Writing a book is hard. But even harder than writing the book is publishing the book and reading the reviews. There are good ones, sure. Maybe they’re even mostly good ones. But it’s those few bad ones that stick with you. Those readers who feel safe behind the screen of their computer, typing away and passing judgement, forgetting that on the other end of the screen is an actual human. One thing I learned - I'm not cut out for the world of memoir writing and self-publishing.
I’m proud to say that I have not read a single Amazon review of my book in over a year. A year! It’s been wonderful and freeing to simply detach myself, let the book be its own entity. It is not me, so go ahead and say what you want about it. I moved to a new town where no one even knows it exists. I’m living a new life in so many ways, not being a book-writer is just one of them. I don’t regret writing the book. The book wrote itself… I honestly had little say in the matter. Not writing it would have been even more painful. But I am happy to have moved on.
All this is just to say that I’ve taken a break from writing. Maybe you’ve noticed. I found the perfect job in a small, quiet town and have been happily working away – teaching nutrition classes, doing cooking demonstrations, saving the world… and occasionally dreaming of another long hike.
I’m working on saving up enough money to do the ultra-marathon of thru-hikes: an entire year of hiking on all the trails I’ve not yet explored, and some that I have. But this won’t be for a while. For now I am committed to living in a small town, eating vegetables that Mud grows in our garden and taking care of our lovely canines. With yearly adventures in between.
Which brings me to my final point – I’ve found another country to walk across. In two weeks I’ll be starting the Alpine Pass Route which spans 211 miles across Switzerland. The trail crosses 16 mountain passes, which means at least one every day for 2 weeks. There are many huts and hostels along the way, though I’m hoping to camp for a good portion of it. I’ll be hiking alone except for 5 days in the middle when my dad and younger sibs will join me. Though it’s a pretty popular and well-maintained trail, so I’m sure I won’t be alone.
There may or may not be daily blog posts detailing the adventure, but there will definitely be Instagram pictures.
In the meantime, have I mentioned how amazing the Cascades are? Every time I pass through these mountains I feel like the luckiest person alive. Washington state is the best!
As the winter finds us in a cozy old house tucked in the southeast corner of Washington, I've recently hung up my hiker hat to wear my dietitian hat. Luckily, the dietitian hat allows me to stay inside and when it's 3 degrees outside but feels like negative 2; I appreciate that. Plus, I get to be part of an awesome new lifestyle program in Walla Walla.
Since one of my life goals is to get everyone I meet to eat more chickpeas, I thought I might share one of my favorite meals with you to help accomplish that. This recipe is one of the easiest and most delicious -- we eat it at least once a week.
The roasted chickpeas are clearly the best part about the dish, but sitting them on top of brown rice and next to fresh, colorful vegetables makes them even more awesome. For some reason there always seems to be red cabbage, kale and carrots in my fridge, so those are the veggies I've listed. But of course, you may choose any others you'd like. Last night, for example, I ditched the carrots for bell pepper, as you can see below.
Roasted Chickpea Bowl
Prep Time: 10 Minutes, Cook Time: 45 min, Serves 3
Pro Tip: Make a double batch of chickpeas and save some to use in salads or just as a snack.
We left the Grand Enchantment Trail looking to trade in endless crossings of the Gila for something a little more rocky and red. Not that New Mexico wasn't great, but Utah is great too. So when our friend from the PCT, Bloody Mary, invited us to hike a section of the Hayduke trail with her, we couldn't refuse.
The Hayduke is an 800-mile route that one follows through all the most amazing places in Southern Utah: from Arches National Park to Zion. Sometimes it's a road walk, sometimes it's a cow-trail, and sometimes it's a cross-country walk from one canyon to another. Sometimes it's scrambling down rocky cliffs and passing packs from one person to so you can leap across a ravine. The Hayduke is many different things, but one is for sure: it's impossible to describe. Pictures can sometimes, maybe do it justice, but probably not... and it's a struggle to find the right words.
All I know is that I'll be going back.
For some much better pictures of this epic trail, check out Bloody Mary's instagram!
We find that the mesa is a most wonderful place once we get up there. It's a flat, straight and peaceful reprieve from yesterday's drama. I use the morning to listen to music and relax even though my legs still have to move. I'm all out of food except for three bars, which means that my pack is extra light and walking is almost effortless.
At the junction we have to choose between going down to a trail that requires fording the Gila several times (translation: wet feet and potential dense, overgrown terrain) or staying high to follow a horse trail. We stay high.
When the trail fizzles out I keep walking in the general direction of it, checking the GPS to see if I'm on track. When it reappears I don't see Mud's footprints in the dirt and wonder if he's still ahead. Maybe he got lost? Not likely... so I trek on and enjoy putting the trail puzzle together all by myself.
I wander out of the wilderness to a horse corral and a road. There's Mud, waiting. He thinks I'm going too slow today. Maybe I am, but I've been having fun.
We attempt to hitch the three miles from the Gila Visitor Center to Doc Campbell's store but cars are sparse and no one stops. So we continue on, feet pounding the pavement on the windy road. Mud goes ahead and I watch him get smaller and smaller until finally he disappears around a curve. Now it's just me.
When I get to the store Mud has already claimed a picnic table out front. I go inside and am bummed to find they don't even have a decent iced tea. They do have fresh picked apples, so that kind of makes up for it. Sitting back down at the table outside, a wave of exhaustion runs over me. I didn't realize how tired I was. That might explain why the past couple days have been so hard.
Mud and I wander down the street, past a pen of goats and over a dirt road to a hot springs retreat that holds promise of a bed and showers. We arrive to find the place empty except for the owner, who offers us a large straw-bail-adobe-hogan-house-yurt.
It's better than we could've ever dreamed up. Our very own adobe cabin and our very own hot springs! Someday we'll have a place just like this, but in Washington. It's shaded and quiet and we don't see another person the whole time we're there. We spend the rest of the day soaking in the springs, eating toast with chocolate and reading books. If it weren't for the fact that we didn't have any fresh food, we may have never left. We both fall asleep just after sunset and I don't move an inch until the sun returns, trickling light in from behind the curtains.
There's nothing like a good climb in the morning to get your blood flowing. I always dread it at first, but before I know it I'm completely awake, and it was totally painless.
We leave the grassy creek bed to walk up on a plateau. It's a straight, flat path all the way to the next trailhead. A flock of wild turkeys cross the path about fifty feet ahead of me. First one, then another and another. They all disappear by the time I reach their spot.
By mid morning we're trekking along another creek bed through more tall grass. But this grass is more characteristic of the desert, leaving various forms of prickly things attached to our shoes and clothing. The most annoying are the ones that insert themselves head first into the mesh of my
shoes. Only the wispy little tails remain within view while their sharp ends poke my toes. I try to ignore the pain but have to stop frequently to remove them.
The best part of the day is short lived and quickly turns into the worst part. We find a cross country path along a dry wash. It's wide and easy to walk with rock walls towering beside us. I make the mistake of believing this is how things will be - cheerfully taking pictures and cruising along on the gravel.
Then this wash joins another wash. The new one has a running stream and is thick with willows. Our maps say to follow the stream until we cross the Gila river about four miles away, but there is no clear path. Only a faint line in the brush where it's been pushed aside a little - this is the trail.
It takes us a while to figure this out and even longer to accept that this is our path for the foreseeable future. Mud charges ahead and I don't see him for two hours. Meanwhile, the trail crosses the creek every two minutes or so. No rocks to hop on this time. I splash through, my feet sinking into the mud on the shores and releasing sulfurous gasses. When I'm not crossing the creek, I barrel through the jungle. If my legs weren't torn up before, they sure are now. I come to welcome the burning pain on my shins as a sign of progress.
I can't stop to care - we have to get through this by dark.
The jungle walk is almost over when I see Mud waiting for me amidst the tall grass. We decide to camp soon before the climb up to the mesa. We're both tired and grumpy. When finally we've set up our tent on top of the prickly terrain, I fall asleep listening to music on my headphones, promising myself that tomorrow will bring a more welcoming trail.
One canyon leads to another this morning until eventually the trail twists us up through golden oak trees and aspens rattling in the wind. We're still on the CDT, so it's a game of up and down, but mostly up, with a trail that's mostly easy to follow. We often get views of the distant mountains all painted in fall colors.
Right before lunch we see the return of the thorn-laden, overgrown trail. I'm wearing my old, worn down hiking pants which are too thin to stand up to these thickets. They rip right away in two places. This bums me out way more than expected. I've been through so much with these pants! I change into shorts before my pants get ripped more than I can repair.
My legs get scratched all afternoon but I am unfazed on account of how great the views are. The trail is rough but I'm just dazzled by the beauty of it all. Finally we start our descent, leaving the CDT and ending up on the wrong trail. Luckily, this one leads where we wanna go, too.
We follow diamond creek all the way down. It's more water than we've seen this whole time. The trail crosses the creek about forty times in three miles, usually just easy rock-hops. But this doesn't stop me from slipping and getting my feet wet. After spending a few hours navigating the tall grasses of creek side meadows, we stop to camp just before the next climb.
Our legs are weary from all the up and down today. Gila hot springs is our next stop and we're ready for a good soak. So tonight, we fall asleep dreaming about hot springs.
I wake up in a pretty good mood because we've slept at an empty campground of sorts and there happens to be a privy there. It doesn't smell bad and it's fully stocked with toilet paper. So I feel like we've really found luxury. That is, until we notice that neither of our sawyer water filters are functioning correctly. Either they're clogged up from the cow water or they froze overnight.
Luckily we're right next to a paved road. And luckily I have an extra filter in our bounce bucket, sitting at the post office just 20 miles away. It only takes 45 minutes for the first car to show up going the right direction. But he stops right away and takes us all the way to Winston. We enjoy conversation with Bo, the driver, who has taken some days off to just camp and run through the mountains.
Winston is probably the most charming of trail towns, as New Mexico goes. There is one store and a post office. Nothing else. The old lady at the post office forwards our bucket for free once we've gotten what we need out of it and the cashier woman tells me how to get cell reception.
"There's a post out there. If you walk about five steps away from it there's a black rock. Face south." And stick one leg in the air and tilt your head slightly to the left. "That's where you'll find service." She says.
The hitch back is an easy one and we're back on the trail by noon. It's a well-graded and easy-to-follow path through a pine forest. It feels like such a treat until I get used to it. Then I put headphones in and just cruise for most of the afternoon. For a moment I forget where I am. I could be anywhere, just one foot after the other, making miles.
The evening finds us walking a forest road and turning off into another canyon where we set up camp just as the sun goes down. My stove glows blue and pink against the night as I boil water for dinner. I fall asleep happy, feeling like I've found my hiker-self again.
It's exciting to be on the CDT, mostly because there are frequent trail markers in this area. Notches on trees, cairns, and even CDT blazes. Even though the trail fizzles out frequently, it's not completely cross-country walking.
The forest is lovely up here at 9,000 feet. The trees aren't too dense and pine needles carpet the ground. It's up and down on the divide all morning until after lunch when we leave the trail to find water.
A dirt road leads to a canyon where we scramble down and find several nice pools from Adobe Spring. We rehydrate and then walk down the canyon, following the wash instead of going all the way back to the trail. It seems faster that way, so we think. Then we climb up and over to another dry creekbed and follow that wash for a while. On the map it says that we're on a 'road'. But there is no road in sight. So it's cross-country all afternoon. Before we know it it's almost four o'clock and we can't tell that we've made much progress at all.
But eventually we wander out of the forest to find the cutest little dirt road. A quiet breeze welcomes us and now I can tell that it was all worth it just to be here. Cruising through the wilderness so easily. No bugs, the sun reflecting against red rocks in the distance, bunnies scampering away through tall grass. Sometimes road walks suck and sometimes they are awesome.
An ATV rumbles up eventually and the two young men stop and talk to us.
"We're just wasting our life away, drinking beer and driving this road." They tell us, before wrapping up the conversation and driving away.
Eventually I get tired of walking the road and secretly wish they would turn around to pick us up so that we could also drink beer and ride on the ATV. But one step leads to another and before I know it we're back on the trail.
We call it a day and set up camp right as the sun is going down.
We toss and turn all night in the squeaky hotel bed. Mud seems to be at baseline when we wake up but I feel like I haven't slept at all. My head is still fuzzy from all the sunshine and I'm not sure I can face it again.
Luckily there's a cafe open down the street and we manage to get some potatoes and vegetables, which helps a little. By the time we have to leave town, I've had a nap, iced tea and one aspirin and that seems to do the trick.
We spend much of the day on the side of the road, waiting for a ride out of Magdalena. A man across the street is selling apples and gives us two each, then insists on giving us each a cold bottle of water. So generous. New Mexico has been, overall, a very different kind of place than I'm used to. But it's these small acts of kindness that add up to make me think so fondly of the state.
We eventually get a ride, then another who takes us an hour on dirt roads, stops at a cow trough so we can fill up water bottles and drops us off at the CDT trail head. It wasn't exactly where we were headed, but only about 10 miles from where the CDT and GET overlap so we're happy to be there.
It's just a few miles of walking before we reach a spot too beautiful not to stop and camp. The clouds are whisping in the sky and the grass is all glowing in yellow. While we're eating dinner, the sun sinks below the horizon and lights the sky in a hundred shades of orange and pink.
The road walk continues this morning. It's not so bad since it's a dirt road and there are things to look at: hills, rock formations, cactuses, cows. But the sun rises higher and by mid-morning I'm already walking under my sunbrella attached awkwardly to my shoulder straps.
Then a truck comes rumbling up from behind us and slows down to offer us a ride. Mud leaves it up to me. I'm so hot and blistered from the sun that I hardly have to think about it. We get in the cushy back seat of the truck and ride all the way down to the highway where a little town called Socorro sits.
We find a shady spot in the Walmart parking lot and share a pint of Ben and Jerry's non-dairy ice cream while assessing the situation: we've got limited time until we head back north and want to see the most enchanting parts of the grand enchantment trail. Plus, we drove through Utah on the way here and feel compelled to at least spend a few days exploring the land of towering rocks and red canyons on the way home.
So it's decided: we'll skip ahead. A few hours later we find ourselves on the side of the road. I have my hitching crystal out and Mud is singing the hitching song. Most people just drive by and give us weird looks. They'll wave if they're feeling friendly. New Mexico hitching is a whole different game
than we're used to. It takes a while, even when we're at our best.
Finally a dude in a pickup truck stops and we hop in the bed and fly down the highway. We spend the night in the next town where the grocery store has gone out of business and the locals hang out at the saloon, throwing empty beer bottles across the bar into the trash can. But at least there's iced tea.
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