If anyone can tell me how to squeeze more than 40 hours of work out per week, consistently, while feeling good, and maintaining a relationship, let me know.
It has been awhile, but I needed space – didn’t you? Oh, well, let’s not worry about that now, isn’t it so good to reconnect – No?
No, no it’s my fault. No I was enjoying being apart too. I hear what you are saying. Maybe I just thought that – look I was just trying to be friendly you don’t need to – look calm down I wasn’t being presumptuous – will you listen to me? Just a second now, don’t you think we could talk about it? Did it mean nothing to you?
Okay, fine. Fine.
Well, hear me out. It’s just that life has really gotten in the way. You have a life, don’t you? You understand. Things move fast, one second Oakland, one second Seattle, one second Elsewhere. Bam, bam, bam, and, well, it’s not like you wrote. No, I don’t think I’m doing any long hikes this year. Hiking takes money, and – no damnit I know that – I know – no, I know – look maybe it’s not about the money, maybe you’re right. But it’s really not your place to tell me what I want to do. I’ll tell you.
What I want to do is sit somewhere, find someplace, and sit there. And then sit there some more. I’ll do it when I have the time and – yes, you’re right about that also. Yes, oh, you’re so clever. I’m not using any, tone? Yes, I’ll make the time. Yes, because it’s what I really want to do. Yes, prioritize it. Yes, because that’s what people who want to do things, that’s what they do in order to do them.
Are you saying I don’t actually want to do them? It’s not that simple, damn it. No, I’ll show you. No, I don’t need to show you. I’ll do it on my own, and not to show myself, either. I’ll do it because I want to do it, and I wont make myself want to do it, I’ll just want,to, do,it. Because I do. You’re right, why the hell am I telling you all this? I just wanted to say hello, that’s all.
No, I should have kept in touch. Do you think we could? That’s what I came here to do. To stay connected.
I don’t know – gear, travel, writing, the American Dream? Failure? Success? All of the above? I hope so too!
Okay, talk soon? Miss you already.
No, I didn’t finish. I got halfway before crippling depression and anxiety derailed my enjoyment of the big hike and so I decided to call it quits headed into Rawlins, Wyoming. That’s about 1600 miles, bringing my lifetime foot travels somewhere North of 4200 miles. Hard to call it a complete failure, and failure isn’t how I see it. I have owned it and used the early return to take a good look in the mirror and begin to tackle severe mental health issues that have plagued me since late October of 2013, the perihelion of my life to this point.
The come down since then has been a real bitch. I feel as if I have been dragged face first through the mud until my face is raw and my lungs are filled with worms and rot. The oxygen needed for clear and far-seeing thought simply hasn’t made it to the better parts of my brain through the slush of fatigued pessimism, relentless non-confidence, and what can only be described as the opposite of a body-high, a pervasive feeling in the tissues of my body that there is no light at the end of the tunnel and that I am buried in the rubble of the tunnel and the tunnel is filling with water and that I am drowning and there is no one to help and no point in yelling out.
It has been a thorough dicking, but today – for now – I can breathe and think a little bit better and feel some long-abandoned slice of the ambitious and self-assured (pre- “Trivia”) Zach trying to come back to life, like a left for dead sea star regrowing its limbs. This hasn’t been my first struggle with depression and wont be my last, but I don’t want to feel this awful for this long ever again.
Well, one step at a time. If you feel this way I encourage you to seek help, which is what I know I should do for myself. Long overdue if you ask my closest friends, I’m sure.
Then again, many of the people closest to me seem to have no clue. You have to do it for yourself. To hell with the stigma. I want to enjoy my life again.
So, that whole hiking thinking. The next trail I am looking at is the Hayduke Trail for 2017 or later. I’ve had encouragement from some trail legends to do it along with outstanding offers of help for the logistics of it. God, I love the trail community. I don’t have the will to do another long trail this season. As stated above, I need to take care of myself. This is the first day I have felt halfway lucid in two years. I can’t rely on miracles like this every day and will have to be aggressive to maintain lucidity. Imagine standing on a fourteen thousand foot peak early in the morning with clear skies and a brisk wind looking out across endless Colorado and feeling not awe and possibility but imprisonment. Ok, enough.
“The Hayduke” tours the highlights of the American Southwest taking the hiker – southwesterly, as it were – through Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Glen Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bryce, Grand Canyon, and Zion. It’s about 800 miles and given its geography is a hell of a walk in the sun, but I trust that the reader here scans that hall of fame list with widened eyes and is aroused as I am. By and large it’s not a trail at all, which adds to its attractiveness. Hiking in New Mexico on the CDT was often more of point to point landmark trek than a proper “trail” experience. It made you feel alive walking across the scalding and endless Chihuahuan Desert and that’s a feeling worth chasing at any cost, both financial and opportunistic.
The Hayduke , given its shorter length (well, you know what I mean…), is traditionally experienced at a more leisurely pace by hikers. It is treated like a fine cigar or Speyside single malt; challenging, engaging, taken in slowly, and most definitely harmful to your health. Given that, I may end up saving it for a special occasion, but no other trail quite catches my eye like the gem of the Southwest.
I’ll have to approach it from a cautious place while also accepting the highest risk of any travels I’ve yet had. That whole “finish even if it kills me” attitude is something I’ve lost as I descend into my middle and late twenties, having come a little bit closer to death on a few occasions (sorry mom and dad). When the right time and the right partner come along I’ll know it and then it’s load up the packs and hop on the train back into the better parts of this country.
I have a Kindle Direct Publishing account now, so there’s that. I think I might move to Seattle. If I’m going to be depressed I might as well be some place where the weather ceaselessly agrees with me.
Happy Birthday mom! I love you very much and I hope you had a wonderful day. I wish I could have been there with you but I am a terrible son. Please have a doubly good time with your family and accept my love from this ridiculous distance when you read this.
I leave Grants about an hour behind the rest of the loose posse from Pie Town with nearly a full pack and a full stomach. It's a nice change from droopy hunger. A good meal stays with you for a few hours and keeps the aches and pains gentle. It has been mostly road walks in the last few sections and my body hurts from the unforgiving asphalt and gravel. But so long as I can walk and nothing hurts to the touch my spirits remain high and I can still find The Rhythm. You start to walk and at first think about the next town, think about your gear choices, think about the weather, think about the elevation, and it's a lot of symbols of your insecurities and of your life and how you think you measure up or don't. It's easy to get frustrated then, and the best thing you can do is just keep walking. Sure enough it all dissipates...and you're really hiking then. I get into the musical breathing as I climb up out of Grants past the prison and onto the high mesa that marks the prominence of Mount Taylor, which was for a much longer time called Tsoodził. People honk in support, or I assume that's what it means. No room for pessimism regardless. There's a turn headed off the road and toward the summit and in a few minutes I catch up to one of the other hikers who tells me the rest of the group is just ahead maybe an hour. I head up and up, and up, and then it flattens completely and in the early evening tangerine haze stands the mountain peacefully. What a view. Several miles away across the plateau but so long as the mountain makes the horizon you can feel the beauty even when looking another direction. It's gripping, and it's this type of memory I struggle to replace when back elsewhere, in the someplace else. Small sadness. The crickets start up as the sun sets and I come back to the trail. I walk until seven thirty when I meet the others who have been waiting for me so that we can summit the next day together. I leave camp first the next day and immediately take a wrong turn, get back on trail for a few miles, then take another more costly wrong turn and have to cut across the slopes to get back on route. This sort of carelessness is typical of the fatigued and the frustrated hiker. I'm forcing things, and sit in the shade to get back with it. In a few hours I reach the summit and find one of the group confused that I was behind her. She had been speeding up trying to catch the others who were not ahead of her and ended up missing the last spring. I share my water and we eat and rest and hear the breeze. We are all forcing things today it seems. It isn't good. The sky is clear but I can't stay on the summit any longer if I'm going to keep pace with my food supply so I move on down the slushy north side of the mountain just behind her. It's road walks the rest of the day so I put on an audiobook and take some ibuprofen and go. We camp at the edge of treeline near some fresh lightning strikes after a smaller day and try not to think so much. Bright and early and we dive into forest road after forest road. It's getting hot and I have to ration sunscreen and snacks. This section is taking longer than I had hoped. I put on headphones, keep track of water sources (puddles and cattle troughs) and walk until 7 when we agree to camp early yet again. We're all tired, but we can't rest like this or we'll run out of supplies before town. Well shit, it's about 80 by 8 AM. These events are what make the memories and you savor them. Book it, dude. Downhill off the big flats and gravel roads now, back down to the valley floor surrounded by towering rock monuments and muddy desert canyons - and cows. It's beautiful but it's hot and there is little water out here so we spend the day saying little and searching for shade and just keeping our feet moving... the skies behind me are telling me I should get out of the wide open desert. The trail thinks I should be a high and middle-finger-waving meat lightning rod. Better views that way. Just gorgeous, and nothing you can do about the predicament out here, so you enjoy yourself and continue. I camp by a tall derelict metal windmill. Sure, why not. Nothing comes of it and the milky way is a soft blanket on these warm nights. We get up early and spend the day riding the crests and ridges of two thousand foot mesas. The views of the desert in the four corners region are as you feel. Around three PM we sit, beat, but decide to make it a 30 mile day to get into town around eight, for some reason. There's that fatigue again, and some frustration with the tapeworm swimming around in the only water source for some 15 miles in any direction. It's straight up and a good opportunity to scream and be primal and laugh with the searing heat. A "fuck it" moment of catharsis and a much needed satori refresher. Mosquitoes all of the ten dark road walk miles down the final mesa and into town. A pleasant conversation with a fallen drunk who laughs in relief when she sees I'm not a cop. The McDonalds is down the street, she says, and do I want a sip of her cherry coke? That's very kind, but no. I want to get a room, sleep, eat, wake up, put on some Herbie Mann's Memphis Underground... and just see what happens until Ghost Ranch.
Walking out of Pie Town on only one ankle was a vote of confidence in myself and a bit of an act of dirty and expressionless momentum. This is not to say that I was not happy to get going again... but how sure can you ever be about injured nights in the desert amidst historically unpredictable weather in Northern New Mexico...and for that matter the western US. The weather doesn't even have to be bad; it's the anxiety about it that drives you crazy. Will that monstrous gray cloud kill me...no... that one? Could be. But it's of course little more than partially justified paranoia and you keep walking and glancing up. At least it takes my mind off the ankle. The first day out of Pie Town was a lonely 15 mile road walk across a breezy elevated plateau of stern private property markers - and cows, and cow shit. I popped ibuprofen to keep the swelling down and wrapped my ankle to get through the day and with each guarded step I learned a less painful way to place my foot to the ground. This is obviously not what your doctor would tell you to do to recover...but given the full range of motion, minimal swelling, no touch tenderness, and yes lack of hikers remaining in Pie Town, I figured I'd be fine on mostly level road walks. And I was half right. Damn, the roads are hard on your body. On day two around four PM I came to the first turn of this section up an old BLM pedestrian only rec area up a canyon in the only mointains visible for miles from the remote road. What a treat! With a cold wind from the south I put on light layers and booked it into the shelter of the hills where I was greeted by a lifeless spring and an eerie abandoned cabin that must be more than a century old--- and petroglyphs that I must assume are far older. The road turned to dirt around here and the relief from ankle pain was immediate and I might have even smiled for a moment. All sunshine in me then, chilly clouds be damned. Welcome back Pep, meet my home boy Step. It's a marvelous feeling when you get into the flow of things. Better still when pain free. I have a new appreciation for dirt. Pavement and gravel...not so much. I walked until eight that night quite literally dancing northbound to motown. A young group of four were camped off the road at the exit point (of Sand and Armijo canyons) and offered words of encouragement. Ah, sweet folks they were. Getting out of town. No real reason. Just dig it. I understand completely. I got water from a nearby productive windmill and used my headlamp to find a sheltered campsite - in open arroyo. Woops. Questionable but steady skies that night and only distant flashes. Fine by me, mostly. Solid soil and I bent a stake. Well... cant get too worked up about small things like that. No room for negativity in a hikers mind. Poor "expedition behavior" that. If you let that get to you, tomorrow you might panic if something more serious happens when you should instead maintain composure and make good decisions to keep the hike and yourself alive. A javelina visited me that night. No rest for the weary. A tiring 24 mile day. On day 3 I was up at five and walking by six, back on cold paved highway for eight or so miles. More winds that day. Imagine that. I had entered El Malpais, which is just as rosy to hike across as its name suggests. It extended to my western horizon. Yikes. To my right was a parking lot and DIRT TRAIL which went to an unofficial alternate rim route on a cliff overlooking the pumice field. No cumbersome thinking about it at all. All feel. With high spirits and knowledge of the broader route you are taking you have the pleasure of doing such tiny but satisfying deviations. Something about unobstructed views is healing to a hiker mind and body. At the end of the rim route was an ambitious scramble back down to the road. Still better than pavement for my ankle. At two I reached a turn off for a route across the pumice and rested under. Juniper for an hour chugging water. The turn off marked a 30 mile dry stretch into town, so it was best to overdo it on hydration to avoid a bad situation in the middle of unnavigable lava hills and canyons. Upwards and onwards. Hellscape, unforgiving but beautiful. Cold winds and distant towering clouds shadowed the primitive cairn route, back came the sky anxiety. One mile an hour, and painful on my improving ankle despite my basic treatments. Slow going is bad for hiker spirits, the contrast made worse by my recent confidence in my health and pace. I ignored all unhappy thoughts and got to the western end of the field as the sun went below the hilled horizon. Dirt once more, relief once more. And beer. At a road crossing just past the lava was a man from New York stealth camping with a growler of local micro. Chat and laughs. Two month journey, his. No reason. None needed. Indeed. Two more miles to make it a low 20, then bed. At one AM there were nearby engines and many gunshots. All good fun, no need for panic. Saturday night.
The last day into town was a dirt road slog through aptly named Bonita Canyon. Red cliffs, green trees, littered but no people. Lovely enough, absolutely. Then down Zuni Canyon into Grants just in front of an angry sky.
My ankle is improving rapidly as I walk and I have no concerns. Confidence now, and maybe a strained fearful neck. Gonna have to get used to the weather.
All good fun. Nearing Colorado. Two weeks, maybe less. Next stop Cuba NM. Plenty of snow in CO, so there’s no real hurry. Ciao!
Injured and resting in Pie Town. Making friends and many happy memories. It’s hard to complain. Quiet here but warm and safe. Easy to sleep without worry. No recollection of the last time I did that. Feel compelled by loving instincts to mirror the kind spirits of the other hikers and our local angels. Meshing into the one spirit of This Season on the Trail. Good, very good.
Damn what a section! First of all, I could live in Silver City. I know that was in the section before Doc Campbell’s, but I want to say it here some more because you really ought to visit if you love peaceful desert culture and some damn fine scenery. Love the open carry status of New Mexico, makes for some respectful (mostly) law enforcement and some exciting hippies. Silver had the best burger ever put in my mouth or any other place on my body. Four dollar burritos. Microbrews. Guns and hippies. Low rent. Pardon me while I clean the drool.
Right, “The Gila”. What a monster! Made more involving than normal by the weather. For about a hundred miles from the canyon to New Mexico Highway 12 the sun went away and didn’t come back. Crossing the loose subaqueous rocks of the Gila somewhere around a hundred times (in two days) took an immense toll on all of us (met a pair, Lily and John, both from Ohio going Northbound) and at some point I injured my left ankle. Painful and stiff, and a miles-bottleneck which is a stifling rotten mess of a bummer. I am limited to twenty miles a day – trust me, that’s slow – and at this pace and with this weather (wettest Spring down here it’s been in 15 years I hear) it could be a repeat of the snowed out PCT disaster come Montana.
Don’t want that.
But the Gila IS beautiful. Towering pillars of red and orange hundreds of feet high forming the walls of the canyon and channeling the thigh deep desert water. The rain and cold dont lessen that. And there are hot springs, goddamned gorgeous ones with water clear as air spilling out over cascades from the canyon walls. Hardly anyone out there. Perfect. And only eight miles from a road.
After a few days of the Gila the route took us across some rolling hills and open plains, pretty but with no place to fetch water, and exposed, which is bad news when lightning and madness needs only a single cloud from which to spawn, so it seems in Sunny New Mexico. No storm, though the cold threatened, and we continued into the mountains.
Bad news up there. High winds and fast moving clouds kept our eyes routinely peering for danger from the southwest skies and in the evening of our 70th or so mile in this section the fan sprayed us good for the first time. Flashes every few seconds looking up from small dip in the peaks around 8500, distant echoes, or were they? No way to know up here, not this boxed in, not unless it was coming from straight above us. Not much sleep that night for thr two of us (not a clue
where Lily and John are, somewhere North ostensibly though probably not Ohio).
Then coming downhill yesterday it was low dark clouds big gusts and frosty atmosphere. More storm anxiety walking across open fields toward the Pie Town alternate, but it was just wind cold and the wet. Used to those now, but
will never enjoy nearby lightning strikes on windmills I need to get water from.
A few miles into the alternate we camped at the base of a 10000 ft mountain so as to not tempt fate in the night. It was colder and windier still and we got a bit of a rush from setting up camp quickly in those conditions in a suboptimal somewhat exposed campsite near a large field. My gear was wet from days of rain and no Sun so I wore most of my layers to bed. All was mostly fine.
We awoke to several inches of snow on the ground with more falling and piling on, still no blue sky, and lower still temperatures. Despite all this, my updated kit did everything it was supposed to and I was prepared to push on, except that the shorter days (a little too much hot springs fun maybe) from the Gila left me short on food and I reluctantly turned back to highway 12 and Reserve, New Mexico to reload. Thank God the food
here is good. Helps nurse the pride back. I hate backtracking. What’s done is done.
Head back out tomorrow morning. After a goddamned excellet burrito, I’m sure. Love New Mexico. CDT good fun.
I am on top of Burro Peak bundled in all my jackets in my sleeping bag going over the opening days of the hike in my mind.
Moss was fine. We were all fine and were always going to be fine. Like anything worth doing the real challenge comes from within myself. Barriers and fear are what always stop me and this time they wont. That’s what I tell myself.
I remember hiking with Lint on day two and nod. Human after all, and let that be high praise for an icon and reluctant celebrity. I kept up for two days. Fuck me, I can’t lie about it…it was exciting. We traded hiking strategy and each came away with new tricks—taught him you could cold soak tortellini, taught me about damn near everything. A great and honest man.
The temperature drops and I strap my quilt under my sleeping pad to trap in the heat.
The cool air tonight is the same as it was coming around pyramid peak. Bad memories of that place and the surprise hail storm and proximity lightning strikes. Probably wont need to dive for cover tonught.
Elizabeth sleeps quietly on the ground across from me. The skies are clear at least. She’s been strong in keeping up and I’m beginning to relax about her navigation abilities. Haven’t met a hiker in front of us yet who hasn’t quit. We’re going to need to keep getting along if we want to hear another voice. I am anxious about the lack of hikers.
I check and recheck the my quilt straps. Of course, they were done right the first time. Nerves are still with me. It’s the cold I worry about. Conditions are unseasonably chilly up and down the cdt corridor. It’s bad for morale to pitch camp when the sun is still up and leave miles on the table, but it would be worse to choose suboptimal campsites in the dark during this cold snap.
Tomorrow is the famed Silver City 15 mile road walk. Good, asphalt is choice for popping my remaining blisters. Better to deal with them now than in a week. Not afraid of the pain, just afraid of running out of time.
Blah blah blah blah
Look at all this pretentious bullshit!
I’m having a great fuckin time! Cold at night, hot in the day, might need a 0 deg quilt for the rockies. Cops already hasseled me twice so far but no tickets. Hiking while brown? Who knows. Silver city the bees knees. Could spend a year there. Hippie island in the desert. Best burger I ever did have. No trail at all out here. Pretty damn funny. Just walk North! Next posts wont be so serious. Imitating Persig is a bad look. Let’s just be ourselves and have some y’all what say you. “Fuck me” says elizabeth. Whatever Liz. I’ll blog where I damned well please you persnickety shit.
This was, of course, the right decision. My alarm went off and I inhaled deeply. I can breathe again, sort of, but it’s enough. I didn’t need more than that and I was happy to have what the desert required. Blanketing heat dried up my mucus quickly and I was able to chisel it out. We arrived in camp at four having made about fourteen miles. A half day, but we all agreed – mostly – that our bodies needed rest and to be eased in. Regardless of my inital dissent, it’s obviously a good plan. We can get up early and lather our raw skin in soothing cream and race the sunrise for decent miles before the heat descends again and team morale lowers. We’re all having fun despite the temperatures, and rest will help keep it that way. I am trying to focus on our similarities and not our differences. There is a hiker lagging way behind. A woman named Moss. We are getting concerned but don’t want to prematurely panic. Navigation is very serious here. No water anywhere and we depend on the caches. Very serious, but she could be waiting out the sun. The evening is coming, at least it wont be hot.