The alarm beeped – time to return to the routine. Well, almost.
My brother made a giant bowl of maple syrup flax milk latte, then cooked up pan after cast iron pan of French toast. It may have been the best I’d ever had, neck and neck with my mom’s. “Of course the French Toast is awesome,” said Vince, “it’s cooked in leftover filet mignon juice!!”
I stepped around fresh elk poop newly appeared in the night, and double checked everything was properly in my pack. After experimenting with less and less time in the compression sock, I’d decided to send it back with Crusoe; I hadn’t worn it at all the last few days or nights, and nothing was better, or worse. I’d also made the tough decision to send my two and a half pounds of camera gear back with him, at least for now – I had literally not taken a single picture with it. Most of the shots I would use it for were either so smoky or screened with trees I just hadn’t bothered. I’d never backpacked without my camera, but 2 and a half pounds made up one sixth of my base weight- I finally conceded to try the rest of New Mexico without it.
For all the motivated intentions, we didn’t actually leave until 9:00, the day already bordering on hot. After the last couple of days of carrying such little food and water, the packs felt comically heavy again. We said our final goodbyes, and hiked into the lava.
At our first break in beautiful, quiet, breezy pine-shade, Prana realized there is actually more water than we thought – we were carrying for 29 miles, should we dump some out? I vote no, because we’d carried it this far already, and the time it would take to go off trail and then filter couldn’t be that much longer than carrying the weight. We were joined by another hiker, GT, who wore a shirt of the Jordan Trail, which he told us about.
We diverged from the trail for lunch to go check out the inside of Cerro Chato crater, since it’s collapsed side was easy to access. It was kind of wild, the remains of a cinder volcano filled and covered with pines like moss grown over an old relic, and we took advantage of the fact no other hikers were likely to bother exploring this far off the trail. (Apparently, Chato can either mean boring, or a term of endearment, like darling. How did these things get their names?)
Geez it was hot today. Quite a few fences crisscrossed these badlands, and rocks were piled at most of the crossings in primitive stiles. There were a few views through the trees of the chain as a whole, craters slouching at intervals. The water we were rationing for ourselves wasn’t quite enough, and the miles were coming so, so slow. We finally stopped to cook dinner in the shade. Watching the clouds, watching some pronghorn, getting some food down, splurging on water all helped, and by the time we started again the cool of the evening had set in. A different world! Suddenly the evening was beautiful. Pronghorn scampered away from us, a cross trail was imprinted with bear prints so fresh I could see the creases in the pads of his feet. GT caught up to us again (we’d leapfrogged a few times through the day) and bemoaned how awful the water source had been, gross and slow to filter. The twilight grew thicker and we watched a bat do it’s acrobatics, swooping after bugs, chirping it’s shrill sonar. We tucked between two pinion pines as the sky flamed into sunset.