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.


Shutterbug2012 said...

Happy to have your daily blogs back again to read with my morning coffee. So looking forward to reading about your adventure.

Karolina said...

Where's a photo with your mom? For instance a one in which she's hugging/kissing you goodbye?

Unknown said...

Been waiting not so patiently for this blog to begin. I think I let out a hoopholler when I saw "Day 1". GA Candy Girl

Unknown said...

I love reading about your adventures in hiking since I became disabled ..... I live vicariously through you!


Arlene aka EverReady AT 2015 said...

Yeah! You are back! The CDT always intimidated me because of all the alternates- I would certainly get sidetracked or lost. I love how the AT and PCT/ JMT are clearly marked (mostly) ;) ). So I am glad I can follow you on your adventure.

Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

Welcome back to the trail, although you are probably home now. I am certainly looking forward to reading about your latest adventure.

PI Joe

Holly said...

Glad your adventures are back ...... looking forward to it

Sharon Madson said...

Looking forward to this virtual trail! I love reading your blog.

Boxdn said...

Hey Ryan what pack did you sew? Is it your pattern or did you buy one? Do you have a tutorial, I'm still using my alcohol stove i built from your blog. Boxdn the Boxing Nut.

Ryan said...

The pack is of my own creation. Essentially a large sack with straps attached to it. There's no tutorial available for it, though. Maybe someday.... =)

KuKu said...

1) Soooo happy you are hiking and blogging again. Yay for virutal adventures at work!
2) I do like reading about you in the desert, as I really don't want to hike there. I am a PNW-er with webbing between my toes. I like the water and trails through shady forestes.
3) I am virtually hiking the Colorado Trail on Walking4Fun. When I hike, I bring up your blogs from it and read it as I "hike". I had just read your blog when you mentioned that the Continental Divide trail intersects and someday you'll hike it. And here you are!


Eidolon said...

I am a bit behind starting this one but did want to point out you were almost at the least interesting border crossing in the US which is at the end of 81 at Antelope Wells. I was there for work something like 20 years ago. I just remember exiting off of I-10 at a big sign that just said 'Mexico' with an arrow then driving south through the desert for a couple hours. Then you get to the border crossing with has no town on either side (the only one like that I believe)! There are a couple houses on the US side for the border agents and a couple on the Mexican side for their border agents, that is it. It is like this crossing only exists to serve as a shorter route instead of having to detour to the "next" one. Anyway,