The morning dawned strangely humid, and as gaps in the trees offered views out to the parallel ridge lines, they revealed banks of clouds filling the valleys, as though they’d been piped full of whipped cream frosting.
Most of the day I listened to Fire Season, an enchanting, lyrical, deservedly-award winning book by Phil Connors about his career as a fire lookout in the Black Range. I love reading books about the places I am moving through as I move through them, but in the heart of the Black Range there’d been too much to look at, to watch, to notice. This area was still close enough for the magic to work. His evocation of fire lookout life, historical anecdotes of New Mexico, and poetic insights filled my ears as I dropped down hundreds of feet of elevation for miles.
We chewed a bleak lunch in beautiful shade- I wasn’t hungry, but felt sluggish and dulled, as though my brain was protecting me from hunger, but couldn’t fool my muscles. Back to the walking, back to the book.
The lower flats were hot, and a novel marking on the map proved on the ground to be a pair of sunken, sandy meadows. Several horses grazed, and when I offered them pets, they haughtily sauntered out of reach. The trail remained clear through it all, allowing us to make good time, and by 2:00 we were at the road to Aragon Well, fresh CDT trail unexpectedly leading north across the road. “Should we take the trail, and just cross country over to the well?” asked Prana.
“Ummm,” I said, “only if it cuts back close to the well.” We gave it a try, but the trail seemed to be leading the wrong direction for water, and I wasn’t in the mood to add another mile of trail and another mile or more of cross country. Call me a party pooper if you will. Why would new beautiful trail pass up a crucial water source? So, back to the road, and we marched the gravel to Aragon Well.
We found a relatively poopless place to drop our packs on pine needles, then entered the corral. Honeybee soup filled the drinking trough, but stepping up onto the edge and peering into the big metal tank revealed…dozens and dozens of goldfish. Ha! Gold and white flashed in and out of view in the cloudy water; filtered, it ought to be just fine. We stripped on the pine needles to rinse the thick chocolate dust, and then subsequent mud, off our arms and legs. We’d planned hair washes too, but the water was just a little too cloudy unfiltered, and would take too long to filter, so they would have to wait again. We squeezed and rinsed and squeezed and rinsed out socks in a gallon ziploc, and as I was marveling at how much dirt was actually in them, a strange rhythmic moaning started. I could not for the life of me place what it was, until I finally realized cow, and then realized right after, cow walking around the edge of the corral. Actually, no. Bull walking around the edge of the corral. Bellowing his heart out with every other step. Prana and I scrambled to the far side of the enclosure as the bull moaned his way in the only entrance. He looked at us, lumbered to the trough, drank deeply. We tried to nonchalantly walk behind him to the opening, but he swung around to face us. Not aggressively…but squarely, and with interest. He eventually turned to the salt lick at his feet, and we scrambled back to some wooden slats between corrals, slipped over the fence, then found a place we could climb over the barb wire back to freedom. The old Bull finished his salt and returned to his trudging and bellowing, continuing up the road and out of sight.
We resumed our road, one mile to go until our second cache at highway 12. My brain was furiously crunching numbers again, dividing hours by miles, trying to make us magically arrive in Pie Town faster than we were on track to. My brother was planning to meet us there, and while I knew he wouldn’t mind waiting, I hated to waste any of his time after driving out from California. (“I came up with a trail name for your brother,” Prana had said a few days ago. I think it should be Crusoe, because he’s wanted to be on a boat for so long, but keeps staying stuck on land.” I’d laughed.). We’d already moved our meeting back by a day, then another, and the math said it was going to be pushed back a third. I hoped fervently past-me had put some extra surprise calories in the cache.
“Look,” Prana pointed at the ground, “someone’s hiking in five-fingers.” The funny barefoot imprint was stamped freshly in front of us. As we neared the highway, 2 vehicles were parked at the trailhead. “I wonder what they’re there for.”
Opening the gate, I spotted a note attached to the post. “Team Timolly” it said. Well that was us, but not as anyone on this trail knew us. Anyone on this trail hardly even knew our trail names. I unfolded it.
What?! How long had it been there? “Did you see the person who left this note?” I asked the two guys standing there. “Yeah, we saw him drive up the dirt road.” Prana and I walked up the road, but after almost ten minutes, we’d seen no sign other than two sets of fresh tire tracks, one going in and one going out. Maybe he was gone already, just another factor of this difficult section. Prana went to dig up the cache while I re-questioned the other two. “No, I haven’t seen his van leave. It was about an hour ago he got back from hiking a little ways south on the CDT and we chatted a bit.” Maybe I just hadn’t gone far enough. I trotted back up the road, noticing the five finger footprints going both ways. Maybe his? I was just about to give up again, when I looked at the map- the trail crossed this road a half mile in. I’d turn around there.
Sure enough, a white van was parked on the side of the road, and a hammock was strung in the trees, weighted by a body. I’d learn later it was pure coincidence he was parked there, nothing to do with the trail crossing. I was so relieved I hadn’t missed him and so happy to see him, especially in this so unexpected, so much needed spot, that I got stuck somewhere between crying and laughing as I shook the hammock. He was very confused when I woke him out of his nap half-hysterical.
We walked back to Prana, who’d found the cache in perfect shape, and who offered his proposed trail name to my brother, (who accepted it with a chuckle of recognition) and all 3 of us walked the CDT back to Crusoe’s camp.
There he treated us like no other host could compare. Camp chairs, watermelon, green smoothies, cold grapes, cold beer, hot Epsom salt foot soaks, strawberries, hard boiled duck eggs, a giant pot of mac and cheese with avocado and fresh tomato, my Aunt’s nouveau apple cobbler and her enchanting, lyrical, deservedly-award winning chocolate pecan pie, with golden milk for desert.
We talked and joked and laughed and caught up. At 10:30 we finally all crawled into our beds, slumber party under the stars.