CDT day 21: embrace the suck

May 25
Mileage 27
455.5 miles hiked from Mexico

In the morning it’s overcast, and an icy fog hangs over everything. Fuck it’s cold! I say, like a broken record, as I boil water for tea. I have reception, somehow, and I get a message from Threshold, a fellow CDT hiker who I also share friends with IRL-

They say there’s no summer on the CDT, She says. I tell this to Spark as he stirs his instant coffee from within his sleeping bag, and it makes him sad.

“But maybe it’s not supposed to be this cold?” I say.

It’s so cold that the five of us don’t start hiking til eight. Eight. We just cannot brave it. Part of me knows that the early bird gets the miles and also that, for some reason, the number 8 is cursed. You can start hiking at 7:30 and have a great, productive day. 7:45? Fine. But start hiking any time after 8, and you may as well take a zero. You’re fucked.

It grows colder as we climb to the top of Mount Taylor. There are no views- just fog everywhere, but the fog is pretty in its own way. I feel good on the climb up to eleven thousand feet- I love endorphins! At the top we find ice, and snow, and then we’re rushing down the other side, slipping on the ice/snow in all our layers, finally dropping low enough to be on bare trail again. Then a long series of dirt forest service roads that follow the ridges, watching the clouds collide and tear themselves apart. It’s still really cold, I’m still wearing all my layers. I can’t remember a day on the PCT when I wore my layers this long into the morning. Suddenly it’s hailing again, and I walk faster. Fuck! Then, as soon as it’s started, the hail stops. This process repeats itself for hours.

We take a lunch break and spread our stuff out to dry on the grass but after fifteen minutes it begins to hail again. Fuck. Fuck fuck! I put all my layers back on and keep hiking. The hail turns to cool rain as I walk through the pretty ponderosa forest and the dirt forest service road becomes a muddy slick. It’s the kind of mud you find in the desert and that I like to call “dogshit mud” for the way it clumps up and sticks to your shoes, making you feel as though you’ve got weights attached to your feet. Suddenly the going is very slow- I try to walk in the trees, away from the road, but the ground everywhere has become this mud. My plan was to go 31 miles today to a water source so I wouldn’t have to dry camp, but now I feel myself slowing, slowing. We enter a big open plain with storms racing overhead and the wind whipping and the temperature plummets- now the rain is freezing, now it’s soaking through our layers. I’m a tad alarmed. I know what this is. This is goddam hypothermia rain. We’re looking for a water source that’s supposed to be right next to the road, and is now potentially our last water source for the day, but all our water info for this section is conflicting and we’re all cold and grumpy and unreasonable, standing drenched in the mud on this great uncaring plain (except for Spark, who becomes, in this moment, what I’ve come to think of as Camp Counselor Spark, and for whom I am suddenly very grateful). In the end three of us end up walking a mile off trail, a mile, to get to what turns out to be the brownest, muddiest, most opaque cow pond we’ve seen yet. The water of which we, of course, drink. I shouldn’t be drinking this water- my steripen is only supposed to work in water that is clear, and as I watch the eerie glow within the cool brown water full of swimmies I wonder if the gadget is doing anything at all. But I’ve discovered something strange- I actually like the way this water tastes. Not the water from the metal troughs and tanks- that water has an off flavor that I can’t place- but the muddy water from the cow ponds that is literally spring water with soil dissolved into it to make it opaque. This water tastes really, really good to me, cool and fresh and full of minerals. I wonder if this means there’s something wrong with me, that I have some intense mineral deficiency. I wonder if I’d be one of those people who eats dirt, like Rebeca from One Hundred Years of Solitude.

“Did you try the water yet?” I ask Track Meat, who has also filled his bottles with the brown liquid.

“Yeah,” he says. “It tastes really good.”

I will find this to be true at other cow ponds, further up the trail. I will never understand why. I drink more of the water. I peer into the bottle and watch the tiny propeller creatures scoot around. Delicious broth of the earth. Ah well. I’ll either be fine… or I’ll get All Of The Giardia.

The sun comes out, somewhat miraculously, on our long one-mile slog through the mud back to the trail, and this thin cold light begins to dry us. And then the rest of the evening is spent wrenching our way down the awful mud slick that is now the road. Mud that sucks at our feet, mud that tries to pull off our shoes. Mud that flies up and coats our legs. Wet shoes, wet feet, ankles rubbed bloody. Mud, mud, everything is mud. This mud, I tell ya. It sucks. And not only that, but we pass a couple of cow ponds right next to the trail. So we didn’t even need to hike an extra two miles for water.

Evening finds us beat-down and exhausted in a field next to the trail, watching the light put on its evening show. I cook my pasta dinner, watching happily as my alcohol stove does its thing. Due to the mud we’ve only done 27 miles, 25 of those on trail, and I packed exactly 4 days of food. That means my next two days are going to be long ones, in order to get into the town of Cuba on time. I fall asleep in all my layers, burrowed deep in my sleeping bag against the cold.

Photos on instagram