Town Speed

Desert Lizard

The men were in a staggered line behind me.  I turned to see white sun hats weaving in and out of the scrub.  Everyone but Amy was making good time, since it was a town day.  Amy appeared to have disappeared into the desert.

I could feel sweat soaked bandages slipping around on my raw feet, and had settled amongst some scrub to dry out my socks, and apply fresh dressings. Each rock and bush, within reach, and in the sun, had a sock or shoe laid out on it, as I attempted to keep them up out of the dirt while they dried.

“Good signal! I’m not sure if I saw or smelled them first.” said Mr. K, grinning as he walked up.

“I’m sure it was the vultures circling.” I said, glancing up at him with a quick smile.

“I don’t know how you walk on those things.” he said with a grimace.

“They get numb after a few minutes.  That’s why I keep moving and don’t stop walking.  Stopping and starting is brutal.”

Mr. K just shook his head and raised his hand to cover his eyes, as he peered through the hot haze behind him.

“I see Robbie thrashing his way in our direction.” said Mr. K with a chuckle.  Robbie always hiked on the edge of desperation.  Desperate for water.  Desperate to get out of the sun.  Desperate just to stop.  He usually seemed to be in the final frantic throws of some desperate hiking plight.  Once settled, rested and “saved” though, he was quite jolly, with his wide grin and shiny bald head.  Robbie was about to get his “trail name.”  We had started calling him “Mood Ring.”  His head color indicated his state of being.  The more desperate he became, the redder his head glowed.  Granted, some of this could probably be attributed to the sun, but most of it was blood pressure.

“Holy crap!  I hope we are stopping!”  Robbie gasped out as he slowed to a stop.  He glanced at me sitting in the bushes, and promptly dropped his pack and collapsed on it.  Mr. K was still trying to clear out a level, rock free spot to settle.  We were all several days in to the hike – dry, scorched and filthy, and Mr. K still appeared neat and dapper.  He was cool like that, with his tan cargo pants, muted yellow button up shirt, and still white sun hat.

“I see movement.” Mr. K said as he paused, peering out from under his hand again.

I stood slowly, just enough to crouch and peek over the bushes.  Sure enough, I saw a small white blob weaving in and out of the bushes in the distance.  It had to be a half mile away, over by a dry windmill we had passed earlier.

“Sit! Sit!” I hissed through clenched teeth.  Mr. K immediately crouched behind a bush.

“Why?” he said, whispering now.

“In one week, we have seen illegals, a desert witch, and had a gun pointed at us.  We are so close to town.  I just want to live long enough for a Pepsi.  We are just so close.” I said with a wistful expression in my voice.  “We can only roll the dice so many times.” I whispered.

Nobody wanted to admit it, but we had also finally lost Amy.  She was not a bad person, but the questions were endless!  How do I use my GPS?  Where is there water?  What are you eating?  It was as if I had a child in the back seat on my road trip.  I knew though, that I was not being nice, and everyone else probably felt the same.  We were supposed to help our fellow man/woman, not hide amidst the bushes, cringing each time they came near.

I slowly settled back to the ground, to continue salvaging my feet.

“I want a steak with a huge loaded potato, and a giant ice cream Sunday, when I get to town.” I said with a  sigh.  This was a fun game we played.

“I would like a nice big, crispy salad and lots of veggies.” said Mr. K.

“Freak!  Days in the desert, and you want cow food!” I hissed at him with a grin.

“Beer, an ice, damn cold beer.” said Robbie as he leaned back, and rolled off his pack, cursing softly in the dirt.

“There you are!”  I knew I would find you!

That voice forced it’s way under my skin, and I felt my blood heat instantly!  How had she found us?  We were on the ground in the bushes, and she would have had to make a 180 degree turn and head our way.  I had seen bird dogs with less ability to track – not to mention the speed at which she had covered that half mile!

“Oh good.” said Robbie, with a weak smile on his face.  It was then I noticed the glasses on his head.  It was his fault!  She must have seen the glint, but that was hard to believe I thought, as I looked over at her giant prescription sunglasses.

I had finished bandaging my feet, and quickly crammed both my socks and shoes over the layers of bandages.  I glanced over to see Mr. K smirking at me.  I think he was enjoying my irritation.  I really did need to work on my self-control.  He was my idol, damn it.

We were about two miles out of Lordsburg, and I hobbled quickly for the first ten minutes, until my feet became numb and I could increase my speed.  The others fanned out behind me.  As we got closer to town, I began to see piles of junk – old metal strewn across the sand.  There were car parts, washing machines, dryers, sinks.  Clearly, we were entering town through a junk yard.  I could also hear deep menacing barks, and veered away from the old rusted barb wire fence off to my left.

I hissed through my teeth as I stumbled over a metal bar, and then grunted in pain as I bent over, pulling my shorts across my new sore.  Yesterday, I had hiked with a piece of duct tape over a rather large hole in the back of my shorts.  After stopping last night, I had pulled down my shorts to put on my sleeping shorts, and yelped in pain as a hunk of skin had been torn from my ass.  Apparently, the adhesive from the duct tape had melded with my skin, over the course of the day, taking off the first three layers of skin when I removed my shorts.  I was now hiking with the giant hole open, and covering it when anyone came near me, or I had to sit.

I tried hard to stay to what seemed to be public property, but as I ducked under barb wire, and crouched to jog around small shacks with large dusty dogs on ropes and chains, I’m sure I was lucky I did not get a butt load of metal.  I did not even glance behind me.  I just increased speed as the buildings became less dilapidated, and the dirt on the roads became more compacted.  Civilization and food was close!

Practically running down what appeared to main street – at least it was asphalt, I stopped at the first restaurant I came upon.  I stepped in to air conditioned bliss, and grinned at the hostess staring at me in horrified fascination.  On the other trails, I always checked in to a hotel and cleaned up first, but I was just so, so thirsty.

“I’m sorry I’m a little dusty.” I said with a closed mouth smile.  I had not gotten a chance to check my teeth yet.

“No problem.” she said with a slight crook at the very edge of her lips.   Maybe a smirk, or maybe a grimace.  I was not sure.

She guided me to the very last table at the very back of the restaurant.  I would have done the same.  I could see filthy, homeless person plastered to her face.  I had learned to recognize this expression years earlier.  As long as I was fed and watered, I did not mind the discrimination one bit.  Besides, she would soften when I explained the hike.

I had been seated for about five minutes, been served a pitcher of soda, and was trying to clear the tears from my eyes, as I gazed at the menu with bright, colorful pictures, when I saw the guys pass the window to my right.  As expected, they veered inside immediately.  The hostess did not even pause as they entered the door.  She just grabbed menus and headed towards my table.

“Will there be more?” she said with a frown.

The men slid into the booth across from me, and one grabbed my Pepsi, while the other snatched up my ice water.  No questions were asked.  We had known each other for one week, and already everything was communal.

“There will only be one other small dirty person.” I said, smiling.

“We are hikers, on the Continental divide trail.”  The guys did not even glance our way.  They just chugged liquid, as they tried to read the menus over the tops of the large, plastic glasses, and grunted a little, with rivulets of water dripping off Robbie’s chin.

“Back away.  They may bite.” I said, with a very serious expression.

The hostess just turned and walked away, with a small frown still affixed to her face.  I watched as she glanced back, and paused to whisper with what appeared to be a manager, who also looked our way with a frown on his face.

This was probably the first time, I realized this trail was different.  This hostess dealt with travelers every day, but had never heard of the CDT.  This was the first restaurant encountered when entering town, and also one of very few restaurants in town, and she had never heard the hundreds of people she met, even mention the Continental Divide Trail.  Long distance hikers were practically celebrities on some of the other trails.  On this trail where daily life was often a struggle, and people worked hard for everything they had, it was hard to relate to hikers that could, or even desired, to drop everything and walk.  Of all the places I’ve hiked, I would learn that these people of the west were some of the toughest and most pragmatic.

 

Lordsburg Cowgirl

Tire Sludge

I leaned back against the side of the ravine, squeezing canned cheese onto slices of pepperoni – heaven in a heart stopping snack.  My hiking metabolism burns through the cholesterol before it has time to clog up my arteries.  Seriously, it does!

“How do you eat that crap?” Mr. K said, wrinkling up his sun weathered nose.

I grinned through cheese coated teeth, and smacked my sunburnt lips at him.

“Want some?” I said, holding out the can.

“Sure” he said as he grinned back at me, holding out his healthy multi-grain cracker, in the palm of a dirt crusted hand.

“What is that?” I heard Amy say.

I looked over to see Amy half standing, peering over the top of the ravine.  I studied her for a moment. Fascination with her increased as the hike continued.  Grey strands of hair poked out from under her wide brimmed, white sun hat.  It was pulled low over the top half of her face, that was already obscured by huge, black, square prescription sun glasses.  Protruding out immediately beneath the sun glasses was a small bit of a nose, perched on top of large bulbous, zinc covered lips.  She pursed them thoughtfully as she peered out across the dry ground.

I just watched.  There was entertainment value here.  How could you even see anything through those glasses?  She was probably watching a thin, bony, desert cow.  Out here, movement of any type was fascinating, and often the high point of the day in this dry, withered landscape.

Having nothing else to do, I sighed and stood up slowly on screaming feet, feet with shards of glass being embedded into them  – slowly.

In the distance I saw a dust cloud, and my eyes quickly scanned the dust to pick out several points of movement around thin, dirty desert cows.  Running along beside the cows was what looked like a ragged coyote, followed by a couple of horses with riders.  I stood straighter, and turned quickly to my pack (the one on my back), feet forgotten.

“Water!” I said.  “They will know where there is water!”

We had been without water all day, coming across a cow trough only once, filled with green slimy, nasty bovine water.  Jason and Robbie had filled up their water bottles with the stuff “for emergencies” they said, but I had refused to let the stuff even touch my water bottle.  I wondered if they might drink it.  The changes would probably come on slowly, similar to after you get bit by a zombie – ghostly pale, sweaty skin, with blood shot eyes and low, miserable moans.   Zombie transformation was probably very similar to bad water sickness.

I shoved everything I had into my pack, threw the open pack over my shoulder, and started scrambling up the side of the small ravine.  Staggering over the lip of the ditch, I then started shambling, at a slow trot, towards the distant dust cloud.  I could hear the others moving around behind me as they shouted for me to hurry.

I waved my arms, sure they had not seen me, and watched as the rider at the back of the small herd slowed and turned towards me.  The horse paused, and then headed towards me at a fast canter.  As the horse drew closer, the haze around the riders head solidified into wildly blowing, silver hair.  My eyes widened, and I came to an abrupt halt, as I realized the black stick pointing my way was a rifle pointed directly at me.  Hopefully, all that bouncing up and down did not jostle the trigger finger.

“Whoa” I said, taking a step back.  “We just want water.”  I doubt the scary desert witch heard me.

The horse slid to a stop and turned slightly, gun lowered to the cantle of the saddle, but still pointed in my direction.

The woman on the horse appeared to be in her mid-80’s, but was probably closer to her late 50’s or early 60’s.  Desert life was hard on the body.  Sun darkened, weathered skin was covered by fine wrinkles that did not allow for even a small patch of relative smoothness, and the eyes peering out from under the black cowboy hat were buried deep inside rows of dusty creases and wrinkles, created from years of squinting into bright sunlight, and the constant glare reflected from the sands.

“What are you doing here?” she asked in a sharp, clear voice.  She was clearly in charge, and used to not asking, but demanding information.  I was reminded of my fifth grade principal, and felt the same childish nervousness begin to creep up from my belly.

She shifted the end of the gun away from me, as she looked me up and down, frowning slightly.  I dropped my pack, to close the top, and her frown deepened as she appeared to become more irritated.

“We are hiking the CDT.” I said with a big smile on my face.

“This is my land, and you are trespassing.” she barked at me abruptly.

Fifth grade principal with a 3x bitchiness factor I thought.  I paused, caught a little off guard.  The nervousness quickly dissipated, and was replaced by anger.  My hands trembled slightly as I looked down, and finished cinching up my pack .  I took my time, taking a breath to collect my thoughts, but not deep enough for her to see my chest heave.  I stood up again, only smiling slightly now.

“According to my map, this is BLM land, and open to public use.”  I said as the smile faded from my face.  I had tried hard not to use private land, and had not seen a CDT sign for some time.  I hoped I was right.

“This land has been in my family for three generations.” she said in a lower voice.

She pulled back on the reins, as her horse nervously danced in place.  I’m sure the horse could  feel her anxiety, and my eyes flicked back and forth between her icy glare, and the gun only slightly turned away from me.

I was emboldened by the fact that Mr. K and the others were right behind me, but I could imagine her statement now.

Cowwoman:  “I was holding the gun because I saw the packs from a distance and thought they were illegals.”

BLM Officer: “That is when you accidentally shot her in the foot?”

Cowwoman:  “She startled my horse, flailing around with that pack of hers, and the gun went off.  It was an accident, Sir”

I had no doubt she could shoot me in a limb without even looking, and although the pain would probably not be much greater than the current pain caused by skinless feet, it might take a little longer for a bullet wound to heal.  I know nothing about guns.

“We are going to get off your land as quickly as possible.” I said, with all friendliness gone from my voice.

I had forgotten to ask for water – kinda sorta forgotten .  Honestly, I remembered, but my pride had stepped into the mix, and I was not going to ask this desert witch for anything.

“There is nothing out here but cow holes and troughs.  You don’t have any water.” she said as she sneered at me.

“We have filters and chemicals to treat the water.  We will be fine.”

“I doubt that!” she said as she wheeled her jumpy broomstick in a tight circle.

As she tore off across the sand, weaving in and out of the brush, Mr. K walked up next to me.  He was breathing heavily, and dropped his pack before leaning over with his hands on his knees.

“What did she say?” he said as the others also pulled up around us.

“She told us to have a great hike.  She also said that although you appeared quite handsome and dapper, she had no water.”

“Really?  Did you ask her to bring us some back?”  he said through heavy breaths.

“I did not.  We will find some.”

I heard him sigh in exasperation as I heaved my pack onto my back.

We spent the rest of the day searching for water.  We found a mud hole that appeared to have cow parts and cow paddies floating in it, and a slightly less gross tank than the one earlier in the day.  Everyone traded their prior green water for murky water with green things floating in it – a step up.

Dinner for me was three spoons of peanut butter, squeeze cheese, and pepperoni.  The others boiled their sludge, and mixed in pasta or rice.  I quipped that it looked like pesto sauce, giving everything a greenish tinge, and not to worry, because we would be in Lordsburg tomorrow.  The small organisms would take at least 24-48 hours to give them the runs, and by then we would be near modern plumbing.   The group offered me no responses, and mostly just glared at me over the tops of their little titanium pots.  If they did end up sick, I had no doubts that me, and not the cow water, would receive the blame.

Whistling Windy Zombies

Dry

The wind whistled through the tall, withered grass around me, as I battled with the corner of the tarp being ripped from my hands.  “Crap!” I yelped in pain and frustration, as the corner across from me, ripped the titanium stake from the ground and snapped it across my cheek.  A thin slice of pain lit up my face, fire knifing though the sensitive skin underneath my eye.  I bowed my head and knelt on the whipping silicone beast beneath me.  Closing my eyes, I counted slowly to ten, and gathered myself for the next assault.

Having slain the silnylon monster, I laid back inside my Wild Oasis, panting with exertion.  Four large rocks anchored down the corners of my tarp – titanium stakes inserted deep into the ground to help anchor the wildly bucking piece of material that snapped repeatedly over my head.   These winds were crazy!  I welcomed their cooling touch as I walked, but bent my head in frustration as swirling grit and small, sharp rocks pelted my face, somehow finding the tiny slits between my squinted lids, and slowly working themselves underneath my lashes.

Suddenly, a voice filled the emptiness around me.  “My stomach is upset.  I’ve thrown up twice and I’m not hungry,” the muffled, male voice stated.

“Do you have medicine?” I said.  It was probably heat exhaustion.  The day had been hot, even with the constant, abrasive gusts of wind.   Hot blowing currents had whipped away any of our bodies attempts at perspiration, leaving the skin to burn, dry and crack under the constant glare of the sun.

“No.” he said in a weary, plaintive tone.

“Hold on.” I said as I rummaged around in the small yellow nylon bag where I kept my toiletries.

Rattling the tiny plastic bottle, I shook out what I needed, and reached under the netting attached to the bottom of the tarp.  Uncurling my fingers, I extended my arm with two small, crumbled Imodium tablets resting in the middle of a grungy, dirt encrusted palm.  Dried fingers plucked them from my hand with a mumbled “thanks.”  Everything was muffled in this wind.  If he said more, I did not hear, as words were ripped away by the moaning gales.  I did not even recognize the voice, nor did I have the energy to lift the tarp and look out into the dying light.

Gritting my teeth, I looked down at my feet.  I had already removed my shoes, and my socks were stiff with sweat.  In some spots, a lite pinkish liquid had soaked through the wool, where I knew bandages had come lose, and I knew patches of skin were probably missing.  I clenched my jaw as I slowly peeled of the socks, knowing these preliminary little spikes of quick pain were a precursor to the forty-five minutes of torture I was about to endure.

On each toe, and the sides of my feet were band aids.  Over these were pieces of mole skin with the middles removed to take pressure off the raw spots.  Wrapped over these was sports tape, and surrounding the whole mass was my single most important piece of gear – duct tape.  Unfortunately, the duct tape had molded to these raw, sensitive areas over the course of the day, it’s sticky adhesive leeching into the bandages, and then drying quickly once my shoes were removed, forming a hard almost cast like structure around the wounds.  Lowering my sharp, serrated Gerber blade to the first duct tape cast, I began to saw at the solid mass.  I frowned and ground my teeth as the bandages under the duct tape broke lose and slid back and forth over the wounds beneath them.

“Fucking, son of a bitch!” I muttered as I peeled off the first bandage.  My language would continue to deteriorate as I peeled off the next 8 coverings on this one foot, and then moved on to groan out even less ladylike language through clenched teeth, while I worked on my other equally disgusting foot.

Ripping loose the last bandage, I sucked in a huge breath, as I felt my tense muscles relax.  I laid back between the large, grassy lumps pressed in to my aching back, and peered up at the two bloody carcasses poised above my head.  The fresh air felt wonderful on the stinging, aching feet lifted over me.  I peered up at the dirt and grime that was ground into the open wounds.  The wounds had started as small, seeping blisters, but as abrasive grit had somehow worked it’s way under the bandages, blistered skin had been slowly rubbed away to leave large open, wet wounds on my feet.  I grinned at the familiar pain.  The beginning of every hike was always tough on my feet, but I knew I just had to walk through it for a week or two.

The final foot treatment required breaking one of my own rules, and lighting a stove in my tarp.  With no enclosed floor, I justified this by convincing myself that I could much more easily throw off the flaming mass with no floor, than I could unzip my enclosed tent, thus only potentially suffering from third degree hand burns, instead of a full body bake.  I was also using my small pocket rocket stove instead of a wood burning or alcohol stove, letting me control the small flame much more easily.  I had lessened my risk from death to painful.

I leaned forward, dabbing at the small wounds with a filthy blue bandanna that had been soaked in boiling water.  I tried to gently pat, and wipe away, small pieces of grit and dirt.  Air whistled out through my clenched teeth as nerve endings fired beneath every touch of the cloth.

“Why am I doing this?” I whispered to myself, closing my eyes and leaning forward as far as my back would bend.  I threw back my head, following the low deep growl that broke from my throat, and then smiled slowly.  There was no place I would rather be.  There was pain, heat, no water, fatigue, and dirty disgusting everything, but all of these things made me feel more alive than I ever did anywhere else.

Someone recently asked me why I thru-hike.  My answer was quick and simple, and it startled me  – rising quickly with little thought.   The reason I like long distance hikes is the same reason I sit glued to “The Walking Dead.”  I like human extreme.  When our comfort and security is gone, and we are no longer surrounded by conditions in which we were raised and grounded, how do we react?  When every single day is an unknown – heck, when every single turn you make is a surprise, how do our decisions change?

Now, I’m not kidding myself.  I can stick out my thumb every few days and make my way back to what is familiar, but in between I experience and deal with situations I will never encounter at work or at home.  I can “feel” everything not muffled by pills, air conditioning, TV, radio, media, humans, etc.  Out here I just have a series of moments in which to make decisions, often driven by enhanced emotions.  Will I rely on past experiences, everything I’ve learned and know – or will swirling feelings, driven by sharp, quick reactions, result in a completely new decision and reaction.

At the end of the day though, as all “Dead” fans know – the question is really – how do I not get eaten?!

 

Their Journey

His eyes widened, and he took a step back.  I glanced around quickly.  Did he have company?  Was he alone?  Damn  – Jason had warned me about the “Hachita Drug Runners,” so I had been moving cautiously through the old ruins, and still not seen him.

The young man stood staring at me.  In his khakis, white shirt, and day pack, he looked like any other hiker out for the day.  A slow, half smile spread across his face as I watched the tension drain from his body.  His eyes continued to dart around quickly, but had slowed once he realized I was alone.

“I did not meant to scare you.” he said.  His accent was thick, and a little broken, but I easily understood him.  His smile was also disarming, and I found myself relaxing as I looked around for a place to sit, or at least lean.  My feet stayed numb as I hiked, but the minute I slowed or stopped, they began to scream as my weight settled onto the raw and blistered skin.

There was a low crumbling wall to my right, and I moved over to it as he watched.  I moved normally, not wanting him to see any pain or weakness in my movements.  I was in a strange place being watched by a strange man.  Although less tense than 30 seconds ago, my wariness remained the same.

A crumbling, mud wall stood behind the young man, and I froze as  three other young Hispanic men stepped slowly around the wall.  They were all in similar dress to the man facing me – some in khakis and some in jeans.  All were carrying day packs, and a couple had knives slid onto leather belts around their wastes.

“Hi” I said in a moderate tone as I finished sliding my pack up against the wall, and very slowly began unzipping the top pocket as I slowly sat down.  The others nodded at me as they began to settle on the wall and rocks around me, but none of them spoke.

I had always been taught never to run – never to be the prey that triggered predatory instincts.  Adrenaline was now coursing through me triggering flight, but my mind told me to stay calm.  I was no threat, and wanted this to be obvious.

All of the obvious questions hung unanswered as everyone settled to the ground, and the silence was thick with tension.  Were they alone? Was I alone?  Why were we all here?  No questions were asked.

“Water?” said one of the men near me.  He was really a kid – not over eighteen at the most, and I studied him a little more closely as he held out a water bottle.  He looked tired, disheveled.  I did not need the water, but accepted the gesture.  I knew I needed to accept the offer.

The others watched, and then looked away – beginning to quietly talk amongst themselves in Spanish.  They were not really paying me much attention anymore.

Everyone glanced at me as I pulled a snickers from my pack.  It was still too soon to leave.  Taking the whole bag, I handed it to the man closest to me, and watched as my snacks for the next two days were eagerly devoured.

Suddenly, they all rose quickly and quietly.  It was startling how they all knew to stand, without a word spoken.  Some still held their snacks.  The young man I had first spoken to handed me another bottle of water, smiled, and they silently headed off through the brush, down a shallow wash.

I felt like I had been part of an unreal moment, like it had not really happened. Their impact had been so fleeting, and so foreign.  I had no reserve of experiences to ground the encounter.  It had occurred as quickly as it had happened.

I moved on after a few minutes, and made it to a dirt road – an old forest service road – about a half hour later.  I checked my map, and headed north.  The encounter was already starting to fade.

I heard tires and turned to see a Border Patrol truck come around the curve of the washed out road.  I was suprised to see it, and as he slowed beside me, and rolled down his window, I smiled and waved.  He asked the typical “Why are you here?” questions, and then shook his head at the explanation and handed me a purple Gatorade.
Starting to pull away, he suddenly crunched to a stop.

“Hey, have you seen a group of Mexicans?”

“Huh?” I said.  I was caught off guard by the question.

“Um, no.” I said automatically.

“Well avoid them if you do.  They are mostly drug runners, and would kill you as soon as look at you.  We have been chasing a small group from the border for a couple of days.”

“I will keep a look out.” I said, as he nodded and drove away.

I’m not really sure why I said “no.”  It was automatic.  In that fleeting interaction where we had shared food and water, a travelers bond had been forged.  I wanted their intents to have been good – not to think I had been in a bad situation.

Small encounters like this would continue to mold the way I hiked.  I tried never to camp near roads or near where people frequented, unless I was with a group.  There were exceptions, but most often, even with a group, you would find me hidden away, out in the brush, where I could watch and not be seen.
 

 

Desert Death

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My feet felt as if they were wrapped in sand paper, as I hobbled around packing up my gear.  I had woken up early and spent 45 minutes popping blisters with the tip of my Gerber, spreading red hot Neosporin on the wounds, and then bandaging each blistered toe.  The culmination of the surgery was strips of duct tape layered over the whole bandaged mess.  Unfortunately, this also made my feet about two sizes larger.

A note on duct tape.  It is my single most important piece of gear.  I even think the sticky adhesive has medicinal properties.  It can patch tents, bags, clothes, skin, be twisted into ropes, make sandals.  I have even chewed on a piece or two in absence of jerky – not so good.  You name it, duct tape can probably accomplish it.

Slinging my pack up onto my back, I headed north, cursing and muttering around sharp spikes of pain in my feet.  A few minutes later, my feet numbed up, and as long as I did not shift suddenly, I was good for about 2.5 MPH.  Glancing back over my shoulder, I saw that the rest of the pack had spread out over about a half mile- small, white, hat covered heads bobbing and weaving through the scrubby brush.  I did not look back again for several hours, but knew I had lost them within an hour.  I had passed several stands of juniper type bushes, and knew these would serve as shade stops.

There really was no trail.  I had long since given up on my maps, and broken out my GPS. I knew to keep it hidden.  I had no desire to provide daily GPS lessons, and would let Mr. K maintain the “Expert GPSer” title.  Instead of clear tread, there were tall metal posts with large CDT signs affixed to them, about every 150 yards or so.  Most were placed at the tops of ridges, jutting up like lone sentinels.  It broke up the day, having to search for the signs on the horizon – not just plodding along with my head down, making sure my feet were planted evenly to minimize friction.

Around noon, I realized that water was going to become an issue.  My maps indicated nothing for another 15 miles, and the tanks we had passed were simply not suitable for humans – old tires, with pools of rancid water covered by slimy, sheens of sludge – what I knew was cow drool.

I’d been on some old washed out tread for about a half hour, and stopped to look out at a windmill.   It was far off in the distance, and most we had come to were dry – to go or not to go.  Sitting on a the side off the road embankment, I gnawed on some jerky while I studied the tiny, spindly thing.  From this distance, it appeared that greenish shrub lay scattered around the windmill, and as I peered closer there appeared to be what looked like power lines leading down to the rickety structure.

About a half hour later, as I still pondered the off route trek, Mr. K came around the corner and immediately announced he needed water.  I pointed to the windmill, mouth now full of peanut butter.

“That is too far away.” he said as he squinted towards the windmill, throwing down his pack as he stared out from under his hand.

“We can walk there in 15 minutes or less.” I said between mouthfuls of food.

“God!” he said with disgust as he looked down at my feet.  I had stripped off the bandaging to let my feet air out, and the raw chunks of meat, with their crinkled white skin from shoe sweat, sat propped on my hat. “How do you walk on those things.?” said Mr. K, as he slowly moved away.  I just grinned and wiggled my shriveled up toes.

Breaking out my Gerber, I began surgery once again.  I was a little concerned, as I was going through bandages at an alarming rate, but if supplies ran out, I had duct tape and my useless air pad to swath my feet.  Out here, everything could be used.

I rose slowly, settling into my bandages, and with a sigh, headed towards the windmill.  The others  walked up as I was leaving, and I heard them arguing with Mr. K about heading so far off trail to the windmill.  I knew they would follow.  The hike was still new and unknown.  The pack would not separate yet.

Next to the windmill was a disgusting cow pond, a small crater of liquid that was slightly less dense than chocolate pudding.  I glanced in the tank by the windmill – empty – and then headed around the pond towards a small shriveled tree, to drop my pack in the shade.  All of my food was melting into primordial glops, so I tried to find shade where possible.

I heard cries of dismay as I headed back towards the windmill.  The water zombies had not only discovered the dry tank, but were disgusted they had  walked a quarter of a mile to find nothing.  I did not disagree with the sentiment, and stopped to look up at the power lines.  They led to a small box up on the windmill, with PVC pipe running from the box to the ground and tank.  I walked over and climbed up, flipping open the box.  There was an  On/Off switch, but no battery.  I had read about this from other hikers, and taken the battery from my headlamp.  I slid it into place and flipped the switch to On.  I heard the swoosh of water pulled from the reservoir below, and looked down to see water gushing into the tank.

All of the water zombies cheered, and I grinned.  I would keep my limbs for the day.

I cracked an eye from under my hat, hearing steps approaching.  Moaning inwardly, I parted my lips, and feigned sleep – head laid back, on the cusp of drooling.

“I need some shade.” said Amy, sliding in beside me – GPS in hand.  I counted at least ten other trees, available.  Well, maybe not the two with dried up cow carcasses under them.  I came across these desert deaths often, and always felt badly for these poor creatures.  What a sad, lonely place to die.

Startling Amy, I leapt to my feet, grabbed my packed but open backpack, and took off.  I’m awful I thought as I headed away, smiling back at her as I announced I would see her later on down the trail.  I just had no patience, and between the water and my stinging feet, I was easily irritated.  I was definitely an “I” on the Meyers-Brigg scale, and even in the middle of nowhere, with hardly any people, I feel the energy sucked from me at chance encounters.  I must be like “-II.”

Old Hachita was where I was headed.  The others had decided to stick to the road.  I wanted to see the old ruins.  Jason had warned of drug runners, so I approached the old ruins cautiously – a stealthy hobble.  I peered into some old adobe ruins.

“Hi!”

“Shit!” I yelped, as I rushed forward – hobbled forward quickly – and turned to see a young Hispanic man studying me.  I was about to have one of my more interesting “people encounters.”