We were on trail by 6:30, a record for us this trip- and a lovely time of morning to be out it was. The pastel light softened and blurred the greens and golds of the land, and wispy clouds streaked the sky.
At the Adobe Ranch entrance we were instructed to not stray any farther than the 20 foot wide easement granted trail users. Perhaps that would have been doable if there had been a cut trail, or at least regular trail markers- we spent a lot of zig zagging, trying to keep to an often invisible trail.
Eventually we reached dirt highway 163 on the far side, after spooking up several pronghorns and elk on the ranch. A mailbox perched like a curious animal, with outgoing mail dated two weeks ago. A register revealed we are at most hikers #6 and #7 to come this way this year.
Though we’d left the ranch, the route continued much the same- no cut track, vastly intermittent markers. The walking was brutal, the ground rocky and full of firm little clumps of grass which made every step unstable and uneven. “This is intolerable!” my brain insisted. But what can you do but walk?
The wind had blown all morning, a headwind to spite us, but by 10:00 it had become a force to reckon against. Not only was it a drag, literally and figuratively, but the roar was pervasive, insidious. I tried for an hour to wrestle myself into equanimity with it, tried to be grateful for the practice, but my mood became so foul and my brain so negative I relented and put in headphones.
Instantly better. Some Marvel Years, some Griz, some Kygo; perfect beats for walking, good keys, good horns, twist of funk, and enough background harmonics to displace the wind. My step lightened. “Think how strong this is making your ankles!” said my brain cheerfully. The magic of music.
The relief of picking up an old two track dirt road was high, and we followed it with an open stride to the North Garcia Windmill. Gorgeous clear water gushed from the pump pipe as the galing wind cranked the windmill. Nothing is ever all curse. It tasted so much better than the bitter, rotten, tannic iced tea from Adobe Springs that Prana poured the last liter of that hard-won water on the ground. We filtered and drank, ate lunch, and tried to keep our backs turned to the cow-poop-spackling wind.
From there we continued across the desert, continued into the wind. A few bright purple blossoms bloomed in the ground cover, so gaudy and incongruent with the monotone around them, I thought the first one I spotted must be trash until I peered closer.
Hours of tawny desert grassland elapsed. The footing grew rocky and hummocky again, and hopes of a second 12 miles faded. We cooked a giant pot of Annie’s mac and cheese with broccoli and kale in the perfect windbreak of a thick, squat juniper, then turned into a draw that offered the first forest cover since camp this morning. We followed along a barbed wire fence through ground churned by cows, and when I questioned the willingness of taking even one more step, there it was: a flat, grassy, clean camp site, just the size of our bedroll.