Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pushing the Limits

Finally, I've found a computer to update this blog, sorry for the silence... I'm writing this from a public library in Las Cruces, just a few days' walk from the Mexican border...

Many adventures have happily befallen me since leaving Albuquerque yet I've come to the conclusion that while the smallest sliver of a segment of the body of pilgrims would be interested in walking this camino, it's really well-suited to bicycling pilgrims. The desert is big; the rest stops distant. Two days back to back, 37 miles of desert walking. THIRTY-seven. Thirty-SEVEN. That's 60 kilometers each of those two days... no interim rest stops... high desert... and just my luck (ugh!) unseasonably high temperatures! No clouds, no trees, no shade whatsoever. Deep gullies, canyons, gulches, dusty dry creekbeds. Hard going. The missionaries avoided this western side of the Rio Grande for the more desirable 'Jornado del Muerto', 96 flat, waterless miles a distance from the eastern bank. In modern times, though, much of the Jornado del Muerto is privately owned and fenced off, so I walked along a deserted old paved ribbon across the desert south of Socorro.

Exactly midway between Socorro and Truth or Consequences (that's really the name of a town), is the Santa Fe Diner and Truckstop. How fortunate for a pilgrim on foot. The gracious sheriff of Socorro County had helped me find accommodation in Socorro and worked with me on the possibilities of walking south. (Lacking a stamp for my credenziale, he glued in an embroidered sheriff's badge!) He called ahead to make sure I could stay the night at this sole oasis and everything was blissfully arranged. How could I possibly walk 37 miles in one day???? Necessity breeds action. I left a good hour before the break of dawn - Orion right there where he should be in the moonless sky above and slightly to my right. I pressed onward in the rugged terrain unable to avoid crushing the innumerable scattered shed exoskeletons of giant grasshoppers, many in the process of being shed. Their unpredictable leaping - like fist-sized popcorn - is a bizarre form of entertainment. Darting desert hares, small rabbits, migrating sandhill cranes, rattlesnakes, lizards, enormous beetles, roadrunners, and coyotes also animated the desert scene. With few places to sit and rest, and no shade anyway, there was no option but to keep walking. Eventually, first Venus and then Cassiopeia took their rightful places in the sky ahead and slightly to the left and soon enough, the bold Milky Way dropped to the horizon directly in front of me marking my destination. Once fully dark, the light from the merest crescent of a moon was overpowered by the number of stars. I was distracted from the sky by the night howls of coyotes and the sound of two javelinas (peccaries) battling (or mating?) frighteningly close by. I swung the beam of my flashlight in the direction of their grunting and tusk gnashing, then quickly doused it and refocused my attention on the sky. Over my right shoulder, the enormous Big Dipper sat directly on the silhouette of a distant western mesa, like a pot on a stovetop. Thankfully, not long afterward, in the distance I saw the lights of the diner and truckstop and nearly ran the last two miles. (The old paved road is equipped with milemarkers for error-free calculating.)

This oasis is full of character. Several vintage 1930 railcars are lashed together in the desert to make a fine cafe with a menu much more diverse than a standard truckstop - who ever heard of fresh made hummus on a truckstop menu? - pool hall and giftshop/general store. There are a few adobe huts at one end kitted out as fully equipped guest rooms. They were expecting me. My feet ached constantly, but once I took off my boots, the pain was excruciating for a good half hour, but the warmth of the conversation with Salem the owner and Julie the waitress and a few other diners was a terrific balm. The interstate highway parallels the old desert road and intersects at this diner, so on foot I was isolated, but at this oasis, I was hardly alone.

Another day of the same - with an old hermit named Rex homesteading midway to Truth or Consequences who happily refilled my waterbottles from his deep well, and I was out of the difficult part of the New Mexican segment of the Chihuahuan Desert. Here's the great reward: Truth or Consequences took it's name in the mid 1950s as part of a radio program contest; previously, it was known as Hot Springs. Three dollars gets you a half-hour soak in a great wooden tub of 103-degree natural hot spring soothing water. Oh how my feet loved that! As much as my feet liked it, my sunburnt arms, neck, and face needed frequent showers of cool water. On bicycle, the 74 miles between Socorro and Truth or Consequences could be done in one day fairly easily; on foot, I don't think I'd enjoy it a second time.

oh, and after the general moratorium on watercolor painting on the Native lands (they prohibit it without special permits) and the long long walks taking all of my time and water, I haven't gotten too many more paintings to show. It'll be a bit hectic crossing the border, but afterwards, I hope things will become a bit more routine again. Still loving the pilgrim life!


Anonymous said...

Phew! I was getting nervous, having read a fair bit about the Jornada del Muerto, & praying you were all right! You're never far from our thoughts! God bless you & all your kind benefactors:) A Buen Camino with Juan Diego! Agnes Anderson, Denver

Compostelle 2008 said...

Your experiences and your determination absolutely astound me! After reading "Pushing Limits", I went back and re-read some of your descriptions from last January in Ukraine. Am I wrong to believe that this trek in the desert is much more difficult than even walking through a blizzard? Take care of those feet, you still have a long way to go.

Michèle, Ottawa (ON) Canada

ksam said...

I stand in awe! Your perseverance is amazing. Being willing to share it also amazing. Thank you.

Seth DeMoor said...

We're all rooting for you up here in Denver. Snow flew for the first time today (11/9), a nice change from the 70s, and I hope your temperatures are beginning to settle into normal rhythm soon down there. Mexico here you come! Blessings Ann
PS-people are still talking about your interview on

Peace be with you

hold tight to those beads!

Anonymous said...

Proud of you sis. May the Gods bring cool winds upon your back.

Sheila Phelan Wright said... are one determined woman! Can't imagine getting through those long days. Your descriptions of the sky are stunning. You find beauty and bring beauty wherever you go.
Interesting to note the moratorium on painting. What a world.
We're all always thinking about you and sending love.