My body was shaking, my legs ached and I couldn’t fall asleep. This was my first night in Cuba. I think my body was letting me know that it rejected my 33-mile day; 14 miles with little to no water.
In the morning I packed up my gear and had a great Mexican burrito at the Cuban Café that was full of wonderful pork green chili and all the fixins that you would want from a great breakfast burrito. After breakfast, I walked over to the Del Prado Motel that most thru hikers stay at, which is run by Mrs. Yang and her son. They have been hosting CDT hikers and bikers for years. She’s known for her kindness, which includes loaning out her laptop to hikers, helping with laundry and if you’re lucky, some great Korean food for dinner. The rooms have everything you need plus a good collection of hikers staying there including my friend Nicotine, Virgo and a new hiker, Radar, who was waiting for his girlfriend to catch up. I was going to share a room with Nicotine since having decided earlier that I was taking a zero day to give my body a rest, notably my foot.
It was good to just hangout with friends and talk about the last section and get some good BBQ in my system from the restaurant across the street. Anytime you can gorge yourself on town food it’s a good day but the body doesn’t always react well, if you know what I mean. Virgo was heading out that day so I was sharing a room with Nicotine that night which means watching a lot of TV. “How I Met Your Mother” and “Big Bang Theory” are not shows I’ve ever watched, but I’m starting to like them.
The next day I woke up with a bad foot so I decided to take another zero day to give my foot the rest I thought it needed. Nicotine took off in the morning leaving me a room to myself. I started doing my shopping for the next 55-mile section to Ghost Ranch. The only thing in Cuba is a dollar store and a small grocery store that makes for a decent resupply if you’re not too picky.
In the morning I was feeling better and packed up my gear and headed out of town. It was a short road walk through town to the forest road that goes near Circle A ranch and heads into the San Pedro Parks Wilderness, which was gorgeous. I hiked to the top of the peak and followed the trail until about 7 pm when I came across a huge open meadow I couldn’t resist setting up my tent in. I was sitting inside my tent making dinner, staring across the open meadow as a large herd of elk came grazing in to get a bite before dark. I always love the magic hour between sunset and moonrise. You can feel the calm of the day as the shadows creep across the meadow and cover the trees with its bliss. I had a great night’s sleep with calm winds, cool temperatures and a nice flat spot.
In the morning I continued down the trail crossing wide-open valleys full of wildlife and light tread. The hiking consisted of following posts driven into the open tundra that was my guide through the area. This is one of the most gorgeous sections of the trail so far, and reminded me of hiking in my home state with it’s long views, green meadows and tall trees. I took several breaks relaxing in the soft grass and staring up at the scattered clouds passing overhead.
After the beautiful mountaintop it was time to descend down to the valley floor. That included going though deadfall that made the trail hard to follow. I had to climb, crawl and jump over all the deadfall. At the bottom of the trail was a good water source full of little fish, which were some of the first I had seen on the trail other than the Gila’s. Loading up on water again, I continued on the trail eventually crossing highway 96 and climbing to the top of a mesa on the other side. I made camp off the road in an area where it was hard to find a spot where a possible widow maker wouldn’t drop on my head in the middle of the night. I spent the night listening to Bob Marley on my phone as I made dinner.
The next morning I continued through the Rio Chama Wilderness eventually hitting the Big Chama River which was an oasis. The fast flowing river was great to see and I immediately made my way to the riverbank and dipped my feet into it and had lunch as my feet cooled. I took about 2 liters of water from the river to last 10 miles of trail to Ghost Ranch. The walk down the dirt road was brutal with the hot, relentless sun beating down on me. I drank those 2 liters quickly and was out of water even before I hit the long fence that was my guide to the highway that lead to Ghost Ranch. I made it to the Ghost Ranch in time to have my cafeteria-style dinner, get my resupply box and fall in love with their computer area. Ghost Ranch is an area that Georgia O’Keeffe once lived and painted many of her famous works. It’s a sprawling complex where you can take classes in spirituality, painting, pottery and just a place with overall great vibes.
I spent just over 24 hours at Ghost Ranch but really enjoyed the experience. I got to catch up on my blog, eat some good food and relaxed watching the sunset over a beautiful landscape. The wine, brought by a wonderful couple into the computer hall as they celebrated a friends wedding, didn’t hurt either. I met a hiker named Adam in the cafeteria for breakfast and we decided to leave after lunch and hike together to Cuba. He had been hiking alone since the border so I think he was ready to hike with someone for a little while. We hiked out of Ghost Ranch after doing laundry and seeing the sites, heading up and out of the canyon towards the mountaintops. We went from dry, open desert to trees and more of a mountainous terrain. I was so happy to be up high again and be in the trees. We made camp that night off of a forest road and listened to a light sprinkle hit our tents as we dozed off to sleep. The next day we walked the confusing and winding forest roads that the area presented us. We were constantly checking our map and compass searching for the right direction to go. It wasn’t well marked and the trail/road signs were either lying somewhere on the ground or barely propped up by some frustrated CDT hiker who came before us. The views were magnificent as were the abundance of wildlife that surrounded us. Elk and deer were everywhere and we had a great encounter with a very tanned brown bear that didn’t notice us until we clicked our trekking poles only 30 yards away. It took one quick stare at us and then ran away. As I see it, for bear and most all animals in the woods, is that people equal guns, which equal death for the animal. At least that’s my philosophy. We spent the next couple of days hiking through wonderful country that I think many people should see. Some people call the northern New Mexico mountains “borrowed mountains from Colorado”but I thought they had a special feel unique to them. It’s got both the tough and rugged New Mexico flavor and the soft trees and open valleys of Colorado in them.
Everything was going great until the last day of our hike. That morning we were planning on hiking the 25 miles to Cumbres Pass, where we would cross the official border from New Mexico to Colorado, a great accomplishment in my book. The night before this last day in New Mexico my feet were starting to hurt and swell. I didn’t think much of it but the pain was intense so I did what I usually did, try and numb it with 5-6 Tylenol. This worked only a little thus giving me only about 5 hours of sleep that night. In the morning my foot was huge and the pain was intense. I tried to ignore the pain because I’d typically wake up with something wrong, but this was different. 50 yards from the campsite the pain was so strong I took one of my emergency Vicodins my doctor had prescribed me, should I feel such pain. I took only half of a pill and this only numbed the pain as I continued to tough it out so we could make it to town. The more I walked the more the pain grew. Every pointed rock that poked me in the sweet spot on my foot made me yell out in pain. I probably yelled every curse word I knew that day because of the intense pain I was in. 3 hours after taking the first half of the pain pill I was taking another and then 3 hours after that I was taking another half. In the end I took 2 Vicodin, which, to me, is a lot. I had intense pain in my foot and heavy nausea in my belly because of this foreign pill, as well as the infection that my foot was suffering from, as I would learn later.
I tried to remain in high spirits even through the pain. We missed the trail junction that would have taken us directly to Cumbres Pass versus the alternate route that followed forest road and then train tracks to the pass. We were both upset that we missed the turn. My pain went away when I saw a long fence and a sign that read “ Rio Grand National Forest Colorado”. I had made it!! I had just walked across the entire state of New Mexico. I started to cry, laugh and was overcome with joy. Some may say I hide my emotion but I cried and raised my arms in joy as I kissed the sign and knew that I had accomplished something that was a true achievement. I had struggled so hard not just to get here but also on my long walk to reach the border. It was truly a dream come true to have made it. Life comes and goes and certain things can be taken away from you, but walking across New Mexico is something that nobody can ever take from me. That is mine to keep, mine to cherish and to always remember. If anyone ever tells you you can’t accomplish something, that it’s too hard or that YOU can’t make it, all you need to do is smile and go do it. Those people who say those things are afraid to follow their own dreams and just want to stop people from accomplishing theirs.
We walked the next 5 miles on the railroad tracks that straddled the highway to the pass and then hitched a ride to Chama to a waiting room above a ice cream shop where a trail angel let us stay.
New Mexico was an adventure. I had played it out in my mind for a long time, but it ended up being even better than I had expected. It was very hard in the beginning and thoughts of not making it had crossed my mind but that is where you learn to persevere and to just keep going. The land I crossed was as diverse as the people, plants and landscapes I was privileged to see. The people of New Mexico are some of the nicest people I have ever met and their generosity holds few boundaries. I will always have a place in my heart for them. I gained a lot with my hike and I hope that I left a little of the old me behind as well.