El Paso

Sam Hughes

My pack was wrapped in a plastic bag, and I easily spotted it moving towards me on the carousel.  Fortunately, the airline supplied the bags, and it kept any miscellaneous items from falling out of the pack, and prevented plastic buckles from getting snagged as the pack was tossed about by indifferent baggage handlers.  It’s dirty, ragged exterior was also obvious through the bag – yet another handling theft deterrent.

Sam Hughes had told me to meet him at the bottom of the escalator, and described himself as a “dusty old gold miner.”  I hurried past Amy, mumbling “hi” as I increased my speed towards the moving steps.  I was eager to meet Sam, and to begin the road trip back to the starting town of Hachita, and Sam’s home.  Sam and I had set this up via letter, a couple of months earlier.  He had a phone but preferred snail mail, and had never seen or received an e-mail.  So far, the CDT was living up to it’s sketchy reputation.

With the now unbagged pack slung over my  shoulder, I impatiently stood on the escalator, descending towards the beginning of my CDT hike.  As I descended beneath the floor above, and could look out over the rows of plastic seats on the floor ahead of me, I spotted one lone individual seated in the middle of the first row, looking towards the escalator.  I stared at the clear large CDT emblem he was holding against his chest, as he leaned back in the seat with legs sprawled out in front of him.  I glanced down to dusty boots, and my gaze worked it’s way up the ancient jeans with the cracked leather belt, pausing on the faded old plaid shirt surrounding the CDT sign.  There was a pack of generic cigarettes sticking out of a shirt pocket, and as I glanced up at the weathered face, it took all of my will power to maintain composure and remain expressionless.

In the middle of the tanned, weather beaten face was a very small piece of nose remaining.  I smiled quickly to hide my shock, and the bright eyes surrounding the destroyed nose lit up as the old man grinned back at me.  He slowly stood, and I swear I could hear the joints creak from 20 yards away.  Sam stuck out his rough weathered hand as he stepped towards me, using his other hand to push back the baseball cap perched on his head – dry, wispy brown hair jutting out from beneath the hat, behind his ears.

“Hi – I’m Sam.” he said as he paused, allowing me to close the distance, and take his hand in a quick, firm hand shake.

“How was your trip?”

It was good.” I answered.

“Where is the other one?” Sam asked as he peered around me.

“She is grabbing her stuff.” I said, not turning around.

I heard Amy introduce herself to Sam.  She must have sprinted to catch up that quickly.  She then proceeded to explain the trip, layovers, and all other aspects of the flight from NY.  Sam began walking, and I slowed my pace to follow behind, allowing Amy to focus her attention on his poor unsuspecting ear.  Listening, I learned Sam really was a gold miner, and had lost his nose to cancer.  Exiting the silent sliding door, he quickly lit up a cigarette, and explained all of this on the walk to his van.

We followed Sam to an old mini-van, and I insisted I sit in back so Amy could sit up by Sam.  I wanted to watch the new landscape in silence, and just absorb my new surroundings.  Sam seemed much more patient than me, and I thought he might enjoy the conversation on the hour or two drive to Hachita.  Amy was fired up, and I just half listened as the hills raced by the van, asking an occasional question when I could quickly slip a brief question into the conversation.

Over the course of the drive, I leaned my forehead against the window, gazing out at the foreign, desert landscape.   Desert and scrub was surrounded and pierced by jagged, black slabs of rock, and as the sun dropped, I felt an emptiness begin to seep into me.  Everything was so barren.  There was no movement or life among the deepening, purple shadows.  Across the sands, in the distance, scattered points of light blinked and winked amongst the sandy, rock hills. Occasionally, we would pass large trucks, mounted with massive antennae and dishes.  Sam told us these were used to detect movement and sounds across the land – I assumed illegal immigrants.

We reached Hachita after dark – driving through what appeared to be a deserted town.  One or two buildings had soft lights behind their windows, but most were just dark, hulking shapes – barren, wooden structures that slid past headlights before slipping back into the empty shadows.  This was definitely a town forgotten.

Pulling through a gate into Sam’s yard, he told us we could pitch our tents in his yard, and he headed inside an old, wooden framed home for the evening.  I got my water from an old hand pump behind the house, and set up my tarp (Wild Oasis).  I threw all of my things inside the tarp, climbing over my pack, and paused to hear someone approaching.

“This looks like a good spot.” Amy said as she proceeded to set up her tent immediately next to mine.  I mean literally right next to me.

The yard was large, probably a half acre, but I could spit on my neighbors shelter, and probably would have if there was no silicone barrier between us.  I could already feel my frustration rising, and as I moved and organized everything around my sleeping pad, I was already planning numerous routes of escape – the highest potential option seeming to be one of the men we were meeting tomorrow.  I was sure one of them would be more charming than me, and certainly more amenable to “constant entertainment” while they hiked.

I tried to turn down the volume as I drifted off to sleep, but the volume button was evidently broken, so I just put in my ear plugs and rolled to my side, facing the back of the tarp.

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