Pie Town to Grants, NM
I reached the small community of Pie Town shortly before the rain. The clouds overhead threatened to unleash a downpour, and in fact a driver on the rural, dirt road that I’d been walking along had warned that it was hailing on the north side of town. With that news, I picked up my pace and reached Nita’s Toaster House a little after noon, and only moments before the first drops of rain.
The Toaster House is a quaint, rustic home that provides rest and relaxation for hikers and cyclists coming from afar. There are toasters strewn across the front archway, an obvious clue that you have found the right place. Inside there are a few bedrooms, rooms that would’ve raised Nita’s children, which at this point, I’m sure some of those children have children of their own. There’s a kitchen, a bathroom, a washing machine, hiker boxes to leave and take extra gear and food, and a pantry to help yourselves to. It’s all on the honor system, and a locked box sits on the wall asking, politely, to leave behind a donation.
I claimed a bottom bunk in the downstairs bedroom. It was a small room and I figured only two other hikers could share the space, if and when they arrived. Which inevitably they would. I found that I’d caught up to a mini-bottleneck of hikers, all those couples I’d shared a few miles with over the last couple of days. By the end of the night, there would be eleven hikers and two cyclists. As you can imagine, I was a bit anxious.
I set out to tackle a list of chores, immediately charging my electronics, then digging through the hiker box in hopes for some thin, sturdy cord to rig up guy lines on my new Hyperlite Mountain Gear Tarp. I was fortunate, and would later tie a small loop on its four corners, then a longer lenght at the two ends adjacent to where my trekking poles would be placed. After having hiked more than 10,000 miles in my life, I’d recently switched from my beloved Big Agnes Flycreek Platinum Tent to a tarp. On the AT this year, I primarily slept in the shelters, and after trying out HMG’s Echo II Tarp Tent, which is amazing but a bit too roomy for this single gal, I carried the Echo’s tarp only, and not the rest of the tent. That said, the tiny little tarp I now have, plus the cuben fiber groundsheet, pack down small and weigh virtually nothing.
I stayed up late chatting with others, including Early Bird and Squirrel who arrived at 8pm, and who’d share the extra bunk in my room. It was after 11pm when I had my bag packed, ready for an early morning start. In the same way that months of solitude can cause me unease, a bottleneck of hikers can cause me to yearn for some quiet miles.
I left town before the rest of the house stirred, which was understandable as the weather forecast would be a steady downpour that morning. A bone-chilling, wet rain that made me realize that I was not carrying enough clothing. For nearly three hours, my jaw remained clenched, my hands numb and stowed inside my jacket’s pockets. I’d bounced ahead my thermal baselayer top, in addition to my rain pants. I now was left with this:
Patagonia Refugitive Rain Shell (which sadly after 2,150 miles along the AT, is leaking).
Patagonia Nano Puff Vest
Patagonia Overcast Sun-shirt
Patagonia Ultralight Down Shirt
Champion Sports bra
Patagonia Strider Shorts
2 pairs of Point Six Socks
Fleece-lined Nordic hat
1 pair of Mountain Hardware mittens which have not been waterproof since 2014…time for a new pair? I think so.
That’s it folks. That’s all I have. So I clenched my jaw, and gave in and wore the down shirt, which wearing down in a downpour is generally a cardinal rule not to be broken. I wrapped my cuben fiber groundsheet around my legs like a skirt, and soon enough I was just marginally better than hypothermic.
Luckily, by 10am, a small patch of blue sky stalled overhead. I raised my arms, and bathed in its warmth. I then picked up my pace, hopeful to stay ahead of the storm. By early afternoon, however, it looked like a second storm would roll in. The sky grew dark, a few raindrops fell, but then, almost miraculously, it cleared. It turned out to be one of the most magnificent afternoons I’ve seen. As if I was walking through the heart of a diamond, all those dense, dark clouds fell away to the horizon in every direction. Instead, I bathed in sunlight and warmth while starring out upon the beautiful desert terrain.
I hiked the dirt road, York Ranch Road, from Pie Town to the junction with Armijo and Sand Canyons. I was able to rack in a 30 mile day before sunset, allowing me to camp at the far end of the canyon, where the evening light illuminated cliffs where eagles and hawks soared across the rock. That night, I caught up on sleep and solitude, and felt ready for the morning.
From sand canyon, the route I choose took me along the Narrows Rim Trail that overlooks an immense lava field called El Malpais. Zuni sandstone cliffs and arches press against this stark looking landscape that is a unique beauty. I then walked across the lava flow, following a cairned route across. I reached the northern end just after nightfall, and just after watching a sunset light up the sky with magenta, plum and lavender.
That night, I camped beneath a tree that I’d camped under five years ago. It provided some protection from the morning dew, but inevitably, when you camp in a field under a clear night sky, you will get wet. It didn’t matter though, because the morning and afternoon I’d walk through Bonita and Zuni Canyon, and it would be 70-degrees. My bag, draped upon a sagebush, would dry and loft back to shape in mere minutes.
On a different note, I want to thank all the kind people who I met along this segment who stopped to hand me a bottle of water on a thirsty afternoon, allowed me to sit beside a warm fire on a cold morning, or more rarely, offered me a can of beer, fesh cherries and beef brisket. Thank you!