CDT Days 9-11: Silver City to Doc Campbell’s Post 

May 24-26, 186 miles hiked + Gila River detour

We woke up early and got coffee and cinnamon rolls at a bakery downtown, then began the 6-mile road walk out of Silver City, which turned into a dirt road that wound into the pine forest and hills. Around mid afternoon, the trail made a sharp right onto a very rocky jeep road that seemed to climb straight up the mountain. We followed this for another few miles, the road rising and falling dramatically according to the whim of the mountain’s contour. I had been grumpy most of the morning and afternoon, for some reason, and also wasn’t feeling very good. Being in town always threw off our hiking routine, and I noticed it usually took at least a day for our bodies and minds to readjust to hiking again, and readjust to hiking food. Or maybe it was town food that we were no longer used to.  We climbed and descended, again and again, the afternoon wearing on and the miles passing slowly. Right before stopping to camp, we were at a small spring in the forest and spotted a brown bear on the hillside! It quickly shuffled up the hill away from us. 

dirt road out of Silver City

hills and cool rocks


I was excited to hike the next morning. In a few miles, we’d start our descent to the Gila River, which we’d follow for several miles to Doc Campbell’s Post, a tiny store where we’d get our next resupply box. The Gila was known for its incredible beauty and wildness, and this section was also known for being slow and difficult because there was hardly a trail and hikers had to cross the river several times during the traverse. We reached the river by mid morning, and it was every bit as beautiful as I’d read it was. We were in a deep canyon, and red cliffs rose from the water. There were bright green trees of all kinds, and perfect little beaches were everywhere. The river was calm and clear. 

We started down the river. There was almost no trail, and we had to cross the river and then bushwack through the thorny weeds and brush around the shore several times just in the first mile. It was very slow-going, yet so beautiful, we didn’t care. After three hours of this, Phil looked at his phone to see how far we’d gone. We have a CDT hiking app, made by another hiker, that has a GPS on it. 

It was then that we discovered we were going the WRONG WAY down the river. I almost didn’t believe the gps, thinking there must be some error on our phones. But no, the phones were right, and we were now three hours off the trail and in a completely different canyon than the one we were supposed to be in. When we’d started hiking down the river, we should have gone upstream instead of downstream, and neither of us had looked at our phones to see where the trail went. We’d simply gone left, since that seemed the natural “north” direction. Instead of backtracking, which is what we should have done, we decided to hike overland to the right part of the river. The river wound circuitously through several canyons, and from our maps it looked like we weren’t that far – just one canyon over! 
Those would be our famous last words. We ended up basically rock climbing out of the canyon we were in (a little scary with a pack and violin on my back), then bushwacking/climbing up the spine of the top of the canyon, often climbing through incredibly thick and thorny brush and trees. For some strange reason, there was a barbed wire fence along the spine of the mountain, so we often had to traverse the steep side of the hill. It was the first time on the trail that I felt a little scared for our safety, as we didn’t know how we’d get down the canyon on the other side. By a miracle, there happened to be a stock trail that went down into the right canyon from the mountain we were on. After a few hours of bushwacking, we started descending and found the trail using our phone’s GPS. 

It took us six hours and the rest of the day to get to the right part of the river, but we finally made it around 7pm. I was so thankful to finally see that water, and start hiking in the right direction. 

This mistake was costly for us because the next day, we were getting off the trail to fly to Seattle for our dear friends Ness and Emma’s wedding. This involved getting to Highway 15, hitch hiking to Silver City, and renting a car and driving three hours to Tucson, where we’d catch a flight to Seattle. This was complicated by the fact that we had to get to the rental car office before they closed at 5. The next morning, we hiked the remaining 12 miles along the Gila River, getting to Doc Campbell’s around two. Our entire lower halves were soaking wet from river crossings and we had run out of food. We grabbed our boxes, scarfed some ice cream, Dr. Pepper, and a Snickers down our throats, and started walking back up the highway with our thumbs out. We walked and walked, growing more stressed with each passing minute. Neither of us had realized that the 40 miles to Silver City was more than an hour’s drive down an incredibly remote, windy road. Three o’clock passed, then three-thirty, and still no one picked us up. Phil said, “if we use all of our mental energy to will a car to pick us up, it will happen.”  

Then, a car stopped. A thirty-something guy who said he’d been living out of his car for the past year hopped out and said he was going as far as Silver City.  We crammed into the already-packed shell of his pickup, facing backwards and watching the landscape unfold in reverse, like a Cliffs Notes version of what it had taken us three days to hike. We walked into the rental car office at 4:50. We had made it. 

Phil and the wrong part of the river

amazing swimming hole on the wrong part of the river

CDT Days 5-8: Lordsburg to Silver City

May 20-23, 141 miles hiked

We took a zero day (a day we don’t hike) in Lordsburg. It’s a little embarrassing that we took a day off this early in the hike, but it was nice, and needed. The day was filled with town errands (post office, grocery store, laundry, etc), as zeroes often are. The next morning, we left Lordsburg and began the 6-mile road walk out of town. Dogs barked at us from inside their fences and the day grew hotter as we veered off the road and cross country across a desert. I listened to an audiobook. After 10 miles of walking towards some mountains, we started climbing on a jeep road, and the terrain changed gradually as we got higher. The usual cacti and desert shrubbery were still there, but there were also TREES, things were much greener, and big, strange tan-colored rocks were starting to appear. We passed an old copper and gold mine. It looked like the kind of country those old Western movies were filmed in. After winding our way through the hills, we came to an old windmill with a FAUCET of running water (incredible luxury!) and decided to camp. It was a wonderland of woodland creatures, with rabbits everywhere and owls hooting. I don’t know if it was the rabbits, running water, or trees, but I felt incredibly happy to be there. 

Things got even better the next day. The jeep road changed to an actual trail, which we followed for several miles through the same tree-filled desert mountains. Around mid-afternoon, we crossed Highway 90 and encountered an extremely exciting thing: trail magic!! Trail magic (food/water/treats left for hikers by anonymous strangers called trail angels) was everywhere on the PCT, but I’d given up on it happening on the CDT. This particular occurrence featured water, soda, beer, and fresh fruit. Thank you to the self-named “Southwest Desert Genie,” who apparently is responsible for this!

The trail then climbed for what felt like the first time on the CDT, hitting 8,000 feet. We wound through a pine forest, then descended towards a junction that followed Dead Man’s Canyon all the way out of the mountains and to a dirt road that would connect to Highway 90. We still had a 17-mile road walk to Silver City. We got to the dirt road by evening and I played my usual scales and etudes while Phil prepared our lentil soup/mac ‘n cheese dinner concoction. 

The next morning, we hiked as fast as possible down the road. It felt strange to be coming to a town again so soon – this last section between Lordsburg and Silver City ended up being pretty short. As we’re finding out, the distances between each town seem to always be a little unknown. Many different routes are available and the trail is always in flux between previous years’ routes and newly built routes. Plus, the mileage on the maps and the CDT hiker app we’re using never quite lines up, so it’s hard to know exactly how far we’ve gone and how far the next town is. 

Silver City is a cute, colorful town with one main downtown street, filled with galleries, restaurants, and quirky businesses with murals on their walls. We spent the afternoon eating and doing the usual errands, and stayed at the semi-sketchy but kind of cute RV park that evening.

dirt road climbing into the trees


cow water

 

magical windmill


trail magic!

beautiful pine forest

CDT Days 3-4

May 18-19, miles 33-85

In an attempt to beat the heat, we woke early and were actually on trail by 7:15, which is way earlier than usual for us. The trail followed the dirt road a few miles more, then split off into a cross country marker-to-marker desert path again. We saw another javelina, this one closer! We passed the next water cache, listened to podcasts, and hiked across another basin before climbing into some hills, where we found a water tank with a shower of water flowing from it and cell service! This lifted our spirits. A few miles after the water tank came our first saddle (a high point where we pass between mountains), from which we could see for miles. I felt for the first time like we were actually on a trail, and like I knew what I was doing. For the past few days, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what the CDT is. It doesn’t feel like a normal trail, partially because of its cross country nature, and because there are no other hikers out here. It feels like the middle of nowhere, yet we pass cows and cross dirt roads and highways all the time. It definitely doesn’t feel like wilderness. Regardless of what this trail is, I was starting to feel better about hiking. 

We decided to camp two miles short of the next water cache, in a red dirt-filled wash in the hills that the cows frequented. I played scales and etudes, but got frustrated by how bad I sounded and stopped. It’s also getting increasingly hard to tune the violin. I’ve been going through periods of feeling really negative towards the violin, usually during times when I’m hot and tired and feeling stupid  that I’m trying to carry such a heavy, unnecessary thing. Other times it feels like a companion, like something familiar amidst a trail that’s very unfamiliar. It’s almost starting to take on its own persona. One thing I’ve realized is that carrying this violin adds a pressure to actually practice it, which is often the last thing I want to do after a 20-something mile day. 


The next day, we hiked across a wide, flat basin towards Pyramid Mountain for what seemed like forever. It was so hot. We had “iPod time,” as we’ve started calling it, and I listened to podcasts and a mix I made for my sister a few weeks ago. Sadly, in the mayhem of pre-hike prep, I failed to add music to my phone, and now all I have are random purchased songs from years ago, country singer Chris Stapleton’s album (which is actually perfect for this trail), and this mix. Thankfully, it’s a power mix, and I gleaned power from it as I hiked. 

We finally got to the Pyramid Mountain area, the last set of hills before Lordsburg. We got to walk on a dirt road, and our surroundings became green and very beautiful, with rolling hills, a breeze, and cows everywhere. I felt happy to be out there. We finally made it to the last water cache, and from there it was only 6 more miles to Lordsburg. We had planned to camp, but the call of food/shower/beer/bed was too great. We walked the final miles into town on the dirt road, listening to the power mix on Phil’s portable speaker, our anticipation growing with every step. We finally got to town at 9:15, making it a 28-mile day. Every muscle in my body ached, but I was so happy to be in Lordsburg. We got pizza and crashed in our motel room, too exhausted to do anything but sit in silence and devour the pizza. It is 60 miles to the next town of Silver City, and apparently the trail climbs up to 8,000 feet and becomes more interesting, but right now all I can think about is pizza and bed. 

flat basin forever

 

our first water filtering experience – cow tank filled with algae

dirt road into lordsburg

CDT Days 1-2

May 16-17, 33 miles hiked

We finally made it to Lordsburg around 11:30 at night and arranged a 10am departure to the Mexican border the next morning on a shuttle organized by the CDTC (trail coalition). I’d passed through Lordsburg before, on a drive from New Mexico to Eugene over Christmas, and remembered it as the most depressing, dying town I’d ever been to. It seemed different this time, though. Somehow not as depressing. Juan picked us up and we began the long, bumpy ride. Juan tells us that around 190 hikers have started the CDT this season, and we are the last. The drive takes about 3 1/2 hours and follows a string of dirt roads until, suddenly, there’s a monument right next to a barbed wire fence (the border). We said goodbye to Juan, took some pictures, did some last-minute rigging of my violin case set-up with twine we’d found in the hiker box at the motel (thank god Phil is a sailor and knows how to tie knots and stuff), and off we went. 

The first day of hiking was pretty easy. The trail was flat across the beginning of the Ocotillo desert, and although it was hot, there was a breeze. Since we got a late start, we planned to hike only 13 miles that day, to the first water cache. I was happy about this, as my pack was much heavier than I’d expected it to be with the addition of the violin. We reached the cache and Phil started making dinner. I pulled my violin out and practiced scales and Kreutzer etudes. Playing the violin still felt comfortable and normal, even out in the middle of nowhere, under a darkening desert sky with only Phil, the lizards, and the rabbits to listen. I was a little sad going to bed, missing our kitties Bruce Lee and Spiral, and our dog, Merric. The feeling of starting this huge thing, not knowing what to expect or if I would even like it, was still there, too. 

Crazy Cook Monument!

Juan, our shuttle driver

first evening on trail

 

The wind blew furiously all night and the flapping of the tent kept me awake. We woke late, the sun already hot and high in the sky, and didn’t start hiking until 9:45. The trail wound along some low, bare mountains from trail marker to trail marker, and we kept losing the trail, only to walk cross country, dodging cactuses, until we found another marker. This was very slow, and it seemed to take hours to go only a few miles. Finally, the trail tired of these mountains and we descended into another basin towards the second water cache. I am learning that so far, hiking in southern New Mexico is walking across dry, flat basins towards low mountains you can see for miles and miles, then finally getting to mountains and traversing through them, only to descend into another basin. We were constantly surrounded by cows, rabbits, horny toads, and lizards. We also saw two javelinas that day, which are like wild pigs. They are the funniest-looking animals ever, and apparently aggressive if you get too close to them. 

Both of us were in horrible moods by the time we got to the cache, wiped out from the heat and exposure. After the cache, the trail followed a dirt road for several miles into a new set of mountains. Another thing I’m learning is that I LOVE dirt roads. There is no route finding involved, and you can just walk without worrying about stumbling on a cactus or other prickly thing (all plants in the desert seem to have spines of some sort). We followed the road another 7 miles, then camped on top of a little hill, the lights of a distant ranch below us. Both Phil and I are still not sure how we feel about this hike. I’d somehow forgotten that during a thru-hike, all you do is hike all day. And hiking through the desert in the heat, our packs heavy with water, is hard. What’s more, on the PCT we were constantly meeting new friends and hiking around other people, but here, we’re completely alone. Our bodies are not used to backpacking, and everything hurts and just feels harder than it should. I tell myself that we’re still adjusting, and this will get easier and become more fun. 

spiny things

walking from trail marker to trail marker

dirt road love

The CDT: Pre-trail thoughts

Well, here we are again!

I am writing this while on a Greyhound bus headed along I-10 for Lordsburg, New Mexico, where Phil and I will catch a shuttle that will take us south to the Mexican border, a three-hour drive on dirt roads. There, tomorrow, we’ll begin our thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail, which follows the Rocky Mountains from Mexico to Canada.

I’m actually having a hard time feeling excited about the hike right now, mostly because I am exhausted from the past few weeks of preparation and moving out of our house, and a little bit heart broken after saying goodbye to our animals, friends, and family yesterday. However, I know once we get out there, I’ll be excited.

Because of life obligations this fall, we have a shortened timeline for our hike, so we may not finish the full trail. The CDT is a route, not a single trail, and it is unfinished; thus, its length ranges anywhere from 2,500-3,100 miles. The trail traverses the Rockies by way of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. It is far less popular and more remote than the other long distance trails in the U.S., and because of life obligations on the front end, we’re starting about 3 weeks later than most hikers. So, we may not see many people out there! image

Ever since we finished the PCT in 2014, I have longed to be back on a trail. Hiking the PCT was one of the best experiences of my life, and there is nothing that parallels the freedom, simplicity, and feeling of purpose and aliveness quite like thru-hiking. For a long time I felt that the PCT had “ruined” me for normal, indoor life, and that I would never be fully happy with a traditional life. I felt this way for about a year, but then, I started to feel myself softening to the comforts of a house, bed, car, income, and growing animal family.

Phil and I have been talking about doing the CDT for the past two years, constantly going back and forth, never fully committing nor backing down, weighing pros and cons and finances and jobs and life choices and future plans and still, after every conversation, never coming to a consensus. The indecision and questioning we have felt about doing this trail has been exhausting. How would we save enough money? What life/career/future goals did thru-hiking really accomplish? Why do we want to hike from Mexico to Canada again? How could we ever leave our animals? And, the biggest question for me: how does this hike fit into the part of me that wants to be a violinist? I am no stranger to this question – I’ve grappled with this conflict throughout my life, and am not even close to answering. How can I combine my loves of outdoor adventure and music, and pursue both at the level I’d like to? Thru-hiking and classical violin don’t exactly work in tandem with each other. Plus, for the past year, I have been transitioning towards a more violin-filled life, and perhaps eventually a career as a violinist.

The draw of the trail pulled us in. We decided that if we didn’t do it now, we might never do it. Life is just getting more complicated – it was wayyyyyy harder to make this hike work this year than it was for the PCT. I realized that I most likely would never regret taking the time to do this, but I may regret not doing it.

My way of attempting to reconcile my violin conflict is to bring a violin on our hike. A HUGE thank you to my dear friend Kim for lending me a violin, despite the knowledge that it may get ruined. I’ve fashioned a sort of stripped-down styrofoam version of a case, which I’ll attach to my pack. My goal is to practice at least a little bit every day. We’ll see how it goes.

I’m still not sure what form this blog will take, but I’ll try my best to post as much as possible. If you’re interested, follow the blog this summer and join us on this adventure!

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