Monday, October 18, 2021

Day 1: An arbitrary border across the land....

April 21: I woke up in a strange bed. I was at the Econolodge in Lordsburg--the last civilization I would see before starting my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. At least that was the plan. With about 3,000 miles from start to finish, there's always the very real chance of not being able to finish for a thousand different reasons. My previous experience with successful long-distance hikes was no guarantee of success. In fact, my last attempted thru-hike, along the Pacific Northwest Trail, had failed, and I needed to complete that trail the next year.

Two days earlier, I had flown into Phoenix to meet up with my mom, and the previous day, we drove out from Phoenix to Lordsburg, a small town near the southwest corner of New Mexico.

Lordsburg not only was the last decent-sized town before I started my hike, but it was also the first trail town of the trail. In fact, the CDT ran directly through the town. We had already seen dozens of hikers all over town, but I didn't know any of them. Not yet, at least!

I took a shower--the last shower until I arrived in Lordsburg again in a week or so after traveling through the Chihuahuan Desert on foot--and shaved for what would likely be the last time until I finished the trail five or six months out.

I packed up all my gear and we headed out to the truck. Before leaving town, we dropped by the McDonalds mostly because it was fast, easy and nearby. Mom wanted to take me out for something a little nicer with more substance like Denny's, which was tempting, but I wanted to get on the trail and start hiking.

Breakfast completed, we drove out of town.

A water cache, stuffed full with the most precious resource one can find in a desert!

There are 5 water caches along the trail between the Mexican border and the town of Lordsburg. From what I read online, I didn't really know what was happening with them. I saw comments about them being filled regularly, not being filled regularly, water being stolen out of them and I didn't know what the heck to believe, but since I had my mom with a vehicle, I figured I'd just put my own water in the water caches and make sure there was a Plan B in the event that my water was missing by the time I arrived on foot.

So we started driving to water caches on our way to the Mexican border. I found a hiker breaking camp at the first water cache, and we talked for a minute or so before I threw a couple of gallons of water into the cache and returned to the vehicle for the ride to the next cache. There was a lot of water already in the cache, but I figured there was no good reason not to add my own either. Otherwise, it would just go back with my mom.

The second water cache was basically the same thing: a bear box in the desert. Although bears aren't a problem out here, other animals do exist: coyotes, javelinas, rattlesnakes and more. And that doesn't include a lot of things that can poke and puncture containers with water: the thorns and needles that decorate pretty much every plant you'll find out here. Even the sun alone, given enough time, can break down water containers into useless pieces of plastic.

When we arrived at the third water cache, a trail angel was waiting at the side of the road to hand out snacks and goodies to any passing thru-hikers, just as a half-dozen thru-hikers arrived at the road. It was a party at the water cache! Or at least on the side of the road near the water cache. The actual cache was located perhaps 1/10th of a mile down a dirt road. 

I opened the gate to let my mom drive through just as a second trail angel arrived to restock the water cache, so we both drove down to the cache. He introduced himself as Radar, and I introduced myself as Green Tortuga.

"I met a Green Tortuga once," he told me. "On the Florida Trail. In... 2008." 

I couldn't help but smile. Yep, definitely me. I took a closer look at him but came up blank. I couldn't remember meeting the man before. 

He continued talking before I could say a word, though: "Him and his girl tipped over in a canoe."

Ah-ha! Now I remembered him! Yes! It was a very brief meeting, and I was surprised he remembered me at all. It was the fact that we tipped over in the canoe that made us stand out. If that hadn't happened, he explained, he probably wouldn't have remembered me. Tipping the canoe was particularly memorable. Our meeting was so brief, I didn't even mention Radar by name in my blog post about the day.

Small world.... who knew that our paths would cross again 13 years later on the other side of the country.

Anyhow, we chatted for a few minutes and Radar told me that he was stocking the water caches on a near-daily basis and had 300 pounds of water in his truck. My leaving water in the caches wasn't particularly necessary. At least not at this time of year while he was stocking them regularly for the thru-hikers.

So mom and I decided to skip the next water cache which was slightly out of our way to the Mexican border. Radar said he had just come from it and it's plenty full.

We did stop at the fifth and last water cache, however, since it was literally on the dirt on the way to the Mexican border and not out of our way at all.

Once we got off the paved road, our progress slowed down dramatically. To say that my mom was a little cautious driving on gravel is something of an understatement. I kept encouraging her to drive faster. Faster! Faster! =)

The gravel road portion of the drive lasted about two hours in all. I didn't expect to see any thru-hikers on the road since the CDT only crosses the road rather than follows it, but we did pass a couple walking down the road after they decided to take alternates.

The CDT is often referred to as a "choose your own adventure" kind of trail due to the abundance of alternates. The Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail generally have one, main route that almost everybody follows the entire way. Alternates on those are only used due to heavy snow or wildfires, and even then they're typically made up on the spot and aren't an established route. The CDT has countless well-established alternates, although my plan was to largely stick with the main route. I was surprised to see people taking alternates already. There didn't seem to be any reason for it as far as I could tell. Why walk down a gravel road shared with vehicles when you can walk on a real trail away from noisy, dirty vehicles? Looking at my maps, I wasn't even sure that the alternates were that much shorter either. 

But whatever. I didn't really care if a couple of others wanted to use the alternates. I just found myself surprised by it.

The last couple of miles to the border was along a particularly bad section of gravel road and my mom eventually pulled over and told me to get out. She wasn't going to drive any further! It was scraping the bottom of her truck despite it being a fairly high-clearance vehicle. (I still think she aimed for every large pothole she could hit to justify kicking me out early!)

So anyhow, we hugged and parted ways while I was still about 1.5 miles away from the Mexican border.

My mom drives off, leaving me to fend for myself through this hostile terrain. =)

By the time I finally started hiking, it was about noon. Temperatures were warming, but it wasn't especially hot. Not yet, at least. The highs for the day were expected to hit about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). Which was plenty hot by my Seattle standards, but not especially hot by New Mexico desert standards. I had heard that the previous week often saw days in the 90s, so I was glad things were a bit cooler now.

I slathered on some sunscreen, then picked up my pack and followed the gravel road, reaching the southern terminus of the CDT and the Mexican border about a half hour later. I stopped to take some photos and videos, of course.

Nothing more than a barbed-wire fence separated me from Mexico, and there was a good-sized hole in it that I slipped through to the gravel road on the other side. I actually think that the gravel road is officially part of the US despite being on the other side of the fence, however, because it was unusually wide, flat and well-maintained and followed along the fenceline. 


Do I dare cross the fence into Mexico? YES! I dare! Well, maybe... I think that dirt road on the other side is actually still--technically--within the US.

The Mexican side of the border had a lot of farms and there were dirt roads to access those, but this dirt road seemed overkill for the small farms. No, I suspected this dirt road was created by the US border patrol to make it easier for them to monitor the border and quickly drive to any point along it. And if the US border patrol made the road, then it was probably still US territory. Mexico didn't actually start until the other side of the dirt road.

At least that was my theory. I didn't know for certain because there were absolutely zero signs to mark the border. Just that flimsy barbed-wire fence and the massive gravel road on the other side of it. I suspected the fence was more to keep cattle in the US than to keep people out of it. The road was probably used more for keeping people out of the country.

The monument marking the southern terminus is called the Crazy Cook Monument, and it was definitively on the US side of the border next to a small, covered area that provided some shade.

The Crazy Cook Monument marks the official southern terminus of the CDT. And look at that shiny, new backpack I sewed for the trip! I finished sewing it just a few days before starting this trek.

After taking all of the obligatory photos, I put my pack back on and took my first few steps along the Continental Divide Trail toward Canada. The adventure had officially begun!

The terrain, as you might imagine, was what you might expect from a typical desert. Very dry, very little shade, and cactusy. The afternoon was blustery, but I found the wind pleasant in the warming temperatures. The ground was largely flat, rising slightly for several hours before descending slightly for a couple of more hours. Nothing particularly strenuous.

I did lose the trail once, however, when the trail dumped out into a riverbed. In the dried riverbed, the trail was unmarked and I lost my way navigating up the varies gullies feeding into it. I had a GPS to help lead the way, though, so I never got too far off track, but I found myself checking my location compared to the trail often through this section.

I didn't used to find these on the trail until the past year or so....

Whenever I came across a good-sized shady section, I always stopped for a break. There wasn't much shade out here and it seemed criminal to walk by a shady location without at least a short break. In all, I took three rest breaks all afternoon.

Near sunset, after having completed about 12.3 miles of hiking according to my GPS, I stopped for the day under a large tree in a dry riverbed. It was a nice location, and the tree helped break the blustery wind that continued to blow.

My first campsite of the trail. 'Twas a beautiful location! =)

I cooked dinner, brushed my teeth and was reading my Kindle when I heard a hiker approach along the trail. It was the first person I had seen since my mom left! The other thru-hikers, I knew, had gotten a shuttle early in the morning and were ahead of me so there was nobody around when I started my hike and therefore nobody to run into on the trail.

The sun had long since set and it was already quite dark as the hiker arrived at my camp at about 9:00 in the evening. I figured he'd join me under the tree--I was excited to meet some other thru-hikers! He introduced himself, and he had a distinct German accent. I didn't imagine I'd meet a lot of Europeans on the trail this year due to Coronavirus travel-related restrictions, so I asked him about that and he said that he had to spend 2 weeks outside of Europe before being allowed into the United States and had therefore spent the last two weeks enjoying the beaches of the Dominican Republic. Wow!

I found myself a little jealous, actually. Not that I'm particularly fond of beaches per se, but I'd never been to the Dominican Republic before and it sounded pretty exotic and interesting.

This was the hiker's first thru-hike and he didn't have a trailname yet. Later, he'd get the name Pez, but I'm going to start calling him that now because his real name doesn't matter and that way his name won't "change" later in my blog after he does get his trailname. =)

Pez told me that he had started hiking from the Mexican border at about 4:00pm. He took a shuttle, but was the only person on it and figured that we were currently the last two hikers on the trail with nobody else behind us. I encouraged him to set up camp nearby, but he seemed hesitant saying that he'd be making noise and didn't want to disturb me. I doubted that would be a problem unless he had a tuba or something hidden in his pack...but that seemed unlikely. In any case, I couldn't convince him to join my camp and he walked off into the night.

The rest of the evening I had to myself. The stars twinkled, the wind blew through the tree, and it was a relaxing evening of watching Netflix on my phone for the rest of the evening.

It was tempting to stop in this little bit of shade, but I eventually decided it just wasn't enough. I couldn't fit completely in the shadow.

This is a shady spot I could use! And a good self-portrait of the last shave I'd likely take for six months....

Definitely not a lot of shade or water out here!

I took another rest in this bit of shade where the high edge of the riverbank cast a shadow into the gully.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Day 9: The End of the Lone Star Trail!

March 3: The night got a little cold. Not freezing--it wasn't that cold--but probably close to it, and it was definitely my coldest night on the trail. My sleeping bag kept me plenty warm, though.

I started hiking immediately as soon as it was light enough for me to take photos. I wanted to finish and get off this trail as quickly as possible. I had 11 miles to do to reach the end, and I figured there was a good chance I could finish by noon. Awesome! 

Early in the morning, steam rose from the rivers and puddles along the trail--just more evidence of how cold it got during the night--and I enjoyed watching the clouds of condensation swirling around the water.


See the steam rising from the puddle?

The first half of the today's hike was basically more of the same as yesterday, but the last half through the Winters Bayou section had a lot of swamp walking. I probably walked through more water in these 5 miles than I did the entire rest of the trail combined. It wasn't problematic--just different and reminded me a lot of the swampy sections of the Florida Trail.

Near the end of the trail, I crossed paths with four day hikers who had a few questions about the route and seemed delighted to find a real thru-hiker to ask.

And then, I was at the end of the trail. I tried asking the day hikers--who had just finished their own hikes--for a ride a few miles into the small,. nearby town of Cleveland, but they were actually headed in a different direction and not toward Cleveland. I was a little disappointed that they wouldn't go out of their way--Cleveland was only five or six miles away. It wouldn't have been a huge burden to drop me off in that direction, but I understood.

It was still much more than I wanted to walk, however, so I pulled out my phone and tried to see if I could get an Uber or Lyft to pick me up with the little bit of power still left on my phone, but alas, neither of them reported any vehicles that were currently available. I installed both of those apps when I was hiking into Forks on the PNT last year and it didn't do the least bit of good for me then, and it didn't do the least bit of good for me now. I idly wondered if I should just uninstall those apps. I have yet to successfully use either of them.

I celebrated my completion of the Lone Star Trail with a selfie. That was pretty much it. Just this selfie. =)

So then I resorted to my usual tactic at a trailhead with no service--I stuck out my thumb and tried to hitch a ride.

I spent about a half hour doing this with without any luck. The traffic on the road was good, but it seemed likely that none of them were hikers or would be the least sympathetic toward my plight. I didn't know how much longer I would have to wait before someone eventually offered a ride so I gave up. Screw it! I'd just walk into town. It wasn't too far to walk. Maybe it would take longer, but at least I knew I'd eventually get into town in a couple of hours.

And I started walking. The road walk was utterly miserable. It was a busy road with fast-moving traffic and didn't include much of a shoulder to walk on. At least dogs running loose generally weren't an issue, although several did bark to me from behind their fenced-in yards. The road walk also did not provide much shade, and it was a warm in the sun. A little bit of shade would have been nice.

But I covered ground quickly and crossed the San Jacinto River near the city limits of Cleveland a couple of hours later. The river was considerably larger than it was when I forded it 25 miles back, and I was really glad I didn't have to ford it now! 

The San Jacinto River was much bigger than when I forded it about 25 miles back!

I had made a reservation with the Motel 6 in town the evening before and asked about running water and hot water before committing to it. I wasn't going to make any reservations online while I was in Texas. No, I was going to call them up on a phone so I could ask about water, and especially hot water!

So I followed the road into town toward the Motel 6, but veered off at a Taco Bell along the way. It was past lunch time and I was ready for food that I hadn't carried on my back. The restaurant was open and even allowed limited dine-in seating which I took full advantage of. Being after the main lunch rush, the restaurant was empty of other customers which suited me just fine.

After lunch, I continued onward to the Motel 6. I checked in and plugged in my phone to start it charging up with only 7% battery power left. Then I jumped in the shower with hot water and took my first shower in 11 days--back in the days that I was still in Seattle.

My walking days were over.

I'm not going to blog about the next several days I spent in Texas--this blog is called Another Long Walk, after all! But for those you curious about the rest of my stay, Amanda came out later in the evening. The next day, we drove down to Houston to explore the Houston Space Center which was enormously interesting and fun. The day after that, we headed out to Waco to check out the Mammoth site and the Dr. Pepper museum

Mostly, we were just killing time until Saturday when there was the 18th Texas Annual Letterboxing Event just outside of Meridian, after which we drove back to Houston to fly back to Seattle. The end of another adventure!

'Twas another beautiful, clear day!

I passed by this designated camp. I wondered if the two hikers I met yesterday had camped here, but if they had, they had already left before I arrived.

The trail clearly followed an old railroad bed along this section.

The Winters Bayou section had a lot of water on the trail!

The trail crosses the San Jacinto River again, but this time there was a bridge to get across it. No fording this time!

Even when there were boardwalks along the boggy sections, they weren't always useful....

This river is Winter Bayous and what this section of trail is named after. And, fortunately, there was a bridge across this river because it would have been a deep one to ford otherwise!

The last mile of the trail, I started seeing a hint of the arrival of spring! =)

'Twas a long, miserable road walk into Cleveland.

There's just never enough pipelines in Texas!

These tracks look like they're about to undergo some maintenance soon.

The beginning of the end of my road walk!

And I stopped at Taco Bell for a late lunch. =)

Friday, April 9, 2021

Day 8: The Day the Weather Turned.... for the better!

March 2: It rained heavily and steadily all night long, but started to tapper off by around 7:30am. I had expected this--I checked the weather report. Along this trail, every site where I camped, I was able to get a signal on my phone allowing me to get up-to-date weather forecasts each day. The downside, of course, was just turning on my phone, checking the forecast and occasionally checking in to let everyone know I was alive and well--my phone had now been run down to a 4% charge.

I lingered in camp a bit late since I didn't plan to hike far. The weather was expected to clear up significantly later in the day and I had about 20 miles to the end of the trail. I decided to split the mileage more-or-less evenly between today and tomorrow and use the large quantities of sunlight later this afternoon to finally turbo charge my solar power panel. =)

Notice the dry spot where I camped? It was actually wet when I set up camp the evening before due to raining all day, but my body heat alone was enough to dry the small patch of ground I slept on despite the heavy rain all night long. (The part under my tarp where my body didn't lie didn't really dry, though--it really needed my body heat to actually dry!)

So I didn't break down camp and hit the trail until closer to 9:00am. Before leaving the campsite, I did walk over to the other two backpackers and introduce myself. I could hear them talking to each other through their tents so I knew I wasn't waking either of them up. I was surprised to learn that not only were they other thru-hikers, but they were hiking in the same direction as me! They had started the trail a couple of days after I had but were moving at a faster pace than myself. Presumably, they passed me yesterday when I got off trail at Double Lake for several hours. They must have spent some quality time hiking in the rain, though--a fate I had managed to avoid.

Neither of them were even getting ready to hit the trail, though, so I waved goodbye and continued onward. Perhaps they'd catch up to me later in the day and we could chat some more. I hoped so, at least. I didn't ask where they planned to camp since I figured that would probably make me sound like a stalker. (I think I forgot to mention that they were both young women, so I really didn't want to put out that creepy stalker vibe, but I was still lonely and desperate for company to chat with!)

The day's hiking was generally uneventful. I stopped for two considerably long breaks lasting a couple of hours, and both times I set my solar charger out to collect all that beautiful sunlight. The first break was next to a bench on the trail overlooking a small river. It was a nice place to rest and relax, and about an hour after I arrived, the two girls passed by with nothing more than a "hi." I guess they didn't feel like chatting. Oh, well.... They still had each other to chat with and probably didn't experience the loneliness or boredom that I did.

Instead, I spent the time reading my Kindle. I was surprised to notice that I had been reading my Kindle so much, even the battery level on that device was beginning to run low. Usually a single charge will last me for weeks! At the pace I was going, it would be dead in a couple of days. Fortunately, I expected to finish the trail tomorrow.

That's not how boardwalks are supposed to work....

The trail was quite pleasant, following alongside small rivers much of the time, or up on an old, former railroad bed that was flat, dry, straight and easy.

The weather was absolutely prefect as well. Not too cold, not too hot, not too humid. There was plenty of sun and plenty of shade when I didn't want to be in the sun. The best day of weather so far on the trail!

I finally called it quits for the day by a creek near mile marker 85--barely 9 miles from my last campsite leaving me with just 11 miles left to do tomorrow. I set out my solar panel again to collect what light I could before sunset, but at the end of the day, it was still blinking a red light which indicated it was between 10% and 50% charged. I had really been hoping to pass that 50% mark, but nope. At least, I hoped optimistically, it was at the higher end of 50%. With as much sunlight as it got today, I felt it had to be closer to 50% than 10%.

But now was the moment of truth and I plugged in my phone to see how much more power I could get. If it were sufficient, maybe I could watch a short episode of something on Netflix.

But the charger died when my phone reached a mere 17% charge. That was it?! I was devastated. I expected to be back in town and have all the electricity that I could want later tomorrow, but I still wanted to keep a small charge on my phone in case I wanted to call for an Uber or Lyft or something at the end of the trail. And pull up maps of Cleveland to find my way around and orient myself. And to tell everyone I finished the trail. And... whatever else I needed to do before I could plug into an electrical outlet. A 17% charge still wasn't very much--certainly not enough to be watching Netflix videos.

So I turned on my Kindle and continued reading for the rest of the evening before falling asleep.

The weather called for clear skies throughout the night and the next day, so I didn't bother to set up my tarp. I really enjoyed cowboy camping and was a little disappointed that I couldn't do it more often on this trail. As it turned out, only my first day and last day on the trail was I able to cowboy camp. The rest of the time, I needed to sleep under the trap.

And that was the end of another day.....

Beautiful, blue skies! I didn't realize how much the overcast, grey weather had been getting me down until it cleared up today!

I very much enjoyed the shadows that the trees cast across the trail! And everything just seemed to have more color in it. Or at least more shades of brown! =)

And the trail followed alongside several creeks and river for miles! Which is always nice. =)

And the trail included several benches to sit on! The first benches I'd seen on the entire trail.

And, at times, the trail followed these elevated humps which were old railroad beds and a pleasure to walk on.