“Aaackkk, get outta here!” I roared, surprising me as much as the bear with the volume my damaged voice produced. I’d just put up my tent the first night after a 20 mile hike from Ghost Ranch. I was laying on the hard ground inside with my head on my stuff sacked sleeping bag listening to the birds while waiting for the back pain to subside for a few minutes. Footsteps. There weren’t any hikers behind me all day. Wait, they’re coming from the wrong direction. I looked through the screen. Bear! Just strolling down the trail sniffing the air. I scared the snot out of him, small latte colored guy, graceful until I yelled and his head shot up and he skedaddled uphill as fast as he could go. Few better sights than the backside of a bear gallumphing away. I repacked my pack and skedaddled myself up the trail another hour just in case he decided to come back and give me a scolding. For a 22.2 mile day.
Sometime the next day, another 22 miler, I saw a wolf, lush brown and alert, look at me from the trail, and then dash uphill quietly, stealthily. So much less noise than all the hoof noise deer and elk make when they spot me. New Mexico is paradise for wildlife, I’m so happy to be walking through it.
I finished Stephen King’s Dark Tower series today, after reading 6 of 7 books, Book 7 I listened to, all 28 hours of it over the last 2 weeks. Say ya true Stephen, Roland and his Ka-tet should have let you die. Actually a great series, whether you’re a King fan or not. I read Book 1 a million years ago when it first came out. And then my son Glen somehow inspired me to read the lot, it’s taken 6 months of intermittent attention.
This was a new stretch for me with lots of new hikers and weird misdirects on the route. Some awesome hikers were Clean Sweep, Root Beer, Brian, Dixie and Aaron, and there were others whose name I didn’t get including a group of 3 humans and 2 dogs and a couple who hammocked instead of tented. Brian hiked the Colorado Trail (CT) with his wife last year when they moved from Michigan to Farmington, NM. She has a strict work schedule so he’s off to thru hike the CDT, doing big miles happily and quickly. Super nice guy, I don’t know, but really every single person I’ve ever met from Michigan? I adore. All Brian needs is a trail name, he refuses to name himself, so please any hiker up the trail, watch for this dude. He’s a good one.
The third day I did another 22, and I’m generally happy and plan for 20 miles, but finding campsites is tough on this bugger.
My fourth and could have easily been my last day before the trailhead to Chama, I came on Dixie and Aaron at a creek. When I said I was named Catwater because I drank water on the PCT with a dead cat in it, not only did Dixie describe that particular cistern, she asked if I’d had to fish water out of it with a long line. Wow! She hiked and fished water there in 2017. Whoa! They’re doing modest miles currently after taking time off from the CDT for assorted reasons. Wow!
I crossed the barbed wire fence marking the New Mexico/Colorado border and camped the fourth night, with just a few miles left. Rather than paying for a motel, I’ll get to town tomorrow morning, get all the chores done: pick up resupply box, laundry, food shop, etc spend a night in a bed and head back to the trail. The zipper on my bug screen has failed so I’ll get some binder clips in town to jury rig it until I can get the backup I’ve had Dan mail me to the next stop up the trail.
I walked from the trail to the trailhead at 8am. A woman was just parking her Subaru. She stepped out and asked me “Are you Catwater?” I was gobsmacked. Turns out Laura’s husband Dave, who I had a great talk with last year at Pie Town, was just a day behind me and guessed where I was because he reads my blog. Laura was staying in Chama while providing support and resupply for this section. She was out for a day hike but we exchanged phone numbers and got together for dinner later that day.
Meanwhile I stuck out my thumb, got a ride instantly from Rick who stopped the car just before the post office to say hi to a friend who showed him a tiny rescued kitten she had wrapped in a blanket to take home and feed with a syringe. I got my mail, walked to the laundromat, washed clothes, called a motel and was settled in a spacious kitchenette with 3 beds for $70 at Cumbres Inn, with continental breakfast!
I drove from Grants to Albuquerque, an easy posted 75 MPH (!) on some highway. I dropped off the car and Google mapped the 5 mile walk to the Greyhound station. I kind of like walking through other people’s cities, plus I had plenty of time to catch the bus back to Grants.
5/27 20 miles
Starting from the motel at 6400′ I walked through town, up a paved road, then to the trail. I camped at 9300′, the same place where the Ravens and I camped last year for the same reason: too much uphill. Along the way Curt and Ryan blasted by me. Curt started at the border 550 miles ago and his friend Ryan just joined him for a couple of weeks.
5/28 22.2 miles
I really enjoyed the trail today until the last 5 miles after I picked up 3L (6.6 lbs) of water. The additional weight killed my neck as I continued up, a steady, not steep, climb. It’s windy and hot, so dry that even breathing through your nose can’t stop the desiccation of throat and lungs. I get a dry cough, gritty eyes and a feverish feeling. So I camped in a soft, flat little spot, hidden from view with my camo-colored Altaplex. Just before camping I went by 2 guys just waking up from naps to hike in the cool of dusk and evening. I hate hiking in the dark, mostly because, duh, I can’t see, even with a headlamp, and then there’s the glowing eyeballs the headlamp picks up next to the trail.
5/29 21.7 miles
Camped in a cattle corral with Ryan and Curt! Nice to have company, however briefly. Also this is the place the Deputy Sheriff rolled up on me last year, lights whirling madly. “Mrs Sterley? You OK?” A little joke with the guys, Ryan says, “How does it feel out walking a 30 year old guy?” He’s suffering from bad blisters and a flare up of runner’s knee. I give him a bunch of ibuprofen since they’re running short.
5/30 20-ish miles, maybe 19
Tremendously beautiful country, pillars of eroded rock, the trail goes up escarpments with views forever. Jack rabbits and greenish lizard things. And the human element, “Pretty good job whacking Ryan in the knee, eh?” I joke with Curt when I catch up to him where he’s been waiting an hour for Ryan.
At the wonderful Trujillo Family water cache, Ryan decides to hitch the nearby highway to Cuba to get a cortisone shot and a rest while Curt hikes on another night. Bummer. A while later, both Enigma and Curt pass me and I camp on one of those escarpments, moonlit all night.
5/31 26 long miles
Today was incredibly beautiful again, I stopped again and again to admire the rocks, the gigantic scale of tumbled boulders rolled and halted in the flatlands below me, the tiny little marble rocks under my feet, the scoured, run-off shaped towers and pillars, and the sandstone fractal mosaic mounds. And adolescent rabbits hopping everywhere.
I really, really believed that when I hit the highway about 4 miles before town, I would be able to hitch a ride. Not only would it be a long day, but I’ve already done this road walk, no need to link footsteps for a thru-hike. There was plenty of traffic but 100 cars later, not a single one slowed or offered water or anything. Exhausted and disappointed in local humanity, I finally made it to the Del Prado Motel. So it’s a puzzle to me. Is there no awareness of CDT hikers here? Compassion for the obviously overheated and struggling? Respect for women who could be your mom or grandma, for elders? Get over it, Catwater, you don’t need no stinking ride.
There is a trail closure from Cuba to Ghost Ranch because of severe fire danger. The CDTC posted an alternate to the 45 mile trail, a 60 mile road walk, I’m not going to do it, but there are no buses out of here and, umm, hitching doesn’t bode well. In an update, the CDTC reported the USFS didn’t want hikers on the highways. CDTC has scrambled and found someone willing to shuttle hikers to Ghost Ranch, woohoo, thank you all!
Step by step, shedding anxiety, I made my way to the trail. I flew from Alaska to Albuquerque. The next morning I flew in a small Pilatus PC-12 to Silver City where I’d arranged for the Comfort Inn’s manager Jeannie to pick me up. She was so cheerful and welcoming, thanks for picking me up! Blue sky, dry and hot, feels awesome after what we laughingly call spring in Anchorage. Jack rabbits bounded across the road to town, as big as coyotes, or at least bigger than our snowshoe hares.
I’ve decided to consciously try and do fewer stupider things per day this hike. Foremost is to drink water, plan water, carry water, never pass up a source of water. I’ve hiked this stretch last year, so I set a goal the first day to camp at the same place I’d previously camped.
5/17 Well that was brutal. Started out so good but I promptly followed a day hiker 1.23 miles up the official CDT instead of staying on the dirt road of the Gila River which I knew to do. Backtracked and I made my 20 miles on this super hot day, and drank 4L–awesome. It is a really awful endless uphill with the ridiculously vertical pitch up to the same place I camped last year. Hot spots, cramping quads, aching back and neck, but strangely I wasn’t crabby, just exhausted, a good exhaustion.
5/18 16.1 miles in 10.5 hours. A pleasant start and I saw 3 guys on horses this morning but they’re camped 5-6 miles behind me on the beautiful Gila River. It was a horrid road to steep switchback trail down on loose rock and gravel. The sign said 2 miles to the Gila. Wrong, way more. The river is lovely, much lower this year and I have the hang of crossing and cutting straight inland to find the tread so it went well. My goal, once again, was to repeat last year’s miles. So I did, but I think it took a lot longer.
5/19 To Doc Campbell’s by 1pm, yay! OMG!! Today was the date marked on my calendar for the Girdwood Skatepark raffle for a chair from historic old Chair 1 at Alyeska and…I won! I usually buy raffle tickets as a donation to whatever and never think about it, but wow, I really do love rusty metal objects and I wanted this little piece of history. Doc’s has a bit of WiFi so I got the email telling me I won. I thought it was spam at first. And I met Crash out back of Doc’s, the usual instant recognition of a fellow hiker amongst the tourists and day trippers. He hadn’t seen another hiker since starting the CDT at Crazy Cook. And he is moving fast and light so I expect I’ll just see his name in a hiker register from now on.
Lovely hiking really, a lot more trail than water, cairns were set by the earlier hikers, so with the low water, it was easier than last year. But I’m just starting, toughening up for the San Juan section I haven’t hiked up north. It’s hot and I hurt. Still thinking about taking the quicker High Route for 22 miles but it’s utterly dry. Crash is compromising and taking the Little Bear Canyon route to the Middle Fork of the Gila so I’m looking that up, it would avoid a few miles of river and go down a slot canyon, sounds beautiful.
5/20 Lovely day. Ran into the 3 Horsemen on the paved road leading to the Gila Cliff Dwellings and the Little Bear Canyon route which they too mentioned would be fun. And it was, excellent tread, about 4.4 miles. Then I dropped into the Middle Fork and like last year it was hot, sandy, cobbled, beautiful and exhausting. Somewhere around 16 miles and a nice tent site. I’ve been having good dreams, it’s kind of meditative listening to the birds going through their good night rituals, yelling at the flock to hit the roost and shut up so they can all get some sleep before waking up the stupid hiker in her tent just before daybreak. Little do they know I have earplugs so I can go back to sleep for half an hour in the morning while it’s still cold. But they try their best.
5/21 Well shit, broke a phone. The Lifeproof case failed when I fell in the water slipping on mossy cobbles after hiking 3 hours this morning. I kept going, thinking it’s a long way to the next town that might have Verizon, Grants in another 200 miles. I could backtrack to Silver City, 75 miles, or hike back 30 to Doc’s and hitch. How long can I go without reading a book? I only have them electronically. No phone, no books. I can’t do it if I don’t have to. Spoiled, entitled hiker. I eventually stopped hiking forward and satellite texted Dan to give him the heads up that I was going to backtrack and regroup. It kind of freaks out your loved ones when they see your track stop, vanish or go backward. The Garmin inReach Explorer is the same device I’ve carried since PCT 2015 so I’m a tad nervous that it’s my sole remaining electronic device/GPS/communication system.
Now hiking the wrong way, I stopped to talk to the 3 Horsemen: Peter, originally from Switzerland, Mark from Scotland, and Jolt from Hungary. The horses remained nameless. They have lost their SPOT so they asked me to text a wife and pick up the device if I found it and send it to her. So now I have a good deed to do as I backtrack to get a new phone.
Another gorgeous campsite on the river. Heat rash and cuts all over my legs from having bare legs through the lush veg. Oh well, but I’m in good spirits even with my mini disaster. I’m getting trail fit which is what this section was about anyway.
5/21 Good decision. Walking downriver is walking downhill, what a concept. So much quicker! I was anxious to get back to the dead end but paved road to Doc’s, it’s midweek and there won’t be much traffic. I was anxious about getting a ride, it’s just weird and awkward to hitch, and I’m dirty. I thought if nobody wanted me, I’d clean up at Doc’s, make a little cardboard sign and at least have access to water if I needed to camp. Past noon, I’d walked the blacktop for a couple of miles and 1 car, when the second car stopped and took me all the way to Silver City, a good hour away. Ronald driving, wife Kathy, and her mom Ernie in the front so Dakota the handsome hound dog let me share his plush and spacious bed on the back seat. I’m always blown away when non-locals take a chance and pick me up, I try to pay them back by answering all the questions with smiles and positive vibes, it makes the drive go by and it’s fun. Comfort Inn was full but for 1/2 the price and with a super friendly management I got a room at the Copper Manor down the street, aging but clean and everything works. Plus, I found the missing SPOT.
5/22-23 Got a new phone, my choices were limited, so I’m learning a new system and trying to restore apps and content. All my regular books repopulated but only some of the audiobooks. Of course the photos I took after the last backup heading out of Silver City are lost so I’ll use one of last year’s for this post. Found a rental car place that will give me a one-way to Albuquerque for about the same as the flight. I pick it up tomorrow and now can go to Pie Town to get my box of Resupply to send elsewhere and to Grants which has the stuff in a box I was going to carry to Ghost Ranch for the San Juans. Meanwhile I’ve posted on the CDT FB seeing if any hikers in the area need a ride or whatever as long as I have the car. And I’m bringing the SPOT to Pie Town to leave for the 3 Horsemen and the wife approves. Plus the wildfires north of the Gila before Highway 12 have caused the USFS to reroute the CDT with a 34 mile waterless stretch. This is the same part of NM, the Gila National Forest, where the crews were so good to hikers last year during the smaller fires so I know they’ve put out signs and water. Awesome management here but nonetheless glad I don’t have to hike it.
5/24 Walking up the road to get the car, I ran into 2 hikers, Short Cut and Nectar, so I told them my story and Nectar rode with me to Pie Town, about 4 hours, after calling around and getting more info on the fires. Her asthma doesn’t need the smoke from an 8000 acre, 0% contained burn. We took Highway 12 and picked up Noon who had gone on the fire reroute and then walked down Highway 12 to where the 40 mile Pie Town alternate started. Nita’s Toaster House was fun. I brought beer as none is for sale in town. Radar, CDTC shuttle driver from last year, trail angel, Toaster House angel, hiker and many other things was there making sure all hikers were accounted for through the fire area. Enigma was there already, that man moves! And talked with Easy, Patches and Labrador. A smaller crew than last year, so I grabbed a bunk for the night.
5/25 Labrador runs with Achilles International every Monday where he lives in Colorado. What a cool connection, I told him I was fundraising for them for the NYC Marathon and he told me stories of some of the athletes and guides he runs with and we both celebrated the inspiration!
Off to Grants and I drove quickly along the road the Ravens and I plodded last year in the heat. The horses who pestered us were in their field nodding at me as I went by.
My plan has morphed again. I’ll walk out of Grants to Cuba and on to Ghost Ranch. It won’t be so bad. I need the trail time before the San Juans and this way I can drive the car to ABQ and take the bus back on the same day and leave my pack in a motel. I’ll get to revisit the site of my accidental SOS activation amongst other memorable locations between Grants and Cuba. Some long water hauls so I’ll pay attention.
I had a rather wonderful off-season from hiking but I still can’t wait to get back on trail. My winter was spent traveling a lot–Hawaii a couple of times, Florida for my first 2 visits ever, the Winter Olympics to watch my Alaska snowboarders Ryan Stassel and Rosie Mancari, Fort Smith, NWT, Canada for Arctic Winter Games, Copper Mountain, CO for USASA Nationals and California to see my step-mom and to run the Big Sur 11-miler with friends from Yosemite, Noreen and Vicky.
Somehow, during the times I was at home, I managed to break my little orange Manx cat. I had the brilliant idea for googling “running mice” while he was sitting next to my laptop. Now he is fixated on the computer and if I don’t remember to close the cover, I’ll find him walking on the keyboard trying to find the running mice video in history. I can return home after a week away and Shreddie will greet me and then lead me to the laptop and start purring and rubbing his chin on it, gazing expectantly at the screen. I think we need to get him his own desktop system and no keyboard and run the video on a loop. The damage has been done and his tiny cat brain is never going to recover. Maybe when I’m on the trail, he’ll get into a recovery program. He’s on the wait list.
My plan to complete the CDT this season includes “re-hiking” an interesting section of New Mexico to toughen up my feet and get in trail shape for the San Juans in southern Colorado, Ghost Ranch to Monarch Pass, the approximately 300 mile section I skipped last year to fly home to AK to host visitors. Then Burning Calves is flying in from Germany to hike the Colorado Trail and I’m going to meet her for the first 100 or so non-CDT miles out of Denver that will connect to the CDT near Frisco and Breckenridge. From there I’ll transit north of Dubois, WY where I left the trail and continue towards Canada. Montana got well above average snow this winter so it might make sense to head north out of Wyoming the second week of July or maybe I’ll head south from Canada back to Dubois. Sometime in July, my PCT 2015 friend Poppy will join me from Spokane! Plus, I am going to hike the PCT south out of Tuolumne Meadows in September after another volunteer work week in Yosemite. All plans are subject to change of course. It’s a lot more complicated planning a non-thru hike and figuring out transportation logistics rather than just walking north.
I’ve never done this before so bear with me. I am fundraising for Achilles International, an amazing organization I saw in action last November when I ran the NYC Marathon. It’s all about helping adaptive athletes, a group of people who have inspired me for many years, beginning with a snowboarder named Jesse ripping up the Boardercross course at USASA Nationals without legs.