Thursday, April 9, 2009
Guadalupe and Sacramento Mountains, NM: A Matter of a Pinon
Miles since last blog: 117
Days since last blog: 4
Miles Total: 2910.5
About a week or so back I said something like, "I want to be broken and feel the rain wash over me in the desert and let the world pick me back up."
This definitely falls under the category of be careful what you wish for and secondarily that when vague prophecies come true, it's not exactly in the way you expect. But let me start from where I left you last.
I woke up on the side of the highway after a short day previous due to charging of gizmos and doing various internet things I hadn't been able to while in Carlsbad with my ranger pals. Call me Yogi.
It was 7 am when I woke up but I just couldn't manage to pry myself from what I now considered a comfortable bed in my home, but what is, in actuality, a smelly unwashed sleeping bag in a one man tent. I laid there, unsleeping but relaxed until 9:30 deciding that if my body wanted to rest, I should. After all, I was ahead of schedule and had a few grueling days ahead of me.
Other than that, it's pretty hard to remember that first day. Thoughts that seemed important at the time flittered through my head as I walked deeper into the desert and saw less and less of populated world. I admired the torturous twist of dead trees. How they had clearly held on to a painful and arduous life to the last, winding their ways into poses that harkened to burnt bodies, wretched and ceased, but still somehow beautiful if only to see how hard life had tried.
I passed what I believed to be the marker for my last 1000 miles as well. I was wrong. I tired early and barely made what I guessed to be 30 miles before I had my second flat (one was flat before leaving). I cursed, set up camp, tried to fix the flat and went to sleep.
It was cold. Again I woke up at 7 and again I stayed in until the sun hit my tent and warmed it passed comfort. It had gotten so cold the previous night that despite the heat which roused me from my glorious military cocoon sleeping bag, when I took a drink of water from the gallon jug I had kept in the warmth of the tent, it still had ice chunks in it. I was cold, very cold. I had about 7 miles of road before I hit dirt and on dirt I would stay.
This dirt was rocky and hard to push my carrier (which I have named Ando, yes, this one is a boy) and I saw nearly no one except a employee from the US Dept. of Ag. whose job it was to hunt Mountain Lions and Bobcats that threatened local farm business.
"What are you doing?" He asked.
"I'm walking across America," I answered. I had taken my spare sign off my back since no one was out there almost.
"Well what are you doing out here?" He continued.
"I'm heading towards Pinon on my way to Las Cruces." I said. We talked a bit about the walk and his job, the country and the road I was about to travel through.
"Is there a restaurant in Pinon?" I queried.
"Is there a gas station?" I asked hopefully.
He shook his head 'no.' I had a lot riding on Pinon, it was the only town I would hit via my route for the next 150 miles and though 4.5 gallons of water seems like a lot, it isn't that much water to take with you on this distance. I had counted on Pinon.
"There's a small store, but sometimes it's open, and sometimes it ain't." He left me and said he'd probably pass me on the way out.
The day continued, tireless toiling of pushing Ando up hills and holding back Ando from rolling down hills was almost all of it for the hottest part of the day. Dust coated everything I had and I noted how fast I was going through my bread and peanutbutter, plenty of jelly left. Other than that was only energy bars and very old snickers, the chips I had bought were already gone.
True to his word the USDA man stopped by and gave me a gatorade.
"Just stay on the main road," he warned. "There's a lot of places to turn off, but don't do that."
I went on and before too long I came to a T intersection of dirt roads. Both directions went directly up mountains and it was not at all clear which way was correct. I consulted my compass and chose. Right, North West.
It deserves to be said that this was not on my directions. In fact, from this point on many things weren't on my directions, further, many thing were that did not actually exist. Had I been at this less time or was of a more worrisome personality, this probably would have really scared me being in an unpopulated desert and all. With the cold at night, the lack of people and the heat of day, this would be an excellent place to die on accident.
I headed straight up the mountain. I had been moving up in elevation since the 3110 feet of Carlsbad's main town, but this was the pass over the Guadalupe Mountains and once more, it was a rim trail that continually had sharp rises and falls until I came to the end of the trail and a cattle guard where the sign read "Private Property," another sign read, "Danger: Cyanide Gas" and a bit more about keeping your dog away from the containers on property.
Using selective logic and an unbreakable desire not to go back the way I had came I began the decent. A crazy grade that sometimes left me gravel skiing behind an overzealous Ando. I tread carefully as the sun was slowly sinking. I did not want to sleep in a private canyon, I was resolved to come out the other side or get a ride out back to where I had turned wrong and go the other way if it came to that. urning back to where the pavement had ended was not an option, it was already 20 dusty miles behind me.
As the sun set I found that I was indeed on course. It's happened before that my route unknowingly took me on private roads, I turned down a road I could not have been more thankful to see and heard a car rumbling toward me. I thought of hiding, I thought of getting shot, I though it was best to stay on the road and see what happened.
The beat down old truck pulled up next to me.
"How you doing?" A man with gray hair and a ball cap so sweat stained it was impossible to say what it originally looked like.
"I'm a little tired, but okay."
"Yup, I figured. Bill (USDA hunter) told me you'd be headed my way." We talked a few minutes but mostly it was awkward silences. By this time I had another flat, my last spare, these roads are harsh and unforgiving to tubes and he may have offered to fix it but I couldn't understand him.
"I was a little worried I was lost for a bit." I confessed.
He took a long look at me and spit a spray of chew out the window of his truck which had a big plastic sewage container on the back. He looked at me with squinted eyes. "It's kinda hard to get lost out here, ain't no real roads to turn down."
He thought I was an idiot. I explained about the turn behind me but it seemed to make no difference. He headed off and I pumped my tire again before trucking down the rocky road. My direction told me to turn right in 3 miles, only a few things you could barely call a road popped up and I traced the main road for a while before doubt nagged me. I headed back a ways without Ando, mildly worried I would return to Ando and a furry woodland creature friend trying to get at his tasty energy bar innards.
I walked for a ways and thought back to USDA and the Spitter, the main road cropped up in my brain again. It was all dark but I was pretty sure I hadn't missed it. I went back to Ando and headed up the road again for a bit before I found myself looking at the stars and my compass and judged myself to be heading straight South which was no direction I had wanted to go. I walked ahead a bit, then I took Ando miles back to a minor turn off and left him there while I went to explore. On my way to climb a peak and see what I could I passed the carcass of a Buck which had beat eaten through the rib cages and began a mild worry that I would return to Ando to find a woodland creature that wanted my tasty innards. Among the wildlife here is lions and wolves and bears, oh my, and coyotes but who cares.
I climbed the peak and saw the far off glow of a town on the skyline in an entirely different direction. Dejected, I wandered down the mountain back to Ando and set up camp hoping it would be clearer in the morning with the sun showing me direction. The sky was cloudy so I was unsure of the North Star and an ore deposit could effect my compass, better to wait. Besides, I was exhausted, still on private property as far as I could tell and having walked about 30 miles on dirt roads and over the Guadalupe Mountains in addition to the paved beginning of the day. My body hurt and the tendons in my right ankle seemed to be stretched over the bone the wrong way so that they clicked when I stepped, my old knee ached and I wasn't getting antwhere. It was definitely time to rest.
The highlight of the evening came slightly before this when a meteor skidded through the atmosphere. It was the brightest shooting star I've ever seen, big and brilliant green shooting off orange sparks. For a moment I was sure the world was about to end, from nuclear winter, zombie apocalypse or otherwise, take your pick. It was amazing like a natural firework out in the nothing desert.
I was up and getting ready shortly after 7 am and heard a truck rolling down the road, hoping to get directions to town I made sure I was as presentable as I get. It was a USDA hunter from the other side of the range but he didn't stop. My whole body felt like rubber even after a good night's sleep, I was exhausted but I had to keep moving.
I tried to pump my tire but it was beyond help and my pump was a poor example of its kind. I swore and my eyes teared with rage. Pushing a 100 pound cart on a rocky road was hard enough, with a flat it was beginning to feel impossible. I had enough bread left for two sandwiches, less than two gallons of water which would last a day at best, I was lost and it sounded as if there might be nothing in town even if I made it there. I started walking the same stretch of road, in some parts now for the seventh time.
Follow the road.
I did. I gave up on my directions and aside from a small hope and the logic that this 'main road' should lead to town, I gave up on Pinon. I followed the road, South or wherever and gave in to it. Wherever the road went, that's where I was going. It was only a few miles and I found a road from my directions, I was more or less on track after all except for the in between roads which seemed not to exist. I gave up on it all, all except the walk and finishing. I was less than 1000 miles from the end finally and it didn't matter what the world threw at me. I would take it and keep going, I had to, there was no other option.
Continually I find the trip getting harder rather than easier, at each step I think, "if I didn't give up now, I won't." I do the same with rides, thinking, "if I didn't take a ride now, I won't." And although each time it is true, it always surprises me the lengths and efforts I will go to to finish this. Sometimes I think, "maybe I would take a ride now, I'm in pain, I'm tired." And someone will drive up and offer and a surprised "no thanks," falls from my lips.
I walked up the road for what seemed like an eternity. Every so often a local rancher would stop and talk to me for a moment.
"I wondered what made those tracks" or "No, the store isn't open," would pick me up or drag me down in turn.
One of the final men, was Rick, who offered to fix my tire. I followed him a thankfully short way to a paved road at last we worked together getting it all taken care of and filled with goo to protect it against future flats which would be less frequent on the paved road anyway.
"No, there's no store in town anymore. There used to be but the owner got sick and ever since he hasn't gotten it back open." He answered my questions with patience. "Yes, the nearest town with a store is Weed, it's North 19 miles from Pinon which is still 6 miles from here."
He invited me for lunch and I couldn't resist eating something other than PB&J sandwiches for a change. We had ham sandwiches and potato chips and it was devine, I washed my hands and was indoors for the first time in 4 days and it felt like luxury. When Rick figured out I could eat more he made me a quarter of a homemade pepperoni pizza and some cinnamon bread desert, I had been dreaming of pizza in the previous days and am hungry now as I write about it.
I set out again, to Weed, my old course abandoned for two reasons: 1) I needed supplies desperately, and 2) my original route took me through 19 miles of check pointed military base which my directions didn't disclose, along with a few mountain ranges. I was in a small gap in between the Guadalupes which I had just descended from and the Sacramentos which were ahead of me. Pinon was at over 6000 feet by Rick's guess.
I was making good time to the store in Weed until I heard news on the road that it closed early and I slowed down. My path now would take me through Cloudcroft, 9000 feet up. I ate my last sandwich and entered into the Lincoln Nat'l Forest where, already at over 7500 feet at times, it rained on my broken body in the sunlight and indeed I had been lifted by the earth, if only by it standing in mountain form in my way. After each rain the smell of pine became so strong and so reminiscent of my home in Northern California that I felt like I could have curled into a ball and fallen asleep in the road.
I was amazed to find that I ended what I guessed to be an almost 40 mile day through the mountains with an excess of energy after feeling so thoroughly broken before. I had been lost in every sense of the word and had only held that I would finish and now I was feeling triumphant almost as I set up camp behind the store I would visit in the morning.
That store is where I wrote this. finishing all but a few of my mummified fun sized Snickers bars and carefully evaluating how much i could stand to eat any more energy bars. I drank the last of my water and charged my phone which has not had reception in days, even had I wanted to quit, it wasn't an option really. The best I could do for my worried family was to get my Mom's phone to ring showing I was alive and had tried to call.
Tomorrow I will find reception in Cloudcroft, post this and make calls including to my hosts in Las Cruces to let them know I am running late. I've earned a pizza and a Superman tattoo I figure, and I'll gladly take either at the first opportunity.