Monday, January 31, 2022

Day 47: The Tattoo Gang

June 6: It didn't rain during the night, and by morning, the dark clouds had dissipated leaving me with a beautiful sunrise to enjoy.

I took advantage of the cool, clear morning by being on the trail and hiking by 6:30am. Even then, the temperature still felt surprisingly warm, so the more miles I got in earlier in the day, the better!

Loved the views in the morning!

It was nearly two hours later when I found Sweet Tooth and Bugs breaking down their own campsite. I stopped to chat with them for a bit, but I was surprised to find them at all. It was already 8:30 in the morning! Most hikers don't seem to linger in camp so late in the morning.

I eventually kept hiking, but they were just mere minutes behind me. Bugs caught up with me quickly and passed in front of me. I tried to keep up with her pace behind her for a bit to chat, but dang! She walks fast! It was only a minute or two later when she nearly stepped on a snake, not seeing it stretched across the trail, until I pointed it out.

I stopped to take photos and videos of the snake and Bugs continued onward, and while taking the video, Sweet Tooth arrived behind me. I finished with the snake, and Sweet Tooth seemed really disgusted by the snake not wanting to get anywhere near it. It wasn't even a rattlesnake, though.

The snake on the trail that Bugs almost stepped on and that grossed out Sweet Tooth so much. =)

Anyhow, so I started hiking behind Sweet Tooth, who also walked at a remarkably fast speed that I had trouble keeping up with, but she walked--I think--at a slightly slower pace than Bugs. I was able to keep up, but barely.

So we chatted for the next hour or two, as the trail finally left the plateau we had been following for so long and eventually dropped down to a highway crossing. In the course of our conversation, I happened to mention that I carried a few luxury items such as bubbles and temporary tattoos, and Sweet Tooth about peed herself with glee. "You have bubbles?!" she exclaimed? Then told me that just the night before, while she was able to get a cell phone signal, had called her dad who loved bubbles and had just bought an industrial-strength bubble-making machine that could blow hundreds of bubbles outside in the yard, and her dad was quite excited about it, and so she wanted to get a photo of herself blowing bubbles to send him. "Yep, I can do that."

And she loved the idea of applying temporary tattoos as well, but asked why I hadn't shared them with Evenstar. "She didn't seem that interested in them," I said. I suspect that was because they were kind of scary monster kind of themed tats, but still, they were only temporary. It's not like she was going in for a job interview somewhere, but Evenstar just didn't seem that into it.

We eventually caught up with Bugs again down by the highway, who had a Coke in her hand and was chatting with a couple of people parked with a horse trailer on the side of the highway. Bugs had taken the last Coke, but they still had root beers which they offered to us that Sweet Tooth and I were happy to accept. They also handed out Moon Pies which I took, but those didn't excite me as much as the cold drink. It was such a hot day!

We eventually continued onward, reaching the nice creek about 5 or 10 minutes later where we stopped to fill up with water. While stopped, I pulled out my bubbles for Sweet Tooth to get photos of her blowing them, and I also pulled out the temporary tattoos for us to enjoy. I'd been carrying them since the Mexican border. It was about time that I finally used them!

I put one of the tattoos on my forearm first, to give it a try and figure out how they worked before Sweet Tooth and Bugs gave it a try, and it turned out pretty well. Now I looked like a bad-ass. *nodding*

My temporary tattoo turned out pretty well. *nodding*

They decided to put their tats on their leg, and I used my handkerchief by getting it wet in the creek and applying it to Sweet Tooth's leg. I joked that it looked like I was trying to cauterize a wound or something in her leg. In any case, though, the tattoo didn't stick especially well and it looked a bit off. Then when Bugs did the same with her tat, it also didn't stick as well as mine had. You could tell there was something there, but it turned out to be a little disappointing for both of them. I would have given them another tattoo to try with but that was all I had.

They eventually got up to continue hiking, but I lingered at the creek. It was exhausting to keep hiking at their pace and I was done trying to keep up. Anyhow, I wasn't sure that I could make it to the next reliable water source by the end of the day which would have required nearly 23 miles of hiking, so if I had to cook dinner, I wanted it to be near a water source rather than have to carry the extra water with me.

So I took a long, two-hour break by the creek during the hottest part of the day and used the opportunity to cook another dinner. I wasn't sure how far Sweet Tooth and Bugs planned to walk (I'm not even sure they were certain, for that matter), but perhaps if they didn't hike super later into the evening like yesterday, I'd find their camp and could join them. It seemed doubtful, but it was possible.

Once I continued hiking, the trail headed steadily uphill, but slowly. A few dark clouds threatened some rain in the early afternoon, but they cleared up later in the afternoon again.

Dark clouds threatened in the early afternoon, but they quickly drifted off without dropping any rain.

One of the more exciting moments was when I spotted, I believe, a bobcat or a lynx near some cattle pens. I only saw it for about a second before it dashed into some brush and out of view so I couldn't make a definite ID of the animal, but it definitely had a stubby tail and looked very cat-like. I just wish I had time to get a better look or even a photo of the animal.

At another point, one cow started following me. Usually they tend to run away from me, but this one started trailing me like it thought I might feed it or something, and mooed at me as I walked quickly away. I picked up my pace in an attempt to leave it behind. I didn't need to be assaulted by a cow. The trail followed a gravel road at this point through a forested area, so I'd curve behind a bend in the road and be out of view of the cow, but then the cow would round the turn and be right there again behind me. We did this several times before the trail veered off the road onto a proper trail, and as that point approached, I all but ran down the trail and veered off onto the trail hoping the cow would think I kept walking up the road during that brief period when I was out of view. It seemed to work. *nodding* =)

I did manage to make it to the next water source before the end of the day, so I filled up with water there. It was another cattle trough, however, and was in active use by the cattle so after filling up, I hiked another 1/10th of a mile down the trail to the junction with the Ghost Ranch Alternate. This allowed me to both get away from the cattle trough--I never want to sleep next to a cow-infested cattle trough!--and got me back to where the Ghost Ranch Alternate reconnected with the main CDT and maybe I'd run into Evenstar again.

Water trough at the end of the day

The question here, however, was did she rejoin the trail already and was still ahead of me, or was she still on the Ghost Ranch alternate and still behind me? I didn't know. I did get a weak cell phone signal at this junction, however, so I texted her my location and hoped to hear back one way or another to figure out if she was ahead of me or behind me. She didn't write back, though. Not tonight, at least. She might not have a signal from her location, though.

In any case, I was done for the day. I had covered about 23 miles according to my GPS, and I was tired! I set up a cowboy camp and called it a night.

Sweet Tooth holds a gate open for me.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Day 46: Happy Anniversary, Evenstar!

June 5: I started hiking at a reasonable 7:00am start time, but temperatures already felt quite warm. It didn't bode well for the afternoon!

The trail climbed steeply out of camp before descending to a water source where I caught up with Splits and Pete. Pete I had met briefly yesterday, chatting with for about a minute before he passed me by and we repeated the scene today by chatting for about a minute. And after today, we'd never cross paths again. 

Splits and I compared itineraries. He planned to take the Ghost Ranch Alternate which, as the name implies, heads into Ghost Ranch. I knew Evenstar planned to do the same, but I decided to stay on the red line and skip the alternate. It looked like there was more road walking along the alternate and I definitely had plenty of food so didn't need to worry about resupplying at Ghost Ranch. From all the hikers I talked to, it sounded like I was the only one planning to stay on the main CDT.

I mentioned that I hoped I'd find someone near the junction with the Ghost Ranch Alternate--which I wouldn't get to until the afternoon--who might be willing to throw out my trash for me and lighten my load since they'd be going into civilization anyhow. I didn't have much after only a couple of days out of Cuba, but every ounce counts, right? But when Splits saw how little trash I did have, he volunteered to take it for me right then and there. Awesome! I certainly hadn't expected him to carry my trash all day, but I was grateful he was willing to take it for me and surprised he'd carry it all day in case we didn't cross paths again later in the day.

Splits continued hiking on without me while I filled up with water from the cow trough. I wasn't far behind him, but I figured there was a good chance that I'd never catch up with him again.

I fill up with water at the cow trough.

The trail followed a gravel road a short way, and I missed a turn off from it, but when it veered close to the road again, I just went cross-country and reconnected with it.

Then the trail started descending rapidly, down thousands and thousands of feet before leveling off in the Chama River Valley. The water source there was another cattle trough, but this one was surrounded by a deep, muddy moat! There was a narrow peninsula that stretched out to the trough, but it was difficult to navigate, and the clean good water coming from the pipe was right in the center of the cattle trough which was difficult to reach since there were just a few inches of dry ground around the cattle trough.

It took quite a bit of time and effort, but I eventually filled up with 7 liters of water--which was a lot--but I didn't expect to see anymore good water again until tomorrow afternoon. I knew I would pass the Chama River which I could get water from, but that probably was less than a mile away and from the reports I read, was quite muddy and not that great for drinking. Nope, this was the last good water source for the rest of the day and all morning tomorrow.

This cattle trough was surrounded by a muddy moat which made getting the good water coming from the pipe in the center very difficult!

And it was stinking hot. Between starting off so warm in the morning, the descent thousands of feet to the valley bottom had me roasting! I sweat like a pig and felt itchy all over.

Once I was filled up with water, I pushed onward, crossing over Skull Bridge which spans the Chama River. What a great name for a bridge, right? Ghost Ranch, Skull Bridge.... seemed like everything in this area was named for the dead. This bridge is also where the Ghost Ranch Alternate split off from the main CDT. I didn't see Splits, so I assumed he had already passed through and was on the road to Ghost Ranch. I hadn't seen Evenstar since leaving camp this morning, but I was ready for a break and took a seat by the riverbank to see if she'd show up before I continued onward.

I cooked dinner here--the more water I used here, the less I would have to carry up a steep slope to the top of a plateau that I'd be hitting immediately upon the resumption of my hike. And it gave me something to do while waiting to see if Evenstar showed up. I mean, I knew she would show up eventually, but I couldn't wait around all day either. I did want to catch up with her a bit before we took our separate paths. Hopefully, we'd meet up again tomorrow when the alternate rejoined the main route.

Paddlers on the Chama River. There was plenty of water here, but it wasn't great for drinking because it was so muddy.

Lots of people in rafts and canoes and such paddled by while I sat by the shore. I didn't know where they started, and wondered if they got out by Ghost Ranch downriver somewhere. I wasn't sure. But the bridge was a busy trailhead with lots of people, and quite a few went up on the bridge to take photos of the paddlers going by.

While cooking, dark clouds rolled in which provided some relief from the burdensome heat, and by the time I finished dinner and cleaned up, a few drops of rain started to fall. It wasn't really a rain, but just a few drops to worry me.

I was about to get up to continue hiking when Evenstar finally caught up. "Evenstar!" I shouted. "Tortuga!" she shouted back, like a long lost friend.

We laughed about the moat surrounding the last water source. She told me about two women hiking the trail who were just behind her and would likely catch up soon--and that they planned to stay on the red-line route as well instead of taking the Ghost Ranch Alternate. "Really?" I said, somewhat hopefully. Maybe I wouldn't be all alone on this section of trail! Company would be great.

Evenstar said that she was a little sad that she was missing her anniversary with her husband. "Wait! What? It's your wedding anniversary today?" I asked, making sure I understood her correctly. Yes, it was. I had no idea, but I did have an idea to maybe cheer her up on her anniversary, and I stood up and sang the Happy Anniversary song to her right there on the trail.

Okay, I know some of you are probably thinking, What's the Happy Anniversary song? It's very simple, very easy-to-remember song. It only has two words: happy and anniversary. And it goes to the tune of the William Tell Overture. Or, perhaps you know it as the Lone Ranger theme song. It goes something like this:

Happy anniversary! 
Happy anniversary! 
Happy anniversary!
Haaaaaaaappy anniversary!
Happy happy happy happy happy anniversary!
Happy happy happy happy happy anniversary!
Happy anniversary!
Happy anniversary!
Happy anniversary!
Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaappy anniversary! 

I tried searching on YouTube to see if I could find a clip of it and--somewhat surprisingly--I couldn't! I thought everything was on YouTube, but there is a clip from the Flintstones that almost does it right--except they change the words at the "happy happy happy happy happy anniversary" part.
Anyhow, I sang her the happy anniversary song, doing a little tap dance of sorts and swinging my arms around, and she sat looking at me with wide eyes, slightly open mouth, a shocked face, and a look that said I was certifiably insane.

"Well?" I asked. "What did you think?"

She paused a moment, perhaps trying to put her thoughts into words, and replied, "I really wish I got that on film."

I laughed and told her it was a one-time performance. She'll just have to treasure the memory for the rest of her life. Unless I happen to see her again on some other trail on her anniversary. It was, actually, the first time I had ever sung it specifically for someone, but I'm not sure Evenstar realized that since I looked like such a pro at it. *nodding*

Anyhow, by the time all this finished, Sweet Tooth and Bugs arrived--the two women hiking the trail that Evenstar had said were right behind us. So we made introductions, but as the sprinkling turned more aggressive, I decided to push on and hopefully set up camp before a real rainfall started.

The trail climbed steeply about 2000 feet toward the top of a plateau. The climb to the top was grueling, and despite the clouds and slight sprinkles as a respite from the oppressive heat, it just seemed to make everything feel more humid. I was happy when I reached the top and the trail leveled out again!

The trail followed more-or-less near the edge of the plateau with commanding and impressive views of the Chama River below, which I followed for a couple of miles before finally deciding to stop. I camped near the edge, wanting to enjoy the views all evening long. The rain had stopped, and although dark clouds lingered, there wasn't actually any rain in the forecast--and I was able to check a current forecast since, somehow, I managed to get a cell phone signal from this lofty view--so I didn't set up my tarp. I just threw out my groundsheet near the edge and plopped myself onto it.

I took a photo with my phone and texted it to Evenstar and Pez saying something sarcastic about how horrible and disappointing the views are up here.

About a half hour after arriving, Sweet Tooth and Bugs passed by. I had hoped that maybe they'd stop and camp nearby and provide a little company, but they weren't ready to stop for the night quite yet and pushed onward. Oh, well.... At least I got to camp at this wonderful viewpoint!

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

It wasn't a bad place to camp! ;o)

It kind of looks like something pooped on this rock, then watched the poop roll down the sides around it!

Views down toward the Chama River were awesome!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Day 45: Soggy meadows

June 4: There were a few sprinkles during the night, but not a big deal. My bigger worry about being invaded by worms never came to pass, for which I was very grateful. Splits, however, reported that a mouse got into his tortillas during the night which seemed to surprise and disappoint him--as if he expected better from the camp mice. =)

Immediately out of the starting gate, blowdowns got in the way and slowed us down. In one case, it hid a necessary turn which led Splits and I in the wrong direction for a few minutes. The blowdowns weren't PNT-style bad, but they were a definite annoyance.

But they also didn't last more than a half hour or so before we were through them all and climbing ever higher along the trail. Once we ascended above 10,000 feet, we started seeing patches of snow. None of it was particularly problematic, but it concerned me. After passing over the 11,000-foot Mount Taylor with virtually no snow at all on the trail, I had hoped there wouldn't be any snow below 11,000 feet--and here we were already seeing it barely above 10,000 feet. It didn't bode well for Colorado where the trail often stayed above 10,000 feet for days at a time.

But, like I said, the snow wasn't problematic at this point, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

What was more of a problem was that the meadows the trail passed through were absolutely flooded with standing water. Comments on Guthook often reported knee-deep snow through this area just a week or two earlier. That wasn't the case now, but it apparently all melted into standing water that was a couple of inches deep. It was impossible to walk through without getting one's feet wet in freezing cold water.

An inch or two of standing water on the trail was common in the meadows, and a huge annoyance!

Additionally, a crack started forming between the Shoo-goo I had applied to my shoes and the surface of the shoe. It wasn't coming apart--not yet, at least--but small cracks often turn into large cracks quite rapidly. I hoped it would hold at least long enough for me to reach Chama where I planned to replace them.

After the trail peaked, it descended a few thousand feet until it crossed a highway. I stopped for a lunch break next to a creek--the last water source of the day. I wound up stopping for 2.5 hours, even going so far as to cook a dinner for lunch so I wouldn't have to carry water to cook dinner later.

Eventually I continued onward, pushing myself beyond my original goal looking for a "great" campsite. I never did find a great campsite, however, and eventually settled for a decent one a short way past Highway 97. Despite my two-and-a-half hour lunch break, I still managed to complete 21.1 miles by 6:00pm and called it quits relatively early. I didn't immediately set up my tarp, hoping it wouldn't be necessary, but finally set it up an hour later when dark clouds and thunder rolled in. Evenstar showed up just before then, telling me that she was about to call it quits herself if she didn't find my camp soon. Splits continued on somewhere ahead of us and I kind of figured we'd never see him again. Evenstar and I tended to be the slowest people on the trail. Hikers constantly ask about each other's start dates and invariably, we're always the slowest.

Well, to be fair, I deliberately moderated my pace, not in any rush to reach the snow in Colorado. But we had only met about two people with start dates before us.

But all-in-all, it was a pleasant but relatively uneventful day.

Above 10,000 feet, we started seeing patches of snow, but Guthook comments suggested that it was considerably worse just a week or two earlier with reports of people postholing up to their knees.

There were some wonderful views from the higher elevations!

Monday, January 24, 2022

Day 44: Goodbye, Cuba!

June 3: I took my time leaving town. I had put Shoo-Goo on my shoes to plug some holes forming in the sides, and I figured waiting as long as possible before I had to check out of my hotel room so the glue could cure was a good thing. So I didn't leave the hotel until just before 11:00am. Hopefully the patch job would hold! At least until I reached Chama where I had a new pair of shoes waiting for me.


After checking out of the motel, I walked over to the post office to mail my laptop ahead to Chama then, being lunch time, I dropped by McDonalds for a quick meal before leaving town.

On my way out of town, I ran into Dos Equis being dropped off who, as it turned out, started the trail the same day that I did but hiked much faster and arrived into Cuba two weeks earlier. The snow, however, was so bad, he went home for two weeks while it melted and just returned to the trail today. I had taken 7 zero days so far, though, so not including those, he had still had gotten a whole week ahead of me.

Anyhow, I joked that if he planned to keep hiking so fast, I'd never see him again. And, as it turned out, except for the first several miles out of Cuba, I never did.

While Dos Equis and I were exchanging greetings, two other thru-hikers arrived: Cramps and Outlaw. We made cursory greetings, but they walked very slowly heading out of town and Dos Equis and I left them in the proverbial dust. For now, at least. I had no doubt that they'd catch up and pass me at some point.

Evenstar texted me that she had left town about an hour before I did, so I knew she was somewhere ahead. Pez, of course, hadn't stopped in Cuba and now would have been a full day and a half ahead of both of us. I wondered if we'd ever see him again.

The trail followed some paved roads out of town for several miles, and precisely where the trail veered off the paved road onto a gravel one, a trail angel had set up at the junction handing out cold drinks. Awesome! Dos Equis and I stopped to chat for a bit, and Cramps and Outlaw soon caught up who also stopped to chat for a bit. The trail angel, who introduced herself as Solo, said that she was expecting me because Evenstar told her that I'd be following behind at some point, but Evenstar didn't know about the other three so they were a pleasant surprise for her. Until the four of us arrived, Evenstar was the only other hiker she had seen all morning.

Outlaw, Dos Equis, Solo and my backpack. =)

The other three hikers eventually kept hiking, but I lingered a bit longer in no particular rush. Rumors of heavy snow in Colorado were still leaking back to us and I was in no rush to get into it. So I had another cold drink and chatted with Solo for another 10 or 15 minutes after everyone else already left.

But eventually I too had to leave and said goodbye and thanks for the trail magic, then made my way down the gravel road which soon connected with a real trail again. And the trail started heading into the mountains where the terrain was much more rugged. Definitely a lot of uphill!

It wasn't more than about an hour after leaving the trail angel that I caught up with Evenstar again, taking a break by a creek next to the trail. I stopped and we chatted for a few minutes, then when she got up to start hiking again, we continued onward. I moved considerably faster going uphill, but I knew she'd catch up again when I stopped for a break.

Evenstar climbs a steep slope!

A couple of hours later, a light sprinkle started along with thunder rolling through the mountains, but I was ready for a break anyhow so I set up my tarp in a very haphazard manner, over a log that I could sit on while taking a break. I hoped the storm would pass quickly. The weather forecast did call for a slight chance of rain, but it seemed possible that I might be able to wait it out.

When Evenstar arrived, she joined me under my tarp, where we sat around killing time for the better part of an hour waiting for the storm to pass. Then another hiker arrived: Splits. He too was a hiker new to the both of us, so we made introductions and invited him under my tarp as well. (I have a very large tarp and often joke that I could throw large parties under it during a storm.) He did stop, but chose to sit on a nearby log instead of under the haphazard setup I had with my tarp that was flapping in the breeze.

Within another 15 minutes or so, the sprinkle had finally stopped and the three of us continued onward hiking together the rest of the evening.

The meadows late in the day were just covered in these beautiful purple irises!

We finally stopped to set up camp late in the evening, just before sunset, near the San Gregorio Reservoir. Although the rain had stopped, it was poised to resume again at any time so I set up my tarp. Planning to camp under it all night this time, however, I did a decent job of setting it up unlike the haphazard job I had done before.

Shortly after setting up the tarp, it did start to sprinkle and I was happy to be dry and warm under it. I was a bit concerned when a strong wind started to pick up, but my tarp held steady and the wind didn't cause any trouble. What did cause trouble, however--somewhat indirectly--was the rain. I did a good job of setting up my tarp to keep the rain out, but worms started coming out of the ground in hoards as their homes became flooded from the rain and started invading my space! I flicked off about a dozen worms early in the night, but as darkness descended, it became harder and harder to see them. I had a headlamp which I occasionally turned on to check for more invading worms and flicked them off as necessary, but I worried what would happen when I actually fell asleep and was no longer monitoring for them. Would I wake up in the morning covered with worms? It was an unsettling thought as I drifted off to sleep....

Splits, Evenstar and I set up camp not far from the San Gregorio Reservoir.

The meadows full of irises were really the highlight of the day's hike!