Date- October 5, 2019
Location- Lagunitas Campground
Elevation- 10,561 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 22.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 2,043.3 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 50s
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- 3 bears
Days without shower- 2
Days without laundry- 2
Initially, this morning I had been looking forward to sleeping in and being productive with the blog, among other things. However, the universe had other plans… and by universe, I mean “Data.” Data is the hiker from Hong Kong you’ve heard me mention earlier in the blog, in southern Montana and throughout Wyoming. He’s an incredibly intelligent and outgoing guy who lives up to his trail name. He’s got the scoop on just about anything you could ask him about – trail related or otherwise. Anyway, he randomly showed up in Chama to visit and help out any hikers that might be around. So even before 7 am, he’d already met other hikers, found out where everyone else was staying, and was now knocking on our motel door.
So the day got kick-started earlier, as five of us had an early breakfast at a joint called “Fina’s Diner.” It was very unassuming from the outside, but this place has achieved legend status in my book. I ordered a cinnamon roll and “Fina’s Burrito.” The burrito was only $12, so I didn’t think too much of it, even when Leap Frog had warned me yesterday that it was a huge burrito. In the end, it was the biggest burrito I’ve ever seen or had in my life! It had to be around 4 pounds. It was stuffed with hash-browns, eggs, bacon, ham, onions, and topped with more eggs and smothered in red hatch chilies. This was a behemoth filled with a medley of food.
I immediately didn’t think I could eat the entire thing. But… after Leap Frog had bragged about eating it, I knew I had to finish it one way or another. I outweigh him by at least 60 pounds, so I couldn’t be put to shame in the eating department.
Truth be told, he’s the only reason I finished it; I was absolutely miserable in doing so! I would have stopped 3/4 of the way through if the bar hadn’t already been set. Instead, I forced it all down on top of the Cinnamon roll I shouldn’t have ordered, and then almost booked the room for another night. I didn’t think I could move without getting sick. In the end, Jetpack talked me into going back to trail with everyone else. After all, it would be the last time I got to hike a section with four of them – Smiles, Leap Frog, Sharkbait, and Twigsy. They had all become like family over the past weeks and months. I’m surely going to miss them.
Data gave us all a ride back to trail in his Sprinter Van tiny home, and we were hiking by 10 am. I had to lay down on the side of the trail for half an hour within the first mile to get over some shooting pains in my stomach, but after that I felt great. Two miles later, I was officially in New Mexico!
DING – DING – DING – DING – DING
Getting to this point is just as important (if not more important) than doing the San Juans. Reaching New Mexico as a south-bounder, with your footprints connecting (while also having done the San Juans ) is like beating the buzzer. You’ve made it! From here on out you can go as fast or slow as you want. There’s no more time crunch. No more rush to beat winter. Yeah, it can still get really cold and even snow. However, once you’re down into the desert, you can pretty much handle whatever can typically hit you for the rest of the year. It’s a HUGE weight off the shoulders and mind.
The trail was different almost immediately – both in good and bad ways. On the positive side, the climbs became extremely gentle and much shorter. On the negative side, the trail once again would simply disappear, or split off without a sign, or get lost in a jumble of cow trails. Whatever… It still beats dying on a freezing ridge. I’ll take it!
FACE TO FACE
My wildlife lucky streak continued today! About 5 miles into New Mexico, as I was coming around a tight turn in heavily forested trail, there was a mother black bear and her two cubs walking north. We came face to face about 30 feet from each other; both mamma bear and I froze at the exact same time. We just stared at each other for about two seconds before she turned and ran perpendicular to the trail. I pulled out my camera in hopes of getting a shot of them running away. As I took a few steps forward, they had already stopped just off the trail and were standing there again. I pulled out the camera just in time to get a shot of the three of them running away for a second time. Another close and lucky bear encounter! I’m now up to nine bears for this hike – a number I can be proud of!
Herd em, Herd em, Herd em…Keep Them Doggies Rollin
The rest of the day passed quickly and uneventfully. I saw some cowboys on horseback herding cows onto a trailer. From what I’ve heard, this is the time of year they move the range cows to lower pastures so they don’t freeze to death during the winter.
I met up with everyone else at Lagunitas Campground just before dark. Leap Frog had a fire going, so we all had dinner together while huddled around its warmth. Peacock is here too. I first met him in Leadore, Idaho and hiked around him all the way into the Basin. The Basin was the last time I saw him before he got ahead. He’d been sick with Giardia for three days in Chama, and now he had caught up.
This campground holds a sad and grisly significance. A couple years ago a CDT thru-hiker died here. His name was “Otter.” He was an older man who’d hiked the CDT several times before, and was no rookie. You can search the full story of what happened to him with just his trail name and the CDT, but I’ll give you the short of it. Basically, it was early November and he hiked to this campground – ignoring weather forecasts. A snowstorm rolled in and he got snowed into this campground and took shelter in one of the vault privys. He ended up not being able to hike out, and nobody else came up here. In the end, he spent nearly a month living in the vault privy before locking himself inside to die. He left a note on the door informing whoever found it that there was a dead CDT hiker inside, and to get help. There’s more details, but I’ll leave those up to you to discover. Another long trail hiker tragedy indeed.
I’m cowboy camped under a clear sky right now. I think we’re planning a 28 mile day tomorrow. The terrain looks unbelievably mild, so it should be an easy day. Hopefully, looks aren’t deceiving.
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