September 28th, 2019
Mm 2410.9 to cattle trough mm 2445.4
Distance in miles: 34.5
What a great night and a far cry from the previous one. There’s not a sound, save for the very distant, soothing hoots of an owl. Then as I’m eating my breakfast in the dark, a buzzing invades my space. A single mosquito is trying her luck with me but gets smashed as a result. I have to laugh…a mosquito out here? Where did it come from and what has it endured? And to have come to such an end. It’s tragic.
I’m on the trail in the dark again, playing the game of finding the next cairn. I keep my headlamp on its lowest setting, just for the challenge. The white sandy trail is hard to see against all the white sand. By 0630, it’s light enough to see without my headlamp. The grays of my surroundings slowly transform into their myriad of colors. Yellows especially come alive with the rising sun.
I pass through a series of arroyos and also by a 1/4 mile trail to a spring. I still have water from the day before so I keep walking. There are not many water sources today so I hope I don’t regret this. I begin a 2000′ climb to a high mesa, which I will be on for the remainder of this segment, until dropping down into to Grants. I leave the canyon lands behind, regretfully.
The climb is steep, with switchbacks but also portions that go straight up. I’m glad that it’s still early and cool but even still, I’m sweating buckets. In this one little area, there are tons of reddish brown millipedes. I have a phobia of centipedes so even though I know these are harmless, they kind of gross me out. All the same, I avoid stepping on any of them.
I pass 2 women dayhikers with 2 dogs. One of the ladies asks me if I’m ok and have everything I need…it’s a long way to Grants, she adds. I reply thank you and that I’m good. I have way too much food (since I planned on 4 days and now it looks like I can finish in 3). Water is my only concern but I don’t need any just yet. Later, I wonder in what context the ladies perceived me…as a section hiker or as a thru-hiker. I often get mistaken because my clothing is brighter than most thrus. If they could look closely, they would see how tattered and stained it all is. Did they think I looked unprepared or were they just being courteous in asking about my status?
In Colorado, hardly anyone ever asked if we were ok, perhaps because they are so used to seeing backpackers. Here, more people seem to be genuinely concerned when they see me on a road or trail. I’m banking on this today, hoping there will be vehicles on a long dirt road walk that I’m about to start. I hope I can score some water handouts, as the only water for the next 25 miles is half a mile off trail and down a steep canyon. I’m lazy and don’t want to detour.
The mesa walk is rather monotonous, compared to the variety of yesterday. Ponderosa pine trees become prevalent again. There’s a mix of forest and grassland. It’s cooler and a stiff breeze blows. I reach the road walk and the turnoff to the spring. It will be a tough 16 miles more if I don’t get some water. I’m already down to a little over a liter. But I decide to chance it and forgo the detour to the spring.
I think back to high school when my cross country coach would haul us out of town in the back of his pickup, dropping us off in the middle of nowhere and forcing us to run the many miles back to town. We could have walked but it would have just taken longer. No one carried water and we were lucky if the coach met us along the way with some. I guess I’ve been preparing for this scenario for a long time.
My risk pays off. An hour or so later, 2 guys in a truck come along and stop to inquire if I’m ok. I get a bottle of water from them, which is just enough to get me to the next source. Sometimes I feel like I can conjure my own trail magic…or as they say, the trail provides. Then when I’m about a mile away from my destination for the day, another truck comes by, stopping to say hi. It’s a family of 4, on their way back to Los Alamos. The mom, Petra, just did a 30 mile ultra run around Mt Taylor. They fill up my water bottles and give me a Snickers bar. Alex, the dad, asks me if I want some “real” food and then gives me a BBQ chicken breast from their cooler. I thank them profusely and gnaw on the breast as I finish my day. Sometimes I feel like a stray dog but it’s an awesome way to end.
The cattle trough proves to have some great water, so long as I wave away all the scum at the top. It’s a huge truck tire with a pump that apparently fills from a well below. I camp under some ponderosas near the tank. It’s one of the best campsites, since I have all the water I could need and the softest of spots under the trees. Ponderosas make for the best camping. Their branches are high off the ground, the understory is nice and open, and the ample needles create the best duff on which to lay a tent. I’m so happy and I only have 34 miles left to Grants. I think I can make it by the end of tomorrow. I will also summit my last mountain on the trail, Mt Taylor!