This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
We road walk out of Silver City in the heat. At a campground, Shake’nBake Yogi’s water at a children’s birthday party. We climb and drop, watching the landscape change. Sandstone hoodoos, like the ones at Bryce Canyon, rise out of the scrub. It’s not quite time to stop yet, but we can’t resist the view. We scramble up a spire and sit, watching the sunset.
In the morning, we climb. And then, of course, drop way back down. For some reason I couldn’t sleep the night before and I am dragging. Then, on a dirt road, just before we drop down to the Gila, we meet some turkey hunters. Shake’nBake has been refusing to fill up at the slightly sketchy water source all day and he shamelessly Yogi’s water. And then ice tea and gas station fruit pies. They tell us about the catfish and rattle snakes on the river. I’ll see plenty of both. We drop down into the Gila. Almost immediately, we have to cross the river. And then back again. And again. After ten or so crossings, we stop for the night. In the morning, my wet shoes are frozen solid. We immediately have to cross the river. My feet are freezing, but after a few crossings, we see steam rising from the river. There’s a mini hot spring and we warm our feet. We find a rythmn quickly. “Hip belt check” I sing at Shake’nBake after he forgets to unbuckle one time. “Fun Size check!” He parrots back, making sure I am close enough to grab if I start to get swept away. The worst crossings are belly button deep on me, so it is a possibility. After lunch, we see two rattlesnakes sunning themselves by the river. We were slow before, but now we are even slower, checking the long grass for sleepy serpants. We reach a road and then Doc Campbell’s, where I have a box, after they have closed. We find a place for the night at a campground with hot springs, where we soak our aches. In the morning, I grab my box and we walk to check out the Gila River cliff dwellings. I spot pictographs by the side of the road. Then, back at the visitor center, it’s time to say goodbye. Shake’nBake will hitch back to Silver City and I’ll continue up the river. It will be a tough adjustment for the first few days as I adapt from always being around my favourite hiking companion to being totally alone. Gradually the solitute will become normal, and I will start to embrace it. So, alone, I head into the canyon, crossing the river a million times straight away. It’s beautiful, almost like a miniature grand caynon. I camp alone on the side of the river. In the morning, I round the corner to a tarp set up just a few hundred feet from where I camped. So much for my first night alone. It’s cold, and there are a million river crossings, and I soon can’t feel my feet. The sun takes a long time to crest the top of the canyon and warm me. I do eight miles and stop for a break. I feel like I’ve been flying, but when I check my phone, buried in the bottom of my bag safe from the river, it’s almost 1pm. Too slow! I’m at a point where I can take a trail up to the high route, but I decide to continue. I’m here for an adventure after all! Two hours later and I am not having fun. The trail has disappeared and I hop from gravel bar to gravel bar. Sometime I just wade up the river. I’m doing less than a mile an hour. The final straw comes with a beautiful waterfall. There’s a scramble around, but I know when to admit defeat. I turn around, backtracking to the high route, where I climb a thousand feet and then knock out three miles before bed. On the high route, this takes me a little over an hour. On the river, the same distance would have taken more than three. In the morning, I fly. Almost literally; the wind gusts and knocks me off the trail a few times. I climb through the pines, then drop down to the Gila one last time. Then I’m climbing over aeroplane mesa, where the wind buffets me until I feel I might take off. Still, I’ve done 17 miles by 3pm, when I detour to a campground for trash and water. It takes me a while to find the only working spigot, and then I’m road walking until my map says “This part is cross country but should be easy to follow. I bushwack and rock scramble and my pace drops frustratingly. Clouds build over head until I admit defeat for the night and set up my tarp in a meadow. The wind howls and switches direction. I listen to the tarp flap and bop me in the face for almost an hour before I tear it down around me and wrap myself like a burrito. In the morning, the wind is stronger and clouds fly overhead. I climb up to the road. I have over twenty miles of dirt forest roads today and I hike fast, wrapped in my puffy against the cold. The few people who drive past stop and ask what I’m doing. I’m much more of a novelty here than I was on the PCT. I climb up and up and it gets colder and colder. Hail pounds me in the face every so often, alternating with sprinkles of rain. Then, I’m back on the CDT proper, dropping through a burn as hail pounds down. “Please no lightening” I think to myself. I get down to a low point on the ridge and decide to stop. It’s relatively sheltered from the wind and I’ve done 24ish miles by 6pm. I’m just trying to decide where to pitch my tarp when I see the lightning strike the peak opposite where I just was. The thunder makes me jump a second later. I hate thunderstorms when I’m hiking, especially when I’m still this high. I pitch my tarp strung between two trees, hoping the wood will be less conductive than my trekking poles. I hear the harsh strike of rain drops on cuben fibre during the night. After a while they sound softer, brushing gently against my tarp. My feet ache with the cold despite my ten degree bag, and I wake up to a world dusted white. Everything is frozen- my breakfast, my water, but I’m happy, skipping through sunbeams while clouds start to build. I climb, up and up, and it gets colder and colder until my chin turns numb and I know I’d slur if there was anyone to talk to. It’s too cold to stop for breaks and I try to guess the temperature. Below twenty with the wind chill, for sure. Then I climb up my last ridge for the day and see the sky to the north. I’m met with a wall of black. Mindful of the day before’s lightening, I scramble to get down. Snow flurries greet me as I cross a burn, and then as I enter back into the trees, the snow starts in ernest. It’s not sticking much, but it flies horizontally. Much harder and I’d call it a blizzard. A break in the snow reveals more bands of black, borne towards me on the fierce wind. I use a break in the storm to set up my tarp and climb under as the last wave hits. I pull on every piece of clothing I have. As night falls, the storm clears and the stars come out. Coyotes yip and howl just a few hundred feet from my tent. In the morning, I’m climbing again. The snow has stuck a little more up here, although it has melted off the road the trail follows. I stop at a campground for a break and a man with an elderly basset hound approaches. We run through the standard questions- how far have I come, where am I going, do I have a gun. Then, as I shoulder my pack to continue up the mountain, he warns me about wolves. I climb up and up, then down and down. The miles come quickly on roadwalks, but I am tired and sore from two days of no breaks and not eating much. Time for a zero. I sleep on the side of a dirt road, tucked between no trespassing signs. I roadwalk, fast, to Pie Town. 17 miles by 1pm and I’m standing outside of a deserted looking Toaster House. “You just have to go inside!” The neighbour yells at me. I go, drop my stuff, then find food. Later, seven other hikers will roll in -a crowd by CDT standards. We drink beer and play cards. I’m so glad to find other hikers!