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** From November 2015**

The post master, who understood thru hikers, found the weight of the boxes we’d received hilarious. ED went to go get her package from the motel and I quickly opened and packed the resupply box from my Mom. I had asked her to make something for each of us as a surprise, so I had to get them into my pack unnoticed. She had dutifully found a bottle of Fireball and rebottled it into plastic bottles for us. I threw the rest in my food bag and trod down the road to meet the others at McDonald’s where they were grazing and bumming free wifi.
We all opened the boxes and laughed that our friends knew us well. Patch sent a bottle of Gentleman’s Jack with a note to each of us! The part to all of us said that a friend had given it to him, but he had stopped drinking awhile back, didn’t want it to go to waste and thought hikers should enjoy it. We were very excited. We opened Karma’s box to find another sweet note, three bottles of champagne, dark chocolate espresso beans, and candy! Over lunch we wondered how we got so lucky to have such awesome friends and how we were going to divide up the weight of it all agreeing that those had to stay in glass bottles.

Lucky for us, the restaurant Cranberries sucked, so we weren’t tempted to stay super long. We called Teresa to confirm the shuttle from the CDTC for a pickup, booked plane tickets and bus tickets. I had to argue a bit with the airline, so I took a little longer. 

We meandered to the first water cache from the CDTC and camped there. We made a tiny little fire to sit around for dinner and some booze. Along with the champagne meant for the border, the Fireball, the Gentleman’s Jack, we had also saved the peppermint schnapps and the spiced rum from Bams.

In the morning we continued on the “trail,” which at this point had no trail and simply 12 white signs about every two tenths of a mile. I say white signs because all the blue CDT symbols faced north for the northbounders. Basically, we would get to one and the between the five of us, we could find the next one and pick our way over there.

As time went on, the plants got continually spikier and spikier. It was all about not running into the spiky plants.

For a change of pace, we also had perfect weather for the last stretch. No rain in sight. The mornings were cold, but doable and we could morning night hike and hike into the night.

The second day, I found two crickets mating. I obviously had to get down on the ground to take a ground level photo when Crosby came up behind me.

The crickets.

I heard snickering, then Crosby busted out into “Let’s get together” by Al Greene.

On the third day at lunch, The Darkness took on a new mission.

The Darkness: Wonderer, have you ever had fluff?

Wonderer: Fluff?

The Darkness: Marshmallow fluff.

Wonderer: No…

The Darkness: How about a fluffer nutter?

Wonderer looked more and more confused, but mostly skeptical.

The Darkness: Would you eat one if I made you one?

Wonderer: …ok?

The Darkness made a fluffer nutter and handed it to Wonderer. Wonderer took a bit and comtorted his face to show several emotions, then he held up the sandwich.

Wonderer: … America…

The fourth day, we found an abandoned car. Border patrol had already searched it and marked it abandoned two months prior. ED immediately searched it herself and produced a very scratched CD that went into her pack for later examination.

That night, we camped two miles from the Mexican Border. We were going to get picked up early, but up the road eleven miles and we wanted plenty of time at the border. We set up examining our booze supplies for the next morning when we saw an orange glow in the sky.

ED: Guys…what the hell is that?

Crosby: No idea.

We watched the mysterious orange glow to the west.

Me: It’s getting bigger…and closer…

ED: Should we do something?

Wonderer made a curious noise and watched.

The Darkness: What would we do? We are in the middle of the desert? You want to hop the border into Mexico?

We gathered closer together sipped some peppermint schnapps and watched. Eventually it seemed to dissipate and the best theory we had was aliens.

We awoke at 5am and started walking expecting to cruise into the border for sunrise. However, the CDT had one more surprise for us. It wanted us to embrace the brutality one last time because we couldn’t find enough of the signs in the dark.

All of a sudden the worst plants on the trail appeared in the form of grape sized burrs that stuck to everything and ripped at skin. ED yelled slews of profanity as she gathered the biggest collection stuck to her leggings. At one point, we plowed straight though them because we’d hit them any way we tried to go.

The border monument.

We showed up to the border right at sunrise and pulled out the rest of the booze. I pulled out the surprise from my Mom of homemade crowns and we all put them on as we began drinking just before 6:30 in the morning. We picked burrs off, blasted some music, and began taking pictures. We were pretty drunk by 7am. Big thanks to my Mom, Karma, Patch, and Bams for the good times and booze.

Before we left, we flew Scout’s superman kite he passed to us in Chama.

On the way back, we found Juan from the CDTC. He gave us some much needed Gatorade and threw us all in the car. We bounced around for several hours before hitting a paved road. Juan informed us that now, we had to put on seat belts. All of is had them on, he was the only one who didn’t.

Not too long afterward Border Patrol pulled us over with smiles on their faces very uncharacteristically. One cleared his throat.

Patrol #1: Is everyone American?

ED: Yes…errr…

Wonderer: No, I am Japanese.

Patrol #1: OK, passport please.

Wonderer: Can I get it from my pack in the back?

Patrol #1: Yes.

The wiff of backpacks comes out.

Patrol #2: Whew! What have you guys been doing.

The Darkness: We hiked here from Canada.

Patrol #2: OK. Yeah. You guys are good.

We got back to Lordsburg and Juan dropped us off at a Mexican restaurant. We had celebratory margaritas. We headed toward the Econolodge and it felt like we were just in town and not done. We did all the normal chores except resupplying. We replaced that with buying a pinata and candy from the dollar store for The Darkness’s birthday the following day. We made her a cake from  station pound cakes, ice cream sandwiches, and caramel candies.

The next afternoon we left Lordsburg together on the Greyhound.

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** From October 2015**

We walked out of Pie Town full and happy meandering along listening to podcasts. Right at the split between the route for the Black Hills and the Gila River route, we got a facebook message from Patch.
Patch: Where are you guys at? And where will you be in a week or so? I want to mail you guys something!

Me: We are just hitting the Gila alt. Will probably be in Lordsburg in a week. How are you and where are you?

Patch: Jesus, you guys are flying along. I’m doing well! I’m in Ghost Ranch. I took several days off with my Dad. Hoping to catch Das Boots and maybe Scally.

Now we were curious! For the next week, we pondered what it could be. We had several theories of interesting proportions going.

When we were pondering oneoo of the theories, we were all bushwhacking down toward Snow Lake when Wonderer dropped his phone in knee high grass somewhere. We all threw our packs down and fanned out trying to help him cover more ground to find it. Back and forth we went. Wonderer shooed us, taking a map from The Darkness and we started bushwhacking down when we heard a loud cry of joy. We looked up to see Wonderer grinning from ear to ear in a power stance holding his phone high above his head. We cheered from below in relief.


At Snow Lake, the cold started to set in. We wanted to get a few miles further down into the Gila canyon before we found a campsite. When we bailed into the privy south of Grants for that massive round of thunderstorms, this was where Whistle bailed out ahead of us and Scallywag had bailed back to Cuba behind us.

We put on shorts to save the leggings for later and walked past an ominous sign telling us to be prepared for a lack of trail, storm damage, and flooding. We got to the first crossing. The Gila River was a creamy dark color which obscured the bottom. The water rushed fast and the “trail” on the side was hit or miss. We used hiking poles to test the depths before getting in the icy water. The sun had already set out of the canyon and the shade added to the cold sinking into us. We began using the Crosby-o-meter to test for depth further than the banks of the river. Being 6’4” it was easier to tell how deep it was on him than us.

It was icy. It was rushing. Hiking poles necessary. And it was deep.


The shallowest crossing came up to my knees and I still couldn’t see the bottom. Most crossings reached mid thigh deep or more. Before each step, I’d plant a pole in the water to keep three points of contact with the unknown bottom at all times and my poles quivered from the water rushing at them. I started to not feel my feet anymore. Lucky for me, they seemed to know where to step anyway.

We found a great campsite that night. Everyone peeled off the wet layers as fast as possible in order to get into sleeping bags. I had to sit crossed legged for a while with my feet wedged in my knees to warm them up.

In the morning, we packed up and began walking as soon as it was light enough. We had discovered the difficulty of finding shallow crossings at night and decided to keep pushing as much as we could in the daylight. The ground and all the grasses were completely frost covered. The trail sometimes existed, other times it didn’t. At the minimum, we crossed the Gila once per third of a mile. My feet were already numb from the frost before even dipping into the icy water.

The Darkness, Crosby, and I walked without stopping. I ate to keep warm. At least warm enough. We all had several layers on and the cold seeping in from our feet and legs was rough. We paused to talk to some hunters and Wonderer caught up.

Wonderer: E.D. hiked up on the last trail. She said she was too cold and she’d take the higher routes over to Doc Campbell’s and meet us there.

We were grateful that she sent a message so we wouldn’t get caught up waiting and not seeing her. The four of us stuck together taking turns bushwhacking ahead and finding better crossings. The progress was epically slow. My feet were numb still and I was munching though food faster than normal to keep my metabolism going.

We took the shortest lunch break ever, then kept crossing. We knew we had to cross even if there was no trail because if we didn’t we’d run into a tall cliff wall. The canyon was beautiful beyond words, but with the extra waves of thunderstorms the past week, the water had risen significantly and as we got further down, it became harder and harder to find spots to cross below mid-thigh deep.

Wonderer watching The Darkness cross.

Eventually, toward dusk, we came to a crossing that none of us could agree on the best way to cross, so we went in slightly different places and watched each other. The Darkness chose a spot which looked awesome until the middle where it got expectantly deeper. Wonderer, Crosby, and I watched as her face change drastically as she went up higher than her waist getting the lady bits wet. But her feet held and she crossed to the bank.

She looked at all of us on the bank.

Me: Sooooo, next available campsite?

The Darkness: Yes.

None of us talked much as we had to cross a few more times before I found something that would work. Not ideal, but functional if we cleared a few dead branches and flood debris from the big flood in 2013. We made it work and made a campfire to boost morale as we ate dinner.

The morning brought a repeat of cold, frost, and icy water crossings still increasingly difficult to find suitable crossings. We had seen another trail heading steeply out of the canyon in a few miles to the higher routes that E.D. had hopped up to. We contemplated it until it started raining on us while thigh high deep in icy water with numb lower extremities. As we pulled out umbrellas and crossed again, we all looked at each other and knew we were bailing up and out. Once we found the trail, it was easy to follow. The link between the bottom of the Gila canyon and it was obviously not used much and very obscured.

Despite the rain, hiking up out of the canyon got our blood flowing and warmed up more than we had been in almost three days. We cruised along the top toward the west fork of the Gila River which we’d have to cross a few times before getting spit out at the Gila Cliff Dwellings. That was also cold. But there were only four crossings bringing our crossing total to 81 times on the middle fork and 4 on the west fork. Burrr.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings.

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As we piled into the Travel Lodge, we dropped our packs, had a beer and went to stuff ourselves full of AYCE Asian medley food. We topped it off with a continuation of a TLC binge.

We hid from the rain in the motel room which was conveniently next to a Wal-Mart. At one point, we gave up on relying on our shells and bought $5 umbrellas. Life instantly became better.

While we looked at the bleak forecast of rain and thunderstorms on and off for days, we browsed the CDT facebook page for information . Patch had just posted very snowy pictures of Cumbres Pass. The rain suddenly looked better and better.

The Mumms came to the motel with our packages and wonderfully gave us a full water report for the upcoming windmills.

Easily Distracted picking up a tarantula.

In the morning, after breakfast and lunch and a slow meander, we left Grants headed toward the Bonita-Zuni Canyon to cross El Maipais. We found some more tarantulas, used the umbrellas on and off, and we had some entertaining conversations relating to absolutely nothing.

One conversation had gotten pretty in depth between The Darkness, E.D., and Crosby. So in depth, in fact, that they missed the left turn into the next canyon and kept walking.

Wonderer and I were about 200 feet behind them. We yelled. They kept walking. We “cooed.” They kept walking. Wonderer made high pitched noises. They kept walking. I pulled out my phone and called The Darkness.

The Darkness: Are you kidding me? You’re calling me?

Me: You’re going the wrong way.

They all stop.

The Darkness: Really?

Me: Turn around. Wonderer and I are at the turn.

The Darkness: Oh shit. Ok.

They walked toward us. When they got to us, we took the turn and found a good stealth spot for the evening.

The privy. Photo credit: Crosby

In the morning, we wandered toward El Maipais watching the increasing threats of thunderstorms from multiple directions. We got to the edge of the park at lunch, so we began eating lunch at the picnic table while we assessed the possibility of crossing the 7.5 miles of lava in increasingly inevitable thunderstorms. It began to rain. We moved into the privy. All five of us fit in the well-maintained privy. As the storm lightened, two park rangers opened the door and looked extremely confused.

E.D.: Oh sorry, we can hop out. We were hiding from the thunderstorm.

Ranger #1: We just need to clean it quickly.

We all bunched into the overhang outside of the privy and talked to the rangers about how to cross.

Ranger #2: Well that storm will hit you, probably half way across. That storm over the ridge may hit you, it may not. That storm way over there probably won’t hit you. But that main one there looks the biggest, will definitely hit you, and there could be another wave right behind it.

Ranger #1: Six park employees have been struck by lightening here. Two of which were in this parking lot actually.

Ranger #2: There is iron in the lava that attracts the lightening.

Great. Thunder cracked. The rangers left. We moved back into the privy. The rain got heavier than the first storm. Then the hail started. Marble sized hail pelted the ground and filled the increasingly large puddles everywhere. As Wonderer sat on the closed toilet seat eating a jar of jiffy spreadable cheesecake, we watched large lightening bolts hit the lava on the trail.

Wonderer: Why do Americans eat this?

Crosby: No one I know does…

Me: I’ve never seen it before…

The Darkness: Have you seen fluff yet?

E.D.: That looks interesting…

After multiple hours with all five of us in the privy and the weather not improving, we decided to hitch back to Grants. At a break in the storms with more pending, we managed to snag two rides into town and we all piled back into the Travel Lodge.

The Darkness turned on TLC to continue our marathon abilities. Being Sunday, the TLC marathon was sister wives, a worse show than normal. After five hours of sister wives, Wonderer finally spoke up.

Wonderer: What is the plot to this show?

The Darkness: There is no plot…it’s just their lives.

Wonderer: Hmmmm.

E.D.: Yeah…

In the morning, we plotted to wander out again to the other side of the lava to avoid the still present thunderstorms.

Between storms.

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The group left Bob’s cabin at varying times, Scallywag, E.D., and I were the last to trickle out a little after five pm. We followed Straight Creek instead of hiking a mile back to the trail, then over Elbow Pass. Straight Creek was pretty, although very burned and didn’t go over the steep pass.
Chatting along the way, we stopped to eat dinner around 7, then looked for the next “campsite,” or really just a flatish spot. Not too long after, we crossed a creek and were in a burned meadow. We were tired, our buzz had worn off, and it was almost 9pm…hiker midnight.
We found a campsite in what seemed like the only living trees for miles, but it had flooded and squishy moss had grown. We instead found a spot where most of the snags had already fallen and camped there hoping a tree wouldn’t fall on us.
Waking up, no dead trees had fallen on us, so we left thankfully. We followed the river for awhile, then another creek when about 10-12 miles in and me taking about fireweed for awhile, we found another cabin with a privy whose seat moved if you shifted your weight wrong.
There we found The Darkness who had gone about 12 miles out of Benchmark when we had only done about 6. She was beat from pushing herself to reach Rogers Pass where her boyfriend Mikhail planned to meet her. It was hot again. The horse flies were out. Apparently they hurt so bad because they don’t bite, but rather suck the blood up through your skin. Nasty buggers. We’ve been trying to kill every one we can. Luckily, they are not the fastest of creatures.
We continued down the Dearborn River to where Ley makes three routes with a note that just basically calls the area confusing. It wasn’t hard following Guthook. Plus, someone had pulled an AT move of throwing some sticks across the trail you should not take. Classic.
Patch caught back up to us and told us another crazy tale of going on sketchy parts of the Divide. Crossing our deepest ford yet, the water rose to just above my knee braces, but the current wasn’t strong. It was just cold and wet. Then the doozy came. We had to climb about 2,500ft up and now water would become more scarce. We really haven’t had to carry more than a liter the whole time until now.
 I saved the tunes for the crazy shit we were about to do. I put on some electronic music and was going uphill at a steady pace. E.D. was right ahead of me when she stopped about half way up the first part of the climb. I paused to see what she was looking at…a spine lay to the side off the trail with no other bones around and the trail was covered in dark brown and white hair. It looked as through maybe a cat had jumped down and killed a moose or elk. No skull to tell.
The second part of the climb looked steeper. It still had switchbacks, but the gradient of them was getting more drastic. It was past dinner time. I ate a bar and kept plugging. Of course, when we got to the “top” it kept going up doing a ridge for another half mile, but at least it became less steep. We passed Amy and Jerry and Amy was limping badly from blisters.
We started to descend into a small basin with a tiny spring, a tiny creek, and a big meadow. Flatish. Awesome. Meadow will be dewy, but at least flatish. A Swiss couple named Jeanine and Patrick were already camped there and graciously shared space.
Eating dinner away from our tents at 9pm, it seemed like all our brains had fried from the heat and exhaustion. With nowhere to hang our food, we all decided just to sleep with it that night.
The next morning from within our tents, we began the morning conversation topics: the upcoming day, food, poop etc.
E.D.: “How many miles do we have to Rogers Pass?”

Scallywag: “24”

The Darkness: “No…21!”

Me: “It’s 24…”

The Darkness: “I counted the numbers on Ley’s maps and it says 21.”

Scallywag: “Guthook says 24.”

The Darkness: “Damn.”
The Swiss couple began laughing at us.
I let the air out of my neoair. Hissss.
E.D.: “Noooo.”

Scallywag: “The sound of motivation.”

The Darkness: “Whyyyyy?”
We did manage to get hiking by 8am, which had been late for us. We immediately had to climb another 1,000 feet. Steeply. No switchbacks. It was like the AT climbs, but going up to around 8,000 ft. And it was hot. Well shit. Absolutely beautiful and totally worth it.
The entire day was spent going up and down and over ridges. The tread on my sandals took a beating and I ski/skid down some stuff but didn’t fall. At least not yet. I made a mental note to order new sandals in town.
We met a Canadian named Canacker. He sat at a small lake with us when we loaded up on water. The water had lots of little red macroinvertibrates in it. The Sawyer squeeze took care of them.
The day was hot and the miles went slowly due to steep terrain with epic views. At about 6pm, we hit Lewis and Clark Pass where one could go .4 miles down to water. The Darkness and E.D went down.
We debated about just staying there. It was a “road” but it was definitely a 4×4 road. The Darkness still wanted to meet Mikhail at the pass in 8.3 miles. We decided that we wanted to get at least the next 1,000 foot climb out of the way and camp by a spring or a saddle after the spring in 3 miles. That climb just went straight up. Part way through, a female moose ran across our path. That was cool.

 

On the top, we waited for The Darkness whose feet had blistered horribly. When she got there, she asked if any of us had accidentally grabbed her map. None of us had. Her GPS batteries had died and none of us had AA batteries. Damn. We headed down to the spring scheming about getting her a map.
However, as we ate dinner near the spring at 8 something pm, we realized even with only six miles to go, she probably wouldn’t make it to the pass before 11. The trail had started playing this disappearing act where it would lead into a meadow then disappear and reappear on the other side or disappear in a sea of blowdowns. During the day, a map would be ok, but at night,GPS or Guthook would be significantly easier.
The five of us decided to suck it up and night hike with her to the pass where Mikhail could bring us a gallon of water so we didn’t need to carry extra. Deal. Since we could conveniently see the cell tower, she could text him. He could also watch her spot device which was moderately creepy.
Getting too and from the spring, we hiked out with Guthook trying to find a trail. Then we’d “cooey” when we found it. All of our feet seemed to rebel at the idea of hiking after dinner into the night after such a long ass kicking day, but they did better after a bit. The trail continued with a few more large bumps.
The sun went down, but we knew it’d still be light enough to see until about 10:30. All of us had our headlamps on, but of course they didn’t get turned on until we stumbled too much. We passed a yurt and had to fan out in the dark twice more with Guthook to find the trail. Then all of a sudden a very well trodden trail appeared. A bright orange, but not blood moon came out and lit the way. The trail took us all the way down to Rogers Pass where one car was waiting.
At about 11:45pm…almost actually midnight, well past hiker midnight, we stumbled into the road. Mikhail rushed into his trunk and handed us not only water, but four powerades, two chocolate bars, and two large bags of potato chips saying, “I don’t do what you gotta do, but I do know you need salt.”

“camp “

All four of us sank down to the ground thanking him and devouring chips. After The Darkness and Mikhail headed away, we looked around for a spot to camp and settled on cowboy camping in the middle of the trail because it was the flatest spot.
At: 1:47am a large truck rumbled up. They idled. Two scruffy men got out of the truck. The hood pops. I shift to appear still asleep on my stomach and can peer above my sleeping bag slightly. I look up and E.D.’s eyes bug out. My eyes bug out. We listen. They’re leaking oil. They’re smoking cigarettes and looking under the hood. They realize people are sleeping on the trail fifteen feet away. They turn off the engine and make less noise. They drive away. E.D and I are relieved. Patch and Scallywag slept through it.
In the morning, E.D and Scallywag get a hitch into town first, then Patch and I got a hitch. A young woman turns around to give us a ride out of her way to Lincoln. I get crammed between a six week old baby and a two year old. My backpack goes on my lap and a box of diapers on top. The two year old hands me a book. I read.

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