Day 43: 654 to 676

Tired is a word that described our morning. Tired and smelling of blackened pine from the fire last night. We were in valley, therefore cold would be another accurate word.

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 We headed down trail passing the fire ring. Picking up fish juice coated trash stored there over night as to not attach the inevitable critter to our tent. Our trash was there and we stuffed it in our packs, but the charcoal covered fish head was not.

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Our first challenge for the day was making an anticipated tough crossing of the Rio Vallecitos. As we got closer to the river, we could hear the might of its roar. We arrived and began to search for potential opportunities to cross upstream. With no luck, we returned to our packs sitting on the grass above the water. That is when a log was spotted laying perfectly over the river. The fallen tree reached longingly towards the opposing bank, not quite reaching it all of the way. This was the opportunity that we needed to get across safe and dry. Stepping up on the base of the trunk, we began stepping one foot in front of the other with our trekking poles out ready to catch if we were to lose balance. The tree narrowed as we hiked towards the top, when we reached the end. Now, it was up to us to figure out how to finish the act and land on the river bank. A bundle of limbs of a tree stuck out of the water creating a small, dry platform. We left the relative comfort of the sturdy log and put our trust into this bundle. Success! We reached the other side completely dry. So we hiked on joining back up with trail and following it through a mossy canyon. The trail took us into a field of aspens and sunshine yellow dandelions. Snaking us through a forest we worked our way higher into snow and wet marshlands.

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 We ate lunch at a campground where we treated ourselves to eating at a picnic bench and filling our bottles up with water from a pump. After lunch, we rounded the corner getting a great view of Hopewell Lake. The rest of the day was blanketed with snowpack. In between the mounds of snow, water flowed or collected making the snow more pleasurable walking then the latter.

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We began to descend into a valley where we were faced with two more river crossings, much smaller than the river at the beginning of the day. However, these proved to be extremely difficult. Narrow fast moving water surrounded by many feet of deep boggy areas. Staying dry seemed to be impossible. Dark clouds covered the sun taking with its light our warmth. Getting our feet wet was not ideal. Finally making it across, Garbelly jumped , barely making it, while Critter took her shoes off and waded through the water.

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The second crossing brought wet shoes, but by this point we were ready to find camp so we were not phased. We set up camp just in time for large hail stones to start bouncing off of our tent. We stayed in the warmth of our tent only getting out to boil water and pee. The hail ceased as the wind picked up. It would be a long night.

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 Cheers to good timing,

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 37: Fire in the Sky over the Rio Chama

We woke up around 6:30 to the sound of snow hitting our tent. The temperature was low enough that every breath we had breathed throughout the night had accumulated in a thin icy frost on the ceiling of our tent. Getting ready, we took care to quickly change our clothes while inside our sleeping bags and swiftly put on our down jackets. Critter was so far burrowed inside her sleeping bag that after all of this process her face had yet to be seen. The sound of snow continued. It would be a tough morning to wake up.

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We finally prepared everything to the point of putting our socks and shoes on and then breaking down the tent. As we grabbed for our socks from the day before, they were solid as a rock and felt more like we were holding wool knives. We started laughing and began having a sword fight with our frozen socks. We decided that it would definitely be a new sock day. We finished packing up and set off down the trail with the snow continuing to fall on our faces.

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Walking down the trail we still encountered more fallen trees as we did the day before, but the forest began to open up into lush green meadows. Upon entering one particularly large meadow, we spotted a man in jeans, thick leather boots and an old external frame pack. He asked us where we were headed. Garbelly answered, "north of here," and Critter said quickly, "eventually Canada." He smiled and told us where he was from and that he was headed to the top where we had just came from. We warned him of the large icy marshes and few spots to camp, but he didn't seem to mind. Just as he was parting he let us know that, just over the hill, we would be able to see the San Juans.

We quickly climbed the aspen peppered hill and sure enough, there sat massive, completely white mountains. All of them were steep and sharp and not completely welcoming and others still hidden behind a curtain of falling snow. We were not scared of the what was to come, but we were excited to find out what the upcoming weeks had in store for us. We turned to each other wide eyed and on the same page that if this trip had not already been exciting, these mountains would be an adventure.

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Just a few minutes later we came up to the most powerful spring either of us had ever seen. It was shooting water six inches straight up into the air at a rate of a gallon per second and the flowing down the hill as an ice cold creek. We needed water desperately and this was gold from the mountain gods. Unfortunately it was already 10:30am and we had only done a mile and a half. With the old hiker saying "ten miles by 10am," I think we were right on track. We each drank a liter and packed up two liters for the day ahead.

Jeremy had camped just below this spring and when we looked to see if he was awake, there were no signs of life. Garbelly waited for a couple seconds and saw movement so we both continued onwards.

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Then, we booked it nonstop all the way to the highway. We did this with the help of warmer weather and listening to The Hidden Life of Trees. Past the highway we were faced with our only big climb of the day. We decided that climbing the entire 1,300 feet before eating lunch would be a good idea. As we climbed, the forest around us began to transfer into large bluffs with striped murals of grey, yellow, white and red in a descending order. We were somewhat unsure, but we assumed this was the result of countless lifetimes of volcanic ash and erosion. As we climbed up the mountain we were traversing displayed its age. The silty soil collapsed beneath our feet with each step until we returned to a piney canopy that covered the trail in a dense layer of needles. We sat down to eat our lunch and dry out our soaking wet rainfly and tent.

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After a quick march across the top of this mountain, our day concluded with a steep descent into Ojitos Canyon. Here we crossed a muddy, sulphur scented stream a few dozen times and wound up in a beautiful sage brush meadow. Towering all around us, the beautiful multicolored mesas reflected their colors on the valley we were walking below. We felt like we were walking through a classic western film. A deep voice behind us greeting us with, "have you guys been running all day?" It was Jeremy. He had slept in until the sun hit his tarp around 11:30 am. We laughed at how late he had slept in and still caught us. We all three walked through the beautiful canyon, frequently stopping to take a few pictures. Even Jeremy, who had admitted to us that he had only taken six pictures since the Mexican border, stopped to capture the view.

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Just before we came to the Rio Chama we found a small cattle trough filled with crystal clear water. We quickly filtered while rain started to fall on our heads. Jeremy had enough water, so he headed across the river to find a spot to camp. A mile later we too were crossing skull bridge and the huge waters of the Chama. It was one of the largest tributaries of the Rio Grande and the largest river we had yet to see. The high waters spoke volumes of how much snow must be melting north near Colorado.

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As we ate our dinners, the sky lit up like fire before quickly fading to dark navy as the light drained from the land. 

Cheers to this symphony of light before the darkness of night.  

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 36: Los Pinos Trail

 

Leaving the warmth of our cozy room at the Frontier Motel was tough. An exceptionally cold day was beginning, and once on trail we would spend most of it above 10,500 feet.

 

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As we walked the road to the Los Pinos trailhead, thick grey clouds drifted low wrapping up the mountains and hiding them from view. We walked a residential street quickly becoming aware of how many dogs lived in the area. They would bark as we passed by but most were fenced in. We arrived outside of one house and three beautiful farm dogs ran down the driveway and right at us. One dog in particular became quite fond of us and tried to follow us all the way to the trailhead. He played a pretty pitiful act when we told him to go home. Being dog people and missing our own dog, we have to admit it was borderline heartbreaking. Finally, a good two miles away from his home, the dog turned around leaving our company.

We continued on to the trailhead where we left dirt road and entered trail.

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The trail was beautiful. Winding through large pines and aspen groves, we crossed flowing streams as we gradually climbed. Snow pack mounds started to pop up like large ant hills. The trail itself was beginning to disappear under several inches, then a few feet of snow. We stepped cautiously through the fresh snow following what was left of the dissolved shoe prints from the previous day.

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 Jeremey caught up to us during the climb, and we hiked with him to the top. As we climbed higher, more snow came into the picture, and with more snow came more water. Our warm, dry feet soon became cold, wet feet, and everyone went quiet, keeping our eyes to the trail and heads down. It was cold, really cold- the type of cold that hurts.

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As excited as we were to make elevation, now we wanted to lose it.

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We wanted to hike faster but with numb fingers and brick-like toes we could only move so fast. We finally rounded a corner and began our descent. It was beginning to get late, and even though we were not dealing with as much snow, now the obstacle was a graveyard of fallen trees.

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We fumbled our way down, trying to stay on trail as best we could, and we could see the sunset hitting the valley below.


A flat field was finally found, and without hesitation or discussion, we ran over to an appealing plot and set up camp. Finally, we had the warmth of our sleeping bags and a shield from the frigid air. 

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Cheers to warm hearts even when the toes grow cold.

 

Garbelly & Critter

Day 32: 497 to 519

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We hit 500 miles today, and honestly, we did not even noticed. Miles seem trifling when our goal is tremendous. 

 

Before we write about our day, let us first mention the morning. This morning we seemed to be in no rush. We called our moms to wish them a Happy Mother's Day and thank them for all that they have done for us, do for us, and for all of the unconditional support. While we ate our breakfast and made our phone calls, we enjoyed the view one last time. 

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Following the cliff line, the trail took us through Aspen fields of an old burn. The charred branches wove together forming intricate webs and against the sky, the patterns appeared permanently pressed into the deep blue.

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We began our descent down. Some parts were very steep, switching down hill. Other parts rolled over hills descending even lower on the opposite side. A pyramid shaped peaked stood before us and below it was a spring. We arrived at the spring, filled up, and had a small snack. A curious lizard, having just chowed down on a grub worm, ran right up to Critter filtering water. She offered her cap of water, but unsure about the offer, she ran over to Garbelly before running under a broken slab of stone.

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Once we had enough water to get us to our next source, or as much as we felt like carrying, we continued on our way. The water had a sulphuric after taste, so we added the last bits of our electrolyte drink mix to the bottles to mask the taste. 

 

Garbelly had a run in with some of the trail builders. Unfortunately, they have not been too friendly to us yet and rather skittish. Some went back to eating while we walked past, others stood there in what could only be dissatisfaction for causing them to move off of the trail. 

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We climbed down into a river canyon, but the river had been reduced to mud and silt. We climbed back out to follow a fence line towards towering cliffs and boulders.

Eastern Collared Lizard

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This stretch of trail was fascinating and changed so many times throughout the day. First we were following a trail through a flat land surrounded by canyons, distant and close by. Then we were climbing up and down over rolling hills, before climbing up a fold in a cliff. There were so many layers to our surroundings, and there was no one in sight.

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We ate lunch under a Juniper Tree sitting close to the trunk for shade. Looking down at where we had come from made us interested and curious in the miles to come, and the trail just got even better. 

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Walking on top of large sandstone boulders, we looked down at the shrinking trees and prairie as we climbed. The trail led us along intricate walls of rock and up and over as we climbed even higher into a world unknown to the dirt road below. 

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We followed the trail into a valley where we walked along a barbed wire fence before beginning to climb again. Mesa after mesa, we walked relatively flat trail with short steep climbs and even steeper descents. The orange of the rock anchored into the vast sky through the green of the sage brush and Juniper trees that decorated the plateau. 

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Taken back by how beautifully simple the land was and the delicate detail that lay in the crevices and encompassed by the water worn grooves. 

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Our day neared it's end as we began to descend down to a road. As we crossed the first dirt road when we came across a large black bull grazing in the middle of the trail. As soon as we saw him, he saw us and instead of moving out of the way, he took two steps squaring up with us. Picking his back hoof up and stomping it down, he stood there holding his ground as drool streamed from his mouth and nostrils. The angry bull always wins so we left the trail scrambling up a rock boulder to join the trail behind our new friend. Having lost interest in us, the bull began grazing again. We continued down the trail, frequently looking back over our shoulders just to make sure we were not being followed or charged. 

We crossed over paved highway to rejoin the trail on the other side. Off the trail a ways up, we came across a water cache left by the Trujillo family. We definitely needed water as our bottles were now bone dry. Thank you so much Trujillo family for helping out hikers! 

We felt good enough to get in another mile, to get away from the road, so we hiked another mile before looking for camp. That night we climbed on top of a hill, looking down at the trail. We had a perfect view of the sunset and another great camping spot.  

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Cheers to pushing yourself one more mile, because the trail provides.  

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 31: 473 to 497

Today marks one month on the trail, and we have to say we are still so happy to be out here. We would not trade our trail lives for anything.

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We woke up this morning with a goal in mind, eighteen miles to water by lunch time and then seven more to camp. To reach our first goal, we started walking a little bit after 7:00am, and we did not stop until we reached our lunch spot. We were walking more forest service roads that where laid out like ribbons through the prairie that we walked across. Mount Taylor stood with pride behind us, the snow catching the sunlight.

 

Road walking is tough on the feet and the mind, so around mile fifteen we considered stopping for lunch. However, we came up on a couple in front of us. They go by the name Thunder Snow, and immediately we started finding out how much in common we had. They were such a pleasure to talk and hike with that we felt out energy return, and we were suddenly motivated again to continue until the spring, which is where we initially planned on breaking.

 

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Arriving at the spring, we all sat our packs down and geared up for lunch. Today's menu included tortillas with avocado, cucumbers, cheese, and hummus.

Trail Tip: You CAN pack out fresh vegetables, hummus, and cheese. You just have to eat them within the first couple of days and be willing to carry the extra weight. Totally worth it.

 We snacked on peanut M&M's as a dessert, and continued our conversation with Thunder Snow and Jeremey, who was already at the spring when we arrived. Soon after, everyone headed out and up the trail to finish their days. We filtered some delicious spring water, and we, too, packed up and headed up the trail.

We hiked six more miles when we came upon an escarpment overlooking a gorgeous valley below. We could not pass up this camping spot, and satisfied with the day's mileage, we set up camp.

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We enjoyed our dinner, stretching, and winding down on rocks near the edge of the cliff. The sun was setting to our left, but the real magic was the coloring of the valley in front of us.  As our eyes panned across the horizon, we saw beautiful silhouettes of Cerro Parido and Cerro Palon against a cool color background, which faded into the warm colors of the sunset. 

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What got us was the overwhelming peacefulness. Aside from the wind, there was quiet. We were even startled by the propelling *whosh whosh* of a raven's wings as it suddenly flew over our heads.

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 For now, this is our life. Some days seem long, others fly by, but overall, we are shocked that we are already a month into the trail. We try to live in the present as best as we can, but each moment still is fleeting. The best we can do is appreciate every bit of it along the way, and believe us we are so grateful.

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 Cheers to being surrounded by beauty. There is so much in this world, and cheers to the fellow venturers you meet along the way.

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 26: 382 to 404

Waking up in a natural bowl on top of a ridge was very nice. There was no frigid wind to keep us in our sleeping bags and we got an early morning sun to warm us up. Thor and Cruise Control headed out towards La Ventanna Arch and we were close behind.

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We walked along the Narrows Rim Trail. It followed the edge of a Zuni sandstone bluff that towered over the vast lava fields spanning far into the distance. We read that the bluffs were created long ago when massive sand dunes were covered by thick sediment. The weight of this sediment was so heavy that it transformed the dunes into rock. After about three miles of walking, we rounded a corner and were able to see both Mt. Taylor (New Mexico's largest Peak) and La Ventana arch (New Mexico's largest natural arch).

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After we stood for a few minutes and admired the view, we decided to keep making distance to the next water before it got too hot. The Narrows Rim trail is actually an out and back that ends at this vista point. We had two options. We could either follow a steep mountain goat path down to the road or do an extra ten miles of backtracking to avoid a dangerous hike. If you can find a thru hiker that would walk five miles in the wrong direction just to walk another five miles on the highway just to avoid scrambling down a bluff, have them email us so we can talk some sense into them. We consulted the maps again before heading down and sure enough there was a dotted line signifying the lack of trail in this area.

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We started down the mountain carefully watching our footing with each placement. Rocks continued to slide out from under us and roll quickly towards the bottom coming to rest against scrub brush and small trees. We zigged and zagged, creating our own switchbacks to control our descent. Finally we made it down in one piece. We had arrived to a meadow just below La Ventana and placed our feet again on a smooth concrete path. The arch was astonishing. According to a kiosk, the arch began forming 140 million years ago during the Jurassic Period when the earths growing pains created cracks that allowed water to pass through. Over the years, the water caused the rock to fall away leaving only the giant arch.

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We began walking the road again. In the middle of a field, a giant sandstone monolith stood alone. The profile of this stone was that of a woman. Locals believe that she stands in the desert watching over the land and its inhabitants. Shortly after, we came to a pullout on the side of the road that marked the start of the Zuni-Acoma Trail. At this roundabout a Grants trail angel, Carole Mumm, had cached water here for hikers. We took a liter for the next nine miles of lava field trails and began our volcanic journey.

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At first, the lava was such a change of scenery that it was fun and exciting. Following only cairns, we climbed up and down a roller coaster of volcanic flow. Large plates of Pahoehoe, a term that describes sheets of smooth billowy lava, extended as far as we could see. As we walked up to the crest of one of these plates, a deep fissure would span in between the two sheets and we would leap over.

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After a few miles, our shoes finally began showing small signs of the wear and tear from the razor sharp rocks and our ankles began to ache from the ever changing footpath. The rock we were walking on radiated the heat from the sun just as asphalt in the city does in the summertime. We ate a quick lunch and quickly went back to hiking to try and get across the black rock as quickly as we could. We passed the entrance to lava tube caves and walked over sinkholes and the collapsed rock of caves that once were.

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The type of lava rock changed as we walked, seemingly signifying different eruptions. Some flows we definitely liked more than others. One In particular was made solely of baseball sized lava bombs, imperfectly shaped rocks formed from being shot from a volcano and cooling midair. This was not our favorite part.

As we came to the end of this trail and approached the highway, we had two options. We could either hitch seven miles to a visitor center and fill up from a spigot and then hitch (walk) back to trail, or we could risk it and walk six miles to an electric pump that may or may not be working. Collectively we had a half liter of water, but we believed in the trail and that we would find water along the way. Sure enough, three prairie dog hole filled miles later we came upon a beautiful windmill pumping out clear pristine water. Two other hikers, Hannah and Charlie from Lake Tahoe were here filling up as well. It would be a dry march into town the next day and we would be dry camping, so we all four filled up with five liters of water.

The temperature suddenly dropped twenty degrees as the sun hid behind dark clouds. In the distance we could see Virga clouds and their evaporating streamers of rain quickly heading our way. So we booked it three miles to camp. It seemed as if we made it in ten minutes. We had perfect timing. Just as we were staking down our rainfly, huge droplets of rain starting rattling the tent. We did not mind one bit at this point. We had hiked a beautiful day and would be filling our bellies with food from town in the morning. We fell asleep with these thoughts and did not wake up for a single, powerful gust of wind through the night. What a day.

Cheers to new frontiers!

Garbelly & Critter

Day 25: 355 to 382

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Walking twenty-seven miles of road through flat New Mexico desert is a perfect time to listen to the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Like the story, our desert, too, appears old and wise. Our desert has a language of its own, one that through our journey we have begun to understand. We learn from the animals just as we learn from their absence. The wind teaches us about persistence, and the sun teaches us about impermanence. Our days are no longer linear. Here, time is circular. That wonderfully pleasant hour of crisp morning air and the energizing warmth of the waking sun do not last. Soon the sun intensifies, but as we circle back around we are once again thankful for the morning. The days allow us to meditate, and the nights allow us to drift away. We experience moments of euphoria, while other moments are weighted down with sadness. The desert cannot be experienced through a single emotion.

Life here is beautiful. The plants and the animals that commit to life in the desert are stubborn and tough. However, death is inescapable. Whether it is the hawk hunting for the prairie dog, or the gopher snake stalking the jack rabbit, or the irresistible dryness, life does not tread lightly, but instead with purpose and pride.

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Our journey began in the desert. The desert has tested us time and time again, but our dream remains here traveling along this path North.

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As we walk this road today, we have the words of Santiago, his finding true love, his personal legend, and the search for his treasure as background to our own quest and our own love. The desert is a magical place. As we hear about Santiago's signs, or omens, we experience our own. Just when the road started to discourage us, a couple from Wyoming pulled to the shoulder of the road offering us Spicy Hot V8's and an apple. The trail provides. Just as we were feeling good about the day and the remaining miles ahead, another car pulls over and the experience made us uncomfortable as all heck. We have learned that the ebb and flow of balance out here explains these good and bad moments. 

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After 26 miles of a hard road walk, we arrived at the Narrows Rim Trailhead. We left the road and climbed up a sandstone trail. The sun rested lower in the sky, and we hiked for about a mile before sitting down on top of the ridge line to make dinner. We were 500 feet above fields of lava that reached towards the horizon, and the sun was right in front us. We were eating dinner when down the trail with his spoon in his mouth walks Thor! We had stopped for dinner only a couple of yards away from camp, so we grabbed our things and scurried up the trail. We set up our tent in a depression in the rock, and we were shielded from the wind. 

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The sun began to set as we sat on the edge of the bluff. We did not move until the sun had disappeared below the horizon taking the day's light with it. It was a beautiful sunset after a tough day. 

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Cheers to balances, the good and the bad!

Garbelly & Critter

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(Attention Thru Hikers) We found great water, but it is on a ten minute timer. Don't worry if it turns off before your get water! Just wait.  This pump is about 8 miles up the road from John and Anzi's home.