After such a rejuvenating experience at the Toaster House, it was truly difficult to hike out the next morning. Temperatures in the twenties and snow were forecasted for the following day, but we knew we had to push forward. Not only are we on a time budget, but most of us have limited bankrolls as well. We had heard there was more trail magic merely fifteen miles ahead, so we made that our destination for the evening.
There was mention of a couple who have opened up their property to thru-hikers and allow them to camp anywhere on the premises. Upon arrival, it was difficult to say if anyone was even present. Juice, Bones and myself roamed warily searching for any sign of life. A few minutes passed and we were having trouble deciding what to do... it just did not seem right setting up without speaking with the owners. We walked by what appeared to be a rather large shed and heard voices from inside. It took us another few minutes to work up the nerve to knock on the door, but when we did, we heard the voice of the sweet Anzi Taylor on the other side. When she opened her door and caught glimpse of the three stinky hikers that stood in front of her, the first words out of her mouth were, "I knew I shouldn't have opened the door." She was being facetious of course, and I could already tell I liked her. When we walked in, I realized it was not a shed at all, it was actually their house. There was an extremely cozy fire in the living room, a full kitchen that was at our disposal, but most importantly some really great company. Before the night was over, there must have been ten of us hikers staying at the Thomas's and this included the Warrior Expedition crew. These guys are all former military and are really cool to be around. John Thomas (the husband) could not have agreed more, as he is also former military and spent hours on end telling the guys old war stories. As the day began to dwindle, we expressed our appreciation to the Thomas's and made our way back to our tents for the evening. The following morning we were greeted by a very familiar friend.
We awoke to the pitter patter of snow on the roof of our tents. This was a strong reminder of what lies ahead. Up until this point we had been extremely fortunate with weather, there was hardly ever a cloud in the sky. It would only be matter of time before that all changes.
I have a strong distaste for hiking in the rain and once the day warmed up a bit, that is exactly what we had to do. Looking ahead on the map, we noticed a highway roughly halfway through our originally planned hike. One thing that you learn rather quickly on trail is that plans change often. Bones had not been feeling well that morning and I hate the rain, so we devised a plan for us and Egg Rolls to hitch into Grants and then we would just backtrack to where we got picked up in order to not skip any trail.
Our luck has been unreal on this trail as of yet and sure enough the first vehicle that drove by (which was an eighteen wheeler by the way) pulled right over and offered us a lift into town. The truck driver's name was Josh and he was an extremely friendly Arizonan who was just doing his daily run. He drove us into town and we found our way to the Motel 6 where we could get out of the rain, do some laundry and take advantage of the surrounding amenities.
When you are a hiker and there is and Asian Buffet across the street from you, there is no question as to where you will be eating that evening. This would be the first of two trips to said buffet and each occasion turned out to be quite magical.
We randomly selected our seats and just happened to be sitting next to a family of three (A husband, a wife and a daughter). I am not sure if it was our looks or our stench that gave us away, but the father (Julio) turned to us immediately and asked if we were hikers. Once he learned of the journey that was taking place, he ever so kindly offered to pay for all of our meals. We insisted that was not necessary, but he was more than happy to help us out. His wife and daughter (Adele and Sara, respectively) also seemed very interested. They proceeded to ask us if a video interview was appropriate and we were more than happy to oblige. After some really nice conversation and them making us feel like celebrities, the three of them walked up to the register and paid for our meals. Just another instance of the good that exists in this world and a reminder of why I do what I do.
After filling our bellies with copious amounts of food... for free, we retired to our room for the evening and prepared for the forty miles of road walking between us and where we were last picked up. One of the plus sides to hitching into town was we got to see our walk beforehand and we already knew where we were going to camp the next night. This would prove to be one of the coolest campsites I have seen on any trail.
Road walking has its pros and cons. On one hand, you are able to crush miles quickly, but it tends to really wear on your feet, muscles and joints. The really nice thing was that we got to camp well before dinner and really got to relax and explore the area. Our home for the evening was La Ventana Arch:
Bones and I wound up staying up until the stars came out. According to the forecast, it was going to be the perfect night to test out the GoPro and its long exposure features. It turned out to be well worth our while as you can see above. We spent a couple of hours capturing the stars and light painting, but town was once again waiting for us, so we packed it in around 11:00 in preparation for an early start the following morning.
Just as planned, we woke up early and speedily made our way back to where Josh had picked us up two days prior. The three of us were hoping the timing would work out where Josh would be able to give us another ride, but we hiked a little too fast and arrived at the road junction a little too early. No matter though, because the first car that drove by (again) pulled over and was more than happy to take us back into town.
The SUV owner was a guy who went by the name Randy and was actually a neighbor of John and Anzi. He turned out to be one of the coolest and nicest people I have ever met. Randy was on his way to see his son in California and said he had done a bunch of hitchhiking back in the day. However, we were apparently the first hitchhikers he had picked up in thirty years and man were we lucky that he did. He lives on the trail and after our conversation, I am pretty sure he has decided to set something up to help out hikers. Regardless, he took us right back to our favorite spot... the Asian Buffet. As we exited his vehicle, we asked him if there was anyway we could contact him, because our hitching experience was very memorable and it is nice to keep in contact with people like Randy. He pulled out his wallet and at the time I thought he was searching for a business card, but wound up pulling out a $50 bill that he insisted on us taking. Not only did he give us a forty mile ride, but he paid for our meals and part of our hotel room. Trust me when I say there is good out there.
Nothing but good weather was predicted for the near future and we could not have been more pleased, because the Mt. Taylor alternate was next on the list and was something we had been looking forward to from the very beginning.
Marshmallow clouds and ocean blue skies hover atop the summit of Mt. Taylor as we traverse over the Mesas leading to the base of the mountain. Moss laced pines guide the way and I finally find myself being able to really take in my surroundings. I am now spending less time worrying about aches and pains and in turn I am able to fully appreciate the remarkable scenery.
Although our plan was to summit that evening and camp on the other side of the mountain, it ended up making more sense to stay at the water source a few miles before the summit. We were at a much lower elevation, meaning a lot less wind and a lot more warmth. Furthermore, Lunchbox, Pai Mei and Prophet all planned to stay at the source, so we figured it would be a lot more fun to reach the peak as a larger group.
Bones set an alarm for 5:30 the next morning and all of us began breaking down camp while it was still dark. We figured if we were not going to do sunset on top, we should at least attempt to catch the sunrise. While climbing the mountain, the sun could not rise quick enough. It had risen on the opposite side that we were climbing, so the morning was quite windy and frigid. Knowing there was a fully exposed summit and guaranteed sunlight up ahead, all of us pushed ourselves and made it to the Mt. Taylor sign shortly after 7:00am. There was a bit of a crater at the top which offered some coverage from the wind. This allowed us to really spend some time up there, so we could capture photos and shoot some footage on our GoPros. It was Mother's Day and one of the perks to being at 11,301 feet of elevation is you usually get cell phone service. Naturally, we all took this opportunity to call our moms.
As beautiful as it was, as the trail goes, we had to continue onward. Sherpa Mike was flying out a few days later to meet up with the guys and I. Bones, Egg Rolls and myself wanted to make sure we made it to Cuba in time to meet him. We had four days to make ninety miles, but after the mountain, the trail into Cuba was mostly flat and this allowed us to make miles more easily than originally anticipated.
Although we found ourselves pushing big miles, I still was able to really enjoy the nature surrounding me. Bones has a degree in Biology with a focus in animal behavior and ecology, so I get to learn a lot concerning all types of animals. We had butterflies landing on our heads and this is when I discovered salt lick. He informed me that salt makes their sperm more nutrient rich, is used as a nuptial gift and is vital for reproduction. We were not entirely sure if that was the reason they were interested in our hair, but it is kind of neat to think you might be the middleman in butterfly reproduction.
The days go on and I can feel the confidence brewing inside of me. Chills manifest in my brain and transcend through the rest of my body as I finally begin to realize that I have what it takes in me to complete this journey. The miles are flying by and it looks like we should be getting into town at exactly the same time as Sherpa Mike. That was until the rain and hailstorm that ensued the day before we were supposed to arrive in town.
Now, you might hear storm and think, "Well,that must have slowed them down." If that is the case, then you would be wrong. At least if you are talking about Bones, Dos Egg Rolls and I. I had no desire to stop and setup camp in the rain. At around 3:00 in the afternoon I was hiking alone and had roughly fourteen mikes left to town. I had already hiked twenty-three miles that day, but I already knew I was not stopping until I reached Cuba. The terrain was not terribly difficult to hike through, but there was one section that had us climb directly up the side of a Mesa and the entire trail was clay. My shoes were literally gaining pounds as I made my ascent, but once I had reached the apex, it was smooth sailing yet again. The clouds began to clear and the sun began to shine and at that moment I heard the sound of a familiar voice behind me. It was Bones and when I informed him of my plan, he left a letter for Egg Rolls letting him know that he was doing the same. 37.3 miles later, I had completed the second longest hike I have ever done and it was all worth it when I got to crawl into that motel bed. Egg Rolls completed the hike not long after us for his longest day he has ever done and this is also his first thru-hike. Quite impressive if you ask me. All we could do now was relax and wait for the man himself... Sherpa Mike.
I met Sherpa Mike in 2014 on the Appalachian Trail. He hiked with The Herd through Georgia and has been a part of our trail family ever since. Over the past few years, Mike has become a really good friend of mine and is one my more reliable hiking buddies. Not to mention, he is one of the most generous people I have ever met. Before I even started the CDT, Mike had already booked a flight to New Mexico, so he could meet up with me wherever I may be. He spent ten days supporting my friends and I by putting us in hotel rooms, driving us wherever we asked (I got to go to Santa Fe for the first time) and spoiling us with food. Oh yeah and beer... there was a lot of beer. He also hiked a few days with us including a twenty-three mile day out of Ghost Ranch, which if you are hiking the trail, you know is no easy task. Just as we were getting used to having Mike around, it was time for him to head back to New England. I know I speak for everyone who received trail magic from Sherpa when I say thank you endlessly and we all wish you could be out here hiking with us.
Sherpa Mike dropped us back off at the trail on his way to the airport and we were on our own once again. Fortunately for us, we were less than two days from the Colorado border and our next town stop. However, the next two days presented the most formidable terrain we have encountered on this trail. There essentially was no trail, as most of the mountains are still covered in snow. Bones and I spent two days staring at our phones in order to navigate through the thick forest. The task was tedious, but we really had no other option. As we approached the border, I found myself daydreaming about how I would act once we finally made it there. I dreamt of doing a Ric Flair walk and letting out a massive "Woooooooooo!" and that is precisely what I did. The rest of the day I felt like I was floating and I did not bother to even follow the trail. We could see our road up ahead and we just glissaded down the side of the mountain directly to the road where we would catch our next hitch. Our streak of luck continued, as we approached an RV on the side of the road that offered us a ride back into Chama.
Lunchbox, Bones, Egg Rolls, Prophet, Pai Mei and myself will all be spending one more evening here in town and tomorrow we set off for the San Juans. This section is by far the most talked about, supposedly the most beautiful and supposedly the most difficult on the CDT. We have all upped our pack weight with a bunch of essential snow gear. This includes snowshoes, micro-spikes, ice axes and waterproof socks / shoes. Needless to say, I am stoked to embark on the next portion of our journey and can not wait to share the outcome with all of you.