June 4-6, 312 miles hiked
We woke early and continued our march down Bursum Road, a dirt forest service road that seemed to stretch on endlessly. It was very hard to find water – many of the wells were dry or broken – but we found a great water source that morning at Flying Y spring, and tanked up for the rest of the day. The road crossed another long, flat plain, we were passed by three pickup trucks, and one gave us cold Gatorade (thanks Forest Service boys!!!). The road climbed until we got to a high point, and from there it became trail again. We hiked along a ridge, the green mountains stretching below us. I listened to Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, which was hilarious and entertaining. We passed many cows, which all turned to stare at us. We were still in the Gila National Forest, but it was forested, dry, sometimes pastoral, and so different from the river section. Right before dark, we found an old well next to two dilapidated old cabins. There was water in there (the best water we’d seen all day, but that’s not saying much), and Phil had to get into an impressive stretching position to access it. I had decided the cabins were definitely inhabited by ghosts and was too spooked to camp there, so we walked up the road/trail and camped in a meadow.
The trail was a forest service road the next morning, climbing again through the dry forest. All of a sudden, a herd of at least 15 elk ran by, including five calves. One of the young got separated from the rest of the herd, and they all made this high barking noise until they were reunited. It was so sweet. I didn’t know that elk made that noise!
We got to the next water source in late afternoon, a large solar tank with running water flowing out of a pipe as long as the sun was out. Running water that we don’t have to filter!! We were overjoyed. It didn’t take much to make our day. We luxuriated in the flowing water, taking “showers,” cooking food, and filling our bottles again and again.
It was 6pm by the time we left the magical well, we still had 40 miles of dirt roads until Pie Town, and we were nearly out of food. The river section had taken longer than expected, so our food was running low and we knew we needed to get to town the next day. We crossed Highway 53 and hiked another three hours, climbing into the next set of green hills and the darkening sky.
I woke the next morning knowing we had 29 miles and nothing but a little granola, some spoonfuls of peanut butter, and one Snickers bar left. Six miles in, we were at a lookout on top of Mangas Mountain, where we got cell service! The day stretched on, and the miles passed. Pie Town seemed like an eternity away. I took comfort in knowing that time would continue to pass, and as long as we kept walking forward, eventually we’d get there.
We descended from the sparse, green mountains into a flat basin. I was waiting to eat my Snickers bar until a truly desperate moment, but over time it became the one thing that could keep us going. “Let’s eat it at 6,” I said. “No, how about 7,” said Phil. It seemed that we would keep walking as long as the promise of the Snickers was somewhere in our future.
With ten miles to go, a pickup with a dog in the back passed us, the first car we’d seen all day. It slowed to a stop, and a weathered-looking man in a cowboy hat greeted us. His name was Sheridan, and he was a local rancher headed to check on his 60 cattle. He pulled two cans of Bud Light from the cooler in the back of his truck (I’m learning that having of a cooler of beer in your truck bed is not uncommon in rural New Mexico), and told us about his cows while we drank beer and pet his dog. It was a wonderful and needed morale-booster, and we left rejuvenated and ready to keep walking.
We ate the Snickers bar with six miles to go. I listened to an old This American Life podcast episode about a boy who walked across the country, which made me cry a lot. Finally, it was 9:15 and we were one mile from town. We were headed to Nita’s Toaster House, an empty house that Nita, its owner, opened to hikers and bikers passing through. It got its name from the several toasters of various sizes and types that lined the front yard and entryway.
We walked into the dark house – we had it to ourselves that night. We immediately raided the hiker box, looking for food of any sort. I was tired and hungry, but so relieved to be there. This had been the hardest section yet for me. The dirt roads and lack of redeeming scenery had been a bit demoralizing, but also freeing. And now, we had a day in Pie Town to look forward to: breakfast at the one open cafe, wifi, and relaxing at the toaster house. Soon we would continue north on another flat dirt road, but for now, that didn’t matter.