Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Day 2: Following the Yellow Brick Road

April 22: Shortly after waking up in the morning, I noticed a severed head next to my campsite. Well, okay, maybe that's not an entirely accurate description of the situation, but there were antlers attached to the top of a skull--probably from a deer or something, but I hadn't noticed it while setting up camp the evening before. Did some animal leave this as a warning for me during the night?

This felt a bit like a warning to me when I discovered next to my camp in the morning!

The answer was a definitive no. When I looked at photos that I took of the campsite the evening before, I actually could see the antlers in at the edge of the photo. (Look at my last blog post, particularly the photo of my campsite under the tree. See the antler cut off at the far right side of the image? Yep, it was totally there but I had been completely oblivious to it.)

I ate breakfast, packed up camp, and was on the trail and hiking a little after 7:00am. The temperatures were still nice and cool, but I knew they would become uncomfortably warmer throughout the day. For the time being, however, the temperatures were cool and pleasant and I was enjoying the walk.

I hadn't walked even a half-mile before running into Pez just as he finished breaking down camp, so we started hiking together.

Meet Pez, my first hiking companion of the trail.

We were deep in conversations and following a dry riverbed downstream when we almost missed the turnoff. If it wasn't for the huge arrow previous hikers had made with rocks in the dirt, we'd have missed it completely.

Despite the huge arrow in rocks, we almost missed this turnoff!

But it was maybe 15 minutes later when I realized that we had passed the first water cache. I had assumed the water cache was directly on the trail but, as it turned out, it was further down that dry riverbed where it crossed the gravel road. Well... crap. We really needed water!

We thought about just pushing on, not wanting to backtrack. Maybe we would find some uncharted water source along the route? Maybe we had enough water to make it to the next water cache? Ultimately, we decided that the smart and safe thing to do was to go back for the water. What kind of dumbass would voluntarily hike through the desert without enough water? The relatively comfortable temperatures at the moment, I knew, were deceiving. It was going to get much hotter throughout the day and there wasn't going to be much shade. No, we really needed the water.

Rather than backtracking directly, however, we decided to go cross-country to shorten the amount of walking that was necessary. It wasn't particularly difficult walking off-trail through this barren terrain, but it did mean I had to stop more frequently to check my GPS and make sure we were headed in the correct direction.

Not a lot of water out here.... better safe than sorry, we decided to backtrack to the water cache.

We finally arrived at the water cache where we found another hiker, Natalie. I was a little surprised to find her here since I had assumed anyone who had taken the morning shuttle the day before was far ahead having several hours of a head start, but she had backtracked herself to get water. I think she wanted a little extra water to find a hole in her airpad which had popped during the night. She would be just the first to suffer this calamity.... A lot of hikers would complain about holes in their airpad through these deserts. Thorns and needles ruin them at a horrific rate.

Anyhow, Natalie took off down the road to catch up with her significant other after picking up water. Shortly thereafter, a small van full of fresh thru-hikers pulled up to the water cache. Pez knew the driver--he was the same person who had given Pez a ride to the Mexican border yesterday afternoon. This was the morning shuttle on their way to drop off half a dozen or so more hikers. 

"Save yourselves!" I joked. "It's a brutal desert out there!" Nobody took me seriously, though.

He checked the water levels and topped up the large jugs with clean water before they all piled back into the vehicle on their way to the Mexican border.

Then Pez and I headed back to the trail, not wanting to follow the gravel road. Instead of going cross-country, however, we decided to head back up the dry riverbed to the same giant rock arrow in the sand that we had almost missed coming from the other direction.

"You know," I told Pez, "it would have been to our advantage if we had missed that turnoff. We would have ended up right at the water cache instead of the backtracking that we had to do. And by the time we reached the water cache, we would have realized that we were off trail and turned back--after picking up the water we needed."

I'm not sure I was ever in a situation where, in hindsight, I wished I had missed a correct turn!

Oh, well....

This particular trail marker was huge! Most of them were much smaller and unobtrusive with a simple post in the ground and a rock balanced on top.

A couple of hours later, Pez was telling me that he planned to avoid political topics while on the trail, not wanting to offend or upset anyone when suddenly a voice came out from nearby, "You guys are talking about politics out here?!"

"No! We were talking about NOT talking about politics!"

This new hiker was Addie, who was sitting under a small patch of shade next to a tree. She moved over so we could squeeze under the little bit of shade with her and chatted for a bit. Addie wasn't planning to thru-hike the trail, but rather was out for about 6 weeks to get as far as she could. She dreamed of thru-hiking the trail someday, however.

Meet my second hiking companion, Addie.

Eventually, the three of us got up and continued the hike together. I kind of felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, collecting walking companions along my way to Oz. Which made we wonder which of them was the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion? Just need one more hiking companion to fill my card. =)

By this point, the trail was becoming increasingly difficult to follow. The hard-packed ground often didn't leave a visible trail or was difficult to distinguish from cow trails and we had to resort to looking for the posts in the ground that marked the trail periodically. Often times, we stopped completely and looked around the terrain.

"Does anyone see the next post?" we kept asking each other. "There!" another one of us would point.

Pez commented that he thought it was weird that people would put rocks on top of the thin posts, but he quickly realized that often times, we could only see the post because of the rock. The post itself tended to blend in with the background making it difficult to see while the rock on top stood out much more clearly.

We pushed onward, through the increasing temperatures, over rolling hills, and I found it quite beautiful in a desolate wilderness sort of way.

I was on the lookout for another shady place to rest and told Pez and Addie that even if we didn't find one before the next water cache, at least the water cache itself would cast a bit of shade and I'd be happy just to have that!

No matter what, I thought, I was gonna get some shade.

Then as we approached the water cache, I noticed another hiker sitting in the shade next to it. I turned back to Pez and Addie and exclaimed, "Someone took my shade!" I was stunned. Who was this person?

It turned out to be Evenstar, and when I introduced myself, she said she knew me. She did? What? She was a member of Walking 4 Fun and had even emailed me about creating a Boston walking route for the site, and it clicked. Yes! I did know her! At least online. I'd never met her in person before, and never before had I met someone who already knew about Walking 4 Fun before I told them about it. This was pretty exciting for me. How cool! =)

Meet Evenstar, my third hiking companion, stealing what little shade the water cache could provide.

The shade that the water cache cast was on the small side of the box and didn't leave much room for others, so I sat down and sprawled out nearby. I pulled out my umbrella and popped it open to create my own shade. It's not as effective as a good block of shade, but it would have to do.

While chatting with Evenstar, two additional hikers showed up, but they were heading southbound toward the Mexican border.

 "You know," I said jokingly, "you're headed the wrong direction. Canada is that way."

They explained that there wasn't any space on the shuttles to the border so instead, they'd hike to the border then take a shuttle back. There was plenty of space on the shuttle back to Lordsburg since almost everyone was traveling the opposite direction. Made a lot of sense, really. I was surprised more people weren't doing that, actually.

The water caches were a popular place for hikers to hang out. You know Pez, Addie and Evenstar already. The other two hikers were heading in the opposite direction of us, however, and I don't remember their names.

After lounging around for an hour or so, we got up and continued onward. Now I had a full complement of hiking companions! Even in the movie The Way, Martin Sheen ended up with three other hiking companions. For some reason, groups of 4 seem like the perfect number. That's just not my opinion, but also proven out by all the movies ever made about hiking a trail since the time of Oz. =)

We finally stopped hiking about an hour later, calling it quits at around 6:30 in the afternoon. This was much later than I expected when I woke up in the morning. My GPS had recorded 17.7 miles from where I camped in the morning so I hadn't actually made very bad time, but the backtracking to that first water cache and losing the trail so often really seemed to add up throughout the day and I was absolutely exhausted. At the same time, I felt like I couldn't stop too early because I only had so much food to get me to Lordsburg. I needed to hit my minimum targets each day to ensure that I didn't run out of food!

Pez pretends to hitchhike into Hachita at a road crossing.

Addie decided to go a bit further up the trail to camp alone, saying something about liking to run around topless in camp. I replied, "Oh, come on.... you can do that with us. I don't mind!" 

But she wasn't convinced to stay, so Addie pushed on a bit further, but she looked pretty tired and I doubt she went more than 10 or so minutes further up the trail before setting up camp. Pez, Evenstar and I set up at a decent-sized mostly-clear area. I figured we'd just catch up with Addie again the next morning.

Evenstar and I got a good laugh at Pez when he struggled to get his tent up against the relentless wind, which eventually collapsed completely at one point. Pez seemed to have a good sense of humor about the situation as well, but was definitely annoyed with the wind.

After it got dark, I pulled out my blacklight and started hunting for scorpions. I didn't expect to find any--it seemed too cold for them to be out now that the sun had set and our campsite was barren of the rocks where I typically find them, so after about 5 minutes, I gave up. 

And that was that. The end of the second day.

We're looking for a place to camp now!


Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

Did anyone start singing "We're Off to See the Wizard" at any point?

Unknown said...


Karolina said...

So Evenstar stole your shadow just the way the Italian guy stole my sun in Dana, Jordan! ;-)