I can only describe zero days 21 and 22 as mind-numbing – so devoid of any activity that I can honestly not remember much of what happened other than I ate too much food.
It is day 23, and this is the first hike where I think I have gained weight on the trail.
I did achieve one thing: getting the rock in my shin examined by a doctor at the clinic. He confirmed it appeared to be a rock but suggested I not hike with stitches and have it cut out when I get home. Instead, he gave me a round of antibiotics to ensure the foreign body did not infect me. To be prudent, he gave me another round of antibiotics “just in case I got Giardia.” It’s a little ominous, but ok.
His assessment of how the rock magically appeared in my shin was most interesting. He said it probably entered through the wound on my knee and then “migrated” about a foot and a half down the front of my leg. It does not hurt anymore, so I’m ok waiting until I get home to remove the traveler. However, I don’t like carrying the extra weight since every gram counts!
I had seen Pizza Gary, who I now called “The Mayor,” while wandering around town early one morning and set up a ride back to the Florence-Kelvin trailhead for 7:30 AM on the 23rd. I did not want to ask for a ride since I knew I would not get Cricket up earlier and since he was shuttling out of the goodness of his heart. I tried to give him gas money, but I don’t recall if I eventually won the battle over him accepting funds. I may have hidden it in the cup holder.
We chatted briefly at the trailhead and then headed back into the desert. I felt sluggish for the past two days, so thankfully, the hiking was mainly downhill to the Gila. Crossing over the bridge, we encountered two hikers that Cricket stopped to chat with for a bit. I waved, said hi, and kept hiking.
The social aspect of backpacking and hiking is a big part of long-distance hiking for many people. This has increased with its popularity and exposure through social media. Hikers seek out groups of other hikers and now refer to themselves as Tramilies (Trail Families). I have seen some groups reach up to 20 people. It’s as if Spring Break has sometimes moved from the beaches to the trails and trail towns. On a positive note, this seems a healthier way for young people to party.
The next mile was on dirt roads, and I passed a long porta toilet. Gary told me it had been there for years, and the company had forgotten. However, he occasionally saw hikers coming out of it and was always surprised. I told him a random toilet in the middle of nowhere was a gift, regardless of its “condition.” I did not check the Kearny porta toilet, but it may have been an exception to the gift theory.
After stopping for a restroom break, I continued through classic but beautiful desert terrain. This section leaving Kearny was one of my favorites so far. I felt like hiking through a gently rolling botanical desert garden with intermittent rattles to keep me on my toes. I saw and heard at least three rattlesnakes!
Once I arrived at Walnut Canyon, I headed down an overgrown two-track to see if Cricket had gone to get water from the Gila. Suddenly, I heard a loud rattle under my feet and realized the stick I was about to step on was a giant rattlesnake! I threw myself back on one foot as I held the foot about to land on him in the air and landed flat on my butt! For a moment, we were eye to eye. He was only a few feet away as I stared at him between my legs. This was the closest I had ever been to the hundreds of rattlers I had encountered over the years, and I froze. My arteries were within striking distance.
I sat still as a stone, waiting for Mr. Snake to make a decision, and with agonizing slowness, he slithered across the road and into a bush about 10 feet away. I moved slowly in the opposite direction, crawling like a crab, then rose to my feet, turned, and walked back up the road. As the adrenaline drained from my muscles, my legs began to shake, and I sat down on a rock after looking under its edges closely. I decided I could wait for Cricket.
Cricket arrived a few minutes later, and we found a good shade tree for a break. We hiked together for the next few hours and stopped early for dinner along the Gila River. The river was an oasis in the desert, and as we ate, I watched all of the animals along its banks – primarily cows. However, I did see a coyote, a rabbit, and a multitude of songbirds. On the CDT, the Gila through New Mexico had been one of my favorite sections of the trail.
We stopped before our big climb into the Superstitions. We had met four people in Kearny who were skipping this chain of mountains. The climbs, old wildfire burn, and heat made them not worthwhile. For Cricket and me, this made them even more attractive. So what was all the fuss about? We needed to see for ourselves.