The end, and the Beginning | Chama, NM – Sonora Pass, CA?

After my mental breakdown the morning headed into Chama I splurge, something I’ve been doing too much of on this trip, on a cheap hotel room and lay on the bed. After venting to my parents, I’ve made my decision. I’ll take 3 to 4 weeks off the CDT and head to California, where I’ll jump on the PCT for a while. I’m scared what this will mean for my thru hike of the Continental Divide, I’m not even sure if I’ll have enough time to finish by the time I get back. I worry I’m overreacting and doing all this for no reason, but the next morning my Greyhound ticket is purchased, no turning back now. I say goodbye to Fun Size and the other hikers in town, knowing there’s no chance I’ll see any of them again. I think about Treeman, the one person I’ve actually formed a bond with on this trail, who I haven’t seen since Ghost Ranch. It’s sad to think that I won’t hike with him again, but I’m thankful to have known him, and thankful he was there so many times, otherwise maybe I wouldn’t have even made it this far.Espanola, Santa Fe, Albuquerque. Bus after bus after bus. I’m hurdling further and further away from the CDT, which has somehow become home. I’ve thought about getting off the trail since the day I started, but doing it doesn’t feel right. All of a sudden I’m not a thru hiker anymore, just another drifter with a backpack. What am I doing.

In Albuquerque I stay at the Route 66 hostel for two nights while waiting for my bus to LA. It’s the first hostel I’ve stayed in on this trip, and upon arrival I meet another guy who shares his beer with me. Beer. Exactly what I need. We sit outside in the bus he just bought that day, which he has plans to convert into a house, drinking beers and smoking, and I feel a little better once I’m hammered. We walk to the store and he buys the ingredients to treat me to dinner. All in all a much needed night, but I still feel lost and confused.

The next day is lonelier, but I get out and explore Albuquerque a little. The biggest REI I’ve been in is here, so I get new shoes, exchange my socks with holes in them for new ones, and pick up some repair patches to fix a few mysterious tears in my rainfly. I spend the rest of the afternoon camping in CiCi’s all you can eat pizza buffet before heading back to the hostel and consolidating all my things into as small of a size as possible for the greyhound ride, a difficult task with all my snow gear and a full food bag. I make it work by nabbing a pillow case from the hostel to use as my carry on. Yeah, I’m basically just a homeless person now.

My greyhound leaves early next morning and doesn’t arrive in LA until one the next morning. Along the way, I get to listen to the lady across the aisle yell racial slurs at the Hispanic guy next to her for accidentally knocking her phone charger out, the fine young man behind me talk on the phone about “killing all the niggas in Fresno for talking shit about his mixtape”, and I said one word to the lady diagonally from me only to spend the next hour listening to her life story about how her family blames her for her brothers suicide and shunned her at the funeral. I wish I could say I’ll never take a greyhound bus again, but that’s unlikely. The uncertainty grows the further away I get, by the time I leave New Mexico I’m numb. I know I’ll be back but it still feels like my CDT hike is over, a failure. I watch The sun set over the Sonoran Desert as the bus zooms down interstate 10, and want nothing more than to be on top of one of the nearby mountains watching it than from the window of a crowded Greyhound. It’s noisy, there’s too many people here, and even when I cross into California, my favorite place on earth, I’m not happy. This isn’t where I’m supposed to be.

I arrive in LA past midnight. It’s noisy and dark and the greyhound station is a mess of people. My friend Josh picks me up and takes me back to his apartment for the night, but the next day I have to be on trail so I take the metrolink to Agua Dulce, where Scrapbooks parents take me out for lunch before dropping me off at The Saufley’s house, “Hiker Heaven”. It is bustling with hikers and the moment I walk through the gate a wave of nostalgia takes over. I hug Donna and feel the warmth and love of the PCT, and we surprise Rocco who has been volunteering there for the past week. So good to see someone from last year again, and it doesn’t take long to convince him to hike out with me into the Sierra in two days. 

My time at Hiker Heaven is strange, I can still picture the people who were here when I was last year, and the feeling that this isn’t where I’m supposed to be persists. It’s like a bad case of deja vu. 

After two days we hike. The desert is familiar and the trail welcoming as it’s winds endlessly and gradually through the hills of SoCal. I cowboy camp for the first time in what seems like ages, there are no storms to worry about here. We wake to clouds nestled in the valley with the sun rising above them. I begin to fall in love all over again.

After a half days hike we reach the Anderson’s house, otherwise known as Casa De Luna. Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and hanging out on the couches again is heaven. Hugging Terry is heaven. Taco Salad is heaven. There’s at least 50 hikers here, and even if it’s not where I’m supposed to be, I’m content watching the class of 2017 unfold. 

Rocco and I catch a ride the next day from Warrior, a trail angel I had met in Tehachapi last season. We skip the rest of the desert and head to Walker Pass where we meet up with my trail brother from the AT, Dosu, and his girlfriend. Having both him and Rocco here is surreal, two trails pulling on me while the CDT haunts me. We all hike on together, headed into the Sierra. Hiking out of Walker Pass is powerful, I remember this section vividly and the golden hour of sunrise is perfect. What am I doing out here?

After three days, we reach Kennedy Meadows, the gateway to the High Sierra. This year California has seen tremendous snowfall, more than doubling last years percentages. Because of this, many hikers are bottlenecked at KM, waiting, skipping, or quitting. We spend a day here drinking beer on the porch before heading out, but it’s not the same as last year. I guess it never will be.

The next section of trail is embedded into my memory, and we follow the same schedule as my crew did last year. I didn’t think I would ever be hiking here again, at least not so soon, but the days are pure bliss in the comfort of the PCT. For the first time this season I’m having fun, and I wonder why I would even consider going back to the CDT.

When we reach Lone Pine we eat at the Chinese buffet and drink beer in the park before falling asleep. The next morning are spent taking care of chores before hitching back up to the trail, where Rocco, Troll, and Cargo hike with me up to Chicken Spring Lake. Last year, there was plenty of room for about 15 hikers to camp but this year the entire area is under snow. This is an all time record high snow year for California, and the difference is unbelievable. 

Over the course of the next few days, I relish in the familiarity of safety of the PCT. This trail is truly something special to me. The warm nostalgia along with new experiences makes every day enjoyable, nothing like being on the Divide. Every time someone would ask about how the AT or PCT was, the answer was immediately “amazing”. This was never the case on the CDT. It’s not until I’m headed up to Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States which I had to bypass last year due to a snow storm, that I decide this isn’t the year for me to become a triple crowner. The trail up Whitney is high in elevation and exposed, exactly what I imagine to open ridgelines in Colorado to be like. It’s cold, windy, and honestly completely miserable, and I know this isn’t what I want to do for 800 miles, especially not alone.

The decision is made but I still don’t believe it until a few days later when I’m exiting out from Kearsarge Pass to resupply in Bishop. This was where I planned to end my PCT side trip and head back to Chama. As I make my way down, my breathing gets heavy and the tears begin to fall. I think about everything. The hot, flat hell I walked through leading up to Lordsburg. The feeling of despair when I dropped my phone in the Gila River and was without navigation. The two day hailstorm I weathered all by myself, shivering in my tent and telling myself it would be over soon. I think about Treeman, the one real friend I made on the trail after over a month of being out there. The times we camped together and the miles we walked together. I think about the AT and the PCT and how I never once wanted to quit. I think about the triple crown, and about how I was so sure that nothing could possibly stop me this year either. I think and think and think, and cry and cry and cry, all while wondering what the hell comes next.

Being back at one of my favorite places on earth, The Hostel California in Bishop, held me forget about my failure for a while. Beer, bongs, communal dinners, and movie marathons.. nothing better. I miss last years crew but I’m super happy to be here with awesome people again this year. There’s Dosu and Disney, Rocco, Troll, Achilles, Yoda, and Ricky Bobby. I run into Judd there as well, who I had met with Pippin at the beginning of the trail last year. He hiked the CDT last year, another crushing reminder of my defeat. It’s awesome to hang with him though as PCT alumni and he decides to hike out with us when we finally escape the vortex.

I convince everyone to hitch up to the trailhead with pizza and beer just like we did last year so we can get an early start back up Kearsarge Pass. Even with this plan, the others are slow. Dosu, Judd, and I stop often for long periods of time to wait for them, since we are the only ones with experience walking on and navigating through the snow. By the time we’re over Kearsarge and headed to Glenn Pass, the snow is soft and slippery, which is not at all ideal when we see the final ascent. To reach the pass we’ll have to climb straight up an ice chute which leads straight down into an arctic blue alpine lake, totally a no fall zone. We decide to make camp on the one patch of dry rocks we’ve seen all day just at the base of Glenn. It’s an amazing campsite, truly in the tundra. 

I dream about the CDT. When we wake up, I’m pretty nervous to tackle this climb after staring at it all night. Muckle up YB! We head on and make our way up, my mountaineering experience definitely growing a little by the time we reach the top. The view of the Rae Lakes basin on the north side is unbelievable, completely covered in white with the lakes still totally frozen. We have an epic glissade all the way down from the pass before we begin traversing along them. I stop where Wonder Woman was airlifted last year and remember. If anyone from last year is reading this, I still think about you all every single day, on and off trail. Its smooth sailing until we reach Baxter Creek, a raging torrent of snow melt that we must cross. Dosu, Judd and I make it across fine and wait for the others, who have never had to ford a real river before. We create a chain, with Dosu in the water to grab people as they near the stronger rapids towards our side, me holding a tree with one hand and Dosu’s arm with the other, and Judd downstream to catch anyone who might get washed away. It’s a good thing we did this, because both Disney and Ricky Bobby are swept off their feet by the power of the water and they would have been goners without us. After a log day we finally make it down to the woods creek suspension bridge where there is dry ground to camp. We make a fire and eat around it while the sun sets, playing highs and lows and for the first time it truly feels like last year on the PCT. 

The next morning we don’t even make it a mile before running into another deadly river crossing. Ricky Bobby and Disney aren’t having it, so Judd and I decide we will exit with them out from Sawmill Pass and bypass all this craziness that is going on with the supermelt right now. Achilles and Yoda tag along with us as well and the next day we’re back in Bishop with plans to head north to Sonora Pass. 

I had told myself that it was ok to quit the CDT, because I would be one of the only ones to hike through the Sierra in this epic snow year. Now that I’ve skipped, nothing makes sense anymore. There’s no goal behind what I’m doing, I’m just walking. I underestimated the CDT, and I overestimated myself. The trail humbled me, it beat me down and spit me out. It made me rely on myself and no one but myself. It made me lonelier than I’ve ever felt before, and I hate to use words from Cheryll Strayed, but the entire experience was truly wild. Until I go back one day to finish it, and I assure you I will go back, the Continental Divide Trail will haunt me, I’ll forever wonder what lies ahead from Cumbres Pass. Until then, Young Blood is rockin’ in the free word. Here’s to whatever this summer may become.

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