In 2009 during my first trip through the Pacific Crest Trail ‘desert’ – which is really patches of chaparral connected by mountain ranges – I said “never again”. My slow trudging seemed excruciating, the heat unbearable. New to the thru-hiking lifestyle my pain was abundant and incessant. The time spent whistling through the crisp cool mountains was somehow deleted from my memory banks. I must be a slow learner because I found myself covering the same tread again in 2013 (perhaps with a little less disdain).
My real appreciation for the desert didn’t happen until a few agonizing days in Northern Washington. It was Washington’s wettest September on record and Winter had just moved to the front of the line by dumping snow in the high country. After hiking all day in freezing rain my achilles heel was drawn into focus. This different kind of pain was excruciating and was like a lead weight slowly dragging my body to a halt. My hypothermic struggles are detailed here and here. I can look back at those trials with gratitude because they enabled me to learn a lot about myself. If I didn’t have those bone-chilling experiences I would not be able to prepare myself properly (gear wise) for the CDT. I wouldn’t know that a rain jacket alone isn’t going to cut it in day-long downpours. That you need something extra like an umbrella to keep the rain off. That I need more layers when hiking in the cold rain. That although my trash bag rain skirt was awesome I really could have used rain pants. This all may seem terribly obvious but until those wet Washington days I didn’t fully comprehend my limitations. Bottom line, my body does not possess the defenses necessary to combat the cold, wet conditions.
It was in those moments as I huddled inside my tent trying to warm back up that I daydreamed about the desert. The desert had never been this hard. What I wouldn’t give for a little of the desert’s warmth and glow. Where the stars really twinkle. Carrying lots of water isn’t so bad. It’s better than having it dumped on you all day. Oh sweet desert, I’m sorry for ever talking shit about you. Will you forgive me? And another, more poetic ode to the desert by Carrot Quinn.
So it is with a new found eagerness, a budding love that I head to the New Mexico ‘high desert’. Yeah, it’s going to be hot and water scarce but you won’t here me complaining. The CDT starts nearly 1 degree of latitude further south than the PCT, coming out of the heart of the Mexican Chihuahuan Desert. I can only imagine all the new and wonderful things that I will get to see like cacti, desert grasses and wildflowers, pronghorn, bats, roadrunners. Maybe even the rare Gila Monster or perhaps the Giant Vinegerone (a whip scorpion) that when approached too closely, reacts by blasting a stream of vinegar-like acetic acid (hopefully at the attacker’s eyes). The Mexican Gray Wolf has been reintroduced to the area and I might even glimpse some rooting old world pigs, the Collared Peccary (Javelina). And then there’s the Gila Cliff Dwellings, Pie Town, and untold Mesas. So much to see, so little time!
Finding little things along the way.