Date- October 10, 2019
Elevation- 6,900 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 54.8 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 2,167.7 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 50, 40, 20s
Pain level- Zero
Spirits/Morale- Heck Yeah!
Wildlife encounters- cows
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 7
Well, I did it! So, it ended up being nearly 55 miles instead of 53. This might come across as sounding smug (which is the last thing I intend)… but today was easy. Aside from waking up early and keeping my breaks extremely short, today felt like a normal day. There was no pain. There were no physical or mental obstacles – internal or external. I didn’t have to tap into any mental or physical reservoirs of tricks or strength. It was just a long day – but a day like any other.
I woke up automatically at about 2:45 am and felt good to go. So, I turned off my alarm for 3:30 am and ambled over to the campground bathroom and tried to have a pre-hike bowel movement for about 20 minutes, to no avail. Hence, I packed up and set out, and was back on the trail and hiking at 3:28 am sharp.
Things didn’t start out so smooth. In fact, they were almost disastrous. The trail wound out into the desert for two miles before it would cross a highway. Then it wound through more desert before connecting with a forest service road for 7 miles or so.
In true New Mexico fashion, the trail on the GPS map and the trail in real life were at absolute odds. Very quickly you had no idea what trail you were on, if any. Had it been daylight, I could have just cut across country and remedied the situation. Unfortunately, the landscape was a minefield of washes, dense scrub, forest, and cliff-type rises. I couldn’t just wander around in the dark bumping into things. I became frustrated to the point of almost sitting down and waiting for daylight, squandering my early start.
SPOOKY NIGHT HIKE
Instead, after considerable wandering in the direction of the highway (as best I could) – I came upon a trail with horse hoof prints. It didn’t line up with anything on my maps. However, after following them for a moment, a blue blaze appeared on a wooden post. I continued to follow the path which seemed to be leading me in the correct general direction. Then it took me into some extremely dense scrub forest that honestly creeped me out, to the point of almost turning back. I have done a great deal of night hiking, but this seriously spooked the hell out of me! Hard to explain, but it just wasn’t normal forest. It was like an evil, apocalyptic, twisted, freaky looking forest. Still, I pushed into it – and through it. After what felt like too long, an old wooden suspension bridge appeared over a deep wash. Shining my light onto it, I couldn’t see the other side. Checking my maps, I didn’t see any indication of a bridge anywhere. “Screw it,” I thought, and walked across the more than 100 ft long bridge, as it swung and bobbed… while I skipped over the missing slats.
THE TRAIL NOT TRAVELED
Once on the other side, the terrain opened up into mostly sagebrush. I was eventually able to cut across to the highway, and wasn’t taking anymore chances with the desert part of the trail. So, I cut a mile down the highway and connected with the forest road (where it branched off from the highway). Then, I walked another mile and a half until I got to the point where the desert trail joined that same service road. It was further than the supposed trail. Nevertheless, I just wasn’t going to wander around the desert in the dark, with a map that wasn’t doing me any good. It had taken me over an hour to go the first two miles, and that was a big enough setback in itself.
I hit my stride and took the rest of the day by storm. I had over 10 miles by 7 am, then took ten minutes to eat breakfast. My breakfast was a giant honey-bun and two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (I made the night before in the dining hall).
I caught up to Nom and Sundown before 9:30 am. They’d both left Ghost Ranch before noon yesterday. Even I was surprised to have caught them so early. I spoke with each for a couple minutes and never saw them again for the rest of the day.
The first 18 miles or so were desert biome, before the trail began to climb. Cumulatively, the trail gained nearly 8,000 feet of elevation after Ghost Ranch and rose back into the alpine zone.
BACK TO ALPINE
After a series of earlier climbs, the trail began a 2,700 ft climb before a short dive to earth. Next came a 3,100+ ft climb (up to 10.5k feet) where it stayed for over 5 miles, before a nearly 4,000 ft drop to Cuba. Throughout this crazy climbing day, I took the following breaks: one 10 minute break at 7 am for breakfast; one 10 minute break at 11:30 am for lunch; one 15 minute break at 2:10 pm to filter a couple liters of water and have a snack; and a 5 minute break at 4:15pm to put on warmer layers, gloves, activate my hand warmers, and eat a quick snack.
Throughout the entire day I felt like a machine – like a trail terminator. My legs were like unfeeling hydraulic levers. I hadn’t felt this good or hiked this hard since Wyoming. The lower elevations were very kind to my body.
By noon I had just under 26 miles, and by dark (at 7 pm) I had over 46 miles. The last 8 miles into Cuba were all forest roads, residential roads, and a mile on the highway. I’d been in contact with Jetpack and let her know what I was doing and when I’d probably hike in. She let me know the motel and room number where her and Smiles checked in.
I finished up those last 8 miles in the dark and was cruising into the motel at 9:40 pm. It took only a little over 18 hours of hiking to get 54.8 miles. I managed to just barely maintain a 3 mph pace throughout 8,000 feet of climbing.
All in all, it wasn’t a very eventful day. There were no animal sightings or dramatic happenings. It was all business in the way of nonstop walking.
It was slated to get intensely cold tonight. By 4 pm (up around 10.5k ft) the temperature felt as though it was already well below freezing. It became warmer as I descended, but freezing cold again once I was within the flat-lands of the town.
Everything in the town was closed when I got there (except a couple gas stations). Jetpack told me not to get anything on my way in because she (along with Smiles) had got me “something.” That something ended up being a big box of fried chicken, honey BBQ buffalo wings, macaroni, and mashed potatoes with gravy. Not a bad way to wrap up a long day!
I’m exhausted, but feel good. I don’t feel like I need a zero tomorrow, so the plan for now is to hike out. New Mexico feels like it’s flying by.
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