Fear, like pain, can be a warning. It can also be seriously distracting. The Whitewater-Baldy Wildfire (in the Gila Wilderness) continues to grow. Thus far 17o, 272 acres – the largest fire in NM history. “For the most part the fire has been actively burning in all directions.” and “0% contained” are the sorts of things I’ve read on line today. Meanwhile, I’ve been making very little forward progress over the past two months and am eager to be on the trail again. Several routes are under consideration, all of which involve a certain amount of trailering and risk.
Apart from the fire, here are some of the things I’m taking into consideration:
1) Conditioning – apart from Finehorn’s holy withers, which are healing nicely and I believe are in good enough shape to pack (with the cut-out pad and lighter pack weight) – two months of sitting around means that none of us are in shape to do long, strenuous days. If we head north, up onto the Mogollon Rim, we’ll have altitude to contend with as well.
2) It’s Wildfire season – just because something isn’t on fire now doesn’t mean it won’t be tomorrow – this is true for much of the West (all summer!) Two summers ago I was in Boulder, CO in August and there were two major fires close enough to where I was camping that evacutations were in effect within 1/2 mile of my tent. I came very close to riding into this fire without even knowing it was going on (the smoke is mostly blowing Westward) and many of the places I’ll be heading don’t have internet access – in some of the areas my cell ‘phone won’t work either.
3) Monsoon season is coming – daily afternoon rains is the norm, which helps with the fires, but also increases the risk of flash floods – and the rivers will be higher, faster and more difficult to navigate in general.
4) Lighter pack weight means that I can’t carry food for the ponies – they’ll have to find forage on which to graze along the way if we’re in the wilderness – the other option is to stay close to “civilization” so that I can find hay and feed for them at ranches, etc. It also limits how much food I can carry for myself – so I need to have a clear idea about how long it will take to get through the wilderness sections.
5) Minor other factors (like quicksand and rattlesnakes) for instance – I do not know this terrain well and there are hazards beyond heat and floods and fire that I might not even know I need to be wary of until I’m in a mess!
6) and yes – I am riding alone at this point.
All of that said – the current route that seems most likely right now is to ride the San Francisco River from Clifton, AZ to Glenwood, NM. Then I’ll check in with the forest rangers there and determine the next leg of the Journey (if they’re not all too busy with the fire!) heading up towards Reserve and probably Quemado.
The historic “ghost town” of Mogollon still stands as of this post -> it’s under mandatory evacutation and last I heard 11 of the town’s 17 residents evacuated and 6 elected to stay. There are smoke/air quality warnings locally and as far away as Albuquerque. There are currently 1236 people fighting this fire, including 12 helicopters – the terrain difficulty is rated extreme and the growth potential is rated high. It’s interesting because the internet is a relatively new tool, historically, but one of my fears is being cut off from this source of information. Wildfires can spring up suddenly and move faster than ponies can run.
So that’s the update – the plan is to put the ponies in a trailer on Sunday afternoon and head to wherever the chosen drop-off point is at that time. Which is another thing I’m having to get over. Accepting that A) I am not a purist. and B) sometimes the sensible thing to do for health and safety is to put the ponies in a trailer. The easiest way out of where we are right now includes a 20 mile stretch between water holes and that seems like entirely too long a day in our current condition (and in this heat) – so if we’re getting into the trailer anyway the only real question remains: where are we getting out of it? I’ll do my best to keep you posted.
PS – it’s been brought to my attention that I didn’t make clear that yes, I wrote “my life as a fictional character” – and that the panic moment of not knowing where I was, was real!