CDT Day 95-101: Rivers, Rain, and Roadwalks

CDT Day 95

It’s a misty morning when I wake. I’m banked in fog. I eat my last poptart and wash it down with some black coffee and head off to part the mist.

When the fog lifts, the sun feels so good.

I sing to the cows.

I squish through the mud.

I have an easy 15 miles into town.

I pass a prison along the way and an ironic sign.

Guess I’m walking this highway. First stop in town… food, duh. Denny’s it is.

Pumpkin pancakes, omg I love fall. After stuffing my face I head over to Walmart to resupply and then find a Motel 6 which is surprisingly cheap for how nice it is. Just another reason I love New Mexico. A much needed shower, trying to scrub all the mud and cow poo off me and my clothes. I spend the rest of the evening relaxing, watching some football and baseball, something I haven’t done in months, eating, stretching, and finally giving my legs a break.

My room is a mess of gear and clothes, attempting to dry everything out. I watch the sunset and enjoy knowing I’ll be sleeping in a warm bed on this cold night.

CDT Day 96

Wake up and have a leisurely morning leaving the motel. I put off leaving as long as possible because I know I have a long road walk ahead of me, ugh. When I do take off, the valley is banked in a thick fog, which is fun to watch the train that rolls by disappear into. But the sun is shining and soon I have a warm day. The whole day I walk on the edge of a highway. Not hard necessarily, but hard in its own way because walking on asphalt all day ain’t fun and having to be on constant alert for approaching cars to make sure they see me or for me to bail off the road. But at least I have some neat views to entertain me.

I find a closed ranger station to grab water at and at the end of the day a car stops and gives me some water, a banana, and some fruit roll ups. A few other cars stop and ask me if I need a ride, especially as it starts to get dark. The sights of the canyon are insane.

I am mesmerized by all the cool rock formations.

I keep thinking to myself, how did I never know New Mexico is so amazing?

I have to push a big day to get off the highway to find a place to sleep. My hips are screaming at me by the time I finally stop. I feel like a 90 year old. Why are road walks always the hardest? I feel really sick the last couple miles of the day, not sure if it’s just from pain or the sun or what, but I have never been so excited to crawl in my sleeping bag. My hands and feet are disgustingly swollen. My body feels weird, like my back and neck and chest need to be cracked a million times. Apparently sleeping in beds and walking on roads just doesn’t work for me anymore. Hoping the highway noises don’t keep me me up and I can get a good night of rest which my body definitely needs.

CDT Day 97

I wake up when the highway noise starts up. It’s still dark and oh, so freezing. I try to sleep but once it’s light I give up. The sun hasn’t risen yet and the full moon is still out against the changing color of the already blue sky. My tent is soaked despite no rain. Since there weren’t any trees nearby when I set up last night, my tent soaked up all the condensation. But I feel much better than I did last night, thank goodness. The air goes from freezing to tolerable in about one second once the sun pops into the valley. I walk muddy jeep trails, get into some canyons, wade through tall grass, pass a couple hunters on quads and eventually pop out on a dirt road. I see a few houses along the way. A few cars pass and one guy gives me a couple bottles of cold water. People are awesome! I pass by some cool old structures throughout the day.

There’s cows everywhere and I shoo a few of them off midday so I can take a break and dry out my stuff. The whole rest of the day is spent on the dirt road.

My hips get a little tight, but I’m just so thankful it’s not asphalt. A FedEx driver stops to ask me if I’ve seen any other hikers recently since he found a cell phone and sleeping bag on the side of the road. I haven’t, but he tells me if I find anyone who has lost theirs to call FedEx to get them back. After he drives away I laugh at myself realizing I probably should have got more info. Just imagining the convo of a thru-hiker calling a corporate office, “Hey I lost my stuff in the middle of the desert and I hear you have it!” Oh well. Since water is super scarce in these parts, a ranch along the road has been nice enough to set up a water cache for hikers.

Way better than drinking cow poop water! I fill up and walk ’til sunset where I wander off the road and find a place to camp between a couple trees, hoping that will keep me a little drier tonight.

CDT Day 98

It’s another cold morning, but I only have 11 miles on a dirt road to walk into Pie Town so the time passes quickly. Pie Town isn’t really a town. But they do have pie. There’s also a trail angel that hosts hikers for free. I’m not staying in town since it’s so early in the day and I just had a half day off a few days ago in Grants, but I head over there to grab the shoes I shipped myself and a care package that Kim and Grant shipped me. And boy, what a care package. Thank you so much you guys! They seriously thought of everything. I definitely will not be hungry for awhile. I get a ride down to the tiny general store to buy some more fuel and come back to the hostel to start pigging out on all my food. Since I have new shoes I add my old ones to their shoe wall.

I head out in the afternoon, back on the dirt road which feels great in new shoes.

It’s another easy day hiking, which is good since my pack is now loaded with an insane amount of food. I even find a tarantula on the way!

I make it to Divila Ranch at sunset. The owners have made a little oasis for hikers out here.

Shower, a real toilet, washing machine, fridge with some potatoes and onions, a few propane stoves, even wifi and electricity!

How cool! And it’s all covered!

I set up my sleeping pad and bag on the ground inside and make myself right at home. I cook up one of my delicious meals from my care package.

I never splurge for pricey dehydrated meals so these things are always a treat. Especially pho, oh how I love pho! This one has to be one of the best dehydrated meals I’ve had. And honestly, probably the healiest thing I’ve ate in awhile. It’s the little things in life like a roof over your head and a hot bowl of soup from a kind soul on a cold night that really make me smile and appreciate life. Feeling very thankful today.

CDT Day 99

I toss and turn al night. I’m so used to sleeping inside my tent now, anything else just seems so foreign. But I wake up and have a real toilet and a wood stump to sit on to eat. I fry up a plain potato on the propane grill and throw it in with my dehydrated scrambled egg meal from Kim and Grant. Mmm so good. I’ve been eating a poptart or protein bar for breakfast recently so this is a huge improvement. I set off on the day. The majority of the day is still spent on the dirt roadwalk. But I get into real forests and it is very pleasant.

Even see some yellow aspens again!

Just when I think I am too far south to see another, they pop up again.

The high desert of pine trees and lava rock reminds me of home. Never did I think any part of New Mexico would look like Northern California. Towards the end of the road walk I pass a couple hunters on a side-by-side. They offer me water and can’t understand why I’m not carrying a gun. I tell them I feel safer out here than I do in any city which is totally true. They just stare at me like I’m an alien. I finally get back on a single track trail, although it’s pretty much overgrown with grass so the road is almost preferable.

I find a massive water tank to get water out of.

So thankful for plentiful water out here. There’s tons of little fish swimming in it and I have to be careful not to scoop them up. Although I suppose I could use the extra protein, but I haven’t succumb to slurping live goldfish… yet. I keep on until I find a place to camp at sunset. With all the lava rock out here it’s not always easy to find a place to camp. But after breaking a few branches and kicking some rocks and elk poop out of the way, I have a decent spot. Sometimes I camp in glorious spots. Most if the time though, it looks more like this.

Although I do have a decent view of the sunset.

The sky is so clear without any clouds or pollution. I love being away from cities and seeing the real sky. The colors look like the font color tab on a word processor. The colors somehow magically change from one to another, every hue imaginable, and try as I might, I can’t say where one color starts and another ends. It’s so quiet and quite magical. After I set up, I go about my daily ritual of pulling hundreds of burrs out of my socks and my absolute favorite part of the day: rubbing vaseline into my feet. It feels soooooooo good. I am definitely getting a long foot massage when I am done hiking. I get a whiff of a pleasant scent that I have been smelling recently. Sage? I’m not sure, but it smells delightful. I cook up another dehydrated meal that I’ve never tried before and man this one is good.

Some dehydrated meals are not too tasty, but this one both smells and tastes like lasagna. Thanks Kim and Grant!

CDT Day 100

Wake up warm, yay! Perks of camping up high above the valley floor. I start hearing elk bugling from the moment I wake up down in the valley below me. They sound close. Sure enough, when I hike down to the clearing all the sudden I hear the pounding of hooves and look up to see a line of elk galloping onto the valley floor. They stampede in and finally stop and stare at me. There must be 25 of them.

A calf runs back and forth along the line and taking up the rear, slowly ambling along, is a big old bull. We have a staring contest and eventually they keep on walking towards the woods. Then I spend the morning climbing up out of the valley.

And into another forest that reminds me of home.

Then I take an alternate route and dive into a canyon to go find water. There’s not much of a trail and as I’m stepping onto a log to climb over I slip and my shin hits the log hard and I slide down and fly off landing on my stomach down the hill. Luckily I didn’t land on any rocks or sharp sticks, but my leg is pretty banged up.

It’s all just superficial damage, but it sure does bleed and swell a lot. I sit down for a minute and let myself scream and cuss and once I’ve decided nothing is broke, keep on going, deciding to be a bit more careful in this terrain. I bushwack through thorny bushes and then eventually hit a dirt road that I follow for the rest of the day.

I am still walking at sunset which turns out to be such an amazing one.

I have to to keep turning around to stare at it.

I finally hit treeline after dark and stumble around until I find a place to set up under a tree that’s far enough off the road. I spend the evening listening to the elk bugle, the coyotes yip, and owls hoot, and the cows moo.

CDT Day 101

Yesterday I hopped off the main route of the CDT and onto the Gila alternate. There was a fire on the main route back in August and it’s still closed and pretty much everyone takes the Gila alternate anyways because it’s so pretty. So far it has been a road walk.

But this morning I dove down to the headwaters of the river (a cow pond, go figure) and started walking through the canyon.

Due to the late monsoon rains this year, the Gila is flowing waaay stronger and higher than normal for this time of year and because you have to cross the river hundreds of times on this alternate, the few hikers who have gone through recently have been diving off THIS alternate a little ways into it for ANOTHER alternate that takes you up on the high route above the canyon. But you do still have to walk the canyon for a little ways to get to the high route and then cross it once more way downstream when the high route descends into the canyon to get to the other rim.

When it was storming like crazy a week ago, one thru-hiker ended up in the canyon on the one day that the depth levels were very high and got pulled in over her head and got a little banged up. She was ok, but after posting about it in our CDT Facebook group and having tons of mostly non-thru-hikers blow up the fear-mongering of it, it became a big deal, and people started saying the route was impassible and that it would be weeks before anyone could get through. Fellow hikers who are behind me on the trail were texting me, trying to get advice, seeing if I had a plan for an alternate. I didn’t. There didn’t seem to be any other feasible way. And since the last reports from any hikers who had gone through were 2.5 weeks old, before the recent storm, I was pretty blind to any info.

But if I’ve learned one thing from thru-hiking, it’s to take any advice with a grain of salt. In my experience, the people with the most amount of time on their hands and the least amount of experience or knowledge of a subject are the ones who usually have the most fear of it and are the loudest about it. It’s human nature, idle minds create problems of their own to conquer, and we usually fear what we don’t understand or that which is out of our comfort zone. But giving advice on things you fear and don’t understand is fear-mongering and it’s a huge problem in the thru-hiking world (and the real world!).

I have hiked through many sections of trail before that people told me were impassible and they are some of the best days I have had hiking. But I have seen other hikers succumb to fear-mongering and miss out on amazing opportunities they were capable of doing, stay put in areas during bad conditions when they could have hiked on to better conditions, wait for optimal conditions which never come, take other trails they had little or poor info on that ended up being more dangerous, and unfortunately letting others dictate their hiking and not seeing what they are capable of. So I did a little research of my own, found some daily depth level charts, decided that if I kicked my butt in gear and pushed a bit, I could get through the river crossings just before the next storm hit and decided to go for it. I have a decent amount of experience in dangerous river crossings and I know what I am capable and not of doing solo and knew that I was close enough to enough roads with hunters that I could bail to if needed and not be stranded without food. I did all this decision-making a few days ago when I had cell service, so I’ve been a little anxious and excited the past few days to just see what all the fuss was about and see if I could actually get through this section.

When I got to the river I could see that many of the “trail crossings” would put me over my head in water so I decided to make my own route, crossing where I could find rock hops, and climbing uphill to go around any areas I couldn’t easily cross to the other side of. I managed to keep my feet dry until I hit the part of the high route that dives back into the canyon and crosses to the other rim. By this time I was way downstream and the water was much stronger and the river much wider. But it looked doable so I took my time fording, the water coming up to my shorts, and when I got to the strongest part of the current where I could really feel its force I concentrated on keeping three points of contact with the ground at all times between my feet and poles and made it safely across. I climbed up out of the canyon just as the thunder started cracking in the distance and had some rim walking as I watched the storm roll in.

The rain finally came and darkened everything as I walked through the eye of the storm and watched as the lightning lit up everything around me. Luckily the storm and I were heading different directions and while I was setting up my tent it died off and left the world a little damp and misty and eerily quiet. The real storm is supposed to hit tomorrow, so maybe I’ll luck out with a dry night.

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Comments 3

  • Betty Claussen (on face book, I go by "Karen Melton" from Alturas : Oct 18th

    My husband and I knew your folk’s way back in Murphys…in the 70’s! Debbie Ponte sent me your blog! Amazing…I’m speechless! Very interesting – love the Aspen. Love your stories and pictures. Now MY feet ache and I don’t even want to talk about my hips (ha-ha)!!! Now we live in Angels Camp and have a cabin on the west side of Goose Lake in Modoc County, off the grid!! It’s great. My darling husband passed away on 10/10/20, or, as I tell everyone, on 10-10 (Out of Service)! I just got back from our cabin. It’s so peaceful up there. I’ll continue to check on you (through Debbie). Thanks for a visual…Betty xxoo

  • Tom : Oct 19th

    Jenn, you have grit and wisdom of the wilds. Keep going-and writing. Your posts are so positive (when I know you suffered a lot in the San Juans especially). And such descriptive writing! I love reading about your journey so don’t stop! One foot ahead of the other. Looking forward to day 130!

  • Rammy : Oct 20th

    You take beautiful pictures,I didn’t know new Mexico was so you have a gear list?what kind of trail runners ect… tent,pack do you have.why not hiking boots?


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