Unrelenting wind kept with me all night. I had become used to elk bugling and owls hooting, but the wind and my swollen, angry knee and infected (now right instead of left) toe left me tired and without energy. Limestone-cobbled mud roads continued, with gouts of wind picking up dust devils and blowing them in my eyes. Roads passed little ranch houses, pickup trucks with empty trailers barrelled past me, and finally, I saw the forest boundary.
Between me and the boundary sign, however, were 300 head of cattle, 4 dogs, two cowboys, and a truck with a horse trailer. In the road which was also the trail. What an opportune time for a damned cattle drive. And what, exactly, is a hiker to do? To both horses and cattle, the human form altered with a backpack and trekking poles is terrifying. The cowboys, one on each side of the dirt road, were clearly annoyed with me splitting the herd by walking in the road. So, I stood there, waiting for direction. Finally, an exasperated cowboy waved me up the road, yelling at me exactly as he spoke to the herd. I acquiesced, grateful for direction, and apologized to him as I passed, although I really didn't feel sorry for anything. What alternative had I had?
At the forest boundary trailhead, right below a ranch house, there was a cache box. My hope, after so much piss-water, was that some previous hikers/bikers/angels had left me some clear, clean water. At first, when I opened the box, I only saw empty jugs with Sharman Bike written on them. Further back, however, was a completely full one with "Anne" crossed out and "public" written in its place. I took a chance and didn't bother filtering it. I guzzled it. I needed it. Though I hadn't been out of water, this boon elevated my spirits greatly.
Beyond the ranch were more roads, I sadly noticed. These roads were now cobbled with lava rock, which, though rounder, tends to be bigger and more terrifying if you're attempting to avoid stepping on certain areas of your feet, or are unstable on one entire leg. I didn't look up for most of the day, negotiating the road like a minefield. Luckily, I caught movement to my right just in time to see a herd of maybe a dozen elk, with two big males, silently moving through the junipers to my right. I wonder how many I've missed!
As I continued, I began to see Humphreys looming closer. The road brought me subtly into higher elevations as the day wore on, and I camped near the top of a rise in the San Francisco Peaks foothills, in a perfectly flat washed out area near the road. There was time to watch a spectacular sunset before I disappeared into my tent to probably freeze my ass off tonight.