Friday, February 25, 2022

Day 59: The Hell Called Pagosa Springs

June 18: It was late at night and I was dead asleep when something woke me up. I looked up and saw a figure hovering above my tarp. "Tortuga!" It scared the crap out of me. I didn't know what the hell was going on.

It was Skunkbear, though, waking me up, and after my heart stopped racing, she told me that some sort of animal had stolen one of her flip-flops and tried to steal her trekking pole and wanted to warn me that I might have been a victim too. Especially since I was under a tarp and more exposed to marauding animals.

I looked around while she explained what had happened, but I didn't notice anything out of place. Apparently she had been woken up during the night after something tried to pull out her trekking pole from under the canopy of her tent, but the large basket at the end got caught and jiggled the tent enough to wake her up. And when she went to investigate, she found her flip-flop 20 feet away having been chewed on around the edges. She didn't know what it was that did it, though.

I didn't have a tent to bring my gear in from the outside, but I piled it up next to my head where I could keep a better eye on it during the night and went back to sleep. At one point during the night, an animal did approach to check me out. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but eventually caught it in the light of headlamp and saw that it was a marmot. Our campsite was being invaded by marmots.

I shooed it off, and it didn't return to bother me again for the rest of the night. I guess the marmots preferred going after gear where they couldn't see an actual person around to stop them.

In the morning, we woke up early and hit the trail by 6:00am--my earliest start time yet! And we discussed the night's marmot raid. Neither of us were bothered again after our respective visits, and Skunkbear apologized for scaring the crap out of me during the night.

"Ah, don't worry about it," I told her. "It was good information to share." It wasn't even so much that she woke me up that startled me so much--it was the dark, shadowy figure looming over the tarp so closely that took me by surprise. From my groggy sleep, it looked like a scene from a slasher movie! Normally if another hiker would have a reason to wake me up during the night, they'd typically just call me from inside their tent rather than get out, but since Skunkbear was already up and out looking for lost gear, it wasn't any extra effort for her to approach my tarp. And, come on, in hindsight, even I can admit it was a little funny scaring the crap out of me during the night like that. =)

She also showed me the flip-flop that had obvious bite marks all around the edges where the marmot was trying to get the salt from the shoes.

On the trail, the morning was beautiful. Gorgeous views! The trail occasionally passed over patches of snow, but none of it was particularly scary or bad.

Late in the morning, I get a cell phone signal from one of the mountain passes and got a message from Evenstar saying that she was "rethinking her life decisions" and bailing from the trail in Platoro. A friend from Durango was on route to pick her up. I couldn't tell exactly when she had arrived in Platoro--Skunkbear and I were there just the day before, however, so it couldn't have been long after we left. Perhaps she had arrived that morning, but my phone only provided a timestamp of when my phone receives a text message--not when it was actually sent. It's a very annoying thing.

However, she did hope to jump ahead and return to the trail again soon. She wasn't leaving it permanently, but the snow was just too much and she needed to get away from that for a bit. Later, she'd fill me in on her own misadventure along that section of trail, but I was happy to hear that she was still alive and well since it was the first I had heard from her since leaving Cumbres Pass a few days earlier.

During the break, I stopped to pull out the Pringles that I bought the day before, and it make a very satisfying "pop" when I opened it at such a high elevation. And, much to my surprise, they were delicious! I couldn't stop eating them! When did Pringles become so delicious? Or was that just my hiker hunger talking? I felt like I just discovered a miracle drug. I'd definitely have to start buying Pringles more often--at least while I was on the trail.

Later in the morning, we caught up with Splits who had managed to get ahead after Skunkbear and I detoured off the main CDT to go into Platoro, and the three of us wound up hiking out to Wolf Creek Pass together.

Throughout the morning, dark clouds swept in and near the high point, as we passed by the Wolf Creek Ski Resort, the weather turned decidedly miserable. Hail! Rain! Thunder! Lightning! And of course the worst weather would strike as we were at the high point for the day.

When the thunder and lightning started, I gave Skunkbear my blessings to ditch me and rush down the trail looking for a safe place to wait out the storm. The snow, mercifully, wasn't too bad and I still had Splits to keep me company anyhow.

The trail followed mostly along a plateau near this point, and I later I could see Skunkbear actually running with a full pack down the trail. I was a little in awe that she could actually run with a full pack. How does she do it?! At least here the trail was largely flat and clear which made running easier, but I couldn't ever remember seeing anyone flat out run with a full pack before.

Splits and I moved rapidly, but at something less than a full-out sprint. Neither of us felt especially comfortable on this high point in a lightning storm, but at least it was full of trees and we weren't the solitary figures on an empty field.

I felt a lot more comfortable, however, when the trail finally descended and we were off the high point.

As we descended, the hail laying on the ground started to thicken. At some points, it looked more like a thin blanket of snow. I half-expected to find Skunkbear sitting on her pack somewhere waiting out the storm now that it was a more secure location than that high ridge, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Splits and I arrived down at Wolf Creek Pass where we finally caught up with Skunkbear again. Now it was time to get into Pagosa Springs. We arrived at Wolf Creek Pass at around 2:00 in the afternoon--shockingly early since we had covered about 18 miles for the day. That just goes to show how quickly we hiked and took very few breaks along the way. The early 6:00am start time certainly helped as well.

Pagosa Springs was located about 20 miles off the trail, however, so we definitely had to hitch a ride and we spread out across the pass and stuck out our thumbs. It was a sad and demoralizing experience. For the better part of an hour, we tried to hitch a ride in the rain and thunder. Skunkbear seemed a little bothered by the thunder, but down in the pass she seemed to handle it rationally. 

It was a very busy road, but nobody wanted to pick us up. I did get a cell phone signal and after a half hour failing to secure a ride, I tried using it to call for an Uber or Lyft.... but they had nothing available. I still don't know why I ever bothered installing these apps on my phone. I had yet to ever successfully use either of them when I needed them most. They keep failing to be useful in trail town after trail town. There weren't drivers available when I tried to use it on the PNT in Forks. It failed me when I tried to get off at the end of the Lone Star Trail. And now it was failing me here on the CDT. It seems like the only place these apps are good for are locations that already have decent mass transit and I don't really need them!

So we continued hitchhiking. There was a cop car pulled over on the far side of the road which I felt was making our mission more difficult. He appeared to be checking oversized vehicles heading toward Pagosa Springs. It all seemed very odd, but I felt certain that people driving down the road would see the cop and worry about him not even considering to pick us up.


Splits checks out the signage at Wolf Creek Pass

At one point, I heard Skunkbear and Splits call me over. There was a pickup track willing to take us into town. I'm not entirely sure where it came from. It might have been pulled over in the parking lot, but one of them had snagged us a ride that we could all fit into so we piled into the back. It wasn't the best seat--being in the back of an open pickup truck during a rain storm--but it was a ride! I wasn't going to complain!

The pickup was already hauling some sort of large box so the space was a little tight, and then the driver wanted us to duck down out of view so it was a little cramped. I ended up laying down with my head and portion of my torso on Skunkbear's exposed legs which were a lot softer and more comfortable than the metal bed of the pickup--but I told her if it made her uncomfortable to let me know and I'd tried to shift somewhere else. She told me no, it was fine. Her legs were freezing in the cold, wet air and my laying across them was doing a pretty good job of keeping them warm, so it worked out well for both of us.

The ride into town was one of the most interesting of my life, crammed into the back of a pickup with two other hikers. Laying down, I could only see what was directly above me--dark clouds. Although it continued to rain, it didn't bother us too much since the cab of the truck blocked most of it before it hit us--at least when the truck was moving quickly which was most of the time. I did occasionally see bolts of lightning flash across the clouds above us, which looked like something out of a movie.

We got dropped off in town and sat down at a bench to figure out what to do next. We tried doing some Internet searches for lodging, but they were all coming up full. From our bench, I could see two different motels and walked over to both of them to check availability, but they both reported being fully booked. On Airbnb, there was one property available--but it was some sort of fancy mansion with a dozen rooms and would run something like $5000/night. Maybe an option if we had a hundred other hikers to share the place with....

We had originally planned to get our own rooms, but now we weren't sure if we'd have any room at all, and Skunkbear started asking how much we'd be willing to pay to split a room--assuming, of course, if we could even find one. If each of us threw in $50-100, it could cover a room that would have run $150-300. Both Splits and I were game for that--if we could just find a room.

Pagosa Springs, which felt anything but welcoming

In the meantime, we decided to walk out to the Riff-Raff restaurant for lunch/dinner. There, they had a wi-fi connection so we could continue hunting down a room for the night online and on our phones.

I ordered a burger with a side salad, and all of the places we continued to contact reported being full. This was bad.... It's not like we could just drive over to the next town to get a hotel there. We were on foot which limited our options severely. 

Skunkbear found out where we could camp for free if it became necessary, explaining that official gateway cities for the CDT were required to provide a place for hikers to camp for free to be included as a gateway city. This was actually news for me but seemed like a great idea.

The problem was that it was raining, we were cold and wet, and I for one really did not want to camp. I wanted to be indoors! And dry! And get online with my laptop! 

Speaking of my laptop, it was at the post office in town, but I didn't bother to try picking it up. If we didn't find a room, it would just be extra weight to drag around town that would be useless to me.

After finishing our meal, we still had nowhere to go for the night. Splits decided to head off to the park and set up camp for the night. Skunkbear had texted Wi-fi who said they did have a room, but there were several people already in it and it wasn't even his room--he had to ask the others if it was okay for us to join. So there was a possibility there, but still nothing definite. I also started calling hotels and asking at what point they might release rooms for guests that didn't show up or canceled at the last minute, so I had a few them to try later in the evening as well.

The rain had finally stopped--for now, at least--and the three of us went our own ways for the time being after exchanging phone numbers to reconnect in case one of us found something. Skunkbear was off to find new socks, and Splits headed to the park to set up camp.

I had originally wanted to take a zero day in Pagosa Springs, and checked availability of rooms for tomorrow night, but it looked as bleak as tonight did. Nope, no matter what, I was getting out of town tomorrow. I wasn't taking a zero day here and camping in crappy weather when I could camp in crappy weather on the trail. =)

I headed to the grocery store to resupply for the next section of trail. After the problem with the snow in the last section, I decided to take the Creede Cutoff rather than stay on the main CDT the whole way, so the next resupply point would be the town of Creede just 40 miles up the trail. Easy-peasy. My pack wouldn't even have to be very heavy when I left this town. Just two or three days of food would be plenty. The alternate route also cut off more than 50 miles of hiking which, at this point, I considered a nice perk. The main reason I wanted to take it was to avoid the snow, but I didn't mind cutting out an extra 50 miles of hiking either. Especially if it was through deep snow and sketchy areas!

So I had a plan for the trail ahead, even if I didn't have a plan for tonight. Yet. In any case, I could at least get the resupplying done.

After the shopping, I sat down at a table outside where I ran into Gourmet and Lightwalker who were hiking with four dogs. That couldn't have been easy! They were camped in the park where Splits had gone, and after chatting for a few minutes, they wandered off again.

I ate some snacks and re-packed my bags, squeezing my purchases into my pack and surfing the web with the data connection on my phone to kill the time. My plan, if I couldn't get a room within an hour or so of sunset, would be to hike out to the park and just camp. What else could I do? Until then, I was just killing time.

I sat around for about a half hour when Skunkbear texted me that she had heard back from Wi-fi and that we were welcome to share the room with him and the others. Sweet! She sent me the details and I jumped up and headed down the street to the motel.

On my way, I passed a restaurant when I heard my named called out. "Tortuga!"

It was Wi-fi with a few of his friends, who were grabbing a meal before heading back to the motel room. So that was where I met my other flatmates for the night: Cobra, Conner and Savage. It turned out that after comparing notes, Cobra and I had crossed paths hiking the AT 6 years earlier. Neither of us really remembered each other, though, since we crossed paths just briefly. Mostly, it was my green turtle stamp in the logbooks that he remembered.

Having already eaten, I left them and continued on to the motel where Skunkbear was already getting ready to take a shower. It was a small, two-bed motel room that six of us would be squeezing into. Splits texted back that he had already set up camp and didn't feel like breaking it down to join us, but that if it was okay, maybe he could come in tomorrow morning for a quick shower before getting back on the trail. 

I set up my bed under a hotel table--one of the few places on the ground not covered with hiker gear or a path that a hiker would need to get to or from the bathroom. 

After Skunkbear cleaned up, I took my turn in the shower and cleaned up. It felt wonderful!

Later in the evening when the rest of the hikers had returned, we chatted the rest of the night away before hitting the sack. 

I was really happy to be indoors for the night and out of the rain, but ugh... what a stressful day. I couldn't wait to get out of town and back on the wide-open trails again.

One of Skunkbear's chores to do in Pagosa Springs was to get her socks replaced. These are pretty well worn!

I wasn't sure what these were, but I later learned that they are used for avalanche control.

Here you can see the hail forming a thin layer that almost looks like snow.


Anonymous said...

Holy crap so many ads on this one!

Michael said...

Wait? You went out of your way to go to Platoro because you might run out of food? But that was yesterday. The next day, here you are in Pagosa Springs. Did I miss something? Wouldn't you know if you were going to run out of food the next day?

Also, sad to hear about Evenstar. I can't wait to hear if she rejoins the trail or makes better life decisions. I love the drama! I want to hear her side of the adventure. How did she overcome the snow chutes? I'll bet she has an amazing story.

Ryan said...

At the time, I couldn't be sure if I'd get into Pagosa Springs the next day. Maybe there would be more snow that could slow me down. Maybe the longer distance would slow me down. Maybe detouring off trail would further slow me down. And we were definitely low on food, so there was a possibility of running out. But we turned out to make extraordinary quick progress between Platoro and Pagosa Springs! So in hindsight, we wouldn't have run out of food. But I couldn't be sure of that at the time.

The snow until that point had definitely slowed us down significantly putting us behind schedule, and the detour we wound up taking was actually longer in length. Running out of food was a distinct possibility.

I'll have more to say about Evenstar later, but I'll leave it up to her to share her own stories about her adventures through this section. (And she definitely had some! And it definitely wasn't all butterflies and roses!) I know she does read this blog (Hi, Evenstar!), so maybe she'll share a link where you can read all about it. =)