Continental Divide Trail – April 22, 2009
I stood staring out into the dreary, grey morning with my pack slung over my shoulder, and my hand on the storm door handle. I sighed, released the door handle, and headed back down the stairs to the basement. I quickly pulled everything out of my new, smaller ULA pack, and shoved it all into my larger, old Osprey pack. I was heading to New Mexico to hike the Continental Divide Trail, and I’m not afraid to say I was intimidated by the reputation of the rugged, brutal trail. It’s reputation required my old faithful Osprey, and about 3 more clothing layers. I lifted the old pack and smiled at the immediate sense of calm that settled over me. The trail was unknown, but I KNEW that pack.
I had spent weeks preparing for a “lighter” hike, and as I climbed back up the stairs I felt a little planning deterioration as the pack settled it’s familiar weight into the contours of my back. The pack was a little heavier, but more comfortable and a little larger. It had room for my tent and zero degree Montbell stretchy bag if I chose to use them later. For now I would stick with my tarp tent and my Feathered Friends 10 degree bag.
Once I arrived at the terminal, I headed to my gate. I was about an hour early, and I settled in to make some phone calls while I waited to board. I glanced up from where I was sitting and saw a woman slowly circling my gate area, casting glances my way. She was dressed in cargo pants and a long sleeve hiking shirt, with a sun hat pushed to the back of her head. I slunk down in my seat, and did not look back up. I had met another hiker via an internet site a month earlier, and knew that this was probably her. In my initial excitement in finding a kindred spirit, I had provided her with my flight information. I had quickly realized in subsequent conversations that we were very different, and I had made a mistake. I hated to have the “I want to hike by myself ” conversation, and hoped there would be other hikers for her to hike with once we got there. For now I would have to grit my teeth and be pleasant – not one of my strengths.
She finally sidled up to me, and I looked up in mock, mild surprise, with a smile on my face. She introduced herself, and then immediately launched into a self gear review, inquired about my gear, and then explained to me what was wrong with each piece. Thank god we had not purchased tickets together.
I sat sweating in my window seat on the flight to Denver, irritated because I was not on the aisle, and my stomach was screaming for the bathroom. I had been sick the week before , and my intestines had decided to let me know about 30 minutes into the flight that they had not fully recovered. I clenched everything clenchable, and slid down into my seat. The man next to me was sound asleep. I had woken him up twice and asked him to let me out. It appeared he did not speak English, and he understood me to mean that he drop his arm rest and snore louder.
Once we arrived at our connecting terminal, I sprinted for the facilities, and then immediately headed over to ask the airline customer sevice person to move me to an aisle seat for the El Paso flight. He pecked at his tiny keyboard, and frowned at his little screen. I began slowly begging in a pitiful southern drawl. He peered up at me, stuck out his hand for my boarding pass, ripped it in two, and like that I was on the aisle, across from Katie (the other hiker).
The flight to El Paso was pretty uneventful, and once we arrived at the airport I headed to find my host, Sam. Sam and I had communicated a couple of months before the hike, about a place to stay, and a ride out to the trail head. Sam had also offered to pick me, and my “hiking friend,” up at the airport. In my exuberance, I had put Katie in touch with him. Sam did not communicate via computer or phone, but only by letter. It had taken several letters, and two months, but we had finally set everything up for the hike.
As the escalator descended, I spotted Sam seated in a chair at the bottom of the stairs with a plastic CDT plaque propped up on his chest. He looked exactly as he had described himself…a crusty old gold miner, and adventurer, that lived in the middle of the desert. With his faded ball cap, ancient jeans, and cotton plaid shirt, with a pack of generic cigarettes tucked in the pocket, he was just as I had expected.
In the course of my internet CDT exploration, I had also discovered another hiker named JB. We had stayed in touch on logistics and timing, and he was also going to catch a ride with us out to the trail. He and some of his hiking buddies were staying in Deming. I called JB, and we set up a time for everyone to meet tomorrow. There were going to be five of us in Sam’s ancient Scout, and I expected a memorable 30 mile drive to the trailhead, over what a guide referred to as an “impassable by car” washed out road.
Once we both had our packs, we jumped into Sam’s dusty minivan and headed the 100 miles to Hachita, but not before stopping for a dinner of red and blue Gatorade. At this early stage in my hike, none of the convenience store snacks looked too appetizing. I also had a large enough store of calories (aka fat) to make a temporary liquid diet ok for now.
We arrived at Sam’s house and he showed us around the home and yard. We both set up our tents out back, and Sam left the door open so we could let ourselves in to use the bathroom if needed. I set up my tent, and Katie set up hers about one foot away, “so we could talk” she said. I settled in and listened to her for a few minutes before putting in my earplugs. I was no longer sure if she was still talking to me, and knew she would probably assume I had just fallen asleep.