After spending four days out in New Mexico, traipsing up canyons and over several mountains with summits upwards of twelve and thirteen thousand feet, I want to think Hollywood gets it wrong. And that is the post-apocalyptic storyline. I’m not saying northern New Mexico is a scene out of some Mad Max-like movie. Rather, I am talking about the interactions between people.
According to Hollywood, the Apocalypse will feature the strong preying upon the weak. Everything will be horrific and terrible. But my own personal adventures out in the wildernesses belie this. In remote situations where people will need to depend on one another to make a go at it, they seem to come through. At least as long as there is a steaming hot cup of chocolate and a comfortable bed that they can eventually return to.
I first recognized it when I climbed Guadalupe Peak in Texas—the highest point in the state—five years ago. My pace was slow and casual. I made it to the top…8,751 feet above sea level where we could probably see over the Bone Canyon and the Salt Basin Dunes all the way to El Paso. What was special about that climb was that it took place during the hummingbird and ladybug migrations.
On the way down, I met a young man from China going up. He had started the trek with only a single bottle of water and had depleted it. Since I was heading down the mountain, I gave him my last bottle. I travel slowly, and a couple of Rangers caught up to me. They gave me a bottle of water. People helping people.
I went to New Mexico to summit Wheeler Peak—the highest point in that state at 13,161 feet (there is a discrepancy between Wikipedia and the official US Department of Agriculture map. I went with the latter). A few years ago, I attempted the climb over Thanksgiving weekend and failed because there was eight feet of snow and 70mph winds on the summit.
This time, I decided to start with a warmup: a 3-mile hike up Italianos Canyon with a total elevation gain of about 1,500 feet. After parking my car on the side of state road 150 and donning my pack, I met this older woman Janie walking down the road. We visited, and after learning that I planned to climb up to Wheeler Peak the next day, she asked if she could go with me.
My first thought was that this woman—a retired ski instructor—was in her sixties and would be a match for my level of fitness. That proved wrong. She walked circles around me the next day. I think I held her back. And after we summitted the first 12,000-foot peak, I learned that she was actually 77 years old. But we did prove a good match because she said she just wanted to go slow. And I had no problem holding up that side of the bargain.
The sun had just started to lighten the morning skies when we stepped out on Bull of the Woods trail and began our 16-mile round-trip hike. How does this show Hollywood got it wrong? I camped at Cuchilla campground during my stay. It has three campsites and an outhouse. Jerry from Denton, Texas occupied the first, and Josh from Minnesota (and an avid San Diego Padres fan) had the second.
After cancer and the blood clots, my physical fitness level has bottomed out. Josh knew this. About five hours into the hike, and after we had reached the Red River Canyon overlook, he caught up to us. He asked me how we were doing and then took off past us. It took us eight hours from the start to reach the slope toward an unnamed 12,849-foot peak across from the La Cal Basin. As we came out of the tree line, we met Josh on his way back down.
He wore a t-shirt draped over his head and warned us that it was cold and windy on the approach to Wheeler Peak. While we were visiting, he must have been assessing our condition and desire to continue. I told him we would descend the shorter switchbacks down to Williams Lake rather than taking the longer route, more exposed descent back the way we came. He nodded as if this was a wise decision.
Needless to say, after summitting two 12,000-foot and two 13,000-foot mountains (including Papa Walter, the second highest mountain in New Mexico), we decided to forego the climb up to the peak. With 60mph winds buffeting us that grew stronger the closer the sun fell toward the horizon, we decided we should probably get off the rock slides and back below the tree line before sunset. One gust had actually knocked Janie to the ground, and I had to lower my head to keep it from doing the same to me.
We managed it and walked through the woods with only a headlamp and a penlight to light our way until the waxing, three-quarter moon rose. Taos Ski Valley is deserted at night before ski season starts. We walked down the road at night, still two miles from the vehicle. There it may have reminded the casual observer of a post-apocalyptic scene.
As we walked—my right foot and ankle forcing a limp from me—we finally saw headlights coming up the road. My hope was that they would offer us a ride, but who would want to do that for two strangers coming off the mountain at night?
It turned out to be Josh. He came looking for us when I hadn’t returned to the campsite soon after dark. He only had room for one, so he shifted his surfboard and other essentials and took Janie (who now lives in Portland, Oregon) down to my car. Then he came all the way back up to get me. Hollywood got it wrong. People help each other. I dropped Janie off at her cabin and returned to my tent.
I left the next day, returning home. Before I took off, I offered some potato soup and cans of beef stew to Josh. He was staying a couple more days. The people I met on the trip were all friendly and helpful. We looked after one another. And the only competition was me against the mountain, not me against the people that came into my sphere and trying to dominate them. I sure hope when the “shit hits the fan,” Hollywood keeps getting it wrong.
WHAT I’M UP TO
WRITING: I finally sent Slipping the Cradle to the publisher. Hoping to see it in print this time next year. Additionally, I started a short story sequel to my western novella Field of Strong Men and it involves a confrontation with a veteran of the Lincoln County War.
FICTION: Finished Clementine by John T. Biggs. What I loved about it was that it took place in middle America. So many books disregard the Midwest and central states. It is a post-apocalyptic novel set in Oklahoma. What is intriguing about it is that it all takes place probably within a 50-mile radius. There is mention of the outside world and it is those events that impact the characters of the story…but the story is how they deal with it. And I am fully into The One-Eyed Man by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. So far, it is straightforward science fiction.
NONFICTION: Since I spent last week out west in New Mexico, driving across the flats of the Oklahoma panhandle, and have started the western sequel, I have been reading a lot about the participants of the Lincoln County War. In particular…one Henry Newton Brown.
TELEVISION: I feared that the second season of Falling Water would end in a cliffhanger. Well…it did. And the show has been canceled. So, this week I returned to watching Carnival Row on Amazon streaming service. And I watched the first two episodes of Deadwood over the weekend. That will probably be next.
MOVIES: Critics just don’t get it. They are supposed to provide you with insight into a movie, helping you to determine whether you want to spend $11 for a movie ticket or if you’ll just wait for it to come out on DVD or even on television. The critics got Gemini Man all wrong. According to Rotten Tomatoes website, they hated it. But the audiences loved it. I am siding with the latter. Other than the final scene, I was thrilled to be watching it in the theater with the big screen, sharp picture, and terrific sound effects. If you like science fiction set in the near-future, I would recommend it. The critic score was only 24%; however, the audience score was 84%.