CDT New Mexico: High Desert

Ghost Ranch was a nice place to hang out for a few hours while I waited for the four others behind me to arrive. After spending 90 minutes inside making good use of the free wifi and electrical outlets, I felt like I could recite word for word the informational video on Georgia O’Keefe that was being played on loop nearby.

The others arrived just in time for dinner at the Ranch, which sells meal tickets to the mostly elderly Albuquerque residents who traipse through to enjoy the desert scenery. Ghost Ranch is run by the Presbyterians and hosts painting classes, guided hikes, and the like. The five of us get a room at the Ranch’s lodge, pick up our resupply packages, and make plans to head into Santa Fe the next day.

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When I texted Baby asking what the San Juans in southern Colorado were like, she sent me this photo of herself. She’s really damn tough.

Three other CDT hikers, Merlin, Hummingbird, and Red Bass, come by our room to say hi. They’d taken the bus into Santa Fe and connected with the commuter rail to Albuquerque to see the hot air balloon festival. Then hitchhiked back.

“Just stay with us! You can sleep on the floor, no big deal,” Surprise, a 56 year old doctor from Durham, told them. Please don’t, I thought. There’s barely enough room for the five of us.

“You guys don’t even have to pay us anything, there’s plenty of room,” he added without consulting the rest of us. Asshat. Luckily, they demurred and camped outside. I already had a pretty negative opinion of Surprise before meeting him in southern Colorado, largely because he had a reputation for sexual assault on trail. He told a friend of mine half his age that he was a doctor and could thus help fix her leg issues. Saying he needed to feel her calf to do that, he then went higher and higher and higher until he was well past what was appropriate.

“What are the Presbyterians like?” asked Diesel, a lawyer from Amsterdam who’d taken leave from her job to hike the trail for six months.

“They’re the ones who handle snakes and speak in tongues,” I replied without looking up from my book, knowing Surprise, the aforementioned doctor, was the son of a Presbyterian minister and vocally proud of it. “Speaking of which,” I added, remembering that Murphy had counted 27 snakes in one day in southern Colorado. “Did you handle any of those snakes we saw on the road walk to the New Mexico border?” I asked the creepy and handsy old doctor.

“No! And we don’t do any of that, don’t listen to him!” Surprise interjected. He’d gotten his name from his wife finding out that he was going to quit his job and leave for five months to hike the Continental Divide Trail via finding his trail maps hidden under their couch.

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Hiker backpacks at the Santa Fe post office, where we mailed home our crampons. Shouldn’t need them anymore (dear God I hope because I AM SO READY TO BE DONE WITH THE COLD AND SNOW).

The next morning we left Diesel, the Dutch woman, back in the room around 5am to hike a mile and a half to the highway, where we waited in the sub-freezing cold for the bus. Diesel had already been to Santa Fe and was planning on taking a rest day back at Ghost Ranch, so it’d be the four of us on our journey to the city.

“So when do we actually beat winter?” Murphy asked as we all huddled around in the pre-dawn cold. I breathed hot air onto my gloved fingers, trying to coax movement back into them. Supposedly Mt. Taylor, a week ahead of us, was the point after which winter isn’t a problem and you’re A-OK. But so far New Mexico had been literally freezing.

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Stomper (pictured) and the rest of us enjoying ice cream near the hostel in Santa Fe.

There’s a free bus every morning from the highway outside Ghost Ranch to Santa Fe via Abiquiu and Espanola, transferring to Santa Fe Transit in the latter. Espanola didn’t look like the safest place ever, but we only had to spend an hour or so there (we missed the connecting bus and had to wait for the next one). Some dude on the street in Espanola wanted me to lend him my phone, which seemed like a great way for it to get stolen so I told him no. He wasn’t happy, but didn’t make a scene.

Our first stop was the hostel, where we got a private room for the four of us for around $15 a person on the condition that we make our own beds. It was a bit of a strange setup, but had a good connection to downtown Santa Fe by city bus. And at $2 for a day pass, we took full advantage of not having to walk much. In retrospect, I probably looked like more of a hobo than he did.

I spent most of my time in Santa Fe wandering around the old Mission architecture in the old town, eating incredible amounts of superb Mexican food, and hanging out in coffee shops.

“I wanted to go to that art gallery, but nobody will go with me,” the piece of trash old doctor whined in one of the coffee shops as he followed me around town.

“You’re a big boy, you can do what you want,” I told him while Murphy and Stomper were wandering the old town. “I made it clear that I just want to drink coffee and eat a lot and not walk for a change. This shouldn’t be a surprise.”

Our first night in Santa Fe he asked me, “So can I get in on the pizza you’re ordering?”

“Well, I just finished ordering it for pickup through their website. You can order too, if you want,” I responded.

He let out a dramatic sigh and said, “No, it’s fine.” I shrugged, got my pizza, and enjoyed my dinner.

The next morning he made a big show of making it obvious that something was bothering him, and seemed upset that Murphy, Stomper, and I didn’t ask about it or care (full disclosure: I don’t care about most people’s problems, especially if they’re obnoxious and immature).

“Cool, see you in Cuba!” Murphy told him. It would be around two days or so on trail to Cuba, the next trail town. Surprise mentioned for the thousandth time that it was going to be his birthday in two days, and that he wanted to be able to talk to his family that day. So, since there was little cell service in the woods, he’d head out early. But did we want to join him…? Nah, we’re good and gonna enjoy Santa Fe.

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Stomper and me ordering at the pedestrian booth in a drive-in burger joint.

“Can I join you when you get your coffee?” Surprise asked me. It’s no secret that I’m addicted to pumpkin spice lattes, which I credit as the only reason I made it through the bitter cold and snow of Colorado.

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Fun fact: thundersnow is real and it lives in Colorado.

“Sure,” I said. He insisted on buying it for me, which always makes me uncomfortable because I don’t want others thinking I owe them anything. But he kept pushing it and I shrugged. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Not a big deal. We talked about the next mountain ranges coming up and gear, which probably consume 90% of trail conversations.

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Stomper and me heading off into the New Mexico desert.

Until: “My wife told me our daughter is dating a black man. Apparently she didn’t feel comfortable telling me that. I’m kind of ashamed for feeling this way, but it makes me really uncomfortable,” he casually told me.

“Yeah,” I responded. “You should be ashamed.” And then changed the subject. This wasn’t the first time on the CDT some white guy had confided in me some racist belief or feelings in an attempt to build a connection with me. Both times it made me despise that person a little bit more. We said our goodbyes and I headed downtown, meeting up with Stomper and Murphy.

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The Rio Chama Wilderness, just south of Ghost Ranch. It was so nice getting off dirt roads and onto a trail. There’s a bit of haze in the distance from a forest fire, not really sure where the fire was. We saw a bunch of tarantulas, which was really cool but totally killed my desire to cowboy camp.

“Murphy, Stomper!” I called out in the morning. “IT’S NOT COLD!” This was quite the miracle as it’d been bone-chillingly cold every morning as I stuffed my tent, usually composed of sheets of ice after the nightly condensation froze solid. One night in Colorado I could see the ice crystals forming on the nylon exterior of my tent, which was still wet from a previous rainstorm. It took about two minutes for the whole tent to freeze.

We took advantage of that wonderful feeling of semi-warmth and stayed in camp for almost an hour after taking down our tents. Glorious.

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Stomper took this photo of Murphy and me packing up after our first non-freezing morning on trail in six weeks.

One thought on “CDT New Mexico: High Desert

  1. Pingback: Continental Divide Trail 2017 | The Connor Chronicles

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