Hello New Mexico, it is I, your humble correspondent, Ed Domain, New in New Mexico. Read on, and witness my latest adventure.
I have been staying at home, trying to be safe like many of you. Some of my experiences in our new reality have been fun: I made friends with a cat. I cook breakfast every morning, and enjoy the process. My life moves a little slower, but I’m also enjoying things in a new way.
I am an avid hiker, and to get some exercise and shake off the ‘stay at home blues,’ I looked up some trails close to Albuquerque on an app I like called, ‘All Trails,’ and saw these options:
The eagle-eyed among you will see I chose ‘Eye Of The Sandias Loop Trail,’ and that it is marked as, “HARD” and the other choices near me were marked as, “EASY.”
When given a choice between hard and easy, 99% of the time, I choose hard. I thought to myself, “I can use a hard trail today, besides, it’s only a 20 min drive from my house. How hard can it really be? A little under 5 miles? I’ll knock this out and get a decent workout, easy peasy. Let’s do this”
I was so naïve New Mexico, so naïve.
I parked my Jeep and hit the trail. A mile in, I started feeling it in my muscles and played a game with myself – yes, the trail was hard, but from experience I knew it was mostly mental, and I could keep pushing. I’d pick an object in the distance and tell myself, “I’ll take a break when I reach that twisted tree/boulder/bend in the trail, etc. I’d reach that landmark, then push past it and pick a new one.
As I pushed on, the trail would often come to a dead end and I’d run into some massive boulders. I was confused. I checked the map, and yes, I was definitely on the trail- to keep going, I had to climb OVER the boulders in front of me to continue. This was turning into an adventurous hike- I had to have confidence in my strength and ability to hoist myself over rocks larger than me and do a controlled drop on the other side, making sure I didn’t twist my ankle in the process, or do something dumb like stick my hand in a cactus.
Then I did something dumb, and stuck my hand in a cactus.
I was proud at how hard I was pushing while handling the increasingly large boulders I had to get over, and tried to speed up. I summited another large pile of rocks, jumped down a little too confidently, stumbled as I hit the trail, fell forward due to the angle of ascent and caught myself on my hands- my left hand anyway. My right hand went right into a cactus and I felt my hand pierced by what felt like 9 million knitting needles.
It’s a long story, but I am no stranger to pain. I froze in place, closed my eyes and told myself, “DO NOT PANIC.” My hand was stinging, but I didn’t want to make it worse. I knew it was going to be ugly.
After steeling myself, I opened my eyes and did a nervous laugh at my predicament. My hand was right in the middle of the cactus. I pulled free, looked at my palm and saw the 9 million knitting needles jutting out of my hand. Some were long and white, more were short and golden red. Very pretty, if they weren’t stuck in my hand. I looked back at the cactus, and it was no worse for the experience. I’m pretty sure it laughed at me.
I was two miles in. I couldn’t just go home, I hate quitting anyway, and because I am one of the most stubborn people alive, I was going to finish this trail. I found a rock, sat down and started pulling needles. The experience went like this:
This went on for 40 minutes, and in all that time I never saw another person. (I never saw another person the whole hike until I was much lower, near the end). My hand was bleeding, and my palm looked like a disaster. I laughed again. Eventually, I had gotten out all I could, my hand was throbbing, and it felt like there were dozens of tiny slivers I was never going to be able to pull out here on the mountain.
I looked at the map. I wasn’t halfway done yet. Rather than be dismayed, it made me resolute. I barked a loud Army “HOOAH,” and started moving forward.
As I got closer to the summit, out the corner of my eye, I saw a gigantic snake slither out. I jumped back and made a noise like, “Whaaa whoah, hey there” and froze. The snake froze too- and I started laughing again. The snake was NOT gigantic, and was not anything to be scared of. I kicked a little dirt, and it turned around went back the way it came.
Still laughing, I kept climbing and three minutes later had the exact same experience. There’s something about a snake coming out nowhere that gets me, every time. After I get a chance to relax and take a closer look, I’m calm- but snakes have a way of surprising me small mammals do not.
I reached the summit- but the trail disappeared again. The wind was picking up and getting strong- I was semi-exposed and being buffeted a bit.
I climbed up an exceptionally large boulder, and got a tremendous sight- this was the top of the mountain. I couldn’t go higher, and I was treated to an absolutely gorgeous view of Albuquerque far below with distant mountain ranges far to the west.
I was also stuck. I looked for the trail, and I saw it pick up again maybe 200 feet or so ahead of me, realized I made a mistake and had missed the part of the trail that wrapped around the summit. While I was able to climb up safely, I saw going back the way I came would require me to take a drop that didn’t seem smart.
To go forward and get back on the trail and start my descent, I had to take a calculated risk. There would be a scramble over the cliff edge, and knew if I was careful it wouldn’t be hard.
Slowly, carefully, on my hands and knees, I crawled onto the ledge. It was a huge rock face, more wide than it was long, and saw that if I didn’t pay attention, it was an extremely long way down.
I moved forward a few feet, feeling the cactus slivers with every hand placement when the wind really started howling and hit me full force; it knocked me sideways, so I dropped and made myself as flat as possible on my stomach.
I waited for a break in the wind, started crawling and got hit again- that was enough for me. I laid flat on my back and started laughing. By flattening myself, the wind howled over me, and I knew I didn’t want to hang out here for long in case things got more dramatic.
My heart was pounding, the adrenaline was pumping, and I let out a roar; I felt alive in a way I usually need to get deep into the wilderness to feel, and here I was twenty minutes from home. Roar finished, I got back to it.
I snapped a few pics; I wanted to remember this moment. I put my phone back in my pocket. Slowly, carefully, wind howling, I stayed flat on my back and inched my body sideways very, very slowly, and very, very carefully.
I got to the opposite edge of the cliff face, looked down and saw a clear way down- I dropped a few feet to the boulder below as the wind kept howling, but was safe now and clambered over a few more large rocks, hit the trail, bounded down a couple hundred feet, feeling every muscle in my body, and feeling ALIVE in a way other adventurers will nod their heads at and understand.
I stopped and looked back. I was laughing in victory mixed with fear sharply accentuated by the adrenaline pumping through me like rocket fuel, and made this video. You can see the wild look in my eyes- I was at a loss for words at first, replaying my little adventure over in my head. If there had been no wind, this wouldn’t have been nearly as dramatic. (I also really need a haircut).
It took me over two hours to finish the trail- and that was with a 40-minute break to pull needles out of my hand.
With this much adventure, only twenty minutes from home, New Mexico and I are going to get along just fine.
I slept well that night, and can’t wait to do it again.