This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
Chama is where people go their separate ways… Flipping, plowing through the San Juans or taking an alternate. It’s here that Snow, Thunder, Tennesteve and I will split up. Snow and Thunder will ski the San Juans. Tennesteve will snowshoe. And I’ll go my own way.
I do have a solid plan for the San Juans, one that I think will get me through safely. It involves coming back to hike them some August or September when the snow is low, possibly next year after the AT if I do it. I’m terrified of sketchy snow and I know that attempting to enter the San Juans in May will end my hike. Before we go our separate ways, we spend time together in town. We go to a bar with Arno, a hiker on the Great Northern New Mexico Loop trail. We eat a lot of good food. And we have one last bizarre encounter together. We meet a hiker, Odd Duck for sake of anonymity, when we are renewing our hotel rooms. After knowing me for less than 15 minutes, he abruptly asks if he is sharing my hotel room. I tell him I’m already splitting with someone and brush it off as the social awkwardness some hikers get when they are alone too long. Odd Duck comes to dinner with us and things get really awkward. Thunder mentions that he and Snow are skiing the next section. Odd Duck says he doesn’t feel like this is thru hiking. Thunder politely shuts him down. He asks what I’m doing. I tell him I’m doing the Great Divide alternate as I hate sketchy snow. He tells me the mountains may not be the place for me if I don’t like snow. My jaw drops. Thunder points out that I hiked the PCT in a much higher snow year than him and I try not to laugh, remembering that Odd Duck told us earlier that he’d quit just north of Chama last year because of snow. Some people! Thankfully, the majority of thru hikers are fantastic people. In the morning, we say goodbye to Thunder and Snow. Tennesteve and I get breakfast and then he rolls out too. I’m alone once more. I walk through town to get lunch before leaving, bumping into Arno again. At the restaurant, Navi is sitting at a table. I join him and ask what happened- he had left a day ago. He tells me dejectedly that he made it 15 miles before turning around due to the snow. I try to cheer him up, but it doesn’t seem to help much. The CDT is humbling. It kicks the crap out of you every day and then leaves you begging for more as you try to measure up. I’ve never felt as small and insignificant, or as fragile, as I do on this trail. Now comes the part I’ve been a little anxious about- my first solo hitch. The first car that drives past stops for me. It’s two older men, crusing around drinking beer and smoking weed. They offer me both as I buckle my seat belt- I decline. They spend the ride bickering about if I should worry about wolves or not. I tell them I’m heading up towards Platoro. “Oh, that’s desolate country.” One of them says. We pull up at Cumbres as Chardonnay and Kelsey are coming down the hill and they take my place in the truck for the ride back to town. The road walk is beautiful. Frogs croak in snowmelt ponds as I walk through Alpine Meadows. The road is quiet despite it being memorial day weekend. Then I drop down towards a valley. Lime green aspens burst from the hillside below snow covered peaks. It takes me a long time to find somewhere to camp off of the road. I climb up to a bench. The ground slopes alarmingly, but it’s better than worrying about the people out drinking running me over. I pull out my new stove and use it for the first time. I sleep with my ice axe. I’ve had two animal encounters at my last two campsites and this is my first time camping alone in well over a week. In the night, I hear something crashing through the bushes, but when I turn over to grab my headlamp, it hears and runs off. Just a deer. I’m on dirt roads all day, and it is uneventful but pretty. I do 20 miles by 3pm without even trying- the magic of road walks. I decide to get lunch at Platoro, a tiny town that is bustling with memorial day tourists. The burger is lackluster, but as I’m paying, I ask about road conditions. The lady asks if I have snowshoes. That good, huh? She tries to warn me off, but after five minutes, grudgingly admits she thinks I’ll make it. I climb up through Stunner pass as it spits snow. The low, snow alternate is by no means warm or snow free. There’s no where to camp until a valley, where information signs tell me the streams are so acidic they can dissolve a nail. I have four litres of water because of this, despite snow melt everywhere. I camp just out of sight of weekenders, who are shooting off guns when I come down the hill. Still, there’s not a lot of options. It’s a cold night and my feet ache despite thick wool socks. In the morning, both my water and breakfast are frozen. I climb up and up towards rusty iron hills. A few ATVs have made it this far, but once their tracks end, I figure I’m alone again. I go to the bathroom a respectful distance from, but in full sight of the trail. I’ve just got my pack back on when Kevin, the GDMBR cyclist sneaks up on me. We commiserate together about the snow on Brazos ridge before Chama and other chit chat. Then he tells me that while the road is snowy til Summitville, he’s heard it’s clear beyond that. He speeds off into the distance before long. By the time I get to treeline, it’s 10 am and the snow is already soft. My plantar fasciitis screams at me. I aggravated it before Chama and now it is really unhappy any time I am on snow. I follow Kevin’s tracks- they speak of his suffering pushing his bike. I round a corner and see a bulldozer: Kevin was right! But first, the hill throws me a steep, drifted snow bank. If I slip, it’s a hundred foot fall into trees. I pull on my microspikes and, ice axe in hand, deliberately kick my way across the drift. My hands don’t sweat, I breathe carefully, and my heart stays in my chest instead of in my throat. I’m kicking my own steps now. I make it to Summitville, with its mass of weekenders. One of the mine workers tells me the road to Del Norte is still closed, but there’s only patchy snow still on it. I walk to where the road is closed off- an ATVer asks where I’m going. “Canada eventually.” I say. “You’re going the wrong way! North is that way!” He says, pointing at the 2pm sun. Is this going to be a thing? I tell him I hope not, since I came from that way, and walk on. I climb up and up to a 12,000 ft pass. Clouds build- the weather is supposed to turn tomorrow and I want to get low. Then I am dropping down on dry dirt. I see a road sign and do the math- I’ve done more than a marathon today despite the snow and the elevation gain. Woodpeckers visit my campsite, chirping and fluttering until sundown. I sleep well until my normal 3am wake-up call, when I stare at the stars until dawn. It’s an easy 18 miles to town and I knock it out before 1pm, while the predicted thunderclouds stack up on the mountains. I’ve done 85 miles in 72 hours, which is a lot for me, and it’s a long way to my next town. I find a cheap little hostel and figure it’s time for a rest.