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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Helena to Rogers Pass

P1010839 Taking a shower after 10 days is a great feeling.  The mud, dirt and grime of your body washes away, sloshing down the drain and quickly forgotten.  How much dirt and grime I put down the drain is a badge of honor and this time it didn’t disappoint. We were dropped off at the Lamplighter Motel, a collection of small individual ‘bunkhouses’ that accommodated various sized groups.  The owner was a kind man who offered us a little discount because we were hikers but crammed 5 of us into a 2-room bunkhouse.  It’s a crazy atmosphere with 5 people in one little room.  It’s a yard sale of clothes, groceries, beer cans, cell phones, drying sleeping bags and cameras being charged and prepared for the next section.  My first stop was the grocery store to pick up all the cravings I had during the last section including chicken, grape gatorade and popcorn.  With my food needs satisfied, the group settled in to watch the beginning of the NFL season with my beloved Broncos playing their season opener.  We slept that night two to a bed with the smell of nasty shoes and Taco Bell clinging in the air. The next morning came on like a tidal wave.  The guy who had dropped us off called and said he could take us back to the pass at 9 am.  It was 8:30 am.  I had hoped to hang out more in town and relax but a guaranteed ride is hard to pass up.  I couldn’t decide but soon opted for the guaranteed ride.  I now had 15 minutes to shop for the 64-mile section to Rogers Pass, which would get me to Lincoln for resupply.  You would have thought I was on the old 90’s  TV show Super Market sweep for how fast I got all my grocery shopping done. Before I knew it, I was riding in the back of the pickup, waving good-bye, ending my “lengthy” 12-hour stay in Helena. The trail snaked up and around the mountain.  I opted to take the Ley purple route, staying low in the valley versus going up high on the divide because of the thick clouds in the distant.  Walking the dirt roads for a few hours I found a nice patch of shade and had a quick lunch.  Surprisingly I got a call from my mom who lives in Europe and I Skyped with her awhile, sitting in the shade of the trees.  All was well until a large crack broke the conversation.  I quickly, and probably to my mothers horror, hung up while yelling something like ‘Here it comes!’.   I quickly threw on my rain gear and battened down my pack and walked right into the storm.  The marble sized hail came with a fury, slamming into my head and body from all angles.  Trickles of water quickly collaborated with the others to create large streams where there once was a dirt road.  I cowered under a tree that offered little protection and after a while I just said “to hell with it” and walked out into the bombing of hail.   The hail bombardment continued for a solid 30 minutes before letting up and the sun finally smiled on me again.

Hail bombardment

Hail bombardment

Twice this size before melting in my hand

Twice this size before melting in my hand

I was walking alone and climbed even higher into the Helena National Forest feeling great.  That day I learned that I actually enjoy being wet, cold and a little miserable while hiking.   Cresting a ridge I found my next water source, which I definitely felt in need of.  I opened up the lid of the spring and found it to be nearly empty.  I was able to get enough water out of it for that night and a little for the next day to make it.   I would later learn that the group behind me would find it in even worse condition, filled with dead squirrels that had fallen in. My nose awoke me the next morning.  It was a clean smell; a freshness that absorbed into my nostrils.  I rolled to my side, still in my sleeping bag and peeked out under my vestibule and saw that I was surrounded in mud thick fog.  I could barely see 15 feet from the tent.  It was a slow moving ghost of white that flowed over me like a stone in a creek. P1010842 I crawled out of my bag and stood outside my tent with my bare feet sending a cold mossy chill up my body as the fog engulfed me.  It was the freshest air I had ever smelled in my life.  I raised my arms out, puffed out my chest, tilted my head back, opened up my nose and took a long deep breath.  The air quickly ran down my throat, into my lungs and was absorbed throughout my entire body.  I was cleansed.  I was free and I knew it. The whole day was full of amazing hiking.  The fog rolled in and over me all day leaving the forest mysterious and medieval.  Pine trees with green moss hanging from its limbs and fog hiding everything else in the background.  The fog was my mistress, teasing me with quick flashes of distant peaks and trail.  I snaked up and down the crest of the mountain excited to feel its next move and tantalizing surprise. P1010845 This day had been an experience that I would soon not forget.  The day ended with a continued rain but I didn’t care.  I was happy and content.  I made it to Stemple Pass where a hunter invited me into his RV for hamburger steak and 2 tasty beers.  I slept that night with a smile stretched across my face. In the morning I woke to a revived spirit, one that was ready to tackle the trail with no worries, only focus on the end goal.  I hiked along the mix of trail and dusty dirt road having to choose between the confusing official CDT route and or the alternates.  Thinking I was on the alternate I headed around a mountain and came to a clearing.   An established trail was to my left; a more defined one was on the right.  I choose right.  Wrong choice.  I went for about 2 miles, always looking back, questioning my decision.  Finally I realized I had taken a wrong turn.  Instead of turning around and going back the way I came, I figured why not just go cross country and connect back up with the trail I should have gone with.  I was in the middle of the woods, following game trails that lead nowhere but somewhere.  I knew I was in the middle of nothing but kept going thinking that eventually I would hit a road I saw on my map but wasn’t particularly sure if I would.  The place was uninviting but not scary.  I decided to just keeping going, assuming it was the best course of action at this point.  Stop thinking and just go. P1010809 I hit a road about 2 hours later and followed it to what I figured was an intersection with the trail I should have been on from the get go.  I needed to clear my head so I sat there, drying out my gear from the night before, digging into my food bag finding whatever chocolate I had left.  I eventually went cross -country to meet up with the original trail and followed it until nightfall, giving up on the ridge walk that awaited me in the morning. P1010904 In the morning I woke up to beautiful conditions of more fog and clouds that covered my path.  It was glorious.  I was high up on a ridge that was obscured with clouds rolling through, up and over the ridge.  I felt like I was part of the clouds and not just passing through.  This lasted for about 15 miles before coming down the mountain to Rogers Pass and my highway to Lincoln.  I was semi-happy to have hit the road, not really needing to get to town other than to satisfy my stomach’s desire for the indulgences of town food.  I put out my thumb in the cold and waited for a ride.  No ride came.  I didn’t care deep down if someone stopped or not, I was in the zone, fully charged and ready to tackle the trail.  My trail friends popped out of trees and I noticed them out of the corner of my eye.  I felt happy to see them, and ready to abandon my hitchhiking quest. After standing by the side of the road for the better part of 2 hours I felt ready to hike, instead of hitchhiking. It was 53 miles to my next resupply in Benchmark.  My food bag was getting a little light but I had bought more food then I needed in Helena.  Maybe I would make it on what I had to eat or maybe I would go hungry for a day or so. What I lacked in food I made up in desire to keep going and not stop.  I was ready for the next section dubbed “The Roller Coaster”.

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Finished!! Hello Canada!

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Oh man, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I REACHED THE CANADIAN BORDER!!!   I can’t believe that I made it and am thrilled that I’ve accomplished my goal.  Thanks Grannyhiker and OregonTrail for checking in on me, things have been crazy trying to get things in order.  I apologize for being behind on my blog posts but trying to find a computer in small Montana towns had been very difficult.  I’ll be doing some catch up work in the next week.  I’ve got some great stories of what happened in Montana including the hike through the Tobacco Range, sleeping in a public park in Bozeman, finding a wallet with $350 inside, avoiding fires & hunters in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and my cold and snowy finish in Glacier National Park!  Stay tuned.


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Grand Lake to the Wyoming Border

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After being in the ultra-tourist town of Grand Lake, I was ready to get back on the trail. Steamboat was 73 miles away and the hike would include plenty of high ridges.  I headed out of town following the highway, officially entering Rocky Mountain National Park. Soon I would start winding up the never-ending connections of ATV roads that lead to the ridge of Cascade Mountain.  After a couple of hours I reached the ridge that would take me to the top of Rudy Mountain. However, after spying some thick, dark clouds to the west, I decided to get my tent set up and hunker down for the inevitable storm that was going to pass over me soon.  I was correct in my prediction as heavy rain, hail and lighting rushed over my tent.  The gale-force winds and rain were so strong I could feel myself almost being lifted off of the ground.  I laid there knowing I had no control over what was happening, and that was amplified when lighting struck not 50 yards from my tent.  It was an immediate BOOM-CRACK followed by a sensation of electricity flowing right through my body.  My hair stood up like Mr. T and I could feel a complete sensation fill my body.  I had just been a medium for the current to flow through me.  This was the scariest weather-related incident on the trail, for me, so far and I hope it doesn’t happen again.

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The next day, I packed up and made my way around Cascade Mountain and down the dirt bike track, leading to connecting trails to Willow Creek Pass.  The trail was good but the constant up and down was draining my energy.  I only made it a couple of miles past the pass and made camp in a car camping spot that provided some protection from the rain.  In the morning I climbed up Parkview Mountain, which has an old weather cabin at the top that is now littered with mice and spiders.  The cabin was also full of tags from CDT hikers that came before me and other hikers I’d have heard of like D-Low, Andrew Skurka, Lint and the ghosts of many other hikers that came before me.  It was like the CDT wall of fame and I was proud to leave my mark behind for all others to look at, in the future.  Leaving the cabin lead up the ridge at 11,200’ until dropping down and around Haystack Mountain.

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Being up high was great for the views but it makes water sources scarce, so its important to camel up or take enough with you.  The trail remained high on the ridge for most of this section, which I really enjoyed, but made timing really important.  You have to get up early enough to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms because you don’t want to get caught up high when the clouds come bearing down on you.  I also didn’t want to do too many “bonus” miles escaping the ridges.  Luckily this didn’t happen to me, but I got close a couple of times.

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I started my descent from the mountains on Indian Creek Road, which leads to Highway 14 and eventually, Muddy Pass.  It was a dirt road that went on for a long time.  My sunglasses fell victim to my brain dead walk. I left them at the last decent water spot I could find before a herd of cows fouled the water.  I like to think there’s a cow out there wearing my shades right now.  After spending the night in a camping spot off the road, surrounded by cow pies, I started my walk down highway 14, which connects to highway 40 at Muddy Pass and the end of the section at Rabbit Ears Pass.  Walking a total of 15 miles on the highway is hell. Not only are cars passing only 2 feet from you as you’re walking the barely-there shoulder, but it turns your feet into ground beef.  It was a miserably hot day.

After making it to Rabbit Ears Pass and hitching into town with another hiker named Pacer, I was happy to have the comfort of a hotel and a hot shower.

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Leaving Steamboat and rejoining the trail at the pass, I was excited to be entering the Mt. Zirkel Wilderness Area.  This area is famous for its high passes, alpine lakes and gorgeous scenery.  It had been a place I’d wanted to visit for some time and I was happy it was on my route.  It was also the first place I had seen the name ‘Wyoming’ so far, following the Wyoming trail 1101 until I hit the border.  The Zirkel did not disappointment, with its many lakes such as Round Lake, Luna Lake and dozens of others.  Going over or near Mt. Ethel, Lost Ranger Peak and The Dome which was spectacular.  I took an alternate path down the Three Island Lakes trail as it was a little shorter and described as scenic on the Ley maps.  I was not disappointed with a great lake to dip my feet into after some rough down hill and hot weather.

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Dropping down to the forest road and following it on my way to Diamond Park I was flagged down my some campers next to the road.  They asked me what I was doing and I gave them the now-scripted story of hiking to Canada on the CDT.  One of the guys in the group quickly advised me that “well hell, you must need a beer!”  Yes, yes I did need a beer!  I quickly became friends with this group of campers that consisted of two families and their kids, out car camping.  They were great people; feeding me a burger, potato salad, beans and BBQ chips.  Before dinner it was customary to drink a couple of beers and then shoot off some guns, which I was happy to do, since I don’t own guns nor shoot them off very often.  Turns out I’m a pretty good shot!

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In the morning I said my goodbyes and headed up trail knowing I was getting close to the Wyoming border.  I hurriedly made my way on forest roads and deadfall trail.  I tried to make it to the border that day, but fell short by only 7 miles.  In the morning I got up early and bolted up the trail knowing Wyoming was close.  Finally around noon I saw a sign nailed to a tree saying ‘Wyoming State Line’.  I was elated!  I was so happy to had known I walked into Wyoming.  I took about 40 pictures of myself with the sign, near the sign, funny face, serious face, thumbs up and the victorious arms raised pose.  There’s a white line of rocks that marks the borderline of the two states and I couldn’t help jumping back and forth between the two and lay there so that my upper body was in my Wyoming while my lower body was in Colorado.  I’m a dork but it was fun to play around.

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Not long after that I was at Battle Pass hitching my way down to Encampment where my resupply was hopefully sitting at the post office.  I was excited be in Wyoming and knew that I now only had one more state to go!


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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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Thru hiking with Crohn’s

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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.

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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

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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
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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.
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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


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Section 3: Emory Pass to Doc Campbells

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After 2 days of rest in Silver City, it was time to leave and get back on the trail.  I was happy to get out because I was starting to feel a little too comfortable with my soft bed, unlimited TV and showers whenever I wanted.  I wasn’t on vacation. I was thru hiking, damn it, and it was time to go. During my shopping at Walmart, which is the only place to shop in the last couple of cities, I bought a large piece of cardboard to help us with our hitchhiking. I used the term Sunday had used before but with a twist:  “Hikers to Emory Pass.”  This way people would know that I’m a hiker and not homeless. Also, stating specifically where I’m going might let people know that they won’t have to take me to Florida or something.  A smiley face wouldn’t hurt either…

After deciding to just go right outside of our hotel, we took our spot on the road and started the hitching process.  I took off my hat, cleaned up my shirt, put on a big (but not cheesy) smile on and held the sign. Two and a half hours later, we got a ride by a lady who was only going to the intersection of the road that would take us to Emory Pass.  She wasn’t from New Mexico so she didn’t know if riding in the back of a truck was legal or not, and at that point I didn’t care either, so I hopped in.  I kept a low profile just in case the cops drove by and just laid back and watched the clouds go by as the wind whipped passed me and gripped my hat so it didn’t fly away.  After about 10 minutes, we were at the intersecton saying good bye when another person that had seen us earlier asked us hop into her van.  It was only 10 seconds between hitches, which was fantastic, and gave us hope we might get to the pass soon.  We rode in the van with a woman and her son to the last intersection where any car passing us would be going to Emory Pass.  Surprisingly, it took another two and a half hours to get a ride up to the pass.  During that time, the sun beat down on us with no break.

Hitchin'

Hitchin’

Another hiker came out from the corner of the road toward us and told us he was a CDT hiker who was headed back to Gypsum, CO. Apparently he had no maps and was hiking the CDT with only a road atlas which I thought was crazy!  He got a ride with us and ended up going all the way to Santa Fe with the lady and her kids, who gave us a ride. Once on Emory Pass we hit the trail and hiked the 5 miles to the top of Hillsboro Peak lookout in about 3 hours, due to of the long switchback trail that kept going on forever to the 10,009 ft summit.  At the top was an unmanned fire lookout tower, a cabin for the lookout person and a cabin that was free for all people to enjoy.  We settled into the cabin for a great night of playing cards. It had a small room with bunkbeds, wood stove and a great porch that looked east.  I sat on the porch for a long time, gazing over the open basin below and the distant views that it provided.  That night we had the most amazing time eating and playing poker using rocks as poker chips, by the light of my headlamp.  It was truly a great moment of the trip so far and will not be soon forgotten.  That night the wind howled non-stop, as I lay snug inside the creaking cabin safe from the elements.

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The next morning we headed out, winding around the mountain, up and down several of the saddles that the route traversed.  You could tell that the area was not well maintained, as trails fading into nothing and junctions pointing us in directions we didn’t think a trail could exist.  After a long lunch, we made our way down a newer looking trail, looking for the road we hoped to join up with.  The trail was faint, but was covered with cairns, as if a drunk person had placed them as a joke to the unknowing hiker.  After several hours, we finally reached the road and began our 15 mile hike down into Mimbres.  With no real camping available in Mimbres, we stayed that night 5 miles outside of town, happy to have gotten a signal on my phone where we watched Gilbert Godfried standup comedy, which was a great change of pace.

The following morning we awoke to a gorgeous sunrise of orange, pink and yellow that lit up the mountain and everything around us.  We made the 5 mile walk to town, ready to hit our next trailhead. It was next to the Forest Service building that also held our desperately needed water supply. Half way to the building a truck stopped next to us and asked if we were hikers.  We were easy to spot I guess, looking smelly, beaten and wearing packs… no real place to hide. Steve was a Mimbres local with a seasoned face and a hand-rolled smoke hanging out of his mouth.  We told him we were CDT hikers and started chatting.  He asked if we wanted to go to his house and take a shower and use the internet.  Under normal circumstances I would think twice about this type of situation, but being stinky and thirsty we agreed and made our way to his house, which was only a mile back the way we came.  We showered and chatted with Steve, who had actually built most of the trail in the area.  In his 30 years in the valley he had been everywhere, he said, working with scientist and the forest service.  He was a great guy and I was happy to have met him.  After that, we hit the trail, but not before stopping at the Elk X-ing Cafe to destroy a quick burger.

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Heading up the Allie Canyon trail we saw our first CDT marker at the top. It only took 200 miles to see our first marker!  That same day we met up with the offical route that the Crazy Cook hikers take and were happy to finally had made it to the lower Gila River.  It was like entering an oasis with all the water that we could drink.  Beautiful flowing water that wasn’t a nasty stagnant cow tank. A paradise you just wanted to jump into and never leave.  We stared down into the canyon and were excited to finally make it to the Gila River.

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We walked the next one and a half days on the lower Gila keeping a look out for petroglyphs, dwellings and mountain lions from all the prints that we had seen on the river banks.  This also started the river crossings, which for me was welcomed because of the cool and crisp feeling of cold water on your feet and thighs, at times.  We wound back and forth across the river to banks of drier ground, only to cross again.  Any time our feet started drying it was time to get them wet again.  This is where lots of mesh comes in to play and can make or break your feet.  Why you would wear water proof shoes or anything like that I don’t know. We made a nice camp in the canyon and listened to the first rain that night from 3 am until 7 am, when we crawled out of our tents.  We reached Doc Campbells after just over a day in the canyon and were happy to be there.  It was time for our resupply boxes and hot springs to warm our cold feet and aching bodies.  Next was the Middle fork of the Gila and a whole other story….

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