Okay. So here I am some three months after spontaneously booking a flight to LA, walking a dirt road that stretches off into a never ending landscape of grassy brush and rolling hills, a gray ribbon in an otherwise brown and baron land. The sun is bearing down, I can feel it burning my shoulders through my threadbare shirt. Every now and again a truck or occasional cyclist appears coming south, most offering water, snacks or words of encouragement as they pass , others speeding by and spraying me with gravel and dust. I am precisely nowhere, stuck on this gravel road between dustbowl towns hundreds of miles apart.
How did I get here? Well I suppose I l walked! I walked from the Bootheel of New Mexico through scrubby desert and fields of Cacti, I walked through flat and featureless landscapes until slowly, the trail began to climb. I climbed into increasingly lush and green mountains, the air cooling with the increase in altitude. I walked down to the Gila River, I sat amongst cave dwellings and camped under petroglyphs, I got my feet wet, I bathed in hot springs and emerged, having not seen a soul for six days, onto yet more gravel road, I was given beers, sodas and even some pork chops by passing cars. On this road or a variant of it I stayed for some 70 miles, with occasional breaks onto trail where access could be found. I walked North, day by day and week by week seeing landscapes of shattered volcanic beauty and ever increasing magnitude. Eventually, I reached the border of Colorado.
“Colorado”, a word whispered fearfully on the lips of this years thru hikers, why? THE SNOW! It snowed so much in Colorado last winter that the sheer weight of it has pushed the entire state closer into the centre of the earth. Or did it? I heard so much fanatical chatter about the snow that I eventually tuned out to it, there being absolutley nothing I could do to avert the coming snow-pocalypse other than just walk slower or take more time off. Let’s just walk in and have a look shall we? Suck it and see. Although it was certainly snowy, it was definitely manageable and, after one particularly exciting 40ft slide and the partial loss of a fingernail in the ensuing fingertip arrest, the rest of the state was passed without Incident or, indeed, any need for skis.
For six weeks we walked through the luscious, towering and snow capped peaks of the Colorado Rockies, by now hiking with an unlikely motley crew of some six or so hikers, joined together by a shared enthusiasm for the absurd and a mutual understanding of one and other, content in the knowledge that we were the only people in the world who understood what the other was going through at that precice moment. We bathed in ice cold rivers and drank greedily from mountain springs that gurgled to the surface from unknown depths and together slipped, slid and gissaded our way, laughing and wooping, down and across steep snow slopes.
Now, however, the gang has disbanded, the very thing that brought us together also pulling us apart, and I walk mostly alone.
Three days ago I crossed into Wyoming, my third state on this trail of five, and I can now say with some confidence that I am more than halfway to Canada. I have no idea of my exact milage, there have been too many variations and alternates to be sure but it’s over 1400 miles for sure – It had better be anyway, the state of my body, gear and bank balance belies a long and tough journey that can’t be sustained for much more than another month or two! I never like to run out of trail, I am and hiker after all and this is basically all I can think to do, but six months is a silly time to be pitching yourself against a trail this rugged and arduous… at some point you will have some kind of massive emotional breakdown and lie belly down on the trail, two broken trekking poles at your sides, smashing your fists into the dirt whilst babbling nonsensically whilst you lather yourself in Peanut butter and lie there in waiting for a bear. The game we play is to finish the trail before the trail finishes you. Ideally you want to emerge at the Canadian boder, tanned and chipper, with an unshaven grin on your face, having had positive and worthwhile experience but ready for the next thing.
For most of us that will be a bed, a roof, cable tv, wifi and unbroken access to properly franchised coffee outlets.
For me? I’m not too sure yet. In the same way that I only booked this hike last minute (and to my poor mothers continual dismay) I probably will put off answering that question until I really have to.
But for now, the road and the miles are long, I guess maybe the answer will come but, for now, this is more than enough for me.