The Last Stretch + A Little

Leaving Lordsburg, NM many thoughts raced through my mind, but the one that made the most noise was screaming: I’m so close and can't wait to be done. It might seem like a negative way to look at the end of a great trip, but after almost three thousand miles, the desire to be done was overwhelming. To add on to that, not only would I be finishing the Continental Divide Trail, I would also be completing my Triple Crown, which has been a dream of mine ever since hiking the Appalachian Trail back in 2011. The end had been a long time coming. 


In southern New Mexico the CDT is less of a trail and just more a suggestion of a trail laid out by posts with CDT signs on them every 100 yards or so. There are no straight paths between these signs-just endless winding between bushes, Ocotillo, cactuses, and many other plants, each pointier than the last. Making sure I was going in the right direction and trying not to get stabbed or scratched by the flora made for very concentrated hiking leaving little time for reflection and daydreaming of the future I wanted to make for myself. 

As the sun started to fall behind the horizon on the first day out of town, I was finally able to wide down. The usual night hiking I had been doing for at least the last month was no longer feasible because there wasn’t any way to push on into the night with the lack of trail. I set up my tent and dove in. I wish I could say it was a restful sleep, but between the bright moon and the howling wind, which coated everything in my tent with a fine layer of sand and dust, there was little sleep to be had.


The next day I got as early a start as I could to maximize my time hiking in the cool morning air. While the New Mexico desert wasn't as hot in October as the PCT desert section was in May, it still got very warm. The morning was very pleasant with smooth miles on a dirt road for most of it. Before leaving Lordsburg, I had the thought that it would be cool to see a rattlesnake since I hadn’t yet seen one on the CDT. Shortly after lunch that thought became reality. I heard that sound. That sound that can’t be mistaken for anything else.  I quickly took a step back and looked down to my right.  There it was-a rattlesnake not even two feet away from me. Luckily, I was on a dirt road so I was easily able to walk around it, but I don’t think my heart rate slowed until I was in my tent that night. The rest of the day the only thought that went through my mind was how stupid did I have to be to say I wanted to see a rattlesnake!! Once again sleep did not come. But this time it was like the excitement of a small child the night before Christmas: tomorrow only 26 miles stood between me and the completion of a dream. 


The last day got off to a slow start.  The metal post signs that I had been following quickly turned into wooden posts that blended into the desert background quite well. There was even less of a trail than before. There were also a lot of natural drainage ditches, so every now and then I would have to drop down twenty or thirty feet just to go right back up. After 12 miles of that, the trail transitioned into following a wash for the last climb of the trail. After getting to the top of the last climb, all that was left was a dirt road down to the border. Not until I got to this dirt road did I really start to reflect not only on the CDT but also on the last 6 years of my life. I was trying to think what I learned on the CDT because I did learn so much on the AT and PCT, but I couldn’t think of anything. That’s when I realized-you don’t have to get something out of everything you do. If you enjoy it, that is reason enough to do something. A quote from Thoreau popped into my head. He said, "I went to the woods to live deliberately . . . to suck out all the marrow of life . . . and not, when I came to die discover I had not lived." If I can say anything about this trip, it is that I lived.  


I saw the monument from a ways off and all sorts of emotions started flooding my mind. Reaching the end, I crouched down and placed a hand on the toppled monument. Done. After a few moments I was able to compose my thoughts. I sat on the fallen down monument and checked to see if I had cell phone service. Surprisingly, I did. It wasn't Verizon but some sort of Mexican service from the town just in sight on the other side of the border. Of course, the first person I called was the person who got me into backpacking all those years ago-my mother. As the phone rings, I flash back to the top of Katahdin where I sat surrounded in darkness having just reached the end of my first thru-hike at 3 a.m. I tried to wait until I knew my parents would be up, but the excitement was too much.  My mother answered with a groggy “hello”, but before she could even finish, I shouted, “I finished!” I could tell she was trying to be excited for me but was still half asleep, so I just told her I loved her and would call when I got to a town.


My mothers voice snaps me out of my flashback. This time there is less excitement in my voice. I was very chocked up but managed to get out “I did it”. "Did it" meant so many things in that moment.  Sure there was the end of the CDT and the finish of the Triple Crown. But most of all there was the completion of a dream which I had had since 2011:  a dream that had filled my thoughts nearly everyday for the past six years. 


After talking for brief moment and rubbing my eyes so as to not allow a single tear to form, I remembered that I was not out of the woods yet. My father was supposed to meet me at the border, but he was nowhere in sight. I asked my mother if she had heard from him. She said yes and that he was trying to find me. Apparently the roads to the Crazy Cook monument are not straightforward. Twenty minutes later my mother called me back and said that my father could not find me. This news definitely put a damper on my finish.  If he couldn’t find me it meant that I would have to walk 26 miles back to the nearest paved road. How ironic since earlier in the trip some fellow hikers and I had commented that this would be the first time that we wouldn’t have to hike further after reaching the end of the trail unlike the AT and PCT. I guess even after finishing the trail it still wasn’t done with me. I was a bit worried because I had no dinner for that night and no food besides three Werther's Originals. But reality set in and since there was a bit of light left, I decided to put in some miles so I wouldn’t have to do as many the next day. After crawling into my tent, I fell fast asleep to the sound of coyotes. That night I had the best sleep I had in a month. 


The next day I didn’t get as early as a start as I wanted to because I was actually able to sleep. I was out of water, but that night I’d slept near a solar well, so I was just going to get water in the morning.  I have to guess the cows are smarter than I am because I couldn’t figure it out which meant I would be out of water for the first 11 miles.  The Werther’s really came in handy then-just something to make my mouth from becoming completely dry. The day was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Hunger never really set in and the hiking wasn’t tough.  I had decided that instead of following the trail through the overgrown and hard to follow section, I would follow a dirt road which made it a lot easier. Just popped in some music and trudged on.  About halfway through the day I was really starting to drag, but with no other options, I just kept pushing on.  


Towards the end of the day, I thought I saw a car off in the distance. As I got closer I could tell it was a white pick up truck. I walked past the truck and said hello to the couple who were in the pick up. They asked what I was doing out here. I explained my story and after hearing it, the man offered me some ice cold water and a banana nut muffin. Maybe a little too quickly I said yes. As he was getting them out of a cooler, the woman said, “So, you kind of did what Reese Witherspoon did.” With a smile on my face I said, “Kind of” and thank them so much. That muffin helped power me the last four miles to my father and the actual end of my CDT journey.