CDT Days 18-22: Trail Closures and Becoming a Thru-hiker

Day 18 

Zero Day in Pie Town 

Shadowhawk talks with local author, Uncle River, while sorting his resupply at the Toaster House.


Day 19

25 miles

It was hard to leave the hot coffee and chairs behind at Pie House. We reluctantly left there a few hours after we had planned and started down the gravel road. We were all having a good time talking and singing together since we could walk side by side down the road, but I was starting to feel a little sick and more tired than I should have been after two neros and a zero. I chocked it up to the coffee and key lime pie I had for breakfast and the hot sun reflecting off the road, creating visible heat waves. 


In the early afternoon, we made it to an old boarded up building by the side of the road on a property owned by TLC Ranch. We knew there was water for hikers there so we walked around the back and found an entrance to an annex on the side of the building. 10 hikers were already hiding from the sun in there, drinking from the three orange water coolers. After some time, a woman came down the driveway on an ATV with 6 styrofoam to-go boxes and set them on the table. 


“Does anyone else want elk burritos?” 


I raised my hand along with several other newcomers. 


“I just put a cobbler in the oven, too. But it will be a while until it’s ready. Who wants some of that?” 


She was back in half an hour with the second batch of burritos, each box lovingly packed with a burrito, green beans, and rice. The green beans tasted so good to me, must’ve been a while since I had a vegetable. 


“I noticed you have some horses over there and I thought I heard some turkeys” 


“Yeah, I don’t even know how many horses we have now,” she said “and there’s turkeys and chickens. We had a milk cow, but she ate something poisonous and died, it was so horrible and sad. Now we have to buy milk. And it’s been so dry there’s nothing for the horses to eat, we’ve had to buy hay. The guys went last week to buy hay and it should have lasted a month but they’ve already eaten it all”


“Oh, damn, that is sad. How much does hay cost down here?” I asked. 


“I think they said they paid $12 a bale, I don’t know how much they bought but I know it was over $1000” 


One of my favorite parts of thru-hiking is meeting locals and getting a glimpse of what life is like for them. The conversation with this woman was such a wild west story it was almost cliche, but her kindness was striking. That’s the kind of experience that brings me out here in the first place.   


I made sure to leave a donation before I left. 

We were walking on a dirt road through open range land, miles from the nearest tree, when we decided to camp that night. Although the landscape was devoid of any vegetation that might offer any break from the wind, we did find a group of concrete tunes by the road and decided to hunker down there for the night. While the rest of us chose the dirt behind the culverts, Mummy decided to sleep in the tube itself. 


Day 20 

8 miles 

When I woke up in the morning, I immediately had to go dig a cathole, walking just far enough away to pretend to have some semblance of privacy in the desert. That’s when I realized that the sick feeling from the day before might be more than too much coffee and pie. Over the next 4 gravel road miles to the Cebolla alternate trailhead, where the CDT turns into a trail again, I had to run to the sparse bushes 4 more times as waves of nausea, exhaustion, and stomach cramps rolled over me. At this point, if I were to turn off on the alternate with my tramily, it would be 13 miles until the next road. I could try to do the alternate and see how I was feeling at the end of it or I could continue another 4 miles to highway 117 and hitch to town. I wasn’t a fan of getting off trail at that point and besides 13 miles isn’t THAT far and I didn’t feel THAT bad, but I knew long water carries were ahead and I was already risking dehydration. It would be a rigamarole if I couldn’t make it 13 miles and had to be rescued. Having grown used to hiking 25+ miles a day with regularity, it seemed insane that I wouldn’t make it that far. It is incredible how quickly you can lose the ability you once had. 

I decided to go to town just in case. I was happy I did. I didn’t make it another 200 yards down the road without having to stop again, and every half mile after that, now coming out of both ends. It took eons but I made it to the road, threw my pack down on the pavement and sat on it with my head on my knees. It was a good 15 minutes until the first car went by, a white pickup that sped up past me when I stuck a thumb out. I went back to the fetal position to wait for another, and another, all passing. Finally, I started waving and making pleading motions, a Tesla pulled over. I grabbed my pack and tried to jog over. 


“Are you okay?” the forty something man yelled over to me.


“Yeah, I’m fine, well, not really. My filter broke and I think I drank some bad water” I explained trying to get my point across without going into too much detail about what had ensued over the last several hours. I still wanted him to let me into his fancy clean car, after all. 


I thanked him heartily when we got to the hotel in Grants 45 minutes later, “You’re a lifesaver, seriously”. 


I paid for two nights at the front desk, but check in wasn’t for a couple more hours. I talked to other thru hikers in the lobby about the potential upcoming closures. While we were in Pie Town, the USFS had announced that, in the upcoming week, they were closing all National Forest land in New Mexico north of Grants due to extreme fire danger. With most of the trail north of there on National Forest land and no viable alternates other than a 250 miles road walk, it was looking like we had no choice but to flip up somewhere else. 


The giardia got worse before it got better. After sleeping for a few hours, I managed to stumble over to the Walmart to get Gatorade and a bunch of food that I wouldn’t be able to stomach for days. On the morning of the third day in town, the rest of the tramily caught up. After hearing them describe the last section, I was sad to have missed the beauty but happy with my decision to bail before it got too bad. Everyone complained about running out of water on the 24 mile water carry and described having to flag by passing cars on the roadwalk to beg for water. 

I was feeling better on the third day so I went back to thru-hiker life as usual, hitting up the Chinese food buffet for lunch before heading over to a brewery to pregame for Grit’s birthday party at an airbnb for pizza and more beer. I was having a good time until 3am when the giardia revolted and came back with a vengeance to the tune of constant stomach cramps and running to the bathroom every 30 minutes until 9am. At some point in those horrific hours, I became a thru-hiker. It’s kind of a running joke of mine that you’re not a real thru-hiker until you crap your pants, an achievement I have earned on all three triple crown trails now. I celebrated by turning on the shower, sitting on the floor, and staring at the wall. 


I slept the entire day after that, grateful for the closure, knowing that no one was in a rush to get back on trail. At one point,  Shadowhawk informed us that his friend from Farmington had a 7 passenger van, was willing to pick us up, give us a place to stay as long as we needed, then drop us back off at the trail in Colorado. The trail provides!  

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