it’s quite a scene–acres of hard sandstone, spectacular views and wildflowers.  We reached Cuba late in the day, with just enough time to eat a bit of dinner and then collapse.

DETAILS:  The wind finally died down last night and it was a beautiful morning.  At first we were hiking in a flat prairie, but the rest of the day we were either climbing up a mesa, walking along the top of a mesa or going down a mesa, or walking along in between mesas.  Up on top, the mesas are flat, HARD rock, and the trail was a route following cairns.  And we had to stay very alert, because often the route veered off suddenly, and if we were not careful, we’d miss the turn.  The views from up top were spectacular.  The only downside was that sometimes (from my point of view) the trail was too near the edge of big dropoffs.  Wildflowers were everywhere–I saw several new kinds today that I’d never seen before.

The water source on this part of the CDT was lovely–you take a short side trail down a canyon off the main CDT, and it leads you to where a spring literally flows out of a large “cave” and is piped into a trough.  Swallows were flying about (they have nests in the cave) and there were lots of green trees and bushes–beautiful!

After the spring came a scramble up onto another mesa.  Looking at it from a distance, you’d never think a trail goes up it, but it does.  What a feat of trail engineering!  Somebody really worked hard on it.  There were stone steps, steps literally chiselled into stone, etc.  But it was very steep and scary for me, and the steps were really skinny.  Fixit went ahead and I watched how he went so I could see what to expect.  When we finally got to the top, we headed on the long walk along the rim, cheering because this was our last mesa before the road to Cuba.  Since we were up high, we also tried to phone our daughter Joy, whose husband had died, but no luck–no service out here.

Finally came a long roadwalk, headed for Cuba.  It was interesting to see the various homes and businesses along the way.  When we finally got to Cuba, it was late, and I wasn’t sure the restaurant was still open–but it was, and inside, I spotted HoB and some other hikers!  We went to the Del Prado motel and had to phone the proprietor to come out and talk to us about getting a room!  But she did have one left, and made a bit of a fuss about “so sorry, the toilet seat is broken”.  We assured her that was no problem, changed into our “town” shirts, and hurried to the restaurant, which was still open, and had a great dinner, hanging out with HoB, Early Bird, Flying Squirrel and The Beast.

Back in the motel room, we collapsed into bed.  We are SO tired!  Tomorrow I’ll try again to phone our daughter Joy.

Tuesday May 24 Rock Walking and Climbing

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

SUMMARY:  Today was like a rock-walking and climbing tour…all kinds of rocks, colors, formations, and mind-blowing scenery.  It did involve a couple of scary places (for me) where all that kept me going was the thought, “If I can handle the scary stuff on Mt. Whitney, I can handle this.”  In the afternoon, an extraordinary chain of events happened. A guy named Slapshot passed us and 1) learned our trail names andmay-24-16 2)  That we were headed for the water cache 5 miles away.  We got to the roadcrossing where the cache was supposed to be, and could find no sign of it, so we flagged down a passing car and got water.  But Slapshot had found the cache AND a note inside for US to “Call your daughter Mercy ASAP.”  So as we went cruising by the cache, not planning to stop because we’d gotten water already, he flagged us down–“Hey, Fixit and 3rd Monty–there’s a note for you!”  Without him, we would never have seen the note.  It was bad news.  Our other daughter’s husband has suddenly died.  Oh no!  The rest of the day I was hiking all choked up.

DETAILS: Scenery-wise, today was a mindblowingly amazing day.  I would not have missed it for anything!  But it was also a very tough day, hikingwise–“embrace the brutality” definitely applied.

The day began with packing up at 5:20, then heading for a spring not too far ahead.  When we got there, we discovered HoB camped on a little hill nearby.  He came down and joined us, and together we looked at how to get at the water. HoB said when he arrived at the spring last night, it was too dark to see anything, so now we were all studying what to do.  Turned out that it works like this: the water is down in the ground, in a sort of tank, with large flat pieces of stone laid over the top to keep critters from falling in.  First you move a stone out of the way, then you lie down on your stomach and reach down to get at the water.  We had a look at the first bottlefull–it appeared to be OK, but we decided to AquaMira it, just in case.

We walked on with HoB until we stopped at 7:00 for breakfast.  Fixit is not feeling well, and he was not hiking at his usual speed.  He said that the problem is that for the last 2 nights, when he lies down, he starts to have trouble breathing.  He sort of solved the problem by propping himself up with his pack, but still didn’t sleep well and now he is feeling very tired.  Every hill leaves him out of breath, and he was hiking at a snail’s pace, often stopping to lie down.   I was very worried about him.

But the scenery offered lots of chances to stop and rest and LOOK at the amazing rock formations.  First we made our way down to the bottom of the wide valley, and crossed the totally dry riverbed, which was covered with some sort of fine white substance that looked like salt.  I didn’t taste it to find out, though.  Probably it’s actually some sort of alkali.  Then came the climb out of the valley, where there was one amazing rock formation after another, all different shapes and colors.  Finally we reached a fence by some big rocks, where there was a “hiker gate” for us to get through.   Waiting for us there were 3 horses, who obviously figured “We know the drill on how to yogi stuff from hikers.”  One of them, the brown one, was obviously the boss and was trying to get the other two to cooperate.  No luck, though!   We just don’t have enough food on us to be sharing any of it with the horses.  Poor things–they looked disappointed when we just elbowed past them and kept going.

Fixit was having such a hard time with uphills that I realized we would never make it to Cuba right after lunch tomorrow as planned.  I hope we make it there at least before dark, anyway!  To add to the difficulty, it turned into a very hot day.  We started hiking under umbrellas.

Little did we know, though, we were walking right into a God-engineered chain of events.  It went like this:

  1.  Because Fixit was so slow, in the afternoon another CDT hiker named Slapshot caught up with us.  We stopped to talk, and he learned our trail names–“Fixit” and “3rd Monty.”  We told him we were headed for the water cache 5 miles away, so he said, “See you at the cache” and took off.
  2. When we reached the paved road where the water cache was supposed to be, we hunted everywhere and could not find it.  We were desperately low on water.
  3. So I resorted to trying to flag down passing cars to ask for water, and hooray, a guy named Smokey stopped.  He was thrilled to be able to help CDT hikers, and gave us all the water we needed.  He even gave us some bananas and trail snax, which we ate immediately!   We are hungry!
  4. We hiked on, and only a couple of minutes later, there was the cache, hidden in some bushes.  Slapshot was there, too, and looking serious.  “There’s a note here for you guys,” he said, and held out a little yellow piece of paper.  It said “Fixit and 3rd Monty–call your daughter Mercy ASAP.  Urgent.”  This did not sound good.  But could we get cell phone service out in the middle of nowhere?  Slapshot offered to help if needed, but we did get our cell phone to work, were able to call our daughter, and she told us that our other daughter’s husband had just died.  Oh no! With our cell phone battery very low, we decided we’d better wait till Cuba (tomorrow) to call our other daughter.

If Fixit had not been slow, we would never have met Slapshot, and we would have walked right by the water cache without even looking in.  We would never have seen the note.  But Slapshot knew our trail names and he flagged us down.  So even though we were horribly bummed about what had happened (it was not a total shock; our daughter’s husband had been battling cancer for some time) we were still heartened by the way God took care of the situation for us.

The rest of the afternoon we hiked as quickly as we could, trying to chew into the 33 more miles to Cuba.  But we were slowed down by some (for me) scary steep, rocky uphills climbing up the mesa, and then once we were on top of that mesa, the trail went right by the edge of a huge dropoff.  I don’t like heights, and walking on a somewhat slippery, rocky trail right by a big edge was rough.  I had to force myself to keep going, when what I felt like was “Aaaaaaa!  I can’t do this!”   Near the end of the day, we had a very skimpy dinner.  We’re rationing our food now, hoping to have enough to make Cuba tomorrow.  But we did find a nice place to cowboy camp out of the wind among the rocks, and spent time praying for our daughter and her 3 children.

Monday, May 23 Done With Roadwalking!

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

may-23-13SUMMARY:  Back to walking the very rutted Road 293 this morning.  Fixit said, “I had no idea the CDT involved so much roadwalking.  Not good!”  But by 11:00 am we had reached Los Indios Spring, where we got lots of great water, and after that we were back on TRAIL.  The only problem was the scenery.  It was pretty–meadows and pine trees–but all the same.  I felt like I was caught in a “film loop”–the kind some churches use as background for the words of the songs.  But finally at 4:30 pm, the trail plunged over the edge of the mesa and began a 2,000 foot descent to a dramatic vallley below with canyons, rocky outcrops, and more.  Beautiful!

DETAILS:  We packed up quickly at first light, eager to be done with the very rough & rutted Road 293, and even more eager to reach the famous Los Indios Spring, to replenish our water.  The reason the road was so hard to walk on was obvious–somebody drove a truck on it when it was raining and the road (being New Mexico) was one big mudhole.  Now the mud has dried hard as a rock, and it was so messed up that a lot of the time we walked the sides rather than the road itself.  Fixit said, “I had no idea the CDT involved so much roadwalking. Not good!”

The scenery was what I call “top of the mesa”–fairly flat prairie with a few trees.  The only critters we saw were birds–crows and chickadees.  Our breakfast stop was brief–brrrr, it was cold, and we were rationing our water.  But by 11:00 am we had reached the turnoff to the spring.  And look!  SIGNS, telling where to go!  The spring itself is down in a steep, rocky canyon, so we did our usual routine–Fixit emptied his pack, took all our water bottles and went down to the water.   When he got back, he said he had to fix the spring pipe a bit (he is not Fixit for nothing), but he had lots of water.  We both immediately drank a whole liter of  “bug juice” (Emergen-C plus electrolytes) made from COLD spring water.  So good!

On the way back to the CDT, we met some hikers headed for the Spring–HoB (stands for Hike or Bike), Flying Squirrel, and Early Girl.  We have not seen any other CDT hikers for so long that it was pretty exciting to see them.

Since the Spring is at the end of the road, now we were off the ruts and back on TRAIL.  But the scenery, though very pleasant, stayed the same.  Basically you walk through a pretty,  grassy meadow surrounded by pinon pines, then into the pines for a little bit, then back into another meadow.  Over and over again.  No views, just the constant repetition.  I felt like I was caught in a “video loop” like some churches use when they are projecting songs onto a big screen and want to have a pretty but unvarying background to the words.   The only thing that did change (which I enjoyed very much) was the light.  Depending on the time of day, it was really varied.  I hiked along looking at it and thinking about “how would I draw/paint this?”

Finally we started getting a few breaks in the trees, and could catch glimpses of a whole ‘nother world down below and around the mesa we were on–a world of dramatic mountains and deep canyons.  Then at 4:30 pm, we came to the EDGE.  Literally.  The trail plunged over the edge of a precipice and headed steeply down almost 2,000 feet to the valley far below.  And what a valley!  “Awesome” does not even begin to describe it.  Immense rock formations were standing here and there, all colored by late afternoon light and some shadowed by clouds.  It was classic New Mexico.  Even Fixit was impressed.  “Wow!” he said.  “This sure looks ‘western’!”   We took our time heading down, partly to soak up the view and partly because the trail was so steep and rocky.  Halfway down we stopped and ate dinner at a spot where we could see the whole valley.  Wow.

Once we were finally really down to the bottom, we found it was very windy, and finally at 7:00, when it was time to camp, we had to hunt around for some trees, in order to hunker down out of the wind.  We found a good spot, but the cows liked it too, so we both had to spend some time clearing out a lot of old dry cow pies before setting up camp.  Now we are very comfortable, and listening to the wind roaring in the branches.  Tomorrow we get to walk across this awesome valley!

Sunday, May 22 Wandering in the Woods & Prairies

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

may-22-7SUMMARY:  We spent about 2/3 of today wandering in the woods on the CDT, meeting hikers out for the day with their dogs, plus horseback riders, and even some WILD horses that were busy eating all the green grass from recent rains.  Wildflowers are out–including iris and lots of dandelions!  We got wonderful water from the Ojo Piedra Spring.  By afternoon we were back to walking across the prairie and had great views of Mt. Taylor (with a bit of snow on the north side) as well as other distant hills and valleys.  The wind was blowing fiercely–we had to hunker behind bushes when we wanted to stop.  We’re back in the woods tonight, cowboy camping!

DETAILS:  There was a beautiful sunset last night and a beautiful sky this morning.  We were very grateful to have plenty of water, and began our pre-breakfast hike in the chilly forest.  It looks like the “go AROUND Mt. Taylor” route is actually longer and harder than going OVER the top. It’s often very steep and so rocky that we could not figure out where the trail was sometimes, and spent a fair amount of time  being “lost.”   To add to the fun, the trail seems to wander all over the place.  On the bright side, I really enjoyed looking at the aspen trees.  Because of the variety in elevation and exposure, some of them were just budding, while in other places, the first brilliantly green leaves were out.  And I do mean “brilliant”–it’s so intense that you almost need sunglasses to look at them!

Because of recent rains, the grass was really green, too, and when we stopped for breakfast in a sunpatch, we were at the edge of a very green meadow, complete with some flowers.  It kind of made up for it being Sunday and we couldn’t be in church.  🙂

A couple of hours later, we met some folks out for a Sunday hike with their dogs.  These were real trail dogs, very polite and very experienced.  One was a large, dark colored, very serious German Shepherd, and the other was a very small black and white mongrel wearing a “SuperHero” doggie T-shirt.  The two dogs were buddies–it was so cute!

We finally reached our next water source–Ojo Piedra Spring, and cheered!  The water was wonderful–cold and tasty.  We filled up all our water containers to capacity.  No need to treat this water–we love piped springs!  The only thing about these woods we’re in is that we’ve spent hours of walking with no views.  We can’t even see Mt. Taylor.  But besides the dog people, we also met some horse people, and the horses seemed to be enjoying themselves just as much as the riders.  It was good to see so many people out using the trails.

Just before lunch, we missed a turn and soon found ourselves in trailless forest.  We fired up Guthook and were able to locate the CDT again, but it was frustrating because the cell phone battery will only let us do this a few times, and we didn’t know what might lie ahead when we’d need Guthook again…and again.  Oh well.  We were sitting by the trail eating a late lunch, when some horse people came by.  They  said they were headed out to a viewpoint.  Really?  That sounded wonderful.  We’d had no views for some time!  But as it turned out, the CDT does NOT go to the viewpoint, but continues in the forest.  Sigh.

Nuff grumping–there were some wonderful things in the forest.  Wildflowers for one–the iris are in full bloom, and are gorgeous.  So are the dandelions!  There were whole swathes of their  bright yellow blossoms.  Green grass was everywhere. And, there were wild horses!  They were very curious about us and were sort of following us along, but carefully keeping a certain distance.  When I tried to get just a bit closer to them to get a picture, they would quickly move away.  Another thing that impressed Fixit and I was that this part of the forest was obviously well cared for.  It had been thinned, for starters.  So instead of spindly trees crowding on each other, there were well spaced, strong, healthy trees.  Hooray for whoever manages the forest here!

In the afternoon, we reached the edge of the woods and stepped off of trail tread back into prairie and back onto a dirt road.  And we were back into the wind, too–it was blowing so hard that sometimes hiking was a challenge.  When we stopped for a snack, we had to hunker down behind some bushes.  Looking back, we could see Mt. Taylor’s north side–and it had SNOW on it.  We speculated as to whether the way we went (with all its difficulties) was easier (or not) compared to dealing with that snow.

Cows were everywhere on the prairie lands, and once again we found ourselves unintentionally starting a “cattle drive”.  One cow saw us and snorted and started running away down the road–the others joined her, and soon there was a whole herd trotting along just ahead of us.  Finally they veered off and we were able to pass them.   Routefinding was a challenge–there were various dirt roads and no real landmarks to give us some idea which dirt road was CDT and which was not.  It’s pretty country–little low hills and scattered trees–but a couple of times we were very puzzled as to which way to go.  Fortunately, in each case it turned out we made the right choice.  Wish they had more CDT signposts to help us hikers!

Tonight we are cowboy camped back in forest again, sheltered from the wind.  We’re awfully low on water, though.  Tomorrow it will be a top priority to find  more!