Continental Divide Trail – April 27, 2009
I was ready early, so I watched the sun come up and took pictures of the sunrise. I smiled at the grunting and groaning of the others as they packed up. Mornings were always rough as newly torn-down muscles fought the demands to move. We would all do the “hiker hobble” for about 10 minutes until all parts loosened up.
I loved dawn and dusk, my favorite times to hike. I enjoyed coming alive with all the life around me and ending the day hiking in peace and calm just before stopping for the night. This was when the animals were most active, and the sky displayed its most brilliant colors. I was generally not a night hiker because that was the world of invisible fangs and teeth, and I let them have their darkness. Unless temperatures were fierce, days were my time to hike.
I glanced over to see the others heaving on their packs, nodded at Mr. K, and took off cross-country. I wove in and out of the biting bushes, pausing only when a small golden coyote crosses my path, barely glancing my way before melting into the brush and sand.
Looking out over the landscape, I could see a line of cattle moving towards a low hill. They were headed towards the water. I had noticed the cattle moved to find water in the mornings. The coyote had been coming from that direction. The wild animals appeared to find their water before full light; at least the smarter ones did.
Life out here revolved around the water sources. Most of the water we came across had some animal carcasses in the near vicinity, if not in the water source. I had recently learned that if an animal had an infection and got sick, it would lay in the water to try to cool down its body temperature. I always checked my water sources carefully.
About an hour later, I glanced back to see the group had spread out behind me in a long, ragged line. This usually meant they were getting tired, so I started looking for shade. We were in a small valley, and as I looked down the length of the valley, I was excited to see a small herd of cows off in the distance. This probably meant they were gathered near water.
Sure enough, I walked up a few minutes later to find a tank and an old tire – the water source was grosser. The water was solid green, but on a positive note, there appeared to be no “extra protein” floating among the algae. The group arrived; we found a small bush, brushed away the dried-up manure, and everyone settled under a thin patch of shade to eat a snack.
I did not sit long. Sitting in the heat, I became restless and preferred to keep moving, so I headed to the water source. These water sources were few and far between, and I always checked them carefully as I approached. We were not the only people looking for water this close to the border.
“Are you going to get some water?” said Mr. K as he walked up beside me.
I glanced over at him and back down at the tire full of very green water. There were no more water caches, and the maps indicated a “maybe” next to the windmills. It was a little cooler today, so should I take my chances and wait for the next source? I still had about a liter left.
“Nah – this looks exceptionally disgusting. I’ll take my chances,” I said as I turned away from the tire. The others gathered around to peer into the tire, and Katie stuck the hose from her filter into the water and began pumping the sludge into her bottle. I gagged just watching. I think I was the only one that got no water. It was probably not a good move, but my stomach was sensitive enough. That water might have been a hike-ender for me. I’d roll the dice with dehydration this time.
Hiking over the next few miles was challenging, in and out of dry, rocky gullies. Sliding down a small hill, I sat down hard as my feet slid from under me on the loose rock. This may have been the cause of my subsequent gear failure. I suddenly felt a breeze across my left butt cheek and stopped to look back and pull my shorts around. There was a giant hole, and as I stood inspecting it, the others walked up.
“That has been there,” said Mr K, watching me inspect the hole.
“Were you planning on letting me know?” I said as I began digging through my pack.
“Wasn’t bothering me any,” he said. I looked up to see a slightly mischievous grin on his face.
“Go on,” I said. “I’ll catch up.” It was time to break out my repair kit.
I finished applying the duct tape patch and tugged on it to ensure it would hold. There was little that duct tape would not repair. About 25 minutes later, after a particularly strenuous climb, I came around the corner to find two of our group stretched out under a bush. I fussed a little since we had only been hiking for a half hour, and they scowled up at me.
Feeling guilty, I suggested we stop at the next good shade tree for lunch. They packed, walked 200 hundred yards downhill, and promptly stopped, announcing they had found the perfect tree. Mr. K was there waiting for us.
We settled under the shade tree and started the “town” discussion.
“There are no more water caches,” said Robbie.
“Yeah, I want real food,” Katie answered in a slightly beseeching tone.
“Do you think there will be windmills?” Robbie continued, spreading out his map. “There are sources,” he said with his head bowed over the map, “but they seem a little sketchy.”
I don’t remember who, but at this point, someone suggested we hitch to town at the next road – nobody objected. I, too, did not object. Last year on the PCT, my blisters had turned to abscesses, and I had not been able to walk for five days. I’d had to lay in air conditioning, watch TV, and eat ice cream for five days. It was brutal.
I was going to head into town and soak my feet in Epsom salts while I again subjected myself to the same miseries as last year. I watched as everyone jumped up, took off across the sand, and headed for the next road crossing. I had never seen them move that fast, and I had to double-step. Town was a powerful motivator!
I walked up to the road to find everyone lying in the dirt. They had already called Ron, who was in town, and talked him into convincing the Super 8 manager to come pick us up for $80 bucks! “You have got to be kidding me! It is only 20 minutes away!” I said. “He is charging us $20 bucks each.” said Mr. K. “Seems reasonable to me,” he said. I laid my pack down and sat on it to wait. There was no sense in arguing.
Once back in town, I checked into my room, showered, and hobbled across the street to get food. I was starving, having never lost my appetite from last year’s hike. I ate a lot of food and then wobbled back to my room to start healing. I was only staying overnight, so I needed to get as much foot soaking in as possible.