I slept fitfully last night. The coyotes were nearby. My body is beginning to struggle to rest appropriately even with 7 hours of lying horizontally. I’m struggling to stay warm enough even in Brad’s tent, him nearby, cozy sleeping bag, proper mat, warm coat, thermal layers. My alarm went off and it took all of my willpower to force myself up. I have brought an inflatable sleeping pad on this trip (the ultimate luxury) as it’s less bulky than my foam pad, and the noise of deflating it every morning prior has had me feeling pretty excited, ready to seize the day. Today I was not ready to seize the day. The day was dubious. But we’re doing it. (LMM!)
I felt really tired. But it was OK. I knew I was only 40 miles from town, and the end. It’s hard to think about this trip ending right now. My mental capacity has experienced a sharp decline and I’m not sure what to focus on. The miles in front of me? Getting to town (and caffeine?) Getting to the end of the monumental loop? As it always goes, my attention went to the steps right in front of me. The prospect of town was very exciting but it seemed pretty distant. 40 miles isn’t a hop skip or a jump! The prospect of finishing the loop was a lot less exciting. As lots of you will know, finishing the PCT was a truly traumatic experience for me. Admittedly that was a 6 month long life epic and this trip will only have been about 10 days. But it’s been pretty darn intense 10 days and crashing back to reality sounded like no fun at all. Apart from a bath and champagne. That sounded really nice!
I started up at my typical 1 mile per hour morning hobble. The stars were just perfect, surrounded by these weird volcanic cinder cones. It was dreamy. I rose through the landscape passing some very ominous looking stuff. The sun came up but it did not warm up. I was very hungry but knew stopping wasn’t an option, and my food was pretty limited too. Protein bars or porridge? I suddenly had the amazing idea of pouring my porridge into my chocolate coffee mix (which was to-go this morning so that I could at least begin the limping process 10 minutes earlier). This was SOOO good! The porridge was much nicer infused with cold coffee and what a treat to get some real calories on the go. The sky was quite dark and looking very ominous. It’s always fun being around volcanos in bad weather. I felt like Frodo.
Brad caught up and stoked some nerves about the storm that was clearly moving in. ‘It’s raining over there!’ he pointed out. It’s true it was. The wind had REALLY picked up and it seemed to drastically drop multiple degrees with every step. We quickly discussed what our options were and what the hell was happening. I was quite cheerful. Yes, I didn’t have any rain gear at all beyond a trash bag, but I didn’t need it today. If there was a perfect day for a storm, this was it! The wind started to really howl and we needed to keep moving. We agreed that Brad would go on ahead to try to outrun the rain (clearly not going to be possible) and would come back to meet me 6 miles or so from the finish. I told him to stay warm and safe at all costs. Off he went, really booking it!
Things got steadily more ominous. Pathetic fallacy is when the weather mirrors the mood. If that was the case, things were looking very bleak for me! It started to rain and it occurred to me that my trash bag rain gear wasn’t very helpful buried in the bottom of my bag. I had planned to cut holes in for my head and arms but had never gotten round to it, and now I was already drenched and it was too late. Oh well! It was a bit of a challenge as I was moving so slowly and simply needed to run to keep myself warm enough. I was able to run for 1 minute on until my tears mingled with the rain, 1 minute off until my teeth chattering became too energy consuming for my mouth to bear.
The wind was pushing me in the right direction and it was quite nice as I felt like the wind was at least blowing some of the water off my jacket and airing it out. It was very noisy and quite pleasant as I didn’t really have the mental capacity to outthink the wind. I turned onto a different powerline road and continued on. This is what life was now. The cold, the rain, the pain. I was OK with it. I’ve always quite liked the wind, although I probably prefer it in moderation!
Luckily after only about 2 hours the rain really stopped and the sun even glimmered out enough that I started to dry off. It really became quite pleasant, even if I was a little battered! I was able to text my mum and let her know I was doing very well and just sort of trooped on. It had been too wet to take any ibuprofen for almost an hour so I gulped some more down (and I wonder why my stomach lining is trash…) and pushed on. I got a text from Hayley (a local trail runner turned cyclist who has been completely invaluable in planning this ENTIRE trip!) saying she would meet me soon ish. I told her as I was turning onto the road past a small ranch, and on I went.
Turning onto the final very long, very straight road after the storm was interesting. I became overwhelmed with true fatigue. The miles dropped by steadily. A car and Lorry would pass by every now and then. One of the drivers pulled over to ask if I was the woman from the newspaper. I said yes. It was nice.
Eventually another car drove by and a woman jumped out – it was Hayley! She cycled the entire loop in two weekends which makes her a certified badass. Those are some big mileage days and I maintain that I cannot imagine anyone moving any faster than I did, wheels or not. She gave me a banana and a hug and told me she would meet me at the dam.
I perked up for a bit after she drove away, particularly as I felt she was nearby. I actually didn’t really have any major sense of how far I had to go though. It began to feel infinite. The wind seriously picked up, and I turned to see if the whooshing was a car coming behind me. It wasn’t. It was a major sand gust coming to coat me. The stinging thwack as it hit my legs was actually quite pleasant. I was really struggling to stay awake and the stinging helped a bit. The miles slid by. I fell into a mist of infinite tiredness. The wind was infinite/ the sand was infinite. I couldn’t see too far ahead of me and started to consider curling up on the road for a nap. However my phone was dead and I knew I needed an alarm otherwise I would sleep for 12 hours straight. I could not keep my eyes open and started to sleep during a very gentle jog. I woke up briefly and realized I was making excellent progress and fell straight back asleep. The sandy wind was a lovely blanket. I don’t know why I was so tired as I had been sleeping lots. I was woken up abruptly as I slammed into something hard, and suddenly heard some yelling. I opened my eyes and saw that I had walked straight into a car who luckily had seen me coming and despite yelling and honking, had been unable to alert me to his presence so stopped. He was very distressed and kept asking if I was OK and he hadn’t meant to hit me. I pointed out that he definitely had not hit me, I had hit him, and thanked him for noticing me and stopping! This interaction with a human did jerk me somewhat out of my sand sleep and I woke up a bit. It was very slow going.
After a long time I saw another car (crucially, I did see it!) and it was Hayley and her husband, Gordon. The timing was brilliant. I knew I must have been moving REALLY slowly as we had planned to RDV at the Mesilla Dam and they had come up, but I was really grateful. I talked Altras with Gordon for a bit while Hayley and Moose got prepared to run with me. Then we were off! It was very nice to be able to just sort of switch off. Hayley was a great distraction from the pain and I was actually able to just focus on following Moose. It was so nice to meet her! We crossed the dam and picked Brad up who had already finished and had been hanging around for WHO knows how long?! We were properly running at this point which was quite pleasant. Honestly with the motivation of Hayley and Brad and just pounding in their footsteps I was able to just go. Strange things were happening in my leg but I have been so at one with the pain for so long now that it actually wasn’t considerably worse. I had to remind myself to breathe occasionally as I was holding my brain to help my body not process the pain, but for these final miles I realized I needed to lean into the pain. Matt drove by with his daughter and then she started cycling and Matt kind of walk/jogged (yes our pace was not very fast) with us. It was awesome!
Then we were in Mesilla Plaza. There were a few people there including some reporters which was funny as I had precisely zero ability to talk to them. I talked to them for a bit (I did remember to take my hat off which would make my mum happy, but I did not remember to comb my hair/wash my face) and then it was time for some beloved coffee. Warm, caffeinated, happy. We met Patrick who is the Director of Friends of the Organ Mountain Desert Monument. I was dazed at this point. I wish I had any words of wisdom but I don’t. We go to the bike shop and I get a big hug from Pablo. Get to see some of the others who I met along the way. Shower. Sleep. Speechless.