Day 24 – The Beginning of the End

May 15, .9 miles / 280.9 total hiked

We camped less than a mile from the highway that leads to the small town of Reserve NM. We were able to coordinate a ride last night so at 8:30 a lady pulled up to the trailhead to take us over to town (i.e. food, showers, laundry, and lodging). We had no idea last night would be our last on trail.

In Reserve Gina was not 100% so we took a second night off and arranged a ride the following morning (5/17). We woke up and Gina’s back pain had become more than just annoying… She thought it was a kidney infection setting in so we cancelled the ride and tried to figure out how to get to a doctor. With the closest pharmacy an hour+ away the options were not great.

Fortunately the county medical center (center is a strong word here… Think a small building with a dentist, doctor, and mental health counselor) just happened to be .5 miles away.

The doctor there pretty much ruled out a kidney infection and said it was muscular. So back to the hotel for another night and another attempt to get back on trail the next day.

The next morning Gina was still having issues but we felt we needed to get back on trail to leverage some great weather and not fall behind. Wearing her pack does not make her back hurt worse nor does walking around Reserve. It would only be 40 miles, 2 days, to Pie Town so it seemed an acceptable risk. Our ride took us back to the trail crossing and we head north again.

Going to the Adobe Does Cafe to meet our ride

Gina struggles right away, a combination of aching, lack of sleep, and losing confidence. When not 100%, even 40 miles out here is daunting. After a mile she is just repeating “I don’t know if I can do this”. I ask her if we need to turn around but all she can contribute is”I don’t know, let’s just keep going”.

By mile 2 she is sobbing and repeating “I don’t think I can do this”. We stop under a shady tree and talk. We still have a cell signal and Gina talks to our son Ryan for a bit. I think in my heart I knew it was over at that moment but we talked in terms of going back to Reserve for a few more days to give her more recharge time and see what happens with her back pains.

Gina texting Ryan for some moral support
The end of the road for us

We text our Reserve contact and she arranged yet another ride for us (all these rides have been by the same wonderful lady who had a 2 month old and sometimes her 8 year old with her… A big thank you Z!).

Out and back footprints as we back track to be picked up

Back in Reserve there are some more tears and discussion of options. We decide to relocate to Show Low, a town big enough to have an Enterprise car rental so we are at least mobile and can get to a medical facility or airport if needed. The next morning Z drives us over 2 hours to Show Low.

In Show Low we find a hotel and decide to give it 2 more days based on some medical advice from a good friend. We think it is Lumbar Facet Joint Syndrome but are not sure. The past few nights have been increasingly tough for Gina. The constant ache is worse at night and she gets little sleep which is taking its toll.

By Monday 5/21 she is not getting better and the nights are still miserable. At 3:30am I wake up and she is in a chair next to the bed bent over a pillow still trying to sleep. I check flights for the umpteenth time and decide we can make a 9:40am flight from Phoenix if we immediately head there. After scrambling around to leave, we decide to wait until morning when we both have more clear heads (like we would get any sleep by then).

Monday, 5/21, at noon we made the decision to buy tickets and come home to get this sorted out. Before anyone judges us for not making that decision sooner, you have to remember the effort we had put into planning and hiking the first 280 miles plus the fact on a thru hike there is always something hurting and it is hard to tell what is a transient issue from something that is a trip ender.

So I am writing this on Tuesday 5/22. By this time tomorrow we will hopefully be back home and plan to see a doctor on Thursday.

We are struggling with the abrupt end of our adventure. This makes us really appreciate how smooth the PCT went and feel even more for all those that had to end their hike early. Gina’s well being and health are the top priority so I know this is the right (and realistically only) option at this point.

What does give us some hope is that this may still turn around with several weeks of recovery time and we may be able to fly back out to do another 4 week section later this summer. With the 280 miles from this trip and the 234 miles shared with the Colorado Trail we hiked in 2015, we have completed 514 miles of the CDT so maybe we will just section hike it in 4 week chunks.

A special thanks to J and Z in Reserve for the the numerous rides, information, and support. The kindness of these folks, and everyone we met, to help total strangers that live a totally different life “in the real world” is a special take away from this trip.

Also a big thanks to another friend J who gave us great PT advice to try and deal with this without aborting the trip.

Lastly, thanks to all of you for following our adventure. We had big plans for another video along with the day by day blog we have been doing. Hopefully we will be able to resume this blog soon!

Keith and Gina, May 22, 2018

Day 23 – Where Chocolate Milk Comes From

May 14, 18.7 miles / 280.0 total hiked

Today started at 4:30 AM for me as I suddenly woke up and sat bolt upright. What woke me up? Nothing exciting like a bear licking the remnants of dinner off my face. Nope, what woke me were some subconscious thoughts gelling into an “Oh Crap” realization.

Rewind to last evening… We camped next to a cow pond that would be our water for 17 miles. We knew it would be typical murky, muddy, nasty cow water. At least there were no cows present and rolling around (among other things) in it.

We collected some and prefiltered through a bandana. There was so much crud in it, both living and particulate matter, that every half liter we had to use a clean section of bandana. We opted to not save the various worms we collected as extra protein for dinner.

We finally prefiltered 4 liters and it was better but still very murky and I hated to run it through our filters. We had enough clean water for the night so I hung the bags and filters on a tree all ready to filter in hopes that by morning some of the sediment would settle out to the bottom of the bags.

This worked (note the .5 inch of sediment) but led to that Oh Crap moment over night.

Fast forward to 4:30 AM… The thoughts that jelled were 1) both of our filters were outside the tent, 2) it was a bit chilly last evening, 3) you can’t allow these filters to freeze.

So I’m sitting there wondering just how cold is it? I take my Suunto Core watch off and set it outside the tent for a few minutes to find out. I retrieve the watch and check the temp. Too blurry to read. Fumble for reading glasses. 52 degrees… Whew. I lay down again. Hmmm, just how long was that out there (it takes a while to get an accurate reading after taking it off my wrist).

Put watch back outside again. Wait 10 minutes. 39 degrees. Ugh… And that is on the ground near the tent, i.e. warmer than the tree. Another 10 minute check and it has at least stabilized at 37 to 39.

I sit it on a piece of wood, 35 degrees. I move the wood as far away as I can reach from in the tent. 33 degrees. Argh.

By now it is 5:15 and I’m totally awake so I put my shoes on and go over to the tree. I can see the sediment has settled nicely so I really hate to jostle the bags and bring them in the tent.

I hang the watch next to the bags. 35 degrees. By now the sun is just starting to come up and I figure it is too late anyway if it did get down to freezing. I don’t see any signs of ice crystals in the condensation inside the bags so I filter our chocolate water which still takes forever due to the crud in it.

While standing there in the cold waiting to filter 2 liters drip by drip I ponder if cows that drink this produce chocolate milk 🤔😁

The rest of the day went well with a nice mix of dirt road and trail walking, a steep climb, and a 2500 foot descent to a valley floor. I even got Gina to navigate today strictly from paper maps and she did pretty good.

As a final capper we find a small water cache about 1 mile before the solar well source we were targeting. We were somewhat dehydrated as we did not want to filter or drink more of the chocolate water than we had to so we each gulped about a half liter from the cache.

Only afterwards do I see”well water for cdt hikers” written on a jug. Argh, this was water straight out of the upcoming solar well rather than treated tap water. In general we filter well water here just in case… Now if we wind up getting sick we won’t know if it is from this water or (possibly) freeze damaged filters.

We get to the solar well and find a large tank with a healthy goldfish population in it but no incoming water (too late in the day for the solar pump). So now I wonder if the jugs were just dipped from the tank or filled when the pump was running. Too many water worries today. We will know in a week if we ingested something we should not have.

Because we have been going slower than planned, this 125 mile stretch to Pie Town was going to take 7 days instead of the 6 we expected. We had enough food to get there but when I slipped and mentioned some people make an unplanned pitstop in Reserve (a 40 minute hitch), she latched onto the idea and really wanted / needed to take a break, partially due to some back issues and resulting lack of sleep. So the plan is to get to Reserve tomorrow.

Little did we know how that decision would play out.

Peak of the day: Gina navigating by paper maps and actually keeping track of exactly where we were

Valley of the day: I had really been focused on getting to Pie Town and eating an apple pie after 7 days on trail

Day 22 – Going Downhill – Literally & Figuratively

May 13, 21.8 miles / 261.3 total hiked

Today, we have a lot of miles to cover to get to the next water source. A lot of the hike is on gravel and dirt roads, with a little bit of an incline.

We hiked to one water source where a couple were getting water. They were riding bikes 🚲 🚲 in the opposite direction going against the wind. Not sure how they are going to make progress, but it will be a challenge for them, I’m sure. The wind is so strong it takes your breath away! And when the wind is blowing and it’s hot out, we can’t use our umbrellas, so we just have to strap on our hats tight. (Keith’s hat has blown away a few times.)

Day 21 – Beating the Gila Monster

May 12, 17.1 miles / 239.5 total hiked

After 252 crossings, we declared victory at beating the Gila. The Gila was a neat experience, especially the middle fork, but we were ready to be done with the constant crossings, the sand, the bushwhacking through willows and reeds.

The Gila did leave some scars – Gina found out that the sand collected in her pants legs from all those crossings had acted like sandpaper and left her legs with a burning rash. I sacrificed a pair of socks (to be fair, these had several hundred miles of PCT wear on them but the bottoms were intact before starting the Gila).

We passed by Snow Lake, where we had hoped to get water for an upcoming dry section but the spigots were turned off and the lake was a muddy mess. Fortunately a USFS crew came by and let us access the spigots to get water. It was amazing how quick we went from unlimited water back to carefully planning where we can next get water mode.

Even more surprising was the vast grasslands we emerged into after a final climb up and out of the Gila river area. We spent the afternoon walking across these shimmering golden plains with the wind howling at probably 35-40+ mph the entire time. Fortunately the wind was (mostly) at our backs… it was difficult to walk directly into it. Eventually we made it to trees which marked the start of a long gentle climb up into the mountains that surrounded this high elevation plain.

Peak of the day: Being done with the Gila

Valley of the day: Going back to the reality of needing a daily water plan (and carrying said water)

Day 20 – Two Black Bears in Two Miles

May 11, 14.3 miles / 222.4 total hiked

Today, I felt more like a thru-hiker.  We continued hiking through the Gila (hee-luh) River alternate route.  We crossed it 100 times.  Our feet continued to stay wet, which was not a bad thing since it sort of kept our body temperatures down.  Somehow, sand got up under my pants and stuck to both legs on my shins and calves.  I did not realize this until later in the day when my legs started to sting.  Ouch.  It sort of gave me a rash/burn on my legs.  I was not happy.  I applied a little zinc oxide sunscreen to them which helped a bit, but Keith was a little nervous that I would use up all of the sunscreen – argh…  I really do not know how other hikers are wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts without frying their skin off!  We did see a young gal a Doc Campbell’s whose legs were all scratched up, all up and down them.  It is so hard to avoid all of the thorns and cacti and everything else out there that wants to harm you.  Pants gives us at least another layer of skin for protection.  But even that was not enough to protect me from the sand in the river.

Towards the end of our hiking day, Keith spotted a black bear in the distance.  At least we were downwind from it.  Then just a few miles later, I spotted another juvenile bear going up a hill.  He saw us and then sprinted uphill as fast as he could.  We did not even have time to grab a quick photo of it.  Oh well… so the score is even – 1 bear for Keith and 1 bear for me spotted first.  Then about a mile later, I saw an awesome campsite and convinced Keith to stop for the day.  We had only done 14.3 miles today, but they were hard miles.  Walking on all those slippery rocks in the river, trying not to slip an fall, then walking in 6 inches of sand (ugh), over and and over again for 100 times today, we needed and deserved a break.

Peak of the day:  Seeing two black bears and a few snakes.

Valley of the day:  Getting Gila River rash/burn on my legs. 

Day 19 – The Gila Middle Fork

May 10, 15.4 miles / 208.1 total hiked

We took the Little Bear Canyon trail to connect to the middle fork of the Gila. This was a nice break from the river crossings and ended in a cool slot canyon as it joined the Gila.

We skipped about 6 miles of the Gila by taking this route and it is amazingly different from when we climbed out to go to Doc Campbell’s. The cliff walls are much steeper and the river bed much narrower. You really feel “down in the canyon” through this section and because a river bank often quickly turns into a sheer cliff wall right down to the water, we find ourselves making crossings even more frequently (75 total for today).

We had just finished our umpteenth crossing for the day and as we approached the bank heard the distinctive sound of a rattlesnake. We both looked for it but Gina was the first to spot it – sitting right on the trail just beside the cairn marking our river exit point. It was a nice sized snake, in full strike posture, rattling away. We carefully climbed out about 10 feet from it and made our way around him. Unlike most of the snakes we see (we’ve seen a number so far) that slither off as soon as they detect you, rattle snakes don’t seem to give up their ground… they go into full defensive mode and you go around them.

When were ready to make camp, we happened to be in a section of nothing but sheer walls on both sides, no trail, and some rough river bed so it took some time to find a small sand bank we could camp on.

Peak of the day: Crossing mile 200

Valley of the day: Being ready to camp but having to go on another mile before finding flat ground

Day 18 – Doc Campbell’s Post

May 9, 7.5 miles / 192.7 total hiked

This morning, we only had 3.5 miles to hike before reaching Doc Campbell’s Post which is a store, laundry, showers out in the middle of nowhere, it seems.  They open at 10:00 AM, but there were several hikers already there on the front porch around 9:00 AM when we got there, so a woman stuck her head out the front door and said that they will open at 9:30 AM to shorten the wait time for us.  (She said that they were busy making the homemade ice-cream, too.)  It is now owned by a third generation family member – Doc’s granddaughter.  We spoke with the son of Doc and he said that Doc’s used to have a bad reputation, but it is now improving and they are making efforts to assist the CDT hikers and supply what will help them most.  (Doc and his wife have both passed away.)  We spoke with his son for quite a while.  We did not get his name, but he was wearing a baseball cap that said “Chaplain” which is what he is.  He told us stories of living off the grid with his wife, about him having cattle and a lead dog named “Candy”, who when the dog was only 2 years old, had an accident and broke his neck.  He was still able to work and help him lead cattle.  They apparently had a wonderful working relationship – he even got teary-eyed talking about her.  He was a very nice guy and it was nice getting to hear about his life experiences.  So different from what we have experienced in our own lives, living in the suburbs.

There was another fellow who worked there and he was only like 10-12 years old.  I was wondering about school and whether he just took the day off or was home-schooled.  The Chaplain said that he and his wife were covering the store for two days so his daughter could go into town to do research on making Doc’s run more smoothly and efficiently.  I didn’t get his name, either, but I wish I did.  He was sitting at the register checking people out, unlocking the laundry room and shower doors for us, and even sweeping off the front porch.  He had his act together and was practically running the place.  I see BIG SUCCESS in his future.

One weird thing that was there, though, was when we got our showers and used the restroom.  Keith made a comment,  “You will have an interesting experience when using it.”  I thought… hmm… what is he talking about??  And then later, I used it and sat down.  Wow… weirdest thing ever.  The heat coming up from below!  Usually, you think of ice-cold porcelain toilets and coolness coming from them, but not on this one.  It was not comfy using it at all.  It was like steam coming up from below.

Peak of the day:  Meeting some very nice folks who run Doc Campbell’s Post, taking a shower, and doing laundry.

Valley of the day:  Sitting on a commode which steams your behind.  Ugh…

Day 17 – Getting Our Feet Wet

May 8, 13.2 miles / 185.2 total hiked

We camped last night next to… wait for it… an actual flowing stream. Yes, the first flowing ground water we have seen (except for a small trickle in Silver City) since starting. It was so nice to see clear flowing water!

I was not sure what to expect from the Gila river. The conditions vary greatly depending on the weather and with the very low snow and rain levels this watershed has seen recently the Gila was very mild mannered. This is in great contrast to 2013 when it experienced devastating flooding that wiped out much of the trail and the amount of large trees and debris very far from the river’s edge gave a sense of what took place.

This is the lower Gila, in a few days we will arrive upstream at a convergence point of several Gila forks and hike up the middle one. As we do that, the river channel will get narrower and the cliff sides steeper.

We tentatively made our first crossing around 8:00. Not bad at all – the water was comfortably chilly vs the foot numbing ice cold Sierra crossings. Hmmm, no actual trail on this side, so we bushwhack until the river bank turned into a cliff wall. 8:05, back across to the other side. Cool, a bit of trail here. 8:06, well that trail did not last long… should we cross back to the other side? 8:10 – crossing #3. No trail but it looks better on this side than the other side so we head up stream. 8:15, ok now the other side looks easier to traverse so back across. Nice, there is some trail here.

And so it continued for a total of 47 crossings for the day. We eventually got into the groove and learned to feel when it was time to cross. Occasionally there was even a rock cairn indicating “this would be a good place to cross”. The pattern became cross, climb up the bank, trudge through deep sand for about 50 feet (so your wet shoes pick up about a pound of additional sand weight), transition to rounded unstable river rocks doing their best to twist an ankle, and eventually (maybe) find some actual trail to hike on for awhile until it either disappeared or ended with another river crossing.

Peak of the day: Not carrying any water and having unlimited water whenever you wanted it

Valley of the day: Trudging through sand with wet shoes

Day 16 – Passed By Doug the Hermit’s Place

May 7, 13.6 miles / 172 total hiked

For about 20 years, there has been a guy who has lived on the CDT who only comes out once per year for groceries, supplies, etc. His name is Doug and he says he is a Catholic Hermit. We passed by the area where he lives this morning, but we did not see him. He is a fascinating guy apparently and the rumor is he loves to chat. He set up a “Regist-tree”/mailbox where CDT hikers can sign the registry and let him know what city, state, or country they are from. Later that day, a hiker passed by us (when we were taking a snack break) and he says that he just left Doug the Hermit’s place and that he stayed all night with him. Doug loves to share his experiences with hikers. If you Google “Doug the hermit cdt” you will find blog posts that share more information and photos of him.

Anyway, today I felt really out of whack, as usual. After only a few miles hiked, I needed to rest. After resting about an hour, we continued hiking for another mile (about 20 minutes or so), then I really needed to take another break/nap. I think it’s the food that I packed this time and I am not interested in eating it. And if you don’t eat, you have no fuel or energy to move which makes you weak. Ugh… it’s a vicious cycle. Today, I think Keith was ready to trade me in for another hiking partner. He has been feeling great since we started on Day 1, which I am grateful for, because he is the one who usually has all kinds of issues. On the shuttle that dropped us off at the border, we rode with Skeeter and MacGyver and we keep seeing their names signed in on the registry’s and they are like a week ahead of us – which makes me feel even more inadequate. 🙁 They are in their 30’s, so maybe the age difference applies, but you never know. But it is HYOH (Hike Your Own Hike) and we are all doing our very best to reach Canada. Just one mile at a time… one foot in front of the other… slowly but surely.

Keith searching the horizon for a new hiking partner

After having a blah morning, taking a few naps, I was able to perk up, pick up the pace a bit, and we were able to hike some miles in the afternoon. It did help that it was mostly downhill. 😉

Peak of the day: Signing the registry at Doug the Hermit’s and seeing the landscape where he has lived for over 20 years.

Valley of the day: Letting Keith down by not being able to make the miles like he wants.

Day 15 – Onwards Into the Gila

May 6, 15.8 miles / 158.4 total hiked

Finally we are back on the trail and starting a highlight section where we hike up the Gila river. Silver City was a nice town stop and a good place to let my shin splints calm down a bit… I don’t want a repeat of the Colorado Trail in 2015 where they got pretty bad. I think it was the fast paced, crowned road walk into Silver City that did it.

Walking out of a town is a different experience vs driving out of a town. You feel the town sort of dwindle away as the buildings become less frequent and eventually the rural residences disappear as well and you know you are “back out there”, even if it is along a remote dirt forest service road vs trail. That transition would take 5 or 10 minutes in a car but on foot takes a few hours to cover the 7.5 miles of the “Walnut Creek Alternate”, at the end of which we crossed the official CDT and immediately started another alternate – the Gila River.

We were climbing the trail when someone came up behind us and said “I know you guys!”. What a small world – back in 2016 on the PCT we hitched a ride with Taylor (now with trail name Forest), his brother, and a friend from Bishop back to the Onion Valley trail head after a resupply stop. Taylor was thinking about hiking the JMT and was hungry for information so we had a good chat during the ride. Fast forward and he wound up hiking the PCT in 2017 and now the CDT in 2018. He said we were a real inspiration for him getting into thru-hiking and it was great to see him out here embracing the ultralight mindset and making it happen – Kudos Taylor!

Gina is still struggling a bit to get her stamina up to do a full day of hiking without a “lay down” type break but I know she will get her hiking mojo back. At least there are frequent trees now to take a break under and it all works out as we just hike later into the evening when it is cooler.

Afternoon break

Peak of the day: Seeing Taylor out here hiking the CDT

Valley of the day: Watching Gina run out of gas by mid/late afternoon