Day 3 Of The CDT Backpacking Quest
"If you want to find out about a man, go for a long tramp with him." Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art Of Tramping
Since those heady days…you’ve waited in fevered anticipation; you’ve laid awake nights, anxious sweat beading on your forehead!
The wait is over, here continues the odyssey!
I emerge from coyote howl dreams to coyote howl dawn and listen to the zipper on the tent as my coldening fingers let fresh morning in. Soon, the stove is roaring and the earthy scent of coffee mingles with the cool odor of frosted ground.
El Stevo has strolled across the prairie and finds a perfect place to practice his backcountry potty technique.
The sound of water sluicing into tin cups signals that breakfast is ready and we slurp piping coffee and eat oatmeal liberally laced with nuts and fruit. The wind, cold, bites through our layers even as the nascent sun begins to relieve delicate blades of grass of their burden of frost. They stand up as we finish eating and pack our stuff; it’s time to walk. No clearly marked trail again, so we compare the map with reality and taking a compass bearing, begin the day’s adventure!
One Sweet World!*
(For best results, please click on asterisk above and listen while reading!)
We have our hiking legs now and are excited to cover some miles and gape at the stunning scenery. The day unfolds to warmth and sweat trickles down my back. Hills ahead beckon and we stride with the exuberance of the unshackled yeoman.
After a mile or so, we spot a cairn with an upright post thrust into it. On the post are carved 3 letters: CDT. We are on the Divide and eating up the miles!
Our goal is to make it to Garcia windmill before taking a break, and this we accomplish, arriving after fast hiking at 11:35 am.
I take a sponge bath in muddy water while El Stevo naps for a few precious minutes. We enjoy a lunch of peanut butter and jelly on pita bread and slices of greasy, calorie rich salami. Soon, we pick up our packs and strike out following a fenceline towards our days destination: Pelona Mountain.
Along the way El Stevo and I talk when the spirit moves us. One of the wonderful joys of the backcountry life is the ease with which conversation occurs and flows. There is no social pressure, shared hardships and vistas forge unique bonds which lend themselves to ready confabulation. We go miles with hardly a word, then a thought forms, is verbalized, blossoms, and we talk serious and not so.
Bones found on the trail lead to a brief rest.
Discomfort’s Fresh Sweetness
The afternoon stretches out in frame after frame of sun-saturated splendor. Life is so simple on the trail. One foot goes in front of the other. The travails and preoccupations of life wisp into the ether, like beads of dew. We don’t worry about the worries even though we still care about what we care about. Wilderness is a respite, salvation and solace.
Simple, though, does not mean easy. The accumulated fatigue of long miles vies for attention with the chafed spots where my feet are giving birth to twin blisters. El Stevo stretches his sore back and tightens his hipbelt time after time. We climb over a fence which bisects the plain and continue westward, recognizing that discomfort only enriches the experience.
Dust feathers up in the warm air and we whiff the varied scents of the autumn desert and revel in the endless panorama of bronze fields flecked with sage, piñon and juniper. Green and glorious peaks, gently breathing, rise in every direction like waves from a dry ocean. South, a wooded peninsula encroaches, flaunting it’s stands of tall pines and harboring an imagined trophy elk.
Soft post meridiem light is drenching the fleeting day in the ecstatic brilliance of a photographers dream as we begin the ascent into the next range where Pelona Mountain waits, arms open.
El Stevo is thirsty and my now flourishing blisters need attention, so we stop, and sighing the sigh that only a backpacker backpacking knows, drop our packs beside the dirt ribbon on which we tread.
A cow the color of honey moseys nearby, shepherding her calf away from these bipedal strangers. The duo fades away into the sage as we cram our faces with gorp, Larabars and salami. We quaff great draughts of warm water, refreshed beyond measure by a beverage to be looked askance at in the finest restaurants of Paris, London, and New York. We feel rich beyond measure as the cool wind gently lifts sweat from wool and the stain of great cities from the soul of two men seated happily in God’s sweet dirt.
Afternoon pools in the blue bowl above.
The last section of trail now wends upward through a gorgeous valley where sentinel pines laugh in the clear air of the western desert. Our brief break has had a startlingly positive effect on my energy levels, and I suddenly feel like climbing every mountain within a thousand mile radius.
I have experienced this bulletproof feeling before, and know that it could well be the harbinger of death.
El Stevo is fatiguing while my internal rocket impels me ahead, upslope, switchbacking into the vesper. Darkness tiptoes upon me as I top out, gloriously, on a ridge with views so beautiful I nearly weep now as I write.
Citrus fruit ochres and bloody auroras mix with rich night blue to splash me a fantastic sunset. Never is a death so, so beautiful! I put water on to boil.
El Stevo arrives, burdened, tired, but refreshed by the grandness, the grandness of it all. (apparent redundancy intentional) The fatigue has become a friend and somewhere, a finger on a remote control has no idea of the sweet loveliness of 16 mountain miles worth of exhaustion.
We drink hot tea and burn our lips on the brim of steel cups. We feast on something that could have been dog food but tastes, now, in this delicate moment, like the most tender filet mignon.
Coyotes serenade, sleeping bags cocoon us till morning comes.
You cannot tell till you’ve spent a night in the rain, or lost the way in the mountains, and eaten all the food, whether you have both stout hearts and a readiness for every fate. - Stephen Graham
When will morning come? Will the coyotes devour El Stevo’s beef jerky? Can Patrick hobble onward with blistered feet? Check back soon to find out all this and more!
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