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. 

Day 24: One Last Piece of Pie

We woke up in the Toaster House just in time to catch a glimpse of red bursting from the clouds on the horizon. From the 'penthouse's' East facing window, we could see a small, but vibrant frame of the sun rise.  Laying there in our sleeping bags we wrestled with the idea of leaving Pie Town, but with weather moving in we figured it would be better to get back on trail. We packed up our bags, and we headed to have one last breakfast and one final piece of pie before hitting the road.

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For hikers, it is more like 85, if not more. 

For hikers, it is more like 85, if not more. 

Back on trail, we were walking a dirt farm road away from town. We had fifteen miles to John and Anzi's ranch where we could fill up on water and even stay the night. A couple miles in dark clouds creeped up behind us, and for the rest of the day we would experience patches of high winds, which caused the dirt and sand to kick up and blast our legs, and cold, sideways rain. However, just when the rain would pick up enough for us to finally stop and pull out our rain jackets the rain would stop and the wind would die down. Several minutes later another large cloud would move overhead and bring the same winds and rain. The land was flat so we could see miles in all directions. We could see rain about half a mile to our right, and once the weather passed over us, we could watch it for miles.

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As we got closer to the Thomas' Ranch, Cruise Control caught up to us. We walked a little with him and talked about fly fishing and hiking before he motored on past and up the road.

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We came around a curve in the road and up over a hill when we saw an American Flag waving in the wind. There was an old log cabin right off of the road and a mailbox with the name 'Thomas' written on the side. Leaving the road, we headed up their driveway. From the outside of the pole barn, we heard John's voice, and we knew we were in the right place.

Knocking on the door, we were greeted by Thor and Cruise. We sat our bags down and took a seat, as John continued his story.

 

An amazing human art is the art of storytelling. Even if the details, plot, or characters are not the most important part, the underlining theme could be what gets past on as the stories are shared. John's theme is that of connectedness. Through multiple stories in his life, this theme is commonly expressed. In complete awe of how small this big world is, he shared stories of friends, family, and people he met and how they came up in other facets of his life. Everyone is connected. Through hearing John's stories, we learned about how rich in these beautiful instances of connection his life is, and what a life he has lived so far. 

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As the stories began to settle down, they let us cook our dinners in their kitchen. That night they allowed us to stay in one of their old RV's. Before we headed to bed, we said our good-byes and profusely thanked them. 

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To John and Anzi, thank you so much for spending the time and sharing stories of your lives with us. We wish you good health and happiness, until we meet again! 

 

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 19: John Kerr Fire


The cold has not decided to leave us yet. Waking up with our water filters inside our sleeping bags and frozen water bottles in the tent vestibule did not phase us at this morning.

 

We had camped in a valley next to an algae filled creek. Just a hundred feet behind us, a herd of cattle wandered around eating their breakfast (which is the same as their lunch and dinner). We packed up, put our down jackets on and started walking to get to the spring. We cherished the moments on the road where sun light leaked through providing a slight warmth to our skin. Our only clean water source for the next twenty five miles was in five miles, so we were eager to get there.  The other sources would be murky cow ponds and chewing water is never fun.

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The spring had been turned into a cattle trough with an old tire. Just behind, a large drainage pipe had been inserted vertically over the spring and was filled with clean ice cold water. We loaded up and started up a steep gravel road towards the trail. That's right, trail.

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It felt so good to be back on a single track dirt path. We did not even mind all of the fallen trees from a previous fire, or the sometimes excessive cairns and CDT signs. We had a footpath to walk. Searching for the trail for ten hours a day can be mentally exhausting. Now we could actually walk and ponder all of the things that someone ponders when they have all the time in the world. Religion, politics, or a scholarly article we once read in college? No, we had more time to think about how many snacks we had left in our backpacks and what kind of pie we thought the next town would have. The important things.

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What a treat to run into such awesome people on the trail! Best of luck on your section hike, and we hope to run into you guys again up the trail. 

What a treat to run into such awesome people on the trail! Best of luck on your section hike, and we hope to run into you guys again up the trail. 

 

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Around two in the afternoon we had covered about thirteen miles and decided to sit down and eat lunch. Earlier, we had notice small, wispy clouds rolling over John Kerr Peak. Now that we were closer and had a better view, we could tell that those clouds were part of a small forest fire that had begun. We could also tell that since we first saw the clouds, there were more, and they were denser and had a darker coloring at the forest line. After checking maps and seeing that no roads or trails led to where the fire was burning, we decided that it was strange and should be reported. We quickly ate and ran up the opposite facing mountain to try to get signal and call the forest service. Near the top, Critter got cell service and we called to let them know about the fire. A woman told us that a crew was on their way to investigate the fire and bring it under control. It was a huge relief for the rest of the day as we hiked and that night for camping. 

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We went about six more miles to a saddle in the mountains and had a beautiful view of the sunset. We set up camp under an huge alligator juniper. 

 

Today had been beautiful. Most of the day we had walked a ridge that gave us views of distant mountains intertwined with vast prairies. The land here seemed to roll on forever without any trace of houses or paved roads. It's nice to know that there are still expanses of our populated country that continue to stay wild.

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Stay wild, Friends!

Garbelly & Critter 

Day 16: Middle Fork of the Gila River

 

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If you have ever witnessed a bird try to fly against the wind or a beaver try to swim against a strong current, then you can easily understand how our day went. We woke up at a reasonable 6:30 AM and packed up our things. By 7:00, Garbelly was wondering across the stream to take one last dip in Jordan Hot springs before we all left. Then our long day of looking for trail and fighting the river began.

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Hiking seems to never stop teaching us lessons. Our lesson today was that even when there is no trail or path, humans seem to always find the path of least resistance. We wandered through the middle of nowhere with no trail and throughout the entire day we found footprints of a hiker a day in front of us. We also learned that sometimes there was no path of least resistance.

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The hiking was a very slow moving process. Sometimes we crossed the river over eight times in the same mile and lacked trail for the entire stretch. Every now and then we would find an old lichen covered cairn leading the way to sections of old trail. Even though that trail was usually covered in fallen trees and briars, anything was better than walking over baseball sized rocks and loose sand.

 

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The other reason our day slowly progressed was due to the unbelievable beauty of where we were walking. Yes our feet were soaked, freezing and hurt, but the pristine beauty that surrounded us was enough to distract us from our discomfort and pain. The beauty is what gets us through every day.

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Stone cathedrals and pipe organs lined the walls of the serpentine canyon we wandered, playing a hymn as bright as the sky as the wind swept through the towers and trees. The sound of rushing water never leaving its accompaniment. The land of enchantment had us all lost in its mesmerizing song.

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As we approached the end of the day and began to look for camp, the sky and the trees were filled with birds of prey. Black Hawks with beautiful white striped tails, a golden eagle, falcons, a raven and black vultures swarmed the sky. Amidst the granite spires and towering ponderosas, they seemed as if they were pterodactyls from a time long ago.

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Finally, we found a place to camp, after setting up in the never ending wind and eating dinner. We stretched and quickly went to bed. It had been a long day and sleep had never sounded better.

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Cheers to wet socks and cold shoes! 

Garbelly & Critter  

Fields and fields of Horse Tail!  

Fields and fields of Horse Tail!  

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Day 15: Gila Hot Springs to Jordan Hot Springs

It seemed we were the first to get up and moving at the campgrounds. We quickly packed away our things as quietly as we could and made our way up the road. With a quick stop to pet the baby goats one last time, we were on our way to the Gila Cliff Dwellings four miles away. We swung by the visitors center and the artifacts museum before walking the road to the trail.

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Once arriving at the trail up to the dwellings, we received a quick introduction from a very friendly USNP ranger and even grabbed a photo and a couple of jokes. With our packs stored away at the ranger station, we felt so weird and light hiking up to the dwellings. As we hiked up the trail, we saw a good amount of Banded Crevice Lizards sunning on rocks before making bee-lines into the cracks.

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As soon as we began the ascent, the front of the cliff came into view. The darkness of the cave in which the dwellings were tucked made their shape pop in the sunlight. The trail took us up and then on a path around the seven dwellings and through three of them, which is unique to this particular park since most parks do not allow people inside the dwellings.

As we came around to the first dwelling, a large empty area with soot on the rock ceiling, a woman was sitting on a bench nearby. She talked to us about how fifty years ago to the day her and her husband visited these dwellings for the first time. They had come back to visit them, and she was taken back how nothing had changed. There is a lot to be said for how well these dwellings have been preserved in our modern age. Unfortunately, artifacts go missing and the drawings fade, but the fact that we try our best to protect this land's story is worth something.

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The volunteer at the site showed us cave paintings high up on the rock ceiling as well as on the face of the cliff's wall. These paintings date back to the Mimbres Tribe, part of the larger Mogollon group, even older than the builders and inhabitants of the dwellings. Apparently, the most common painting to find are handprints, either outlined or in bold. We also do human shaped drawings and animals, such as deer. These dwellings were merely a temporary home for their inhabitants, barely one generation, before they moved on. Visiting the Cliff Dwellings was so amazing. We highly recommend visiting the Gila Cliff Dwellings to learn more and to experience them in person. Here is a link to find out more!

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After we finished up at the dwellings and ate a bite of lunch, we headed back up the road. Along the way, we stopped to check out more paintings on the rock beside the road. Then, just a little bit further was the trailhead at TJ Corral. This trail would take us on an alternate route, but a shorter route, back to the Gila River.

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We followed the trail as it took us up onto a ridge and through rolling fields. We could see mountains surrounding us as we gained elevation and everything opened up. However, the trail would dump us out at the river, so we knew all the work we put in to gain elevation would be lost. Sure, enough we started heading down in a valley on the other side. Following a dried stream-bed we swerved from side to side as we descended. The side of the mountain we were on turned into large boulders surrounding us which turned into towering pillars of rock forming steep walls on either side. We started snaking through an incredible slot canyon, narrowing down as it funneled us to the river. The walls grew high and each bend in the canyon we took four walls of rock boxed us in until it opened up to the most beautiful section of river we had ever seen.

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Lusciously green flora, the pop of the red rock walls against the bluest sky, and the Middle Fork of the Gila River flowing crystal clear through the most perfect little rapids and the generously colored rock bottom. What a sight. From the meadow turned slot canyon and now this sight, we were in awe. This place was heavenly. The birds sang a perfect melody. A large, six foot Gopher Snake did not even surprise us as it slithered across the trail, stopping on the other side to watch us go by. Everything was beautiful. We were surrounded by so much life. We practically skipped up the trail as schools of fish swam by, their golden color catching glimpses of sunlight. Around each bend in the river, we found more beauty.

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The day ended at a natural hot springs. We threw our packs down on the other side of the river, and we ran up to the hot springs and jumped in. Solitude was the magic here. Tucked up a small hill and back into some trees was this little waterfall and a turquoise clear pool. The water was bath water warm, and the bottom of the pool was covered in small, rounded pebbles. We sat in the hot springs until we pruned, and then made our way towards camp.

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Cheers to an amazing day!

Garbelly & Critter

Saving a Horny Toad from the highway
Saving a Horny Toad from the highway
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We cannot get enough of this place.  

The river crossings continued only 120 more to go.  

The river crossings continued only 120 more to go.  

Day 13: Sapillo Creek + The First Crossing of the Gila River

 

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The day started off in a pine forest weaving through land that held the secrets of centuries past. The remains of an old burn left fallen trees silvery black in the sunlight. The canopy towered over us, and the wind in the pine needles created a constant rumble. We finished our climb up to Tadpole Ridge (8023 feet) just as the sun was beginning to hit our side of the mountain. In the distance, we could see the hoodoos of Doug's front yard and the mesa behind them. Garbelly yelled down, "Good-morning, Doug," and the trees rattled back as his voice faded into the wind. When we reached the top, we came to the intersection where the Columbus route meets the Crazy Cook route. 

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From here, we began our descent down. Next stop, the Gila River Canyon. We came to a sign that read 'Gila River 2 miles', and then we began the real descent. Straight down to the river we slid for over a mile until the trail turned into switchbacks. The first couple of views of the canyon put a skip in our step as we picked up our pace to the river. The red rock faces stood like giants, and just a sliver of the river came into our sight.

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Before hitting the Gila, we first came upon Sapillo creek which feeds into the river. The water ran crystal clear over multicolor rocks. It was amazingly beautiful. Garbelly and Thor ran up the side of the cliff on the opposite side to explore a small slot cave tucked into the rock.

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Critter did what Critter does best, investigating the critters in the water. Flipping over rocks, we found Mayfly nymphs and everywhere you looked delicate shelters housing Caddisfly larvae could be seen. The pebbles they were usually reflected the colorful rock beds they lived in. We filtered some water about 1.5 liters. As we were kneeled down over the water and our filters, we picked up a stone that had a large, dark Mayfly nymph sitting completely still on the stone's underside. The stone was about to be placed back in the water when all of a sudden the carapace on the back of the nymph began to split. We sat there and watched the Mayfly emerge from its nymph shell. The wings came first tissue thin and standing straight up in the air. Next the head, tailing behind the long, segmented abdomen, and finally the three tails, long and hair-thin. The tiny Mayfly wiggled it's wings dry and it's slender body and then just sat there. We sat there in complete awe just staring at it before it caught a break in the wind and flew away.

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Our first sight of the river was just too much for words. To our left was a giant slab of rock elbowing as the water flowed around the bend like the very vein of the canyon. Thick luscious green cottonwoods, oaks, and pines colored in all of the negative space that the water and rock carved out. To our right, more gorgeous rock and sparkling water. We could see another bend in the rock and water upstream. We sat for a few and ate lunch consisting of hummus, cheese, summer sausage (Garbelly), and tortillas. Our map said that we did not have to cross the river yet, but rivers change. We made our first of many river crossings through the chilly, swift waters of the Gila River. We waded to one side curving around a bend then waded to the other. On land we waded through thick pile of debris from a flood a couple years back, and in the water, we waded one step at a time against the rush of water and the gusts of wind. Anticipating how many times we would have to cross back to back, we left our shoes and socks on. When we climbed back up on the steep banks of land, our feet felt like bricks from the water in our shoes and the chill of the water. Our feet were wet, and they would not dry out until camp that night.

Hot springs along the river. 

Hot springs along the river. 

 As we made a crossing, we saw a fellow dressed in tan camouflage and tan waders with a straw hat on setting up camp in the sand. His green raft was anchored up on shore, and his tent matched his own disguise. The sight of us interrupted the staking down the tent process, it seemed from where we were at, and we wandered over to introduce ourselves. Turns out he was floating down a forty mile stretch of the Gila and turkey hunting! We spoke to him for awhile, and he even let us in on the tip that where he was camping for the night were some hot springs. The algae in the water was a sign of hot springs underneath the sand. All you had to do was dig a pit in the sand with the head of an old shovel that was sticking out of the sand, wait for it to fill with river water, and then wait for it to warm up. You could regulate the temperature by letting more river water in to cool it off or cutting off the flow to warm it up. Fascinated, we stuck our feet and hands in and sure enough they were toasty, just like a hot springs. We spoke a little bit longer before wishing each other a good trip. We had a couple more miles to go before we wanted to call it a day, and we wanted to squeeze in as many more crossings as we could.

 

We ended up with 22 crossings for the day. That night we camped in a patch of trees and ate dinner on a sandy beach while we watch the stars come out and the river float on.

 

Cheers to a new chapter: The Gila River!

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 12: The Gila Hermit

We woke up at the junction of the CDT and the Gila River Route and took in the cool crisp air. We had all gotten a good nights rest and were excited about our day ahead. The Gila River was calling us. In fact it was 20 miles in so we set that in our sights as the day's goal.

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For the first few miles we hiked a roller coaster of forest service roads and trails. After crossing an unsuspected creek, we began climbing our first mountain of the day. The cool morning air gave us perfect conditions for the climb. Halfway up, a road crossed the trail and a silver pickup creeped by us. Dressed in camo, he rolled his window down and let us know that he was turkey hunting. That must have explained the unusual sounding turkey we heard when we woke up. Then again, turkey calling is an art.

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As we climbed over the ridge we saw layers and layers of mountains. A few miles later, we arrived at a beautiful healthy mountain stream, Bear Creek, and filtered some much needed water. We started another gradual climb after leaving the stream. This time we ended up on top of large, roasted red pillars of rock looking out at more pillars standing in the distance. The sun was shining bright on us but the spring breeze kept us comfortable while we stopped for a snack and to climb around on the rock. We were determined to go a couple more miles before stopping for lunch so we threw our packs back on and continued up the mountain. All three of us took our own paces at this point with the idea of meeting at the next water source to relax and eat lunch.

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This is when we met Doug. A little back story on Doug: Eighteen years ago with his belongings in an old Gregory pack, Doug hiked into the Gila. Out of exhaustion, he got to a point where he threw down his pack and exclaimed, "God, if you want me to live in solitude, then I will live in solitude." Among rocks and dirt, he made his first home, as he called it his "hobbit home". For years he lived here, living off of the land and ramen noodles.

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We met Doug when Thor was found (by Doug) standing in a corral. When we caught up, the conversation had already started, and what we would later found out is that Doug does not just step out of his hidden world to talk to anyone. 

For most people these days, if you need to learn how to do something, you look it up on the internet and figure it out instantly. Doug has figured out his entire way of life from trial and error and most importantly creativity. He figured out how to make bread in a Dutch oven on the stove top by cooking it on one side for about fifty minutes and then pulling the bread out, flipping it and then cooking the other side. Through years of hard work he is figuring out how to grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in an extremely hot and arid, high altitude environment. 

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Doug has also figured things out by running into the right people. He had tried to figure out how to sew with the fibers and needle from the agave plant as the Native Americans did long ago, but was not sure how they got enough thread. Through meeting an old trapper and on a different occasion, a Japanese thru hiker, he figured out that the agave produces the needle and yuca produces the thread. Which he then taught us the entire process and let us keep it as a "hermit souvenir." 

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Doug was kind enough to show us his life in the woods. He showed us what he eats every day, 1.5 ounces of a mixture of sprouted beans, and he said that as soon as he started eating this particular mixture he did not crave living foods, garden foods, anymore. This made it so that his garden was just an experiment. The entire time that he was walking us through his life he kept circling back to the idea of creativity, and that it is creativity that he has found in his solitude. His passion for what he does radiated from inside him in even the simplest demonstration of his daily routine. We were so taken back by his life and how, well, awesome he is.

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There is so much more we want to share with you about our experience with Doug because of how much it meant to us, but who knows, maybe you will find yourself getting caught in his corral one day and get to step inside Doug's world for yourself! 

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With only a couple hours left of sunlight (we had been there for five hours), we raced up to Tadpole ridge to filter enough water for the night, set up camp, and got ready for sleep. Sleep came easy, but not without a recap of the day as our brains still were processing it all.  

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We truly believe that the Gila had given us a proper welcome. Until we meet again, Doug! 

Cheers!  

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 7: Burrow Peak

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No worries we didn't drink this water. 

No worries we didn't drink this water. 

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Filtering water at a windmill.  

Filtering water at a windmill.  

Surviving the night became more of a nuisance than anything due to not feeling refreshed in the morning, but that did not hold us back. The day had some exciting miles ahead and our day would end at Burrow's Peak, technically our first climb of 2,000 feet. The miles came easy as we wound our way deeper into the hills. We were still walking road at first, but mid-morning we hit trail. Actual trail. Beautiful, actual trail. Our enthusiasm almost had us running. There was shade from pine trees and new flowers and new critters. We were in alpine desert, and it was just what we needed after all that desert walking.

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Miles came quicker, quicker than we had planned out, but we figured we would deal with that later. See, planning is important to determine how much food and water to carry and currently we were carrying way too much.

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By 4:00pm we had made it to our initial stopping point for the day, but with so much day left we figured we would keep going. We stopped at Burrow's Peak trailhead to find trail magic in the form of water, a Pepsi, fruit, and beer. For the 7 miles of trail leading up to this moment we saw sign after sign saying "magic" with an arrow pointing down hill, but we could not imagine that there would be anything more than water. We even saw signs for beer, but we kept our doubts. Boy, were we wrong! Thank you so much, Kinsley!!! We cannot express how much we appreciated your kindness and magic! It gave us just want we needed to begin the first 2 miles of the climb up Burrow's Peak.

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When we hit our 2 mile goal, we found a camp spot under a tree, made dinner and watched the sunset. We actually got in our tents before it was fully down, and then we slept. The wind grew strong through out the night. 

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter