Monday, December 30, 2013

Goodbye Mendocino, Hello Humboldt

I'm excited to be moving up to Humboldt County on the first and resuming work once again. I've had three weeks to rest and recuperate from the CDT and I'm ready to go. I'll be in the heart of the redwoods and I am looking forward to more exploration and discovery in the forests during my free time. Once again, this blog will most likely be concentrating on our redwoods during my time here. Here's to a happy, healthy, and creative 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Deming, New Mexico to the Mexican Border: CDT 2013

Cotton fields and the Florida Mountains
 "I'm a desert creature," my friend Answerman once said while hiking the PCT in Southern California in 2010.

 His words were ringing in my ears while finishing the CDT. While I am not of Middle Eastern descent as Answerman was, I still couldn't help feel that I really, really like the desert. In fact, I am looking forward to the day when I can return to New Mexico.

 The final two days on the CDT were more contemplative in nature. I decided to walk the highway and meet up with the final few miles of the Columbus route near the Three Sisters. There was snow in the Florida Mountains, and the route through them was described as "very steep." I couldn't bring myself to face any possible lethal snowfields during the final days. I was surprised by the amount of traffic and the amount of housing that exists between Deming and Columbus. As a result, I had a tough time finding a campsite along the road on my first night.

Colorado's roads were covered with banana peels. Southern New Mexico roads were covered with cotton and chili peppers.
 I set up camp in a spot along the highway that seemed hidden and away from any housing. Just as I was falling asleep, I could here a horse braying, and then a woman talking. It sounded like they were a few feet away from my tarp. As it turned out, I had set up camp in the dark and there was a house directly across the highway from where I set up camp. It was the night before Thanksgiving, the holiday's had begun. I didn't want to disturb any one's holiday so I quietly broke down camp and found a different spot farther down the road in a wash. I cowboy camped and nearly froze to death again as the dew soaked my sleeping bag and eventually turned to ice in the middle of the night.
Snow 10 miles north of the Mexican border!
Thanksgiving dinner
 The following day was Thanksgiving. I continued down the highway towards Columbus. Road walking really was and is dangerous. I always walked facing traffic. I was amazed how many times during my road walks along the CDT that a person in a vehicle from behind would attempt to pass another vehicle in the exact spot where I'd be walking on the shoulder, passing at high speeds just a foot or two from my right arm scaring the shit out of me. It's impossible to keep looking over your shoulder to see what the cars are doing from behind. Unfortunately, you can't trust them.
Last campsite of the CDT. Three sisters to the north

 I was so glad to get off the highway and rejoin the Columbus route for the final stretch of trail near the Three Sisters. I couldn't ask for a more peaceful campsite for my last night on the trail, Thanksgiving. I could see the town of Columbus, just three miles away, as well as the Mexican town of Palomas, on the other side of the border. I said a prayer of Thanksgiving. I was still alive and had survived and completed the CDT, despite my faith and belief system being shaken to the core. I am still processing what it all means.

Last mile
 When I reached the town of Columbus the next morning, Black Friday, I stopped by the gas station and purchased a cigar to celebrate the final three miles to the border.
"Are you starting the trail or finishing?" the man behind the counter asked me.
"Finishing!" I exclaimed, shaking off the final insult, the last explanation for why I was hiking so late in the season!
The end
An hour later, I was standing at the border. This journey, that words simply cannot do justice for, was over.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Silver City to Deming, New Mexico: CDT 2013

 After two days holed up in my hotel room waiting out the storm, I was itching to get going. I had eaten enough pizza, gummy bears, and drank enough Dr. Pepper to last an entire week. I had decided to road walk 54 miles along highway 180 to Deming rather than attempt to rejoin the trail to my north or east and then hike over 10,000 ft peaks in the snow. I was yearning for the border, and by walking the highway, I would once again gain a couple more days for my transition period post CDT. I was worried about the condition of the highway as local news reports were warning motorists about the dangers of all of the snow and ice. I felt uneasy about walking along the road with the possibility of cars spinning out of control. However, by the time I started walking, the snow was rapidly melting under the bright, New Mexico sun.

 Two events stand out in my mind during this road walk. The first occurred during my first night camped along the highway. Once again, I had to settle on a campsite that felt right, which was tough to do along the highway. Eventually, I found a spot nestled behind a bush, next to a barbed wire fence, about 50 feet from railroad tracks. The reason I liked this spot was because it was slightly downhill from the highway eliminating a lot of the highway noise, and I was hidden. The downside was the barbed wire fence which did, as it turned out, put a couple of new holes in my sleeping bag in the middle of the night. Of course the railroad tracks were also a concern. One thing I forgot to keep in mind was the likely possibility of dew. I had decided to cowboy camp to stay hidden, and woke up shivering around 8:00 pm because my sleeping bag was completely soaked and the dew had frozen into a thin layer of frost on my bag. I had to set up my tarp the best way I could, which wasn't very good, just to create a roof to keep the rest of the night's condensation off my sleeping bag and the rest of my gear. Needless to say, it was a frigid night.

 Around 10:00 pm or so, I heard this low, metallic sounding hum. The humming grew louder and louder with each passing second. I woke up and could see the distant headlight of a train. Laying only 50 feet from the tracks, I knew this was going to be intense. The tracks began to shriek as the headlight from the train flooded my campsite with light. Being so used to quiet, (an almost persistent quiet that exists in the wilderness), the noise was almost overwhelming. I turned over onto my side and watched as the train passed slowly, the box cars thumping along behind the engine, firing tiny orange sparks into the darkness from time to time. The train looked and sounded like a monster creeping through the desert, as I watched it pass through the thorny branches of the bush I was camped behind. What do the deer think of this creature?! It was moments and perspectives like this which reinforced my love of thru-hiking.

Campsite on night one
 The train passed just that once during the night. I woke up to a bitter cold, frosty morning, and once again continued walking south along highway 180. Later that afternoon, the second event occurred which stands out during this section. First, let me begin by saying that an interesting phenomenon occurs when walking through the wild. Maybe it's not that interesting, but I really noticed it on this CDT hike. Without fail, animals would run away from a human being walking on two feet. Bears, elk, deer, pronghorn, coyotes, cows, raptors, birds, ducks, sheep, amphibians, lizards, snakes, etc, etc, all get out of the way when a person approaches on two feet. Drive past in a car, and they will not even shoot a passing glance. There were only three types of animals that did not run or fly or swim away when I walked past. Dogs, the one donkey I described meeting below, and this one particular herd of horses which I will describe in a moment.

Mimbres River: It was excruciating walking past this wonderful river knowing that there must be Puebloan ruins or remnants along this waterway. I could not explore due to barbed wire fences designating private property.
 While walking along the highway, I noticed a herd of horses grazing in a field about 100 yards away. I paused to take a look at them and they paused to look at me. Suddenly, the horses lined up in a row, all of them staring at me in a way I hadn't seen any animals do before.
"What's going on here?" I wondered somewhat uneasily.
Suddenly, one of the white horses started walking towards towards me and then stopped. The other horses in the line did the same thing. The white horse then began galloping towards me and the highway, and the other horses followed suite, in a horizontal line kicking up a cloud of dust.
"Stampede!" There was nowhere to go, at least I had a fence in front of me, so I stood and watched.
The horses stopped a few feet from the fence and paused for photos. A poor scrawny white donkey tried to keep up with his horse friends but was pitifully slow in comparison. I continued walking down the highway, and the horses followed. They began galloping, doing little tricks while the white donkey again tried to keep up, and then would pause and wait for me to catch up. As I walked past, they would wait for me to get 20 yards ahead or so, and then run along the fence again doing tricks, and wait for my response. I gave them a round of applause, apologized for not having any food to give them and went on my way. Eventually, the horses reached the end of their property and I said my goodbyes.

Night two: A perfect hobo camp along with a memorable sunrise along highway 180.
 Eventually, after two and a half days hiking down highway 180, Deming came into view. I put on my headphones and tuned into one of the local radio stations, playing the "latest and greatest" hit songs. I listened curiously, wondering what has happened to the good ol' days of rock and roll?!!

Thanksgiving was just a couple days away. It was cold and overcast in Deming. I decided to resupply and hit the road once again, just two days from Columbus and the end of the trail. The journey was coming to a close. Before leaving town, Indie and my brother Michael both texted me saying I needed to get some turkey somehow before continuing south. I stopped by the Kmart and picked up a turkey and cheese Lunchable, some gummy bears, and some grape juice to celebrate Thanksgiving along the trail. The end was near!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Doc Campbell's to Silver City, New Mexico: CDT 2013 (November 22-24, 2013)

 "You got here just in time," a man said to me as I entered Doc Campbell's store, just outside of Gila Cliff Dwelling's National Monument.
"Why is that?" I asked, "Did a truck just arrive delivering fresh goods?"
"No," the man replied as he walked towards the coffee machine. "Winter storm's a coming, going to drop at least 8 inches of snow around these parts. It's supposed to be a three day event."
 I had been agonizing the last few days about which route I was going to take to finish the CDT. I kept waking up in the middle of the night wrestling with what to do. The reason I was having trouble deciding was because my old roommate had offered me my old room in Northern California for the month of December. I accepted the offer, knowing that this development was a fortunate event which would allow for the possibility of a smooth transition from trail life back to working life after the CDT was finished. Unfortunately, it created a deadline, something I had hoped to avoid. If I finished the trail the way I preferred, it would be mid December by the time I got home, probably not enough time to transition peacefully. Also, I wanted to visit my sister, her husband, and my nephew in Austin after hiking the trail. There was no way I was going to skip that opportunity since I rarely get to see my family these days. Also, I screwed up my resupply, only sending three days of food to Doc Campbell's, when I should have sent seven. I heard Doc Campbell's resupply options were limited. (As it turned out, Doc Campbell's had plenty of food to resupply.)
While in the Gila, I eventually came to peace with my decision. I was going to supplement the four days of missing food at Doc Campbell's store, also buy some extra snacks at the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitor Center, and then jump onto the Columbus route which would bring me into Deming in about seven days. If executed properly, I would be home no later than December 10.
 Plans are always tentative on the CDT. Sometimes uncontrollable events are the ultimate factors in making a decision. Hearing about the latest snow storm threw a "wrench in the wheel" of my plan. Then another event occurred ultimately shaping my decision. My resupply box that I sent from Grants did not arrive at Doc Campbell's store. On top of that, a couple more locals warned me about the dangers of the upcoming storm along with the terrible conditions of the trail along the south Gila river. Ultimately, I decided it would be best to road walk the 40 miles into Silver City, get a hotel room and decide what to do next from town. This decision would also save me a couple days, bringing me home sooner than expected.
 I started the road walk on the afternoon of the 22nd. The hike from Doc Campbell's is a gruelling, 7 mile ascent. By late afternoon, I was at least 2,000 feet higher than the Gila River below. It was freezing cold and extremely windy. The storm was getting closer. Thankfully after the seven mile ascent, the road began to descend and by the time I set up camp in the evening, I was back at a more reasonable elevation, in a sheltered location. Snow began falling the next day. By the time I reached Silver City, the town was covered under a thin white blanket. I hunkered down in a hotel room for the next two days as snow continued to fall, eventually dropping several inches. I was glad not to be camping in those elements!
During this time, I decided that I was going to road walk all the way to Deming, certain that the Black Mountains to the east were going to be covered with snow, making hiking difficult and frustrating. As much as I wanted to stick to the trail, I also needed to prepare for life after the CDT. Road walking to Deming would give me a little more flexibility with how to approach the transition phase.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Manparty, Lush, and the Triple Crown

Here's a nice article written about hiking friends Manparty and Lush. Check it out!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Importance of Pottery Sherds to Native People

While visiting Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, I saw this brochure in one of the information centers. It reads:

The Importance of Pottery Sherds to Native People
Native People of the Southwest believe that their ancestors deliberately left pot sherds as evidence of their lives, their migrations, and their continued presence. Hopi people call pot sherds "the footprints of the ancestors." As migrating families left one settlement for another, they broke their old pottery to leave behind as a testimony to their passing, and made new pottery to take with them to their new village.

Pueblo potters today refer to clay as the flesh of Grandmother clay. When they gather clay to make pottery, they offer corn meal to her and promise to make her beautiful. They enter into a reciprocal relationship with her. Because Grandmother Clay is in pottery, it is sacred. Because potters put something of themselves into their creations, pots are intimately connected with their makers. Native people ask visitors to leave pot sherds and other ancestral "footprints" in place so these connections between present and past peoples and the land can continue.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Middle Fork of the Gila River: CDT 2013 (November 18-21, 2013)

Plains just north of the canyon entrance
"Home is where the heart is," my friend Kate said a couple of nights ago as we were talking about the trail and places to live. "Of course," she continued, "your heart could be in multiple places at once."

Pieces of my heart are in so many places around this incredible country of ours, that I don't know if I will ever have what is considered a "home" again. The latest place that felt like home was the Middle Fork of the Gila River. It came as a total surprise to me, especially since I heard the area was devastated by flooding this September. I entered the canyon feeling apprehensive, reminding myself to be patient, to expect low mileage days, to expect cold, wet feet, as the trail crosses the Middle Fork 100+ times during a 40 mile stretch.

It is true, the trail has been completely decimated by the flood. There are pros and cons to this situation. The number one "pro" in my opinion is that it completely freed me up from any restrictions that following a trail may place on a person. It was a complete free-for-all traveling through the canyon. The trail appeared at times but it was almost pointless to rely on it. Reason being, huge piles of debris, perhaps 10 to 20 feet high at times, blocked the trail due to the flood, creating gigantic roadblocks. It made more sense to simply follow whatever route one could find through all the piles of dead trees and branches. When I felt like crossing the creek, I would cross it. When I felt like traveling along a river bank, I would do that. When I felt like exploring a particular area, I would explore. For three days, I never saw another human being. For all intents and purposes, I had the canyon to myself which allowed for an incredible, unexpected spiritual experience of sorts.

The first such moment occurred on my first night in the canyon. Once again, camp sites were hard to find at times in the canyon. I wanted to rely on my instincts rather than picking any old flat spot I could find. There were plenty of those on the river floor, but looking at the surrounding devastation, it made no sense whatsoever to camp on the floodplain. Of course, chances were slim that another flood would come barreling down the canyon, but I knew I would not rest easy down there. Not only that, it was guaranteed to be cold and damp next to the river. I needed to climb.

A fascinating pictograph. Above shows a small being holding what appears to be a large pine tree. Below a being holding a geometric pattern. What do they mean?
Just as it was getting dark, I found a spot that allowed me to climb away from the river bottom. I found a spot that would suffice, but it still did not feel right. I needed to get a little higher. Eventually, I found a spot that felt simply perfect. Just as I was setting up my tarp, I turned around and caught site of a cave directly behind me. Since there was just a little bit of daylight left, I decided to check it out before setting up camp. It was a perfect dwelling, I mean perfect! I was blown away to still see artifacts inside, remnants of pottery, cooking and food preparation stones, pieces of acorns, squash, fire scars on the cave's walls. Also small walls were constructed on both sides of the cave. I was pleased to notice a complete absence of human graffiti on the walls. If modern humans had also visited this cave, they had the respect to leave it alone and resist the temptation to scribble their names on the inside. It was incredibly exciting. As it became dark, I decided to explore a little more. Once again, I was blown away to find another larger dwelling, containing more artifacts, and a larger man made wall inside. There also appeared to be paintings on the wall, although at the time I wasn't 100% sure. One of the beings looked like a person with large hands and feet. I camped nearby and had one of the warmest, most restful night's of sleep in a long time. Whoever these people were who lived here, knew what they were doing. (I later found out the builders of the cliff dwellings were called the Mogollon.)

Rejuvenated and refreshed from a perfect night's sleep, I continued down the canyon. The former inhabitants of this area were on my mind. The place seemed like a perfect place to live. Water was abundant, caves offered shelter, game was most likely plentiful in and above the canyon. There were even several hot springs in the area! After a cold, wet day hiking through the canyon, I came to Jordan Hot Springs. God really knows how to take care of his people! The hot spring was a deep pool of the most clear, turquoise blue water I had seen since Yellowstone. Just to look at it brought intense feelings of joy. To get in was almost heavenly. There were strange white crystals all over the bottom of the pool. A small waterfall created the perfect, natural hot shower. I had to believe the people who lived here were in a Garden of Eden.

While taking a hot shower underneath the small waterfall, suddenly a couple of hornets fell into my lap. I looked up to see several angry hornets buzzing wildly above my head. I jumped into the pool in front of me. I turned around to see an angry mob of hornets filling the air around the waterfall. As it turns out, I think the splashing water from sitting in the waterfall disturbed an underground hornets nest a couple of feet from the falls. Thankfully, the hornets were taking their rage out on the waterfall rather than me. The falls were the obvious winner in this battle. I had to laugh again at the sublime and the lethal, once again coexisting on the CDT. I had to vacate the hot springs before the hornets discovered who the real culprit was.
Stones for grinding corn, corn cobs, and blades
An incredible pictograph of a mountain lion standing on two pyramids, triangles or pedestals. This painting was very large,  perhaps as long as 12 feet or more?
That night, I was once again looking for a place to camp. For 45 minutes, I couldn't find anything that would suffice. Once again, it simply didn't feel right to set up camp along the destroyed flood plain. It was beginning to sprinkle. I walked until it was completely dark, and then I felt stuck. I resigned myself to setting up camp on the floodplain. After setting up my tarp, I still felt extremely uneasy. I decided to see if I could climb just a little ways out of the canyon. There were several caves above me, two which I could not reach without risking my life. A third which I eventually found a route to in the dark. It consisted of a few small rooms. Once again, I was shocked to see evidence of human habitation. There were fire scars, and what appeared to be a small storage room with a small, man made wall in the front. This spot seemed to make so much more sense than sleeping on the flood plain below. I retrieved my gear and decided to cowboy camp on the canyon ledge, not going completely into the cave, but just enough to stay out of the rain.

As I drifted off to sleep, the rain began to subside, the stars came out, and an almost full moon began to shine it's reflected light onto the canyon walls before me. To see the arch of the cave above my head, the stars below the arch, the shadows of the moon, the ancient man made storage rooms behind me, the sound of the Gila River below, the relaxation of my muscles from the soak in the hot springs a few hours before, the image of the pictographs still fresh in my mind: The universe seemed so much more mysterious and wonderful than I ever could have imagined in that moment.

The next day, pictographs began to reveal themselves on canyon walls all along the canyon. It felt like a dream. What do they mean? Who were these people? After talking to the rangers at the Cliff Dwellings National Monument, it was fascinating to discover that there is still a lot of mystery surrounding the Mogollon people. For one, the canyons may have been inhabited by humans for as long as 10,000 years, when humans first entered the Americas via the Bering Straight. The fire scars on the caves may be 10,000 years old the rangers informed me. Secondly, the Mogollon people who painted the pictographs and built the dwellings inside the caves only remained in the area for one generation before moving on around 1300 AD. For every hypothesis for why they left the area, a thousand more questions could be asked.

Handprints on far left along with other symbols.

Eventually and reluctantly I had to continue heading south. My food supply was extremely low. A cold wind and overcast skies moved into the area. There was a big winter storm coming. Several inches of snow were predicted to fall in the canyons, more in the surrounding mountains. Several locals warned me not to continue hiking down the canyon due to the oncoming weather. I decided it was probably best to heed to their advice. After visiting the Gila Cliff dwellings National Monument, once again I was hiking along the roads. The area however, left a strong impression on me, and I hope to one day get a chance to return.

Typical scene along trail and valley floor: Flood devastation
To future hikers of the CDT I will imagine that the trail will be decimated along the valley floor for years to come. If you go to the canyon expecting to do big miles, it will be extremely difficult and frustrating I would imagine. I would suggest to hike the Gila with patience, with the Mogollon people on your mind, to keep an eye out for remnants of their presence. Hopefully, you will be rewarded as traces of their lives reveal themselves to you!