I left the CDT at Dubois, WY for the year, because it was the least inconvenient place, logistically. It was a considered decision. I had things I wanted to accomplish–the Totality August 21 at Union Pass, WY and my volunteer week in Yosemite September 9-16 (due partly to my hiking addiction, after 10 years of week-long volunteer trips in Yosemite, I haven’t helped in at least 3 years), I toyed around with the idea of returning to the CDT after that in mid-September, but really why? To suffer some more? I suffered plenty in 2015 heading north through Washington on the PCT and it was worth it to accomplish my first thru-hike. But I’ve gotten smarter. Maybe.
I have been following the Instagram, Facebook and blog posts of other hikers on the CDT. I cheer out loud from behind my phone or computer screen as hikers I know or know of, finish the trail. Acorn! Endless and Queen B! I ache for those that have been prevented from getting to Canada by fire or road closures or injury. I miss friends who had to go back to work in August–Burning Calves and Dassie. And I continue to follow or look for the adventures of those still out there–the Ravens, Mudslide (AJ), German Mormon, with my fingers crossed that they will meet their goals.
If you’ve never hiked a long trail, a really long trail, it’s hard to understand why somebody would keep going. Why keep going through smoke, road-walking alternates around trail closures, fatigue, pain, weight loss, rain, and snow? I think the answer is different for each hiker. For me the answer was “I don’t have to.”
I have put off writing this update because I have a sense of failure. I could list all my excuses for quitting, I wrote a rather extensive litany of complaints in my journal, most of which are valid, but I’m just fooling myself. Bottom line? I was bone-deep tired of it all.
From Dubois I hired a shuttle service to take me to Riverton regional airport where I caught a plane to Denver. From Denver I took Alaska Airlines to Seattle and spent a couple days with my daughter, Sarah. Then Seattle home to Anchorage for a few days before joining my sister for a flight to California and a wonderful week of volunteering in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite NP, with people I really enjoy.
I intend to finish the CDT next season, starting mid-July-ish at the border with Canada and heading south to Dubois. In fact, I’m already looking forward to it! I’ve been off trail for a month and feeling pretty good. Who wants to join me next year for awhile?
8/10 Ack, I’m in a holding pattern. I went into Lander for the night and spent the next day googling transportation logistics in Wyoming, not a lot of public transport hereabouts, but there are shuttles running in limited areas to a few towns and regional airports, and rental cars here and there. I asked the wonderful, possibly extended, family that runs the Holiday Lodge if they knew a company or person that could drive me to Riverton airport. English is their second language and Wyoming is not where they originated, ( I guess China but it feels intrusive to ask in these immigrant-sensitive times, “Oh, I’ve been to China! Where exactly are from?”) but they worked the phones and got me some great leads. I wound up renting a car from the RV park right here in Lander to do a little self-guided tour of towns, museums and sites near the CDT. There is so much history, I could spend weeks looking, learning and pondering, although I feel so aimless wandering in a car with no fixed goal in mind.
As a kid I watched Wagon Train and Bonanza and cowboy movies. In my high school a new class was offered and taught by a Native American, called “Indian Studies” and I realized that the history of the American West has been revised, scrutinized, detailed and retold from a lot of different perspectives through time. History isn’t static. The museums I’ve visited here have great collections of artifacts but sometimes the descriptions, although mostly factual, omit bigger picture information. For example, the plains buffalo nearly vanished in a short span of time leading to the starvation of the tribes dependent on them, and the tribes’ “relocation” as one museum puts it, to reservations. Buffalo hunters killed them to sell their hides for fashion wear back East in this narrative. But what about the link to the post-Civil War government policies and Acts that sought to move people from the East to the West and the idea of Manifest Destiny? In one place I saw the coolest collection of barbed wire samples with the year each was invented. In another, barbed wire was described as a solution to violence between ranchers who were hostile to another rancher’s cattle on their grazing grounds and remarked that barbed wire coincidentally lead to the demise of the formerly and necessarily free-ranging buffalo.
It makes me think. One of Mama Raven’s reasons for homeschooling her kids is that she says in her school district they don’t teach History anymore. One of my issues is that, since high school, I wanted teachers who loved history and who knew history, to teach it, not the basketball coach who stood in front of my World Civilization class while I raised my hand to correct him on the particulars of Ancient Egypt, but the guy who taught us Native American history. I just like history and read it on my own. I’ve always been curious about people, places and culture. Not chemistry, astrophysics or fluid dynamics which I can’t imagine anybody could teach themselves. Incorrect assumption I know. Hence the need for proper teachers or, for a proper curriculum so that our kids can learn to think about our world and be informed citizens. But I don’t know, is history being taught still? It’s a rather broad discipline, so how do school districts decide what the important bits are?
I put together a plan to hike to the right place for the eclipse. I want to be in the wild, nowhere near sold-out hotels and traffic jams and hoopla. (Every store is selling Wyoming Eclipse tee shirts, hotels all over the entire state have jacked up their prices and sold out, public service announcements warn about traffic issues.). That involved delaying off trail awhile longer.
I set up a flight home from Denver, a flight from Wyoming to Denver, a shuttle ride from Dubois, WY to the regional airport and a motel room the night before. The eclipse has been my obsession and if I kept to my original hiking schedule I would have been far enough ahead that I’d have to figure out how to get back south to the Dubois area. When I told Papa Raven this, he tried to hide the look that told me he thought I was nuts, “You’d still be in the path and would see a 96% eclipse.” I know, I know, it’s just a thing I’m fixed on–to be high in elevation, open country, 100%. I also know that with the near constant cloud cover of the last couple of weeks, I may only see brief darkness, no black disk covering the sun. Who knows?
At whatever point in time I decided I wouldn’t finish the CDT this year, I was both liberated and demoralized. I can’t call myself a thru-hiker anymore, which matters to who? Nobody. I have several reasons or excuses, all valid, all my own choice. After running into High Country, a hiker I first met on the train ride from El Paso to Lordsburg in April, I’m feeling better. This is his second season on the CDT. After some rough times last year on the trail, he had to go home without finishing. This year he has gone north, then flipped and went south so that he will finish the whole CDT at South Pass City very soon. In my age group, when he gets there he will have earned the Triple Crown (AT, PCT, CDT) hurray! He did the PCT in 2001 and only slept indoors 4 times the whole trail. Over a beer, we agreed that I’ll get to pick my months next year for Montana and for the chunk in the San Juans I missed, and that’s a good thing.
Heading back on the trail tomorrow. Tonight I will eat another burger at the Lander Brewery, truly the best I’ve ever had. Local-grown, free-range, organic, etc etc–the Black and Blue burger is another reason why I love Wyoming.
Very importantly, I have a nomination for the best beer can blurb. Melvin brewed in Pine, Wyoming.
8/11 Finally back on trail and better yet, the morning was sunny after days of clouds. Dassie and Burning Calves both texted me yesterday concerned, I think, that I had left the trail. The Ravens probably hate me for my rudeness. I enjoyed my aimless, expensive time off trail though. I ran into High Country in Dubois and he made me feel better about abandoning any attempt at thru-hiking. In his second year on the CDT, he will complete it. So can I. Dan has left the PCT in Oregon–the fires and smoke have shut parts of the trail and it is just miserable to hike in those conditions. So I count myself lucky here on the CDT.
Walking from the highway, I was almost immediately in trees. After the long, treeless Red Desert, trees again. Every stretch, the CDT changes. I am ready to be done hiking in 2 weeks. Next up, Yosemite. And then what? Training for the NYC Marathon November 5. I will have the aerobic fitness and whippet thin body shape but I’ll have to gradually reintroduce my leg muscles to a running stride. How glorious it will be to move through space without 20 pounds on my back!
8/12 Holy crap, as I pitched my tent last night at 7:30, a pack of 4 people with neon green race bibs came up the trail. I commented to them, “After seeing nobody all day, now there’s a whole bunch!” One replied, “And there will be more, probably going by all night long.” “Great, all night long.” It was awful, I’m still mad. Hey Adventure organization, if you can hang your GPS checkpoints, how about signage warning other trail users about the international hordes on the trail? All night long, groups of 4 with blazing bright headlamps and loud voices in assorted foreign languages woke me up. I found out today from another team that it is the World Championship Adventure Race lasting 6 or 7 days. Whoop whoop. Team Japan was awesomely friendly in comparison to the rest though and brightened my sleep deprived day.
I met a couple of LASHers (Long Ass Section Hikers) who added a new hiking phrase to my vocabulary. They are not fans of thru-hiking, believing 20+ miles a day is no kind of way to experience a trail. Trail Crew said, “I call us Thorough Hikers, we take our time and explore all the alternate and side trails.” I like that–Thorough Hikers.
It threatened to rain most of the day. Due to sleep deprivation and too many town days, I only walked for 9 hours and pitched my tent in a lovely, quiet, still spot near the top of a climb with a view over the desert. I had zero people go by and relaxed listening to maniac squirrels and a few birds, a call I hadn’t heard before, Osprey? I know they’re in the area.
8/13 I just missed my 20 mile goal today, but that’s OK. This morning started at 7am with an intense 20 second hail storm. A bit later I came on a smoldering campfire in a fire ring just off trail in a meadow. Pissed me off. I poured 1/2 my water on it to no avail. I hope the wind doesn’t come up. The trees and meadows continued with plenty of blowdown and unmaintained trail until I neared the Big Sandy trailhead and was suddenly deluged with huge groups of hikers, and a horse group of 4 decked out in chaps, spurs and cowboy hats, 2 men and 2 boys, with 2 working dogs neatly threading their way through hooves. I forced myself up and over a pass at the end of the day, getting wind chilled in a light rain, to find a protected little tent site with a view of a lake. The Wind River Range is spectacular, no wonder there are so many humans out here.
8/14 It rained a bit last night but I was warm and protected. I saw High Country first thing this morning heading SOBO. He’s nearly finished the CDT and the Triple Crown (AT, PCT, CDT)! He said he’d seen NOBOs German Mormon aka Hoss aka Johnny (who started the same day as me, the Ravens, Dassie, Burning Calves, High Country and Kay) and Trooper. The Winds are wonderful, remind me of the Sierra with sparkling lakes and granite, I’m happy. I met Trooper later in the afternoon because he was waiting for German Mormon. We’re all going to take the 11-mile sidetrail to a trailhead to hitch to Pinedale tomorrow. It’s been overcast all day, I’ve hiked in my jacket most of the time and pitched my tent near a creek after making it over Hat Pass to set myself up for a series of 3 tightly spaced passes in the morning and the 11 miles of supposedly “down to the Elkhart Trailhead.”
8/15 It’s still a jolt, like time travel, to go from trail to town, even after all my experience doing just this. Today I woke at dawn in my little tent camped near a stream after a night of gentle rain, all alone in the wild. I packed up, heated water for instant coffee while eating Walker’s shortbread cookies for breakfast. I kept on my wool longies and shirt, put dry socks into wet shoes, rain pants and jacket over all, rolled up my wet tent and put it in the pack, and started walking uphill into the clouds. The Winds are wet and blooming, granite and blue spruce, open vistas with snow rimmed spires and cirques and I feel like I have it all to myself. Photos can’t capture the feeling of the hugeness of the mountains, the quiet broken by the squeak of another startled chipmunk, the thoughts rolling around my head, and the joy of being in the midst of it all with cold, wet feet. I climbed up and over three actual passes in about two hours, then followed the trail another two miles to the junction that would take me off the CDT to a trailhead to town. In those eleven miles I saw 50 people walking toward me. Most said “hi” but few said more than that. There were a lot of fords, nothing treacherous or over knee deep. I have learned that it’s pointless to do anything special to walk across water if my feet are already wet. If there are rocks or a log, I’ll use them carefully, with my hiking sticks for balance. But for fords, I simply step in, my shoes provide the surest footing, my feet are already wet anyway from walking on wet trail with overgrown bushes, and it’s quicker to just keep walking rather than stop to change into water shoes or dry socks. A lot of the 50 people today were drying feet or preparing feet for the water or in some other way delaying at the fords. I said “hi” and plodded across without hesitating beyond making sure it was the best spot to ford. I felt a little showoffy and am pretty glad I didn’t trip and get soaked, but I teased one bunch of young bucks who were fussing with toweling off their feet, “Oh you guys do the whole shoes off thing,” as I stepped into the river without pausing, long gray hair and hiking skirt making me look like some kind of hiking goddess I’m sure. They might have laughed a little after getting over the idea that you don’t have to keep your footwear dry. I came across a woman and her dog resting by the trail. Sweet dog, he watched me approach, then happily walked over for a sniff and an ear scratch. Score! Turns out, Jan and I were the only female hikers in their 60’s either of us had met this year (“But I’m not alone, I have Jack here”). She was turning off at a junction so we wished each other well and said goodbye.
I acknowledge the anxiety I always feel when I face having to hitch a ride, it always works out, but I always have a backup plan–I can camp, I have extra food, I could walk further until I get a cell signal to call someone. How long will I have to wait for a ride? Is it the time of day when people will be going my way? These thoughts creep into my brain even as I watch my footing, ford streams, huff and puff my way up grades, and check my GPS and maps. I finally got to the trailhead at a dead end road. I went in the outhouse and took off my rain pants, stuffed my jacket into my pack, and tried to look a little tidier. I don’t have a mirror but I did comb out my hair and brushed my teeth this morning. I feel a little sunburnt and have been scratching bug bites on my forehead. My bare legs are hairy, scratched, scabbed and dirty. I stink. To other hikers, even complete stranger hikers, I look normal, I am instantly accepted in the club, no explanation. But the driving public? I don’t know what I look like to them. I saw a car leaving the parking lot and smiled and tentatively stuck out my thumb. The car hesitated and then the couple made a snap judgment, I must have looked OK, like a fellow retiree. They offered me a ride. I was so thankful. I doubt they’d ever picked up a stranger, Jerry and Sue from Louisiana, and I had fun trading travel tales on the way down to Pinedale. Their mission is to visit all 50 states, only 5 left. They were enjoying Wyoming but disliked the Great Basin or the Red Desert as I learned to call it, so I got to regale them with tales of the foot experience–wild horses, the bones of the land showing through the sage, water in the desert, spring water, and the wind.
Hey Ravens, I miss you! I’m attaching this amazing raven photo from Wendy Davis Photography!
In Rawlins, the Days Inn accepts hiker resupply boxes and offers a very low room rate that includes breakfast. I prefer not sending resupply to post offices because you have less flexibility about the time of day and day of the week to get your box. To thank a motel for this service, I usually try and stay there a night. Plus other hikers tend to stay at the cheapest places and so I get to see them. Burning Calves and I wound up in the breakfast room at the Days Inn, not knowing we were both there.. I was going to move hotels because when they couldn’t fix the TV in my room, they moved me to a room with a good TV but broken AC. The hotel staff were all so nice that I felt bad for moving. I asked BC if she wanted to share a room, and it wound up being really fun getting to know her better. She had to return to Germany in a few days to her job as a teacher. I want to visit her there!
I got word from the Ravens that they had to take an extra day on the trail out of Steamboat–8 days total, think of the food weight–but were in Rawlins. Reunion! BC, Dassie, AJ, the 4 Ravens and I all had a great dinner together. The Ravens said they needed a zero, so I immediately decided to stay another night in Rawlins so as to hike out with them for a stretch, and convinced Burning Calves to do the same. I’ve been so lonely on the trail, I’ve only camped with other hikers once in over a month of hiking.
7/30 Hiked out with the Ravens and BC after breakfast. It was mostly roads and paved highway, treeless, dry and quite beautiful. We made about 24 trail miles and camped in the scrub. A difficulty with hiking with other people is that there is no possibility of a private pee. You can walk out a ways after telling people to look elsewhere, or sometimes you can find a little dip or rise to hide in. I’m not particularly modest, plus I hike in a skirt which helps, but I still need to be aware so as not to offend or embarrass my companions. This “bathroom” situation is of course a frequent topic for hiker discussion, and at the dinner table the night before hiking out, the 8 of us shared a lot of stories about hikers habits. It’s hilarious.
7/31 After about 20 miles, BC had to leave us on a road that would take her to Baroil and on to the highway where she’d hitch back to Rawlins to catch a bus to Denver airport. I will have to visit her in Frankfurt! The Ravens and I continued on, finding tentsites in a bit of sand not too covered with sagebrush and sticker bushes of various kinds. It is so good to have company.
8/1 A long day. Since there are no trees, there is no shade and it gets really hot, especially trudging uphill with 3 liters of water. I struggled but survived, trying so very hard not to slow down the Ravens or make them feel they had to camp before the planned 25 miles. For the second time this stretch, and contrary to my usual routine, we stopped and cooked dinner and then continued on. It works like magic, fueling the last couple hours of hiking till dark. I’ve always just waited to eat till I camp because it seems like wasting time to unpack the stove and food and repack. But it works. I can hike till dark with good physical and mental energy and the cooler evening is very pleasant. So we made it up the last steep climb and pitched tents in the wind on the flattest and barest place we could find, the dirt road that is the CDT. It was a dreadful, windy, tent flapping night. I used earplugs to try and sleep and had to get up a couple of times to reset the tent stakes. No trees, no rocks, no way to block the wind out here. But I do love Wyoming so far, the bones of the land are visible, the ridges and rock outcrops, the folds and bluffs, you can see for miles. Cows and antelope pop up and either stare or sproing, and I just feel like I’m able to breathe and see. I guess it’s this sense of space and stretch through the vastness of the open country. I like it.
8/2 Another windy day, another 25 miles. Wild horses again, we are all ecstatic when we see them. They are so graceful and free. Antelope, cows and horses: because the country is so open, we see animals constantly. We camped in another windy, unprotected spot, there’s really no other choice. Tonight though I could hear the cheerful voices of Bling and Whisper in their tent, just being kids. I love the sound. I’ve missed it.
8/3 Woohoo, not only did we make it to Atlantic City, a mile off trail, but we were treated like guests, not customers, at Wild Bill’s Guns where we rented cabins for the night. Bill and Carmela’s cabins are clean and new, electricity and water are in the separate bathroom. They invited us onto their porch for lemonade and cookies and recommended the Grubstake for dinner. Another very hiker friendly place. Back at Bill’s, we got got chocolate cake and ice cream. Yes, I’m obsessed with food on the trail.
8/4 Bill cooked breakfast–Mama Raven claimed they were the best pancakes ever and my coffee cup was never empty.
My firstborn turns 34 today. Happy Birthday Glen!
After breakfast we hiked the road a few miles to the ghost town of South Pass City and picked up our resupply boxes from the visitor center before exploring the park. I saw legendary, speed-record holding, Anish’s signature 2 names ahead of my own in the CDT Hiker register, cool, she must be hiking SOBO. The town is restored and the interiors are arranged to look as though the inhabitants have just stepped away from the table in the middle of a meal. It’s really well done and unlike any historical site I’ve visited. We walked on towards Highway 28, taking a short cut that turned into a long cut when we came to a fence that promised trespassers would be shot and survivors would be shot twice. Seen this sign before, still not funny. Go, Wyoming.
We walked up the pavement and crossed at the proper spot. I had been torn all day, actually for weeks, trying to figure out how to best be in the solar eclipse zone, hiking, where to try to finish this year’s hike, and the complicated logistics of transport, including from the trail to an airport to get home to Alaska. Plus, it was hot and 120 miles in 5 days had sapped my wasted legs of energy. I still am annoyed by my general indecisiveness on this hike. So I’d been yakking to Mama about the fact that I’d be resupplying in a town they needed to bypass (Pinedale) and they’d be ahead of me from then on, and that I was thinking about trying to hitch into Lander for no reason other than I didn’t feel like walking today. Hopefully it wasn’t a big surprise to the Ravens when I didn’t catch up to them. I simply stopped, turned around and walked back to the highway. I might be notorious in my other life for fading from a party without saying goodbye, a little idiosyncrasy of mine, a kind of no-fuss decisiveness. I gave myself half an hour of trying, if no ride, I’d continue up the trail. I stuck out my thumb at the 70 MPH traffic and a pickup stopped within a minute. The old guy asked if I’d mind riding in the back of the truck. “Is it legal in Wyoming?” I asked. “I think so,” he said and we grinned. Then I hopped in and had the time of my life for the 25 mile ride. No second guessing my decision. What a great way to see the scenery! The last time I rode in the back of a pickup, I was 25, living on the Big Island and a bunch of us rode in the back of Billy Hopkins’ truck down to Waipio Valley for the day.
6/20 Flew Seattle to Denver, arriving 12:45 am. Got the shuttle to the hotel nearby in the cluster of airport hotels and restaurants on the plain near DIA. The next morning I got the shuttle back to the airport, took the train to Union Station, wandered around until I found the free tourist bus and got to the Greyhound station. Denver rather than Albuquerque because the ticket was $500-700 cheaper and I would get as far south as public transportation could take me. I’ll have to hike the chunk I’m skipping later in the season, but there will be no snow.
I haven’t ridden a Greyhound since the 70’s and my boyfriend and I, just down in the Lower 48 from seasonal jobs in Alaska, drove my Mom’s friend’s car from Davis to San Antonio and then took the bus to Burlington, 3 days and it stopped everywhere but was a special $99 to anywhere in the US. Pure misery. But not as miserable as the 3 day bus ride the previous winter from Guatemala City to Calexico, where periodically the Federales would pull everybody off the bus and line us up with machine guns at the ready, and we, the only 2 gringos, were strikingly conspicuous.
This trip was civilized, 3 1/4 hours to Salida, CO, a 1 1/2 mile walk across town to my inn, and I saw Dassie, AJ and Party Saver there. With IPA! I caught up on their stories of the trail, including more details on Nuthatch who after hiking continuously for nearly a year–PCT SOBO, Te Aroroa, CDT–jumped across a little creek wrong and broke her leg in 3 places. I spent the next day walking around town getting a package from the post office, grocery shopping, going back to the post office to mail a bounce box ahead, etc. A lovely town with friendly, helpful people.
6/22 I walked back across the town and two hitches later made it to Monarch Pass, which was inundated with cyclists in an assortment of eye shocking neon spandex. I started up the trail at 11:30 which was fine, I wanted a short day to test how I did with altitude after a long break. As I hiked, I was feeling unhappy, disoriented, uphill slowed and wind blown until I finally reached the high point and crossed over the Divide and suddenly, despite the snowfields, wind and uphill, it was beautiful and I was glad to be hiking.
6/23 I had a great campsite at the north end of Boss Lake, tough to sleep though because of the altitude. The first part of the day was down through trees and then up through a pass. I am very, very slow so I have to adjust my expectations and embrace my limitations. Solo helps! Nobody to keep up with, nobody waiting on me. There are really spectacularly beautiful cirques, the snowfields aren’t too bad, the snow itself is consolidated and shallow and there hasn’t been anything too scary or treacherous. So of course I tripped on some brush on a flat stretch, rolled my ankle, yelled obscenities at the top of my voice, and laid on the ground till the pain subsided and I could do a self assessment. Just the usual–it will swell and stiffen but I can limp along. I hobbled slowly over the next 2 passes, and camped in a slightly sheltered spot behind trees and views that make my heart sing. If the ankle isn’t useable tomorrow, I can retreat 7-8 miles back to a trailhead that had a bunch of cars and day hikers.
6/24 Party Saver passed my tent last evening and I talked with him briefly this morning. We were all going to take the Mirror Lake alternate since it was supposed to have less snow and run a little lower than the “official” CDT. What a day. 2.5 miles of blowdown and snow patches, then a long trudge up Tincup Pass Road to where it was blocked by snow, then a short, sketchy snow field, very steep, where I used my micro spikes to step very carefully in the footprints ahead of me. I went over the top and down the road, looking more like a river of rocks and water than a road, to Mirror Lake. The maps all showed the road going around the lake. Not so. The road was mostly underwater, so I waded on the flat roadbed below thigh deep lake for maybe a 1/4 mile, while people on the other side watched from their beach chairs. It was a lot easier than trying to keep my feet dry by scrambling through willows on the steep hillside. Then up an ATV trail, straight up, around a cornice at the “high point” noted on the map, and down beautiful double track, until it wasn’t. Up again and down to Cow Creek where AJ and Dassie pitched their tent nearby. Yay, company! It was a great day really, gorgeous, exhausting. My ankle looks like shit, but it works.
6/25 Not feeling it today. I camped early, 5:30 at the last flat spot before the 2 mile climb up Lake Ann Pass. AJ, Dassie and Party Saver are long gone, far ahead by now. But my campsite is quiet and warm and I’ve been listening to “American Gods” all day.
6/26 Trudging up to the pass this morning, I was passed by 6 guys, including Tennessee and Bones. I am so ridiculously pleased knowing there are other hikers around. When I got to the top of the pass, all I could see was a massive snow bowl I had to descend after getting over a cornice. As I stood there looking, a voice came up, “To your right! Follow the postholes!” Thank you, Bones! It was steep, sketchy and scary. I used my micro spikes again, I could tell by the footprints that the guys just went down in their trail runners. At the bottom, after a long, long way, my legs were shaking as I continued following footprints as best I could through snow, blowdown and overflowing creeks. Suddenly a pair of day hikers! Then 2 more with a dog, Cathy, Chip and Bear. After hearing me snivel about my ankle, they offered me a ride to Twin Lakes at the end of the day and their out-and-back hike. Too good to pass up as I have a box at Twin Lakes anyway.
6/27-28 Twin Lakes is a lovely historic little town. My quads were destroyed by the last stretch so I took a zero at the Twin Lakes Roadhouse Lodge. Constance is awesome and I am much recovered. Onward.
5/20 We walked out of the Comfort Inn on the road and continued another 7-8 miles uphill on pavement. A car going our direction stopped to offer us a ride to the actual trailhead. We said “no” and laughed when 2 hikers, Moses (the beard!) and Operator (the ride!) waved at us. I felt sleepy all day and it was uphill all day, not a great combination. We picked up water at an off trail spring, for me 3 liters–dinner, breakfast and a liter to get to the next source tomorrow. And then we continued up. I was starving and sleepy and grumpy and it was past 6. So we camped just a bit further, at only 19 miles instead of the 22 we were shooting for. The Ravens could have kept going, but they didn’t–how nice is that? We’ll make up the miles I’m sure.
5/21 I slept great in my little tent. Maybe 2 nights in town just doesn’t suit me. Trail and road were gentle today with beautiful weather.
5/22 We hiked 24 miles but it was a rather dramatic day. Last year when I asked Mickey DeCourten what she’d like to see more of in the blog, she said she’d like to read more about the challenges. This was one of those challenging days. It started out with an easy 10 mile road walk that we finished at 11:30 with a food break till 12:00. At 1:00:
5 little monkeys hiking on the tread
1 fell off and bumped her head
4 little monkeys hiking on the tread
“Catwater, Catwater, are you dead?”
I was cruising along a short traverse with lava rocks poking up into the narrow little path, when I tripped, came down on my right shin, then left knee, left arm, chest and finally whacked my head. My right shin is already thoroughly scarred from ankle to knee from a lifetime of klutziness so what’s another gash? I barely hit my head, no concussion or even blood. I told the Ravens I was fine. Good thing they didn’t have to run the concussion protocol.
“What day is it?”
“I don’t know, I’m a thru hiker.”
“Who’s the President?”
“He Who Shall Not Be Named.”
What really hurt was my upper left chest. I could breathe, nothing crinkled, collar bone fine, just painful to the touch and tightening up maddeningly. We kept going, quickly, and I dropped some Advil and watched the bumps on my shin and knee puff up. We reached the top of a climb and knew there was a steep 3 mile drop to another dirt road and spring. Bling was waiting for his family to catch up at the top, and I told him I’d keep going. After the fall, I was going to descend very slowly and carefully. When I reached the bottom at about 6 pm, I stopped to wait for the others at the junction to the water. On a connecting dirt road, a vehicle appeared with flashing red lights.
“Uh oh,” I thought. “Has something happened to Mama because of her sore feet?” The Sheriff’s SUV stopped by me.
“Mrs Sterley?” Nobody calls me that, yuck.
“Are you OK?”
“Um, yes. I took a hard fall, but I’m OK.”
“Your device has been sending an SOS, I’ve been trying to find you for hours.”
After apologizing to, thanking, reassuring and shaking hands with (never shake hands with a hiker, we’re filthy) the Deputy, I pulled the inReach from my shoulder strap, figured out how to cancel the SOS, and saw my daughter and husband had both been notified of the SOS and used the satellite text function to try to contact me to find out what happened. Five hours without hearing a word from me or the Search and Rescue folks. Of course they were probably following my tracker and seeing I was still moving quite a distance at hiking pace. As the Ravens joined me and we walked the side road to get water, a light bulb went off in my head. The reason my chest was so bruised was because I jammed the device into myself in the fall, somehow also setting off the SOS. The irony! The sorest place on my body caused by my safety device.
5/23 Amazingly, my bumps and bruises didn’t stiffen up overnight. It was a clear, calm morning walking through canyons and cliffs, mesas and sandstone rock formations striated red, purple, gray, yellow and fierce white. But after awhile it all looks the same and the steep ups are annoying. The Trujillo Family water cache after 11 miles was a highlight of the day. We all got enough water to dry camp tonight and through tomorrow morning. The day got hot and the usual ferocious wind came up as the dirt road-trail-dirt road continued up relentlessly. We found a protected sandy area and camped after about 23 miles, leaving just 19 to Cuba.
5/24 Bling is so fast! He hikes for 45″ or an hour and then waits for his family, patiently. Even with Mama’s sore feet, she’s still fast but sends me ahead of her. I find myself playing tag with Bling. I’ll catch up to him, tag, and keep going, knowing that as soon as the rest of the Ravens get to him, he’ll take off and pass me again. In the lead, I stopped at 11:30 for something to eat and we all got back on trail an hour later. Quicksilver caught us, he’s taken just 3 nights to our 4 for the 100+ mile stretch. I chalk it up to the 12 years he spent in the Marines, he’s tough! At the paved highway, with 4.5 miles to town, I watched him dwindle in the distance. There sure is a lot of road walking in New Mexico. I made it before the post office closed and got my box. New shoes! New Superfeet! Bacon jerky! I met the Trujillo family in the motel parking lot. The kids ran up and handed each hiker a bottle of water and a packet of strawberry flavoring. Sweet!
5/25 Zero in Cuba. Another funny little place with a highway running through it. Silly me, I bought a carving from a guy on the street, better than just panhandling, isn’t it? We have similar people at home, waving baleen at traffic from street corners. I had a nice conversation with BG, got god-blessed, and felt good about that $5.00. Another hiker later called him “that drunk” but he wasn’t. Although his front teeth had rotted out, he was less raggedy than me, and despite what must be a tough life, BG’s smile and warm handshake made my day brighter.
5/15 22 miles to Solar Well
The Ravens and I hiked out after eating saved Pie from the night before for breakfast. Yum! We stopped at the Thomas Ranch for water and conversation at about 15 miles. What stories he has to tell, a Korean War vet, pastor, all around fine human being. It was tough finding a break to stand up and keep hiking but we had miles to go. Endless and Queen Bee tag teamed us and caught up later at the next water source and camped with us. I doubt I’ll see them again as 22 miles isn’t enough for some speedy hikers.
A good day, I’m glad to have blasted free of the Toaster House vortex and even gladder to be with the amiable Ravens and not solo.
5/16 22 miles on the Cebollah Alternate
Last night the wind died down after I watched another episode of Into the Badlands. I woke to mooing at 4 am,put in earplugs and woke at 5:57 just before the 6 am alarm. We walked on a dreary graded dirt road with increasing clouds and cold. We went uphill to rain, then down in intensifying wind chill. I hate the wind but wearing rain gear over layers helped me not get hypothermic. Finally made it to Hwy 117, paved, and our water source till tomorrow afternoon, a solar powered cow tank filled with green water. We walked the paved highway for several more miles, gradually getting out of the wind and warming up. My goal was to camp in the first set of trees along the highway, hidden from both the wind and the motoring public. It worked, I’m not loving NM today but I’m so glad for the cheerful company of the Raven family.
5/17 We had to decide if we would take a highly recommended alternate through lava fields then up to the Acoma-Zuni Trail, a bit longer, higher, more difficult but scenic or stick with the CDT route on the 117. Papa talked to Grants trail angel Carrolle Mumm who told us the next day would be thunder stormy so we opted for the quicker, shorter road walk. The weather turned out to be fine, much better than yesterday and the road was flat, even and fast. Our plan was to camp a few miles short of Grants, then have a low miles day tomorrow to have town time and a zero in a comfy motel. Camping discreetly next to a highway hemmed in by barbed wire is becoming kind of normal. We walked the fence line and 3 horses came up to greet us. A bit further on we crawled under the fence and pitched our tents. I did not know how friendly horses are until I was woken by a gigantic muzzle poking through my tent fly. I shooed him off and he and his pal went to the Ravens tent. Repeat. Pests! One finally curled up next to the Ravens for awhile and blasted them with gas. Between the wind and the horses trying to get in our tents with us, none of the adults slept well.
5/18 6-8 miles road walk into town. The road has taken its toll on my back which is now stiff and aching for the first time. Hopefully it will loosen up before I have to hit the trail again. Lunch at Subway, dinner at Denny’s and a very clean and comfortable room at Comfort Inn. The only weird thing is that when I did my laundry in the hotel’s single washer/dryer, the next guest put my dried clothes on the folding table, that’s fine, but it was minus 2, count-em 2, pairs of Injinji toe socks. Why? Creepy foot pervert? Good thing I was wearing pair 3 and 2 new pairs will be in the box I’ll pick up at the PO.
5/19 Zero in Grants. For $.50 a shuttle bus will take you anywhere. Papa Raven arranged a bus for 9:15 to the post office 3 miles away and another bus 9:30 to take us back to the motel. Meanwhile I got all my resupply food for the next 106 miles to Cuba at Walmart, including freshly baked cinnamon pound cake for breakfast, Spam Classic singles with bagel thins for lunch and a new connector thingy for my earbuds so nobody else has to listen to my podcasts and audiobooks as I hike. I got my package: new Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack to replace the one I’ve worn out after 3000 miles, new socks, new Purple Rain hiking skirt in a size down since I’m already skinnier, and a bonus giant Snickers bar Dan threw in the box. I’ll be unrecognizable in all this new stuff!
5/1 The Ravens and I took a zero in Silver City. Mama’s feet are a mess and she needed to see a doctor to get some antibiotics for an infected blister, and she needed to find some better shoes for both the blisters and to help with the plantar fasciitis. The early miles are murder on most hikers’ feet. Heat, sand, a little wrinkle in the sock, lacing your shoes too tight or too loose. We’ve all been there. Last year’s PCT, my left foot ached badly the whole way, I had to get antibiotics for an infected toe, and I lost more than half of my toenails. Why do we do this again?
I spent my zero day buying a new shirt, sunscreen, gallon ziplocks, food and beer. While Mama and Papa were at the clinic, I took Bling and Joon across the highway for a tasty McDonald’s lunch. They knew their orders by heart but I haven’t eaten in a McD’s in years and had to study the menu. It was good!
I went to the Visitor Center to get the CDT bandana that Teresa who drove our shuttle to the start said they’d have, but no, they had no information about bandanas. All 4 Ravens and I had dinner at the Wrangler. As we knew, Mama needs at least one more zero day to let the meds work and the blisters to dry up. I’ll hike out on my own.
5/2 Stalled out saying goodbye and leaving the Ravens, I will miss them, what am I doing? I took the Little Walnut to Gila River alternates to my next resupply at Doc Campbell’s Post which is more direct than the “official” CDT. It was a pleasant road walk uphill from the busy highway to a two-lane filled with morning commuters, and ordinary houses giving way to castle-like homes then cattle ranches and finally USFS Wilderness dirt roads. At the “Monastery” turn- off, traffic stopped. Walking from graded dirt road to trail and then to ancient horse-drawn wagon-sized roads, the country changed. I picked up water enough to dry camp and trudged straight up an overgrown drainage excuse for a trail to a lovely forest, flat, Pine needled, perfect tent site.
5/3 Might have, should have, taken the longer CDT instead of the Gila River alt. But I am committed for 70 more miles. Today started with about 10 miles of trail to road to endless trail down to the river. The river is what you follow or walk in with just a rudimentary and sporadic trail on dirt cutting the curves of the river to straighten out the route a bit. Not particularly dangerous, just SLOW. I was hoping to make 20 miles today to leave 8 for tomorrow to Doc’s but, oh well, I’m camped now with 10 to go. My feet are still fine, even with all the water and sand and gravel in my shoes. I really hope Mama Raven takes more days off, this stretch will be tough for hikers with sore feet. The river walk is, however, utterly beautiful, red cliffs rising from the canyon, some eroded into stacked rock shapes, some with caves. It’s hot again down here until the sun drops behind the canyon walls at around 7pm. I’ve seen all kinds of creatures and tracks: the slithery trails of lizards, bold black beetles, tadpoles and frogs plopping in pools, snakes, Ravens, robins and little birdies with yellow caps, deer, and I think elk.
5/4 Whew! Short day but I’m staying in a room at Doc Campbell’s. Bought an extra day’s worth of food since the miles are so slow. Polite and professional, a young boy (Kaden?) was running the calculator and cash register at the store. I sat out back and met 3 hikers and a hiking dog. Treehugger said, “You know the saying, ‘Hike Your Own Hike?’ Well I’m hiking the dog’s hike!” She said when the dog heard a fox yip, he crawled into her sleeping bag. She and Blisterfree had an enormous resupply box that included canned dog food for a special calorie boost for the dog. Blisterfree, whose name I recognized, originated the Lowest to Highest (LTH) route from Death Valley to the top of Mt Whitney and The Enchantments. Hiker celebrity! Of course he was sitting there poring over his maps.
I cooked up a Backpackers Pantry for dinner, hung some hand washing in the bathroom, turned on the overhead fan, finished reading Levison Wood’s “Hiking the Himalayas” and went to sleep indoors on my Thermarest on top of the lumpy bed. This is the life.
Dassie and I split a room in Lordsburg for 2 nights, with the Ravens in the same hotel. It took me a full 24 hours to recover from heat exhaustion, which I guess I’ve never had, just know the symptoms from first aid. My heart was fluttering all night attempting to pump overly thick blood, I felt like I was getting a head cold–sore throat, dizzy–and I drank gallons of fluid. I went about the chores of buying resupply food and lunch and snacks for the day. Suddenly at 4 pm, I was ravenous and looking forward to hiking the next day. Dassie and I went to buy pre-dinner IPA since the restaurant here doesn’t serve alcohol. That made me realize that I should have prioritized a refreshing and revitalizing brew the day before after walking into town.
4/27 our group of 6 headed out the road north of Lordsburg in wind but less heat. No more Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) provided water caches, our goal was a solar powered wind mile about 18 miles in. We gained 2000′ elevation in 5 miles, went by old mining works and caught up to Kat from Taiwan and a couple of other hikers at the windmill. There was plenty of time left in the day so we continued on another 3 miles to dry camp in trees and thorn bushes. It’s been a dramatic improvement in scenery and temperatures. Trees for shade, what a concept! This area reminds me of the PCT stretch between Lake Hughes and Hiker Town on the edge of the Mojave Desert.
4/28 We continued on a mixture of dirt road double track and single track trail with trees for shade. Because of water we walked off trail a mile or so to the Burro Mountain RV Park which gives hikers free camping, hot showers and electricity. It wasn’t super restful though when the wind started howling and our tents lit up with lightening and a dashing rain. However, it was the first night I actually got in my sleeping bag! In the morning we packed water to make it to the next guaranteed source just over 20 miles away.
4/29 We’ve got a bit of a trail routine going. It will change, but right now 15-year old Bling with his endless energy and effortless positive attitude has the fastest pace. Dassie is feeling great and walks behind him. I generally tuck in next with Mama’s sore feet slowing her down with Papa walking drag. Joon is a little slow to wake up but a little into the day she’s right behind Bling. Super experienced, Bling will stop and wait for the group at confusing intersections or just randomly when he knows he’s way ahead.
At one of these stops I kept going ahead and was rewarded with seeing some kind of cat tracks, a large animal and a baby sized. “Puma” is what the guy at the RV park talked about, same guy that told us the bathhouse was “yonder.” He said 2 women hikers had a Puma mama and two kits walking the trail between them, and that a big cat took down a deer nearby a few days earlier. Anyway I’m walking along with these fresh cat tracks peering around thinking they were lurking in high places like my house cats do, just waiting to rush me. I found a nice clear high spot and waited for the group to catch up. I got behind Bling and Dassie, letting their footprints cover up the cats’ and forgot about them.
We continued on, lovely country, as it got cooler and cloudier and I felt rain was imminent. I wanted to drop down off the ridge before that happened and got out front again. I turned into and then off of a dirt road into a long sandy canyon fenced and gated to restore the area. I heard a truck and saw a woman, man and two barking pit bulls with tow straps and a come-along unsticking their Tacoma from the middle of the trail. “They won’t bite!” she yelled. “I’ve got 5 behind me, I’ll wait” I yelled back. And then it started to snain (snow and rain) so I dug out my rain gear. The truck got unstuck and the woman ran back to me and asked if we would be OK in the snow. So sweet! I said we are going to camp just a mile down the wash and she waved goodbye. The others joined me a few minutes later, the snain stopped and we continued to a lovely soft campsite out of the wind and called it a day. We passed numerous tire tracks practically on top of the signs saying, “No Motorized Vehicles.”
4/30 We got up and walked 5 miles through sand, then double track past many healthy cow-calf herds to the paved highway which we’d need to walk 13-14 miles to town. Dassie has a deadline to go back to work and wants to see as much as she can, so she opted to hitch to town, buy her resupply, overnight, and hike out with the pack from CDT Trail Days. The Ravens and I will zero. I don’t need to rush since I’ll be taking a break to return home for a visit and the Ravens have to wait for the post office Monday and to give Mama’s feet time to heal. Half a mile into the road walk, a truck stopped on an approach on the far side of the road. A guy asked if I needed water for the road walk. I said sure and walked over to meet them. Turns out they are Jerry Brown of Bear Creek Survey whose maps I’m using and Luddite who maintains the trail in this area. Cool! Then I found $0.26, a flat raccoon, a flat coyote, a syringe, a pair of hemostats, and thousands of beer bottles and cans. Trudging along, a car suddenly screeched to a halt, 2 people hopped out and gave me a bottle of iced coffee–former CDT hikers returning home from Trail Days!
After two wonderful weeks at USASA Snowboarding and Freeskiing Nationals in Copper Mountain, Colorado, I flew home to Alaska for a few days to complete my prep for the CDT and to enjoy spring snowboarding at Alyeska. Although this winter has had better snow conditions than the last three, we pay our dues—ice, cold, wind, exposed rocks—and the spring sun and soft snow is our reward. So fun!
A long day of air travel, the usual uneventful and uncomfortable experience, Anchorage to Seattle to Phoenix to El Paso brought me to a motel for the night. Next a cab ride to Amtrak and the train to Lordsburg, NM, followed by a mile walk to another motel. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow! Shuttle to Crazy Cook and the hike begins! The Raven family will be on my shuttle.
I am going to try to take more photos this hike, particularly more photos of people which is outside my comfort zone so bear with me as I try to figure it out.