Day 23: Land-Locked

5/10

Our perfect camp was front row to the sunrise, after which we resumed our route. It’s indescribable, the difference easy visibility and no wind makes. Like stepping into a parallel universe.

While we still had plenty of water, always carrying at least an extra liter each from every source, as the miles stretched and slowed, our food rations, packed on the thin side to save weight, were thinning to transparent- not something we could do anything about until, well, Pie Town. If we’d stayed on schedule, that would be only 3 more days. Now it would be at least 5…. I fantasized about All The Pies.

Three miles along we reached the overlook of Mesa Redondo, our water source which we couldn’t conceptualize from the comments. It proved to be a whimsical, rustic mansion of a cabin, walled with windows, with a three-tiered porch shaped like the front of a ship, a giant, peeled cottonwood tree the main support mast at the apex, with its branches still attached. Incredible!

There were no signs of anyone home, and a crude wooden bench and table sat in front of a solar powered spigot. A steep path wound through some funky rock formations, the most recent prints in the dirt belonging to a bear. We cooked oatmeal at the table while we did all the water things: drink, fill, launder, wash. What a cool, mysterious place. What could the story be? I doubted I’d ever find out.

From back atop the ridge, we had a long, long descent to the desert basin floor, first through more rock forms, then through beautiful, vanilla-scented ponderosa forest. I fell behind to dig a cathole, and when I landed at the bottom of the hill, I realized I’d missed a switchback somehow. I followed the GPS to where it showed the trail on a sandy two track road, and where Prana’s footprints were nowhere to be seen. Well. Murphy’s law: he must have waited on the 3/4 mile I accidentally cut off.

Back up the trail I went, tracing it backward, seeing no shoes prints at all, actually. I finally reached a gate I recognized, after skirting some deadfall thrown intentionally in the trail. The gate had a CDT marker. The trail must be rerouted, which meant I hadn’t missed a switchback, the maps were just wrong. But where was Prana then? Figuring he must be farther up the new trail, he rounded a turn coming toward me only a few minutes later. “I thought you’d been gone a while, and when I turned on my GPS I saw I wasn’t on the trail!” he said. “But it sure looked like, good, new trail.” Incongruency solved, we got back to business.

We followed the good tread across a little slot of a canyon, then the old, slow, rocky track returned. The rest of the day we spent walking fingers of ridges, bridges of forest between the desert basins, stumbling on volcanic rubble and tussock, constantly referring to and correcting course from the maps and GPS. Unfathomably, confoundingly, every once in a while a quarter mile stretch of pristine, perfect, wide, newly cut trail would appear out of nowhere and disappear just as abruptly. What the hell was that all about? “I bet it’s not trail at all. I bet it’s a fire line since it’s always on the ridgetop,” Prana eventually figured out.

The heat magnified. The going was so slow and demoralizing, we finally decided to embrace the sheer futility and take a 30 minute nap. We lay down in the thick shade of a ponderosa pine, and as if a cosmic joke were cued, the wind began erratically gusting the noise and pushiness making sleep impossible. Oh well. At least it was 30 minutes of mental rest, of not constantly self-motivating, of not striving and falling short.

At Bursum Road, the far side of the low, exposed basin, and the end of the section, we found bonus water, an unexpected public cache behind a burned log. 99% of the time we forgo caches for multiple reasons, but, as hot and slow as it had been today, we each drank a bonus liter, which tasted toxically of melted plastic. At least it was wet.

A sign behind the log warned of all the things that would be difficult in the next section due to fresh fires, but at this point everything it listed was de rigeur for this section as a whole, and hardly worth noting.

There was indeed lots of fire damage, and any sign of a trail disappeared completely at Piñon Knob. We picked up a newly cut track headed for the summit, which Prana was certain was the way and I was certain wasn’t, but once we were headed up I was determined to top it out. I was correct, not that I gloated of course, but the summit offered nice views, a panorama of the basin and range country around us softening in the twilight.

After 17 hard-fought forty-minute miles, we were out of light. The saddle we landed in featured a half eaten deer carcass, which thankfully appeared quite old; Prana found a semi-flat spot beneath a split-top ponderosa on the lee side, sheltered from both wind and carcass. It would do.

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