CDT Part 15–My first steps in New Mexico

New Mexico felt like a distillation of everything I learned in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado combined into one 700-mile challenge. By this point, I’m ready for anything. 

It was the coldest state, but I was used to that from Colorado. It rivaled the Montana heat wave in July, where I experienced 100 degrees very close to Canada. There were long, “boring” stretches of desert and non-existent trails. New Mexico was also the state where I saw the most other CDT hikers since Montana. There weren’t many of us, but there we were a handful who teamed up for the hard sections, split motel rooms, shared bulk items for resupply, and hiked into the night together. October meant the days were pretty short, after all. 

I bought a new shirt in Pagosa Springs. The fresh clothes, and the fact that this is my final state of the CDT, make me feel rejuvenated. After two nights in Chama, New Mexico, I’ve teamed up with William, Rewind, and Fetch. 

I hadn’t seen Fetch since Wyoming. He’s just a kid, 18 years old and fresh out of high school. He only planned to hike Montana this summer. But after going home to prepare for college, he realized he wanted more of this experience. Well, I was happy to see him in Chama after such a long time. I was doubly pleased to see him since he also found the inflatable pillow I forgot in the hut outside of Pagosa Springs. I figured that thing was lost forever, but he, of all the people in the world, found it. And there he was, in a New Mexico diner with Rewind. 

How serendipitous. I was considering buying a box of wine, drinking some, and dumping the rest so I could use the bag as a pillow. It would’ve been better than my food bag, which is really not a good pillow when you only have a few granola bars and some peanut butter. Now I won’t have to do either of those things!

The four of us hitchhike out of town to Cumbres Pass and cross the New Mexico state line on a forest road two miles later. 

The weather had felt wintery for the past several days, but between being in a Chama motel room and taking a low route through the final 10 miles of Colorado, I’d managed to have dodged most of the weather. 

Well, my luck runs out. Just after crossing into New Mexico, a storm brings rain, snow, and sleet. I walk for miles, hood up, rain pants on, unable to stop moving because the only thing keeping me from freezing is that I’m moving. So, I keep moving. 

On the rough days, when the rain is beating down on your hood, and it’s cold because you’re on the continental divide and the storms are always cold there, it’s good to have someone to hike with. While I spent the day trudging over muddy trails through slush puddles, I wasn’t always walking in lockstep with these three other CDT hikers. But it was great to simply know someone else was experiencing almost the same shit I was. 

After miles on a dirt road, I merge onto a singletrack trail that traverses a hillside. There were no trees, probably because it was too steep for them to grow here. On most days, this section of trail would have been dirt and an easy 50-foot walk into another section of conifer pines. Today, as I found out, it was a mess. 

I took my first step onto this section of trail, cut into a steep, exposed slope, and slipped. I didn’t just slip and fall, though. I slid on mud as slick as polished ice. I slid 15 feet down the slope before I could arrest my fall by dragging a trekking pole tip deep into the mud. I slowly dragged myself back up the hill, just in time to warn William. 

Dude, watch out! This is some slick mud!

All William could do was laugh, and I don’t blame him. I was covered in mud. My rain pants were navy blue until a minute ago. Now my right pants leg is brown, as is my rain jacket, and new shirt. It was too rainy to get any pictures of this section, or myself, but I imagine William, Rewind, and Fetch will always remember the moment as they came around a corner to see me, covered in mud from head to toe, laughing.

If I were alone, this would have been an I quit moment. Instead, it was a this totally fucking sucks but at least I’m not suffering alone moment. I’ll take the latter any day. 

We make it to an empty campground that’s closed for the season to cars. We set up our tents. The sleet has turned to rain, and it’s slowing down, but we all immediately retreat to the warmth of our down sleeping bags. 

From inside his tarp shelter, Fetch tells us the haunting story of Otter, a CDT thru-hiker who starved to death in a nearby pit toilet after being snowed in. What an excellent bedtime story. Thanks, Fetch. You’ve given me something to think about while I use that pit toilet.

I did, however, pack a beer from Chama. While waiting for my ramen noodles to cook on my tiny alcohol stove outside my tent, I savor the beer. This day could have been absolutely horrible. It wasn’t great, but at least I wasn’t alone. 

The following morning is cold, but the sky is blue. We all slowly pack our wet gear and start hiking. 

The next few days are spent walking rolling hills dotted with fiery yellow stands of aspens, cows, dirt roads, and questionable water sources.

The trail gets progressively lower in elevation from here. I walk alone, mostly. I camp with William one night, but this section feels like one of those parts you just have to get over with. This is in between Colorado and New Mexico, not either place. It’s a transition.

After another 100 miles, I descend from the high-elevation terrain into the first parts of New Mexico desert. The landscape gets redder. Aspen and conifers give way to Prickly Pear and Yucca. 

I arrive at Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe painted some of her most famous landscapes. This is definitely not Colorado anymore. I spend time sitting in the shade of the small gift shop patio, drinking a coca-cola and eating an overpriced sandwich. 

William, Rewind, and Fetch eventually arrive. We spend the afternoon loitering on Ghost Ranch patio, charging our devices on every available outlet and eating overpriced gift shop snacks. 

I can feel it. New Mexico is going to rule. 

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