In the quiet hour before we left for the border I stood in the hotel’s carport and watched the sun rise over the Chihuahuan Desert – a pallet of pink and peach pastels washing out above the sere brown mountains of New Mexico. It was an enchanting morning, cool and clear and breezy, and I wouldn’t have chosen any other day to begin a trip that will undoubtedly be the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life.
It was Monday, April 20. I trundled out in a shuttle with 11 other hikers, riding for three hours south on hard-riding roads before reaching our destination, a toppled stone obelisk next to a signboard and a simple metal structure with four posts and a roof: a place called Crazy Cook. At the border of Mexico and New Mexico, in New Mexico’s southern bootheel, Crazy Cook marks one of the southern termini of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.
For the next five or six months, I am attempting to walk this trail, taking it up the Continental Divide, through the deserts and mesas of New Mexico, into the southern, central and northern Rockies, and finishing in Canada, at a place called Waterton. I view the entire journey as a series of smaller, concatinated backpacking trips – 50-135 mile hikes linking this town to that. During the walk’s course, I’ll trace the Divide through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The official route is roughly 3,100 miles. Mine, which uses alternates, is about 2,800. I hope to finish in September, before heavy snow falls in Montana’s Glacier National Park.
Packing & Planning
Walking the Divide takes considerable planning. I quit my job in February, got Wilderness First Responder certified, moved home, and spent much of March and April tackling the maddening array of obstacles one confronts in order to complete a thru-hike from Mexico to Canada: I compiled a map set the size of a phone book; I spent a king’s ransom on gear; I bought $500 worth of junk food. With my mom – who kindly let me takeover her kitchen – I stuffed this food into boxes which she will then mail to me at various stops along the way. I programmed a GPS device and built this website – two tasks which took me at least a hundred million years because I’ve got the technological aptitude of a troglodyte. When I stuffed all this junk into my pack – along with 5.5 liters of water (crucial for desert walking) and five days’ worth of food – it weighed in at nearly 40 pounds. Fully loaded, the thing is dense enough to stop bullets. Whenever I put it on my back, I swear I can hear my bones groaning.
The Trails Tell the Story
This trail was a long-time coming for me. Or maybe I was a long-time coming for it. It’s hard to say which, but it’s something I’ve dreamed about for at least two years. I want to walk it for many reasons: because I love the Rocky Mountains and the American West; because I love adventures and exploration and walking, period; and because I love stumbling upon interesting stories which are so often hidden in far-flung places. Speaking to this latter point, I see this trail as a line running unbroken through space and time, a thread connecting historical occurrences not only with their locales but with the events unfolding now, in the present. Walking the CDT is a way for me to put my experience in context with the stories of the places the trail intersects. These stories, in turn, contain historical lessons, the long-running body of knowledge that grounds a person of our time to the place he or she calls home – the type of knowledge, in other words, that helps one understand the series of events and decisions that, over time – like evolution – forged the character of the people of the American West. From the conquest of the Apaches in Southern New Mexico to the crossing of the Continental Divide by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the Bitteroots of Montana, my hope is this walk will give me a more intimate understanding of the settings and stories of the region I call home.
A few weeks ago, I heard Teresa Martinez, the Continental Divide Trail Coalition executive director, put all of this more succinctly.
“The trails tell the story of America,” she said.
The purpose of this blog is to share yet another story. That is the one I learn on the trail.
I am writing this now in Lordsburg, New Mexico — safe, but it was no walk in the park to get here. I’ll post the story and photos of the walk from the border to Lordsburg tomorrow, before hitting the trail for Silver City.