Continental Divide Trail – April 30, 2009
Everyone was in a staggered line behind me. I saw white sun hats weaving in and out of the scrub brush. Everyone but Katie was making good time since it was a town day. Katie had disappeared into the desert.
I could feel sweat-soaked bandages slipping around on my feet and had settled among some brush to dry out my socks and apply fresh dressings. Within a few minutes, I laid out my socks and shoes across all the bushes and rocks within reach as I attempted to keep them 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.
“Your sign was the vultures circling,” I said as I glanced up at him.
“I don’t know how you walk on those things,” he said grimly.
“They get numb after a few minutes. That’s why I keep moving and don’t stop walking. Stopping and starting is when it hurts the most.”
Mr. K shook his head and raised his hand to cover his eyes as he squinted into the hot haze behind him.
“I see Robbie thrashing his way in our direction,” he said with a chuckle. Robbie always hiked on the edge of desperation. Desperate for water. Desperate to get out of the sun. Desperate to stop. He usually seemed to be in the final frantic throws of some desperate hiking plight. Once settled, rested, and hydrated, though, he was quite jolly with his wide grin and shiny bald head. Robbie might get his new “trail name.” I liked “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 appeared to be 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, promptly dropped his pack, and collapsed on it. Mr. K was still trying to clear a level, rock-free spot to settle. Several days into the hike, we were dry, scorched, and filthy, and Mr. K still appeared neat and dapper. He was amazing with his tan cargo pants, muted yellow button-up shirt, and still-white sun hat. He was a natural dirt repellant.
“I see movement.” Mr. K said, looking out from under his hand again.
I stood slowly, just enough to 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 want to live long enough for a Pepsi. We are so close,” I said with a wistful expression. “We can only roll the dice so many times,” I whispered.
I slowly settled back to the ground to continue working on 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.
“Crazy! Days in the desert, and you want cow food!” I whispered to him, laughing.
“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!
How had she found us? Not that I did not want her to find us, but we were on the ground in the bushes, and she would have had to make a 180-degree turn and head straight toward us. 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 smile on his face. It was then I noticed his head. It was his head. She must have seen the glint, but that was hard to believe as I looked over at the giant prescription sunglasses.
I had finished bandaging my feet and quickly crammed my socks and shoes over the layers of bandages. We were about two miles out of Lordsburg, and I hobbled quickly until numbness set back in. The others fanned out behind me. As we got closer to town, I saw piles of junk – old metal was strewn across the sand. There were car parts, washing machines, dryers, and sinks. We entered the town through a junkyard. I could also hear deep, menacing barks and veered away from the old rusted barbed wire fence off to my left.
I hissed through my teeth as I stumbled over a metal bar and then grunted in irritation as I bent over, pulling my shorts across my new sore. Yesterday, I hiked with duct tape over a rather large hole in the back of my shorts. After stopping last night, I pulled down my shorts to put on my sleeping shorts and yelped as a hunk of skin had been torn from my butt cheek. Apparently, the adhesive from the duct tape had melded with my skin over the day, taking off a large patch of skin when I pulled off 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 on what seemed to be public property, but as I ducked under barbed 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 fanny 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 compact. Civilization and food were close!
Practically running down what appeared to be the main street – at least it was asphalt, I stopped at the first restaurant I came upon. I stepped into air-conditioned bliss and grinned at the hostess staring at me in surprise. On the other trails, I always checked into a hotel and cleaned up first, but I was 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 edge of her lips. Maybe a smirk or maybe a grimace. I was not sure.
She guided me to the last table at the back of the restaurant. I would have done the same. I could see a filthy, weird person reflected in her expression. I had learned to recognize this expression. As long as I was fed and watered, I did not mind it. Besides, she would soften when I explained the hike.
I had been seated for about five minutes, 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,” I said. 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, rivulets of water dripping off Robbie’s chin.
The hostess 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 looked our way with a frown.
This was probably the first time I recognized the remoteness of this trail. This hostess dealt with travelers daily but had never heard of the CDT. This was the first restaurant encountered when entering the town, and she had never heard the hundreds of people she met mention the Continental Divide Trail. Long-distance hikers were easily recognized on some other trails, but we were not common out here, and our purposed were not easy to understand. Of all the trails I’ve hiked, I would discover these people of the rural west were some of the toughest and most pragmatic I had met on a trail so far. The exception was, of course, Barbara, who I had met on the Pacific Crest Trail. Nobody was tougher than her.