Dry. The New Mexican desert is dry, reeling by outside my window, much drier than the start of the PCT or even the Arizona Trail.
The morning had detoured a few times, our shuttle handing off cyclists to another driver in Hachita, where luckily we ran into Radar – the guy stocking the water caches – at the tiny convenience store, and were able to slip him some money. I was keenly disappointed not to be taking care of our own water, mostly due to my loathing of being handed solutions created by others whose priorities are different, and also the desire to stay crowbar-separate from the hiking community’s current drama; but in reality my wish was illogical and would be a blatant waste of single use plastic, so this was the compromise. We’d stock our own at cache #1 on the way in, pay to use Radar’s stocks at 2, 3, & 4, and skip cache #5.
Bumping along the entry road, Juan talked about how they only started grading it a couple of years ago. “It used to take 8 or 9 hours; you’d just have to crawl along.”
Hikers stepped to the shoulder of the road intermittently as we passed. “Way better to hike the road,” says Juan, “that trail up there is in real bad shape, you know. Almost all of them end up coming down to the road.” I nodded noncommittally- I’d heard plenty of dire pronouncements like this before, and typically they’re exaggerated by the time they’re broadly dispensed.
Jimi Hendrix and then Stevie Ray poured out of the speakers. Another hiker, Arthur from Brazil, rode shotgun. The heater was cranked high for some reason, the window controls set to driver only. Oh well, I thought, good training for walking in the heat I guess.
Creosote bushes carpeted the basin floor, the Hatchet Mountains rose, ahead and then to our right. “See that pass?” Juan pointed. “That’s where Geronimo evaded the cavalry. They were on foot, and the horses couldn’t follow.”
Tiny delicate leaves were unfurling on the mesquite, pinpoints of incongruent acid green glowing against the backwash of browns and grays. The tips of the occasional ocotillo’s spindly arms were hung with tiny orange lanterns, winks of color in the great drab sprawl of the desert. Spring was here.
Juan parked next to a barb wire fence separating the US from Mexico, and a shiny new monument announced the terminus of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. I felt like I’d hardly had time to anticipate this trip; this was definitely the most out of trail shape physically I’ve started a hike, and the most out of shape emotionally I’ve been in a while, battling an insidious existential funk for well over a year. “Are you excited?!” so many people had asked as this day drew near. “Yes!!” I’d replied: it was the answer everyone wanted to hear, and it wasn’t untrue. But in reality, I was more relieved -an exhausted swimmer almost within reach of a buoy- than excited; I knew the excitement would come when I had the capacity to feel it. In many ways, large and small,the universe may have been nudging us to postpone, wait until late June, start at Canada and walk south instead, and there were many good logistical reasons for that as well- as many as for going north from Mexico now. But ultimately, the need to be immersed in the swelling optimism of lengthening days and the desire to walk through the desert in spring won over all other reasonings. Besides, the desert is for healing, and the mountains are for inspiration- I needed to be healed before I could stand to be inspired.
Prana and I tapped our toes on Mexican soil, took photos at the monument, ate a quick lunch of breakfast burritos, debated dumping out some water since we had so much of it, and then, without much fanfare, started north.
The trail wiggled through desert grasses and bushes until joining a two track dirt road, all flat. A few big formations of rock burst from grassy hillsides, and gentle draws kneaded the road into gentle curves, hills on either side gently lifting. The road disappeared into the gravel of a wash, and after a few breaks in the lacy shade of mesquite branches and the solid shade of ravine walls, we came to the spur for Sheridan Well, our first water source. We set out cross country until we spotted a dirt road, leading to a well and solar set up tucked into a gully. There was indeed water in the well tank, thick with algae and dead and dying honeybees, and I was grateful we accidentally had enough extra with us to get us to the cache in two miles, rather than filtering the chewy soup here.
But this was camp, our goal for the day and a hopefully quiet place off trail, under the assumption most other hikers would head straight for cache 1. Unbelievably, in this epic drought year in the desert, storm clouds billowed in; and we pitched our tent, to equally unbelievably find that the new net tent – which I’d bought to replace the one lost by TSA on the way home from New Zealand- was not compatible with the shell; even after confirming with the company before purchasing the replacement. Not even close to compatible. Well. Joke’s on me – I guess I should have tested it. This led to a rather pessimistic conversation, but Prana and I managed to arrange ourselves and our gear inside as the rain began its patter on the roof.