Tuesday Apr 20th, 2021, 0630-1900
South Canyon to Socorro
(Plus 3 days on pause following this…it’s a long post)
It ended up being a lot warmer than expected overnight, but at the cost of some vicious winds. Starting around 1 am, 40 mph gusts roared down the mountains. I had to get up to fortify some stakes and even then, I worried that my tent might be ripped apart. The tension of waiting for each wave to hit, hoping it wouldn’t be the final blow…needless to say I didn’t sleep very well. My pinion pine didn’t do a lot but it was better than nothing. I guess we should have camped further inside the canyon but who’s to say the winds weren’t ripping through there worse. The sunrise over the prairie was gorgeous though.
We began our day on a network of rocky 2 track paths that had me walking cross country, just in view of the paths because the tread was so rough. I was still wearing the same pair of shoes I started with and they didn’t have much cushioning left. It was a miracle they lasted this long. I was too stubborn and cheap to get new shoes at this point, with only 150 some miles left to go. We were going to see this thing through to the end.
We spooked 2 elk in a little valley. They quickly disappeared into the trees and I’d bet there were probably more nearby. Further miles consisted of a pattern of cross-country down a wash then 2 track paths, back and forth. The pattern roughly followed the line of HWY 60. It would’ve been way faster to just walk the highway but the Route Wizard came up with this convoluted plan to avoid any fast speed highways. It was a fun challenge to try to stick to the route and there were some real Easter eggs thrown in here and there to make it rewarding. Like when we came to Black Canyon. I was walking a graded dirt road when I found an actual trail. The location didn’t line up with my GPS exactly but it looked as though it was going my way down the wash, so I gladly jumped on it. It turns out that it was a newly cut trail, built just a week prior (I know this because I met the trail builders in town a day later).
The lovely trail only lasted a mile or so but it made the little canyon very enjoyable. I even found a small pothole of water in the otherwise dry stream bed. I stopped to collect half a liter, in case I came up short getting to town. I only had what I’d carried from the observatory the day before, but fortunately it wasn’t hot and I didn’t needed much. Just a little further, we also found a stock pond that was half-full with ok water and a spring with rather unappealing water…it seemed alkaline based on all the white silt and was also suspiciously near some major mining activity to the north. All day we heard big booms, which I thought were coming from the mines. I even heard a blast in town, looking up to see a plume of debris going into the air. Later I learned that there’s an explosives testing range nearby.
The last bit of the route had us orienteering in a straight line across a plain for about a mile, then dropping into another wash, followed by a powerline road that finally made a beeline for the highway. We crept up on some cows, who were so certain humans would never be caught dead in such a remote place that they didn’t even notice us until we were 20 feet away. We scared the bejesus out of those poor cows. I’ve got to admit, it gave me a little pride at the core of my primal hunter self.
We only had to walk HWY 60 for half a mile before we were back on dirt roads. By this time we were in the outskirts of town and actually crossed paths with a runner. I wondered what he thought of us, appearing like mirages out of the desert. At least he wasn’t as alarmed as the cows. We got on a main road leading directly into the heart of town, initially finding it so deserted that 2 cars were using it to drag race…in the middle of the day! My watch read high noon, which was fantastic considering we had already walked close to 18 miles. This propelled me into a search and destroy mode to find lunch. In my hunger-induced delirium, I read the word plaza as pizza on google maps and made a beeline for the town plaza. I stood there confused in the square for a bit before realizing my mistake.
We sat down at some outdoor tables in front of a coffee shop to re-evaluate our town strategy. We’d been planning to do an in and out, stopping only to get lunch and a resupply of food, then moving on for another 5 miles to camp outside of town. Quite suddenly, Tom started feeling very ill. He went inside to use the bathroom and didn’t come out for a long time. In fact, I had time to order and eat a whole sandwich before I saw him again. I kind of guessed what was happening in the bathroom and it wasn’t good. Well, fast forward 3 days later and we were still stuck in town. This is where I hit the pause button on the hike and daily blog posts…
After several days of deliberating what might be wrong, I was certain we both had a bout of norovirus. The gamut of worry spanned between coronavirus and giardia, but everything seemed to add up to norovirus, especially after talking to a local teacher that said it was going around in the schools. This was later confirmed when I read an article in an Albuquerque newspaper about numerous NM schools having Norovirus outbreaks. We figure we got it from eating something contaminated on the last day in Magdalena. It’s a pretty common affliction, as anyone that’s ever been on a cruise or visited an AT shelter might know. There’s no treatment but the good news is that it goes away after just a few days, with no lasting problems, usually.
So basically for the rest of the day and the next, we laid low in a hotel room. Tom was very ill, with chills, fever, aches, and a crazy lab experiment going on inside his gut. He couldn’t hold anything down for a day and then was having troubles staying hydrated. I was feeling fine until Thursday, when I woke up with a knot in my stomach and proceeded to puke all day. We’d discussed our recovery strategy that same morning when I was still thinking I was ok. I’d decided to hike on through the next section and meet him where the route crossed a highway in 2 days.
Quite stupidly, I set off on the route after having puked all the water I drank that morning, knowing full well that I had caught the virus and really needed to just rest. I was in denial and also just desperate to make forward progress. The town was starting to get to me. The hotel was a bit run down and some guy was arrested right behind our back window the day before. A lot of New Mexico, from what I’ve observed on my hikes through small towns, seems to be dealing with some severe poverty and substance abuse problems. It’s pretty sad and just makes me eager to move on, to be out in the wilderness.
I made it 5 miles on a trail along the Rio Grande and about 4 miles up a dirt road before conceding that I had no business being out there on my own while sick and dehydrated. I started puking again going up a hill, dry heaving the B2 vitamin that I’d taken that morning, which tasted so awful and made the stuff coming out a crazy neon orange. Go figure, the only vehicle that passed me on the road came along at the exact moment I was bent over, discharging alien fluids. The driver must have thought some interesting comments to himself and didn’t stop. Luckily I had a back-up plan.
So rewinding 3 days to when all this illness drama started, I got into a conversation with a lady at the coffee shop, who knew quite a bit about long distance hikes. It turned out, Kate’s son Sam had hiked the PCT. She gave me her number in case we needed any help while in town. The next day, I was out taking a self-guided walking tour of the town, just to stretch my legs, when I ran into Kate again. She was on her way to Albuquerque but stopped to see how we were doing. She invited us to come over if we got tired of the hotel (which I already was after the police incident). She gave me her son’s number too, who texted me to invite us over for a beer and dinner that night. We really wanted to meet him since he had hiked the PCT southbound (a rarity among thru-hikers).
We ended up meeting more of the family, including dad Dave and sister Linnea. Dave was a professor at the nearby college and both Kate and Linnea were teachers at a charter school. We had burgers and beer outside on a beautiful NM evening, with great conversation. Incredibly, we learned that Dave and his cycling group were the ones that had cut the new trail we just hiked in Black Canyon. It was such a twist of fate that put us in touch with the exact people we needed to meet in this town. To think that we were going to walk straight through and never get to know the more positive aspects of the city. Or that we would have had mostly negative memories from being holed away in the hotel room, being sick. Instead, we made some wonderful new friends and got to learn about the good things happening in the community. It was inspiring to see just how involved the whole family was in bettering their community and improving the recreational opportunities in the surrounding area.
So back to Thursday, when I tried to walk against my better judgement, Tom had already gone over to our Socorro trail angels’ house to spend the day. He and Electra, another sister, were able to pick me up on the road…a bailout I had in mind all along but was hoping not to utilize. I was really lucky it worked out because I was in pretty bad shape after the short car ride back to the house. I immediately had to run to the fence to let go of more stomach contents, then laid down for the rest of the day, drifting in and out of sleep. Out in the desert, I probably would have ended up alongside the road, far from the nearest water source I needed to get to that day. I had a hard enough time rehydrating at the house. I rallied in the evening, drinking ginger root tea and holding down some soup. I went to bed early and slept well, so relieved to be in a safe, comfortable home. There’s nothing like finding such a refuge just when you need it most on the trail. Everything happens for a reason and the trail provides.
Comfort dogs Guthrie and Wilco, both English Shepard’s… beautiful, intelligent dogs I came to find out.
Lovely sisters Linnea and Electra and mom Kate, in front of a mural painted by sister Erika, who also painted several other murals in Socorro and Silver City…
Such a talented family! The other brother is an epidemiologist and a fourth sister is a doctor. That’s 6 amazing kids and 2 extraordinary parents!
I felt much better the next day, thinking I might try to hike again. But as the morning progressed, my lingering malaise led me to take another rest day. I’d just experienced the reality of pushing too soon…this was not the trail to be taking such chances. I went for a walk with Kate and Electra later in the day. We walked their adorable pups Guthrie and Wilco. I could still feel a knot in my stomach as I moved. For dinner, I ate a whole chicken fajita, even though I had little appetite. This might have been a mistake. How was this hike going to go forward? I had no idea.
Here’s some more random pictures from a rambling time in Socorro….sorry for such a disjointed post but that’s exactly how all these days felt…
The famous and picturesque San Miguel church, dating back to the 1600’s and one of the oldest structures in the US. It’s one of the highlights of Socorro.
The Socorro Wheel of history shows the city’s noteworthy aspects, including the National Radio Observatory.
Not painted by Erika but still a very pretty mural.