Continental Divide Trail Journal – Part 4 : New Mexico
October 1st – Chama, NM
Three months on the trail. Three months of walking from Canada . Three months of again be immersed in the wilderness and being on a journey. The past month has proven to be challening due to the amount of snow. The weather has finally be consistent with I expect of Colorado in autumn. Blazing aspen, warm days and cool nights. There is still much snow left from the storm of last week though. Attempted joining up with the divide again near Elwood Pass; still found much snow. Continued walking a jeep road that led to a dramtic canyon and a picturesque valley. The walk was not what I had planned. But like all my walks, the unplanned is often memorable. Today I reached Cumbres Pass. Though still in Colorado, it is psychologically the of Colorado. New Mexico is downhill and less than four trail miles away. Another month and the journey is over. It is a thought I am not ready to contemplate. The trail has again become my life. A life I enjoy because of the simplicity, of being in the wilderness and just for the journey itself. For now, will continue to enjoy my journey on the divide.
October 5th – Ghost Ranch
I am now in New Mexico. The final leg on this journey. The contrast between the high country near the border and the lower elevation here at Ghost Ranch is quite dramatic. Red rock, juniper and sage. The landscape reminds me of parts of Utah I have seen. The setting is raw and desolate. A setting that is striking. Was not totally surprised that Georgia O' Keefe found much of her inspiration in this area. There is little middle ground in loving this land. Some people find the setting barren and intimidating. I find it to be a land I want to see and discover more about. New Mexico is a state that is new to me. A place that I know little about. Hope to learn more about this land one step at a time. My last month on the trail will be in a land that is not even remotely like any place where I have lived. Can not think of a better way to end this journey.
October 10th – On a mesa in New Mexico
Serendipity. A word every thru-hiker is (hopefully) familiar with. On a thru-hike, the events we did not plan for are often remembered most. Sharing a campsite and staying up late talking. Hearing loons in Yellowstone and being reminded of another memory from eight years ago. Staying in a town during a snowstorm and sharing laughter, stories and conversation with people who were strangers a few moths ago but are now friends for life. Finding out your last batch of maps was not placed in the PO box as asked. Then, because of a holiday, having to take an unplanned zero day. I spent more time at the Circle A Ranch then I had intended. Due to Columbus Day, could not get in the post ofice yesterday. And, the post office did not place my maps in the Circle A's PO box as requested. So, had to take a zero day. And it all worked out well. The Circle A has proven to be one of my favorite places spent while doing the trail. A 1920s hacienda tucked off a forest service road. Great hosts and an eclectic group of people gathered there for the weekend. Wanted to go into town to buy food..I was not allowed! Apparently the apples on the grounds are harvested around this time and there is a big party to celebrate. They gave me no choice but to share their soups, meals and desserts. Oh, and wine. And fresh pressed cider. Did my best to oblige. And yesterday, when I had to take a zero, it rained all day. And snowed at night. Somehow sitting in front of the fireplace and drinking hot cider (with a splash of spiced rum) seemed rather nice. The stay was wonderful. Had some great conversations with the guests and staff. And generally enjoyed myself. Today, back on the trail. A newly blazed USFS trail that I am not even sure is the "official" CDT. Haven't seen a CDT marker since the wilderness boundary a few days ago. But this trail hooks up to the route I need to take, is well marked and has good water. Most importantly? It was a gorgeous walk on mesas and into canyons. My campsite overlooks the distant valley and the sun just set with a deep red. Hear an owl hooting in the distance. Staying in a place I did not expect and taking a trail that my maps did not even have marked completely. Two unexpected events that have made a satisfying past few days.
October 18th – Pie Town,NM
The trail is mainly jeep road walking from just north of Grants to Pie
It is the part of New Mexico with many private land issues.
The trail does leave the desert for a brief time on its way to Mt.
Taylor. At 11300', can see the desert to the north where I have been and
the desert to south where I am headed. The Mexican border is rapidly
Another highlight was hiking the Zuni-Acoma trail. Was interesting to
walk through the "El Malpais": The Badlands. This trail cuts through a
volanic field nd the trail itseld was used over 800 years ago to connect
the pueblos in trading routes.
After mny months on the trail, there are signs that the journey is redy
My gear is starting to reflect how long I have been on this trail. The
pack is patched with duct tape. I am on my fifth pair of shoes. The
clothes are faded from being in the sun for so many days.
The journeys on the long trails are interesting in the final weeks. The
gear is worn. The body feels tired. The end of the trail is not far
But there are always new events and places to look forward to.
Saw my first CDT hikers since Wolf Creek Pass. Martin and Jeff are two
CDT section hikers who were very friendly. Nice to talk to some kindred
spirits. As they were driving out to finish their section, they stashed
some water for me.
In Pie Town, benefited from some trail magic. The owner of the
Pie-o-neer Cafe saw me near the Post Office. She invited me in the afe, even
though it was closed for the day.
She made me some tea and we talked awhile. The weather turned bad (rain
into snow). Was then invited to stay the night in the restaurant! Kathy
has a spare bed in back. She even let me have some free pie and chili.
Both were wonderful. My thankyou list continues to grow.
In my final days on the trail, will be experiencing more trail magic.
Not only unexpected acts of kindness, but also from the trail itself.
The Gila awaits!
Oct 20th – off a FS road
As I was walking up the dirt road that is the CDT yesterday, a Subaru with Oregon plates pulled up. The passenger asked if I knew where Iowa was. Huh? Both the passenger and the driver had beards, and the Subaru was a give away that I should know these people. Sure enough as I approached the car, recongnized Karma! I knew him from Boulder. A thru-hiker who is helping out Mark Flagler (aka CC) with his PBS CDT documentary. I had met Mark in Denver before he set out filming. Good to see both of them. Did my interview on the road. After the interview we set on packs, talked and enjoyed the home brews that Skittles (another thru-hiker buddy in Boulder) had made for me and sent with Karma. Two hours later,we were still there! After only six miles for the day, realized that was not doing any more hiking for the day. Nor did I want to! Headed back to Pie Town and enjoyed the company. In the campground, we talked trail, the issues behind establshing the CDT and just about life in general. Had some more yummy home brews (thanks Skittles!) and hot drinks at night. Was just what I needed. So close to the end of trail...yet, seems to be far away. I re-read part of D-Low's 2005 CDT journal Wednesday night. D-low has a hiking style similar to mine (Part of the reason why we got along so well on the PCT in 2002 and continue to hang out together). As I read the journal, many of his thoughts echoed mine. The desire to get the trail done, the fatigue (more mental than physical), disbelief that hiking all day is not the joy it once was but a routine. Gave D-Low a call and we talked for an hour. Needed to vent. I love hiking. It is my passion. But, I think the trail is starting to make me mentally fatigued. The route finding on jeep roads (signs sometimes missing, bootleg trail not on maps),the monotony of walking jeep roads all the time in this flat terrain and just the extended time by myself. It is not just hiking solo, it is literally being by myself so much. Unlike other trails, there is no one hiking out here in this section. No day hikers. No one out for weekend. No one. Unlike previous trails, I really crave towns. Enjoy the human interaction and the chance to shift gears mentally. Think that is why I prolonged my stay in Pie Town. The chance to talk to Karma and CC; being able to do nothing. Perhaps if I was hiking an actual trail, would be in a better frame of mind. I am taking the CDT for what it is - a work in progress. Helping to recognize the trail for what it is rather than what it should be helps get through this mental fatigue. The Gila awaits. It is something I am looking forward to. Sure the uniqueness of this area will be a memory that will be a highlight of the trail. In the meantime, the journey continues.
October 24th – in the Gila
Walking in wilderness again and on real trail lifted my spirits.
Thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Gila.
All the stream fording and walking along the river in a canyon reminded
me of trips I have taken in Utah.
Canyon hiking is interesting. Unlike hiking on mountains where the
vista just gets vaster and vaster, canyon hiking reveals itself one section
at a time. You just want to go further and further to see what is
around the next bend of the trail.
When I have walked trail in New Mexico, have enjoyed it every time. New
Mexico truly is a wonderful place. Suspect when this journey is over,
will remember times like the Gila. Places full of wonder.
The jeep road walking (with much traffic)? Part of the journey for
sure…but part of the journey that will not dwell on.
The CDT was an interesting experience. Frustrating and difficult at
times. Ultimatley, it has been the most rewarding of the three trails.
Raw, untamed and intense.
Tomorrow, will be at Doc Campbells. The final push on this journey
October 29th – 65 miles from the border
My latest sun is sinking fast. My race is nearly run. My longest trials now are past. My triumph has begun. --Angel Band (traditional) Feel a bit like mile twenty-three in a marathon: Tired yet exhilirated at the same time. Know that I am about to finish. Still not sure about my feelings towards the end of this hike. Ending a long hike is always a bittersweet experience. My days of freedom are coming to a close. In less than thre days, will be at the border. Another journey completed. More so than the other two trails, I am ready to finish. Ready to return home. Ready to relax. My "what do I want do when I get off the trail" fantasy involves some dark roast coffee, a good book and some music. I know within weeks of returning home, though, my mind will wander. Will laugh about taking wrong turns on jeep roads. Think back to the glorious morning on Temple Pass in The Winds. Sunsets over the mesas. And many other memories that are too numerous to list. The CDT was indeed difficult. But the rewards more than equal the challenges faced. A trail as wild and remote as the CDT can't help but be hard. A trail as wild and remote as the CDT can't help but be filled with majesty and wonder. My last few days on the trail. But the impact the trail will have on me will last long after Antelope Wells is reached.
October 31st – 11 miles from the border
I am camped under the first trees I have seen in days. It is a tranquil
place to spend my last night on the trail.
The "trail" since Silver City has been almost all pavement. There was a
long stretch of jeep road walking that was pleasant in parts. Still,
even on pavement, there were parts to enjoy. The sunrise this morning
over the Hatchet Range was incredible. And though it is almost November,
there were still wildflowers.
I have heard of new trail and even saw some markers for it along the
road. Without concrete information, though, hesitant to take the new
route. Will finish at the traditional ending of Antelope Wells.
Perhaps if I do this trail again (not for a while!), can start/end at
the CDTA terminus.
Taking the Antelope Wells route, have seen a large prescence of the
border patrol. Suspect since between 9/11 and the immigration debate, the
border patrol has been expanded in this area. Have been questioned
about a dozen times in the past two days. A solitary man walking along a
quiet road near the Mexican border must raise a few warning bells.
Since I am walking TO Mexico, have a pack and speak with an American
accent, the questioning was usually quick. A few even knew what I was doing
and congratulated me. One person even came by again and offered me
water. I will not get into the immigration debate, but I will say that the
border patrol people I met were very professional and friendly.
My last "town" stop was Hatchita. Was told there was nothing in tne
town. I was not misinformed! The two gas stations are closed. The
restaurant is closed, but still has salt and pepper shakers on the table. There
is a saloon open at night apparently. A new gift shop is open on
weekends. The pay phone has been ripped out.
What is still open is the post office. Since I needed water, went
there. The post-mistress was extremely friendly. She invited me to use the
hose at her house across the street. Went back to thank her. She then
asked if I would like a soda, some bottled water, cheese and crackers.
Trail magic continued!
My last few hours on the trail.
What started off so long ago in Canada is about to end. Will be picked
up at the border by a friend and will then start my journey home.
My "walk on the backbone" is almost done.
November 1st – Antelope Wells, New Mexico
I woke up in the morning and "slept in" until almost 7am. Was in no rush as I had a quick
walk to the border to finish this journey.
Ate the last of my food (some Snicker bars, naturally) and walked down the 'trail'. The miles ticked off one by one. Finally reached the "Mile 1" marker. The journey was about to end.
Reached the border sooner than I expected. Sooner than my friend Terry probably expected as well! Within 100 meters, and perhaps thirty seconds of walking, Terry and Ethan showed up. Excellent timing!
As with my journey on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2002, the end was a bit dumbfounding. The ending came quicker than expected and was not sure what to make of it. Nothing dramatic. A small border station, a plaque showing the official border between the two countries and a few border guards looking on with curiosity.
Terry and Ethan snapped some pics of me. My buddy D-low sent down with them some Burger King crowns to celebrate becoming a "Triple Crowner" and a shooter of Tequila (Mexico) and Yukon Jack (Canada) to celebrate my walk from Canada to Mexico.
My walk was now over.
Time to go home. Time to rest. Time to think about what this journey meant to me.
November 10th- Boulder, CO
As I write this entry, I am sitting at my friend's computer. Their is heat in the house, a cup of tea on the desk and me with my thoughts.
Has been a little over a week since I have finished the trail.
Last week, was thankful for some trees and a bit of water to cook my dinner.
Now? The journey is already receeding into a dream-like state. Hard to believe that I walked from Canada to Mexico. That my life was 2-3 MPH. Where each day was so full.
This past week is what I call my "post-trail" honeymoon period. Have not thought about a job, bills, or moving. Been eating what I want and only taking casual walks. Giave myself all this week to "take it easy". Next week, the post-trail life begins in earnest.
Have been seeing my friends. Also managed to hook-up with the quite a bit of thru-hikers from th Boulder-Denver area. Almost a dozen of us (inlcuding recent AT,PCT and CDT completers)
went to a local brew pub to tell some tales.
As usual, posted many of my post-trail thoughts to various online sites. Here is something I wrote last week:
As mentioned previously, the CDT for me was the mostchallenging, difficult and frustrating of the threetrails. The isolation at times, the route finding, the rough edges.
But, it was indeed the most rewarding of the trails I walked.
A trail where I saw a grizzly bears in the wild, heard wolves.
Beingon top of Temple Pass in the Winds one glorious morning. Standing on the ridge in Montana and Idaho and seeing NOTHING around except the mountains.
The rawness, intensity and wildness is what makes thetrail so rewarding.
Felt as if I was forging my ownpath (even with maps andguidebooks). Was misplaced enough where sometimes I did feel like I was forging my own path. Originally, said it was my favorite of the three trails. Now? Well, hard to really choose a favorite. Think all three had something that made me like them all for different reasons.
The CDT already mentioned.
Hiking the AT was like my first serious relationship.
Full of passion and energy. Every day was something totally new to me. Took lessons from that experience that I still carry with me. Found the AT to be the most physically difficult (terrain, heavier pack, worse overall weather, inexperience).
The PCT is where I truly felt comfortable for the first time with thru-hiking. Knowing that thru-hiking is what I indeed want to do. The 10 days in the High Sierra is still the overall highpoint in my backpacking "career". The PCT is perhaps the "happy medium" forthe three trails.
Wild in places, easy to get solitude or companionship as needed, easy tread,over all great weather. A trail made for end to end hikes. Most importantly, it is where I madef riendships still strong over four years later.
As I settle into what my buddy D-low aptly calls"domestication", thinking of why these long journeys are done. Not just for the physical challenge, or
the adventure or being immersed in nature. It is for all these facets and more. For the journey itself. All the challenges, joys, experiences.
Crossing the divide this year, and being a bit of a history buff, think of the the divide crossing that happened 200 years ago: The Lewis and Clark Expedition. In his journal, Lewis wrote: "As we passsed on, it seemed as if those scences of visionary enchantment would never have an end". And I think that is why many "repeat offenders" do these longhikes…to see more scences of enchantment.
Finally (yeah…goes the crowd. ), was asked a few times if this completion of the CDT makes me a "Triple Crowner" .
Don't feel esp. "hard core". Feel lucky. Not once, or twice but three times now to see this country on foot for months at a time. The US really is extraordinary in its diversity and beauty.
Wild horses in Wyoming. The craggy peaks of northern New England. Thick forests of the southern Appalachians. The sheer remoteness of Montana. Crater Lake at sunrise. The unique combination of the raw and the sublime of the High Sierra.
All scenes of wonder forever etched in my memory. All scenes of enchantment. With any luck, will experience more scenes of enchantment in the future…