Fear and Monsters of the Desert

The four of us stood in a line next to Route 180 heading west. We smiled hopefully as cars wizzed past our outstretched thumbs. I shifted my weight back and fourth on my sore feet. After road walking a 6 mile section of “trail” southbound out of Silver City, my body was fed up. Thankfully, we didn’t have to do the whole 13 miles back to an actual trail. After about 10 minutes, a blue pick up stopped and whisked us away, back to the CDT.

I know what you’re thinking. “Southbound? What? You’re going the wrong way!” While south isn’t typically my direction of choice, I can assure you I am traveling with a purpose.

The Plan

After completing our section of the CDT, we hitchhiked back to Silver City and got a really cheap hotel. Our next goal was to get to Phoenix by March 3, and the most logical choice of travel was the bus. While Silver City does not have a bus stop, Lordsburg does. Lordsburg is 80 trail miles south of Silver City. So the question now was, how do we get to Lordsburg?

We walk, of course.

Sure, we could hitch hike. We could even ask any one of the three folks in town that we knew for a ride, and we would get to Lordsburg in just under an hour. Why do that though, when we could walk and make it take four whole days? This was obviously the better option. Especially since we have until March 3 to get to Phoenix.

The Split

Having already done this section, I was keen to pick up the miles a bit. We had been doing about 15 miles a day every day that we had been hiking so far, and I was getting bored of it. I suggested doing a 20 miler our second day out of town.

I was immediately shot down. No one else wanted to push miles, even if there was an indoor heated space waiting for us at the end of it. I resigned myself to sticking with the group and staying slow. However, the next morning when I asked about where I could meet up with them at the end of the day, no one seemed to want to make a plan.

Frustrated by this, I hiked away and decided that I would simply do the 20 miler I had wanted to do. If I saw the group that night, great. If not, oh well. Now I could see just how strong I had gotten over the past three weeks! I was excited at the prospect, even if it meant leaving my friends.

Gearing Up

That day, I pushed out the 20 miles to the Burrow Mountain Homestead by 3:30. It felt amazing. I knew I was fit after hiking for three weeks, but just how fit came as a surprise to even me. I actually feel ready to take on the GWL now that I know I can bang out 20 miles well before the sun goes down.

Not only did I exceed my own expectations that day, I pushed my miles even further the next. I could tell you that I wanted to get ready for the GWL. I could tell you I wanted the satisfaction of a long day. Those are both true. The biggest reason though, was rooted in fear.

I am afraid to camp alone.

There, I said it. I might have 3,000+ miles under my belt. I might have over a year of nights spent outside. It doesn’t matter. Of that year, only 2 of those nights were spent outside alone. Camping with people is infinitely easier. I can blame all of the noises at night on them, instead of my imagination telling me it’s a mountain lion. I can reassure myself that if a mountain lion did show up, I had better odds of not being eaten if I were with other people.

So, the day immediately after my first 20 miler of the year, I pulled a 25 just to put myself in a big, wide open area where I felt more comfortable being alone. The big miles might also work to make me so tired that I wouldn’t have the energy to worry about being alone. I made it to camp around 5:00, so the sun was still out. I could even see Lordsburg from where I set up. It would be a clear night, so I decided to cowboy camp.

The Only Thing to Fear

As I settled down for the night alone, I watched the stars come out. I identified constellations such as Orion, Taurus, and Perseus. I felt at ease, which was a great sign. I had set myself up well for this new challenge, and I knew it was only a matter of doing it to get more comfortable with it. As the sun sank deeper below the horizon, more stars started to pop out, and I drifted off to sleep.

The night went normally. Around midnight I woke up to pee. Still, I felt completely secure. I smiled as I returned to my sleeping pad, knowing that my fear would not stand in my way. In the distance, I heard coyotes howling. I felt confident knowing they wouldn’t bother me. I quickly fell back to sleep for the second half of my night.

Only moments later it seemed, I awoke with a start. In reality, it was 4 AM. My eyes snapped open to the darkness of the pre-dawn desert. Lying on my side, I could see a small dark silhouette skittering away from me. Immediately I recognized it. “Hey! Stop!” I yelled to the inanimate object as I fumbled with my headlamp while trying to sit up. Briefly it paused, then continued to scamper away from me.

“You little – THAT’S MY HAT!!” I bellowed, headlamp shining bright on my unwelcome visitor. I stood up, clumsily shed my quilt, and stomped towards it. A rat the size of a grape fruit relinquished it’s grip on my White Mountains trucker hat and disappeared into the desert.

I retrieved my hat and grumpily settled back down into my quilt. I took stock of the things around me. Nothing seemed to be missing, and to ensure that the rat didn’t come back and try to steal something else, I attached everything to my pack. Try as I might, after that I could not fall back asleep. Even so, if all I had to fear was a desert rat, I’d say my solo night was a success.

Goodbye CDT

The next day, I hiked into Lordsburg and got on a late bus to Phoenix. My aunt Debbie picked me up at the bus station and brought me to her home. I’ll be staying with her until I meet up with the rest of The Push Beyond team on March 3. Until then, I’ll be exploring the area, and doing day hikes to keep my legs strong. I likely won’t be writing about this down time, but if you’d like to see pictures they will be on my Instagram.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the charity I’m raising money for, National Alliance on Mental Illness! The links are on my homepage.