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Continental Divide Trail – Meeting Sam | Average Hiker

Rattle snake on the Continental Divide Trail

Continental Divide Trail – April 22, 2009

Meeting Sam in Hachita, NM, was not how my day started, but it was the highlight of the beginning of my CDT hike.

I stood staring out into the dreary, grey morning with my pack slung over my shoulder and my hand on the storm door handle. Releasing the door handle, and headed back down the stairs to the basement. 

I quickly removed everything from my new, smaller ULA pack and shoved it into my larger, well-used Osprey backpack that I had carried on my PCT hike the year before. I was heading to New Mexico to hike the Continental Divide Trail. I’m not afraid to say I was intimidated by the rugged, brutal trail’s reputation, so I was packing my fears.

The trail’s reputation required my old faithful Osprey and about three more clothing layers. I lifted the old pack and smiled at the immediate calm that settled over me. The trail was unknown, but I knew my backpack and felt safer with something familiar. Usually a solo hiker, there were enough uncertainties hiking as a lone female. I needed my gear not to be one of those.

I had spent weeks preparing for a “lighter” hike, and as I climbed back up the stairs, I felt my plan already starting to deteriorate as the pack settled its familiar weight into the contours of my back. 

My Osprey was heavier but more comfortable and larger than the ULA. It also had room for my tent and zero-degree Montbell stretchy bag in case I chose to use them later. For now, though, I would stick with my tarp tent and Feathered Friends 10-degree bag.

Once I arrived at the terminal, I headed to my gate. About an hour early, I settled in to make phone calls while waiting to board. I glanced up from where I was sitting and saw a woman slowly circling the gate area, casting glances my way. 

The small woman 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 this was probably her. In my initial excitement in finding a kindred spirit, I had provided her with my flight information. 

In subsequent conversations, I quickly realized 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 sociable – not one of my strengths.

She finally sidled up to me, and I looked up in mock, mild surprise with a smile. She introduced herself and immediately launched into a review of her gear, inquired about my gear, and then explained 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 since I had been sick the week before. My intestines had decided to let me know that they had not fully recovered about 30 minutes into the flight. 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 dropped his armrest and snored louder.

Once we arrived at our connecting terminal, I sprinted for the facilities and immediately headed over to ask the airline customer service 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, and ripped it in two. 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 trailhead. 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 living in the desert. He was just as I had expected with his faded ball cap, ancient jeans, and cotton plaid shirt, with a pack of generic cigarettes tucked in the pocket.

During my internet CDT exploration, I also discovered another hiker named JB. We had stayed in touch on logistics and timing, and he would also 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 called 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, NM, 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. As I set up my tent, Katie set up hers about one foot away “so we could talk.”  I settled in and listened to her briefly before telling her to sleep well and putting in my earplugs. I was asleep a few minutes later.

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