By now you may have read the posts for the section from Doc Campbell’s to Silver City and have been introduced to the hiker formerly known as Clarissa, or Campfire as her marriage certificate now reads. SpiceRack and I had a great time hiking with her. Despite the overall frustration of the lower Gila and brutalness of night hiking for long hours on barely-there trail, Campfire made it. It wasn’t easy. I asked her if she would like to put down some words about her experience for this blog (photos also provided by Campfire). She obliged. So, without further ado, Campfire Speaks:
My notes for the trail.
I landed in New Mexico a little tired and a little unprepared but excited for the journey ahead. I drove the 4 hours to Silver City, picked up the pizza SpiceRack had requested I get for herself, Rooster and Crunchberry, then drove the hour and 20 minutes up to Doc Campbell’s Post, which was our meeting spot. It was dark and Spice was waiting for me on the porch, having hiked in an hour or so before I was able to get there. It was so nice to have finally arrived! We hugged and then headed to find the hot springs and a camp site for the night.
We were setting up camp when AtHome appeared. Another happy reunion, but he looked exhausted after a long day of hiking. We all enjoyed a campfire and headed to the hot spring pools to relax and warm our bones. And warm them we did. The pool we chose was hotttt, but felt so good.
The next morning, we woke and jumped into another hot spring pool that wasn’t quite as hot as the first one, it was a nice way to start off the day. Our plan was to head to Doc’s where we could get some coffee, give my pack a shakedown and hopefully meet up with Crunch and Rooster to give them their pizza before they moved on. Afterward, we’d head to the Gila Cliff Dwellings and Spice and I would slackpack the 3 miles back to Doc’s that she had hitched the day before to get to me on time. AtHome would then drive the truck back and take care of some stuff before we officially started hiking the trail together.
We extracted ourselves from the hot springs, broke camp and headed back to Doc’s. As we pulled in, we saw Crunchberry on the porch and Spice yelled out to him that we had pizza. His dance of excitement was pretty hilarious and heartwarming. Then it was a jumble of packs and people as they caught up and resupplied their food. I could feel the love and care they all had for each other, it was a lovely thing to witness. There was a shakedown of my pack where they marveled at my lack of food and I couldn’t quite comprehend the amount of food they would each be carrying and just how much more exciting their food was than mine. I’m talkin’ Double Stuf Oreos and Dora the Explorer gummies. Frickin’ yum!
Ultimately my pack was pretty light because they had decided that I didn’t need to bring a tent, I would use theirs as they cowboy camped, I didn’t need to bring a water filter as I could use theirs, and I didn’t need to bring a stove as I could just use theirs to heat my water. I felt a bit weird about not having those items, but I also knew that my legs were not as strong as theirs so any advantage I could get was worth it. This was their first of many acts of kindness and consideration.
We headed to the Gila Cliff Dwellings while the boys headed out on the trail because they had to meet their friend Shenanigans, who was also flying in from out of town to meet up with them. The cliff dwellings were fascinating and I’m glad we made the time for them, then AtHome was dropping us off and Spice and I were road-walking back to Doc’s. We chatted the entire time and being pack-less made the 3 miles feel easy peasy even with Spice’s strong-legged, quick pace. We made it back to Doc’s and I had some of their famous homemade coffee ice cream and some root beer. It was delicious but I couldn’t finish it and some other through-hikers happily accepted my extras. We left my truck with the owners of Doc’s (They were kind enough to allow me to keep it safely parked at their home for the days I would be hiking) and then we were on our way! We road walked our way to the Gila River and headed down.
We started off losing the trail right away and bushwhacked our way to our first crossing before finding the trail again. Little did we know that this was a premonition of what was to come. We had a goal of 10 Gila miles that day but only ended up covering 7 of those miles, though technically I think we covered more because we were almost never on a straight-forward trail and there was a lot of zig-zagging in search of it. I became delighted by the sight of cairns and thankful when we’d find more than 100 feet of trail before we’d lose it again. At some point I lost the velcro on my shoes that attached my gators so they became useless. After that I could feel my ankles getting scraped up every time we lost the trail. When the sun set, we were nowhere near our goal of 10 so we kept it moving, river crossing after river crossing. It was tough going but I was genuinely happy to be out there, hiking with these two people who were hiking so much farther and had been in harder terrain than this, I was happy that they’d wanted me to join them and I was enjoying catching just a glimpse of what they had been doing for months now. At some point I lost an Odds bet to Spice and had to name all the crossings for the rest of the day.
After losing the trail more often than finding it, and getting close to mile 7, we decided it was time to keep an eye out for a good camp spot. I don’t even remember what time it was, but it was dark, we were wet and I was pretty tired. We found the perfect spot with a fire ring and set up camp. We collected wood and brought the fire to life. It was so nice and warm and exactly what we needed.
Spice warmed me up some water so I had a nice warm meal after getting out of my cold, wet clothes and they discussed the fact that I needed a trail name. Something having to do with fire because they’d ended up with a campfire every night they’d spent with me so far, including in Colorado, but they said it couldn’t be too badass or cool sounding, like Firestarter or Blaze. Haha. I agreed and we ended up with “Campfire”. I officially had a trail name.
And so, Campfire was born and then she slept.
After a pretty decent night’s sleep where I was only marginally cold and woke once to a nice sized spider in the tent, the next morning we got up and started getting ready. I started my period which I had anticipated as a possibility so was as prepared as I could be considering I’d never had to deal with it on trail before. Normally my first day requires some rest and taking it easy. This day however ended up being my longest day of backing, ever, with 20 tough miles. Needless to say, I was thankful I’d remembered to bring my ibuprofen.
Back to that morning, they are so fast and have a solid rhythm of setting up and breaking down camp where I have a much slower time getting ready, but I tried keeping up. Putting on my cold, still wet pants I couldn’t help but let out involuntary shrieks as I hiked them up over my warm legs and belly. Something I’d heard Spice do just a few minutes before.
I was happy to be moving again, and on an actual trail, no less. Though the river crossings started pretty much right away, it was a bit easier to find and stay on trail and again, I was happy to just be out there with them and chatted with AtHome while Spice brought up the rear. I was cold but not cold enough to be concerned by the lack on sun…until maybe our fifteenth crossing. That’s when I realized I was just numb. I could no longer tell how cold the water was and desperately wanted some sunlight.
The moment we caught our first beam of sunlight was glorious. We soaked it up for a minute and then kept moving. We had more river crossings and miles to make up. It did finally warm up and after losing the trail again, at some point we decided to just walk in the river for a bit.
We ran into cattle which was a pleasant surprise. One of the cooler moments was coming around a bend to find two bulls head-butting each other before AtHome scared them off with a holler and a macho walk. The Gila was tough, but she was also beautiful. So many stunning trees and fading, yet still colorful, Fall leaves. We left her after 9.5 miles that morning. We stocked up on her water one last time and then turned away.
We were finally headed up and out of the canyon and I think I was more excited than I realized to leave the river because it felt so good to have a long, clear dirt trail under my feet so I moved quicker uphill than I did in the Gila. The next 6-7 miles were mostly uphill and then it felt like a rollercoaster of ridges and valleys for the last 3-4 miles to camp in the dark. These miles were hard for me. I was exhausted and the steep sections just plain ol’ sucked. I felt like we were “just 2 more miles away” for 5 hours. At one point I had to quickly delayer after layering up because I didn’t want to sweat through my fleece as I needed it at night.
When we finally hit camp, I was cold and exhausted. I had a hard time eating the dehydrated Beef Stew meal I’d brought. Spice made me a drink of magnesium to help with my sore muscles.
I was shaking with cold because I’d left on my dri-fit shirt in hopes of making my clothing change quicker. I finally realized that’s what was keeping me cold and took it off. I quickly warmed up after that and drifted off to sleep.
I woke up at 2am, wild-eyed as I realized I needed to quickly get up and dig a hole before I had an accident. I got up 3 times that night, and didn’t get much sleep after that. I was awake when the alarm went off to wake us up and get us moving. We had another 17 miles we needed to complete to get to town that day, but I only managed 7.5 of them. (At least that’s what my phone tells me, it doesn’t seem quite right that I even covered that many miles that day.)
I could hear them moving around but couldn’t seem to get my body moving. I had to go again so that finally got me out of my tent quickly while AtHome searched for the nearby water hole the Guthook app promised us. Spice made me a warm tea and gave me charcoal to help soothe my stomach and I stood there in a trance as she tried to rally me into motion so we could get moving. I felt exhausted, drained of all energy and completely vulnerable. Having mud-butt in the middle of nowhere was not something I even considered as a possibility. I was also ravenous, but nothing sounded right. AtHome and Spice divided up my heaviest items to leave me with an even lighter pack so I could hopefully keep up with them.
In the middle of the water filtering and the packing up, we were greeted my Doug The Hermit (his self-proclaimed title). He’d lived alone up there for over 25 years and had heard us talking and had come by to introduce himself. He invited us up for homemade bread and the warmth of his cabin. I wanted to keep moving but I also realized that this was an opportunity for HomeSpice that I didn’t want to force them to pass up. A self-proclaimed hermit?! Too interesting. So I took a breath and headed up to his cabin. To say he was excited is an understatement. He couldn’t stick to one train of thought as everything he said seemed to remind him of something else he wanted to say. It was both endearing and overwhelming. His cabin was full and warm and he offered them bread while I ate a handful of his saltine crackers. He talked about how this place was a Holy and healing place for him and every time he had to go to town, he invariably got sick but as soon as he got on the mountain he would heal up, instantly. When Spice pointed out that I got sick only after I’d arrived, he looked at me and, half-jokingly, asked if I had some sin I needed to get off my chest…
I reached my stillness limit after about 30 minutes or so and felt like if I didn’t keep moving then I would soil my pants so we started moving again. I saw Holy Water on his windowsill as we were leaving and wondered if he’d use it to cleanse my sinful presence after we left. Doug followed us, still talking to HomeSpice but I decided I had to keep going. I pushed ahead as he followed them down the trail and continued to regale them with his stories. He was an interesting person for sure, but my body was not in the mood to relax and listen. I felt like every time I stopped the urge would get stronger and I didn’t want anyone to be around when I had to stop again. After about a mile and one last stop, my insides finally stopped trying to get out. I still felt nauseous and wasn’t able to eat much but it was a relief not to feel the need to dig a hole in a panic anymore. The charcoal had worked its magic.
I was starting to slow down now though. The energy had drained out of me and I was feeling the lack of food. I forged ahead as I literally had no other option but to do so. We hit dirt roads and while it was generally easier than the trail, the uphill sections felt tough and I lagged behind. Spice and AtHome were patient but I knew it was tough for them to be progressing so slowly. Spice offered to carry my pack but I knew I was at least strong enough to carry it myself so there was no way I was adding to their already heavier packs. All I could do was drink water and suck on some cough drops and drink some flavorless chia seeds Spice offered. They turned on Gronk, the speaker, and pumped out some Taylor Swift. I tried hard to let it motivate me and it seemed to work a little. I wondered if I could actually complete the full 17 miles, I thought that I probably could but that I would be too slow for them and probably worse off at the end.
We reached a point where Spice got reception so she called Crunchberry, who was already in town, and told him I was sick and in need of a lift, once he figured out where we were he told her where we could meet him and they hung up. Knowing I was about to be able to rest gave me a solid boost and I picked up my pace to get there faster. My energy had just started to wane again when suddenly a white van came into view and someone caw-cawed out of the window at us. Crunchberry, Rooster and El Matador to the rescue! ANOTHER through-hiker had come to visit Crunch and Rooster and was with them when they got the call for help. When asked if I could keep anything down or if anything sounded good, I told them only cold fruit sounded like something I could eat right now. El Matador disappeared into the van and came back WITH A COLD BANANA! I finally truly understood what a Trail Angel was. The banana was amazing.
They drove me to a hotel in Silver City while AtHome and Spice continued on foot with much less weight to carry. Rooster helped me carry everything into the hotel and left me to rest. Then their other friend, Shenanigans, brought me Pepto Bismol, electrolytes and a bubbly drink. By the time AtHome and Spice arrived in town, I had showered, napped hard and felt considerably better. Still couldn’t eat much but I definitely felt more alive. I was 10 miles shy of my plan, but I had survived the day.
The next day Shenanigans, Rooster and Crunch drove me back to Doc’s to get my truck while AtHome and Spice did a 13-mile road walk out of town. I drove back to Silver City and got the burrito I’d been wanting for 24 hours but was too worried to try. It was perfect and my stomach was officially better.
That evening I picked up Spice and AtHome at their 13-mile meeting point and we all hung out with Shenanigans and the boys. We ended the evening with AtHome entertaining us with his amazing choreographed dance to Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro”. We loved it and he earned himself a possible new, or secondary trail name: Alejandro. It was definitely a highlight of my trip and the perfect way to end it. I flew home the next morning and they all headed back out to complete their epic journey with just a few more days to go.
Ultimately my takeaway from this trip is that these through-hikers are awesome, tough as nails and extremely kind. There’s no way I wasn’t a burden, but they never made me feel like one.
Also, SpiceRack? What a woman. She had her pack stolen while experiencing abdominal issues, much worse and more debilitating than mine, and somehow had it inside of herself to keep moving forward, slowly putting everything together again as she went.
What. A. Woman.
Thanks to you all for the kindness and for including me in your epic CDT journey. I won’t forget it.
Clarissa aka Campfire