Hanging Around in Pie Town

Lunch at Asian Super Buffet was probably the best $16 I’ve ever spent. Afterwards, a couple of pounds heavier, I walked a few hundred yards to check in at the Super 8 motel. Much to my relief, my new boots had arrived. I resupplied at the nearby Walmart, then ate a small, late dinner in my room.

Leaving Grants, I’d decided against the Bonita-Zuni alternate. I returned to the CDT, walked five miles down the road, and stopped for a sandwich at Subway. I also ate some snacks from the small convenience store next door, which delayed the afternoon’s tedious road walk just a little while longer.

As expected, walking the highway was pretty boring. Occasionally, I’d see something unusual among the litter at the side of the road, which soon gave me an idea.

Bring the Bling

The rules of the game are simple. Use any interesting roadside objects to decorate your surroundings, then add a FarOut comment. Subsequent hikers earn a point for spotting each of your items. Here are mine.

  1. Hat on sign.
  2. Flag on signpost.
  3. Hubcap on fencepost.

You might also be lucky enough to find a magic lamp on one of the fenceposts next to Highway 117. Fun fact: the town of Grants is named after the genie who lives inside.

Pie Town Express

Late afternoon, I stopped for water at El Malpais Ranger Station, and two hikers arrived while I was there. I hadn’t met “Seabs” before, but I’d seen “Soggy Whopper” two days earlier. We all hiked to Joe Skeen Campground and shared a campsite.

A temporary "Watch for water" sign at the roadside.

A reminder to fill up whenever possible.

We left separately the next morning, and I walked 15 paved miles on autopilot. When the CDT took a hard right turn to begin a two-day detour around El Malpais National Monument, I took the Cebolla alternate. Eventually, the alternate left the highway, and I stopped for water about a mile later. It would be my longest water-carry on the CDT: 40 miles and two nights.

The first few miles the following day were slow-going, but once the trail transitioned to dirt road, I sped up. Increasingly, the land on either side of the road was fenced off, accompanied by signs showing a ranch name and/or a “No Trespassing” warning. Trail angels own one of the properties, TLC Ranch, marked in FarOut by a campsite symbol. They also provide water, shade, and an outhouse. If I’d scouted FarOut’s waypoints more thoroughly, I could have reduced my water-carry to 25 miles and one night. Oh well.

About four miles south of TLC Ranch, I camped in an area with no fences or signs. Next morning, I left at the same time as usual but arrived at the Pie-O-Neer Restaurant much too early. It was Sunday, and the place didn’t open until noon. Still, it was worth the wait, and I ate three pieces of pie before heading to the Toaster House.


Several years’ worth of FarOut comments describe some of the Toaster House’s colorful history, but not how it got its name. When I saw all the electric toasters decorating the front yard, I understood. Someone had obviously played Bring the Bling at a professional level.

The house was deserted, and it felt a little odd to simply walk in and make myself at home. I hadn’t been inside for long when “Bullwinkle,” a SOBO who I hadn’t met before, arrived. We chatted, and I discovered that the next day was Columbus Day. The post office would be closed, and I’d have to wait until Tuesday to collect my box. I’d be forced to take my first zero in a town where there was nothing to do. Great.

Another SOBO, “Tetanus,” arrived later that afternoon. He and Bullwinkle departed the next morning, and I waited outside the post office for an hour, just in case someone happened to be working. At nine o’clock, I gave up. I busied myself with some Toaster House chores for about two hours, until a pair of hikers arrived. Their names were “Thumper” and “Locomotive,” and I’d last seen them in Island Park, Idaho. We had some catching up to do.

Another thru-hiker showed up about three hours later, and there was something familiar about him. When “Hawaii” introduced himself, I realized that I’d last seen him on the PCT, north of the Paradise Valley Café. All four of us went for some pie, and my forced-zero turned into a mini reunion.

At the Pie-O-Neer, there was another hiker I hadn’t seen in a while, “Mr. X.”

Mr. X

He and I met less than three weeks earlier, in Chama. I’d introduced myself, but he was sure he’d seen me before. Somewhere in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, he decided. The only thru-hikers I could remember from the Bob were a non-chatty trio whose vibe was “We’re here to make miles, not friends.” In the Bob, Mr. X and I hadn’t actually spoken to each other. In Chama, it took me an uncomfortable amount of time (by process of elimination) to work out who he was. We were off to a rough start.

Two days later, I saw him again. We hiked together for about an hour that morning, and I mentioned my plan to camp at Hopewell Lake. When I took a break, he continued walking, and I didn’t see him again until the lake. Even though I hadn’t arranged to meet him, he was irritated that I was late.

I’d perused the FarOut comments during my break, and Mr. X obviously hadn’t, so I brought him up to speed.

  • The campground waypoint is actually a day-use area.
  • The campground was 0.6 miles away, cost $24, and the faucet wasn’t working.
  • Hopewell Lake “has a lot of algae” and “Tastes of bog.” I’d already detoured to its inlet to get water.

This annoyed him even more, which he communicated clearly, “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?!”

I didn’t argue, but I did decide to camp alone that evening.

Change of plans

The Toaster House hiker box contained a massive amount of food, and I spent some time on Monday morning tidying it up. That evening, I realized that about 75% of hikers I’d met since Cuba had upped their daily mileage and were making a break for the border. This inspired me to regain my lost day. Rather than hike two days to Reserve, resupply, and take another four to Doc Campbell’s Post, I’d go directly to Doc’s in five days.

At eight o’clock Tuesday morning, I picked up my box at the post office. It contained a generous amount of food for two days, and I could stretch that by half a day. I selected an additional 2.5 days’ worth of food from the Toaster House hiker box and organized it on the kitchen table. Mr. X kept a judgmental eye on things, and it wasn’t long before he couldn’t contain himself.

“You know, I’ve never seen someone take a full resupply from a hiker box. That’s like taking all the water from a cache.”

I didn’t want to argue, but I couldn’t say nothing.

“Not really.”

I left the house soon afterwards, and dodged Mr. X all the way to the southern border.

Parting thoughts

As I hurried out of Pie Town via the alternate, I reflected on the past couple of days.

  1. Without a caretaker, I wondered if the Toaster House’s days were numbered.
  2. When taking from a hiker box, how much is too much? Before I lost cell service, I Googled “hiker box etiquette,” but didn’t find anything useful.
  3. Having just discovered a new species, I decided to name it the “Lesser-Spotted High-Maintenance Thru-Hiker.”
A dirt road cuts through juniper trees, heading towards a small, cone-shaped mountain.

Leaving Pie Town.

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Comments 2

  • Chris : Mar 6th

    The items in the hiker box are like the Isle of Misfits Toys. No one wants them, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Some aren’t as useless as you’d expect and are just a little odd, like the scooter, airplane, or the Charlie-in-the-box. Those items will be picked up by someone, because they can be useful. But when? Some don’t make sense at all like a train with square wheels or a cowboy who rides an ostrich. Those poor items will never know the love of a thru-hiker, until a hiker named “Yukon Cornelius”, “Hermey the Elf”, or yourself comes to the rescue.

    I just realized you’re from the UK, so I apologize if you don’t get the reference.

  • bricks : Mar 9th

    I imagine “how much is too much” all depends on the amount currently stocked, as well as how many hikers come through. As long as the box stays half-full on 90% of all days. That’s just my perspective because I’m usually hungry, but on the other hand, I’m always happy to share food. It wouldn’t do any good if the contents of the box just sit there indefinitely


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