Day 6: Into the Pain Cave, into the volcano we go

It was my first very fitful night of sleep. The coyotes were howling very nearby. I know they’re not interested in humans but I can’t help but imagine them coming over to take an exploratory nibble. They sound so incredibly ferocious when they’re in such a big pack and they’re all laughing and screaming maniacally. Plus, I was so excited to wake up this morning and for all of the pain to be completely gone. I was very invested in this happening, despite the fact that things seemed to get worse and worse in the night. 


I woke up and even banging my foot against the ground to sit up was painful. Huh. I could barely stand myself up and honestly didn’t know if I was going to be able to walk. The overwhelming and intense panic as I tried not to scream and cry stuffing my foot into my shoe almost outweighed the pain. Hopping, crawling? Can I really get myself to Vinton? I crossed a road within 20 minutes and almost considered just sticking my thumb out but luckily the danger of hitching in the dark outweighed my pain…just. I crossed over and in a moment of TRUE HIKERTRASH low had to rip off a section of my pee bandana to have something to bite on. I was moving so slowly, essentially hopping on my right foot and dragging my left foot along. The tears poured down my face, not even at this point thinking about my future miles on the Monumental Loop but just in response to the sheer pain. I housed some more ibuprofen and just kept moving on, even though it was slow. I turned my phone on and saw a few really great messages from dear friends that helped me find my grit and resolve. Yes I was going slowly, yes it was painful, but I was moving forward! 90% of my body felt great and that is something to be thankful for. On I limped, and soon enough I was in Texas in Franklin State Park! The light seemed to come very soon this morning as despite my early wake up time I had covered very few of my miles. The trail in Franklin SP was pretty rocky and fun. Not ideal terrain for my ankle which definitely worked best when immobilized but it was pretty. 

I began the 2 mile descent into Vinton on a road and was excited to hear from Brad that the store had more ibuprofen. This was very exciting! I was feeling mentally a lot better. The thought of quitting had come into my head, and it only made me smile with certainty that I was nowhere near needing to do that. Yes, this is quite painful. But I choose to be here. When will I ever be in New Mexico again any time soon? While this is still fun, I will keep going. I’m having to get a bit creative with my definitions of fun, but I’m getting there.

I got to the store and quickly resupplied – I didn’t need a whole lot of additional food but grabbed a few items (including 2 frozen burritos aka the ultimate luxury dinner). I scarfed milk and some cookies and chips. Brad was planning on hanging out to give me an opportunity to pull ahead. There weren’t a whole lot of places to hang out! I felt pretty bad for him again so got moving as quickly as I could. I procured some topical painkiller cream and applied that as much as I could. Wrapped the bandana around where I thought the pain was – the swelling was a bit indeterminate so hard to say, and off I started!

As we pull closer to the border I consider people walking towards America who do not have the thousands of luxuries that I have. We are both engaged in the same action, plodding, but I am here as the pinnacle of privilege. It makes me grateful for everything I have, the complicated and expensive gear, one foot that still functions very well.

Leaving Vinton on the roads is hazy at best. There were lots of very sweet, very small dogs who were ferociously guarding their houses against me. It was quite cute. I think they mostly decided that my limping figure was no threat at all. I spoke to the parents and sent a few more frantic texts to the doctors in the family asking for advice. I can always tell I’m in trouble if I’m asking my dad for medical advice. He is not a medical dr but always acts like he is; the thought of this makes me laugh. 

I turn onto Country Road 20 heading up the hill and prepare to walk through this dust for the foreseeable future. Honestly things got a little weird on this road. I would occasionally try to break into a run but the pain was just too intense. It’s hard to describe the pain cave for me. I chewed my bandana endlessly. I had to keep pinching myself to sort of bring me out of the excruciating reverie I was in. But I still kept moving. I knew that at my pace, I simply could not stop. 

I was able to play some music and got a text from Matt that Blake, a local reporter, was planning on coming to try to meet me. I exchanged a few messages with him trying to pinpoint my location. I knew we would be on country roads the entire way to Kilbourne Hole (local volcano) so left it at that and kept dragging myself on. Brad caught up before the railroad. We walked together a bit. I can now very accurately assess pace and I definitely went faster with him and in his wake! We agreed to meet at the water pre Kilbourne Hole. On we went! 

Things stayed weird on the other side of the railroad. I saw a few cars. One guy did stop to say hi which was nice, just before the water. He asked if I needed water, but I said I would be pulling off route to get to a cattle tank shortly. He drove off but then five minutes later came back and said I should please take his fresh water rather than pulling from a cattle tank! I did dither as I didn’t want to accept help, but I then figured this was already not a true unsupported attempt, and I was 0.1 miles from water anyway. It just saved me from filtering. Thank you Steven! Much appreciated. I went and found Brad at the water and drank a straight liter. Mmmmm, bovine! 

On we went. After not very long, I saw a car headed towards me – it was Blake the reporter! He had actually passed us while we were off at the water. Crazy! I ended up sitting in his car for 15 minutes no doubt grossing him out with my horrendous stench talking about what’s been going on for the past few days. We got out to take a few photos in the quickly dwindling light. He headed off pretty shortly but it had really gotten me back in the running swing. I was at the perfect point of all my various painkillers coming to fruition and I was able to run to Kilbourne Hole. Several cars stopped and one of them pulled over to ask if I was Ella, and to wish me luck. My heart was feeling full. Good photos below all credit to Blake Gumprecht. His story is here

Raff 4Raff 3

I made it to Kilibourne Hole and found Brad. It looked very cool even in the dark. Then as Brad is a complete dream he walked his bike with me for the next few miles. I guess my struggle was becoming obvious. 

We walked and talked about his travels since we last saw each other. Suddenly he sort of growl/yells – the freakish green eyes of the cows! It was very funny. On we pushed to make sure we were out of State land and could be camping in an approved area. Eventually we pulled over and found a perfect spot. Finding campsites is easy around here. Everything is so flat! Burrito and a snickers; the best meal I had to date. 

Low: Hobbling out of Vinton

High: in a way, inhabiting the pain cave for so much of the day. It felt like I was being electrocuted all day and I certainly felt alive, or maybe like I was really living on the edge between life and death. Quite transcendental. 


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