CouchtoCDT

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Northbound in 2013- sharing my preparation for the hike and my day to day experience while I'm on the trail. Inspiring people to follow their dreams.


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Section 6: Grants to Cuba

Summit of Mt. Taylor

Summit of Mt. Taylor

I lay in bed with the TV flickering on a random daytime show that makes no sense nor do I care who the actual baby daddy is.  This is the zero day that I had in Grants, it didn’t involve moving because of my aching foot that was tender to each step that I had taken.  The rest of the group had left that morning but I knew that an extra day would give my foot the rest it needed to make it to Cuba, which was the next destination for my next segment.

Grants is small towns that once use to be a booming city for Uranium mining and use to have one of the biggest and most productive Uranium mines in the country.  As the local shuttle drive told me high school kids were dropping out of school to go work the mines for the average starting salary of $80,000 per year, creating a huge void in the school system.  Once the government stopped buying the Uranium, the mine laid off 4,000 people overnight, starting a mass exodus out of the town.  Grant has since recovered but you can still see the boarded up shops of the downtown but you can still feel the local pride by its banners and its people.

After resting in the hotel room, doing some shopping at Wal-Mart and getting a resupply box ready to be shipped to Ghost Ranch it was time to leave.  My foot was feeling a little better but I was ready to keep moving.  I’ve learned the longer I stay in town the more comfortable I get and the more my head starts spinning with ideas.  I called the local shuttle to give me a ride to the post office and then to the Mumm’s who are local trail angels and were holding a new bladder system I had ordered from REI.  I was tired of always taking my pack off to drink water so wanted to try this new hydration system.  The Mumm’s are great people who leave out water caches at the start of the Malapais, entering the final canyon towards grants and one final one on the last stretch up Mt. Taylor.  They are wonderful people with a big heart and I was happy to meet them and give them a much-needed donation.

Hugo & Carole Mumm

Hugo & Carole Mumm

I got to the trailhead for the next segment and began the long hike to the base of Mt. Taylor, hiking about 10 miles that day to the water cache left by the Mumm’s.  I like staying next to caches as you can drink all you want and then camel up in the morning for the next day.  This was my first section alone since the border and I was actually happy to be hiking alone for this part.  I was able to hike at my own pace, my own schedule and gave me some time to think about the journey so far.

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I hiked up the 11,301 ft summit of Mt. Taylor, a leftover ridge from a volcano that had exploded many millions of years ago, now making it the high point of the CDT in New Mexico.  I was so happy to be gaining some elevation and the straight up trail and eventual switchbacks brought me back to this realization.  I summited Mt. Taylor in the morning with the sun rising over the huge horizon that laid before me.   To the south were the mountains I had walked through to reach Grants and to the west were the open plains of the desert landscape that hid Arizona not far away.  To the east and north you could see the next ridges and plateaus that would be my home for the next couple of days as I hiked on top of expanding Mesa’s.  I spent a little bit of time on top before making the descent down the mountain, following forest roads to my next water source, American Spring.  This was one of the nicest springs I had seen so far and was happy to get the water out of the pipe that was surrounded by great meadow full of grass and glorious shade.  What a change from the low-lying desert areas that had been my home for so long.  I ate a nice leisurely lunch there before continuing my trip down the mountain.  That day I hiked 27 miles making camp in a patch of tree’s after getting a burst of energy from Skrillz on my newly downloaded Spotify app.  Yes, some say technology is wrong in the woods but music is a great companion after a long day, especially Bob Marley.

Collared Lizard

The next day brought a boring road walk that seemed to never end.  It finally did at my next water source, Los Indios Spring.  This is the point where I’ve made one of my most stupidest mistakes of the CDT so far and taught me to read and then reread my map notes 10 times before making my next move.  The sign read Los Indios spring .5 miles so I thought that it was that far past the gate I had to walk through and down the 200ft canyon as noted on the maps.  I walked the .5 miles past the gate but, still no turn off or canyon.  I still saw foot prints so I kept walking, thinking the makers of the signs had made a mistake and I decided to keep on going.  I ended up stupidly walking about 3 miles before deciding to reread my maps and take the point of view of the southbound hiker and reading that at the gate you would go .5 miles down the canyon to the spring.  So this meant I had to walk the 3 miles back, go the .5 miles down the 200 ft canyon to get the water.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked so pissed off before in my life.  I walked back, got to the spring and threw down my pack in anger.  I knew I had made a mistake and being out of water for the last hour made me even more mad.  Why did I make this mistake?  What was I thinking? All of these things ran through my head to learn from the mistake I had just made and to not do it again but I knew that I would.

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After coming down off the high plateau and the breath taking view it provided it was back down to the desert floor where the fear of rattle snakes, heat and water resurfaced.  It was miserable.  That section of trail was miserable for me.

Back in the Mars like landscape

Back in the Mars like landscape

It was hot, the landscape was Mars like and it had no appeal for me.  It was only about 20 miles worth but it put me in such a bad mood that I found myself walking faster and harder then ever before.  After finally being in the tree’s and seeing green beautiful grass it was hard to right away switch back to the desert style hiking I had been enduring for weeks.

Beautiful View from the top of the Mesa

Beautiful View from the top of the Mesa

The last 20 miles before Cuba was a gorgeous change from the previous miles in the ugly desert because you spent so much time high on the plateaus that surround the area with wonderful rock formations, wonderful expanding views and cairned trail that was easy to follow.  It reminded me of hiking Utah which is one of my most sacred places to hike in the world.  I happily followed the cairned route up and down the mesa skirting the edge and then back to the middle again with my shoes filled with sand.  My shoes were dying and I couldn’t wait to get my nice new pair once I got to Cuba, saying good bye to these after 530 miles of hard walking.

My New Balance Leadville 100's lasted a long time over tough terrain

My New Balance Leadville 100’s lasted a long time over tough terrain

I walked into Cuba at 9 pm that night on Memorial Day, road walking the last 4 miles in the dimming light of the day as people drove home from parties and celebrations.  I was happy to get to town and plop down on the bed knowing that another section was done and a good rest was coming my way.  I lay on the floor of the shower with the water hitting my tired and bruised body knowing that this section was now done and that I was eating away at my eventual end of New Mexico.

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10 Things I learned in my first 600 miles of Thru Hiking

Mile 0

 

1.  Do your research:  Before you leave you should try to learn as much as you can about the trail you are going to do.  This means finding all the resources that are available to you either online or talking to other hikers.  The internet is full of forums, articles, websites dedicated to the long trails so do your research before you leave.  You don’t need to learn every bend in the trail but at least know what to expect.

2. Be ready for plans to change:  When your sitting in your warm house, on your comfy couch and planning your trip its easy to think what you write down will be your schedule.  But, when your on the ground hiking every thing can and will change no matter what you do.  Things like unexpected zero days happen because the post office was closed when you got there or your body was in worse shape then you thought it would be.  Weather is unpredictable so you might go slower or don’t get the hitch you wanted. Be flexible to change and be happy when things actually go right.

3.  Know your abilities:  When you get on the trail you’re full of ideas of what you want to do, how fast you want to go and accomplishments to achieve.  When I started on the trail I wanted to do 20-25 mile days but quickly learned I wasn’t ready for that.  On the trail you see what I call “Team Lightning” the group that’s doing 20-30 miles right out of the gate.  They’re fast, have their gear and food locked in and they haul butt.  Don’t try to keep up with them.  Go at your pace, do what you know and just be yourself.

4.  Learn to love pain:  No matter what you do you will get blisters, your legs will hurt, your back will spasm and you will be in pain.  Learn to love it.  Understand that even though you hurt you sometimes have to keep going.

5.  Listen to your body:  If you are in pain and it feels like you can’t keep going just stop, slow down or take a day off to recover.  When you push it toO hard and don’t listen to your body it will just compound and it could take you out for a couple of days or worse make you go home with a major injury.

6.  Take care of your feet:  Your feet are what propel you on your hike so if you don’t take care of your feet you aren’t going anywhere.  During breaks take your shoes and socks off and let them dry out.  When you feel a ‘hot spot’ developing stop and take care of it-IMMEDIATELY! Learn how to handle blisters and make sure you have the necessary supplies to treat them properly.

7.  Have a positive attitude:  The trail can be brutal so learning to be positive no matter what your facing can help keep you going.  Its easy to get down on yourself for not making the miles you wanted, getting lost/misplaced from the trail and forgetting something.  I’ve learned to find something to laugh about every day either about something on the trail or something you did, its always good to have a good laugh to raise your spirits.

8.  Believe in the kindness of strangers:  Its amazing the unsolicited help you can get from strangers.  People will offer you rides, food, water and so many other things that it will surprise you.  In many of the towns you pass through people know about hikers and because we have a good reputation they are happy to help.  Always be nice to everyone you meet and a please and thank you go a long way.

9.  Get use to smelling:  Yes, you will stink.  You will stink so bad that you won’t even be able to smell yourself anymore.  Your feet, shoes and body will always have a certain funk to it so just get use to it.  When you get to town, do laundry first and don’t forget to presoak all your stuff because washing machines were designed for regular humans, not thru hikers.

10.  The thru hiking community is awesome:  The people that you meet on the trail are all great people and are probably out on the trail for the same reasons as you.  They are easy to spot and are welcoming with advice, tips and stories you can relate to.  Nothing is better then talking about that last 10 miles of trail or that water source that was suppose to be there but wasn’t with someone who understands. Everyone is out to make sure you succeed with your hike so be nice to everyone you meet on the trail because we all talk to each other and if you’re a mooch or a jerk, word will get out.


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Section 5: Pie town to Grants

I love Pie!

I love Pie!

After stuffing myself with pie and loving the Toaster House, while in Pie Town, it was unfortunately time to start the hike to Grants. We left late in the afternoon after meeting two other CDT hikers, Trip and Michigan Wolverine, in cafe where  we were having a late lunch. I couldn’t resist having one more piece of pie before I left.  We chatted for a while and shared stories of the past section, which is customary to do with other hikers. They are both great guys and I was glad to bump into Michigan Wolverine later on the trail in the El Malpais ” The Badlands” . We left the Toaster House with new hiker friends, Virgo and Nicotine, and did a 10 mile road walk until we called it a night near the road out of town. It was a cool night with a half moon that lit up my tent.

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The next morning we started on a full day of road walking before we hit Amejo Canyon which would be our camp for that night. We got water halfway through the day by stopping at the Thomas ranch which is run by some of the sweetest people I had ever met.

John and his wife have lived on the ranch for many years, having purchased the property from a flyer they happened to receive in the mail many years before .   They ranched the property and lived in a what you would call a “large open shed” that they converted into their living space. Everything was beautifully compartmentalized and decorated with antique, family pictures and an old west-looking ‘outhouse’ indoors. Its was a wonderful place. We sat and talked with them for 2 hrs about all the hikers that had come through the property since they started hosting hikers in the late 90’s, I believe. They had nothing but good things to say about hikers and the visitors they’ve had over the years. John told us stories about his time being a medic in Korea and how proud he was of his service and his continued mission work around the world. He was a pastor and his wife had joined him in his journey while raising their children.

John told us a story about how he had saved a man’s life in Korea.  He was called to a mortar explosion that a private had been unfortunate enough to be standing near.  When John arrived he used what he calls his “basic” military medical training to help the private whose insides were now outside of his body. The skin tends to shrink after the tension has been released from it so he picked up a large safety pin that was used to close laundry baskets and pinned the skin to his pelvis, pushing all of his insides back into his body.  They had been laying on his chest before that time and it was doubtful that the private would survive.  John did all he could for him and took him to the helicopter that would take him to the MASH unit that was waiting for him but not before he took a picture of the chopper as it flew away.  Fast forward 42 years, and after some investigative w0rk by John over the years, he obtained a phone number from the private’s cousin he’d  found through the internet.  With shaking hands, dialed the number and waited for someone to pick up… ring… ring… ring…  Finally someone picked up and it was the man whom he had saved 42 years earlier.  John told him his name and explained “I was one of the medics that pinned you up that day.”  The shocked private acknowledged, saying only “Oh, Oh…”  Unsure of what to do next, John asked him if he had plans for breakfast, being as the phone number was in the same area.  The private told him that he ate breakfast at the same place everyday, and he suggested they meet there.  John replied “Ok, I’ll meet you there but you better not die tonight because I’ve waited 42 years to meet you again.”

The next morning, two men who had not seen each other for 42 years are face to face in a coffee shop.  They embrace other and quietly start to cry.  This is the story that John tells us and as he tears up, I can feel myself doing the same.  This is bravery and love from service that I will never know.  It warms my heart thinking about it even now.

The Thomas's

The Thomases

John then embraced his wife, for whom he has so much love, it practically glows from their faces and  bodies. It was truly a wonderful place to rest our weary bones. Two hours later, we continued on our road walk until dark when we reached the canyon and setup camp for the night. The next day we headed up and over the ridge to Sand Canyon, which as you expect, was lots of walking on road and sand that just sapped the energy out of me. Virgo is a faster hiker than me, so he took off and we didn’t see him again until we arrived at Grants. Everyone has their own hiking style, and that’s fine with me. We continued down the canyon and eventually started our road walk to the Rim Trail which provides a great overlook of the Ventana Arch and the expansive volcanic area called El Malpais National Monument.

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The black basalt terrain was created over the past million years by volcanic forces that created this vast landscape of cones, trenches and caves. The black volcanic rock was tough to walk on and brought the end of my shoes by cutting up the soles so badly that my feet were completely exposed to sand. The going was slow but, the beauty of the landscape and it’s rugged terrain was a great change of pace. After the 4 hours of walking across the El Malpais we entered the final canyon which would take us to Grants the next day. We camped that night on the side of the forest road with Michigan Wolverine, who we’d caught up to toward the end of our hike in the Malpais. The next day we continued on the forest road but not before spotting my second snake of the trip. It was sunning itself on the road and cared less that we were near it until we got a closer at it. It was still a young snake so it’s rattle wasn’t loud and it didn’t seem as afraid of us, as I was of it.

USA

USA!!

Walking into Grants I was happy to back in a town that provided me with the opportunity to rest and relax before the next section. We stayed at the Travel Inn, which has cheap rates, and did our laundry, which needed lots of presoaking. I’ve learned that washing machines are designed for normal humans, not thru hikers.


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Thru hiking with Crohn’s

crohn's

Living with Crohn’s disease isn’t easy but, trying to hike 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada doesn’t make it any easier.  I’ve lived with stomach pain since a very young age and it stopped me from doing all the normal things that kids and young people do.  Now as an adult, it’s even more difficult with work, social life and private life that’s affected by this disease and really, there is nothing we can do about it.  Regardless, I have decided to live my dream and hike the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and bring Crohn’s with me.   Right now I’m in Ghost Ranch, NM, 580 miles from the Mexican border I started at 40 days ago.  These 580 miles have been a challenge for me because there is no place to hide from the pains that have been affecting me everyday with cramping, diarrhea and constant nausea.  Its hard enough trying to walk 20-25 miles a day with a 20 lb pack on, following “trail” that isn’t really there makes it even harder to keep your cool and keep going.  Luckily, you can ‘go’ where every you want but stopping several times a day doesn’t help you keep your pace and get the miles you need to make it to the next town.

I can go where ever I want

I can go where ever I want

Hiking 20-25 miles a day and thru-hiking in general requires that you eat 3,000-5,000 calories a day which makes you eat a lot of processed, disgusting manufactured food that has these high calories per ounce which is very important.  At home I can control my pains with a strict diet but out here I’m happy to eat a banana or apple every 5 days. This has been the biggest problem for me; getting the calories I need without causing me so much pain that I can’t get out of my sleeping bag in the morning.  Food is always on your mind as you stare at the “trail” ahead but, you know the pain that comes with it.  I try to buy whole grains or gluten free foods when I can but, Walmart, which seems to be the only grocery store in New Mexico, has a section that is smaller then the respect Crohn’s & Colitis patients get.
The trail has been wonderful as well.  The beautiful orange, red, purple and pink sunsets have brought me to tears that I can even be out here to enjoy this gorgeous landscape.  The smell of the plants, the wind in my face and the ever changing landscapes have given me a reason for my pain.  As I hike I am always looking around at the views, the little lizards that run across the trail and the birds with their great calls.  I’m always worried about 6 types of rattle snakes
that live in these areas and can say that unfortunately I have seen two already.  I’m not against snakes, they have their purpose but, for a Chron’s sufferer its pretty easy to scare the crap out of me.  One was a long, scary looking black tipped rattle snake I almost stepped on in the Gila River valley and another young one on the way into Grants, that was sunning itself on the warm road.  Both got into their coiled positions with their rattles rattling loudly, heads poised to
strike and muscles tight ready to leap the 3/4 of their body length to inject me with their venom.  I stayed far away from them letting them know I had NO intentions of causing them harm and that I would wait all day for them to get off the trail.  Even then I wait and proceed with caution just in case this is some new technique to bite me just for fun.

snake
I can’t imagine not being out here and I know that making it this far is a privilege that many other suffers can’t do.  When I get down on myself and the pain is to much, I think of all the other people who couldn’t be out here, who can’t make this type of journey.  I walk for you.  I walk to help find a cure for this disease and think that this pilgrimage is a blessing that I hope will inspire and change peoples minds about the what is possible for us.

If you wish to make a donation to fund research and awareness for Crohn’s and Colitis you can donate on my page:  http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise?fcid=241603


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Section 4: Doc Campbells to Pie Town

About to Rock the Gila's

About to Rock the Gila’s

Being at Doc Campbell’s was a great milestone of my trip as I knew that if I made it there that I was making good progress to make it across New Mexico and my eventual goal of Canada.  At Docs I got my resupply box that my sister had prepared for me with little surprises of good chocolates and notes from home that were welcomed motivation to keep going.  Knowing that people back home are supportive of my hike really keeps me going and the positive encouragement helps you stay connected to home.  After staying the night in the campgrounds to soak in the local hot springs which loosened my aching muscles we did the road walk up to the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor center and took the time to check out the site.  You can’t walk this far and just pass up a piece of local history that is only an extra 2 mile road walk away.  The dwellings were amazing, snuggled up on the rock facing south with the light hitting the interior of the caves.  The Mogollon’s are ancestors of the ancient Puebloen people of the southwest were in this area over 700 years ago. The caves at Gila are considered to be everything from ceremonial sites, permanent dwellings to only seasonal residence.  The caves are amazing and you can feel the history when your inside with the petroglyphs, the dark ceiling from the fires and the intricate construction of the homes that once stood there.  This is our American heritage and being there and walking in the same area that they once considered sacred was an honor.  After visiting the dwellings I took a alternate route towards the Middle Fork of the Gila River, coming out of a slot canyon to its wonderful high walls and its beautiful flowing river.  The river is amazing and I couldn’t wait to start getting my feet wet with its endless river crossings.

Cliff dwelling

hand print

After repacking my backpack just in case I fell in while making a crossing I put my sleeping bag, clothes and electronics in protective cases and just a plain old garbage bag.  I started the winding trail through the Gila, crossing from dry trail to dry trail, crossing the river with different depths where only my feet got wet to water up to my waist.  Having your feet and legs constantly wet was a nice change from the hot and sandy desert.  Dealing with wet feet all day brought new challenges of loose skin on my feet, more rocks in my shoes and trying to dry my socks and feet at night to prevent even more blisters.  I only got 1 new blister because of the Gila which was good for me.
Gila pic 1
gila pic 2
I slowed down my pace through the Gila’s as it was one of the places I was really looking forward to during my CDT trip. During one of these day dreaming episodes I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by a loud rattling sound.  Oh crap, I had almost just stepped on a black tipped rattle snake!  As soon as I heard the rattle I stopped, looked down and ran back really quick.  I hate snakes.  I don’t like them and honestly would have been happy as hell if I didn’t see one the entire time I was in New Mexico.  After running away, I made my way back a little closer to see the coiled up body of a huge rattle snake with its head sprung back, tongue out tasting the air and ready to strike.  I moved in closer to get some pictures and every time I did it rattled louder and louder.  If you’ve never heard a rattle snake before, trust me, you will know one is around because it is loud.  Cowboys and others in the southwest call them the “gentleman of the desert’ because of these rattles.  After about 15 minutes of picture taking, me checking my shorts and stepping back the snake slithered into the rocks below but not before giving me one last rattle to let me know who was in charge out here.  I gave it another 10 minutes before I ran across the trail where it had been, hoping it wouldn’t jump out and bite me.  I was glad that experience happened without me being bit and me not needing to change my shorts.
Holy Sh*t!!

Holy Sh*t!!

The rest of the Gila went great with its high cliff walls, winding river and beautiful cool temperatures and all the water I could drink.  In all I did 147 river crossings before hitting the end of the trail and getting back into the open valley’s ahead.
After the Gila’s we entered into the open plains again and towards higher mountains that rises above the valley floor, following new CDT trail and forest roads towards the highway that takes you to Reserve.  The water situation was tougher in this section because we had to take water from springs that were surrounded with cow pies and other nasty stuff making me miss the Gila even more then I already was.  Passing through burn area that had used blazes like you see on the AT for trail markers made it very difficult to navigate through.  The blazes were chopped into the tree but, of course this was burned as well and blended with the rest of the tree.  Losing the trail here was easy to do and took me extra time to make it through the section down to the highway.  Once down at the highway I made a failed attempt to hitch to Reserve to surrender to my craving for town food.  After 3 hrs of attempting to get a ride, I gave up and slept in the tree’s eating my sad rice and tuna dinner versus the big steak I had been envisioning for days.
burned trees
The next morning I got up and headed into the Apache Forest on my way to Pie town and the famed Toaster house I had heard so much about.  I had been following the Ley route the entire way but, heard the official route was new and nice so I decided to go that way.  After about 3 hours of constant winding around the hills I got frustrated  and bushwacked back to Ley’s route and continued from there.  The official route is nice, don’t get me wrong but thru hikers don’t want to take the scenic route, we just want to get there already.  So after summiting Mangas Mountain and coming back down the other side I made a push to make it into Pie town before the Cafe would close.  That morning I decided to hike the 30.5 miles to the Toaster House, which would be my longest day of hiking ever.  The trail was good and the roads were easy to follow but the road just kept going on and on and on with no end in site.  After making my last left turn and knowing I only 5 more miles to go I made the final push in the dark to make it to the Toaster house at 9:30 pm.  I was greeted by 2 CDT bikers and a fridge full of Tostinos pizzas which I ate 2 of, drank about a gallon of water and crashed in one of the beds.  The Toaster house is an amazing place and Nita is a wonderful women who leaves it open for all weary travelers to enjoy.  The pie is amazing, the people are colorful and welcoming.  The Toaster house is truly like a CDT hall of fame and I only wished the walls could talk….
toaster house