CDT 2021: Day 39, Springs near El Rito Creek to Hopewell Lake

I was shaking like a leaf on a tree

We didn't get any rain last night, but a thick layer of clouds moved in by morning. When I woke up and crawled out of my tent, I saw a dark and dreary sky. I figured there was a good chance of rain sometime today.

DateSaturday, May 22, 2021
WeatherVariable cloudiness with periods of light rain; temperatures from the mid-40s to low-60s
Trail ConditionsSometimes muddy; some sections of trail appear to be new
Today's Miles19.5
Trip Miles595.3

Zigzag said he was cold and wanted to get moving to warm up, so he left camp first. Sasquatch needed a few more minutes to get ready before he left. I was delayed again this morning because of my slow water filter. I've been looking forward to getting to Chama, where I can pick up the new filter waiting for me at the post office.

When I finally began hiking, I noticed a break in the clouds. I wondered if I was wrong earlier about the possibility of rain. That hope didn't last long, however, as the patch of blue sky was soon covered by gray clouds.

Today was the worst day so far when it came to a mismatch between the trail and the Guthook app. Several sections of the route appeared to be new. The app didn't show any of the changes.

The new trail was marked well, so I decided to take it instead of following what Guthook said. The terrain was mostly flat and easy for the first 3.5 miles.

Several hikers passed me this morning. They seemed to go by at consistent intervals, and I knew most of them. Tex and Old Head were first to go by me. Money, Moonshine, Happy, and a couple more soon followed.

The trail then began a long descent toward Rio Vallecitos. It went down more than 1,600 feet in the next six miles.

Early in this section, the trail was supposed to go through a gate. A tree had fallen on the gate, and it couldn't be opened because of the damage. The tree also flattened part of the fence, and I easily stepped over it as I walked around the gate.

I began to get a little tired before reaching the bottom near the river. The time was shortly before noon, so I decided to take a break but not eat lunch. I figured the river would be a better place for lunch and only wanted a moment to rest.

Less than a mile farther down the trail and closer to the river, I saw Happy and Money eating lunch under a tree. I decided to join them and eat there. They told me I just missed Zigzag and Sasquatch.

Happy and Money left before I finished my lunch. I wish I had known how treacherous the river crossing was because I probably would have left with them.

Rio Vallecitos wasn't wide, but the water was running swiftly. There were two choices for crossing it. One was to walk across a downed tree, which didn't look like a great option. It was narrow and many branches were still attached to it. I realized they could be obstacles while walking across the tree.

The other option I saw was to wade across. The problem here was the river's current. It seemed possible to lose my footing and get swept downstream. Safely wading across seemed likely, but I would need to be on the downstream side of the tree.

Without anyone else here to consult with, I was on my own to choose the best and safest option. I took several minutes to scan the river from as many angles as possible. I didn't want to miss seeing another way across. Perhaps I also needed the time to summon courage for whichever way I chose.

Finally, I decided to walk across the downed tree. My decision may have mostly come from not wanting to get wet, but I figured this way was safest and easiest. I've crossed streams like this many times before and never had a spill.

"Here we go!" I said as if I needed convincing. I climbed on the tree, then made sure I stayed balanced before beginning to walk across.

The trick of crossing a log over swiftly moving water is to keep your focus ahead. If you look down, the water's movement can cause you to lose your orientation and balance. I caught myself looking down once. This gave me a momentary sense of vertigo before I quickly turned my focus ahead again.

Halfway across, I realized my knees were feeling wobbly. Was I shaking from fear, I wondered? I reminded myself I've done this many times and shouldn't be spooked now.

When I stopped a moment to calm myself, my knees stopped shaking. Then I took another step, and the wobbling started again.

"Wait a minute!" I said to myself. "That shaking isn't in my knees. It's the log. It's bouncing!"

I safely made it to the other side of the river and climbed down from the fallen tree. Then I discovered why the log was bouncing. It wasn't anchored or resting firmly on one side of the river. A gap of two or three inches appeared between the log and a stump. The log acted as a springboard.

That had been the craziest river crossing I ever made, and I let out a big sigh of relief when it was over.

The trail started a long and sometimes steep ascent from the other side of the river. The next eight miles went up 1,500 feet and climbed back to above 10,000 feet in elevation.

The first and steepest part went up rocks covered in pine needles. That made the trail slippery. I was glad to be going up instead of down.

The sky remained cloudy all day, and by mid-afternoon, it began to grow darker. The only thing to brighten the day was a small clump of lupines next to the trail.

I caught up to Money at 2 p.m. when he stopped for water at a stream. He was the last hiker I saw until I arrived at Hopewell Lake.

About a mile past the stream, the trail left the forest and entered a long, treeless section where it descended to a road. I followed the road for most of the remaining distance to the lake.

Later, the trail entered another forest, but this one had many dead trees. It was depressing to walk through so many down trees. They were probably infected by the same disease that killed the trees at Canjilon Lakes Campground.

Sprinkles soon began to fall, which added to the gloom. For a moment, I questioned why I was hiking. I don't know why a defeatist mood came over me, but it didn't last long. Although the scenery and the weather remained dreary, I quickly snapped back into a positive spirit.

The light rain slowly diminished as I walked past a campground operated by the Forest Service. A Jeep pulled up on the road, and the couple in it seemed eager to ask me questions. They said they had been looking for thru-hikers. I happened to be the one they found.

They were kind and cheerful. The eager way they sought me out felt like they were thru-hiker groupies, and I don't say that negatively or sarcastically.

My mind about them wasn't changed when I arrived later at a picnic pavilion next to Hopewell Lake. Several hikers were already there, including everyone who passed me this morning. Soon after I got there, the delightful couple in the Jeep arrived.

Now they were thrilled to be with so many hikers. They gave us trail magic of cake and watermelon. We all appreciated their kindness and generosity.

Eventually, hikers began to clear out of the pavilion. Most went to look for a campsite. Some left when their friends picked them up to go to Chama.

When the rain stopped, I wandered the campground a little in hopes of finding an operating spigot. None were working, but while walking around, I met another thru-hiker. His name was Beanie Weenie. Early on, he hiked with my friend Just Awesome.

Chef Boyardee was at the pavilion when I got back, though he soon left. Sasquatch, Zigzag, and I remained at the pavilion and eventually decided to pitch our tents nearby.

With no operating faucets in the campground, the only place to get water was from the 14-acre man-made fishing lake. Despite being a lake where motorized boats were allowed, we had no choice but to get our water from it.

The sky darkened again with a threat of more rain while I was preparing dinner. I stopped to throw all of my food and gear into my tent, though no more rain fell.

The way our plans stand now, Sasquatch will try to hitch into Chama tomorrow morning and drive back to pick us up. We'll then go into town and assess our options for heading into Colorado. If he fails to get a ride, we think Taxilady will be bringing Doggone here, so maybe we can get a ride from her. It's always good to have a backup plan.

Open-mindedness, flexibility, and quick thinking are three valuable traits most successful thru-hikers share. As it turned out, I was about to discover just how useful they were.

I was scared and fearing for my life
I was shaking like a leaf on a tree
'Cause he was lean, mean
Big and bad, Lord
Pointin' that gun on me
"Oh, wait a minute, mister
I didn't even kiss her
Don't want no trouble with you
And I know you don't owe me
But I wish you'd let me
Ask one favor from you"

"Oh, won't you
Gimme three steps, gimme three steps, mister
Gimme three steps toward the door?
Gimme three steps, gimme three steps, mister
And you'll never see me no more"

From "Gimme Three Steps" by Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins (Lynyrd Skynyrd)

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"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.