CDT day 9: deep thoughts in the Gila

May 13
Mileage 21
194 miles from Mexico

A storm comes in during the wee hours and even though we’d planned for this, grumblingly setting up our shelters for the first time on the trail so far, there is still that bleary moment making sure all is secure for the onslaught, touching everything in my tent in that half-state between waking and sleeping.

In the morning we find ourselves in a beautiful golden canyon, Gila river flat and sparkling in the morning light, sycamore trees hanging over the water. Mist rises off of everything. And so begins today’s challenge:

We are walking up this wild convoluted river canyon and there is no trail.

Or rather, there is a quarter mile of trail, and then a cliff, and so one is forced to cross the knee to thigh deep, rain-swollen river to the bank on the other side, which one scrambles up using a variety of crumbling footholds, to the tall grass, and downed trees, and sticker bushes, and deep sand, and jumbled rocks, and tangled undergrowth beyond, and one stumbles forward, river water sloshing from one’s shoes, until one finds another bit of trail, which continues for another quarter mile until ending at a cliff. And repeat this whole process into infinity.

I watch my pace drop to just under two miles per hour, and I begin to panic. This is actually what I thought the whole CDT would be like- convoluted and slow-going- but so far it’s been pretty straight-forward and gentle. And now this is happening, and my shoes are full of gravel, and I am freaking the fuck out. This is definitely a day to check one’s ego at the door. You think you’re a fast hiker? LOL! Not today!

All day I fight with the river and fight with myself in my brain. It doesn’t even matter that it’s beautiful. I should be hiking faster, I think. I should be doing bigger miles. I shouldn’t have taken a zero. I’ve got to get to Canada. And then another part of me says- but why? Why any of this? Why anything? Who am I and what do I even want? Why am I out here?

We reach the road to Doc Campbell’s, our next resupply, in the afternoon, and gratefully shake the last of the gravel from our shoes. We’re all a little weary after that beautiful long slog up the Gila. I pick up my box at the little store, eat a can of peaches.

Everyone wants to see the Gila cliff dwellings, which are just down the road. The only problem is they’re already closed for the day and they don’t open again until eight. My friends decide to camp overnight in order to see them in the morning.

Which means that tomorrow, at best, will be a short day.

I can’t decide what to do. I want to do big miles, don’t I? And if I want to be on my own rigid schedule of my own making and not compromise for anyone else then I’m going to have to hike solo. Which people do all the time. I feel that I’m at a crossroads. I say goodbye to my wonderful friends who I have known for years and with whom I share many laughs every day and set off down then lonely road as the sun sinks in the sky.

As I walk I fight with myself in my head. Why am I out here? To try and do the biggest miles I can? Or to share experiences with others and have a magical time? I go back and forth as I walk. I’m out here to challenge myself. I’m out here to bond with other humans in nature. I’m out here for myself. I’m out here for the relationships it affords me. I can’t tell what my heart wants or what I’m scared of or what the best choice is but after four miles I suddenly realize that for now, tonight, I don’t want to camp alone. So I stay on the road all the way to the campground and find these other nice weirdos who I share my days with sitting around a concrete picnic table, eating their gross dinners. And I feel so much relief.

I don’t know what the future holds but for now, this is what feels best in my heart.

Photos on instagram.