Monday, June 29, 2015

May 29 Day 35 Welcome to Snow - En Route to Chama

Another leisurely day.  We woke up late, ate breakfast, and wrote in our journals still in our sleeping bags. Got on trail by 9!  That's the latest for me so far.  What was the rush?  

There was a lot of snow and it seemed to be melting substantially. There was water everywhere!  Springs flowing, marshy areas, trail flooding, water everywhere!

 It was a chill 19 miles today with a couple of wrong turns and the discovery of what the snow was going to be looking like up ahead. 

We first came across small patches of snow that became larger and larger, eventually becoming a constant post-holing situation.  We would step onto the snow and it would give way and our legs would fall through. Over and over and over again. 

We saw that across the river there was practically no snow, so we crossed the river and made our way onto the snowless banks.  That was much faster travel.

We found a nice camp spot up on a pass, surrounded by trees.  There was even a fire ring!  First things first, make fire and set up tarp.  I got dinner going and checked mileage for the day, noticing, casually, that we were camping at 10,440 ft!  Nice!  We hadn't even realized we were that high up, which was a good sign. It meant we were acclimatizing. The more snowy the areas are, the harder it is to find dry ground.  Generally the snow is in large patches, so avoidable when camping.  This is what life was going to be like from now on I guess.  But even more intense!

Dinner and hot chocolate for the night.  It was setting up to be a cold night, so I hoped my Pashmina would do the trick!

May 28 Day 34 Leaving Ghost Ranch

We enjoyed the breakfast buffet one more time before heading to the computers for a last blog update and facebook scan. We said our goodbyes to Grim and Bear Claw while also meeting some new arrivals, Twinkles, Ducky, and Badger. We hoped we would see Grim and Bear Claw again, figuring they would catch us in a day or so.  We'd take it easy, nice and slow. There was a big river crossing in this stretch that we had heard was up to your waist, so we wanted to all be together for that.
(Cool cabin just outside of nearby Ghist Ranch)

We left at 1:30 and hiked for the hottest part of the day. It WAS hot, so we took a long break at the top of a canyon, encountering day hikers and painters.  It was a very chill day, just making it short of the water source by 8 to camp.

The moon was very bright tonight and shone through the branches creating beautiful patterns on the ground around us as we ate our couscous and talked about Alaska. Guy had a dream to hike in Alaska and see the wilderness there, while I had done my last trip, a 40 day backpacking trip through YMCA Camp Menogyn, in the Gates of the Arctic National Forest there. My guide, Mo, said it best, "the only thing bigger than the mountains are the clouds." It is a wilderness like I have never experienced before or since.  Alaska is wild.

May 27 Day 33 Hiker Yoga Zero Day at Ghost Ranch

Waking up, knowing you have nothing exceptionally important to do, no miles to walk, no chores to take care of, is one of the best feelings.  The pleasure of a zero day.  Bear Claw, Guy, and me got ourselves out of bed and headed toward the large dining hall where me and Guy purchased meal tickets for the buffet.  It is a well stocked place!  Hikers everywhere and so many food options.  It is a recipe for an overfilled tray.  We saw Radar and Peru there along with SOL and Andrew and so many more.

There is a cafe lounge area near the main office with nice computers that have fast WiFi, and so I blogged as I digested my food.  Facebook was littered with questions about the snow in Colorado. What was everyone doing, everyone wanted to know. What was I doing? There was some stress and over analysis going on in the online world over these mountains.  Were they even passable?  Was it just a matter of getting snow shoes or was it legitimately an avalanche situation? People didn't want to be left behind. What were you doing?

Luckily more hikers gathered around the entrance, distracting me from this loop of worry.  I went to go hang out in the grass with them and we all got to talking about, you guessed it, the snow situation in Colorado.  I guess it was worse than everyone expected.  It had been a low snow year until the spring.  Suddenly the snow had caught up. We had all been naive in thinking it wouldn't dump on the San Juans anymore, allowing us all to start earlier. Some people already had their snow shoes, some people were talking about picking up their skis.  What was I going to do? What WERE my options?
(Braiding Guy's hair)

We decided on a hiker yoga class in the grass to help calm all our nerves and get some stretching for our sore muscles. I led a nice slow class that really focused on the hiker areas, tight calves and thighs, hips and hamstrings, while strengthening the arms and core muscles. Everyone felt better after that.  More relaxed and centered. We could breath again, and go about our day more mindfully. It was nice. Just what was needed.

Until we got back to the room later in the day and decided to actively discuss the snow situation. Grim and Bear Claw had been hiking together and so were discussing what they wanted to do, what their options were. It would have been nice to stick together, especially if the snow was as bad as it seemed, but I also understand the difficulty in making a larger group decision. We talked about flipping up north to do the Great Divide Basin in Wyoming, a flat, hot, tick infested, shadeless stretch, and then coming back down and hiking north again. We talked about just seeing how things went and not worrying about it until we reached Colorado.  We talked about taking some time off for a week to see if that would be enough time for the snow to melt.  We talked about a lot of things.

I felt my anxiety creeping up and up and found myself wanting to leave trail.  I was not on trail to get stressed out like this, to worry about making this decision on my own and being left behind by my friends. I was on this trip to grow as a strong individual and help Camp Warren. Was I out here for the right reasons if I was so worried about being left behind?  I felt dependent and not in control of the situation at all. How was I going to get up north? If I tried to move forward would I put myself in great danger? I decided to wait until Chama. To see what Colorado looked like. Guy had a friend, Claire, who lived in Durango on an organic dairy farm and could potentially host us for a week as we waited out the snow.  That sounded like a god option as well.

Guy and I will leave tomorrow from Ghost Ranch and head toward Chama. Slowly. Let the snow melt. Grim and Bear Claw would be staying another night and day to go up to a Spa and hot springs an hour away for a day of relaxation.

What am I going to do?

May 26 Day 32 The San Juans From a Distance - Arriving to Ghost Ranch

It was a funny day.  It was a day that included only 1 break in 25 miles.  How exactly that happened, I am not sure.  I think we kept misunderstanding the map and thinking we were closer than we were so we kept pushing.  It was a lovely day full of great conversation and many laughs as usual.  Very pleasant overall.  We left camp at 7:40am or so and had a bit of up and downs, but nothing especially taxing.  We did get lost due to getting lost in conversation, which will happen if you don't pay attention.  I had been warned of this before getting on trail, so it's true and I should have known better. We never got seriously lost anyway.

At a couple points along the trail we were able to see the San Juan mountains, the ones covered in snow north of us. They looked like big bad mountains and the decisions ahead began to feel heavy upon us.  You see, with all the late season snow fall we had to decide whether to push on or try to wait out the snow melt.  The other option would be to find our way north an hike through Colorado later in the season. I had been avoiding this decision until we were closer because a lot can happen in a week or two.  Guy and I had talked about just plowing ahead and seeing what the conditions were like for ourselves.  People really like to over dramatize things out here.  I think it is a mix of wanting to feel more epic than they already feel and different levels of comfort.  People like drama.  Seeing the San Juans now made me realize how real this decision was and how close it was.  What WAS I going to do?

We arrived to what I thought was Ghost Ranch and were super confused.  It was very empty and creepy. There was nobody there.  No signs of life.  It looked like a really old museum that was no longer used.  And that's what it turned out to be.  Ghost Ranch was still a ways further.  Phew.  On we went until we got to a cool suspension bridge, which we crossed and got REALLY frustrated with everything!  The signage was not clear and it was very confusing.  That was when we realized that we had not taken a break all day (21 miles in), so we sat down for an hour and ate some food.

Once we got our wits about us again we continued on until we actually made it to Ghost Ranch.  It was MUCH better than I expected!  It is used as a retreat center now, but Georgia O'Keefe lived there and painted many of her famous works there. There is a great, healing energy about the place even though some of the staff had some bad experiences with hikers and no longer give us much respect.  There were a few incidents, which could have ruined the experience due to the bad reputation hikers got from some past people who didn't follow the rules of the place, but luckily we were able to look past the attitude and enjoy our stay.

We found Bear Claw in the evening and she was kind enough to share her room with Guy and me. I cooked my dinner on my little stove in the bathroom and we shared some red wine before bed.  Grim would be arriving tomorrow and we were all excited to see him again.

May 25 Day 31 Diverse Terrain in Our Own Time - En Route to Ghost Ranch

This will be a huge surprise to all of you, but it was really cold last night, again.  I had a hard time falling asleep with the cold.  I still have my Pashmina scarf I use as a liner, but last night it didn't even do the trick.  Oh well.  I'll order a liner when I get to Ghost Ranch.  Colorado is going to be much colder.

We woke up very late and stayed in our sleeping bags to keep warm.  I made a mean hot chocolate y melting a whole bar of orange dark chocolate into hot water with powdered milk.  Thick and rich!  We left camp around 8:30, what a treat!  Not too long after hiking, we ran into the Warrior Hikers, veterans who get a support RV along the way and have events to attend in different towns.  We leap frogged with them all day.

It was a day full of different terrain and the San Pedro mountains, where we climbed up to 10,520 feet.  We decided to have lunch at the top to help us get more used to the higher elevation.  Colorado would be above 10,000 ft for very long stretches at a time.  It was important for us to get our bodies used to it.  As we descended, we hit a huge blow down area where the trees completely covered the trail.  There was a lot of trail finding through here and I think I lost a water bottle or something along the way.  That seems to be my thing.  Losing water containers.  One of the Warrior Hikers, HD Mama, lost her pants, which were hanging on the outside of her pack.  No good.

After the blow down area we walked through meadows of dandelions, sage brush, and aspen forests. I continue to be impressed by northern New Mexico.
(This is actually the trail.....)

We had checked the weather before leaving Cuba and knew there would be a chance of thunderstorms tonight, so we kept our senses peeled for any signs.  A rumble in the distance alerted us to the reality of the situation and got our feet moving faster to get some more miles done before we might be forced to retire under the tarp.  We had been taking it REALLY easy, so this was a good incentive to get moving.  We did 22 miles in the end and never got hit with a storm.

We should get to Ghost Ranch tomorrow!

May 24 Day 30 Hiker Problems - Leaving Cuba

Today ended up being somewhat amusing.  It started with a leisurely morning in the hotel room, sleeping in, catching up on journaling, and trying to will the WIFI to work.  We had agreed to have a hiker breakfast at the nearby restaurant when it opened, something we had confirmed the night before.  When we actually went there it was closed.  Well done.  We found another spot and ate big meals, I got my usual, pancakes with eggs and bacon, and others got giant breakfast burritos.

Scallywag, Hot Springs, and Old School were looking to at least zero in Cuba, Old School maybe longer as he had to order some new gear. Guy and I were antsy to head out and catch up to Grim, who would inevitably pass us, and Bear Claw, who had already gotten a ride back and was on trail in the early AM, in Ghost Ranch, our next break.  We did some errands in town, which mostly consisted of me looking for Heet, the fuel I use for my cat food can stove.  I had mentioned my search early on and Old School said that he had checked the gas station across the street from the hotel with no luck, so I decided to just walk downtown until I found a gas station that had some.

An hour or more later and I had not found any Heet!  Though I had had the privilege of suddenly getting cell reception and needing to change a doctors appointment that I had made a year ago, not realizing I would be on trail. The service was very weak and I spent a frustrating 15 minutes on the phone with a frustrated woman who could not hear me well.  I had to ensure her of the fact that I could not call another time when I had better signal before the date of my appointment.  This was the only time.  I had to remind her politely that we were both suffering here with my poor signal and needed to calmly work together on this.  It was very frustrating.  I was all riled up and rained on by the time I got back to the hotel and decided to try that gas station across the street from the hotel.  I wanted to laugh and punch something when I found the Yellow bottle of Heet just sitting there.  It would have taken me 5 minutes.  I bought a small comb as well so Guy could tame his mane.
(Hot Springs taming the beast)

In a huff I walked into the laundromat where Hot Springs and Scallywag were taking care of their clothes, and Guy was napping, waiting patiently for me.  I told my story while Hot Springs brushed Guy's hair.  They lamented my not so terrible life and we all laughed about it afterwards.
(Water everywhere!)

When the clouds and rain seemed to break, Guy and I said our goodbyes and finally left Cuba.  We were in no rush, obviously, and were going to do the 1.5 day section in 2.5.  There was a seemingly constant dumping of snow in the mountains north of Chama, so we needed to let it melt off anyway.  Everyone was slowing way down.
(Lush forests!)

I think we did something like 8 miles to the trail head and found a nice little place to camp, sheltered by the trees. 

 Guy helped me set up my new tarp, explaining the art of tarp camping as he taught me to tie bowline knots.

May 23 Day 29 Lost Wallet and Goodbyes - Arrival in Cuba


VERY early morning today!  We left camp at 5:15am.  We figured, 5 hours of hiking were necessary at least to do 15 miles.  Scallywag had said the night before that we should plan for at least one break so we should try to leave by 5 or so.  The rest of us looked at each other and didn't say anything to that, knowing that WE wouldn't be taking any breaks.  None of us did in the end and Guy, Bear Claw, and I made it into Cuba BEFORE 10am!  Woah!  What a day! 

And it wasn't all flat and easy, we had some more canyon climbs and elevation gain, but nothing excessive.  It was another gorgeous day. Northern New Mexico is more than I could have expected it to be!

Bearclaw was ahead of me and Guy and flagged us into the nearest Mexican restaurant.  Since we had gotten in early, we had time for an immediate meal!  Huevos Rancheros!  NOMNOMNOM!!! SO good!  Grim had left us early a day or so ago to do bigger miles in order to get to Cuba on Friday. He had a friend who lived nearby and was going to visit with her.

Off to the post office for our resupply boxes!  An adventure at every turn!  First, Guy couldn't get his box because the amazing patient post office employee couldn't find it anywhere!  His mom usually sends his boxes, but in this case his friends had put together a fun resupply box for him as a gift, so he was working on getting in contact with them to see if it had actually arrived.
(Laundry looks)

I took care of my box and was about to send home some extra stuff I didn't need, like the Cabella's tent and some of my clothes (Carol Mumm had gifted me a dress back in Grants that replaced my need for a shirt, skirt, and sports bra), when I couldn't find my wallet!  I unpacked and repacked the boxes, looked through my new tarp tent that had finally arrived and looked all over the post office.  The lovely attendant even went through the garbage cans and looked behind the counters!  My wallet was NOWHERE!  It occured to me that I may have left it unattended while I was reorganizing m stuff and there were many locals who had come in and out.  One of them MUST have swiped it!  On the verge of tears, but trying desperately to hold myself together, I called Bearclaw to see if she had seen it or accidentally grabbed it before heading to the hotel.  She said she had hers but she would check for me.  With a laugh she realized she had hers AND mine!  They are both just money and cards in ziplock bags and she grabbed mine thinking it was hers.  I actually started crying from sheer relief!  That would have really been awful!  Guy was kind enough to cover the costs of my boxes until I got to the hotel and could pay him back.

He made another attempt at collecting his box by giving her a bunch of alternatives to his name, throwing out some ideas, until the attendant finally realized where it might be. It turns out that Guy's friends had written funny variations on Buffalo all over the box, including "Buffy," which caused the attendant to picture a young girl as the owner, not a scruffy hippie boy!  We were finally ALL sorted so we made our way the mile across town to get to the hotel Bear Claw had booked a room at.

It turned out that Bear Claw would be leaving us for a bit too as she was invited to a hiking event in Chama, the next town stop for us up north near the Colorado border.  She found a ride up there from one of the cooks in the restaurant we'd had breakfast at, so after she had already booked a room in the nicest hotel in town, which wasn't saying all that much, she packed up and left.  It is always sad to say goodbye, even for short periods because you never know which way the trail will take you or them.

So it was Guy, Old School, and me in that room.  Scallywag had gotten a room at a nearby motel and Hot Springs had caught up to us in the afternoon and was down the road too.  Time to decompress and get all our chores done so we can head out tomorrow!

May 22 Day 28 Heat Exhaustion - En Route to Cuba

(Early morning)

A bit sleep deprived this morning due to the storm last night.  It ended up hitting right after we got tucked into our shelters.  The wind picked up and the sounds of thunder got progressively louder until the flashes of lightning seemed right over us.  It didn't last terribly long, maybe an hour, but it was still intense.  Apparently the wind kept ripping Guy's stakes out of the ground and he would wake up to rain on his face!  He'd re-stake the tarp and go back to sleep only to be woken up again by a runoff stream going through his tarp or another stake being ripped out!  At some point, Guy thought he saw someone walking up the side of the area we were cmape out and called out.  No response. Kind of creepy!

Everyone fared well though, and we got our damp shelters and sleeping bags packed away by 6am to do those 30 miles.  The sky had cleared and it was looking to be a good day by the looks of the beautiful sunrise.  This was one of the most beautiful days so far. 

Many great views honored us along the tops of mesas and over canyons.  Seriously just amazing.  Northern New Mexico knows how to do it right.  They say this is sacred land, and I swear you could feel a different energy here. Time had a different meaning and there was a certain emotional depth to walking this path through these places.

At one point the trail decided to have us practically go over the side of a cliff, which I was quite amused about.  The CDT....
(That's the trail)

We were really doing some great miles and hustling, even through our tiredness.  I had to put my head phones in for the first time, usually I just listen to music on my phone's speakers, because I NEEDED motivation to keep up the pace.  I was TIRED!  We were all in our own little world's and the day was beginning to drag a bit as we hiked into the late afternoon.  I was not far behind Bear Claw when I saw her up ahead bowing down with her hands on her knees.  It looked like she might throw up.  She sat herself down and we all took a break in the shade.

She had her Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification, as did Guy, and she asked him to check her vitals and treat her for Heat Exhaustion.  She had pushed too hard without enough sleep or food.  Hr body was really cold, but her head was really hot.  She felt like she was going to get sick any moment.  Guy, gave her water with electrolytes, made her eat some food, and read through his little WFR manual.  After at least a half hour or more she was well enough to get the mile to the next water sourced where we all agreed to eat dinner and take a longer break.

I cooked her a real meal there and she was feeling MUCH better, so we kept on for a few more miles, hoping to keep the miles lower for tomorrow's push into the Post Office.  We pushed on into the early evening and set up camp in a great field that fit all of our shelters.  We would have 15 miles tomorrow to do before 11:30am.  We had done 25 today.

May 21 Day 27 Storms and Quicksand - En Route to Cuba

Another hurried morning to get going and make miles.  Got going a bit earlier than yesterday with the hopes of doing about 27 miles today to leave us with 30 miles tomorrow (Friday).  That way we would only have 10 miles to do Saturday morning before the 11:30 am post office close time.

Another cold morning.  I keep expecting that one day it will feel like summer.  One morning I will wake up to a balmy feel in the air.  Maybe one day I will not go to bed with cold fingers and toes.  It is time to buy a sleeping bag liner to add some more warmth to my 10 degree sleeping bag.  How a new down 10 degree bag cannot keep me comfortable at 25+ degrees is beyond me.

A hazy, thick, cloud cover lingered over us for most of the day.  I figured the hot New Mexico sun would burn it off eventually as it often does, but not today.  Today the clouds would make their presence known.  As we hiked on through beautiful trail in forests and up high with amazing views, the clouds began to get darker and more ominous.  With the cold temperatures, a rain storm was not my idea of safe or fun, but on we hiked, hoping for the weather to hold.

I get a bit skittish sometimes, especially when it comes to cold weather rain.  I've had hypothermia before and it is a scary place to get to. It is one of those places that spirals downward very quickly, and I know I am prone to it.  My body just doesn't manage its temperatures well.  So, when it finally did start raining on us, I ran under a tree to hide and stay dry while the others got their rain gear on.  I also put my rain gear on, but remained under the tree until Guy gave me a look and politely asked if I was planning to wait it out.  I quickly responded "no" and got my act together and put one foot in front of the other.
(Bear Claw rocking the rain skirt)
(Guy enjoying the rain)

It turned out to be like so many of the New Mexico storms, light and sporadic. Nothing to freak out about. Great!  It was still cold and wet, but nothing dangerous like the 2 hour downpour at the beginning of trail!  

As the day went on and we were nearing the end of our ability to hike longer, we reached a water source.  A spring!  It had been dug out a bit to allow for a larger collecting pool and it was surrounded by what we thought was just mud.  No big deal.  It was actually quick sand.  Bigger deal.  Jonathan Ley, the creator of the main maps people use, had made a useful note about this section, casually mentioning that there was quick sand somewhere around here but that it would be no fun to reveal its actual location.  Great sense of humor.
(My filter)

Bear Claw was the lucky one who got to experience it and warn us against it.  We all filled up with the great water and were packing up, Bear Claw had already headed out, when I look over to see Guy filling up one last bottle.  As he is pulling it out of the spring, full with fresh, cold water, it slips from his fingers and sinks into the depths.  I cried I laughed so hard!  It was one of the funniest moments on trail and his expression of utter surprise and realization was truly priceless.  He spent the better part of the next 20 minutes on his belly reaching as far into the spring as he could to try to find that poor bottle.  No success, just me laughing and taking pictures.  I know, I'm so helpful.
(Guy searching for his water bottle)

We booked it out of there as the weather was looking even more grim than before.  After walking through a big beautiful canyon, Scallywag set up camp and Bear Claw, Grim, Old School, Guy, and I kept walking.  We found ourselves in a very exposed area past the canyon and knew, through Bear Claw's Verizon service, that there were supposed to be thunderstorms tonight, so we kept trucking along until we got to the other side of the barren, open section.  The sun was going down and we were on the verge of serious Hiker HANGER (angry hunger), when we finally found a runoff ridge line we could get away from the wind and hopefully have some sort of shelter from any storms. A 28 mile day!

Grumpy me set up my fixed frame Cabella's tent for the night and was especially grateful to be stuck with it.  I had a tarp tent coming to Cuba and had ordered it weeks before trail, but it just hadn't been made in time, so I was carrying a 4 lb solo tent that my brother had left in my parent's house.  I get grief about it sometimes, but not during a thunderstorm!