Week 4 on the Continental Divide Trail gets us into Grants, New Mexico where we take our second zero day before hiking out of the city via the Mount Taylor Alternate. There’s an on-trail pizza delivery, a fire, and some snow – everything a thru-hiker could ask for. Moist and I are also reunited with our hiking companion, Appa.
Day 22: On-trail Pizza Delivery
There may only be two of us now that Appa is MIA until we make it to Grants, but that doesn’t mean Moist and I get going any earlier in the morning (it’s not like we start hiking together anyway – you start hiking when you’re packed up and ready to go).
The sun is long up as we start down the remaining bit of the 4 mi / 6.4 km Narrows Trail toward what we hear is some sort of natural arch rock formation thing (I’m not too excited about it). The trail parallels the road on a plateau a couple of hundred feet above the valley below – there are fewer cars up here.
We get to the arch and it’s cool, I guess. Definitely would not be worth making a trip out here to the middle of New Mexico just to see this thing. But I suppose if you were already driving past it would be worth getting out of your car for a couple of minutes to check out.
The sun is rising behind the arch which is still in the shadow of the plateau beyond when we get there (best to come here in the afternoon, I’m thinking).
There’s not an obvious way down from the plateau to the parking lot (most people do the trail we are on as an out-and-back). But undeterred, we find a steep boulder-filled gully to stumble down through.
Having reached the parking lot, we take advantage of the single-occupancy bathroom and the trash cans (because packing out all your trash = extra weight). We’re also treated to some Costco muffins by a family who has stopped to check out the arch (suckers).
Leaving the arch we’re back to walking on the highway until reaching the Acoma-Zuni trailhead.
Here we find a water cache maintained by Carole, a trail angel who lives in Grants, and we cower in the shade for a bit to get hydrated before making a very difficult decision.
Grants is 20 mi / 32 km north of us via the highway (aka the official CDT – this is where the Cebolla Alternate, the trail we’ve been on, rejoins the CDT). However, before Appa left us, he strongly advised that we instead hike 31.5 mi / 50.7 km into Grants via the Bonita-Zuni alternate. This is not only longer (which would normally automatically disqualify it from consideration), but it also would require us to hike 7 mi / 11.3 km south on the CDT (but in this case “south on the CDT” would be west).
Since we’ve both known Appa for years, we decide that he is to be trusted. After refilling our water bottles, we head southbound on the CDT. Yes, for a short while, we have become southbounders. Don’t tell anyone.
The trail crosses a large lava flow that Appa repeatedly described to us as Mordor (which is fitting because I’m still listening to the Fellowship of the Ring audiobook). If you don’t know what Mordor is, then you should probably get busy reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy (or at the very least watching the movies).
We spend a couple of hours crossing the lava field as we follow cairns (when we can find them) along what appears to be the complete absence of a trail (either that or I’m just lost the whole time).
At the junction for the Bonita Zuni alternate we shift gears and head northbound until the trail hits Highway 53 and we find two thru-hikers, Midnight and Canacker, engaged in the most divine of thru-hiking activities, trail angeling.
If there was any hope of us reaching Grants tonight, it’s gone.
After a hearty helping of fruit (including some gigantic strawberries) and beer, we are ready to start hiking again. Since we lose time hanging out at our unplanned stop, we examine the map for shortcuts and find that if we walk Highway 53 into Grants we’ll save ourselves 7.1 mi / 11.4 km. Excellent.
Road walking is not fun, but since it means town is that much closer in the morning, we walk the road (oh the things you’ll do for town).
Unfortunately, the mile markers along the highway make time drag by (or maybe that’s the beer) and since the highway is surrounded by private land (and a flat, featureless desert), there aren’t a lot of great camping options (after the gun incident the other day, I’m not interested in wandering onto a New Mexican’s land uninvited – which I guess is why they have guns in the first place, to protect themselves from hikers).
As the sun sets, we’re still too far from town to get there at a reasonable enough time to fully take advantage of a hotel room so we decide to camp on the side of the road (it’s not like we have another option). However, we aren’t so far from town that we would necessarily be excluded from the local Domino’s Pizza delivery area.
I call to see if they can perhaps make an exception for two very hungry CDT thru-hikers.
In under an hour, a Domino’s delivery driver comes screeching to a stop with our dinner as I flag him down on the side of the road. He leaves with what’s probably the best tip he’s ever gotten (three dollars).
And so what began as a shit campsite has become an epic one. We each devour a pizza as we polish off the rest of Moist’s whiskey and the cows moo us to sleep.
Day 23: Reunited with the Sky Bison
Our roadside camp was blessed with no rain last night and we wake up eager for town.
We pass through the small town of San Rafael (where nearly every house we pass has dogs barking wildly at us) and continue up the highway toward the interstate. I begin calling all the motels in town to find out prices and amenities (aka earliest allowed check-in time, if they have a pool, spa, laundry, breakfast (hot or just toast/cereal), flat-screen TVs, wifi, and/or a hiker discount).
The winner of my hotel/motel survey is the Comfort Inn. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s got everything and it sounds promising.
Grants is a bit of a sprawl and our hotel is a bit of a walk from where we arrive. We call the local trail angel to solicit a ride but have no luck. No luck hitching either. We head to McDonald’s to use their wifi and bathrooms before heading next door to Sonic for some drinks and wings (might as well go to all the fast food restaurants while we have the chance).
Fortunately, the trail angel calls us back and we get a ride to the other end of town where we resupply and buy beer at Walmart (and where I buy myself a new, lighter pair of camp shoes for $4 – some Batman-branded flip-flops).
NOTE: The beer selection at Walgreens is far superior to that of Walmart.
We head to the hotel to check in (exhausted from our town errands – town miles are far harder than trail miles) and commence our afternoon of movie-watching.
After Mystic River, The Revenant (great for psyching yourself up for grizzly encounters), and The Simpsons Movie we head to Taco Bell (our third fast-food restaurant of the day) for a very disappointing meal (I don’t know what I was expecting).
Around six, Appa gets dropped off by his vacation crew and we lovingly embrace in the jacuzzi before swapping stories from our time apart.
Town truly is the greatest part of thru-hiking.
Day 24: Grants, New Mexico (Zero Day 2)
It was decided yesterday that today would be a zero day – the second of the trail.
The best part of zero days? Sleeping in as long as I want. The worst part about zero days? If you sleep in for too long you’ll miss the free breakfast. Don’t let anyone tell you that thru-hiking isn’t rife with difficult decisions.
Most hotels come with two beds and we have a rotation to decide who gets to sleep alone. Last night it was my night.
Grant’s (that’s the city we’re in) Comfort Inn not only has (or at least had) a thru-hiker rate (always be sure to ask), but their breakfast includes (unlimited) sausage, eggs, coffee, hash browns, bagels, and fruit. It’s heaven on Earth (oh baby do you know what that’s worth?).
After eating enough to feed an average person for two or three days, I (reluctantly) step outside to complete my only errand of the day, buy beer.
Appa and Moist need to head to the post office (suckers) and I hit the Walgreens next door before quickly scurrying back to the room to watch movies and drink alone (a perfectly acceptable activity when thru-hiking).
When my companions return from their mission it’s once again time to eat. We make the obvious choice and order Domino’s (because those guys deserve our business after what they did for Moist and me two nights ago).
During yet another zero-day movie marathon we’re graced with a visit from the one and only TEDOLSON! who has been put in the room across from us (for those of you who have forgotten about TEDOLSON!, he is a man of much greatness from Minnesota who is also hiking the CDT).
Going to sleep means waking up and having to hike (the worst part about thru-hiking) so we stay up as long as possible watching the NHL and NBA (that’s hockey and basketball in case you know nothing of sports) as we attempt to polish off our beer and pizza.
Tomorrow we return to reality.
Day 25: Blake’s Lotaburger
Do you know why you should always lock the chain on your hotel room door? Because if you don’t, the reception might book a late arrival into your room and you might be awoken by a stranger coming into your hotel room in the middle of the night.
Which is exactly what happened to us last night.
The front desk was incredibly unsympathetic to the fact that they allowed a stranger into our room in the middle of the night and we were forced to take only our already-included breakfast as compensation (I’m sure if we had decided to be assholes and yell enough we could have gotten something, but that’s not the thru-hiking way).
We take our morning bread with TEDOLSON!, Gut Punch, and Five Cup before being invited into TEDOLSON!’s room to give him a shakedown.
A shakedown in the context of a thru-hike means that you have someone go through your pack and tell you how you are being stupid for bringing a bunch of unnecessary things. TEDOLSON! is a good sport and I think the shakedown has brought us all closer together. Either the shakedown or all the remaining beer we drank.
Post-shaking it down with TEDOLSON!, the worst part of the day is upon us. We’re packed and ready to hit the trail.
There’s a shuttle you can call to take you around Grants, but after sitting outside Subway and failing to get in touch with this mystery shuttle, we accept that we’re going to have to walk back to the trail (which, heading north out of Grants, is yet another road walk).
Around 1.5 mi / 2.4 km from the hotel we stop for breakfast number two at Blake’s Lotaburger – apparently the place for burgers in New Mexico.
It’s quite busy for how early in the day it is, and I order a green chili burger with fries (you can order green chili on just about anything in New Mexico – it’s basically the state mascot).
Stopping at a restaurant on the way out of town has become a bit of a theme on our hike – I think it makes the transition back to the trail a bit more bearable. Blake’s Lotaburger is worth a visit, but I (personally) wouldn’t go too far out of my way for it.
Continuing our walk out of town we pass loads of abandoned motels. I guess Grants used to be a pretty happening place.
About twenty minutes into the road walk out of town we remember that road walking is dumb and throw out our thumbs (that means that we start to hitchhike as we walk – you know, because you use your thumb to hitchhike).
Two tweakers in a PT Cruiser pull over for us and drive us up past the women’s prison to the trailhead. Plenty of “DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS” signs are sprinkled along the road so we are happy to have the ride (despite their obvious drug use).
At the trailhead, we meet Willow, Turtle (the second hiker named Turtle we’ve met), and Haas (from Germany). They’re probably silently judging us for getting a ride up the road (like you probably are, you ass), but guess what? I don’t care.
As we climb away from the road and up onto a mesa a large column of smoke rising from behind the mountains south of Grants comes into view. A wildfire has sprung up near the CDT somewhere back there (good luck, people behind us). To the north, we have views of Mount Taylor (11,306 ft / 3,446 m), which we will be climbing tomorrow as we take yet another alternate route to pass over the summit.
Water is still not as ubiquitous as would be required for us to not worry about when and where we camp, so we head for a trough marked on our map. Because we are cows and we drink out of troughs now.
Moist bought a small Bluetooth speaker in Grants and it does an excellent job of ruining everyone’s wilderness experience as I cowboy camp and celebrate our 14.7 mi / 23.7 km day with the beer we packed out of town.
Day 26: We Found Snow
TORTILLAS FOR BREAKFAST!
I’m not big on oatmeal or coffee (although I’ve started drinking coffee to replace my energy drink addiction), so I don’t have a “usual” breakfast that I eat each day. For my first caloric intake of the day today, I’ve chosen tortillas because they are heavy, and eating them will lighten up my pack. Pretty smart, I know.
I still don’t have a functioning GPS (despite having bought a second phone) and today I’m the first one out of camp. Hiking without a GPS hasn’t proven too tricky, but I get tripped up at junctions every once in a while. This morning, we have a junction; we’re taking yet another CDT alternate, this time up and over Mount Taylor.
Normally, we would not be taking this alternate because it’s 1 mi / 1.6 km longer than the official CDT and it has more elevation gain, but since it takes us over a peak and not just through some boring scrub, we decide it is worth the extra effort.
Luckily, the alternate junction was marked and after a few dubious moments, I’m 90% sure that I’m going the correct way.
A great thing about thru-hiking is that you have the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself and your body.
For example, when I hiked the PCT I learned that I usually pooped around lunchtime. I also learned that most people I hiked with pooped in the morning. Recently, my poops have been creeping closer to when I wake up, and I fear I’m turning into one of the hikers who need to dig a cathole before going to sleep because the urge to poo in the morning is so overwhelming that they practically explode out of their sleeping bags.
In case you were unaware, poop is a common topic of conversation on a thru-hike. It’s not uncommon to ask someone you’ve just met whether or not they have pooped that day.
The point of all of this? I have to poop.
I pull over into the bushes and position myself stealthily; I can see the trail, but someone on the trail (probably) can’t see me. Appa and Moist both pass me – completely unaware of the BM happening just a couple hundred feet away (you never know who’s watching you in the mountains).
The trail turns into switchbacks just below the summit and as I climb, I see smoke still billowing up from the fire we saw yesterday. More important than the fire threatening Grants, New Mexico is the fire in my shoe – I can feel a large blister forming on my right heel. We haven’t been doing any real climbing until now and I guess that the new terrain is responsible for this treachery.
At the summit, I find Moist, Appa, and a couple of day walkers from North Carolina (you can access Mount Taylor via a closer trailhead on the north side). That’s another exciting thing about thru-hiking (other than all the poop talk) – sometimes you have to be a bit of a detective to figure out if your hiking partners are ahead or behind you.
NOTE: if you’re hiking the CDT don’t miss the Mount Taylor register hidden in the back of the summit sign.
On the north side of Mount Taylor, we encountered our first snow (on the ground) of the trip. Sure, the ground was covered when we went through Pie Town, but that melted off within a couple of hours. This is basically ice and as I post hole down, I realize that I need to replace the trekking poles that I left at Doc Campbell’s.
Three trucks are driving up the (dirt) road on the hillside ahead of us and as we hike towards them we’re entertained watching them try to maneuver past all the snow. It doesn’t take much to entertain a thru-hiker.
There’s a water source up ahead but it involves getting off trail and following a small canyon down to an unmarked spring. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, so I stay on the trail and figure I’ll just be dehydrated until the next water source (because I’m a very smart person). Luckily, I find a cow pond another couple of miles up the trail where I fill up on water and eat lunch alone (Moist and Appa probably stopped at the previous water source to eat).
When the trail rejoins the CDT after the Mount Taylor alternate, I’m suddenly walking on an actual trail complete with CDT markers. It’s almost like I’m hiking the Continental Divide Trail.
Somehow Moist and App get past me (I think they’re wizards), and as I am cluelessly walking past the next water source they yell out to save me from a night of dehydration (I might be the greatest threat to myself on the trail).
At this point in the trail, none of our Sawyers have very good flow rates and filtering water has officially become a pain in the ass.
Moist and Appa leave before me and as I pass our next water source, it’s starting to get late. I don’t think that they would have stopped at that water, but as the sun goes down I start to doubt myself.
I might be camping alone tonight.
Thankfully, I don’t end up having to eat my mac and cheese alone because I come across my two companions on the side of the trail just as I am getting ready to lie down on the ground and sleep.
Which is exactly what I do – another night of cowboy camping.
In other news, I finished The Fellowship of the Ring audiobook today. You are an inspiration to us all, Mr. Frodo.
Day 27: Blisters
I’m out of camp at 6:20 today; this might be a record.
Highlights of the morning? Picking the correct direction at a few tricky junctions and clear skies. It’s ten miles to our first water source (yes, we’re still at a spot in the trail where water sources are exciting and rare occurrences) and we make ten miles by ten in the morning (our goal for every day, but something that until now has not been common).
This water source, which we have to stop at because it’s another 10 mi / 16 km to our next one, is in the category of “Mac’s least favorite water sources”. Why? Because it requires you to get off the trail to reach it. This one is an entire 0.5 mi / 800 m off the trail and it’s downhill.
When we all reach the water source we’re joined by Silver, an older thru-hiker (66) who lives on a boat in Key West, Florida when he’s not walking across the country. He tells us that he hiked the CDT in 2003 – pretty neato since I can’t imagine how little of the trail was completed at that point (and there was no CDT app to help hikers from becoming lost and dying slow deaths alone in the wilderness).
It’s more dirt roads when we get back to the trail and after about an hour I pass what may be trail magic. But also may not be.
There’s a man with a pickup truck parked just far enough away from the trail that you could shout to him. He’s sitting in a folding chair staring off into the distance. He’s got a cooler, but he’s not really positioned well if he is looking to meet thru-hikers. I decide that the chance of getting a soda or beer isn’t worth the risk of possibly getting sucked into a conversation with this man and so I silently continue past and out of his sight.
After a while, I find an arrow in the trail that Appa and Moist have made with their water bottles. I follow it to a lookout that they’ve found and join them for another installment of “Taking a Break on the CDT”.
On this episode, we have an awesome view and cell reception! Quite exciting.
I send an email to Icebreaker since my hoodie is disintegrating (they’ll replace it free of charge – love Icebreaker) and I buy the footprint for my tent (since I don’t know if I trust my polycryo in the snow).
We’ve got a 1,500 ft / 450 m descent coming up which I am originally quite excited for. However, as we drop the temperature increases considerably and the blister that my right foot birthed two days ago has made the leap from annoying to painful.
When the trail flattens out again we make for our next water source, Ojo Frio Spring; yes, water sources are so rare in New Mexico that they have proper names.
Cuba, the next town, is 45 mi / 72 km away, and we’re still 13 mi / 21 km from the next water source (which is a cache – aka it isn’t necessarily reliable). I propose that we hike another 10 mi / 16 km, but Moist and Appa are adamantly opposed to the idea (thru-hikers, such lazy bastards).
In the end, we hike for another hour or two through a dry riverbed and then through some cow-filled farmland (such terrain! such varied!).
We stop on top of a small mesa to camp. Immediately after setting up, the wind picks up to near fuck-this-I’m-packing-up-and-moving levels. Moist is protected in his shelter, but Appa and I are getting blasted with sand as we choose to cowboy camp.
I’m already in my sleeping bag so getting out and setting up my tent is no longer an option. I’ll just close my eyes and hope for the best (seems to work well in most situations).
Day 28: Three-day Weekend
I’ll give it to you New Mexico, you may not be new and you may not be Mexico, but damn, you’ve got some beautiful landscapes.
This morning the trail takes us through what I imagine when I think of stereotypical “New Mexico mesa desert landscape stuff” (I think about these things a lot – I have a lot of time out here).
We dry camped last night (i.e., we did not sleep at a water source) and the morning’s mission is to make it to the road where there will (hopefully) be a water cache waiting for us (and if there’s not, then we’ll all be dead in a couple of hours).
Appa is in the lead this morning and I’m following his footprints down the crisscrossing dirt roads towards the highway (where the water cache is) until all of a sudden he comes walking up towards me – wrong way (this happens a lot on the CDT – at least to me).
We turn around and find the proper route down to the road (which is now within view). When we get there we catch another thru-hiker, Trooper whom Appa and Moist met when they hiked the CDT in 2015 (yes, Appa and Moist and badass and/or stupid people who are on the CDT for the second time).
At the cache, in addition to water, we find a cooler filled with pancake mix (what are we going to do with this?) and candy (aka my lifeblood).
While we’re huddled under the shade of a lone tree next to the cache, the woman who maintains it rolls up in her SUV with five children and a dog.
The dog is named Snippy. Because he snips.
We are delighted to all receive Pop-Tarts from the children and we help them to refill the jugs of water at the cache. Peanut butter and Pop-Tarts are added to the food stash before our car full of angels departs and we are left alone in the desert. Maybe it was all a mirage?
It’s 15 mi / 24 km to the next water source, but the trail is mostly flat. Yay?
There’s a lot of up and down (did I say it was flat? I meant that just the average elevation was flat), and eventually I reach a climb (at least relative to what we’ve been doing until this point).
I’m set on making it to Cuba (our next resupply) early tomorrow so I press on ahead of the group to reach the next water source – where I’ll (realistically) end up camping.
I finish the 15 mi / 24 km miles without much in the way of a break and am rewarded with our nicest water source in days (literally).
To keep me company while I wait for the rest of my crew, I have dozens of small birds (what birds they are, I do not know) nesting under the overhang at the end of the small canyon where the spring (our water) is (this source is Jones Canyon Spring).
Trooper shows up first and we get to talking as he fills up on water and airs out his feet (taking your shoes and socks off during breaks – highly recommended). One of the great things about thru-hiking is that you immediately have a connection with everyone you meet.
Trooper is planning on taking a zero in Cuba on Sunday (the day after tomorrow) and picking up his resupply box on Monday.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), for him I remember that Monday is Memorial Day and the post office will be closed (be aware of this if you’re doing a thru-hike – Memorial Day is the final Monday of May).
He makes a big fuss about hiking more tonight to get to the post office tomorrow (Saturday) before it closes at 11:30 AM.
About an hour later Appa and Moist show up just as the sun is getting ready to go down. We cowboy camp in the sand in the middle of the spur trail heading to the spring (and for some reason, it smells like poop – probably because there’s poop somewhere).
Dreams of poop.
Week 4 Totals
- Week 4 Audiobook: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- Week 4 Podcast: Serial (Season One)
- Week 4 Music: Moana Soundtrack, Frozen Soundtrack
- Day 22: 22.3 mi / 35.9 km
- Day 23: 8 mi / 12.9 km (Arrive in Grants, NM)
- Day 24: Zero Day 2 (Grants, NM)
- Day 25: 14.7 mi / 23.7 km (Leave Grants, NM)
- Day 26: 25.1 mi / 40.4 km
- Day 27: 27.2 mi / 43.8 km
- Day 28: 24 mi / 38.6 km
CDT Week 4 Total: 121.3 mi / 195.2 km
- Day 1: The Middle of Nowhere
- Week 1: The Bootheel
- Week 2: The Gila
- Week 3: We Got A Dog
- Week 4: One Month In
- Week 5: Don’t Die
- Week 6: The San Juans
- Week 7: Big Decisions
- Week 8: Three Is Company
- Week 9: Moist Is Dead?
- Week 10: Shortcuts to Town
- Week 11: Farewell Moisture
- Week 12: Wyoming!
- Week 13: The Winds
- Week 14: Yellowstone
- Week 15: The Final State(s)
- Week 16: MURKAH
- Week 17: Fires!
- Week 18: Canada