CDT Day 144 — November 16
who knows where? to Hombrook Mountain
Camp Now, No Rush Camp to Don’t Want it to End Camp
Miles hiked: 26.4
Total miles: 2609
The last climb of the CDT, a burrito for multiple meals, maybe views to Mexico, dancing in the desert, laughs in the desert. Today was one of the good ones. When the desert isn’t trying to kill you with extreme heat or extremer cold, it can feel like the most welcoming home you have ever had. I love the mountains more than most, but even during blissful summer days lounging in their heights, I feel their edge. To ride that edge is why I return. So while the mountains can feel like home, they are a vacation home. The desert is also just a place that I visit, but it doesn’t feel like a visit while I’m there. It’s a comfy couch on a warm porch with a view. It is home. I am home.
Stopping as early as we did last night, I felt well rested when I woke naturally at 4am. I tapped away at my phone as first Rooster’s then Crunchberry’s alarm went off. SpiceRack and I eventually joined them in their rustling in the dark. We were all packed up and hiking a little after 6am, crazy early for us. The sky was bright enough for us to hike without headlamps, but it wasn’t for a few minutes that clouds caught the violent red of sunrise. Scattered dots of artificial light hung below the jagged, black horizon, like stars that shook free in the night.
Spice crushed the pace out front. I hung behind with Crunchberry as he regaled me with a constant stream of hilarious stories from his life as a rural veterinarian. There was no end and all the laughing set an encouraging tone for the day. The views were few through the desert pine and juniper, but the sheer distance I could see despite a humid haze had me wondering if Mexico was visible out there. Maybe I can see further than I have left to walk. I think the mystery saved me from an emotional reckoning.
After a sunscreen and bagel break, we descended into a sunny gully, still no sign of Rooster behind us. Both he and Crunchberry passed when I pulled over to poop and I found Spice on the trail when I got back after having taken a break of her own. The next water source did not inspire confidence, and it looked like the dudes had skipped it, but we stopped to scoop water from sandy puddles in a mostly dry creek bed anyway. We were impressed by the quantity and quality of the water that appeared seemingly by magic from a bed of coarse sand, lumpy with animal prints. There will be worse.
The collected water allowed us to skip a detour to Burro Homestead and we began the final climb of the CDT instead. That’s an optimistic outlook for sure, but the elevation profile looks pretty smooth from there and the good news gave us a little boost. However, we didn’t make it to the top before getting hungry enough for a break. I ate the last of my burritos from Don Juan’s and munched a bunch of chips to take the edge off. Spice munched chips of her own and asked some deep questions. RoostBerry saved me from some deep thoughts when they came puffing up the trail. It was good to see them, and even better to hear that the office at Burro Homestead was closed meaning that there was no cold soda available for purchase. Even though she hadn’t said it, I think Spice was holding our lack of soda against me until hearing the news.
The final part of the final climb brought us through a pleasant ponderosa forest to the top of Burro Peak. A little doo-whap put us on Jacks Peak, looking south, again wondering if that was Mexico I could see out there. I was pretty sure that it was. Time will tell. From there we chased Rooster way down into some real desert with plenty of cactus and juniper. We found him at a water cache near a trailhead and joined him in the dirt for a late lunch. I finished off the sausages, cheese, and tortillas while we passed around the romance novel for some rousing entertainment.
Just before 4pm, I led the way around the foot of the foothills across a sandy desert. Spikey blobs of yucca joined the dispersed scrub and juniper. A series of soft roads sped us across the flat. Before I knew it, the warm air, the evening light, the full belly, the lighthearted nature of the day, all had nostalgia bubbling in my guts. A smile tipped with the downturned corners of tainted happiness hung on my face. I’ll miss this. I’ll miss this a lot. I tried turning that awareness into a positive by returning it to the present. At each turn in the trail I looked back at my friends, zigging through the golden desert, strong thru-hikers in their element. Each look was precious.
I wasn’t the only one feeling good. At each pause to regroup, Spice pulled in with a song in her ear and a dance in her heart. Feeling fine. And when the sun painted the high clouds pink for the second time today, the whole crew paused to take it in. After the obligatory photo snapping on our phones, we stood in silence. Texture in the sky.
Then, as usual, there was a couple hours of night hiking between us and camp. We made it across Hwy 90 and the streaking beams of noisy light, then followed cairns through a maze of short trees on a network of sandy tracks. It was engaging hiking, with full blasts from my headlamp occasionally necessary to find the route. A flat spot was easy to locate when we needed it and we hid ourselves amongst the bushes. Cowboy camping with ridiculous stars through a clear sky overhead. A formerly frozen burrito in hand. A formerly frozen burrito in stomach. Another day done. One fewer left to go. Keep them coming…