Day 11, May 19

Miles hiked: roughly 39

I wake up early, pack my things, and say goodbye to the other hikers who are up. Today marks another road walk day. I hike what seems like forever on a dirt road. The Miles pass slowly, as I’m in a wide open valley, and the scenery changes very little hour after hour. 

I zone out, day dream about my future and where I want to take my life. I imagine a small home in the mountains with good property. Near Durango, I’ve dreamt of living in Durango for some time now. Maybe when I’m older and ready to settle down. It’s the perfect mountain town, with access to the San Juan mountains, as well as easy access to the canyons of Utah and Arizona. I’ll have a dog, likely a husky, that’ll hike all over the place with me. That’s a ways off in my life though, not something I want in the near future. 

After 30+ miles on the rod, smashing at 4mph, I finally hit trail that goes up on some cliffs overlooking El Mapais, a large lava field only a few thousand years old. I get up high on cliffs overlooking the field and I can see for miles. There’s really nothing out here. Just me.

My best friend, Nathan, is meeting me out on the trail tomorrow. It’ll be my last big day, trying to hike all of the way into grants when I meet him past the lava field. I lay on the Rocky cliffs and think back on the last 11 days. They’ve flown by. I’ve pushed my body to its limits, and I’m ready to slow the pace down. Yet I’ve immensely enjoyed hiking on my own. I’ve learned to rely only on myself, dropping the security and comfort of the group mentality. I wanted to learn, to grow, and to experience something both different and difficult out here, and the only way I could get that is by doing this on my own, and as fast as I could push myself. 

As I lay on this cliff I begin to drift off. Tomorrow, I’ll hike over a lava field. I’ll meet my buddy who I’ll hike with for the next three weeks, and I’ll finally get a shower and wash my clothes for the first time since starting the trail. It’s about time, I can smell myself. 

Day 12, May 20th

Miles hiked: 32

I wake up in the night and spend some time watching the stars. The Milky Way splashed above me as a gentle breeze brushes up against my bag. The clarity of the stars is amazing out here. 

In the morning I make my way off the cliff and back on to a road. I’m sick of roads. But this morning it’s only 4 miles, and they go by quickly. 

I cross the El Mapais, all 9 miles of it. The latest flows are less than 3,000 years old! I would have guessed much older. The ‘trail’ is nothing more than a string of rock cairns spaced a few hundred feet apart. It’s hot, but a cool breeze makes the travel easy. Plus, I’m excited as can be to see Nathan, who will meet me at the other side of the lava field when trail angel and local legend Carol Mumm will drop him off. Despite this being pure rock, there’s an abundance of life out here. Many shrubs and small trees call the lav field home. Talk about survivors. 

Around 2pm I meet Nathan at the trailhead to the lava field. He’s quite the contrast in looks to me. He’s clean, his clothes look new, and his skin is pale an white. I guess that’s likely what I looked like as well. But now you can barely see my face under burnt skin, dirt, and an awkward beard. 

He’s freshly graduated from medical school, becoming a doctor just a few days prior. He has his first three week break in many years, and he chose to meet me out here and hike around in the desert and mountains for the full duration. He’s as crazy as I am. He’s got his huge dslr camera with him, and plans to photograph the night sky as much as possible. I’m pretty excited about that, as he’s a true master of nighttime photography, and I’ve seen some really dark skies out here. 

We take off, fresh packs, and walk a dirt road through Bonita Zuni canyon. I tell him about the trail, about the beautiful Gila, the remote boot heel and the monotonous road walks. 

The evening soon turns to night, and soon enough were back in grants where he started the day. We pack our bags, I shower (finally) and we do some laundry (first time on trail!). Our next section, to Cuba, will be just over 100 miles.