CDT day 23: rock formations of magic

May 27
Mileage 34
521.5 miles hiked from Mexico

Now that we’re camped way down near six thousand feet, the cold never arrives. There’s a stillness, a windlessness, on this flat sandy mesa, and I sleep cradled within it. The sky is gentle, the lightning-gnarled trees are gentle. The small soft stick-breakers do their dances beneath the moon. The mice run their errands.

I wake at 6:10 and sit on my sleeping pad, eating last night’s leftover cold pasta out of my cookpot, now with Sand in it. I feel hungover. 32 miles, blergh! My first big day on the CDT. Oof. My blood is thick and slow and my brain is full of fuzz. I blew my load yesterday, I’ve got nothing left. Time to do 34!

I have a stumbly sort of morning, everything feeling misaligned or out of order or badly packed. I fidget and snack and drink cold green tea made in muddy cow-pond water and try to get my hiking boner up. After four long miles I reach the cow trough water source, featuring clear good water from a spring, albeit tainted with cow saliva. The cows stand around me, mooing forlornly, while I fill my bottles. I sit on the ground, rub my face, try to wake up. 34 miles to town, 34 miles.

Today is all of the various convolutions of water-worn sandstone, glowing salmon and marigold in the light, full of caves, a wonderous playground to walk all over. The trail is wonderful in this strech, real trail alternating with cairn trail, leading me on an adventure. I’m happy even though the sun is out today and down here in the lower desert it’s Hot, so Hot, and my face legs arms are sunburnt and my brain feels too warm and I have to stop to rest more than I’d like. In one such break, soaking up the pure euphoric glory that is one single patch of cool unbroken shade, I discover that I have phone reception and so I look online to see what’s happening with the snow ahead in Colorado. I learn that Colorado is having the wettest spring in twenty years and that the storms are still, as we speak, dropping snow. The San Juans are absolutely full of deep new snow and there is much avalanche danger. It seems that my options are

a) road-walk around the San Juans
b) see how the hikers ahead of me fare in the snow and set out into it with microspikes, an ice-axe and… snowshoes?
c) wait two weeks for the snow to melt
d) wait two weeks, flip up to Canada, and southbound.

I think about this for a while. I don’t really love any of these options, but I like the idea of waiting the least so I’m leaning towards road-walking or hiking the snow. Because what if I wait two weeks, lose my window to finish before the cold weather in Glacier park, and then the snow is still there? And flipping up to southbound just feels wrong, although I’m open to it. Oh well, I’ve still got some time before I reach Chama, NM, which is where the trail starts to climb into the mountains. Things could shift a little before then.

I reach my last water source for the day, a spring in a trough beneath a sandstone cave full of bats, at four p.m. Track Meat joins me there- I haven’t seen anyone else since yesterday. They likely camped just behind us, and I’ll see them when they get to town tomorrow. I’ve been stopping so much in the heat, and I was so slow this morning, that I’ve only gone nineteen miles. Four p.m., and I’ve got fifteen miles left! This is too much to think about so I tell myself that I’ve only got ten miles to the highway. Ten miles is doable. I can walk ten miles in my sleep! Right? And then if I need to, when I get to the highway, I can hitch the last five miles into town. This is what I tell myself.

My feet hurt, and I’ve got new blisters from the heat and the sand. I’m tired. The evening light is so beautiful it makes me cry. I play the medieval choir music I have on my phone- it goes so perfect with the yellow light on the sandstone, the big valleys draped in cloudshadow and sun, the stormclouds that gather and blow over, gather and blow over. I don’t take a single break and at 7:20 I reach the highway. I put my thumb out on the lonely stretch of road as I walk the pavement but the pickups barrel past without slowing and dark begins to gather and I put my thumb down again, relieved. Of course I’ll walk the road too. Of course I can do it.

I use the roadwalk to do instagram, which makes it easier to ignore my feet. Along the highway are busted trailers sitting in lots full of gloaming, doors flung open, life going on inside. There are barking dogs, rows of mud-splattered pickup trucks, ancient cabins tilting towards the earth. The light grows more and more lovely. My god, what is this enchanted place. New Mexico! Then it’s full dark and I am a spy, making my slow way past these lonely properties, watching the stars come on.

I reach the tiny town of Cuba at 9 p.m. Both of the two restaurants are closed at this hour, as is the grocery store. I’m hungry, so hungry- but I cannot bring myself to eat another bar. I head to the Del Prado motel, an inexpensive, humble little place where the hikers like to stay. In the lobby, which is full of dusty knicknacks for sale, I find the hikerbox, and there I discover a box of Lucky Charms and clutch it to my chest. Once in my room I take off all my clothes, sit on the bed wrapped in my sleeping bag, and eat many bowls of lucky charms in protein powder milk. I’m off my feet and I’m eating food. I’m off my feet and I’m eating food! I’m so happy I can’t stand it.

Photos on instagram