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[cdt-l] NM journal site (longwinded)



While hiking the CDT in New Mexico this spring I carried along a small,
digital voice recorder in lieu of journal paper. Into this device, usually
once each evening, I described the sights and sounds of the trail, my
thoughts hopes and fears as I traveled through it solo, and sometimes even
the practical stuff - routefinding information, location of water, and such.
This dictation approach to journal-keeping was strictly an experiment - a
way of saving time by using the mouth and not the hand, a means of saying
more than I would otherwise write, a method of bringing home the memories in
a more immediate, unfiltered sort of way... perhaps.

What I discovered is that a certain part of me still attempted to play the
part, to be the actor, reading the line into the microphone just like the
writer waiting for the perfect prose. As alone as I was out there, a part of
me expected an audience each night, if not that night then maybe some night,
somewhere. Slowly, though, I became more comfortable with my digital
intruder; I learned to use the auto-pause feature, allowing myself to
ruminate for a moment or two free of the self-conscious mental stutterings.
Finally, the little bastard became my best friend, in whom I could confide,
implicitly, no matter the subject. I had let down my guard and had let the
experience roll...

Before all of that, though, there was Day 1 of the journey, which I've
transcribed below, verbatim - literary warts and all.

The hike took me from the Mexican border to Cuba in just under a month, and
there are as many journal entries currently sitting on compact disc,
awaiting transcription and/or possible upload as .wav files to a website.
Four hours and fifteen minutes worth of idle chatter!

*** Website now under construction:
www.geocities.com/blisterfree/cdt/nmjournal.html   (requires a Flash browser
plugin to view correctly)

The site is only a framework at this point, but in the meantime here's a
sample of what's to come:

Wednesday, April 16

I left the Day?s End Motel in Las Cruces, New Mexico and picked up the
Greyhound Bus at 8:10am for the final leg to the trailhead and the start of
my trek. At 9:20 or so I arrived in Deming, where I proceeded to the post
office in order to have a maildrop held for myself, which I plan to pick up
as I pass through town again on foot in a few days.

>From there I headed to a nearby convenience store to buy water and to call
the only taxi company in town, which picked me up at a nearby fast food
restaurant about a half hour later. This was my ticket to the border,
costing a rather exorbitant 50 dollars and 50 cents. The driver was named
Duke and he?s quite a character: late 50's, has shaved every inch of body
hair, wearing cut-off jeans and - can it really be? - women?s
platform-heeled clog footwear. He tells a lot of wild and fanciful tales on
the way to the border, including stories of beating up, out of justice,
various park rangers as he worked as a tour guide in Grand Canyon village
back in the 80's.

Duke dropped me off at the border at about 11:30, where I proceeded south a
few yards into Mexico. This was a very low-key crossing; foot traffic is
allowed across quite unhindered. Other people were doing likewise. Not quite
the situation that I had expected. Very informal and easy to cross. Doing so
for a few minutes, I took photos on the Mexican side, and noted the usual
blend of chaos and indolence while there: people running around, milling
about, guards standing around in green uniforms with AK-47's strapped to
their waists. The latter left me feeling uncomfortable enough to want to
minimize my time in the third world, so I crossed back over, had a friendly
tourist take a photo of me at the international monument, and then I was on
my way: the start of the adventure.

The adventure began as an asphalt road walk of 3 miles, heading due
northward back to the little town of Columbus. Along the way I briefly
stopped off at Pancho Villa State Park, used the restrooms, investigated
some interesting artifacts from the days of the army campaign of retribution
against the park?s namesake outlaw, and checked out the nature trail, before
continuing on to Columbus itself, where I stopped at a convenience store to
get more water for the next stretch.

I continued on, now with my reflective solar umbrella overhead, and then
proceeded off the main road and onto dirt roads, following instructions in
my CDT Society guidebook. On the first dirt, county road I must have
proceeded too far per the guidebook directions and could not find the other,
secondary road I was supposed to turn off on that would have headed due
north. So I ended up going cross-country rather than backtracking, and had
the darndest time finally locating that road further along. It seemed that
the guidebook could have had it a bit more clear for the northbound hiker. I
proceeded at last on that road north to a water source which is just off
trail: a cattle trough with a large enclosed cistern beside it. The trough
was empty, except for a few honeybees that were flying around inside a pipe
that must have originally serviced the water source there. Climbing the
cistern I was able to open the lid on the top, threw a rock down and didn?t
hear much of a report. Certainly there was no splash, so apparently there
wasn?t water in there either. The guidebook, with a seemingly hopefully
disposition, indicated that there might be some water here. But no, nothing
at all.

I continued on the dirt road, when suddenly I came to a network of roads and
it became hard to tell which was "correct." There again, an unforeseen
problem with the guidebook, which was written primarily for the southbound
traveler. I picked a road, perhaps not the correct one, but it seemed to be
heading toward the Greasewood Hills, which I knew were generally on the
route. Somewhere around there I decided that this intuitive approach to
navigation was my best bet through this easy cross-country terrain, where I
can very easily see where I?m headed. Rather than walk around with the
guidebook in my face continually trying to decipher it, better to get a few
key points, particular from the maps, and just start heading cross country.

Unfortunately, I didn?t reach the Greasewood Hills in the area that I
thought I had, according to the guidebook. So there again I was not able to
pick up the described route. Instead I ended up bypassing an agricultural
area to the north of the Greasewood Hills in favor of going east, back to
the main highway, walking along that, and about a mile later coming to the
Borderline Feed store, which I had anticipated and which found me back on
the guidebook route again. I had tried to call this establishment twice
during the day via cell phone, in hopes of securing water there (which they
sometimes make available to hikers) but nobody had answered. Arriving at the
place nearly at dark, I saw that there was a light on at the establishment,
basically a house, and that it was set back from the road, with a locked
gate out front. A car was parked in the driveway. There was the sound of
myriad dogs all around - apparently it?s a dog kennel - and they?re barking
up a storm. I called on the phone again, right out front though I was, and
got another voice message - no one?s home. I yell out, and still no one.
Finally, very uncomfortable though it felt, I skirted the fence and starting
walking up to their front door.

It was a ghost town. Although it certainly had a lived-in look, if anyone
was there they weren?t coming out. So I search the front of the house for a
water spigot. Seeing none, I went around back of the house, tempting fate,
and helped myself to a garden hose that served an irrigation system. Still
the owners never emerged... except for half a dozen of their assistants, in
this case a pack of chihuahuas, which came out through a doggy flap into a
little fenced-off courtyard and began accosting me, yapping like mad. I took
my water, somehow made it out alive, and continued north along the shoulder
of two-lane Highway 11. Six tenths of a mile later, the route supposedly
turns onto a dirt road heading east, and there should be a gate at the start
of this road. But the gate I came to was well before 0.6. So I continued on,
further than 0.6 and found no more roads with gates. Finally I hopped the
range fence and just went cross-country, heading east toward the Florida
Mountains, and around dusk I made camp in a plot of red-clay dirt and
mesquite bushes.

During the night a black angus cow came into camp. I was just about asleep
and it nearly scared the crap out of me. There?s a real feeling of
vulnerability being down flat on the ground in the dark and having a big
piece of meat walk by like that. But no harm done.

The real highlight of the day would have to be the sun. It was out and it
was strong. I don?t think I?ve ever felt the sun that _deceptively_ strong
in a long time, if ever. I?m really amazed at how I have burned; have a bad
sunburn on the back of my arms and legs, especially on the left side, and
this despite the fact that I walked around for a while with long pants and
used the umbrella, which I thought was covering at least my upper body most
of the time. The burn really snuck up on me, and I didn?t take it seriously
enough when I started to turn red, because I?m so used to having that happen
just from the heat. But as the day went on and I covered up, and it remained
painful, I started to have the sense that it probably was sunburn. And now
that I?ve woken up the following morning, and it?s still red, I?m convinced
that it?s gonna be peeling for a while. So I learned my lesson, which is:
long sleeves, long pants, and sunscreen in addition to the umbrella whenever
possible. I need every form of possible protection out here.

I managed to avoid any run-ins with the border patrol while walking along
the first day. It seemed like trouble was in the air though, based on the
fact that there was a large zeppelin-like balloon of some sort off in the
distance, perhaps a few hundred feet in the sky, just hovering. Probably it
was unmanned, but had surveillance equipment on board which was beaming a
signal down to a control station somewhere. All for the purpose of keeping
watch over the illegals, I figured. And I certainly could have fit the
description, from a distance at least. Around noon I had noticed a white
vehicle up ahead, perhaps a half mile, made very obvious by the rooster
tails of dirt it raised, and heading perpendicular to my path of travel. The
vehicle stopped for a minute, and probably they were checking me out.
Certainly I was checking them out as well - with the binoculars I had
brought along for surveillance purposes of my own, mostly water-related. But
they never did approach any closer. I don?t know if they decided I wasn?t a
problem, or if they actually hadn?t seen me and I misinterpreted what I saw.

The balloon continued to watch me all day, it seemed. I couldn?t get rid of
it - the further I walked along, the more it appeared to move along ahead of
me, so that we were always the same distance from each other. Probably this
was an optical illusion; the balloon was a lot larger than I had perceived,
and a lot higher. Certainly it was further away, too. To begin with, it
appeared to be hovering right over the Tres Hermanas mountains, but once I
passed the mountain range it was still further beyond. However, the next
morning now I cannot see it. Of course it?s clouded up, as it was starting
to last evening, and it feels like there?s a chance of rain. Maybe they took
down the seeing eye for now, or perhaps it?s hidden above the clouds.

Speaking of illegal immigrants... I was on the lookout for footprints,
because I thought I might come across those of another hiker out here ahead
of me, even though it seemed unlikely. Finally, as I was heading cross
country in a fairly obscure area that no other hikers would have been likely
to duplicate, I came across some footprints - small ones, lacking hiker-type
tread, probably those of inexpensive tennis shoes. And again, this area was
well away from the roads. So I have a strong hunch that this was a sign of
recent illegal immigrant traffic in the area.

And one other thing: last night when I got into camp I started to feel kind
of feverish and just plain bad. Having had a few bites of dinner, I didn?t
think I could continue to put more down for fear of throwing it up. It?s
probably just a reaction to the sunburn, certainly, and also the exertion of
a 21 mile day, as it turned out to be, between 11:30 am and about 8 pm. This
seems to be the usual "trail shock" - it sneaks up on you. You take your
every precaution to avoid it, and you train, and you feel in the best
possible shape at the start. But until you actually get out here,
particularly when the conditions are harsh, deceptively so as on this first
day, and then walk all day in such conditions, forced on by the need to find
water - and therefore overdoing it - there is a good chance of experiencing
some negative consequences.

In any case, I feel quite a bit better on this, the second morning. Looks
like it?s going to remain cloudy for a while, with a chance of rain and
hopefully no thunderstorms as I head toward the Florida Mountains and decide
whether I want to climb that range or go around on the road - if I can find
it...