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

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