Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chama to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico: CDT 2013

It was a tough week mentally, emotionally, and physically. I chose to "embrace" rather than "evade." The option was there to road walk from Chama to Ghost Ranch in two days, or hike from Cumbres Pass to Ghost Ranch in five. I chose the latter, mostly because I want to hike the CDT, not road walk it. Forecast called for unsettled weather. I also had to temporarily hike back into Colorado to regain the trail. Psychologically, that was tough, as I had already said my goodbye's to the state a few days before. I was worried about the weather and the condition of the trail.

After leaving Chama, I hiked the 12 miles north to Cumbres Pass on highway 17. I was happy to see the CDT again. I was not happy to see it covered with snow, and extremely muddy where it was exposed. This was the kind of mud that sticks to the bottom of your shoes like paste, until you are walking around with a five pound block stuck to the sole. I hiked about a half mile on the CDT in Colorado where I set up camp for the night. My last official night in Colorado, it snowed again. Winter's icy, snowy grip is taking hold in the mountains. It feels unnatural, to me at least, to remain in the high country. That night, I battled with my fears as the wind picked up, and the snow fell horizontal. I've done this (set up camp) a hundred times or more, I probably have more skill than I realize. I stayed bone dry and warm for the most part, but the line between safety and disaster feels like a mighty thin one in these conditions.

A couple weeks ago while waiting out a snow storm in Buena Vista, Captain and I participated in a movie marathon during a zero day in a cabin. One of the movies we watched was a zombie flick starring Brad Pitt. One of the lines that left an impression on me was during a scene when Bradd Pitt is trying to keep his family safe while on the run from zombies.
"Movement is life," Pitt tells another family while holed up in an apartment.
Likewise, I did not want to sleep on this snowy night. I anticipated the morning when I could pack up camp and keep moving south to hopefully warmer and dryer climes.

I awoke to just a couple inches of freshly fallen snow. I was able to get a full day's hike in before the next batch of bad weather rolled in. I set up camp around 6:00 pm, as a thunder-snow storm approached. It was snowing so hard, I was blinded by the flakes. When I left my tarp to find a rock to cook on, I could not venture too far for fear of losing the location of camp. As the lightning and thunder crackled overhead, and the large flakes came down, I drifted off to an uneasy sleep.
"The mountains are trying to steal the life out of me," I thought.
I battled to stay positive.
"What is God's design in all of this? He sure can seem pretty pissed off. The Creator and the Destroyer. The Giver and the Taker. All I can do is try and be as prepared and as skilled as possible, otherwise I am toast," I thought.

I woke up with the next morning with a few more fresh inches of snow on the ground. My mood remained somber. Life was still. It was cold and it was a struggle.
"How does anything survive the winter?" I wondered.
I saw a few hunters in the distance.
"It doesn't seem fair," I thought. "Those deer and elk have had to struggle to stay alive through the night, and also have to dodge the hunter's bullet."
There was paradox everywhere. The elk gives life to the hunter, the snow gives life as water in the spring, life and death, death and life.

I put on some music on my MP3 player in an attempt to brighten my mood. Tool's "10,000 Days" came on. In the song, Maynard (the lead singer,) seems to be encouraging his recently deceased mother to demand entrance into heaven for not only being a good person, but for enduring the hardships and struggles of life.
"Give me my, give me my, give me my wings!" Maynard screams.
I can't help pumping my fist in agreement as I look out on the icy, harsh landscape.

Later in the day, I hike past a group of backpackers traveling cross country. One of them has a radio. One of them comes over to say hello.
"Are you practicing cross country travel?" I ask.
"No we are Search and Rescue," the man responds. "There's a man who has been missing for about a week out here. He drove out here with his wife to see the countryside and the car got stuck. The wife walked to safety, but we don't think he was so lucky. Keep your eyes open for a body."
It doesn't seem fair. I kept my eyes peeled for the rest of the day and wonder what it would be like to be lost out here with nothing, especially in these conditions. I hope for a miracle.

Again I put on my MP3 player to try and brighten my mood. Pearl Jam's "Light Years" comes on. In the song, Eddie Vedder (the lead singer) sings about how he has learned to understand all sorts of problems and situations throughout his life, but can't figure out where his friend has gone after death.
Vedder sings, "It don't seem fair, today just disappeared. Your life's reflected now, reflected from afar, we were but stones, your life made of stars." I empathize with you Eddie. Where in the world do we go?

At the end of the week, I reach Ghost Ranch. It is beautiful here. I've come out of the mountains temporarily and find myself in the New Mexican desert and canyon country. It is warm and sunny. I feel the life restored within me and thank God the Creator for another safe and memorable passage through the mountains. It just feels natural to give thanks, I don't know why, especially now. I realize I have a ways to go as far as embracing the snow and the cold. This sure is one heck of a trail...

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