Date- November 4, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 4,846 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 25 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 2,691.8 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, partly cloudy, 80s, 70s, not windy
Injuries- sore feet
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- rattlesnake, rabbits, tarantula
Days without shower- 4
Days without laundry- 4
I was up and hiking by 6:30 am, early enough to catch the sun break the horizon. No sooner did our main source of light (and skin cancer) fully rise, a pack of coyotes began raising hell somewhere on the scrub plain nearby. They were so close… but for the life of me, I couldn’t see them. The scrub bushes and cacti were just thick and tall enough to conceal them.
It was a picturesque day with smears of altostratus and stratocumulus drifting across the sky; a warm, dare I say… hot day. Easily the hottest day I can remember since the Great Basin. Both today and yesterday are among the two warmest days I’ve experienced on this entire hike. Overall, it was a very, very cold summer and fall. How ironic that we would catch the hottest temperatures in November, after hiking all summer. It feels so backwards, yet so right. After all, a southbound thru-hike is characterized as “chasing summer,” while northbound thru-hikes are characterized as “racing winter.” Well, it seems we caught summer – or rather summer caught us (at least for these last few days).
I hiked very quickly through the morning, pouring sweat and marveling at the freakishly hot weather. The trail was a rocky service road that continued to chew up my feet for most of the morning, as well as the afternoon (when it turned back to cross country for a little while).
Sometime around the 7 mile mark I ran into Fuzz taking a shade break in a large wash on the side of the trail. I joined him for half an hour before we continued on together. During the break I joked that I was hopeful to see a rattlesnake today due to the heat. Low and behold, we nearly stepped on one that was stretched across the trail a couple miles later.
This was my first live CDT rattler. I was determined to catch it and have a thrice caught rattler; one for each triple crown trail. In my mind, that would be a gratifying achievement, given my affinity for snakes. The universe had other plans…
This was the angriest rattlesnake I’ve ever seen in my life. I think it might be due to being so late in the season, but this snake was unnaturally mean. Right away, I knew it was way too active and resistant to catch safely. The red flags were everywhere, but I was determined to have my triple crown snake catch.
After considerable trouble, I finally got the head pinned. At this point a rattler will either freeze and be docile, or thrash around like crazy. To my relief, this one went perfectly still – as calm as a Hindu cow. My next move was to bring my hand up from behind its head, and then pin its head down further with my forefinger. This would prevent it from opening its mouth as I got a firm grip behind the head with the inside of my thumb and side of my middle finger. If you can’t picture this grip in your mind, I’ve provided a photo of what it looks like (below).
As I slowly slid my pointer finger over my staff (and subsequently the back of the snake’s head) – I was less than a centimeter away from making contact with the snake. At that point, it suddenly twisted only the front left side if its jaw open… and swept its gaping maw towards my finger. I have never in my life seen a snake twist one small part of its jaw in that way (with so much of its head already pinned). The edge of the front left corner of its mouth grazed my finger as I yanked it away faster than I’ve ever flinched from anything. I quickly stood up and unpinned the snake. I thought I might have been been scraped by a fang and immediately looked at my finger. It was clean, but this was the closest I’ve ever come to being bit by a venomous snake (except for the one time I was bitten by a copperhead, as a teenager).
Fuzz immediately asked if it bit me. I told him “No,” but he didn’t believe me. He saw how close it was, as well as my reaction. For the next ten minutes he was convinced that I had been bitten and was hiding the fact so he didn’t freak out. I’d like to think I could be so calm and level headed and pull off that sort of demeanor – had I been bit.
When I stood up, I knew I wasn’t mucking around with the snake anymore. This was a sign, and I was reading it loud and clear! I moved it further off trail with my staff, cut my losses, and moved on. That snake punked the hell out of me. Kudos to it!
As it would go, Toad Uncle would see two rattlesnakes today; Jetpack would see one rattlesnake; and Fuzz and I only saw the one. All of them were in different areas. It would seem the recent bout of warm weather had brought them out in force. Our snake cups runneth over for the first time on this hike. No catches for me though.
A couple miles after the snake encounter, while trying to follow signs cross country, one of my thru-hiking wishes came true. Not a moment too soon… After more than 11,000 trail miles, I finally found a cow skull in good condition – with a full set of horns! Good golly was the timing fortuitous.
So not only am I carrying three staffs in my hands, but now I had a massive cow skull with horns strapped to the top of my pack. This was an awkward and major inconvenience, but I didn’t care. You’re talking to the guy who carried a live animal on his back for 800 miles earlier this year. The head of a dead one doesn’t really register on my tolerance scale. Although at one point I forgot it was up there, and leaned over to pick something up off the ground. The skull shifted and fell forward off my pack and knocked me painfully hard in the back of my head (hard enough to rattle my vision). I was extremely lucky that none of the jagged points hit me, because I would have been leaking for the rest of the day.
All four of us caught up at a water cache a little after noon and had lunch together. It felt stifling hot! I knew it couldn’t be THAT hot. However, in comparison to our entire summer, it was sweltering; none of us could stand to be in direct sunlight. It was a welcomed discomfort. A nice change of pace.
I was the last to leave the cache and spent the rest of the 11 miles that day bumbling along by myself. The gritty rockiness of the terrain didn’t let up. By late afternoon my feet were so sore that I was sitting down just to take the weight off them. I’m genuinely surprised at how much of an issue sore feet have become this late in the game. In no way is it going to stop someone at the end of their thru-hike, but damned if it doesn’t take up a considerable amount of your attention.
As luck would have it (while coming down a rough section) – what appeared to be an early edition samurai jeep came sputtering down in the opposite direction. It turned out to be our future ride (Jeffery), bringing two male hikers named Hatchet and DJ back from the border. I spoke with them for five minutes. They gave me extra water and a sandwich before Jeffrey offered to take the cow skull and hold onto it until I finished. I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer! The trail provides…
It was a bit of a dull walk for the rest of the way to the water cache where we planned to camp. However, I did find a large tarantula within the last couple miles. For the last full day on trail… I’m very satisfied with my wildlife encounters, as well as my interesting find.
I built up a large furnace when I got to camp, after Fuzz and I scavenged a bunch of dead desert wood. Fuzz and I are now cowboy camped in front of a nice fire, while Jetpack and Toad Uncle are in their tents nearby.
THE COWBOY IN ME
As of this final night on trail, I get to claim a new personal record. I have made it through the entire state of New Mexico without setting up my tarp once. What’s more… I’ve made it through half this entire trail cowboy camping and only setting up my tarp perhaps a total of ten times. I’m pretty proud of that, especially given the trail I’m actually on…
THE LAST NIGHT
The River of Souls is flowing brightly above me right now, as the fire glows warmly at my feet. I feel sad. It’s finally the last night, and that knowledge and awareness has set in. Very soon, I will no longer be spending time with these new friends. No more staring at the stars every night. No more trail routines. No more trail logistics. No more focusing on this particular goal anymore. This sad feeling isn’t all encompassing or pervasive… but rather something I only feel when I think about those individual reflections specifically. If I don’t think about them, then I’m just here – now. The overall permeating sadness and depression hasn’t taken hold yet, and probably won’t until the hike is over. I suppose we’ll see…
I’m thinking back on this entire hike… and it feels like it has gone by very quickly. However, as mentioned earlier, when I try to think back to individual places and experiences – they feel like ages ago. It’s a strange time warp. This was an interesting year to hike this trail – it was so unseasonably cold and wet throughout the summer months. The complete opposite of my 2017 experience out here. I don’t know that I’d even characterize this year’s hike as being that difficult. I don’t really know how to explain it – but I’m going to make that attempt in my eventual post-trail writings.
It’s 14 miles to Mexico tomorrow… and then this hike will be over.
You can read my current and past posts, and see my photos by clicking this link and going to Boundlessroamad.com