The first 60 miles on the trail have been absolutely incredible! The Bootheel desert is at the same time hostile and welcoming. The landscape is really impressive and life on the trail so far has been wonderful, I love it! The assault on the body has been tough, in fact I’ve returned to Lordsburg 25 miles early with a shin splint where I’ll wait while I recover before getting back on the trail. Stories and photos below…
Day 1- Crazy Cook (Mile 0) to Sheridan Canyon Water Cache (Mile 13.7)
Today: 13.7 miles. Camp Elevation: 4750ft
The trail starts on the Mexican border at a place called Crazy Cook. Apparently when the work crew was building the border fence one of the men complained of the food and the cook killed him. Here’s some photos of the southern monument and the border fence:
The hike today was great! The first few hours was cross country walking from one trail blaze marker to the next or road walking, which down here is a gravel or dirt road of some sort. The last part of the day crossed through Sheridan Canyon. I walked with Cookie Monster for the first two days, which was really nice. We get on great and pace about the same so it worked out really well. There’s a few pics below of Kiddo, Jay and Apache also. While i’m on names, no-one goes by their actual name on the trail, everyone has or acquires a trail name. You can’t name yourself, someone else does it for you and it’s usually related to a funny or notable event that happens. Most out here have a trail name because they’ve walked either or both the PCT and AT prior to this. Until named, i’m introduced as ‘just Kate’. I love hearing the stories behind the trial names!
The landscape is really interesting, I am surprised how much life there is in this ‘desert’ lots of cactus, sage brush, lizards, snakes, birds, and other critters. It was HOT but luckily not too much wind so I was able to hike under my umbrella all day! It reflects the heat and makes it about 10 degrees cooler underneath it. The first few footsteps from the border felt just as I had imagined it would feel…. freedom, happiness, gratitude and excitement! Was great to finally be here and walking!!!
Setting up camp was a little frustrating as I couldn’t get my tent pegs into the hard ground, so I had to use rocks on top of tent pegs. My tent isn’t free standing, it needs my trekking poles and guy lines secured to the ground with tent pegs. But eventually I got it sorted out.
We had a bunch of border patrol guys all hanging out near where we were camped because a hiker was reported lost and out of water somewhere in Sheridan Canyon. Wide Angle and his wife found him and eventually convinced him to come with them, he was pretty out of it as he’d been out there for a couple of days and had ditched his backpack. He was lucky they happened to run into him! Border Patrol took him back to Lordsburg.
I slept well and fell asleep feeling really happy to be here!
Day 2- Sheridan Water Cache (Mile 13.7) to North of Hwy 81 Water Cache (Mile 30.1).
Today: 16.4 miles. Camp Elevation: 4710 ft.
What a great day! Hiked with Cookie all day. Beautiful scenery. The morning was a long road walk. By afternoon it was cross country travel, basically there isn’t really a trail and you just walk from trail blaze sign to the next one. Sometimes they’re hard to see but if you keep walking on the same bearing and look hard enough eventually you’ll see the next one appear. If you go too long without seeing one, you pull out your map or gps and figure it out that way. So much fun!
Cookie built an awesome shade structure at lunch for us to hide from the sun and in classic Cookie style, made a tequila cocktail complete with umbrella. As he’ll tell you ‘I’m not out here to suffer!’. Loved hanging out with you Cookie, thanks for all your advice!!!
I camped on my own tonight as Cookie was pushing on another few miles. Ate dinner as the sun set and fell asleep feeling very happy. It was a very still evening without much wind and the only noises were coyotes calling. Loving it!
Day 3- North of Hwy 81 Water Cache (Mile 30.1) to North of Hwy 9 Water Cache (Mile 45.5)
Today: 15.4 Miles. Camp Elevation: 4710ft.
I’m getting into a bit of a routine now: wake up at dawn, watch the sunrise from my tent, pack up camp, snack on something as I hike out of camp, hike a few miles, stop for breakfast, snack every hour or so as I hike, find a nice shady tree and stop for a few hours during the heat of the day to eat lunch, hike into the early evening, set up camp in time to eat dinner and watch the sunset, snuggle into my sleeping bag and study the map and water locations for the next day. The views today were great, especially the clouds! There was even a water source at a windmill that I could filter water from between cache box locations. Click on the photos below to view them in larger format, the little thumb nails don’t do it justice!
The wind today was very very strong and while it helped to deal with the desert heat, was really getting on my nerves. I put my earphones in the last half of the day to block the noise, but you really need to hike with one ear open to listen for rattle snakes. I hiked about a mile north of the Hwy 9 water cache and tried to set up camp. It was relentlessly windy and it took me quite a while to get my camp set up properly because the tent pegs kept ripping out of the ground. Even cooking dinner was a challenge because sand was blowing everywhere and the wind was so strong it was blowing my jet boil stove over. The clouds looked like a storm was coming and I was worried about my tent collapsing during the night, even though i’d piled on rocks on top of the tent stakes. I was so sick of the wind i crawled into my sleeping bag as soon as I was done eating dinner and didn’t even brush my teeth. I woke during the night to strong wind (no surprise), rain and lightening, I was proud of how well my little tent was holding up and actually enjoyed watching the storm from its safety. I wasn’t expecting rain in the desert!
Day 4- North of Hwy 9 Water Cache (Mile 45.5) to North of Hwy 113 Water Cache (Mile 60)
Today: 14.1 Miles. Camp Elevation: 4482ft.
The trail was mostly cross country today and covered some really cool terrain. I saw a few snakes and so by the end of the day I was clanging my poles together every time I walked through a rocky or grass covered stretch. I loved the views and the clouds were really awesome again. I found the perfect camp site at the end of the day nestled on the back side of a little hill and sheltered by some bushes. My tent went up perfectly, It felt great to have some normal soil to dig my tent stakes into! I set up camp pretty quickly today and enjoyed the sunset while eating dinner.
Day 5- North of Hwy 113 Water Cache (Mile 60) to Highway 113 and hitch into Lordsburg
Today: 3 miles in the wrong direction!
Here’s the first departure from my plan! After hiking a mile today I realized a shin splint I had developed was not improving and made the decision to get off the trail until it’s better. I’m a bit disappointed to have an injury so soon, but I’m not surprised actually. It’s okay, I’ve got all summer and it’s probably not the first time I’ll have to sit out waiting for an injury to heal.
I haven’t talked about the body impact of the trail yet. The slogan of the trail is ‘Embrace the Brutality’ and for this first stretch physically that’s certainly been the case. It’s been interesting to watch the pain move to different parts of the body. Walking an average of 15 miles a day for someone that normally sits at a desk 12 hours a day is change enough physically, but I’m also carrying a lot of water so while my base pack weight is only 14 pounds, adding food and water changes that to total between 20 and 40 pounds depending on how much water i’m carrying, so let’s say it’s an average of 30 pounds. This first stretch is tough as there’s no natural water sources. You need to rely on water caches maintained by the CDTC and some wonderful trail angels like Radar and Peru (thanks guys!!!), but they’re at roads about every 15-20 miles apart. There is also the occasional windmill or solar powered water source maintained by farmers for cows. But you’re carrying a lot of water weight as you need to drink at least 7 liters of water a day here just to stay hydrated.
Thru hikers suffer from many types of injuries on the trail, the common ones are: blisters, muscle and joint strains and sprains, shin splints, planta fasciitis and burns. In the desert chaffing can also be a big problem. Here’s what i’ve been afflicted with so far and how i’ve dealt with it:
Feet- the big one. You have to be religious about caring for your feet! Blisters are common in the desert. They are caused by a combination of moisture and friction and in the desert your feet are constantly hot and sweaty, and sand gets everywhere including in your shoes and socks. I dealt with this by taking my shoes and socks off at every chance I got to help them dry out and to get the sand and grit out of everything. Then at night I cleaned them off completely with wet wipes. Despite this I still got some hot spots and 2 blisters.
Chaffing- I had no issues with this but a lot of people do in the desert. To define the issue, anywhere skin rubs together combined with sand/sweat/grit causes chaffing. Think about it… yep. To avoid the problem I applied the lubricant that I use for road biking every morning before I started hiking.
Sore groin muscle right side- I woke up with this on my second day and by the third it had pretty much gone. I think it was from using my right leg to help hoist up my backpack each time I put it on.
Sore knee left side- This developed on the third day and then disappeared later that day. I think it was because when I had the hot spot on the ball of my foot I probably changed my gait a bit to try to offset the pain a little. In doing so I aggravated my knee.
Shin splint left side- So you can see the pattern above right? If you don’t or can’t take care of one problem it’ll cause another. Well this one wasn’t to be a transient pain. It developed on the third afternoon, I hiked all day on the forth in a pretty good amount of pain and by the fifth morning I decided that to continue the last 25 miles into Lordsburg would have caused me a pretty serious longer term problem, not to mention would have been extremely painful and slow. I tried to self treat on the forth day; I taped my arch for additional support late morning, took anti-inflammatory tablets at lunch, Fozzie passed me on the trail and gave me some topical cream and recommended some calf stretching in the afternoon, and then that evening I did a lot of stretching and slept with it elevated. However waking up the fifth morning it was still very painful and after hiking a mile past where I camped, I decided I should hike back to the road 3 miles south and hitch a ride back to Lordsburg to rest it and recover before getting back on the trail. Thanks also to Wide Angle who passed me hobbling back and loaned me his compression sleeve. The plan seemed a good one until I realized there was no traffic on the ‘highway’, the second car in 2 hours landed up being Juan coming back from dropping a load of hikers down at the border and he’d picked up a few other injured hikers on the way back, thanks Juan!!!
Scrapes- Everything out here is designed to be defensive to survive, so everything you walk past has thorns on it. I was so distracted by my shin splint problem that I didn’t even realize that I’d scraped my leg pretty good cross country’ing back to the road, there was still a 1/2 inch thorn sticking out of my leg when I took a shower back at the hotel. Ha!
Here’s a pic of my foot on the fifth morning, ha! The calf and ankle tape is a preventative I’m doing because of the sprain I did to it last summer. The arch taping I added the day prior to attempt to help the shin splint problem. The moleskin below my toe was to help a hot spot. Embrace the brutality, right! Haha.
I’ve been back in Lordsburg now for a day and I’m resting and recovering. Thanks to Le Grand at Snowbird for the medical advice and rehab plan, and to Radar and Peru who shuttled me around town to get medical supplies and food for my room. All the thru hikers here have been great, stopping in to give me advice and bring me food! It seems that everyone has had shin splints at some point in the past on the trail and everyone has good advice for how they try to prevent it.
I’ve learned a few things from this: stop more often and stretch esp the calf muscle, walk more softly when road walking, never change your gait to avoid a pain, try to fix the pain where it originally is so it doesn’t move to a different part of the body, and some people find luck in wearing a lower leg compression sleeve. It sounds like I’ll be out for 3-7 days then back on the trail.
I can’t wait to get back out there!!!