Day 12: The Gila Hermit

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  


Day 0: Nashville to Lordsburg

On Tuesday, we began this crazy adventure of ours. No, we did not actually start counting miles, but after 22 hours of traveling we sure felt like it. To catch a 6:50am flight from Nashville to Phoenix, we arrived at the airport around 4:30am. Right at the ticket counter we received our first trail magic in the form of 2 Southwest LUV vouchers (aka $50 flight vouchers). Thank you so much, Rachelle!! Getting through security was a breeze and before we knew it we were loading the plane. The flight was easy and was made even easier by sleeping through most of it.

Once we landed in Phoenix, we scurried to the baggage claim, fingers crossed that our bagged homes made it in once piece. Both times we saw the lump of black trash bags and tape appear from the tunnel we celebrated and were relieved. We rushed to the closest trash can and began ripping the shell we had sleepily created earlier that morning away from our packs. Fortunately they were in perfect shape. We threw them on our backs and immediately transformed into hikers, not just weirdos who wear button-downs, short shorts, tall socks, and brightly colored trail runners for fun. To all the eyes watching us walk through the airport, it all made sense now....maybe.

After meeting up with Thor, a great friend from the PCT, we took a series of long Lyft rides to pick up fuel, extra water bladders, and a much needed lunch. We had 8 hours to kill before time to take the Greyhound bus, but we struggled to fill all the time so we found ourselves 4 hours early to the bus station (we would not recommend this). By complete coincidence, we went up to the ticket counter to find out that due to Daylight Savings our bus actually left at 5:10pm. This was the second trail magic we received, not necessarily from anyone in particular but it would have not been fun to miss our bus...

Our bus to Lordsburg arrived, and we hoped on board, first stop Tucson. For the next 7 hours we drifted in and out of sleep as the smells and sounds came and went. When midnight rolled around, we were dropped off 2 miles down the interstate from downtown Lordsburg where the Greyhound station was located and our hotel. We were the only 3 passengers to get off at Lordsburg, not to our surprise. We asked a man with a border patrol car and uniform what the safest way to get back to town was. He showed us the way, and gave us a gentle warning. "Do you guys carry?" he asked. We shook our heads no. "Well everyone else here does, so be careful," he said grinning. Thanks. We started the 2.4 mile road walk to the hotel. Arriving to the hotel at the early time of 1:00pm, we opened the door to our assigned room to find no sheets and the mattresses stacked up over the room. We tried again. This time we opened up the door to our new room with fresh sheets, sat our bags down, jumped on the bed and then we were graced with a much needed sleep. 

Wednesday fortunately did not come too quick. After getting 8 hours of sleep, we woke up well-rested but slammed by the fact we had not had dinner. We took care of that by going across the street to grab a large French Toast breakfast. We were taken back by how many border patrol trucks we saw around town. We were not in Nashville anymore.

Our one goal for the day was water. So much water. Oh, and mail home our first package filled with things we figured we could live without especially with the 6L of water we were going to have to carry for the first stretch. We also stopped by the hardware store and the grocery store, where we will be resupplying at in about 5 days. Then we (mainly M.E.) napped for a beautiful 3 hours. 


As you are reading this, we will be somewhere between the boarder and the 85 miles back to Lordsburg. We will be in the desert, where as the woman at the front counter at the Econo Lodge said, "everything that grows here can bite". BUT we will have started our hike of the CDT, and that is an amazing thing. 


It seemed that throughout the entire day of traveling the moment that brought us out of the traveling mindset and brought our focus back on all that surrounded us was the sunset that we experienced while on the bus. 

Ethan- As a kid my favorite book had been The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush. The book was about a boy who each night around the same time painted the colors of the sunset. I marveled at the brilliance and beauty of the illustrations in this and searched for these same colors in the sunsets of Southern Illinois. My childhood's sunsets were stunning, yet they lacked something that I couldn't place. Tonight, in the barren desert bus ride through Arizona, I realized that only in the desert did these colors exist. As if the sky was reflecting the colors of the blooming cactus rose, the sky was a perfectly blended water color painting of yellows, oranges, reds, and purples that existed no where else.

Peppered among the the still sea of scrub brush and sand, giant metamorphic ships sailed thousands of feet into the sky. As the sun set behind these towering giants, it appeared as if the bottom half of the sky had been ripped right off leaving only uneven silhouettes.

While on the road we were able to see the desert from a slower, more detailed perspective. We still passed by too quickly. For most people, these interstates existed solely as a way to travel across this vast expanse as fast as possible. The distance between point A and B. On the other hand, we yearned for the tangible feeling of uneven earth under our shoes and fresh air filling our lungs. 

M.E.- There is so much beauty here regardless of the inconvenience of the city. Somewhere in between Phoenix and Tucson, the sun set brings purples and peaches to the distant solitary mountains. Desert plains occupy the absence of the mountain's height with their vastness, and tall Saguaros stand like men silhouetted against the dusk. A golden light is pouring into the giant windows, and as I look around taking it all in, the women next to me thinks I keep looking at her. Her dark brown skin is colored with golden light. She seems to be crying as she keeps wiping under her eyes. Is it too narrow minded to think that we are both taken back by all this beauty in this moment? The beauty of the desert surrounding us, the paint-like colors, and the simplicity of riding quietly in a bus with strangers. 


Cheers to the trail and all the trailing thoughts. 

Garbelly & M.E.