Thunder Sky Country—Chief Joseph Pass to Miner Lake

7/14 16.5 miles

Forced myself out of the Darby, MT motel when the rain stopped. I crossed the street and stuck out my thumb. Within minutes a woman stopped. Kim Maynard, former Smokejumper, went out of her way to give me a lift right up to Chief Joseph Pass. She worked with my sister’s partner, smokejumper Bert Mitman, in Fairbanks.

Started on dirt roads, saw an elk! Then too many straight ups, straight downs for a weighty 6 day food carry. I mean seriously you never know what the route is put together from–forest service roads, abandoned mining, ranching or logging road alignments, eroded scrambles, modern graded switchbacks, who knows?

So having a bit of a late start, 9:45, I decided to camp at a spot marked Parking. There was another hiker, Japanese, there already so I settled in. He helped look for the trail to the water. An hour later I heard German chatter and Ninja and Snapper walked up the road. Talking through my camouflage tent, I asked if they wanted to camp with me. They did and gathered by my tent to eat and chat. Turns out when I passed them on a pass a few days ago, Ninja didn’t feel well so they found a side trail, hiked out and got her to a clinic. Tonight marks 24 hours on an anti-Lyme med while they wait for test results.

An hour later a crew of teenage ICC rolled in and set up camp and quieted down in good order. After dark their gear trucks came in lights blazing, Diesel engines rumbling. 2 hours later lightening lit up my tent, and thunder blasted like cannons overhead. All was silent at 4. I got up at 6:30 and Snapper whispered through his screen that Ninja was not well. Bummer! They are so funny, so sweet, so direct, so German. I hope it’s not Lyme.

7/15 17.4 miles

So much uphill, so slow. Finally at 3:30 I got over the other side to spectacular views of rock, snow, mountains. Just starting to pick up some miles when a few raindrops fell. Sigh. I stopped to put on my rain jacket as hail shellacked me, turning to fierce rain. Sigh. I pitched my tent at 6:30. Dammit. Now instead of 3 more nights to Leadore, I’m looking at 4. I poured my food sack on my sleeping bag to recalculate my rations.

7/16 21.1 miles

Bailed!! I satellite texted Dan to call Rick at Bunkhouse Hotel in Jackson, MT about 17 miles off trail to see if he would pick me up and had a room. I walked downhill fast 5 trail miles then 3 extra dirt road miles off trail to get picked up at 7:15pm. Of course got rained on at 6:30 again.

The day was good though, the ups at 9000′ are still hard but better carrying less weight. 4 ups but #4 had the most snow of any so far this year but not a problem. The last 2 ups were gorgeous rock cirques like I’ve seen in the Sierra.

I stopped and talked with the Japanese hiker where he was camped at the beginning of the extra 3 miles. I still can’t pronounce his name. I need to get him to write it down for me.

Now at this super cool old hotel. Clean hostel for hikers and bikers, laundry, beer, frozen food, perfect! Also, Pot and Lid, whom I met in 2015 in the desert of the PCT are here. Got a ride back to the trail arranged with neighbor Bob after a second night escape from the thunderstorms. “No, this is not normal for Montana. Never seen anything like it.” Sigh.

Anaconda to Chief Joseph Pass

Decaying cabin near Twin Lakes, MT
And it’s outhouse
Campsite at Twin Lakes

7/8 20 miles

Road walk out of town uphill. Rather than stay on the 2-lane Highway 1, there are several little dirt roads that parallel it so that helps to get away from the noise. Beautiful countryside and finally you turn off on USFS roads to trail. Whew. It was easy walking and I got an early start so could have gone for more hours but I rewarded myself with an early camp by the upper Twin Lake. The bugs are out!

7/9 20.8 miles

Tough day of climbs but I leap frogged with Sunshine, Sugar Rush, Rain Skirt, Snapper and Ninja. 3 passes, up and over, down down then climb back up. Camped by a creek in warm and quiet 2 miles below Warren Lake where the others were heading. Wore my rain pants all day as the weather never warmed up. There was one scary traverse with a sheer drop on a rotting patch of snow. My inside foot punched through about 3′ and I had to carefully, shakily, yard myself up without over balancing and falling off the mountain. Fortunately it was near the top of the pass so I used the fear adrenaline to power up the last 1/2 mile. The Anaconda Cutoff here joins the official CDT which is where Sugar Rush and Rain Skirt we’re hiking.

Of course there were two more passes to go all the way up and all the way down. I couldn’t face any more up at 7pm which is why I stopped at the creek. No bugs, weird.

Fresh snow today
Patchy snow easily crossed
Kinda sketchy traverses today
Rain Skirt from Spain
Sunshine from Germany

7/10 21.1 miles in 12 hours

More passes, went by Snapper and Ninja, camped in a flat clear spot near the trail with no view at all. But it’s flat. First day I had to use stinky bug dope, dang the mosquitoes drove me crazy.

7/11 21.6 miles

Today was the first sunny morning the whole of Montana. Looked like an easy profile but then I hit the dead zone in an old burn, sunshine, uphill through tons of deadfall in the broiling sun. But that was the only bad section and nobody was around to hear me yell about a hundred times when I came to the next gigantic skin shredding blowdown, “Are you f*ing kidding me?” The ups and downs flattened out finally to follow the ridges on the Divide. This I love, views, gentle ups and downs and maybe I’m actually hiking the Divide. I only made it 22 not the 25 I wanted. Camped by Vortex who’d blazed by me earlier shortly after another in short shorts did the same.

Bug dope plus head net. No bites! Washed up so I’d stink less for hitching. My pack reeks, my shoes reek, I reek. The days blend of Arborvitae oil and Bens bug dope is barely better than stinky feet fumes.

7/12 Quick 19 miles and hitched a ride to Darby with Samson the Bear, stopping at Sula to get my box. Our ride Chuck said they’re filming Kevin Costner’s TV show “Yellowstone” in Darby but not right now. The little motel I’m in has no laundry and there’s no laundromat in town–bummer! Hand washing with dish soap is not that effective. Met my neighbor, sitting out front, he is a retired GP from Holland who has just finished a 1000 mile bicycle trip, bought a car and is on his way across the US to find himself. In one of those fabulous traveler conjunctions, he protested the Viet Nam war in Europe as I was doing the same in the US. How does that even come up in a conversation over Coors Banquet on a porch in Darby, Montana?

Are there Continental Divide Trail numbers 1-8 somewhere?

Hopper thingie
Just a ladder on a random tree
Hitching spot at border of MT and ID

MacDonald Pass to Anaconda

7/2 15.8 miles

Dan dropped me off and I was on the trail by 8:30, sad that he had to leave and sad he also left the trail angel job and I’d be once again dependent on the kindness of strangers–hitching rides to and from resupply points. But I guess after he caught the biggest steelhead of his life at Benchmark, why stick around? And there are some cats in Anchorage missing their human being.

Shred
Sami in the winter maze

Treadmill’s summer suit

Finding campsites on the CDT can be tough to find. There is a lot of road walking with private land or barbed wire fences for cows and maybe no flat places without dense trees, rocks, or wet bumpy meadow. So when comments on Guthook call them out, I’m inclined to listen. Then the weather report this morning predicted 4 days of thunderstorms with a clear day between another week of thunderstorms. In Colorado they call this monsoon season. I pitched my tent next to the road but well past several miles of McMansions each set on their large parcels of forest. Ten minutes later the rain and thunderstorm hit. A real hiker would pack up and go when it passed. Think I’ll just start early instead, or not. I’ve allowed plenty of time for this stretch.

7/3 19.3 miles

Slept well in the quiet and stillness with straight down rain off and on. It was warm enough that I used my bag as a quilt. Still cloudy in the morning as I continued on the broad gravel road I’d been on for a bunch of miles the previous day. The route took me to trail as the skies darkened that by 10:30 I wondered if I should get out my headlamp. I felt a couple drops and stopped under a cluster of trees to get out my rain gear just as giant hail pellets bombarded the trail, filling it up in 10″ as I laughed from my cozy little shelter. It got lighter and I crept out like a ground squirrel and continued on. A bit later, it rained for an hour, and my biggest concern was if my hands were getting too cold to open the bag with my smashed bagel and cheese lunch. Then the sun came out, I ate my food and the rest of the day was a small series of ups and downs on good trails. I camped, having walked a second day without seeing anybody.

7/4 18.4

I kind of messed up calculating the mileage for this section, it’s shorter than I thought so I’ve been taking it easy since I’ve got tons of food and should stick with the 4 nights out I’d planned. It’s a little nerve wracking to walk into a small town on a weekend in the summer hoping for a motel room, so I made a reservation from Helena for Anaconda already.

It didn’t rain last night. I went back to sleep after a squirrel, infuriated in the predawn hours, shrieked and screeched like some pop diva at the intruder in her green room. No hurry to get the miles in.

It’s too varied for me to put in the earbuds and listen to an audiobook, but that means I obsessed all day over a couple of issues in the real world.

Arctic Winter Games is a circumpolar sports event every 2 years for youth in about 20 different disciplines. Fairbanks hosted in 2014 and I was recruited to be a Snowboard Official although Alaska did not form a team. Several Canadian provinces and Greenland sent snowboarders. In 2016 I was recruited to direct the snowboard competitions in Greenland, a challenge with immense job satisfaction. I love Greenland and Greenlanders. Because the co-Director of Team Alaska had an eligible snowboarder daughter who wanted to go to Greenland, a team was formed. Sadly the girl was injured and couldn’t make the trip. She aged out and was not eligible for the 2018 games. In 2018, Team Alaska said they didn’t have the budget or coaches for snowboarders but would give me a complimentary spot on their charter to Fort Smith, NWT, Canada so I could volunteer as a snowboard official. I discovered another solid community in NWT and had a blast. The dark spot was the 2 guys who run Team AK who wouldn’t answer my queries about which of the two charter flights coming and going I’d be on. Like I finally found out the day before. Terrible planners or?? “We’ll let you know. The kids come first.” Sounds reasonable unless you know the kids and coaches are housed on cots in classrooms and are seated in coach, while the 2 guys and “mission staff” are in First Class and hotel rooms. Last winter I began asking whether snowboarding would be included in Whitehorse, Yukon 2020. No reply for months. Then a no. Anti-snowboarding is still a thing? Sexism is still a thing? These 2 guys using State of Alaska funds get to lie “no coaches applied”, “no funding available,” without oversight? Happy 4th.

The cool thing is that snowboarding, like hiking, is a community. My Yukon snowboard friend stepped up to make it possible for me to volunteer in 2020 despite the jerks at Team Alaska. I am stoked by the respect and camaraderie! I pay my own transportation, stay with locals, and volunteer officiate on the snowboard courses for kids from other nations since there will be no Alaska kids afforded the opportunity for this unique cultural experience.

The above is the shortened, kinder version of an all day obsession. True trail tale.

What else took over my brain as I hiked through the beautiful forest and cow fields? Last year I celebrated the 4th with Nuthatch and Burning Calves in Frisco, Colorado. BC is German so my thoughts turned to how the German people and government recovered their soul after WWII, recovered the ability to recognize and resist propaganda and represent “Never Again.” Happy 4th.

So anyway….

At one point I came out of the woods and into a bunch of cows. Startled the crap out of us all (literally out of several cows). Cows in fields don’t even glance at vehicles. But at humans walking? I always apologize out loud to them and explain I’m a harmless human without armor. They run. Except the second bunch of 5 individuals looked at me, I moved away, they followed. And again. With the lack of seeing anybody for 3 days, and getting stuck in my thoughts, I wondered: have I accidentally entered…the Twilight Zone?

I turned down on the broad gravel road to the Anaconda Cutoff at Four Corners, got some water at a creek with another decaying log structure (love these testaments to human endeavors) and found myself a perfect flat kind of hidden campsite on an abandoned approach above the road. About 24-26 miles to town and 2 days to get there. Rumor has it that there’s a farm about 14 miles away that welcomes hikers to camp. Since it’s all road walk, I doubt if there are any other reasonable camping opportunities although I’d rather stop, say, 5 miles from town.

7/5 24 miles

Need I say more? Even though I started late, it was really quick walking on the gravel road downhill to flat. I met Big Sky section hiking, he’d just been dropped off that morning and is heading NOBO. First human! Got to the farm and it was 12:30, I can’t camp at 12:30! Called the motel but they were full, found Hickory B&B in Anaconda had a room and walked on. Even though this day went from gravel road to paved highway, the countryside is beautiful and the route went by the State of Montana’s “mental hospital” in Warm Springs with lovely historic buildings and grounds. I met two groups of patients and aides strolling. Turned on to the highway with some miles to go and a truck stopped to offer me a ride. I said thanks but it was against the hiking rules. We both laughed. I walked to the B&B, showered and went across the street to eat. As I was talking with the hostess, a head popped up from behind a divider and I wound up eating dinner with 2 hikers I’d last seen at Pietown! They had continued to Chama, NM, flipped and hiked Lander to Encampment, WY, then flipped to Chief Mountain in Glacier NP and hiked SOBO. I was hoping this would happen, that I’d get to see hikers I met in New Mexico!!

My stick has a screw loose

Shadow self

After fun with friends and relatives in eastern WA (Teresa, Dave and our son Chris), Trout Lake, WA (Rod and Debbie and all the cool locals they introduced us to) and Grants Pass, OR (Jackie, Nick, Keith and Barbara), 2500 driving miles, none of which I had to do, Dan dropped me off at Hwy 200 east of Lincoln, Montana where I got off the CDT last year.

6/28 13.7 +1 backtracking to a campsite

Started at 11am with a sweaty hike up out of the pass under cloudy, windy skies. Many uphills above treeline along the Divide with downs in notches to the next ridge. Absolutely glorious. I saw a hiker behind me for hours till she finally caught me on about the 10th straight up climb. Sugar Rush from NJ, I like her! We hiked together for awhile, and both failed miserably to find a mysterious water source commented on by last year’s hikers on our Guthook app. Oh well, water finding is an issue when you’re high up, so I have 2L of mud puddle water. As does Sugar Rush. She continued ahead when I camped at 6pm, eating a cold dinner due to all the grizzly crap I’d seen. Yeah it was at least a week old and on the other side of the highway we crossed, but you know, my first night back in Montana.

6/29 20.1+0.75 RT for H2O

Sunny day after raining last night. Stopped after a few hours to dry my tent. Trail to road walking to trail. I followed the route to a Lookout but it was a skinny little traverse on the east side with snow patches and a bunch of blowdown so I bailed uphill to a lovely road walk I saw on the map that paralleled. Based on a comment in Guthook, I decided to look for the Unabomber’s cabin in the area. After seeing a burnt out hulk I was convinced I’d found it. But guess what? The freaking FBI dismantled, transported and reassembled his cabin in their museum. I went off trail to get water after 20 miles and decided on a lovely campsite on the edge of a meadow. I’ll do the 9 miles of climbing tomorrow.

Perfect tent site

CDT this way

6/30 23.5 plus wandering off route accidentally

So it was 10 miles of trail, straight up, straight down, but always on the Divide. So beautiful. The last big climb was the longest but surprisingly graded with switchbacks. Then a long, long descent on abandoned road all eroded, slippery and steep into the woods.

One of my hiking sticks has a screw loose on the clamp that telescopes it. I don’t have a tiny tool to fix it so I’ll probably just wrap tape around it so it quits sliding shorter and shorter. My tent uses a hiking stick to hold it up so I’m using the non screwy one for that.

I got water from a piped spring flowing into a cow tank, no cows yet and the water was clear. Still I treated it. The next hours were on gravel roads, just a few friendly 4-wheelers sharing it with me. After so much steep trail you learn to thoroughly appreciate the road walking. But there was no place to camp, no flat places without the Standing Dead, beetle killed trees, or stump farms. Finally I popped out at a meadow at 8 pm. There I met NOBO Recalculating from CDT 17. He recognized me and asked if I was in touch with Treeman to whom I gave An Application to Marry My Daughter at Ghost Ranch. I need to reach out and see if Treeman married the farmer’s daughter or if he is still in want if a wife…

7/1 11.3

It rained a bit in my cow pasture, with lightning, soundless, lighting up the sky north of me. Knowing Dan would pick me up to go to Helena for a night, I stepped out quickly in the morning. Cow field to lush forest to shoe sucking marsh to 4 miles of uphill trail with hundreds of blowdowns to utterly smooth gravel road down from some kind of communication installation to the highway. Made it by 12:45! After a night in Helena, Dan will return me to MacDonald Pass and head to Spokane to fly back home.

Trestle to nowhere

Detail of the trestle

Scotland, Alaska, Washington

Blair Atholl

5/9-6/10

With my sister, my bestie and my daughter, respectively.

Sister Dogwater near Blair Atholl, Scotland
Chota and Tarcey, outside Seward, Alaska
Catwater and Wings at High Bridge on the PCT near Stehekin

A short update on my hiking life. Flew from Albuquerque to Seattle, dropped my pack with my daughter Sarah. Annie and I continued to Edinburgh via Calgary and London. We had booked a self-guided Rail and B&B tour with Mac’s Adventures. The train and bus tickets, suggested day hikes and B&B stays they set up were mostly great for the short time we were in the U.K. Apparently it was oddly sunny there most of the 10 days. I forgot to remember how far north Scotland is, way more daylight than New Mexico, it felt like being home in the summer. Friendly, clean, lovely, what a beautiful place.

I decided to return home to Alaska for 3 weeks while waiting for more snow to melt in Montana. There have been moose and bear (I don’t know about squirrel) encounters with humans all spring, so I sighed and added the bear spray to the rain gear and ventured out a few times. Tarcey had a 3-day weekend so we took her dog and backpacked along Resurrection Bay to Caine’s Head and the WWII relics of Fort McGilvray. There were tons of people but plenty of campsites. This is a great family hike, incredibly, mind bogglingly beautiful as you walk along the beach at low tide and through lush moderate rainforest. You can day hike, kayak, take a scheduled water taxi, or overnight at a pick your own distance pace.

Then off to the Lower 48 to visit family and friends in the Pacific Northwest with Dan while making our way back to the CDT where he picked me off the trail last August.

Sarah learned to backpack as a teen in Alaska. Together we’ve twice hiked the Chilkoot Trail from Skagway to Yukon Territory and the Crow Pass Crossing from Girdwood to Eagle River amongst other adventures. But she lives in Seattle now. She went to her grandparents 50th wedding anniversary as a child in Stehekin and had great memories of the area. So we met in Chelan and Dan drove us to Rainy Pass so we could hike to Stehekin on the PCT, just 1 night out, but no other hikers and the trail’s few early uncleared blowdowns were a small price to pay for the North Cascades National Park. Then we got to spend 2 additional nights in Stehekin with Dan before taking the ferry back to the cars.

So far not hiking related (hmm, Te Araroa anyone??) but our youngest, Chris, is moving to Wellington, New Zealand to study geology. He’ll get a 4 year degree in 3 because they don’t add a bunch of extra crap to the curriculum. He drove over from Bellingham to meet us in the Spokane area and will store his remaining stuff in his self customized home, the 2001 red Suburban he calls Clifford. We’re putting him on a plane this morning. I have enough Hawaiian Air miles for a ticket to visit!

Chris and Clifford

Chris and Catwater

Into the Badlands: Pie Town to Grants

5/2-5

5/2 20 miles

I dinged around and left about 10. There were a bunch of hungover hiker guys, and a few more nursing foot injuries and wanting another day to rest. The miles were all road walk so it went fast. About 16 miles out is TLC Ranch that has water and possible food and camping for hikers. Several people intended to stay there or at least stop. When I walked in the yard, there was nobody around, just some RVs and a 2 story tall metal building that was maybe used as a house? I wandered a bit, then found the hose and got 2 liters to camp with since the next water source (cow tank) was only 7 miles away.

The music at the neighbors’ last night was a treat. Jennifer, and Rick(?) played guitar and sang. Judging by their strong Arkansas and Oklahoma accents and cowboy get-ups, I’d anticipated fingernails-on-chalkboard country music, but he sang the most beautiful covers of Talking Heads, Jimmy Buffet, and Nirvana I’ve ever heard. These 2 people moved out to this tiny town to escape addiction and death. I think they love recruiting new people (hikers) to their mobile home and sharing, just sharing, their acoustic music and unique voices. They fed us pizza and beer and true confessions. Art.

I camped at 20 miles, blissfully alone after holding my temper and tongue at Toaster House, hidden from the road and POSTED signs. My feet, rested yesterday from road walking, hurt again from slapping on hard baked dirt.

5/3 22.5 miles

More road. Listened to audiobooks. Austin from San Antonio, cyclist I met at Toaster House, came up behind me and chatted for a bit, asking if I’d like some snacks. He’s getting into Grants today–what a difference mileage range riding gives you from hiking.

I kept thinking about this amazing wildlife encounter 2 guys had back at Snow Lake. I listened to their story several times between Davila Ranch and Toaster House and it still blows my mind. They saw 3 elk running flat out at them as they hiked the road with 3 wolves just behind them. The elk ran into the water while the wolves pulled up short at the edge of the lake and then the guys saw more wolves above on the ridge line. Cool! And then the guys hiked on.

I walked by 2 places I’d camped with the Ravens in 2017. They’re on the AT this year and I’m following their adventures.

Probably not supposed to camp where I camped, stealthily, near La Ventana Arch. It gets weird on the highway, I think I’m on public land, National Forest, but there’s barbed wire fence just outside the right-of-way that’s hard to get over or under, so when I came to the turnout for the Arch, I dashed uphill out of sight. Just a few cars went by on the highway during the night and I was comfortable. Hiking is kind of weird sometimes, not what you’d expect of a “wilderness experience.” Hah! I camped on sand and left no trace.

5/4 19.3 miles

Zuni-Acoma trailhead to Bonita-Zuni alternate. What a mixed day! Paved highway to El Malpais (the Badlands). Two years ago, the Ravens and I stayed on the official CDT (Highway 117) all the way to Grants. This time I wanted to walk the 7 mile Zuni- Acoma trail through decaying lava fields. I’ve lived on the Big Island of Hawaii and know the beauty and torture of new pahoehoe and a’a’ and have walked through the obsidian fields on the Oregon PCT. There’s not really a trail, you follow a route cairn to cairn. Hard work for ankles but a unique experience I’ve looked forward to.

Then on to a real trail for a mile before crossing another paved highway onto a well graded gravel road grinding every so gently uphill another 9 miles. Densely distributed beer cans and bottles and mini liquor bottles took the place of wildflowers for color. A small truck went slowly past me, two Anglo women with a toddler standing between them hanging into the dashboard. Later a smatter of shotgun fire from a side road. Saturday fun I guess.

When I finally quit going up, I found a flat spot away from the road and pitched my tent. No more traffic except the steady, stealthy sound of a small car heading south in the dark at 2:30 am. Wonder what that was about.

Water source

5/5

Heading to town, to Grants, and as usual I just want to be there. Dirt road to gravel where for some weird reason all the SUVs and minivans slowed down so I wouldn’t have to inhale their dust plumes and not one truck did. Despite the dust and discourtesy, the Zuni Canyon was beautiful when I looked up from all the empty booze containers. As I got into Grants I turned on to old Route 66, like Cuba, NM, buildings mostly abandoned, for sale, deteriorating. Fascinating, I like it. I’ll stay a night or two in Grants, then Greyhound to Albuquerque, fly to Seattle, meet my sister, then fly to Edinburgh. Yay, Scotland for a couple weeks!

Gila River to Pie Town

Little Bear Canyon Trail

4/24 13.4 miles Tim Davis of Gila CDT Shuttle Service gave me a ride to the Gila Cliff Dwellings where I hiked up Little Bear Canyon, the same route I took last year. The ride took about 90 minutes and I learned a bunch about biking in NM and I heard about a hiker who left Silver City a few days earlier only to wander around for 3 days trying to figure which trail to go on, before somebody went up and fetched him back to Silver City. To be fair there are multiple options–the Gila River alternate, Walnut Creek Road alternate, the Columbus Gila route and the official CDT kind of makes a couple of wide loops intersecting with the assorted alts. But the guy had the same map app, Guthook’s, the rest of us carry and the GPS function pinpoints your location in relation to all these trails and roads. A mystery but apparently the guy regrouped and hiked out successfully.

I counted 67 (or so) river crossings, the footing is bad and I’m exhausted but I camped in the Meadows on the same sand dune using the same rocks as last year, perfect. I saw 3 people today going downstream, the opposite of me. One old guy was going to have a very tough time making it back to his truck tonight but when I asked if he would be OK, he said he had a flashlight and rain gear, food. That was at 4 pm and he wanted to know how far back to Little Bear Canyon. I told him I’d been walking upstream from there 4 hours (and then it’s another 4 miles up and over to his truck). Hope he will be OK, I could have turned around and gone with him.

4/25 14.8 miles

Last night a wild turkey nearby gobbled me a lullaby, then a wake-up song this morning. A few miles into today’s hike, I saw a turkey–huge, grayish with white tail feathers–scuttling into a ravine. Also frogs, tadpoles, lizards and numerous pairs of ducks with orange feet flapping below them as the fly away from me, low to the water.

Another slow, hard work today, gorgeous though. Somebody could start a new exercise video trend, walking up a river with a pack is a whole body workout pushing against the current. And since you just wear your socks and trail runners, your feet are scoured clean and stink free.

I camped at 6:15 because I was tired. 15″ after my tent was pitched, it rained and I laughed, I had no idea those clouds were for real this time. I love being cozy in my tent with rain pounding on it.

This is the trail up the Gila

View from my tent 4/25

4/26 23 miles

From the Gila River and no water worries to desert. I’d considered climbing out yesterday afternoon to the High Route just because slogging through the river is slow and physically taxing but when I saw the scramble up and calculated I’d have to carry 3 liters of water weight, I kept to the river.

First thing this morning I startled a herd of sproingers, deer? I think elk and antelope run and deer bound. No babies yet.

Today I went from river to Snow Lake where there’s a camp ground and mobs of men and boys in camo on 4 wheelers or ATVs (4 people or 2 people and 3 hound dogs fit in one) out for the spring turkey hunt. I kind of relished telling them about my turkey encounters, knowing they would not actually walk down the river to shoot them. The hunters seemed kind of surprised at all the hikers, a couple had camped near them last night and they’d seen a woman “all by herself with a dog.” That explains the footprints/tracks I’d been seeing off and on!

Outhouse! Trash can! Win!

I followed a bunch of dirt roads, then bushwhacked up a dry creek bed to another trickle of a creek where I picked up a bunch of water for a dry stretch lasting into tomorrow. Then climbed out of the drainage onto a flattish, windy, barren little mesa. I hate this place, I hated it 2 years ago too but this time I have plenty of water and there are no forest fires burning.

Descending slightly to gravel road and trees, I kept going. More hunters on ATVs, but not enough traffic to be annoying. I pitched my tent finally in desperation and in view of the road behind a big bushy thing to break the wind, on a rocky but flat place.

4/27 21.3 miles

I thought the camp spot would be awful but when the wind died at dark, it was dead silent and the rocks were padded by my rain gear. A very restful night.

In the morning I met a couple packing their gear. Not interested in me at all, OK. A zillion cars and trucks working on clearing and hauling out wood created from last year’s fires. Then trail. Lots of up and I felt out of shape and slow until I actually thought to look at the contours of my map and realized I was at 9000′! A bit later Not Guilty (love that trail name!!) caught up and passed me after trying to convince me to take an alt for which I was the only one with a map. Ha ha, not happening at 4:30 in the afternoon when I can’t even think anymore.

I continued uphill with a ton of water until I found a lovely flat spot with a view forever and no dead trees to fall on me. That’s been quite the challenge this year, so many dead trees, burned trees, and dying trees.

4/28 18.3 miles

Another herd of sproingers this morning! I hiked grumpy, falling once and scraping my knee. That makes me feel like a kid, I always had scabs on knees or elbows, and in sixth grade I stayed home from school for a day because all four were bloody and oozing. Crap.

We keep track of water sources through the app, which is updated by hiker comments. The next source, Aragon Well, has weird outdated comments, my app must not have updated properly last time I had WiFi, so I was a bit anxious. If no water, I promised myself to try and hitch to Reserve a long way aways on a not too traveled highway. So when I got to Aragon and the water was perfect running well water into a cow tank, I suddenly was blissfully happy again.

I crossed Highway 12 and found a campsite hidden from the dirt road. I had met more nice turkey hunters and a group of 4 hikers passed me, including the couple from yesterday and 2 guys who offered me a hit on their pipe. I have a feeling Toaster House in Pie Town is going to be crowded.

4/29 20.7 miles (7:15-4:00)

Easy day. Met a couple going SOBO who told me about new trail angel operation Davila Ranch 14 miles before Pie Town. They told me it had a washer and dryer and that Toaster House’s were broken so take advantage.

It was all dirt road today. I listened to an audiobook, Crazy Rich Asians, not my favorite but it distracted me from the road plodding foot pain.

About 2 miles from the ranch, an old cowboy in a white truck raised his beer to me and stopped to offer me a Keystone Lite. I pet his big goofy dog instead, she licked my face. I hope she doesn’t get sick. There were a ton of hikers at Davila Ranch–the couple, the 2 weed smoking guys, Pompom, Heather, the Ambassador (the very same guy who wandered around 3 days lost out of Silver City) and owner Banana Man. He’s drilled a 600′ well, put up a fancy shed with a toilet, shower, electric cookers, 2 refrigerators, washer and dryer, fire pit and covered area. He’s stocked his very own ranch grown beef, frozen veggies, eggs, bacon, soda and beer. It was windy and cold and I didn’t want to cowboy camp in the shed with a bunch of others so I pitched my tent behind a bush. So awesome to talk with hikers, clean up, eat and relax knowing it was only 14 miles to the next stop. The 3 days lost situation wasn’t any more clear to me after talking with the Ambassador though. Oh well. He cooked some beef for me.

Davila Ranch kitchen

1930’s cabin at Davila Ranch

4/30 14 miles

Knowing there are few beds and lots of hikers, I hiked the road quickly the next day to Toaster House, 7:30-12:04! I walked in to a full house, only 1 hiker had left that morning, the rest were taking zeroes. The Ambassador had hitched in and got the only bed but then he gave it to me as he had arranged a ride to Grants a bit later in the afternoon. Score! I feel a little guilty since it’s a double so I offered to share with Heather when she arrived. But she decided to sleep on a tiny couch. As the day went on, the crew from Davila Ranch rolled in followed by a bunch more. It is really different than 2017, too many people, the washer is broken so we can’t wash towels and sheets. Too many people.

I enjoyed some of the hikers a lot: Dogma and her dog Toolik, Dustin and dad Greg, Dan and Nick who I first met out of Lordsburg, Heather, Pompom, Sea Legs, Twiggsy. A comfortable, peaceful night.

5/1 0 miles

Took a zero since I had the best room and refigured how long I need to get to Grants, 4 nights, not 5 for my route choices. I ate pie, of course, had good conversations, and then another wave came in, followed by cases of beer, and obnoxious macho posturing until 2 am. Reminds me of the party wave on the PCT, the inconsiderate jerks. Earplugs helped. Time to hike out and camp by myself!

At the neighbors for live music!