CDT Day 137: Forest RD 94 to Flying V Canyon – Moonlight Road Camp to Solo Gila Camp
Miles hiked: 27.5
Total miles: 2476.1
Gila crossings: 17 (15 dry, 2 wet)
Our single tree did the best it could, but the cold kept me restless all night. The cold and the cows mooing with distress somewhere out there. The 5:40am felt early, but lying around wasn’t doing me any good. SpiceRack and I were packed and hiking by 6:30am. My thermometer showed around 10°F. That explains it. I followed Spice on the super straight road, straight towards the brightening horizon across an endless meadow of sparkly grass. The penned-up cows mooed endlessly at the injustice of their captivity.
The sun finally made it to the party, checking my slow slide to hypothermia with plenty of time to spare. Spice dropped away behind me to lose her sunglasses, then came roaring back with Crunchberry in tow. SpiceBerry. She seemed to be moving normally, which was extremely encouraging, but backs are fickle(boom, foreshadowing!). I could see them coming easily a quarter mile away across the wide-open terrain. A few pioneering ponderosa speckled the plain, but this was flat walking across an empty flat place. Until we started going uphill in a forest. But this was a well-graded road, so the walking was still easy, and we needed to stop to apply sunscreen and get in our warm-weather clothes. This was turning into a darn nice day.
We began to worry about the whereabouts of Rooster at the top of the climb, but kept going, confident that he’d catch up as usual. I got a history of Crunch’s roommates through the years and we compared our experiences from our time in the Boy Scouts. We also pondered the meaning of the blue and orange markings on select trees bordering the road. Probably logging, but maybe disc golf. At the 10-mile mark at around 10am we pulled over for one of Spice’s patented tea breaks. These involve a break and tea. I pooped as well. We listened to Gronk, backs resting against a downed tree, eating a bunch of stuff. Rooster did finally show up, easing Crunchberry’s worried mind. Spice pulled me in for a quick session of acroyoga, then, with all my blood sloshing in my brain now, the four of us took the party to the road.
Taylor Swift pumped from señor Gronk as a different, dirtier road turned us out of the trees and back into cow territory. Spice led the way moving fast, until a tweak brought back the limp(boom, foreshadowed!). No stopping though. The trail disappeared altogether as we descended to a pond at the headwaters of the middle fork of the Gila River (pronounced Jy-La). Solar panels provided the shade for our lunch break, or fishing break for Crunch. I ate food, last night’s dinner actually, and I think Rooster did too, but Spice spent all of her time mixing a green concoction of fizzing sludge. It turned out pretty good though, and we all shared a couple mugfuls.
We chased a small herd of mule deer on our way down the river. I counted the river crossings, but most of the time they were dry. Humble beginnings. The Gila (pronounced Jie-lu) would be home for the next few days, so Spice challenged me to keep track of the crossings. A barbed wire fence could not contain our raw athleticism, then another dirt road finished our journey Snow Lake. This is where things got crazy. A sign promising trail magic, which so far has been an endangered or possibly extinct animal for us SOBOs, got Rooster and Crunchberry extremely excited for burgers, Spice for soda. It was off route though. Well, actually it was on route, but we had planned to go a different way (Details: complicated and boring, don’t worry about it.). Burgers and soda won.
Yoda, a triple crowner on a road trip, hailed us from the campground. She loaded us with some yummy things while asking us questions about our hike. A soda made me lightheaded so I took it easy and stuck to water from there. No more of the hard stuff. She also suggested taking the high route above the river instead of walking right through it. This was attractive for a few reasons, the main one being that we were meeting a friend in less than 24 hours, 39 miles away. The high route was 7 miles shorter and eliminated the questions about just how fast we could actually walk down a river. It made sense, but I’m stubborn when it comes to altering plans on short notice. My chest immediately tightened up in reaction to the proposition. Like I said, the high route made sense, but I really wanted to walk the Gila (pronounced Jee-lah). In my mind, it was as important to New Mexico as Glacier NP was to Montana, Yellowstone to Wyoming, the San Juans to Colorado. I was looking forward to a day of frozen feet and bushwhacking. Luckily, there were 7.6 miles to think about it before a decision needed to be made.
We said goodbye to Yoda around sunset and listened to more Taylor Swift while hiking up the road to Airplane Mesa. The moon was an adequate substitute for the sun as we turned onto rocky trail across a flat of shadows and shimmers. The decision point came too soon. I was resolute in my commitment to the river. Spice was taking the responsible choice, the high route. We exchanged shelters and left the dudes, still undecided, dropping steeply to the river below. An uncomfortable moment in the dark. A stiff goodbye. I turned to cross the river already regretting my choice, but afraid to act on impulse. Bad things happen when Spice and I split up. Then my feet were wet, and I was on the other side. My only purpose now was to see Spice again at the end of tomorrow, 31.4 miles away.
I intended to hike as late as I could to cut that number down, but soon lost that battle to the overgrown or nonexistent trail. I crossed the river, again dunking my feet up to the shins, then struggled to find the trail on the other side. Though I was on the red line on my GPS, there was no trail as I fought through dense willows, generally downstream. Even in full daylight, navigation was going to be a bear. By headlamp? Impossible. I found a soft spot on a dense floor of pine needles to cowboy. I ate couscous in silence, wishing that I had gone with Spice, feeling like a lamewad. My focus shifted with my last cookie. Spice can take care of herself. It’s you and the River now. Do it.