Four days and a bit later, back in Lordsburg. Except this time I walked 85 miles to get here. Depending on the map you look at it is more or less but I am definitely rounding up to account for all the times I got lost and blown off the trail. There are sometimes signs and there are confusing tracks you can follow but both come and go randomly so sometimes you’re left with only your wits. And the map you brought, and the phone app.
Day one was a whirlwind. I got lucky because apparently the road was regraded last year, so we made almost record time to the monument. I may or may not strolled into Mexico, as the border is a rusty wire fence with sections missing. I heard from the shuttle driver that sometimes they bring beers down, and the Mexicans do the same. They have a party and pass beers across the fence. Directly on the other side were the lush irrigated fields of some Mennonite farms.
I was hiking by 8:45. Mind full of adrenaline and muscles still full of glycogen we all made excellent time. I started with only 3 others, Wicket, Anna and Aubrey. At 3 miles an hour I was the slowest in the bunch. The first handful of miles are largely flat, very dusty, and very open. By noon I was in a wash, a sort of flat sandy ravine, full of water on the 1 day a year it rains, but fine now. A convenient rare tree provided shade.
After lunch and a nap, I pushed on down to water cache #1. Outside of a few cattle troughs, there’s no water the first 85 miles. The CDTC maintains 5 caches, each stocked with about 2 gallons per hiker. There I met Wicket, Anna & Aubrey, Gunga Din, Shady, Oli, Numbers, Swiss Monkey. It was like a watering hole in the Serengeti.
After this the debate began. It was only 4pm, why not hike? But how far? Since we were all taking the road alternative vs. the proper, barely signed, sketchy CDT, it was basically walk until you get tired. I made it another 7 miles. I camped in a wash near a cattle ranch, choosing a sire carefully to avoid cow paths. At dark, a distant line of epic lightning flashes convinced me to put up the tarp.
Day two started with a lot more road walking. Then the trail crossed a playa full of dead thorn bushes and some live cows. I reached the second official water cache, refilled my water, and took a good break. Everyone I met yesterday rolled in and we had a bit of a gam. After this the trail turned into relative hell. Not really hard considering all the harder stuff, but still. It was all up and down through washes on the south side of a mountain, so we were in full sun all day. I managed to find a wash with a shrub big enough to cast some shade and took a 2-hour nap. Powering on, I got to my first Trail Magic by mid-afternoon. There was supposed to shade but the Magic was a cooler full of ice cold Gatorades!
A bit later another hiker named Arrow showed up. While she was digging through the Gatorade she sounded so emotional that I asked if he was crying. Almost, she responded. I did some more miles after we cooled off, and got to a nice cow watering tank where the farmer had installed a spigot with a hose on it for us to use. I still had water from the cache so I didn’t take any. We all walked a hundred yards or so away and camped in the scrub. Too near and the cows won’t come drink, or they do, and trample you.
With the sundown at around 8, you’re asleep by 8:30 or 9. A combination of hard ground, cold wind, and a full night sleep gets you up at around 4. The upside of this is fabulous dark skies filled with satellites and shooting stars. The Milky Way is particularly exceptional.
I just jumped at the opportunity to go, without even thinking about it, really, because it opened the way to an old and very naive childhood fantasy of mine. To go off into the wilderness and test myself against all the dangerous things lurking there. And to find that basic animal I secretly hoped was hidden somewhere in myself. I imagined that at that point I’d become a new man, with a strength and courage that I’d never known before. As I traveled north, it was on about the third day that the reality of what I was about to try to do began to seep into my bones and gather in a knot in the pit of my stomach.Never Cry Wolf
Day three started out easier, with a longer gradual downhill away from the ridge more onto the plain below. The ridges of volcanic rock weather, creating alluvial fans. Going down, or even up, is easy. I couldn’t figure out where we were making for until after a few miles I saw a water tank. What I didn’t need water so I kept going. Purposefully carrying extra water and only using the official caches as a way of getting into shape. I’m also looking to dial in what my sweat rate is. So it’s a good test.
The highlight of the day, besides epic views, lizards and glorious solitude, was a slightly leaky water tank atop a hill. Because of the slight leak, at about 8 feet up, there was both a lush green area around it and a place to stand abd get a shower. SO nice, washed a few things, and my face. The beard was stiff with salt. Plus, the tank’s sheer size created massive shade.
Everyone left at different times but we all converged on the water cache at mile 56 period some people filled up and powered on a few miles and there was even talk of doing another 26 just to get all the way into town. I held back, because there was no way I was doing more than a mile or two, and I needed to fill up water period the next day would be a 19 mile carry to the next cache and it was going to be six liters of water because I still had to make dinner.
At mile 58 or so, I’m starting to feel the pull of town. Or at least starting to plan the trajectory into town. For example I don’t want to get to town at dusk because then if I stay over I won’t have time to do any chores. I would end up leaving midday which is just wrong. If you are not under shade by noon you will burst into flames.
I bumped into another hiker, heading south, who said that this next stretch was brutally hot and devoid of shade. She was pretty scarce but the biggest challenge was that the trail moved across a very flat almost featureless plain. There were stands of creosote bushes as always, but lots of just dead grass and sandy gravel. You really had to watch where the trail went, keeping half and I on Pyramid peak in the distance and another half I looking for any white CDT signs. I got a little bit lost a couple of times and had to resort to using my phone. I could have just be lined all the way to Pyramid Peak, but they usually run the trail to avoid obvious hazards like gullies and unnecessary rock scrambles.
By 1pm, after hiking for 7 hours, and navigating on a few old roads, I got to a good spot near a water tank and took a 4 hour siesta. I even slept despite some pretty annoying flies. It was here that I saw this sad mother cow show up at a water trough only to find it had been emptied by hikers, or other cows. The tank is full, and supposed to fill a drinking trough, now only inhabited by bees and algae and slime. For a tank that was there to supply cattle and wildlife it wasn’t doing a very good job. I may have improved things before I left. I did study Engineering and have a basic knowledge of plumbing after all.
After this it was a relatively easy for Miles up and down along a dirt road, passed a herd of Black Angus including their calves, to the last water cash. The youngbloods had pushed on to Lordsburg that same day, but for me 19 miles was enough so I can’t there. Others were of the same mind and before long Chris from Canada, Ranger, Tip Toe, and the two nameless hikers all showed up. I rolled in with about half a liter of water which means I have a good idea of my sweat rate. Also we were close enough to have cell signal again, so I did a quick couple of things on the internet. The battery on my phone was still at about 10% which means I’ve got a solid four days on this new phone. Pretty exciting.
Up early again I was treated to this View.
Apparently there is an epic conjunction of the planets including Mars and Saturn, not in this picture, and that this won’t show up again until 2040. Talk about being in the right place at the right time.
From here it was a relatively boring up and down roller coaster ending at a paved road with a two mile walk into Lordsburg. I spent the day running a few errands talking to new hikers just starting in catching up with the people I had been walking with. I hit the grocery store and got slightly better food this time, although the selection is not great for a vegetarian. And then hit the only decent restaurant in town for a giant chocolate milkshake, salad, and nachos, with a huge cinnamon roll to go.
Tomorrow morning I hike out. I’m looking to hit the trail by 6 because I have a three or four mile road walk to get through the town over the highway, over the tracks, out of town and back onto solid ground. I feel a bit like Antaeus the giant who was invincible as long as he was in contact with the soil. Being in town is great but walking on asphalt and concrete is both physically and I suppose emotionally painful. It’s comforting to be back on the land.