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Race for Water

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Continental Divide Trail – April 24, 2009

The next two days blended into heat, desert, and a constant race for water.  I was hiking around a group of 4 other hikers, three men and a woman, that had been part of Sam’s shuttle out to the trailhead when we started the hike.   Going into this hike I had the advantage of having finished another long distance hike on the PCT about 7 months earlier, and staying reasonable shape through the winter.  I was in pretty good shape, but with the exception of Mr. K, the others were letting the trail beat them into “trail condition.”  After the first day of “newness” had worn off, the brutality of the desert in April had begun to set in for the group.

I watched as the other hikers struggled with the heat, frequently stopping for shade at every bush they could find.  The first two nights ended in a race for water, with the group practically collapsing from heat exhaustion upon arrival at camp for the night.  The first night had ended with a couple of hikers yelling at me to give them my water as they arrived, while I tried to calmly lead them to the cache where gallon jugs were stored.  Delirious from thirst and heat, they had staggered right past the big steel box with water jugs.  There were other water options, but they were not ideal and mostly just used by cattle.

NM Water Trough

By the morning of the 24th, everyone was exhausted and completely over the lack of a clear trail.  Walking through old wash’s, very faint tread, and unmaintained forest service roads – or rather desert service roads, was a far cry from the AT and PCT.  Eyes dulled, as thoughts wandered to air conditioning, restaurant food, and soft beds.

I woke up early the morning of the 24th, and trekked up the hillside, scouting out upcoming general trail conditions.  The others would not be happy.  I found no tread, but there were clear CDT markers that weaved off into the distance, disappearing into thick, skin tearing, brush.  I found trail finding part of the fun, but I was in the minority.  I pushed through the bushes, heading back down to give the others the lay of the land.  Everyone was up, in the middle of packing, and as I brightly described the upcoming “adventure,” or lack of a trail, they just stared at me, as if a little shell shocked.

I finished packing, and turned to ask the others if they were ready to go.  Ron had checked his map and found a dirt road that circled around, and ended in the general area of where the CDT crossed the road next.  It added a mile or two, but was definitely easier hiking.  I had suggested the trail, but had clearly been vetoed, and watched as everyone headed off after Ron.  This trail was considered quite flexible.  There were three different maps for the same “trail,” all with different routes, and many with “alternate” routes.  This road just happened to be on one of those alternates.  I think it may have been one of the “Ley” alternates.  I stood watching as they walked away, looked back up the hill, and then down at the whip slashes across my cut up legs.  I leaned down and retied both bandanas to the back of my legs to protect my sunburnt calves, and then headed off after the others.  I really should have worn pants.

A few minutes later I walked up to find the others stretched out in the shade of a scraggly bush, which was leaning over the side of the dirt road and providing them a little shade.  It was the first shade they had arrived at on the dry, barren road, and they were taking advantage of it.  I chatted with them for a couple of minutes about the next town (Lordsburg, NM) and moved on down the road.  It was too soon to stop, and blisters hurt TWICE as much after you stopped.  A few miles later we reached the trail, and turned to head cross-country towards 81 and a known water cache.

Arriving at the road later in the afternoon, we had to search a bit for the cached water.  The plastic jugs had been tied up in black, plastic bags and hidden, so border crossers would not find them.  There was a large metal box for the water, but we had been told this one was not being used.  There was no shade, so I set up my tarp, and JB sat under it with me, both of us beginning to doze off, when I suddenly heard an engine and looked up to see Ron waving from the window of a Border Patrol truck.  He’d had enough of the heat and the desert and was heading into town – away in a swirl of dust!  As he drove away, images of bowls of ice cream, and ice cold sodas immediately popped into my mind.  Damn him…

The next water source was 20 miles, and my pack was heavy.  I needed water for the desert hike, and dinner that night.  The walk was cross country, and I kept my eyes fixed to the ground, weaving in and out of prickly brush and cactus, that slashed at my already raw legs.  I gritted my teeth and pushed on through.  If I had known I would be bushwhacking the first couple of weeks, until reaching higher elevations, I would definitely have not worn shorts.

We reached Granite Pass Road late due to many shade stops.  Everybody elected to camp near the road and immediately started setting up their shelters, before collapsing into them for the night.  I don’t think anyone but me and Mr. K cooked that night.  I set up my tarp, cooked, and then settled in to break blisters and slather my feet in Neosporin.  I had no idea that Neosporin could hurt that much!  I finally drifted off to sleep, listening to brisk winds swirl and whip around my tiny little silnylon home.

During the evening we were awakened by glaring spot lights.  I had camped back from the others, and ignored the bright lights that blew up the darkness around our shelters.  I figured they would reach the others first, whoever “they” were, be sufficiently distracted, and never make it back to my little tarp, tucked behind a big cluster of dried brush.  I was tired, heard no screams or yells, and sleep drug me back down into darkness before I could give the situation a lot more thought.

The next morning, after I told everyone I had slept through the encounter, Mr. K told me we had set off all the Border Patrol sensors heading cross country, and they had spent all day trying to find us.  The country was wide open.  A drawn out line of giant white blobs were not hard to spot.  Maybe sitting under all those shady bushes had masked our slow, staggering hike.  Our tracks though, I don’t know how they possibly could not have followed those huge drag marks through the sand.


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