After taking a zero day yesterday, Zigzag and I didn't need to hang around any longer in Cuba. We took care of all our town chores and also had time to rest. So when we woke up at 6 a.m., we were ready to get back on the trail.
There was just one hitch in that plan.
|Date||Saturday, May 15, 2021|
|Weather||Partly cloudy with temperatures from the mid-40s to low-70s|
|Trail Conditions||Asphalt and dirt roads, then a long climb, sometimes covered in snow or water|
To get out of town quickly, we decided to find something to eat for breakfast at a convenience store directly across the highway from our motel.
Google Maps said the store was open 24 hours. A sign on the door said it opened at 4:30 a.m. When we arrived there shortly before 6:30, the door was locked. This was another Cuba business that took casual regard for posted operating hours.
Soon after we walked back to the motel, I noticed an employee arrived to open the store. We gave her a few minutes to turn on the lights before we returned to buy our breakfast. The options weren't what we hoped, but we found enough to eat before starting on the trail.
We still didn't have any plans for when we got to Ghost Ranch. When we talked to Lone Wolf and No Keys, they were also unsure about what to do. They weren't even sure they would be leaving Cuba today.
Indecision and uncertainty have been common threads in hiker conversations lately. The discussion is mostly about how we'll handle the snow ahead, especially what lies in the San Juan Mountains. For now, we're just guessing what we'll do when we get there.
Zigzag and I checked out of our room at 7:30 a.m. We didn't have far to walk back to the trail because it went through town.
Before joining the trail, the highway we followed crossed Rio Puerco. This was the same river I saw two days ago when I crossed Mesa Portales on the way into town.
A direct translation of the river's name to English is River of Pigs, but the authors of The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A Linguistic Atlas say a more accurate translation is "dirty river" or "muddy river." That appeared to be an accurate description.
From where we picked up the trail, we had to walk out of town on 3.2 miles of paved road. We were wary of this stretch because we had read reports about stray, vicious dogs, but they didn't turn out to be trouble for us.
Some dogs barked and appeared to threaten us as we walked by, then soon retreated. We weren't bothered again.
After leaving the paved road, the trail followed a gravel road for two more miles. Although this stretch started flat, we could see mountains ahead and knew we would soon begin to climb.
The road crossed a couple of streams. One was Nacimiento Creek. Both were the same muddy color as Rio Puerco.
Seeing these streams was a little startling, not because of their color but because they were streams of water at all. We hadn't crossed many flowing streams in New Mexico. Seeing two streams in such a short interval was a clear sign that we were entering new terrain.
We were still in a desert, but this was not the same parched, barren land we walked across for most of the last 500 miles.
The last section of the road began the climb we saw earlier. Soon, the road was no longer suitable for ordinary vehicles. A high-clearance four-wheel-drive truck would have been needed if we weren't walking.
As the road climbed, we passed a few openings in trees that offered views back to where we came from. We could not only see Cuba, we saw landmarks that were part of our hike for the last five days.
After walking about two hours, Zigzag and I stopped to take a short break near where the trail left the road. Doggone caught up to us there. We chatted for several minutes, and naturally, the conversation turned to what we intended to do about the snow ahead. Doggone was just as unsure as we were.
By 11 a.m., we had walked about eight miles and had climbed more than 2,000 feet. The landscape had fully transitioned to trees and large meadows. There were many spruce trees and a few stands of aspen.
In this part of the U.S., mountain meadows are often called parks. We walked across several today.
I didn't see many wildflowers on the trail today besides common dandelions, but some Rocky Mountain iris caught my eye in one of the parks. These hardy wildflowers thrive in wet meadows.
There weren't many official signs or other markings for the trail, which has been typical for the CDT. Thankfully, hikers helped with extra guidance by adding sticks to show the correct way to go.
I reached another road at 12:30 p.m., and this one led to a parking area and trailhead. I looked around for a picnic area to stop for lunch but didn't see any tables, so I continued up the trail.
This land was officially protected as a primitive area in 1931 and was included as one of the first wilderness areas designated by Congress in 1964. It covers 41,305 acres.
From the parking lot, the distance to a lake was less than two miles. I passed several families on the trail and could tell this was a popular spot for day hiking, fishing, and picnicking.
The 30-acre lake was called San Gregorio Reservoir. If it wasn't already here, it could not be constructed today. That's because it lies within the wilderness, where today's regulations prohibit a man-made feature such as this.
The flow of Clear Creek was impounded to create the reservoir. Zigzag was already at the creek when I arrived. We expected Doggone would be there but didn't see him.
We collected water from the creek and then found a spot nearby for lunch. Then Doggone arrived a short time later. He said he had stopped for lunch at the picnic area, which I had somehow failed to see.
Doggone didn't stay long. He was trying to push his mileage today so Taxilady could pick him up as scheduled.
He wasn't gone long before the Bennett family arrived. They also stopped just long enough to collect water, but we had a chance to talk a little more than we did yesterday at the post office in Cuba.
I admire them for how they can organize and stay committed to long thru-hikes.
I followed Zigzag by five minutes or so when we returned to the trail. Almost immediately, I found the trail was nearly impossible to walk on.
Starting near the north end of the lake, blowdowns covered the footpath. I had to spend extra time scouting for a route around and over fallen trees while checking my direction against the Guthook app to make sure I was heading the right way.
Fortunately, the trail was only blocked for about a quarter of a mile before it became clear again.
Later, I met more day hikers and realized there must have been another route that didn't have as many blowdowns. It seemed unlikely day hikers would have attempted to navigate through that messy section of trail.
The trail crossed Clear Creek again, then followed the creek for the next mile. Along this stretch, the trail climbed to above 10,000 feet in elevation. Snow began to appear.
At first, the snow was in small patches along the side of the trail. Enough sunshine filtered through the trees to melt it off the footpath.
Soon, however, I had to walk through slushy and sometimes deep snow. I was post-holing to my knees in a few spots.
The snow was gone when the trail crossed another park, and I was able to pick up my hiking speed again.
The climb continued until it reached above 10,150 feet, then became mostly level.
Over flat terrain, there wasn't good drainage for the snowmelt. The trail was flooded, making it impossible to walk on dry ground.
This is the stretch that Just Awesome warned me about three days ago. He said he had to walk about eight miles in deep snow.
As I had hoped, a lot of that had melted by the time I got here. I still had a few bad sections, but they didn't slow me down nearly as much as JA had been.
That eight-mile stretch JA warned about was all above 10,000 feet. The trail crossed a series of long parks. Where it was shade-covered, some snow could still be found. Snow was gone by now in the grassy, open areas.
A stream flowed through the middle, and the trail crossed it in several places. Nearby grassy areas were saturated in water from melted snow.
I collected and filtered water at a stream crossing, which the Guthook app showed was the last water source I would pass today. It seemed likely more water could be found ahead because of the melting snow, but I didn't want to risk not having enough tonight.
Soon after that, I caught up to Zigzag. The time was now 6 p.m., and we decided to continue walking for about two more miles before we started looking for a place to camp. The ground was so saturated, we hoped to find a spot in trees that was a little drier.
As we entered a forested section of the trail, Zigzag spotted some elk. They were feeding on the other end of a park. I tried to take a photo of them, but they were too far away.
We found a dry, flat spot to set up our tents just before 7 p.m. It was near the intersection of the CDT with the Corralitos Trail.
The temperature dropped while I set up my tent and prepared dinner. My feet were soon icy cold because my shoes and socks were still wet from the sloppy trail conditions. I decided to hurry my dinner so I could get into my tent and out of my wet shoes.
As with most days on the trail, I didn't have a set schedule for today. The times when I hiked and when I stopped were mostly set by my own whims or by the conditions at hand.
Come to think of it, maybe that is the same way Cuba businesses operate.
It might be twelve o'clock and it might be three
Time doesn't mean that much to me
Ain't felt this way since I don't know when
Might not feel this way again
Get in the groove and let the good times roll
We're gonna stay here till we soothe our soul
If it takes all night long
Come on and let the good times roll
We're gonna stay here till we soothe our soul
If it takes all night long