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Continental Divide Trail: Days 12-17

Day 12

Miles hiked today: 18.6

Total miles hiked on trail: 188.9

Somehow, I was one of the last people to roll out of camp this morning. It was 6:30 a.m., and somehow basically everyone was up and out before I was up. I guess my new sleeping pad has already proven its value; I slept so well and stayed so warm! And I never woke up partially on the ground!

I maybe should have replaced my shoes as well. My plan is to get my new ones when Mitch visits next weekend, but the tread is already very gone. Something something desert grit, something something road walks? They already had about 150 miles on them before I started this trail, but I usually can expect 500 or so. As a result, of the worn tread, my feet have been in a lot of pain today. Nothing serious, just incredibly sore. I know I'll have to massage them deeply before I go to sleep, or the pain will keep me up.

There's been a lot of water sources today! Such a welcome change. As we enter the Gila River area, the trees have become taller and the dehydration has become less frequent. In the distance, I could see hazy blue mountain layers. In a lot of ways, it looked like the Appalachian Trail, and that mentally put me at ease. That, and the second recorded day of no animal bones on trail. I know it's a silly metric to keep track of, but it genuinely makes me feel better.

Many times today, I had the realization that my dumb ass really is walking across the country. Even with pounding feet, that realization was positive, and that makes me feel good about what's to come.

At the end of the day, we got to the Gila River itself. Perhaps this reflects a lack of research, but I didn't think the river crossings would start for a few days. Within the Gila Alternate, there's a High Route that takes the hiker above the river, which is what a lot of people have taken earlier this spring when the river was too high. I sort of assumed that meant that early spring hikers who took the Gila Alternate would avoid all river crossings. Boy, was I wrong. To get to our campsite, we had to do 7 river crossings - a small taster for the days to come. Most river crossings today were between my ankles and knees, but some were above my knees, and that makes me nervous for future crossings.

Our plan tomorrow is to get through 16 miles of river crossings to get to Doc Campbell's, a hiker haven and general store by the Gila hot springs, where my friend Elise is picking Double Dip up around 4:00. Because we have a time deadline, and we know the miles will be slow-going with the river crossings, we all opted to cowboy camp to make packing up quicker in the morning, when we plan to wake up around 5:30. We were all ready for sleep by 8:30, before it was even properly dark.

By the time we got to camp this evening, it was about 6:00, and there wasn't enough sun to dry our shoes and socks. The question for tomorrow is: will I be brave enough to put on my wet socks and keep a pair dry for the next day, or will I chicken out and out on dry socks, even though they'll immediately get wet?

Day 13

Miles hiked today: 16.0

Total miles hiked on trail: 204.9

At 5:30 a.m., we all made the most valiant effort to get up. Double Dip, Will, and I all sat up on our sleeping pads and looked at each other, waiting for the first person to make a move. It was frigid outside, and getting out of our quilts was plenty hard a thought without the imminent prospect of putting on wet shoes. I finally said we should wait until there was daylight to make moves, and everybody agreed without hesitation.

When we got up an hour later, we packed up as quickly as we could to begin our day. I was not brave enough to put on wet socks.

Of course, today is the first day that hasn't been full sun at the onset. Until around 11:00, it was overcast and a little chilly.

Those 16 miles are some of the hardest I've ever done. The trail was barely a trail, and we spent a lot of time trying to find signs of where other people have traveled and bushwhacking through thorny foliage. We all came out with pretty scratched-up legs since we all wear shorts. The shorts were helpful for all the river crossings. We counted 49 today between where we camped and Doc Campbell's.

Most of the river crossings were fine, but some were... less than fine. On the 15th river crossing of the day, the water came up to almost my sternum, and when I stumbled, the water began to sweep me away. Fortunately, there were some big rocks nearby that I was able to grab before it got too bad, but either way, my whole body was soaking wet, as was my pack. I think I would have been alright if the sun had been out, but because it was still overcast, I was freezing. When we sat to take a break, I found myself literally counting blades of grass to occupy myself because I couldn't just sit and relax, I was too cold. Only one other moment came up that high, but I'd been warned to swim the last few feet of that crossing, and it was sunny by then, so it was fine. Other than that, most of the crossings came up to between my knees and hips.

All the water crossing safety resources I read said it's be best for the crossings to come up no further than one's knees. All of the comments I'd read on our guide app from this season's hikers had been about the water level being usually fine, but they always said something about the shortest member of their group being 5'7" and having trouble one or two times. Double Dip is 5'10" and Will is 6'1". I'm 5'4". Height was certainly an advantage that I lacked today.

On the 47th crossing today, I tripped on some of the rocks in the water (honestly can't believe it only happened that one time) and bashed my right shin and knee. It'll heal just fine, but it currently hurts to fully bend my knee because it feels like I'm ripping the cuts open.

Having wet shorts meant one thing: chafing. Just the worst inner thigh chafing as the material dried out and stuck to your skin. At Doc Campbell's, looking around at all the hikers sitting outside, everyone had angry red rashes on their thighs. Mine was so bad it was scabbing over. We all had some lotion to try to soothe our cracked skin on our legs - not only did they get all scraped up from bushwhacking, but the constant process of getting them wet and then them drying out in the dry air - and it stung so badly. When I went to put lotion on my chafe, I thought it may be easier to actually just cut my legs off altogether.

We got to Docs around 3:00, which was crazy. There were already at least 15 other hikers there. Most people said they'd barely beat us there and had done many fewer miles. Not sure what crazy adrenaline we all had running through us all day, but we made it by our deadline and rewarded ourselves with pizza, ice cream, drying our shoes and socks in the sun, and trading stories. We're all exhausted, and the knowledge that we have more crossings to come did not make us feel more rested.

Many of us camped at the RV park across the street from Docs. The pavilion there had a few folding tables with hiker boxes set up on it, as well as some picnic tables and benches for people to sit at. Most people that stay there have nice campers and RVs, so it seems that hikers have pretty full run of that seating area. Me, Will, Bus Driver, Hamilton, and Highlander hung out for much of the evening before retiring to our tents.

Day 14

Miles hiked today: 16.6

Total miles hiked on trail: 221.5

Thank goodness we had already decided last night that we'd get a late start this morning because we barely slept. New Mexico springs are known for their wind storms. This was some of the worst wind we'd been in. I'm genuinely unsure how our tents stayed up as well as they did. One stranger's tent poles actually snapped in the middle of the night, poor guy. Despite our exhausting day yesterday, none of us slept until the wind died down at 3 a.m.

Our late start plan was largely due to our desire to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings, a national monument that preserves the cave dwellings built by the Mogollan people in the 1200s. We hiked 4 trail miles and 2 extra miles to get there, all on paved road, and man oh man was it worth it! The dwellings were only inhabited for 25 years, which is crazy, because clearly so much work was put into the construction, and it just seems like people should have stayed there longer just to bask in their handiwork a little more. But what do I know?

Fortunately, we were able to hitch the 2 miles back to the trail junction and begin the  non-road portion of our day's hike. We began on the High Route, which descended into Little Bear Canyon after another 4 or so miles. Until the descent, the hiking was pretty boring, but it went by alright. The canyon was immediately beautiful, though, and I felt ready to conquer the upcoming river crossings in the mid-afternoon sun and heat. All of us who had left near Docs this morning convened at a campsite for lunch, and then the crossings began.

In the remaining 8 miles of our hike today, we crossed the Gila over 60 times. I know, I recorded a video of each crossing. The crossings were a lot more manageable today since we were in the Middle Fork, and each fork was only a fraction of the whole river's volume, so none of the crossings got above my hips today, which was a welcome change. I put a little montage together of those 8 miles for posterity.

Today has, by far, been my favorite day on trail. I loved doing the crossings in the heat. Being in the canyon was stunning. There was a natural hot spring around crossing 18, and it was such a relaxing break. Everyone was in a communal good mood for the first time all trail, it felt.

The campsite we stayed at was full again. I love being around all these hikers!

Despite being toasty during the day, it got so cold as soon as the sun went down. We're all being really diligent about sleeping with our water filters to prevent them from freezing overnight. When our water filters freeze, the water in the hollow tubes freezes and expands, which makes it easier for bacteria and protozoan to slip through in our water, rendering them useless. Anyway, with how wet our shoes and socks are, I'm worried about them freezing, too, but nothing I can do about that. Ready for a cozy night in my tent tonight.

Day 15

Miles hiked today: 22.2

Total miles hiked on trail: 243.7

After such a high yesterday, it was incredibly disappointing to have such a low today.

To begin, just as predicted, our shoes and socks froze overnight. It was the coldest morning on trail so far, and even though I knew they would get wet immediately, I put on my dry socks. Putting on my ice-block shoes was hard enough, but stiff, partly-frozen socks was something I simply could not stomach. Being in a canyon, we knew the sun wouldn't touch our skin for hours after it was up in the sky. That did not make the first 17 sun-less crossings fun at all. The air was cold, but the water was worse. My legs felt like they were on fire, and I kept repeating crossing numbers in my head - "Three... three... three... crossing the river... four... four... four..." - to keep my mind on something. As soon as the sun was in our spot of the canyon, we changed directions and didn't feel it for many more to come.

Around 11:00, only 6 miles in, I decided to take the high route. The water crossings were taking a huge toll on my mental state - it got to the point that I got angry hearing water, and that's not a way I like to feel about my life source - and I was feeling very insecure about my hiking. I trusted everyone else in our group to get through these miles solo if need be, but I didn't want to be alone in the higher, swifter crossings. I'm definitely the slowest hiker in the bunch, so I was killing myself to keep up with someone who I know was slowing down to stay with me. The high route added a 3-mile connector, the first of which was basically straight up the canyon, but I knew I had to get out of the water.

I didn't see anyone else on the high route, save a few forest service personnel on horses going the other direction. It's the first time on trail I've really been alone, and I felt it.

I'm not sure if it's the loneliness or the insecurity, but my mind has felt incredibly foggy all day. I just felt really numb. My brain wasn't really focused on anything at all, just walking forward and trying not to trip over rocks.

My body is less foggy than my brain. Everything hurts. My hip is getting more sore, especially on the downhill, which is usually where I excel. The skin on my legs is so dry and cracked and scraped up everywhere. But I don't want to cry, because I'm afraid that crying will force me to feel everything I'm afraid to feel.

I didn't realize how on-edge I was until I finally got to my campsite at the end of the day. I knew, since I was still on the high route, that no one else from my cohort would be there. A bunch of cars and trailers were parked there, and I immediately went to talk to the only people I saw sitting at a picnic table. Two women, Julia and Anna, were part of a large group of volunteers going into the forest tomorrow for some trail projects. I heard myself say "Hi, how are you?" in the choked voice, trying so hard to feign cheerfulness, so unconvincing. Fortunately, I don't think either of them cared enough about my wellbeing to really ask how I was doing, but it was just nice to have some company for a little before I set up my tent, alone.

I wish Double Dip were still on trail. She'd slow down for me. She'd wait for me at river crossings. She'd take the high route with me. But I didn't really feel I could ask anyone else to do that. I miss having an established friend on trail. I miss laughing about dumb shit with her. I hope she's doing ok in Albuquerque.

In retrospect, I should have done my day completely differently. I should have taken the 1-mile connector from camp this morning, dropped into the canyon later, and finished in the canyon. Then I would have ended at the same campsite as everyone, avoided the frigid morning water crossings, and done fewer extra miles. Hindsight really is 20/20.

Day 16

Miles hiked today: 14.6

Total miles hiked on trail: 258.3

Julia and Anna were kind enough to drive me the remaining 4 miles of forest road to the trail junction, where I'd arranged to meet the rest of my group. We would have enough road walking to do today without those extra miles.

The plan for how Will and I would get to Albuquerque this weekend has changed so many times, but this morning, we decided we'd do a 26 mile day today and a 21 mile day tomorrow to get picked up by Double Dip in the evening instead of the following morning. Most of the miles today were flat forest road walks, so nothing too difficult.

Unfortunately, my hip is at an all-time low. When I'm in a sitting or lying position, I can't move my leg without the help of my hands. It's been bothering me much of the trail, but not like this. This has been a Gila thing.

When I was in 6th grade, my friends and I would play a silly little game. Ben always had a small water bottle in his packed lunch, so he would drink most of it, and then he, Rachel, Bryan, Nick, Jackie, and I would contribute a small morsel of our lunch food to the bottle. After it was shaken up, you had to decide: are you stupid enough to drink it, or are you too cowardly to drink it? Which did you fancy yourself more: smart or tough? I almost always drank the concoction.

Around the 10 mile mark today, I had the realization that I was going to injure myself to a hike-ending extent if I didn't get off trail immediately. I've been ignoring the pain and instability in my hip in the name of being tough. I've known for days now that I need to rest it, and you can see from the mileage and the terrain that I have absolutely not been resting it. I know I need to give my body a break or risk sitting out the remainder of the hike.

I messaged Double Dip from my inReach: "I think I need to get off trail today." I don't think. I know. She made plans to pick me up at Gila Alternate mile marker 95. I was at 89. After having already done 10 miles, 6 seemed simultaneously so attainable and so cumbersome.

I hobbled my way the 3.7 miles to the stream where I knew the rest of my group would be having lunch. It was frustrating telling everyone I was getting off trail for a few days. Everyone's hurting. Everyone's tired. Everyone's ready for a break. Am I being weak or am I being smart? Could I have done 35 more miles, or is that ridiculous?

Will made the decision to come with us, not wanting to break up our little tramily. I feel bad that I'm forcing him off trail already, when we should have had another day and a half.

I fear I rested there too long. I only had 2.3 more miles to get to the road that Double Dip would pick me up from. I made it less than a mile before I decided I'd make her drive here. The benefit of being on well-maintained forest roads is she should be able drive to me. I think my hip finally gave out today because I had an out. I think I've been running on adrenaline for days. I think that's why my head was so clouded all day yesterday. But now that the exit is so imminent, the act of walking was unbearable. So I'm sitting here now, waiting about an hour for Double Dip to show up and save the day.

Day 17

Miles hiked today: 0.0

Total miles hiked on trail: 258.3

Today was an uncharacteristically relaxed day for a zero. As of 7:00 p.m., my watch says I've walked 1665 steps. That's recovery for ya.

There's a really cool physical therapist who's pretty well-known in thru-hiking circles. She's thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and spends a lot of hiking season traveling up and down that trail to help hikers with various injuries with the intention of getting them back to the trail, recovered, as soon as possible. I feel like most physical therapists would just say, hey, maybe don't walk so much every day, but she gets why quitting the trail is the worst option available. I scheduled a call with her for this morning, and the most likely option seems to be that I have hip flexor tendonitis. Fortunately we were able to rule out a stress fracture, which would have meant weeks off trail for recovery. She prescribed me a stretching and exercise routine, and when I can hop three times on my left foot with minimal pain, I can resume hiking. I'm hoping for 3 days, but she says 5-10 is more likely.

Mitch and Katie's boyfriend Dan are both coming into town tonight, which we'd planned ages ago, so I guess this injury came at a good time.

We'll be taking a few more days off trail from here, so see ya back on trail.

1 Comment

May 18

As your surrogate Mom, I worry about the hip. Hope it is feeling better! <3


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