The car came to a quick halt as we all exclaimed “right there, that’s the sign!” In one way or another. It was dark, and we were in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. 26 CDT miles north of the Mexican boarder to be precise. No service, and no other people. Exactly where we wanted to be.
Trey, our very generous driver, bid the four of us farewell as we ambled off into the darkness of the desert night in search of flat ground to sleep on. It wasn’t long until we found it. Google and I cowboy camped, while Timber and Coins set up their tent. Night one on the trail.
A Little Background
About two weeks earlier we were told that the start date for the GWL would be pushed back one month. I had already bought my plane ticket and given my two weeks. Not wanting to waste a perfectly good opportunity to be a homeless person, I proposed what I considered to be a genius plan. Go to New Mexico. Hike those CDT miles we wouldn’t hit on the GWL. Get trail legs. Do a little adventure before my adventure.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who thought it was genius. Google, Timber, and Coins were all almost immediately on board. Luckily for me, because there would be NO ONE out in the boot heel of New Mexico this time of year, and I have exactly one day of desert hiking experience. They’ve been great company thus far and have also taught me a good bit about the desert.
Since the road to the actual terminus of the CDT is super rugged, we decided to simply get dropped off at the spot where the CDT crosses a paved road for the first time. This would add 26 miles to our trip, something I definitely was not going to complain about. Day one was all about getting close to the border. The morning after Trey abandoned us on the side of the highway, we started south on our trip.
Getting to know the character of the CDT was tricky at first. There isn’t really a trail, it’s more like a marked bushwhack. We follow metal CDT signs on posts through a maze of cow paths and spiky vegetation. On the plus side, very few of the plants out here are taller than I am, so the signs are usually easy to see. Sometimes the trail would follow a wash, or a dirt two track road. One thing was for sure, New Mexico would be an entirely new experience for me.
We camped out about 10 miles from the Mexican border. Our plan, another genius idea cooked up by our group, was to slackpack to the border and back. Instead of breaking down camp, we simply left everything except for layers, food, and water for the day behind, and skipped down to tag Mexico with day packs. 21 miles on our second day was no problem without our full packs.
New Biome Discovered!
For the next five days, we meandered our way north towards Lordsburg. I slowly learned about the desert. My northerners brain always saw this place as a flat, dry, desolate wasteland, but that’s not the case. The desert is full of life. Not only that, but it’s some of the most stubborn and resilient life I’ve ever seen. The plants and animals both somehow thrive in this incredibly exposed, dry landscape.
I have lost count of the number of different, new plants I’ve seen, whose names I do not know. All of them, it seems, use some kind of spike to protect itself. Google started renaming plants, things like “evil pancakes” and “bouquet of knives”. I’m going along with it, since there are only so many things I can call “cactus”.
In addition to having spikes, most of the vegetation is about as tall as my waist. This means very little shade. There are maybe three trees total in between the boarder monument and Lordsburg, and I’m really starting to miss the tall hardwoods of my home. They block the wind and the harsh rays of the sun, and they give me something to lean on when I want to take a break. I’ve had to get real creative with my tarp pitches without a tree to tie my ridgeline to. Thankfully, its forcing me to become really good at setting up my tarp with only trekking poles and tent stakes.
Then there are the animals. Cows, rabbits, coyotes, birds, and lizards are all among the species that we’ve seen. There are even more, I’m sure, hiding underground for the winter. I’m grateful for this, since snakes are definitely not my favorite thing. They’re all wary of us, and usually run away when we approach. Once, I was taking a short break to write in my journal. A group of cows grazing nearby noticed me. At first they just stood there watching. Then, they got curious. They grouped up closer to each other and halved the distance between us. I did my best to appear uninterested, but five cows giving you the death stare can be a bit unnerving.
The weather has been fairly kind to us. It’s warm and sunny during the day, enough so that we stay warm but also have to wear sunscreen. There’s a constant breeze when the sun is out. At night, the temperature drops to about freezing, and the wind dies off. It’s manageable with the gear I have right now, but if it starts to get any colder it might be an issue. It has rained only twice, both times looking more foreboding than it actually was. The second time, I decided to have a little fun with it.
As I walked along, feet crunching on tiny pumice pebbles, I let myself get lost in a podcast I was listening to. It was the final stretch of the day, and I was feeling strong. It was another bright, clear day. Unknown to me, as I was so focused on my footsteps and the voices of the Dirtbag Diaries, a storm was brewing.
Slowly, quietly, the sun disappears behind a thick blanket of storm clouds, and the air cools. My attention is pulled away from the podcast, and onto the sky. Sinister clouds loomed to the west, slowly encroaching on my position. I stop and check my Guthooks app. 2.3 miles from camp. One hour of hiking, maybe less. I consult the sky. I can make it, I think to myself.
The race is on.
I quicken my pace, excited at the challenge. An hour of hiking to beat a nasty storm? The thought of not making it just makes me more excited. My breaths come quicker and my heart pounds as I traipse over the desert landscape.
1.8 miles to go. The sky to the East is still bright blue, blissfully ignorant of the ominous clouds to the west. I cannot run. Even with only two days of food left in my pack, the impact that extra weight would have on my body makes running impossible. Instead, I hike as quickly as my little legs allow, walking the line between still and storm.
1.4 miles to go. A barbed wire cattle fence stands in my way. A gap between two strands of wire looks big enough for a person. Swiftly, I shrug my pack off and unceremoniously shove it through the gap and onto the dusty ground on the other side of the fence. I follow closely behind, pick up my pack, and charge onward.
0.8 miles. The blue sky to the East still lingers, but I have been overtaken by clouds pregnant with water. A smile breaks out on my face as the trail steers itself directly towards my opponent. I’m at a disadvantage, but I am totally thrilled. The race is nearing its close.
A half mile left, and the clear desert sky is a mere memory as my legs surge up the last hill between me and camp. The ground beneath my feet has turned into squishy sand, making every step forward feel like it’s happening in slow motion. Painstakingly, I crest the hill.
I see my friends a short ways down, already set up by the water cache box. I start running, pack weight be damned. The ground changes back to small flat pebbles as I yell to the sky, “I’m gonna win! I’m gonna win!” My friends hear me and respond with hoots and hollers of their own. I laugh maniacally as I race down the hill, pack awkwardly bouncing around on my back. I slide into camp with plenty of time to set up my shelter and brace for the onslaught. Safe under my tarp, a smug smile on my face, the thrill of victory feels sweet. I made it.
A Brief Reprieve
After a week in the boot heel of New Mexico, we arrived at our first town stop, Lordsburg NM. We decide to double zero, because Timber and Coins want to watch the Super Bowl. The Econolodge is very hiker friendly, and offers a discount to hikers. They even do your laundry for a small fee. Ray and Mama Hen are gracious hosts, and we are all so thankful for the kindness they show us. Our next town stop will be Silver City, and according to my sources there are actual trees between here and there! The CDT so far has been so unique and interesting and I cannot wait to see what comes next.
During this hike I am raising money for NAMI NH. Check out the link on the homepage to donate or learn more about who they are and what they do!