CDT Day 132: El Malpais to Pie Town Road water tank – Drops of Jupiter Camp to Donkey Invasion Camp
Miles hiked: 26.1
Total miles: 2352.7
More roadwalking today zoomed our merry band across long miles of desert. Layered cliffs, lava badlands, a natural arch, coyotes, dead skunks, phantom donkeys, piles of asphalt, free beer. So much good stuff today. I learned that sometimes the best way forward is on a road, together with friends, and that humans sitting along a road at sunset look a lot like shadows. I forgot every single answer to the riddles that we riddled(noun and verb) across many hours of achingly easy highway walking. I breathed in clouds of dust kicked up by passing trucks on a dirt road. I napped in the dirt. I fell asleep in the dirt. I shoo-dooed and shoobee-doobeed. I was humbled by the desert. I was amazed by just how deserty the desert can be. I finally feel like the desert is here to stay. I finally feel like I’m in the land of enchantment. New Mexico, I have arrived.
The 5:30am alarm got us up and moving, the morning still dark, but warm. SpiceRack and I hit the road around 6:30am, Crunchberry already out of sight ahead of us, Rooster methodically packing up behind. With tall cliff to the east, we hiked in the shade of dawn, watching the sunlight creep down the cliff ahead. I savored the chill, but anticipated the warmth. We caught Crunchberry eating a snack at the La Ventana Natural Arch picnic area and joined him for a pow wow. Though I had my doubts, I was looking forward to bushwhacking up to the rim then following a trail back to the road a few miles later. The others did not seem into this idea one bit. It will take longer. Do I have the time? Without wasting a bunch more time buried by my own indecision and talking about it, I decided to go for it. After an awkward goodbye, I turned up the trail to the arch, leaving the others to walk the road. I didn’t feel good about it. Bad things happen when Spice and I split up.
La Ventana was cool, but then the trail disappeared into a steep wall of jumbly boulders and sharp desert plants. I poked around for the use trail that was supposedly there, but a powerful urge to poop turned me around. I hiked with haste back to the trailhead privy where I thought about life for a few minutes. I tried one more time to reach the rim, but it was a half-hearted attempt and I gave up easily after kicking a cactus. The truth was, I felt bad for ditching the group and wanted nothing more than to be near Spice again. I cut my losses and started hiking as fast as I could down the road, maybe 40 minutes behind the others. Not a total waste of time, though. Desert cliffs are hard to climb, I learned.
I considered climbing routes on the cliff to my left, and ‘high friction surface treatment’ on the pavement below my feet as I walked through the Narrows, between the tall rock and a wide flat of twisted lava. The rim tilted down so that eventually the cliffs disappeared into the ground and the land was wide and flat. A car almost drove off the road, a pair of coyotes capered about in a meadow, and I convinced myself that I could see three tiny humans in the distance. Whether they were real or not became a non-issue when I found Crunch, Roost, and Spice chilling in a pullout near a water trough. I was glad to see them.
We all rolled out for more pavement pounding on Hwy 117. Riddles and rounds of 20 Questions flowed. A hiker that Crunch and Rooster knew from the PCT pulled over and offered us the last of her beer. Then eventually, finally we turned off the blacktop on to good ol’ dirt road. Pie Town Road, in fact. We were overdue for lunch and the tiny amount of alcohol I had consumed combined with the sun was making me lethargic. We spread out in the nonexistent shade(what a concept!), ate, then napped.
Straight road all the way until dark. Jagged peaks lay stagnant on the horizon. My feet felt pounded even in my new shoes so I pretended that I was following a trail, adding little jiggles to use different muscles. My hip flexors screamed for variety of movement.
There was an intense moment during a pack-on break along the side of the road. The passing pickup trucks usually slowed down and gave us wide berth, but this blue truck was out for blood. I was sitting on the outside of the group as it barreled towards us. There was nothing I could do besides ask, “Guys, am I gonna die?” before it was past us. The driver, a nice dude, was kind enough to turn around and let us know that it was nearly impossible to see us in the shadows. My rainbow pinwheel might actually have saved my life. So that was cool. Again, we learn that roads and cars are the most dangerous things in the ‘wild’.
We reached the solar well that we needed for water just after sunset. Solar wells don’t work after sunset. Fortunately, there was enough clear water left in the pipe for us to fill our bottles. As we ate snacks and watched the stars, first one, then a group of donkeys approached as close as they dared, huffing and hee-hawing. Glowing eyes multiplied in the dark. What do they want? Water? No, they are here for our souls. I didn’t really want to risk losing my soul to a donkey, but I also didn’t want to hike anymore. The others began setting up their tents a short distance away, Spice and I did the same a few minutes later, but cowboy style, donkeys be damned. At least my final meal will be a big bowl of beans.