Day 43: Coming Up Short



First light found us packing and drinking coffee, eager for town and its siren promise of breakfast burritos at a cafe. Our camp proved well chosen, as desolate, torn desert connected our last trees to the highway. The highway was quiet this holiday Sunday morning, and we planned our next few sections as we walked- to make room reservations in towns or not? To add extra days of travel or not? Distance, recovery, injury, time, snow, logistics, potential avalanche risk, elevation, altitude, cost, weight, hunger, weather. An impossible spirograph of a Venn diagram to predict with certainty. June 9th, we finally decided. That’s when we will leave Chama, and enter the nebulous, mythical crux of the hike, the southern San Juans. If we stayed in Cuba or not would be left up to the whims of the universe.

The Cuban Cafe came into view just in time, and we bellied up to a table. The breakfast burritos were not what I’d hoped for, but they were hot, and the chairs were comfortable, and endearing tin signs decorated the walls. “We’re all crazy here. It’s not a competition,” reassured one. It appeared to be the town’s morning gathering place, with weathered men sharing coffee or sitting alone over their breakfasts, greeting each other with the familiarity of a daily routine.

Well-caffeinated, we found the laundromat. Both of our pants were standing up on their own at this point, so thick with salt from layers of dried sweat. As our clothes spun, Grizzly Smurf came in, and we had a much anticipated chat with him, a fascinating, wonderful guy.

On our way past the Del Prado Hotel, we swung in to see what the universe might have to say. Another couple, Mulch and the very tall Spreadsheet, were walking out, in search of food until check-in time. We asked the owner, Yuen, if she had any more rooms available for tonight. “Yes. Actually, I have one right now if you don’t mind a small bed. I think the last man was much too tall for this bed, so I didn’t mention it, but maybe you don’t mind. I’ll show you.” The small room simply had a full size bed, a few inches short, rather than a queen- basically the size of the bed in our Vanagon. “It’s perfect!” I said. The price was even less than we’d heard. The universe had spoken.

We made the transaction (all paper, no digital) heard Yuen’s story, then emptied our packs in our quiet, calm room. It was adorable, vintage, full of character. I loved it. I wanted to stay a week.

Next quest: to retrieve our box from Rebel’s Roost. We marched down the highway, making note of the town as we went: the grocery, with a big Welcome CDT Hikers sign; some amazing, seemingly abandoned building on the corner where the trail left town; El Bruno’s in its beautiful adobe building; a gas station that advertised fry bread, to Prana’s great delight.

The Rebel’s Roost was as whimsical as I remembered, maybe more so now because I noticed more details at the walking pace. As we approached, Prana said, “Let’s purchase smoothies first, before we ask for anything, to maybe let them know we respect they are a business.” I agreed. The woman was the same as when we’d dropped our box, the owner and likely the only barista, though I doubt she recognized us. She asked if we were enjoying New Mexico, handed us our smoothies, swiped our card, invited us to sit anywhere. We sat in the shade on a deck built around a tree, writing a letter, sipping and watching car after car come through, barely a break between them. “It’s awesome this place is so busy,” I said.

Smoothies done, we waited for a lull in business to ask about our boxes. Her face immediately went expressionless. “Just whenever is fine, we’re not in a hurry,” we said. “Well you’re going to have to wait,” she said. “I’m going to take care of my customers first. And don’t forget it’s 5 dollars a box.” As if making clear that paying for services offered did not actually include us in her realm of customers.

We waited patiently and the wind kicked on. I was so so so thankful to the cosmic synchronicities that we weren’t staying here- no place to pitch a tent in shade or protected from the wind. The bathroom was a plastic outhouse, and the music was loud and not great. $20 for that and no shower would have been a poor trade.

She went into the main house, and when she emerged ten minutes later with her arms full, Prana jumped up. “I’m going to offer to help her carry, I just don’t remember how heavy our boxes are.” He came back empty-handed. “She informed me she’s getting her supplies first.” We shared a questioning look. She re-emerged from the house five minutes later again. When Prana went to help this time, she snipped coldly, “if you had told me when you first got here, I could have gotten these earlier.” I was beginning to realize this was a case of can’t-win-no-matter-what.

We stacked the contents in our empty packs for sorting later, folded the boxes to throw away elsewhere, and when I handed her ten dollars, she offered a perfunctorily cold, “have a good day.”

“What the heck do you think happened there?” I asked Prana once we were marching up the highway again. He shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s too bad though. But I am glad we’re at the hotel- way more comfortable. In many ways.”

Back at the hotel we took turns showering- good, long, hot showers. Then a quick post shower nap. Then it was time to get to work. After the dubious reality of the Cuban Cafe compared to its stellar reviews, I just went to the grocery and collected snacks- cheese, hummus, triscuits, bagel crisps, 2 pints of ice cream- and debated getting beer, but it couldn’t be bought in less than a six-pack. I didn’t want to drink more than one, so I let the idea go until next town, and got a pack of bubbly water instead.

We laid all the paper maps out and picked mileages and camps that would get us to Chama on June 8th. A lower-mile day out of town for climbing with full packs, 3 bigger days, 2 half days for lounging, 2 bigger days, a half day back into town. 8.5 days of food, woof. But a good plan nonetheless. I went to put the seltzer in the mini-fridge, and to my astonishment found 2 cans of local blonde ale. We toasted the universe.

Next we laid out all we had in our resupply box and leftovers from the last resupply, and swapped it around until all we needed to buy was 2 bags of granola and breakfast and lunch tomorrow from the food truck. Not bad.

A little cleaning, repair, self care. I sprayed our hiking pants, sun hoodies, sun gloves, buffs, hats, hiking jackets, the tent, and our backpacks with Permethrin, a mosquito and tick repellant that bonds to materials for 6 weeks. It was likely a little early, but Cuba was the farthest north box we’d dropped off in person, and we’d had 2 open bottles we couldn’t ship. Now it was taken care of until mid-July.

I tried to post some blogs, backlogged by almost a month now, but neither the WiFi nor the cell service was strong enough to upload photos. Hopefully I could get some up in Chama. I called my dad- complications at home. Should I come home? “No,” he said. Would the answer be different if I wasn’t on a hike? “No,” he said.

It had become late, and I crawled into the right-sized bed, grateful for so many things.


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