Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, NM to Silver City, NM

My last days on the CDT for the year. Mixed emotions. One last bodily ailment. Celebration and reflection in Silver City. Thank you for your support. Elevated, over and out.

Day 98 Cont…

16 miles

I left Doc Campbell’s Trading Post and headed a mile down the highway to a bridge that marked the start of my final stretch of trail on this incredible adventure. Luckily my IT band had been feeling pretty good the past 40 or so miles, so I was hiking on, thank you legs for allowing me to finish off my trail!

The trail dropped into the Gila River Canyon, a culmination of the West, Middle and East Forks. I was expecting the water to be deeper than what i’d just experienced in the Middle Fork, but I was a little taken aback when the first crossing was crotch high! Woah! Skirt hitched up into my underwear and electronics secured inside my pack I made it across the first crossing being careful to face upstream and keep 3 points of contact at all times; my trekking poles, not my hands, making up the 2 that aren’t my feet. I started worrying a little that perhaps the storm a couple days earlier will have made the lower Gila too deep to pass through on foot, however I decided to stick with it and give it another few crossings before deciding whether to backtrack and walk the highway instead. Glad I did as the first crossing was certainly the deepest of the whole 15 or so mile stretch I walked of this river.

I’d planned to get a few miles down the river before looking for a place to set up camp for the night. But guess what? It started getting dark a whole hour earlier! You’ll remember from my last post that the sun had risen earlier than what I’d expected. Then it dawned on me, maybe today was the first day of daylight savings?! Ah hah! Mystery solved. As luck would have it I found a great campsite shortly after this epiphany, set up camp, did my stretching and settled in for the night. ‘Night’ I have a hard time calling it that at 5:30 p.m., but it was dark after all.

Day 99

15 miles

I didn’t love today. The scenery wasn’t nearly as scenic as the Middle Fork had been and it wasn’t very fun walking.

I found the trail incredibly frustrating to keep track of. Sometimes there were good long stretches of great trail and other times I found myself bushwhacking through tall thorny weeds wondering if it’d ever find the damn trail again. My legs got so scraped up that by the end of day the thorns were scraping into my raw skin and it was bleeding, ouch! The river crossings were between knee and waist high, so I was careful to keep 3 points of contact at all times but this made the crossings go slowly.

It was also a bit of a sad day. It really hit me that I was nearly in Silver City and at the end of my adventure. This lifestyle I’ve come to know and love as my way of life was coming to an end. I got a little choked up at lunch thinking back through the past 5 months and trying to imagine walking into town for the last time in a couple of days.

The sun had set and I was still a mile shy of where I was climbing up out of this canyon. After crossing this river more than 200 times in the past 4 days I was determined that today would be the last day of wet feet and river crossings so I pressed on into the dusk. Each time I thought I was crossing the river for the last time I rejoiced, but then the river would throw  but yet another crossing at me followed by another thorny bushwhack. Argh.

I did finally make it to the trail that would take me out of this canyon, and was extremely relieved to take off my wet and pebble filled shoes and crawl in to my warm dry sleeping bag.

Day 100

15 miles

Today was a great day!

I slept in a little waiting for the sun to hit my tent and warm the canyon. It’s been pretty cold in the mornings lately. With only 32 miles to finish over 2 days there was no rush to crush miles today and so laying in my warm sleeping bag for a little longer seemed like a great way to start out my day!

A muster of peacocks walked along the trail as I was packing up my tent. Did you know it’s called a muster? I didn’t. I’ve learned a lot by writing this blog this summer. Anyway, so the muster, my presence didn’t bother them one bit, in fact they took their time passing by. How bizzare! Peacocks? Definitely the only peacocks I’ve seen on the trail.

The morning was a steady climb from about 5,500 ft to 8,000 ft and the afternoon a steady descent back to about the same elevation. Knowing that tomorrow would be mostly road walking into town I thoroughly enjoyed every second I spent on today’s trails.

The whole day was great, but the late afternoon was divine. Walking through the Devil’s Garden at sunset was kind of epic. Hoodoos and other weird and cool rock formations rose from the high altitude desert and basked in the soft orange afternoon light. What a totally sensational final afternoon on the CDT! I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face. Ahhhhh, I’m going to miss this lifestyle so much when it draws to an end tomorrow!

Day 101

18 miles

My last day on the CDT! Woah, what a plethora of emotions I experienced!!!

Today was filled with a whole host of ‘my last…’ experiences. My last morning eating freeze dried granola and blueberries. My last morning dealing with my darn feet: no more trying to make KT tape stick to my foot so I can get an extra day out of it; no more examining toenails that were trying to become ingrown or fall off; no more putting leukotape on hot spots; no more rubbing anti-blister balm all over them; and no more trying to get the right toe into the right slot of my toe socks. My last morning loading my backpack and packing up my tent. And on it went…

In a wonderful display of irony my body threw one last rebellious act at me. The extensor tendon on my right foot decided it was done with hiking, yep, it up and quit on me before I even left camp. For those that don’t know, it’s one of the big tendons that crosses over the front of the ankle and is responsible for flexing and extending the toes. No biggie, ha! Mine had become very inflamed and each time it was called upon to do its job it sent a wave of shooting pain up my leg. I really had to laugh, what a fitting way for me to finish off the CDT.

I hobbled along for about 5 miles trying not to flex or extend my toes on that foot, but then the trail became a steep, rocky and rutted out ATV road. After a particularly painful stretch of downhill I collapsed myself in the middle of the road to take a break. 12 more miles of this was going to be tough. I took my shoes off, cleaned off that foot with rubbing alcohol and applied a tape job to it. Then I ate another 4 ibuprofen, which was in addition to the 4 i’d had a few hours earlier. Finally in classic Elevated form, I lay with my leg up on my pack to reduce the inflammation.

I really think it’s funny how apt my trail name is for me. Elevated was given to me on my first CDT attempt when I was 80 miles into the trail and already nursing an injury, you probably know the story by now, but if not here it is: Days 6-12: Shin Recovery in Lordsburg and a Trail Name. Last year the trip ended with a stress fracture to my tibia in Silver City, New Mexico. The ensuing 12 months I battled one injury after the other as I worked with physical therapists to fix my ankle, get my glutes firing and in the end totally relearn how to walk. By about April I was finally able to start walking some miles on flat terrain around Sugarhouse Park and then go on a backpacking trip in May. I graduated from PT the first week in June and was on a shuttle bus to the Canadian border a week later. I really didn’t know if I’d make it through Glacier National Park’s 110 miles.

The first 1000 miles I battled painful blisters and cramped toes because of the wrong footwear. Pulling into Helena, Montana my little toes were numb from shoes that had become too narrow, my ankle was locked up, my extensor tendons inflamed and I had a hint of shin splints. When I got to Darby, i had an ingrown toe nail and both of my feet were so sore it was hard to walk from the motel to the diner while I was in town to resupply. The next 600 miles I experienced a very intermittent but sharp pain under my right foot coming from one of my toes, which in hindsight now I wonder if it’s actually a broken or dislocated toe because that toe is now crooked and a little painful. Coming into Leadore I’d had the scare with my hip flexor which prevented me from moving my left leg. Yellowstone, Wyoming it was an infected blister. Pinedale it was my extensor tendon on my right foot. Grand Lake, Colorado and the next 800 miles it was my IT band and knee. Silverthorne my ankle was locked up again and I sat out for nearly a week after getting a cortisone injection for my IT band tendonitis. Ghost Ranch, New Mexico it was both achilles tendons. Cuba it was my left hip flexor again. But none of them knocked me off the trail, it’s really quite miraculous that I’ve been out here for 5 months!

I’ve learned A LOT about injury prevention: how to tape various body parts, how much ibuprofen my stomach can tolerate, how to start the day with dynamic stretches, how to stretch everything at the end of the day so it works again the next day, how to mobilize my own heel and ankle joint, how to use a trigger point ball to release tension in my muscles, and importantly, how to listen to my body and notice and correct subtle changes in my gait.

In fact, I’ve learned a lot about the anatomy of the lower half of the body, what role each of the muscles, connective tissue and bones play. Before the CDT I though I had a calf muscle, little did I know it’s a whole ecosystem of muscles down there that comprise the calf. When I develop a pain somewhere i reference a couple of apps, Essential Anatomy 5 and iMuscle 2, to help me understand what might be going on and how best to treat it.

Anyway, so there I was, leg in the air, just 12 miles from where i’d planned to finish my CDT hike, contemplating all of this and laughing at how funny my predicament was. When I started off again every step on my right side was painful, but after another mile the pain dissipated and I was able to walk to within 2 miles of Silver City before it came back. Woohoo! Thank you legs!

Walking into Silver City was SO incredibly exciting. The sadness of a couple of days ago now gone. The people that drive the road into town must love CDT hikers because so many of the cars honked and waved at me, which made me even more excited. By the time I got to the main street I had a massive grin plastered across my face.

I made it! I actually made it!!! I was flooded with so many emotions all at once when I got to the door of the hotel. The score has been leveled! Elevated 1 : CDT 1.  I’ve succeeded not only in ’embracing the brutality’ but I’ve grown to love it. I’ve now knocked out 2000 miles of this beast and with only 600 more miles to go to get it completed, the end is in sight. I’m looking forward to coming back to finish the stretch from Green River Lakes, WY to Rabbit Ears Pass, CO and Tennessee Pass, CO to Wolf Creek Pass, CO sometime in the future. And when I do, it’ll be Elevated 2 : CDT 1. Mark my words, CDT.

Celebration and Reflection in Silver City

Silver City is my favorite trail town in New Mexico, by far. Cute coffee shops, artsy retail stores and a great brew pub.

Shortly after arriving I went out to celebrate my victory at the Little Toad Brewery, which conveniently was right across from my hotel on the main street of town. I made a bunch of phone calls to family and friends, which just stoked my excitement even more. My server was so thrilled for me that he bought me a dessert to help me celebrate. How nice!

I picked up my bounce box from the post office for the last time. Can you believe that my bounce box made it down the whole trail without needing replacing! Granted by the time it hit Yellowstone it was more packing tape than cardboard, and I started getting comments from postal employees, comments like “you know, these boxes are free, you should really think about getting a new one.” That box had character and I wasn’t going to part with it!

I hung out in the laundromat for the last time. I won’t miss the odd looks I got wandering around my hotel or the laundromat in my rain gear waiting for my laundry to get done. Especially given my rain kilt is a tad on the transparent side.

What a contrast to the last time I was in this town. Instead of hobbling around on a pair of crutches and a boot, I was walking on my own two feet. Instead of feeling sad, defeated and heartbroken, I was feeling ecstatic, proud and content. Instead of hanging out at the orthopedic doctor’s office getting MRIs and Xrays, I was wandering around town eating icecream and checking out the retail shops. Instead of using my laptop to research what recovery time is on a stress fracture and how expensive plane flights are to Australia if booked within 24hours, I was writing my blog, reflecting on the whole incredible last 5 months and making some resolutions for my life in the ‘real world’.

It’s still hard for me to capture exactly how I feel about the past 5 months. It has been so incredible. Absolutely the best 5 months of my life, despite the bodily challenges. I’ve loved watching the sun rise every morning. I’ve loved watching the landscape twist and turn, rise and fall before my eyes. I’ve loved the freedom and sense of adventure. I’ve loved the solitude. I’ve loved meeting and forming instant bonds with other CDT hikers. I’ve loved experiencing small town USA. I’ve loved the kindness of people i’ve met along the way who went out of their way to help me out. I’ve loved overcoming my fear of bears, mountain lions, wolves, lightning and creepy cowboys. I’ve loved knowing that I can rely on myself to make decisions that will keep me safe. I’ve loved curling up in my sleeping bag at the end of the day. I’ve loved fiddling with my maps at night and planning the next day’s adventure. I’ve loved all of it………………….

Thank you for your support, it has meant a lot to have so many people sharing in this adventure with me and encouraging me along. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and can’t wait to look back over it in a few years and experience it as a spectator, as you all have.

Lastly, I want to encourage you all to live your life. Set yourself challenges that are just outside your reach, it doesn’t have to be walking across the country, it just has to be enough to push you out of your comfort zone. Don’t get discouraged by failure, it’s part of the journey and makes success so much sweeter. Get out and experience the wild and remote places in this world… watch the sunrise, listen to the wind pass through the trees, watch a new landscape unfold before your eyes, appreciate the beauty. Spend time with yourself and feel grateful that you enjoy doing so. We only get one shot at this life, make it count.

As Richard Branson says “dream big by setting yourself seemingly impossible challenges. You will then have to catch up with them.”

Until the next adventure…..

-Elevated, over and out. xxx

10 thoughts on “Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, NM to Silver City, NM”

  1. An absolutely incredible inspiration!!! Thanks for sharing your journey over the past months! Seeing your posts in my inbox gave me well needed reminders that getting out of the comfort zone REGULARLY is probably the single most important thing to insure a life full of exhilaration, wonder and some damn good stories when you’re an old geezer. Thanks!!!! Heal fast, Elevated, and get on with planning your next adventure — it may help with the re-entry to your alter life.

    1. Awwww, thanks Cave Rocker! Mind if I screw with your ETP interfaces so you have an excuse to come up to the Bird and say hi? 🙂 Ha. Or maybe i’ll turn up to one of your shows this winter. Thanks for your support, means a lot! See you soon.

      1. Drew has been screwing with them enough, thank you 🙂 He did offer up some passes though!! It certainly would be more fun to come up and ski than come up and work!! In any case, I’d love to see you at a gig!!

  2. In my mind you didn’t finish until I could read this final post. What an amazing achievement. Congratulations! Silver City looks like the perfect end point and what a way to change your memories of the place.

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