Tuesday, April 17, 2018

CDT Part 1: Mexico to Silver City

Two trail towns. A hundred and fifty miles. So far, so good.

My 22-hour Greyhound adventure was, predictably, an adventure of the first degree. The first bus was more than three hours late, resulting in me sitting on a curb outside a Texaco station until 4:15AM. The bus driver on the next leg issued a stern warning to the entire bus, prior to the first stop, not to purchase or consume drugs/alcohol during the rest stop. The wonders of Greyhound. According to other thru-hikers I talked to, this was a pretty standard experience. One hiker was two days late getting to the southern terminus because of Greyhound troubles. Sigh.

The Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC), hte non-profit advocacy organization for the CDT, runs a shuttle to the southern border. It's a 3.5 hour journey over rough jeep roads to get to the border - only a lifted Ram 250 pickup is up to the task. By 10:45, I was hiking.

The southern section was probably the easiest terrain I've ever hiked. Most of it was flat, with only a few minor climbs. Although much of the route was cross-country, occasional CDT markers helped provide direction. I quickly learned not to worry if I didn't see a marker though; trust your map and head in the right direction. Eventually there will be a trail or some sort of marking.

Finally, a couple days ago, I encountered the first real climb on the CDT, up to 8,000' atop Burro Peak. Actual mountains - how I've missed you! The trail continues to be spotty - sometimes it's well-blazed along a constructed footpath, sometimes it's a dozen-mile roadwalk along a paved state highway. The former, needless to say, is quite a bit more pleasant.


Temperatures: The Bootheel of New Mexico is a hot, hot place. The highs for the first few days were well in excess of ninety degrees. I took a nice long siesta during the heat of the day. Thankfully, the terrain was easy enough that I was still able to do 20-25 miles per day, even with the break in the middle. With hot temperatures and humidities hovering around 5%, I've drank more water in the past week than in any of my previous desert travels.

Wind: The wind out here is crazy. We had a major windstorm move through last week. At one point, I crested a small pass and the wind blew me right off my feet. There's another wind storm moving through today, but I'm comfortably in town for this one. I think I'll take a day and let a couple of minor aches and pains recover while it howls outside.

People: About 10 hikers per day are starting at the border. I'm definitely one of the earlier hikers, but not unreasonably so. Southern Colorado had a record low snow year this year, so I'm hoping to make it into the "real" mountains farther north earlier than normal. I saw exactly one other hiker between the border and Lordsburg, the first trail town. Between Lordsburg and Silver City, I saw several other hikers, mainly huddled around the few available water sources. While it has more people than the Hayduke (zero), the CDT definitely promises to be a more solitary experience. And that's just fine with me. Enough people to form friendships, enough solitude to have as much quiet time as I want.

Southern Border Shennanigans: One can't wander through southern New Mexico without encountering the constant presence of Border Patrol. Their trucks are everywhere in town, and on faint dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. And for good reason: I was camped a quarter mile away from a road one night, and heard a bunch of ATV's rolling through around midnight without their headlights on. Two hours later, a couple pickup trucks rolled through, also sans headlights. I heard mutterings and mumblings of voices in the distance. Whether either group was border patrol, drug runners, or immigrant parties, I have no idea. But that desert is a surprisingly active place.

Water: I still haven't seen a single natural water source. The CDTC caches water for hikers who use their shuttle service for the first 85 miles. Although not necessary, strictly speaking, the water caches do make things nice and easy for the first few days. After that, the training wheels come off. Thankfully, ranchers maintain occasional wells for their cows to drink from, generally wind or solar-powered. So I've drank from various cattle installations in varying degrees of nastiness for the past week. I haven't encountered anything truly horrid yet, but I suspect I will at some point.

What now: I'm currently hanging out in Silver City, NM with a good friend. Resupply, update the blog, replace the bashed-in tips of my trekking poles. The usual.

What next: The next section promises to be a big change-of-pace, as I follow the Gila River north, fording it several hundred times (no exaggeration). I'm preparing for wet feet and, finally, plenty of drinking water. Onward!

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