We woke up at the junction of the CDT and the Gila River Route and took in the cool crisp air. We had all gotten a good nights rest and were excited about our day ahead. The Gila River was calling us. In fact it was 20 miles in so we set that in our sights as the day's goal.
For the first few miles we hiked a roller coaster of forest service roads and trails. After crossing an unsuspected creek, we began climbing our first mountain of the day. The cool morning air gave us perfect conditions for the climb. Halfway up, a road crossed the trail and a silver pickup creeped by us. Dressed in camo, he rolled his window down and let us know that he was turkey hunting. That must have explained the unusual sounding turkey we heard when we woke up. Then again, turkey calling is an art.
As we climbed over the ridge we saw layers and layers of mountains. A few miles later, we arrived at a beautiful healthy mountain stream, Bear Creek, and filtered some much needed water. We started another gradual climb after leaving the stream. This time we ended up on top of large, roasted red pillars of rock looking out at more pillars standing in the distance. The sun was shining bright on us but the spring breeze kept us comfortable while we stopped for a snack and to climb around on the rock. We were determined to go a couple more miles before stopping for lunch so we threw our packs back on and continued up the mountain. All three of us took our own paces at this point with the idea of meeting at the next water source to relax and eat lunch.
This is when we met Doug. A little back story on Doug: Eighteen years ago with his belongings in an old Gregory pack, Doug hiked into the Gila. Out of exhaustion, he got to a point where he threw down his pack and exclaimed, "God, if you want me to live in solitude, then I will live in solitude." Among rocks and dirt, he made his first home, as he called it his "hobbit home". For years he lived here, living off of the land and ramen noodles.
We met Doug when Thor was found (by Doug) standing in a corral. When we caught up, the conversation had already started, and what we would later found out is that Doug does not just step out of his hidden world to talk to anyone.
For most people these days, if you need to learn how to do something, you look it up on the internet and figure it out instantly. Doug has figured out his entire way of life from trial and error and most importantly creativity. He figured out how to make bread in a Dutch oven on the stove top by cooking it on one side for about fifty minutes and then pulling the bread out, flipping it and then cooking the other side. Through years of hard work he is figuring out how to grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in an extremely hot and arid, high altitude environment.
Doug has also figured things out by running into the right people. He had tried to figure out how to sew with the fibers and needle from the agave plant as the Native Americans did long ago, but was not sure how they got enough thread. Through meeting an old trapper and on a different occasion, a Japanese thru hiker, he figured out that the agave produces the needle and yuca produces the thread. Which he then taught us the entire process and let us keep it as a "hermit souvenir."
Doug was kind enough to show us his life in the woods. He showed us what he eats every day, 1.5 ounces of a mixture of sprouted beans, and he said that as soon as he started eating this particular mixture he did not crave living foods, garden foods, anymore. This made it so that his garden was just an experiment. The entire time that he was walking us through his life he kept circling back to the idea of creativity, and that it is creativity that he has found in his solitude. His passion for what he does radiated from inside him in even the simplest demonstration of his daily routine. We were so taken back by his life and how, well, awesome he is.
There is so much more we want to share with you about our experience with Doug because of how much it meant to us, but who knows, maybe you will find yourself getting caught in his corral one day and get to step inside Doug's world for yourself!
With only a couple hours left of sunlight (we had been there for five hours), we raced up to Tadpole ridge to filter enough water for the night, set up camp, and got ready for sleep. Sleep came easy, but not without a recap of the day as our brains still were processing it all.
We truly believe that the Gila had given us a proper welcome. Until we meet again, Doug!
Garbelly & Critter