429 miles hiked
I’m awake at 5 in the motel room, excited for morning, hiking, what the day will bring but also feeling groggy and exhausted- the longer I’m on trail, the worse I sleep in town. I make a pot of motel coffee for me and Muffy, eat honey nut cheerios in protein powder “milk” and a microwaved tamale as well as the smashed remnants of Muffy’s gluten free oreos from last section then poop for what feels like ten straight minutes while sitting on the toilet scrolling on my phone.
Debbie knocks on the door at 7 a.m. She and her husband Aaron are wearing all camo everything, including their backpacks. They are kind, friendly, excited to meet people who are spending time in the remote, overgrown drainages of the White Mountains, which they’ve been exploring and calling home for the last 20 years. They’ve been working on their own route through the White Mountains. Debbie even wrote a book about the Wallow fire of 2011, interweaving her own personal stories with the history of land management in this area. She wants to self publish it so we talk about that. Debbie tells us they want to hike part of the CDT next year, after their son is out of high school. At 8:30 they drop us at Stray Horse campground, and we say goodbye to our new friends.
The campground looks so much different in the morning sunshine. The rain is gone and the air is soft and warm, today, the out of doors a non threatening place. The forest smells like warm vanilla and crushed pine needles and the trail, leaving the campground, is clear, loamy and unobstructed. We drop into Raspberry Creek drainage and the going becomes slowly more convoluted, with bits of tread interspersed with tangles of blowdowns and plant growth. As we drop lower still poison ivy appears, at first tiny and easy to avoid and then larger and seemingly everywhere, as the lower elevation means more advanced spring growth. The going slows, sometimes so much it feels for moments as though we’re standing still, and then speeds again as we stretch our legs on an open bit of tread. Raspberry creek drainage is beautiful, with sometimes high rock walls and always the creek, clear and constant.
In the afternoon we climb gratefully out into higher, drier country of tall yellow grass, thistles and burnt oak trees. The trail is often faint and eroded but blessedly free of obstructions. Thunderclouds form over a ridge in the distance, and lightning strikes over there. I feel nervous being out in the open, and I walk a little faster.
Our trail drops us into the wide sandy drainage of the blue river, where we’re the warmest and lowest we’ve been in weeks.
We cross the shallow, gentle current beneath the huge sycamores with their new green leaves, feeling as though we are, as the databook suggests, in a riparian paradise. Tall redrock cliffs catch the light and pen the river valley in. Our whole bodies relax in the warmth, tension I didn’t know I was carrying drains away. The going along the Blue river is sand and smooth river rocks and sometimes fording, but the cool water feels good on my scratched legs and I don’t mind the rocks at all. We reach the start of a dirt road and walk that along the river through a ranch, small dark wooden cabins built by the first white colonizers of this area and cows, grazing in a field.
We camp on a small bench of land above the river and sit outside the tent cooking our dinners and marveling at how wonderful it is to not have to do all our chores from our sleeping bags, trying to stay warm. Section 6 was like, rough, man. I wash my chafe and my lower legs where I probably definitely brushed against poison ivy. It’s funny how many things in the beginning of this trail I thought were poison ivy but actually weren’t. Now I know what it looks like and suddenly it’s everywhere.