Another Day of Road Walking

Mile 295-374

I really wanted to leave Davila Ranch early. I truly did. I was awake at midnight; I could’ve just rolled off my mat and hiked to Pie Town. I could’ve gotten up with Little Brown at 4 AM, when I woke up again to the sounds of his alarm. I was up at 5 AM, when No No got up from her mat and moved to the hammock swing Little Brown had abandoned.

I eventually got up at 6 AM, which is still earlier than I normally do, and was able to roll out within half an hour. Thankfully, I had decided to cowboy camp under the pavilion of the little dirt floored shelter.

“Heading out?” Sugar Mama asked, as I passed her near the bathroom.

“Yes ma’am! Need to get to the Pie Town store before they close at three!”

Fourteen miles of road walking stood between me and food. Fourteen long, dusty, road miles. The first half passed quickly and easily, the sun still hiding behind the mountains. As the morning wore on, my feet began to drag and be pinched by my too small shoes.

After nearly 300 miles of walking, my feet had expanded and swelled enough to demand new shoes. Along the edges of my feet, blisters swelled and popped painfully from the constant rubbing and pressure. The initial pace I had started the day with turned into a crawl as I hobbled down the street, wincing every few steps.

I eventually sat down on the side of the dirt road, coughing in the cloud of dust left by the last car to drive by, and swapped out my shoes for my sandals. In this manner, I trudged the final two miles to town wearing my barefoot sandals and attempting to avoid the clouds of dust.

The Toaster House hostel was immediately recognizable. I strolled through the toaster strewn archway and was greeted by an array of cats and their kittens, before entering the little home.

The ceilings were low and the walls constructed of exposed wood and covered in notes, motivational posters, and ten-year-old calendars. There were parcels of food on the rough countertops, onions sprouted in jars on the window sill, and a pantry full of discarded, dehydrated meals. The space felt well-broken in and incredibly welcoming, like the Weasley’s home in Harry Potter.

I snagged my new shoes (a half size larger) and resupply box from the mounds of packages inside and went out to the side porch. There was a fair amount of hikers when I arrived; Nita, the hostel owner, rolled up in her old suburban. Without much ado, seven of us crammed inside her car before taking a grand tour of the quaint Pie Town before being whisked away to the nearest town of Quemado.

With hunger eating away at me, I stocked up on extra snacks and supplies to supplement the minuscule food box I had shipped myself from Silver City. In addition to snacks, I snagged a six-pack of New Mexican beer from the greatly depleted cooler (other hikers had got there before me) and a pint of fireball I hoped to pack out with me.

The night wore on rapidly: showering and setting up my tent, sitting with Little Brown as he enjoyed a thick steak and a bottle of red wine, laughing with Topo and Tex on the side porch. The beer supply I had purchased for two nights was quickly depleted in one, soon to be followed by the fireball.

Around midnight, I crawled into my sleeping bag, after consuming a hearty serving of ramen prepared by Tex. I then realized that I was going to regret my ill-made decision to drink quite so much.

There’s honestly not too much to tell about what was supposed to be my one zero day in town. In contrast, my second zero in town was a bit more productive. I washed my clothes in a basin by the pump, rehydrated and ate after a day of starvation, and successfully made hobo French onion soup, the recipe I included below:

  • 1 packet of beef ramen flavor
  • 1 packet of chicken ramen flavor
  • 2 cups of water
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • Worcestershire Sauce, to taste
  • Garlic power, to taste
  • Bacon bits, however much is available

Put all in a pot and cook until onion tender. Serve with frozen taco cheese from the freezer out back. Chillzen, a hiker I went out for breakfast with that morning, can testify to the quality its tastiness.

Despite my productiveness the day prior, it still took me until 1 PM to get out of town. I had a few more chores to do that morning, then the temptation of a hot meal before leaving town gnawed away at me until I finally succumbed.

It was 16 miles to TLC Ranch, which had recently opened to allow hikers to camp out at the entrance of their farm. I made it there around 8 PM and eager to tuck into the abundance of food I had carried from town. My pack was overburdened with supplies and the best way to diminish the vast weight was through consumption.

I was the second to last to leave in the morning, heavily distracted by the other hikers talking at the gate. In total, there was three couples (Cyclops and McGoober, Teton and Moose, and Marco Polo and Tinkertoy), four solo hikers (Blues Brother, Magic Hat, Season Pass, and one I didn’t get his name), and two who showed up in the morning (Doug, aka Hobo Toe, and Mark).

6 May 2021 – My campsite at TLC Ranch

Another long day of road walking was before me and the sun promised to be present for every step. I eventually dragged myself away from comfort and down to the next water source. I hadn’t been there long before Blues Brother showed up and chatted a bit while about the Warrior Expedition he was a part of.

The day after I started, nearly 20 former military members had started the trail with assistance from Warrior Expeditions; they had been popping up every few days as I hiked along and several had been in Pie Town when I was there.

It took me all day to reach the Cebolla Canyon cut off, diverting me from the official CDT that ran through the Chain of Craters and lava fields. With new shoes on my feet, I wasn’t inclined to melt them right off the bat, so I chose the “brown” route alternative instead.

In the first shade I had found since filtering my water at 10 AM, I plopped down in the shelter of a juniper tree to eat my lunch as the sun reached for the horizon. Day hikers began to arrive as I trekked along.

7 May 2021 – The homestead in the Cebolla Canyon

I passed Tinkertoy and Marco Polo’s tent near the abandoned homestead found nestled in the canyon. After climbing onto a ridge, I found a little campsite out of the wind, and set myself up for the night.

Marco Polo and Tinkertoy passed my tent before I had even deflated my sleeping bag. I rolled out of bed a little tired but ready to start the day. After packing up, I meandered through the second half of the canyon, which proved to be mostly road walking on old Jeep roads.

Breaking free from the confines of mountains, I spent a bit filtering my water with the company of a herd of cows, who weren’t pleased to see me near their trough.

I tried to cut across a field to save myself a bit of a road walk, but fences kept me from advancing too far and I was driven back to the highway. I reached the south Narrows Picnic Area in late-afternoon with time to spare for lunch. It was another long day out in the sun, and I was eager to lay out in the shade and rest.

I had caught Marco Polo and Tinkertoy again, who were camping at the start of the rim trail, as I contemplated my options. The Narrows Rim trail was supposed to be beautiful, with views from the cliffs of the lava fields, but there was no guarantee I would be able to make it down the far side, which had no official trail. Reviewing my maps, I realized the Ley maps (one of the many options available for hikers) made the rim trail the official route and stated it was possible to bushwhack down the north end, opposite of the natural arch.

8 May 2021 – Views from the Narrows Rim Trail and the surrounding lava fields

Figuring I would at least go and check it out, I packed up my belongings and climbed up to the rim. The view was incredible and I was glad I had taken the alternative, hoping I wouldn’t have to go all the way back in defeat. I dropped my pack off where the Ley Alternative was supposed to start, and hike to the Overlook to view where I would be descending. It did look possible, as incredibly steep and rocky as it was. Having come this far, I decided to go check it out and returned to grab my pack.

8 May 2021 – The view of the La Ventana Natural Arch and my path down from the rim.

It was around 6:30 PM when I made it to the top of where I was to climb down. I looked over the ridge and tried to find the best way down. I was heartened by the fact that there seemed to be fresh foot prints on the ground, so I knew other hikers had come this way earlier that day. The lack of receding foot prints also told me they had made it down.

I tighten my pack on my back, took a deep breath, and began my own way down.

It was about as much as I expected. I had done more challenging climbing with a pack on the Appalachian Trail, but at least then I had someone with me that I could hand my pack to or help me through a particularly difficult section. Here though I was alone, and there was a few moments where I nearly lost my balance and had to rely on my primitive rock climbing knowledge to find a worthy hand hold and swing myself around.

It took me about a half hour of scrambling, sliding, and half falling to make it to the safety of the valley below. I pitched my tent in the far back to stealth camp in the shadow of the arch, as darkness was quickly approaching, and laid awake for sometime worried that someone would come along and find my hidden tent.

After a fretful night’s sleep, I woke tired in the morning, but manage to leave the area just as the first car was pulling up. On the road walk to the connector between the brown Cebolla and the blue route through the Bonita-Zuni Canyon, I called home to wish my mom happy Mother’s Day, and was passed around to my family who had gathered for breakfast. The thought of eggs and bacon made my mouth water.

I had to cross the lava fields to get to the blue route; I wasn’t sure what to expect. They started off interesting enough with scrambles and climbs and great leaps over 20 foot deep gaps, but soon I realized that 7 miles of this was going to be a challenge. I was going nearly 2 miles an hour, if that, and my ankles began to ache from the uneven surface. I worried about my brand new shoes and what they would look like after walking on such an abrasive surface, for most of my walk that day was spent on the rough lava rocks.

9 May 2021 – Cactus flowers in the lava fields

I took all my mental fortitude to keep pressing forward and not resigning myself to an early day. At long last I made it to the parking lot on the west end of the fields, and laid down promptly on a picnic table to take a short nap.

It was late afternoon when I got started again and began the Bonita-Zuni alternative. One of the biggest struggles I had that day was the fact that I started a 13 mile stretch with a liter and a half of water before I would reach my next water source. The night before I thought I had an extra liter at camp, so I drank it eagerly. Only to realize in the morning and with an untired mind that I was now a liter short and would have to be careful with my water supply for the day.

When I arrived at the windmill that pumped well water from the ground to a large tank for the cattle in the area, I eagerly drank my first filtered liter before filtering more. My filter was slowing from getting clogged with dust and sediment, so it took me a while to filter the water I needed for the rest of the day and the beginning of the next.

It was pleasant sitting there along the fence, watching great swarms of birds stop to get a drink and a bicker with one another. You can always count on birds near the water sources, as there are so few and far in between in the desert. I welcomed their chatter in the quiet that seemed to persist everywhere in the desert.

9 May 2021 – Views of the Bonita Canyon

I have determined that I would take a few short days and nero into Grants, the next town I would reach, instead of pushing myself to get in a night early. The past week I had been absorbed with fatigue and mental exhaustion, so a few easier days sounded wonderful. I ended that day after just 16 miles, and pitched my tent near the canyon road in the shelter of a few pines.

I would reach Grants the day after next and enjoy the comforts of town once again, but for today I was content with my little campsite and an early night under the stars.