After stuffing myself with pie and loving the Toaster House, while in Pie Town, it was unfortunately time to start the hike to Grants. We left late in the afternoon after meeting two other CDT hikers, Trip and Michigan Wolverine, in cafe where we were having a late lunch. I couldn’t resist having one more piece of pie before I left. We chatted for a while and shared stories of the past section, which is customary to do with other hikers. They are both great guys and I was glad to bump into Michigan Wolverine later on the trail in the El Malpais ” The Badlands” . We left the Toaster House with new hiker friends, Virgo and Nicotine, and did a 10 mile road walk until we called it a night near the road out of town. It was a cool night with a half moon that lit up my tent.
The next morning we started on a full day of road walking before we hit Amejo Canyon which would be our camp for that night. We got water halfway through the day by stopping at the Thomas ranch which is run by some of the sweetest people I had ever met.
John and his wife have lived on the ranch for many years, having purchased the property from a flyer they happened to receive in the mail many years before . They ranched the property and lived in a what you would call a “large open shed” that they converted into their living space. Everything was beautifully compartmentalized and decorated with antique, family pictures and an old west-looking ‘outhouse’ indoors. Its was a wonderful place. We sat and talked with them for 2 hrs about all the hikers that had come through the property since they started hosting hikers in the late 90’s, I believe. They had nothing but good things to say about hikers and the visitors they’ve had over the years. John told us stories about his time being a medic in Korea and how proud he was of his service and his continued mission work around the world. He was a pastor and his wife had joined him in his journey while raising their children.
John told us a story about how he had saved a man’s life in Korea. He was called to a mortar explosion that a private had been unfortunate enough to be standing near. When John arrived he used what he calls his “basic” military medical training to help the private whose insides were now outside of his body. The skin tends to shrink after the tension has been released from it so he picked up a large safety pin that was used to close laundry baskets and pinned the skin to his pelvis, pushing all of his insides back into his body. They had been laying on his chest before that time and it was doubtful that the private would survive. John did all he could for him and took him to the helicopter that would take him to the MASH unit that was waiting for him but not before he took a picture of the chopper as it flew away. Fast forward 42 years, and after some investigative w0rk by John over the years, he obtained a phone number from the private’s cousin he’d found through the internet. With shaking hands, dialed the number and waited for someone to pick up… ring… ring… ring… Finally someone picked up and it was the man whom he had saved 42 years earlier. John told him his name and explained “I was one of the medics that pinned you up that day.” The shocked private acknowledged, saying only “Oh, Oh…” Unsure of what to do next, John asked him if he had plans for breakfast, being as the phone number was in the same area. The private told him that he ate breakfast at the same place everyday, and he suggested they meet there. John replied “Ok, I’ll meet you there but you better not die tonight because I’ve waited 42 years to meet you again.”
The next morning, two men who had not seen each other for 42 years are face to face in a coffee shop. They embrace other and quietly start to cry. This is the story that John tells us and as he tears up, I can feel myself doing the same. This is bravery and love from service that I will never know. It warms my heart thinking about it even now.
John then embraced his wife, for whom he has so much love, it practically glows from their faces and bodies. It was truly a wonderful place to rest our weary bones. Two hours later, we continued on our road walk until dark when we reached the canyon and setup camp for the night. The next day we headed up and over the ridge to Sand Canyon, which as you expect, was lots of walking on road and sand that just sapped the energy out of me. Virgo is a faster hiker than me, so he took off and we didn’t see him again until we arrived at Grants. Everyone has their own hiking style, and that’s fine with me. We continued down the canyon and eventually started our road walk to the Rim Trail which provides a great overlook of the Ventana Arch and the expansive volcanic area called El Malpais National Monument.
The black basalt terrain was created over the past million years by volcanic forces that created this vast landscape of cones, trenches and caves. The black volcanic rock was tough to walk on and brought the end of my shoes by cutting up the soles so badly that my feet were completely exposed to sand. The going was slow but, the beauty of the landscape and it’s rugged terrain was a great change of pace. After the 4 hours of walking across the El Malpais we entered the final canyon which would take us to Grants the next day. We camped that night on the side of the forest road with Michigan Wolverine, who we’d caught up to toward the end of our hike in the Malpais. The next day we continued on the forest road but not before spotting my second snake of the trip. It was sunning itself on the road and cared less that we were near it until we got a closer at it. It was still a young snake so it’s rattle wasn’t loud and it didn’t seem as afraid of us, as I was of it.
Walking into Grants I was happy to back in a town that provided me with the opportunity to rest and relax before the next section. We stayed at the Travel Inn, which has cheap rates, and did our laundry, which needed lots of presoaking. I’ve learned that washing machines are designed for normal humans, not thru hikers.