Walking out of Pie Town on only one ankle was a vote of confidence in myself and a bit of an act of dirty and expressionless momentum. This is not to say that I was not happy to get going again... but how sure can you ever be about injured nights in the desert amidst historically unpredictable weather in Northern New Mexico...and for that matter the western US. The weather doesn't even have to be bad; it's the anxiety about it that drives you crazy. Will that monstrous gray cloud kill me...no... that one? Could be. But it's of course little more than partially justified paranoia and you keep walking and glancing up. At least it takes my mind off the ankle. The first day out of Pie Town was a lonely 15 mile road walk across a breezy elevated plateau of stern private property markers - and cows, and cow shit. I popped ibuprofen to keep the swelling down and wrapped my ankle to get through the day and with each guarded step I learned a less painful way to place my foot to the ground. This is obviously not what your doctor would tell you to do to recover...but given the full range of motion, minimal swelling, no touch tenderness, and yes lack of hikers remaining in Pie Town, I figured I'd be fine on mostly level road walks. And I was half right. Damn, the roads are hard on your body. On day two around four PM I came to the first turn of this section up an old BLM pedestrian only rec area up a canyon in the only mointains visible for miles from the remote road. What a treat! With a cold wind from the south I put on light layers and booked it into the shelter of the hills where I was greeted by a lifeless spring and an eerie abandoned cabin that must be more than a century old--- and petroglyphs that I must assume are far older. The road turned to dirt around here and the relief from ankle pain was immediate and I might have even smiled for a moment. All sunshine in me then, chilly clouds be damned. Welcome back Pep, meet my home boy Step. It's a marvelous feeling when you get into the flow of things. Better still when pain free. I have a new appreciation for dirt. Pavement and gravel...not so much. I walked until eight that night quite literally dancing northbound to motown. A young group of four were camped off the road at the exit point (of Sand and Armijo canyons) and offered words of encouragement. Ah, sweet folks they were. Getting out of town. No real reason. Just dig it. I understand completely. I got water from a nearby productive windmill and used my headlamp to find a sheltered campsite - in open arroyo. Woops. Questionable but steady skies that night and only distant flashes. Fine by me, mostly. Solid soil and I bent a stake. Well... cant get too worked up about small things like that. No room for negativity in a hikers mind. Poor "expedition behavior" that. If you let that get to you, tomorrow you might panic if something more serious happens when you should instead maintain composure and make good decisions to keep the hike and yourself alive. A javelina visited me that night. No rest for the weary. A tiring 24 mile day. On day 3 I was up at five and walking by six, back on cold paved highway for eight or so miles. More winds that day. Imagine that. I had entered El Malpais, which is just as rosy to hike across as its name suggests. It extended to my western horizon. Yikes. To my right was a parking lot and DIRT TRAIL which went to an unofficial alternate rim route on a cliff overlooking the pumice field. No cumbersome thinking about it at all. All feel. With high spirits and knowledge of the broader route you are taking you have the pleasure of doing such tiny but satisfying deviations. Something about unobstructed views is healing to a hiker mind and body. At the end of the rim route was an ambitious scramble back down to the road. Still better than pavement for my ankle. At two I reached a turn off for a route across the pumice and rested under. Juniper for an hour chugging water. The turn off marked a 30 mile dry stretch into town, so it was best to overdo it on hydration to avoid a bad situation in the middle of unnavigable lava hills and canyons. Upwards and onwards. Hellscape, unforgiving but beautiful. Cold winds and distant towering clouds shadowed the primitive cairn route, back came the sky anxiety. One mile an hour, and painful on my improving ankle despite my basic treatments. Slow going is bad for hiker spirits, the contrast made worse by my recent confidence in my health and pace. I ignored all unhappy thoughts and got to the western end of the field as the sun went below the hilled horizon. Dirt once more, relief once more. And beer. At a road crossing just past the lava was a man from New York stealth camping with a growler of local micro. Chat and laughs. Two month journey, his. No reason. None needed. Indeed. Two more miles to make it a low 20, then bed. At one AM there were nearby engines and many gunshots. All good fun, no need for panic. Saturday night.
The last day into town was a dirt road slog through aptly named Bonita Canyon. Red cliffs, green trees, littered but no people. Lovely enough, absolutely. Then down Zuni Canyon into Grants just in front of an angry sky.
My ankle is improving rapidly as I walk and I have no concerns. Confidence now, and maybe a strained fearful neck. Gonna have to get used to the weather.
All good fun. Nearing Colorado. Two weeks, maybe less. Next stop Cuba NM. Plenty of snow in CO, so there’s no real hurry. Ciao!