Dates: p.m. 7/6-7/8
Section Mileage: 92.5m
VL Mileage: 1709.5
GET Mileage: 26m
Under the awning at Pancho's Shell Station in the outskirts of Pecos I pondered my next move. I delved into a green chili bean burrito and looked at the Sangres from a southern perspective. I wandered back 6 months in time in my head. I couldn't believe I was in this exact place, a place I mapped and scoured through in atlases for hours at a time, thinking--- 'How am I goin' to get through this unknown area?'
My eyes watered, I could just feel them fill with liquid. I was doing what I set out to do. This brief reflective moment crashed under a clap of thunder. In an instant, I was present, under the awning, eating a green chili bean burrito, as rain poured down in a torrential swoon. Back in the moment, I enjoyed watching the Earth get pummeled in a deluge of rain. I was protected and I didn't have to leave at that moment.
I contacted Vulture Death, fellow hiker trash whose information was passed along from Brett Tucker. Vulture Death has scouted a route from Santa Fe to Albuquerque for some time now. Eagerly I listened, and within a few hours of lounging under the awning in Pecos, I left for Lower Canoncito, where Vulture Death lives, by way of the canyon corridor of Galisteo Creek.
Down the highway I trekked 6m. My scenery change drastically from beautiful, isolated, and quiet mountains to broad, pinyon-lined mesas among a roaring highway. However the feeling of wandering I felt through the last section, I now felt to be in the epitome of it now. I truly had to free-form a route within the physical space in front of me. But I also had to free-form a route within my structured head. I tried to stop thinking too much as I walked quickly down the road. Suddenly, in a haze of blurred, chaotic thought, a car pulled over on the dirt shoulder. The driver's door swung open so hard it rebounded back to hit the driver in the head who was now bending over to vomit along the edge of the highway. I looked over at the second the brown sludge ejected from her mouth. I walked on unemotional, unaffected. I stopped thinking and felt the pavement underfoot and the wind in my face that rifled through my whiskers.
I followed rail line until I dropped into the Galisteo. Even though I could hear the bustling interstate my mind transported to a remote canyon in Utah. Wilderness is found in the mind, through concentrated breathing, and the beauty of wilderness is found within a ruckus of humanity.
A few hours later, as I walked up Vulture Death's graveled driveway, thick droplets of cold water fell from the dark, purple sky. We sat under his patio, sheltered from the incoming storm, and talked trail. He has put many hours in researching and scouting a route from Santa Fe to Albuquerque. This connection is probably the biggest challenge within the Vagabond Loop, for private land and other land ownership and management block any 'pure' way of connecting the 2 cities. Without his own scouting of the connection I would not be able to find an attractive and walkable route.
Magic, his girlfriend, came home and a feast ensued. I hadn't had company, hiker trash company that is, like this in many a day. And it felt great to have people around me who 'got' what I am trying to do. Feeling gratified and thankful, I fell asleep under electric lightning pulverizing the sky above me.
In the morning, Vulture Death walked me up a hill behind the adobe house. He pointed out the Sangres, the Galisteo Creek corridor, and the broad mesas of a transitioning land. He spoke of the end of the giant swell of the Rocky Mountains this far south. I stared far off in the distance, his voice drifting to the back of my mind but still resonating within my present senses. This moment was as profound to me as gazing into the Grand Canyon for the first time on this journey. It signified change and growth, an end to a place I found to know intimately, and presented a forward path, progress. We embraced before I left. I cannot express how grateful I am towards him for scouting a route and sharing along information that could might as well be left to his own hike. He is a part of my pioneering as anyone.
From his house I hiked the rail road above Galisteo Creek to the small town of Lamy. A minivan with an older couple, Sue and Reldon of Albuquerque, pulled up along side of me and offered a ride. I explained how I couldn't accept their kindness. We had a short yet rewarding conversation. This proved to be a theme: vagabonding without leaving a trace yet being deeply impacted by the kindness of people. Even though I was alone in this section, people gravitated toward me. And here I thought I looked like the biggest, most hobo looking, and stinkiest bum ever, especially after the scowls in Red River.
Eventually, the rail and creek headed northwest until their intersection with the Rio Grande. I hit pavement and walked the Turquoise Trail, through the gypsy-filled hamlet of Madrid, for roughly 9m. Along the way, 3 cars stopped to offer a ride. Each time I politely explained my situation and every time the people smiled and moved along kind of scratching their heads.
Following Vulture Death's route using his maps he lent to me, I ultimately decided to crosscountry through Indian Reservation to avoid any further road and dirt road walking. I figured if I went crosscountry down Canada de Coyote I would also avoid homesteads and people. I still needed to very discreet and stealthy.
From the highway I slid through barbed wire fence and set a direction towards the canyon. From low, broad ridges, one after another, through pinyon pines, sagebrush and prickly cacti I made smooth traveling until I meandered my way through knobby rock and into the drainage.
I disappeared from the world in this remote drainage. It was like wearing a mask to escape the presence of others and yourself. My mind transported to the mid-1800s, when people were moving to the West, with the land bare and undiscovered. I was off the map, an anachronism in my mind, a vagabond in the present, physical world.
'Ito! Bring the screen and the shovel. Ito!'
A boy about 10 clumsily carried the tools down the hill. Once he had the screen, the abuelo scooped out green algae from the trough. He whistled an airy whistle through his teeth. He toiled away in the trough for about 15 minutes. I sat stock still and worried about the boy. I thought he would be the one who would notice me. Kids are usually more curious than adults, plus they get bored easier and tend to stary from a scene.
Time creaked on by and I felt somewhat in a meditated state. The shovel scooping out gravel, the slurried sling of algae splattering against sandstone rock, and the airy whistle of the abuelo; these all had me in a sleepy, meditative state.
Half an hour went by. The kid got bored, the abuelo could feel it. Ito was throwing rocks all around the alcove. He was getting antsy not doing anything. I watched him intently figuring any second he would wander over to where I was hiding.
I couldn't get caught. Who knows what they would do? I was not threatened but I could not deal with authorities at the moment. It could ruin the whole VL. I waited impatiently, though I was calm.
Then, the abuelo's whistle came closer, for I couldn't see them through my sage cover. I perked up, ready for action. He handed the screen scooper to Ito. But rather than follow his abuelo, Ito went up to the truck. I watched him from my spot. If he turned to his abuelo he would see me. The abuelo suddenly was at a trough I hadn't noticed, only about 10ft from me under a juniper and a sandstone overhang.
I could see him point blank. If he looked up, just an inch, my cover would be blown. But I could tell he was getting tired. His whistled slowed, he breathed deeper. Ito going to the truck may have been what the situation needed to end.
The abuelo yelled, 'Ito, the screen!!' No response from the boy. There was too much coverage from the slope of the hill muffling communication.
Within a minute, the abuelo tired out. His whistle stopped, his breath labored. He walked right in front of me. I could reach out and touch him if I wanted to. I blended in, I was silent. The abuelo lumbered up the hill and I heard the truck rumble to a start. I slid from my sage tunnel and ran to the tall barbed fence in the wash. I pried open 2 strands and slithered through quickly. Once through I ran down the canyon trying to get out of sight.
Down Arroyo de Coyote I went, swiftly making my way crosscountry. Soon the Crest of Montezuma appeared below the Sandias. I made for the crest. Miles of cross-angling over ridges and drainages passed before I hit a notch between a hogsback and intersected a dirt road that switchbacked up a hill below the Crest of Montezuma. I found myself on the outskirts of the tiny, old town of Placitas. I turned my phone on and received an email from Vulture Death. He got wind that sections of the Santa Fe NF were closed, including the Sandia and the Manzanos, the first 2 sections of the GET.
I became frustrated. I just wanted a section to walk where I would be allowed to walk through. The past couple hundred miles I have been on high alert and I wanted to just enjoy trail through an unfamiliar mountain range relishing all the sights around me. The forests were closed due to extreme fire hazards. The forest was in an extraordinarily dry and tindered state. Couple that with the thunderheads floating in a rumble and one strike of lightning in the right spot and the whole forest could be gone.
I could either road walk around the Sandias or illegally walk the crest of the Sandias, though I would have to be stealthy, for the crest of the Sandias is spired with television antennae and a tram with restaurants and platforms is a prime tourist spot.
I went up into the Sandias from the Tunnel Springs trailhead. I mashed my way through the crestline into the evening. The forest thickened and rapidly I gained elevation. Rocky cliffs lined the western front of the Sandias which contrasted the gentle sloping flanks of the eastern side. I ghost camped under a grove of aspen below the tram hidden from plain view. From my site I could see the lights of Santa Fe shimmering in the far-off distance. Lightning struck towards the northwest. The night appeared purple.
In the morning, rain pattered my tarp. I broke camp around 5am to get an early start through the area that would have the greatest chance of getting caught. Once through the area I attained the crest and looked out over Albuquerque. I breathed in and out an air full of giddiness. I was nearing an end to a section. Excitedly, I mashed my way down the Sandias through the transition zones of the forest. Once back in the desert pines and cactus, I saw the town of Tijeras laying comfortably along side the roaring Interstate 40.
I zig-zagged my way down and soon I was standing on the shoulder of an on-ramp trying to hitch into Albuquerque. An older man, Frank, swooped me up and carted me off to the big city.
Out of the canyon emerged the spread of the city. I looked around with big eyes. I hadn't been in a city this big in a long time!
The next morning I had to get to the airport to wait meet a visiting friend. I arrived at a bus stop at the same time as 2 cholos did. These cholos were older than me and carried thick, woody canes. I looked at them in the face. Teardrops drooped from the menacing eyes. One nodded at me, I did the same. I blurted out, 'Hey, I gotta walkin' stick too!' I pointed to my trekking pole.
'Oh yea. You do, ese,' he said rather blandly and coldly. But I liked his response. It made me feel at home in the big city.
The flow of humanity moved quickly while on the bus. The stream moved in a hectic manner as I stayed calm though observant enough to have escape routes planned; I was in a deep recess in my survivalist mind. At a transfer stop, a young mother yelled constantly at her 2 year old. He disobeyed all her commands and she kept incessantly threatening him. I didn't know how much of things to participate in. I was in a place beyond my needs. People were no longer equal. I had to leave behind the utopian state of thru-hiking.
At the airport, I waited. I felt to be sitting still while everything moved around me. Everything moved by me in a current going swiftly downstream. I filtered movements out of my peripheral and envisioned my friend coming down the escalator. I was dreaming.