Date- October 3, 2019
Location- Chama, New Mexico
Elevation- 7,887 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 28.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 2019.4 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 50s, 60s
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- New MEXICO!
Wildlife encounters- mule deer, black bear
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 0
I slept beautifully last night. It was calm and still all night (aside from some coyotes). I stayed comfortably warm.The hiking began at 7:40 am and it was once again a stunning day. Even the wind stayed subdued for most of it. As a matter of fact, it was the first day I didn’t abhor the wind… in I don’t know how long. I sure hope this becomes the pattern for New Mexico.
I began the day moving fast, continued the day moving fast, and ended the day moving fast. The terrain had a couple of short but steep climbs. For the most part everything was very gradual. There was a lot of exposure, but also a lot of beautiful forests in the lower points of the trail. Regardless, the conditions were pleasant enough to enjoy all of it.I messed up my water situation, but due to the cooler temps I didn’t pay too dearly. I woke up with only half a liter of water. By the time I drank it and checked the sources ahead of me, I was 14 miles from the next source. So I ended up hiking 26 miles today on only half a liter of water. Certainly not ideal or healthy – but it was cool enough that I didn’t feel the pinch too badly. Albeit, I drank like a camel when I did get to water… about 2 miles before finishing the day.
I took about an hour’s worth of breaks all day and didn’t see another human being. This felt strange, as I knew there were people ahead and behind me. The trail can be funny like that. I would later learn that there were 6 people within a 7 mile stretch ahead of me, and none of them had even run into each other over a span of more than 24 hours. Hiking style dynamics can be really weird.
The most exciting part of the fast paced day came in the late afternoon, about 5 miles from the highway. I was walking along a flat straight stretch of heavily forested trail that was skirting the side of a mountain. There was an uphill bank to my left, and a downhill bank on my right. The downhill bank was covered in berry bushes and other scrubs. As I was clipping along, I heard what sounded like an animal moving through the bushes on my right.
I turned my head to look, but didn’t see anything. I figured a rodent was making an escape through dense, dry, dead underbrush. Several seconds later, I heard the sound again. However, this time it was unmistakably a large animal producing it. I froze right behind two trees on my right. I listened. The noise came again, so I peeked out from behind the trees. Sitting on its haunches amongst the berry bushes was a small 150-200 lb black bear – about 20 feet away. It was scooping the berries off the bushes and into its mouth with its claws. It still hadn’t seen me up to that point. However, when I ducked back behind the tree, its feeding noises stopped. I pulled out my camera and peeked back out to see the bear completely focused on me now. We stared at each other for a few seconds before the little fella rolled back and twisted onto his feet, and then took off down the hill.It was an amazing – AND amazingly close encounter. I won’t lie… when I first laid eyes on the bear and noticed I was so close (without its awareness of my presence), I was really worried about startling it – especially since it was feeding. My fight or flight response deff kicked in and gave me a bit of a rush. But all was well in the end. My bear count is now at six!
I finished the last stretch to the road by 6:15 pm. Not bad for a 28 mile day. It took almost 40 minutes before two middle aged men (on their way home from work) picked me up. I never caught their names and they never really engaged with me. I got the feeling they picked up hikers all the time. Either way, they got me into Chama and dropped me off at a restaurant called “The Local,” where everyone else was having dinner at that moment.
The timing was perfect. I was able to join Jetpack, Toast, Smiles, Twigsy, Sharkbait, Leap Frog, Townie and Animal before they finished. Most of this group of individuals have been recurring faces for a very long stretch of this trail. They have been the closest thing to a trail family that I’ve had on this particular hike. Knowing them has made this experience richer. Sadly, most of them will be finishing very soon…There’s supposed to be a nasty front of weather coming in tomorrow. The consensus is to zero. The timer is off… I’m down with it!
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