Date- October 26, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Distance Traveled Today- 22.4 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 2,508.7 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 60s, 70s
Injuries- rotten toenail
Pain level- low
Spirits/Morale- Excited for town
Wildlife encounters- turkeys, whitetail
Days without shower- 10
Days without laundry- 10
I slept very warm and comfortable in front of the fire last night. It was still smoldering this morning, so I left it that way for Fuzz when he eventually got up.
Ideally I wanted to start earlier, but it was nearly 8 am when I got back in the trenches, so to speak. The trail remained obscure, bushwhacky, and full of stickers. It ended up taking me slightly more than 3 hours to finish the last 7.5 of the canyon, crossing the river a further 31 times.
Since yesterday when I entered this last stretch of canyon I’d seen a lot of cow poop, but no cows. Honestly, it was mildly heartbreaking to know that free range cattle were permitted to graze in this canyon, and along the river. If it were up to me, it would be strictly off limits to them – mainly from an erosion of the riverbanks standpoint.
Before long, I began to run into cattle, but it was all range bulls peppered throughout the canyon. I saw more than a dozen (mostly loners), but there were some who’d paired up or congregated in groups of 3 or more. It seems all of the heifers had been rounded up while the bulls were left to wait on a new crop of ladies to be brought in.
I hadn’t noticed last night… but once I started hiking, I realized I’d cooked one of my shoes over the fire a little too long while drying it out. The top of my left shoe had crinkled and folded into itself a little bit, creating a ridge that is now jutting down and intermittently rubbing the tops of my left toes. Furthermore, my rotten toenail is catching that ridge and peeling back about three times as often now.
At a little after 11am I finally reached the end of my 55 mile stint through the Gila River Canyon and began a 3,000 ft ascent to dryer pastures. My river crossings reached some 270 times over the past three days. I’ve decided beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Gila River Canyon is my overall favorite section of trail between the three Triple Crown Trails. You really do feel like you’re walking on another world. Experiencing the beauty and solitude down there was intoxicating. I was perplexed by the lack of humans.
It wasn’t lost on me that only having 7.5 miles by after 11am was a terrible start to a 37ish mile day, but I was determined to stick with it. In fact, I was excited to finally have a big climb to tackle after being on flat, wet, cold trail for the past few days.
Miles to Go
I hit the climb hard, wanting to average over 3 mph to the top – some 7 more miles ahead. It felt good to sweat and tax my lungs for a change. It was a gorgeously clear day. I was soon pouring sweat and enjoying the endorphins coursing through my body. Then I made the mistake to check my progress and was met with a major buzz kill.
I had literally been digging into this climb with everything I had… when I decided to check my progress, so I could determine my pace. I had been climbing for 23 minutes when I checked my GPS location – and it revealed I’d only gone 3/10ths of a mile. Basically a little more than one lap around a track. Obviously I’d gone further, and this was only evidence of another distance warp mistake on the electronic maps. Still, this meant I had no way of knowing exactly how far I needed to go, or the time it would take to get there. Suddenly, my 36-mile day became a minimum of 37 miles, with an unknown maximum. Annoyance crept over me, but I kept my head and focus. I continued on as every mile for the rest of the day seemed to come slower than usual, whether it really was or not.
Back on High Ground
The environment changed almost immediately once out of the canyon. It went from luscious, almost jungle-like forest, to high desert. Very quickly it was all scrub, scrub oaks, cactus, and intermittent ponderosa.
Once again, it took me nearly 4 hours to do the seven-mile, three thousand foot climb. This had nothing to do with it being a challenge, and everything to do with the miles not adding up.
At one point, I heard the sound of a small motorized vehicle coming closer down a forest road that was congruent with the trail. Suddenly, two whitetail doe came trotting around a turn in the road and froze. It sounded like the motorized vehicle was on the other side of the turn, and the deer were in a spot where they could be seen from either side of the turn. I continued walking towards them and they casually trotted off the road and into the scrubby woods.
Thirty seconds later, a single ATV with two men holding crossbows, rounded the corner. They looked at me and the driver said in an annoyed tone to his companion, “Oh, that’s why they ran off the road.” I couldn’t help but interpret this as him blaming me for scaring the deer. I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking… “Yeah, chasing deer on an ATV with crossbows isn’t something that would normally scare them.”
This is a Trail
I crested the climb around 3 pm with 22 miles left to reach Silver City. I felt good about getting in a little later, but that good feeling soon evaporated. The trail became wildly overgrown and poorly marked. I was pushing through endless scrub on all sides, getting my arms and legs painfully scratched up in the process. The trail disappeared intermittently and was only marked by cairns. Unfortunately, many of the cairns were obscured by overgrowth, or simply didn’t exist. I would have followed footprints, but the trail was almost exclusively sandstone that left no trace of anything. Frustration gripped me again…
I kept at it until dark. My progress had remained slow for the entire day – regardless of the effort I put forth. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. At 7pm I still had over 14 miles, but relinquished myself from that big day obligation. I suppose I could have rallied, but my heart wasn’t in it.
As the last of the light faded, I found a small clearing in the shrubs and threw down my sleeping pad. My camp setup and breakdown has gotten even quicker without having to lay down or fold up a groundsheet. I’d be screwed in a heavy rain or on extra moist ground, but for now it’s working out! I’m going to try to to continue the cowboy camping without the groundsheet until Mexico. I feel like I’ve leveled up in my cowboy camping by forced necessity (rather than by choice), and now it’s really got me thinking…
There could be 3 levels to cowboy camping: Level one – groundsheet and sleeping pad; Level two – no groundsheet and only a sleeping pad; Level three – no sleeping pad, just you and the earth. No promises on hitting level three on this trip, but it’s happening at some point!
I’m gonna try and get up extra early and get into town before noon tomorrow. It looks like the trail will be exclusively forest road for most of the next 14 miles, so that will make it quicker.
It’s a calm night and the milky way is glowing up above. I read recently that many ancient civilizations referred to it as the “Pathway to the Underworld,” or the “Pathway of Souls.” I think it looks more like a river of light, than a pathway or road. So, I’ve been affectionately thinking and referring to it as the “River of Souls” every time I see it, reference it, or think about it. I can’t imagine what a profound affect and impression the night sky must have had on our ancient ancestors. There’s so much going on up there; it’s no wonder it’s had so much influence on civilizations up to this point…
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