Silver City to Pie Town

See license plate: apparently Pentecostals like muscle cars!

Before I dive into stories from the last couple hundred miles since my previous post, a few general observations. New Mexico is a diverse state. Hot, dry deserts, lush stands of ponderosa pines, spectacular mountain vistas and sweeping high plains with roaming herds of elk.

Stone cairn marking the trail.

I’ve been both surprised and impressed at the variety of what I’ve seen so far. By contrast, the people are universally kind. I come from a place that cites “Minnesota nice,” but we’ve got nothing on these folks.

Geez, I’m gettin’ old. My tent visible in background.

As for a yarn or two, it’s been an eventful stretch of miles and there’s way more to say than I’ll do justice via this phone update, but I’ll try to cover a few highlights.

The Gila river gave me some of my most challenging moments yet on the hike.

North of Silver City I entered what’s called the Gila Wilderness, including the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument a stretch of trail that crosses the Gila river hundreds of times. The most intense set of crossings I did included a set of 30 or so in very cold weather and intermittent rain, that ranged from knee to chest deep, the latter of which had current strong enough to pull you right down stream.

Doug, a Catholic hermit who’s been living in these woods for 20 years. He made me a great tuna casserole at his hermitage!

‘Scary’ doesn’t cover how challenging that was, made a bit less daunting by a very chill hiking companion, Matt from Colorado.

Colorado Matt on a less stressful Gila crossing. Awesome hiker!

Days later I met two other hikers with whom I’ve been hiking for some time and we’ve hit it off well. OB (old and busted) is a recent retiree from Georgia and Cougar is from the Napa Valley, CA area.

The fantastic Cougar and bad-ass OB crossing the Gila on a milder, sunnier day.

Both are working respectively on their hiking “triple crown”, having each already completed the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails. They are exactly the kind of hikers I like to meet on the trail- conscientious, flexible, kind-hearted, generous, fun. Also, they’ve been willing to walk with the likes of me so I ain’t complainin’!

This photo does not capture the incredible vibe at the Gila Cliff dwellings National Monument.

At a place called Snow Lake, short on food due to a miscalculation on my part, I was approached by a woman who asked me if I needed any water or food.

The Barelas fed and adopted me as one of theirs. Love to you all!

What followed over the next hour or two felt like a reunion with dear family that I’d somehow not met ’til now. The Barelas fed me with sandwiches and cold drinks and sent me on my way with breakfast burritos, chips, trail mix, pistachios and so on. It felt like love in the form of food and drink. They took turns trying on my pack and we eventually said goodbye with a round of big hugs.

Snowy peaks in the distance and my near future.
Hail during a Mangas Mountain road walk. Cold!

I’ve got so much more to say, but the limits of phone typing and Pie Town WiFi constrain additional stories for now.

Me at the “Toaster House” in Pie Town, where I’ll sleep tonight.

Love and danger from your CDT pal, Max.

Lousy Foot & Trail Magic

Plenty of trees north of Lordsburg
I left Lordsburg Monday 4/8 and limped into Silver City, NM Thursday evening, April 11th, on weak feet, the left not doing well (growing pain under the ball of the foot) and keeping my dobber pretty far down. I may be forced to stay an extra day here depending on how things shake out, but hopefully not more than that.

On the very positive side, the change in terrain north of Lordsburg has been dramatic- many of these miles were walked among welcome trees with shade to spare and on demand!

Lots of sweeping views in this stretch
Water remains in scarce supply and as a result I’ve been consistently carrying twice normal and adding considerable pack weight. I’ve also been poor thus far at managing my food on this hike. I’ve been carrying twice as much as I’m eating, effectively taking a sack of groceries on a long walk. Hopefully I’ll adjust to my appetite out here and get better at carrying nothing extra.

One of many Bureau of Land Management gates, usually near trail head road crossings
As for hiking pace, I’ve walked 162 miles (Eagan to Duluth for MN folks) in 9.5 days and hit my targets for first and second week daily averages, so things are progressing well on that front. The next week of hiking will be the third “ramp-up” week so we’ll see how my left foot feels about that. Other than the extra water, my pack is starting to feel again like an old, comfortable sweater.

A kind soul arranged this alert to a hard-to-see water source
The water challenge was made measurably easier this week by a couple of “trail magic” moments definitely worth mentioning. The first is a gigantic shout out to Abe, who materialized on the top of Jack’s Peak just before dark when I was bone dry and searching for an old cistern from which to filter algae water. Turns out brother Abe is from Spokane Valley (Wendy’s store location!) but lives in Colorado these days.
I look up while filling my water from a trough to find I’m sharing it with this cow.
He’d been vacationing recently in New Mexico and was up on the mountain for a day hike. He had parked his truck near a forest service road and ushered me back to that spot, where in the open back end of the truck he had a set up like a “bevvy girl” at a golf course with 10 or 15 different beverages (beers, sodas, etc.) on ice in a big container! I drank several in rapid succession. He also had a bunch of gallon jugs of water so I filled my containers as well. We chatted for a while and talked some hiking (Abe has done sections of the CDT and PCT) but mostly I was just buzzed from finding him and his cache of liquid gold! Minutes later after we said our goodbyes, I was camping just below the peak, enjoying the luxurious rest of a man with three liters of cold water in his pack.

Early morning liquid trail magic
Earlier that morning I was also the beneficiary of some anonymous trail magic in the form of gallon jugs of water left near the trail head where the trail crossed a road. Needless to say, water in the desert is ALWAYS welcome.

Desert canyon floor, midday
The other notable trail magic had to do with a great thru-hiker named Cherry Pie and her dog Gus. CP is a former cowboy, now a rancher and artisan baker on the Colorado/New Mexico border.
Hardest stepping terrain: soft sand…no foothold
She and Gus had started the same day as I did from the border, but Gus became increasingly weary with the lack of shade and water and CP had indicated she’d have to have her husband drive down from Colorado to pick up Gus so she could continue. The last I saw them was the morning hiking out of Lordsburg and Gus was looking haggard. Fast forward to the approach to Silver City, several days later. The final 15 miles or so northbound into Silver City are a road walk along highway 180. Extended road walks with a pack can be hard on the ‘ol feet and I was feeling it.
Silver City road walk, roadside memorial #1
Roadside memorial #2
Roadside memorial #3
It was about 4:00 pm and two different people had already stopped to offer me rides (sidebar: generally speaking the people of New Mexico seem to me about as genial as any I’ve met anywhere). A truck pulls up and stops about 100 meters in front of me. As I’m preparing to turn down yet another ride, someone hops out of the truck and yells “Max!”
Road walking across the divide
Turns out it was Cherry Pie, Gus and CP’s husband Dave, who had just reunited hours earlier, picked up her new boots, done her resupply and were now preparing to drop her back at her spot to resume hiking sans Gus. Seeing him laying on the back seat sleeping, tongue hanging listlessly to the side brought to mind an old Ray LaMontagne lyric: “Annie takes to nine ball like a dog takes to lazy…“. It was great catching up with CP, finding out Gus was fine, meeting Dave and chatting him up, escaping the road walk for a few minutes sitting in their extremely comfortable truck and eating a sleeve of their lemon sandwich cookies by grubby fistfuls.
The object of my food lust for 160 miles, satiated in Silver City
Packing & shipping food boxes to my next two destinations…towns with post offices but no food shopping.
OK, my computer time on the Silver City Public Library computer is wrapping up. Not sure when the next update will be but hopefully I’ll have better news about my foot. Cheers! Max

First week on the Continental Divide

Greetings all! A lot has happened since I last posted so here’s an update on the recent weeks. Also, I apologize if formatting looks wrong or random. The library here was closed today so this update is entirely by phone.

Prior to leaving for Seattle to board the train to New Mexico I spent a couple of days hiking and camping in the gorgeous Hell’s Canyon region of Oregon, where I got maps from Carmen at the regional forest service office (I’ll send you those hike photos later, Carmen!) and made the aquaintance of a great conversationalist named Johnnie, who- after my hike- invited me back to his “wall tent” camp for coffee and good cheer.

Wendy and I got to ski a couple more times together, and then on the 26th of March we headed for Seattle, spending a couple of nights en route up on Snowqualmie pass. The snow was still monstrous deep in places and we had fun exploring the area.

Wendy and me at Snowqualmie falls, courtesy of another patron.

Wendy dropped me off in front of the Amtrak station downtown Seattle on March 28th and later that morning I settled in to 2 and a half days in an Amtrak sleeper, arriving in Lordsburg, New Mexico around noon on the 30th. Gotta say, the train travel was a blast and I met friendly travellers of all ages.

The last time I was here was January 1984 volunteering for the UFW.

At 6:00 am the morning of April 1st, the shuttle service took four hikers (a couple, myself and one other solo hiker) from Lordsburg to the Mexican border, three and a half hours of dirt “road” you hope you never have to drive. Was genuinely surprised the vehicle made it. So then, the trail.

So glad to be here getting started.

The very first northbound CDT trail marker

I hiked Monday through Saturday but am starting slow to wait for “trail legs” to develop. Meanwhile, I found desert hiking far more challenging than I expected.

At 4500 feet, the sun is noticeably brighter and intensely radiant here, and there is simply no shade to be found. I’m not saying scarce, I’m saying there is no shade anywhere sometimes literally for miles on foot. One of the volunteers who helps shuttle hiker has even plotted GPS waypoints for trees along the CDT since they are so remarkably rare.

Typical southern New Mexico, based on my first week of walking.

Tentless “cowboy” camping is easy here in Spring.

Yep, below the blue shovel (courtesy of Nate, a friend from Prime) is a cathole.

I spent the week in a combination of sun dread and water paranoia though luckily the conditions will change as we hike north so we can later complain about bitter cold.

This will be home for the next 5-6 months if things go well.

Early morning desert sun stretch.

The thin object pointing up near the center nadir is a CDT marker sign from considerable distance.

That said, the surrounding mountains and sweeping desert prairies of New Mexico are spectacular to behold, but I couldn’t be bothered to take too many photos on account of trying to avoid dying.

Much of the landscape here reminds me of Roy Roger’s movies.

Mileage stops being interesting after a few weeks on trail but right now it’s new. I was shooting for a week one pace of 15 miles per day and did 85 in 5.5 days, so just about right. My longest of those days was a 20 and that also felt good, despite a couple of decent blisters. I spent Saturday and tonight at the same motel as I when I first arrived in Lordsburg (the trail walks us right back to Lordsburg from the border going north).

Ok, tired and resuming the hike tomorrow morning so I need some sleep. Next post will probably be from Silver City New Mexico! Cheers! Max

The American Road

I am just a vagabond, a drifter on the run.
And eloquent profanity, it rolls right off my tongue.
(Lowell George)

Silver Mountain gondola, first weekend in March, daydreaming about the upcoming hike

With about two weeks until my hike and an abundance of local snow, skiing has been a great way to keep my legs limber, if not trail-ready. Skiing and hiking both involve moving through space, variations on the Americana ‘road’ theme I’ve found so seductive over the years. I am a wanderer who’s sentimentality for the road is as old and enduring as anything about me. I’ve noticed that as a hike draws closer, the old road stories bubble up from the depths as though awakening from hibernation.

Earlier the same day during a nice break in the clouds

Like those first few days of 1984 as I hitchhiked down the coast from the Dead’s New Year’s Eve run at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium to La Paz, California, Casar Chavez’s communal enclave in the Tehachapi hills.

Somewhere on a road near Bakersfield a pickup truck with a camping shell stopped to offer me a ride, the two hippie farmers in the cab yelling for me to hop in the back and “Feel free to fill your pack, man, we’re growers!” Initial disappointment when I found a heap of dried figs under the shell, but short-lived once I realized how long they’d last and how sweet they tasted. A month later I when I set out for the long hitch back to Minnesota I was still eating the last of those damn figs.

Thirty-five years later I’ve got no idea what stories I may accumulate hiking the Continental Divide, but if they bring me as many happy recollections as that mountain of figs in Bakersfield, I’m in for some fun.

The run up

Its still a month before I hit the trail, but my preparations are actually winding down, having already purchased most of my gear and confirmed my travel plans to the southern terminus of the CDT.

Organizing my gear: a work in progress
CDT southern terminus: the “Crazy Cook” monument

I decided to make my way to the trail by train this time as I understand the route on Amtrak’s “Coast Startlight” line from Seattle to L.A is particularly scenic, and I wouldn’t mind avoiding the shenanigans I encountered on the Greyhound heading to the AT. The green circular end points below are Seattle and Lordsburg, New Mexico, the closest town to ‘Crazy Cook.’

Amtrak route from Seattle to Lordsburg

"…so I washed my face in the morning dew, bathed my soul in the sun, washed my face in the morning dew, and kept on movin' along"