Hayduke trail day 25: make your own alternate day

April 11
Mileage: 21
345 miles hiked

Rogers canyon is, unfortunately, just as slow as Monday canyon- truck-sized boulders, mud, tamarisk, etc. This is hard on morale, especially first thing in the morning. And sans caffeine, since I don’t have enough fuel to make tea. I feel way not awake enough to make an intelligent decision about how to downclimb huge sloped boulders or which path through the tamarisk is least likely to lead to a cliff. We’re less than a mile from Navajo canyon, our next adventure, when Rogers canyon finally opens up, and there are bits of gentle cattle trails to follow on the benches beside it. Bless!

Navajo canyon is a walkin’ person’s dream- hard flat mud, open, devoid of boulders and completely dry. A regular highway. Unfortunately, no boulders and no slickrock means no potholes of rainwater, and the next sure water source, Last Chance Creek, which is likely alkaline, is in seventeen miles. We’ve walked a mile and a half up Navajo canyon before I accept this fact. I’m only carrying half a liter of water, the nasty stuff from the stream in Roger’s canyon, and I really don’t want to drink it. It tastes terrible- salty and bitter, some of the worst water I’ve ever tasted. We were forced to cook with it last night, and it almost ruined both our dinners. I’m thirsty, but I was holding out, hoping that Navajo canyon was the sort of canyon to have slickrock. Alas, it’s not.

Dan and I sit in the shade, pull out our maps, and go over our options. We can

a) drink/pack out the water from Rogers Canyon, which will probs make me super ill in like 24 hours, which will then jeapordize our chances of making it to our cache on schedule and potentially my ability to hike at all

b) take a super fun cross-country “shortcut” to Last Chance Creek which involves scrambling up to the top of a very high mesa via very steep cliffs and then getting over/around a bunch of other cliffs that I totally think would work

c) hike 5.5 miles off route to a spring on the map that only the guidebook authors, apparently, have ever been to, back in the 90s. Pack out as much from the spring as we can possibly carry. Then follow some dirt roads to the southern end of Last Chance creek canyon, and walk 7ish miles up the canyon back to the Hayduke. This alternate would add about 5 miles.

I try to convince Dan of b), but in the end we go with c). I pack out a liter of the awful bitter poison water from Rogers Canyon, just in case, although I imagine our spring will be like the first two we found in this section- clear good-tasting water burbling into a trough of sorts. We set off towards the spring, walking happily in the morning light. We’re going on an adventure!

The spring is dry. A dirt road ends at a corral-like structure. There are some dusty troughs, hoses attached to nothing, and two empty tanks. I hiked the CDT- I know how to find the water as it relates to cows. I check every knob and valve, kick every tank, follow every hose to its ending. We walk around the corral in a big circle, but the desert is dry. No mucky ground, no patch of green, no mud slick. It doesn’t look like there was ever water here, although there must’ve been, at one time.

There is, however, a small, decrepit trailer. I open the door of the trailer and the smell hits me- mouse pee. So, so much mouse pee. Inside, all has been shredded by rodents, and made into nesting material- the faded linens lumped on the bed, the stained clothes and toiletries stored in the cabinets. Canned goods from long ago, their tops rusted and their labels sepia from the sun, are stacked next to the sink. I open another cabinet, and inside, I find treasure.

Two cases of some sort of beverage. The plastic wrap on the cases is faded to brown, and has begun to disintegrate. I pull a bottle out of the cardboard- Propel, an Exercise Drink Made by Gatorade. Berry flavor. The bottle expired years ago. Do they even still make this stuff? I open the bottle and taste it. Sucralose, essentially, and berry flavoring. There are 24 700ml bottles. And beneath the cases of propel, even more treasure- a few small bottles of plain water, the kind in really flimsy bottles. Their labels are gone. I also find a thick wool sock, in a pile of mouse-fouled clothing, which I can cut up and make into menstrual pads. Score!!

Dan and I sit in the shade of the corrall and drink bottles of propel. How much of this could we drink before we get sick of it? I feel icredibly rich. I can also feel myself rehydrating, like a sponge. In the end we pack out all of the plain water and a bunch of the propel- for a total of 8 liters for me, 6 for Dan. It’s the most water I’ve ever carried, and my pack feels crazy heavy. But I’m so happy. Fuck off, alkaline streams! All least for a little while! I’ve got all this other water on my back!

The sun is hot today, and we’re following a dirt road that winds in the hills- not being in a canyon feels like being way up high now, like on a mountaintop. I’m binge listening to the entire series of the Magic Lessons podcast, which is, I think, the best advice I have ever heard, hands down, for anyone creative. Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert! I’ve always loved Eat Pray Love, if only in secret!

We’re pretty roasted from the sun by the time we reach Last Chance Creek canyon, 6 miles downstream from the Hayduke. It’s 5 p.m., but the sun only seems to be getting hotter. Or maybe it’s that I don’t feel so good? I did drink a liter of the water from Rogers Canyon… I’d wanted to hike until 7:30, but by 6 pm I feel too sick to walk anymore. This canyon is nice to walk in- open and flat and good hard packed sand, edged in tamarisk, a little alkaline stream running down the middle.We find a flat spot beneath a cottonwood tree and I immediately get in my sleeping bag and lay down. I feel like I’m freezing now. And I’m nauseaus, like I’m gonna vomit. And my body aches all over, so badly. All I can do is lie in my sleeping bag. What is going on with me?

I manage to get down some dinner and an ibuprofen before dark. Annoying little bugs are swarming us so we set up the tent, even though it’s so nice to lay out on the soft sand. It’s probably for the best, as the horizon is roiling with purple stormclouds.

Photos on instagram