Friday, August 12, 2022

Day 131: Town after town after town.....

August 29: I slept well in the dugout and nobody ever bothered me during the night, but I had a long day of road walking ahead so I didn't linger particularly late and was up and hiking by 7:00am.

I stopped at a gas station on my way out of Ennis, filling up with water from a spigot outside.

Heading out of town at the break of dawn...

From here, I had a few different options to continue my hike. The most scenic option was likely through the Tobacco Mountains to the west, although I had heard of some other hikers somewhere out there who had been heckled by locals saying that they were on private property while walking down a public road--a scenario that I preferred to avoid (especially after my own run-in with accidentally entering private property). It actually seemed safer to stay on busy highways than remote, country roads--something I never thought was possible.

So I decided to stay on the highway, heading north out of town. Looking at maps, I knew it was going to be a brutal day of hiking. The highway was busy and paved the whole way, and there was nothing in the way of trees for shade on another very hot, sunny day. At least there was a decently wide shoulder to walk on.

My biggest worry was where I might camp overnight. Maybe if I was lucky, I'd find another ball field with a dug out. That worked out really well for me last night! I definitely added ball fields as new possible stealth camp location in and near towns.

The one nice thing about walking along the road is that I'd be passing through several small towns, some of which had services that hikers could make use of such as water or food.

The first town I reached was McAllister. There weren't really any hiker services available, although I did see a restaurant. It was closed when I walked by. I assume it was because it was early in the morning but for for all I knew, it might have closed permanently. This didn't seem like a particularly bustling community.

At the edge of town, the route into the Tobacco Mountains turned off the highway and I spotted two hikers and their dog getting dropped off on the side of the road. I didn't recognize them, and they were too far away to talk to, they started walking into the mountains so we never actually crossed paths. I never did find out who they were.

Hiking through farm country now. Those are the Tobacco Mountains in the background, which I decided not to follow a route through.

I continued down the highway, eventually reaching the town of Norris. Norris boasted of a Sinclair gas station, where I was happy to stop for a lunch break. Inside was an air-conditioned bliss. I bought lunch--which consisted of a hot dog, extra-large soda and Zingers--and threw out the little trash I had, charged my devices and used the restrooms. I couldn't get a cell phone signal in town, however, and the wi-fi didn't appear to be working so mostly I read my Kindle after finishing lunch. In all, I stopped for an hour or two for a good, quality break.

But it was time to push onward, and I reluctantly left my air-conditioned haven for the brutally hot road walk. Waves of heat radiated from the road and it felt hotter than ever. Ugh.

I spent my lunch break at this gas station convenience store. Heaven on earth! =) (And aren't y'all missing those gas prices back then?)

For a little while, I was able to walk on the dirt next to the road, but that path eventually faded off into nothing leaving me walking on the asphalt once again.

A couple of hours later, I stopped for a short 5-minute snack break on the side of the road, during which I was attacked by what appeared to be a swarm of flying ants! Thousands and thousands of them! There was absolutely nothing for the first couple of minutes, then thousands of these flying ants descended in biblical proportions. What the heck was happening?! They flew up the openings at the bottom of my pants, in my beard, and down my shirt. I fought them off by putting on my head net and tucking my pant legs into my socks--the best I could do for the time being--then then they faded away as mysteriously as they appeared. Five minutes after the swarm started, they were completely gone. It was bizarre and baffling.

I finished my snack, then continued onward down the road.

Near the end of the day, I was approaching the town of Harrison and ready to look for a  place to camp. I hoped I'd find another ball field in town, although when I had checked Google Maps, I didn't see anything that really jumped out at me. I planned to look for somewhere in town to stealth camp, then if I couldn't find anything, walk out of town and stop at the first hidden place I found. In this wide-open terrain, however, that might be miles away.

The last trail town for the day....

At the edge of town, I saw a car drive by, then make a U-turn and head back my way. I wondered if they were going to ask me a question, if I was the reason for the U-turn. She pulled over next to me and asked if I was hiking the CDT.

Yep, she had come back for me. She introduced herself as Angie and said she had a lot in town where I could camp for the night if I was interested. Heck, yeah! She gave me directions to the location, not more than about a 10-minute walk away. She never offered to give me a ride which I actually liked. It's like she already knew that I wanted to keep my steps connected. I'm sure a lot of hikers would have been perfectly happy to skip 10 minutes of a miserable road walk.

I found the location a little while later. She showed where I could camp and where I could get water from a hose, and I quickly set up camp, glad for this fortuitous turn. It wasn't an ideal place for camping--basically right there in the front yard in plain view of anyone who happened to be passing by--but it was quiet and a couple of blocks off the main road through town.

We chatted for a bit, and I told her about my particularly long day yesterday after getting chased out of private property that I had accidentally wandered onto and she asked me more specifics about exactly where I was when it happened. So I described it, and she told me that she actually knows the owner of that property and pretty much everyone thinks he's asshat. Well, not in those words, precisely, but she wasn't surprised that he'd be such an ass about the situation.

Around 10:00 at night, there was a local guy wandering around the neighborhood looking for a lost dog. He didn't seemed surprised to see me camped in the front yard of this property--I guess I wasn't the first hiker to stay here--but he did ask if I had seen a stray dog wandering by. I told him I hadn't, and he continued his search.

It was a couple of hours later, when I was woken from a deep sleep by what sounded like a pack of warthogs--or at least some sort of hogs--killing a dog not far away, perhaps just on the other side of the railroad tracks where I was camped. The dog sounded frightened and hurt, and the horrible noise echoed through the neighborhood for about a minute before dying off and silence once again lingered in the air. The whole event send shivers down my spine, though, and I remembered that guy looking for his lost dog and wondered if I had just heard the death cries of his poor pet.

It didn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence in myself, either, knowing there were blood-hungry hogs running around nearby. Although I suppose if they were feasting on a kill, they'd have little reason to come after me. All the same, I checked that my bear spray was still readily accessible then tried to go back to sleep.....

I camped near these tracks, and during the night, it sounded like something absolutely horrible happened around them.

This was pretty much my view the entire day.

Somewhere out there, a kid is crying.

Did I mention what a brutally hot day it was today? With pretty much no shade the entire way?

Norris would be where I'd stop for lunch. The junction with MT 2 I hoped to reach tomorrow. And I-90 I hoped to reach the day after that. I had a lot of road walking ahead....

It almost looks like the sign is pointing to the top of that hill, doesn't it?

That is definitely the biggest boom box I've ever seen!

Out of Norris, I did have this small trail off the road I could follow. I also noticed footprints ahead of me, so I know I wasn't the first thru-hiker to take this route.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Day 130: The Ennis Paradise

August 28: I woke up and was on the trail and moving by around 7:00am. I wasn't attacked by any bears once again, but I did notice a tree that had been torn up pretty badly nearby--which I assumed was from a bear clawing at the tree.

All I had to look forward to in the morning was backtracking 7 miles over some rough trail, including two river fords. Finally, I reached the junction where I made the horrible decision of turning left instead of right. I'd take the other path this time, the long way around Fan Mountain. It might be longer, but at least I'd be seeing some new terrain then.

But I was still angry about this otherwise completely unnecessary detour. I still hoped to reach Ennis by the end of the day today, but it would definitely be a very late arrival rather than the early morning like I had initially planned. It would be nearly 30 miles of walking to reach town with this new route. And the first 7 miles was along a badly overgrown trail littered with blowdowns.

Once I retraced my steps, I found myself back on a proper, well-maintained trail. It was clear, well-trodden and in great shape. Additionally, the trail sloped slightly downhill pretty much the entire rest of the day. Fast and easy!

And remarkably scenic. But I still spent the whole day thinking to myself, "I'd already be in town if it weren't for that asshat last night." I was still angry about the detour, angry that I was basically losing a whole day of hiking just to walk in a giant circle. I had Canada to reach, damn it! I didn't have time for this nonsense!

At one point, the new detour I followed led once again onto private property, but this time with signs that actually marked the boundary and asked hikers to "Please stay on the trail." Now that's a civilized property owner, I thought. If only they were all so accommodating and understanding. It just made me even angrier about the jerk from last night.

This private property was no problem for me to hike through!

The trail eventually ended at a trailhead at the end of a (public) gravel road that I could follow the rest of the way into Ennis. It was a long road walk of about a dozen miles, but the gravel road wasn't so bad to walk on. It had very little traffic and was much preferable the busy, paved highway that I would have had to follow into town from the other direction.

All things considered, this route was actually a far better experience than the route I had originally tried to take. The trail was nicer, the road walk into town was better and the scenery was better. It was really the superior experience all around. I just didn't know about it then. I hadn't stumbled onto the route until searching my downloaded maps thoroughly the night before, and even that couldn't tell me that the route was so much nicer. Even if both routes were open to the public, I'd still have preferred this one. But that fact didn't make me feel any better. I was still feeling angry and frustrated the whole day. "I'd already be in town eating a big fat burger with fries and a cold drink, right now," I said to myself while eating some snacks during a lunch break, sweltering in the heat.

The road walk into town was a bit grueling. There was little shade along the route, and the temperatures soared after descending to this lower elevation. Not to mention that it was a bit boring. Easy to walk, but pretty boring.

The last couple of miles, the traffic picked up a bit. It wasn't busy, but a car would drive by every few minutes which was still a lot more than once every half hour which was more the norm when I started the road walk.

Only the last five minutes or so of the road walk followed alongside the busy highway.

I finally reached town fairly late in the afternoon. I stopped to sit on a bench and pull out my phone to look for lodging, but I could find absolutely nothing with availability in town. Price didn't matter--as far as I could tell, there wasn't a single room available at any price anywhere near town. I'd just have to find somewhere to stealth camp, perhaps illegally. I knew from past hikes that it was perfectly legal to camp on the side of the highway, but it's an awful place to camp. No, I'd try to find some hidden location where nobody could see me and set up camp. Behind some hay bales or bushes or something. I was deep in farmland now, though. There were farms as far as the eye could see outside of town.

In the meantime, however, I was in town and wanted to take full advantage of the situation. Ennis wasn't a very big town, but it had an old western tourist kind of vibe to it. I didn't really have much time to linger and explore the town, however. It was already pretty late in the afternoon and I still needed to hike out far enough to find a place to stealth camp. I hoped I could find somewhere within a few miles of town, but even that wasn't certain. I was just winging it. The last useful Guthook comments were well over a hundred miles ago.

I did plan to get dinner in town, though. At the very least, it'll save me the effort of having to cook a dinner later tonight. So I stopped in at Ennis Sugar High Ice Cream and Burgers. Sounds good, don't you think?

Ennis definitely had a tourist vibe to the place.

And it was... oh, so good! I ordered the usual burger, fries and a Coke, but also splurged with a vanilla ice cream cone. As an added bonus, there was also an electrical outlet for my use, a wi-fi connection to get online and bathrooms. And I used them all. I wound up lingering there for a little over an hour until closing time. It seemed like they closed pretty early in the day--about 7:00pm.

On my way out of town, I stopped by the Madison Foods to do some grocery shopping. After shopping, I was outside packing my newly acquired food in my pack when a local guy approached me and asked if I was hiking the CDT and had all sorts of questions about it. He had been seeing lots of hikers going through town--much more than normal. Due to the fire closures on the main CDT, almost everyone was taking alternates that led through a number of these small towns, and apparently we were big news in these small towns. There were actually newspaper articles written about the unusually high numbers of hikers passing through these towns explaining that no, we weren't homeless. Just hikers!

After chatting for a few minutes, he asked if there was anything he could do to help, and so I asked if he had any suggestions about a place for me to camp. I was hoping he'd say something like, "Hey, I have a free bedroom available. You can crash at my place tonight!" Not that I really expected such an answer, but hope springs eternal. =)

He thought about it for a moment and mumbled something indistinct. It seemed to me more like he was talking to himself, going through possibilities. There wasn't room at his place, and he didn't know of anyone who might have room. Then he hit on an idea. "Maybe the ball field?" He explained that it had a dugout and was located maybe a block or two from the main highway so the noise shouldn't be too bad. Plus is was just a five minute walk away. He sounded almost a little jealous, like he'd like to spend the night in a dugout someday.

It sounded promising, so he pointed me in the correct direction and I headed off in that direction. I found the baseball field easily enough and it looked absolutely perfect. There weren't any houses immediately adjacent to it. There weren't even any electric lights around it so I didn't have to worry about any games happening during the night. It's hard to play a baseball game in the dark, after all.

My campsite in the dugout of the local ball field. Perfect! =)

It was all very secluded and private, and inside the dugout I was completely hidden from the outside world. It was perfect! It was a much better place for me to stealth camp than I had any expectation of finding.

So I set up camp in the dugout. I had forgotten to fill up with water before leaving the grocery store. I could walk back--it wasn't far, but it would require a little backtracking and Lord knows I already got enough of that for today. But there was a gas station along the highway not far ahead. I could probably stop there in the morning to fill up.

And thus ended another day on the trail.....

This new route was far superior to the last one I tried!

The last dozen miles or so followed this gravel road into town.

I thought I might have to sneak over had stealth camp behind one of these piles of hay bales, but the dug out was much more convenient!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Day 129: Caught trespassing!

August 27: I slept in a bit late, entirely by accident. I meant to get an earlier start. No bears or anything had attacked during the night--thank goodness for that! Listening to the people talk yesterday, it sounded almost like a certainty.

But despite the late wake-up, I was still on the trail and hiking by 7:10am. Although no bears attacked during the night, I'm pretty sure I had heard elk bugling in the distance.

The day's hiking was fairly uneventful. The route went up a couple of big mountains, then back down them. There were a few minor sprinkles and hail in the afternoon, but I took cover under trees and waited them out so I didn't have to hike it.

The last several miles turned off a big, well-maintained trail onto a smaller trail that was badly overgrown and littered with logs that slowed me down quite a bit. It wasn't the worst I had seen, but I also knew it would only last a few miles before I connected with a gravel road. The one nice thing about the route was that I spotted a moose on the other side of a river. Still never saw any bears, though.

My goal was camp somewhere near the junction of the gravel road with the trail, then have a short walk into the small town of Ennis tomorrow morning, but that turned out to be exactly where my real problems started. There was a nice creek flowing, lots of flat ground and grass--but it was littered with cow poop so I set down my pack and started looking around for a place to camp.

Which is when a truck drove up and stopped next to me. I waved at the driver, and he got out of his vehicle and told me, "Do you know that you've been on private property for the last 15 miles?"

Actually, no.... I had absolutely no idea. But I did follow a trail that looked pretty legal at the time and I never passed any signs saying anything about entering private property.

Additionally, the 15 miles thing I knew was total BS, but trying to be nice, I didn't call him on it. I was officially in a national forest wilderness area until maybe 5 miles ago and I know there aren't a lot of random people who "own" a national forest wilderness. Although I never passed any no trespassing signs or anything, I did pass signs saying that I was leaving the national forest. That's all it told me, though. Nothing about what I was entering--just that I was leaving the national forest.

"Jump in the truck and I'll give you a ride to the highway."

Umm.... no.... I didn't like that idea. Not at all. It was about four-or-so miles to the road, the main highway that led into Ennis. Where would I camp along that busy highway? But even more important, that would leave a four-mile gap in my steps.

So I tried to explain that to him. I had--quite literally--walked here all the way from the Mexican border. Couldn't I just walk out the 4 miles? Not like I was hurting anything.

"No, I can't allow that. I can either give you a ride to the road, or you can go back the direction you came from."

WTF?! Did these people have some sort of illegal grow operation that they were afraid I'd discover or something? What was the problem with just walking out. It's not like I deliberately cut through any fences or blazed passed any no trespassing signs to get here. And where were those no trespassing signs anyhow? Usually property owners like to put them up everywhere just for the hell of it. And I totally followed a real trail to get here. It was on maps. Google Maps even suggested it as the best route into Ennis.

The guy continued, saying he was sorry. It wasn't even the first time a hiker unknowingly entered the private property. "Then why isn't there a sign up to warn us?!"

He didn't really have an answer for this, then I asked what the other hikers did. "They took a ride to the highway."

I may not have known I entered private property, but I definitely know where I left public property! And it definitely wasn't 15 miles back!

I wasn't surprised. Not all thru-hikers are as dedicated as I am to keeping their steps connected. The problem with walking back, however, meant I had to do that horrible, overgrown trail with lots of blowdowns all over again. (And at this point, it suddenly occurred to me why the trail was so overgrown and filled with blowdowns. Legally speaking, it ended at a dead-end. I assume it must have been a legit trail back in the day until this property owner decided to block it off.)

The other problem with backtracking meant I had to hike completely around Fan Mountain to get into Ennis from the other direction. From my current position, I was less than a 10-mile walk away. Going around Fan Mountain meant I was now about 30 (thirty!!!) miles away. I'd literally have to add an extra 20 miles of hiking before reaching town. Instead of reaching town tomorrow morning, I'd be lucky if I got into town by tomorrow night!

But it's just 4 miles.... I begged and pleaded. Let me walk. I'd be off the property in an hour, never to be seen again. Heck, it didn't even make sense to let me walk back. He thought I'd been on private property for the last 15 miles and it was okay for me to walk back 15 miles on private property, but not 4 miles ahead? Seriously? WTF is wrong this guy?

"You have really ruined my day, you know that?" I told him point blank.

Nope, nope, nope. Damn property owners. I either had to take a ride from him or go back.

Reluctantly, I finally said I'd go back.

He drove off, and I picked up my pack and started backtracking, cussing the whole time. Totally unfair.

And mentally, I started thinking about just sneaking through the property in the darkness of night. How would they know? 

In any case, I definitely couldn't set up camp out in the open anymore. It would take me at least an hour to get back to the national forest--well after sunset. And frankly, I was tried. I had literally been looking for a place to camp when this guy majorly ruined my day.

I backtracked about 10 minutes or so, then went into the woods well off from the road and set up a stealth camp. I definitely hadn't gotten back onto the national forest property and I had a pretty strong hunch that these dipwads would not like the idea of my camping on their property.

After setting up camp, I pulled out my phone and started looking very closely at the maps I had downloaded. Even better, being so close to Ennis and the highway leading into it, I actually got a cell phone signal which was immensely useful for me since I used it to pull up satellite imagery of the area on Google Maps.

I looked through it, noting the buildings along the road and which ones appeared to be occupied and which ones appeared to be barns or storage buildings without any vehicles or yards. I checked where the trees were located and the sight lines from the houses to the trees.

I didn't like the idea of trying to sneak through, but I felt I'd have a good chance of success if I did. There was a convenient line of trees along the small creek that would hide my movements. At least most of the time.

I'd could wear my darkest clothing to make myself less obvious. And in the few areas where I might be visible from the occupied structures, I might have to turn off my headlamp. In fact, my headlamp even had a red light available which would be useful as well. A red light would help me keep my night vision and make me more difficult to see. Ideally, I'd try not to use a light at all--walk through with nothing more than moonlight for help.

The photo sucks, but that dark blob in the trees is the moose I saw.

There were a couple of places I could try to exit the property. I could try somewhere near where the gravel road hits the main road, but if I wanted to stay well away from the gravel roads completely, it appeared that there was a small airport I could make it to south of this ranch. I'd probably have to jump over a barbed-wire fence or something along the way, but that's something the trail had been training me for since New Mexico.

It seemed.... feasible.

I tried to get some sleep, but it wasn't coming easily. I was too wound up. I figured I should wait at least until midnight, though, which would hopefully give me enough time to finish by 4:00am. I'm not sure when cattle rangers are up and moving around, but it seemed likely that most of their work would be done in daylight, not at 2:00 in the morning. Basically, I'd get pretty much zero sleep tonight.

Thinking about it some more, that didn't seem optimal. Sneaking around in the dark with a several lack of sleep along unfamiliar terrain. Oh, sure, I checked the satellite imagery. I had some idea what was out there, but I could easily hurt myself if my foot fell into an unseen hole or tripped over an unseen log or something. What about what I didn't know? What if they had dogs that patrolled the fields to protect the cattle from grizzly bear attacks? Would they attack me too? Or bark enough to alert the property owners?

And I had another problem--I still needed photos for Walking 4 Fun. It's awfully hard to get photos in the dark, and I didn't really want a 4-mile gap in my photos.

And then, what if--heaven forbid--they actually caught me trying to sneak through. Somehow, I had a feeling they wouldn't be very kind about it after warning me off already.

So I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag, plagued with indecision. What to do? What to do?

Besides just scouting ahead for how to sneak through, I also took a serious look at just going back and going the long way around Fan Mountain. It seemed pretty straight-forward--it would just mean an extra 20 miles of otherwise pointless walking. Ideally, I could still reach Ennis by tomorrow night. Food, fortunately, wasn't a problem. I typically carry a day more of food than I think I'll need for those "just in case" scenarios. I'd rather have a day of food I didn't need than not having a day of food I did need. So I had plenty of food to get all the way around Fan Mountain, even if I didn't make it into town until the day after tomorrow.

So that wasn't a problem. And finally, at about 10:00pm, I decided just to backtrack. Much less stressful, I could take all sorts of pictures, and it would certainly be safer. At the same time, though, I was so pissed at them for not letting me just hike out 4 miles on my own. It was infuriating! A large part of me wanted to sneak through anyhow just to spite them.

Basically, my one major complaint about having to backtrack was the backtracking itself. Had I realized that this route passed through private property from the very beginning, I'd never have even considered this as an option. It was mostly the 7-or-so miles along that horribly overgrown trail that I didn't really want to do again. It was longer too, but that didn't bother me as much as backtracking. Backtracking sucks so much worse.

So I finally committed myself to backtracking. Just take the bitter pill and be done with it. Now I didn't have to set an alarm to wake me up at midnight and with that decision finally made, I quickly fell into a peaceful sleep.

Sphinx Mountain