In the end of April, we were thrilled to enjoy a visit from M&P. We guzzled bubble tea at Pho 75, chatted round the chimnea, drank local wines, were dazzled by the blooming red bud and dogwood and then hit the wilds of West Virginia.
You don’t get much wilder than that hair!
We stayed at a charming farmhouse in Lost City, WV with a red tin roof complete with a clawfoot tub in a sunny turquoise bathroom and lots of classic kitchy 1950s decor (like the stuffed squirel bookends and paint by numbers cowboy paintings in our bedroom). We enjoyed a lazy rainy day munching on (high fiber) muffins and doing a ridiculous cow puzzle.
The next day we hiked above the clouds in the rain, but later the sun shone till our skin flushed pink. In the evening we sang our hearts out at the Karaoke night at the local bar. It was country and western until we broke out with some Beyonce and Black Eyed Peas. But there was also a surprising & delightful middle-aged gay contingent from DC amidsts the local mullets and perms!
Then we were off again – Dan navigated our “fire truck” on some crazy dirt roads to the Big Scholss region on the West Virginia/Virgina border. There we left our wheels behind and introduced M&P to wilderness backpacking! They loved it… other than a thunderstorm when we headed out, we had AHHMAAZING weather and Buddy was in good form after Pete performed a mini-operation on him (he’d basically just broken a nail, but the poor dog was limping for days until Pete came to his rescue!).
After a night round the campfire and plenty of s’mores we woke up the next morning and summitted Big Schloss. John Denver’s Country Roads played on loop during most of car ride home. In the 4 days we’d been away our backyard had gone from a tiny bursts of lime to a lush jungle of emerald, jade and malachite. But soon it was time for M&P to return to the other side of the pond again….. and once they’d left, the pond seemed as large as a great ocean.
Last weekend we headed into the Shenandoah’s with our new friends Dan and Hannah. Backpacking in mid-Feb is always a bit of a risk but we managed to stay warm. There were some patches of snow on the north side of the mountain but overall it was snow-free. Walking on the ridge near Rockytop Mountain was windy but we had views of the whole valley and the Massanutten mountains beyond. DnH don’t backpack much, so we planned a mellow hike of about 10 miles for the first day – but they bombed it up the mountain and we arrived at camp by Brown Mountain by 11am! We decided to just enjoy a lazy afternoon in the woods – munching on our peanut butter pitas, building a massive fire, reading Billy Collins poems and enjoying hot chocolate with mint schnapps.
The next morning DnH had brought mix to make blueberry pancakes. However combined stove/pan issues meant we ended up eating something Dan coined rattlecakes – a gooey blueberry batter scramble. Yum!
We made our way back to the car via many river crossings – lucky Buddy was carried across. I’m ashamed to admit this was the first time I’d gone weekend backpacking since we lived in England in 2008! It’s been either 4+ month trips or nothing. But that’s definitely going to change…. it was a superb weekend away.
Buddy staying warm by the fire
Finally, the long overdue blog on our finish:
We had a nostalgic and easy 2 days from Deming to Columbus. On OCTOBER 27th, we reunited with Yas (he’d done the hard-core cacti bushwack through the Florida Mountains that we’d bypassed). Yas said the bushwack wasn’t too bad, but we also had to pick a dozen cactus spines out of his back from when he’d fallen on a cactus. In Colombus, New Mexico (a town known for its 1916 attack by Pancho Villa) we breakfasted before setting off on our final 3 mile road walk. Dan had made a star as a monument for our finish since Jonathan Ley’s maps use stars to mark out segments on the trail. (Rather than going point to point, we go star to star… and we were approaching our final star!)
The finish was the in many ways the complete opposite of our Pacific Crest Trail finish in Canada. Instead of endless trees, there were cacti. In place of a strip of clear cut trees, there was a strip mall with a Family Dollar. Rather than solitude, Mexicans and Americans alike (along with plenty of Border Patrol Officials) milled about the streets. But the best part was rather than an 8 mile walk to civilization and food, we just had a 8 minute stroll into the town of Palomas, Mexico.
We’d debated whether or not we should enter Mexico since Palomas is nearby Juarez which is in the midst of a dangerous drug war. But in the end it seemed safe and we were so glad we decided to enter Mexico. At The Pink Store were treated like celebrities. The owner shouted out to everyone (in Spanish and English) that we’d just walked from Canada and treated us to margaritas. We dined on muy ricos burritos and fajitas as a mariachi bands played. It was the perfect way to celebrate our (approximately) 2,800 mile journey on foot from Canada to Mexico. Naomi, Mike’s wife, had flown in for the occasion too. Yes, The Pink Store is a total tourist trap, full of handcrafted Mexican folk art and retired American couples, but it was heavenly! (Besides, of those retired couples bought us a round of drinks!)
It had been an amazing journey…. it was hard to believe it was actually over.
10/20 – 10/24 The section from Miembres to Deming gave us a taste of several extremes. We had a day of rain and snow around Hillsboro Peak, a few days later it was burning sunshine. The “trail” was a mix of unmaintained trail, easy dirt roads, overgrown old roads and bushwacking through cactus and prickly little plants whose burrs stabbed your feet. Most of the rivers we passed were dry but there were windmills or solar wells every 10 or 15 miles. Unfortunately much of the designated trail was on private land – which we didn’t realize until we came up to a fence and AFTER having crossed it, looked back to see a “No Trespassing” sign. Opps! The highlight for me was exploring an abandoned house that was stuffed with fascinating old stuff.
When we arrived in Deming we got a great newly remodeled room at The American Inn (formerly the hideously run-down Mirador Motel) and got straight to business: watching HGTV. I know that most people probably already know about Home and Garden TV, but as someone who rarely watches TV, I didn’t discover the channel until a few weeks ago. It soon became a main part of our town stops… I was hooked. It offers all the benefits of looking for a house or remodeling a room or landscaping a yard without any of the negatives – having to worry about time, money, effort, if you’ll be happy with the finished product, etc. An entire basement is transformed from a concrete box to an inviting apartment in just half an hour. For me, who constantly daydreams about decorating our condo, HGTV is quite addictive.
We climbed over, under and in between many barbed wire fences!
Still, we managed to pull ourselves away from the TV to do chores and have dinner with Keith, the Deming Trail Angel. We swapped stories and he informed us of the water situation for the next section – we only had 57 miles left till the Mexican border! Incredible!
But not quite as incredible as Dan’s fashion sense.
10/19 – We set off with Hawkeye and Kombucha and Mike on a “rainbow route” (Yas continued on the Gila River route). It was great chatting and walking with H&K since we hadn’t hiked with them in ages and it would be our last opportunity to hike with them since they were getting off trail for a few days to go to a friend’s wedding. That afternoon we randomly ran into Wrong Way in his jeep. It was a great reunion. That evening we were in for a treat, when Trail Angel Pete picked us up from the Miembres Ranger Station and hosted us at his lovely home. The journey there, flying along steep, winding dirt roads in his truck, was like being in a driving video game but we all made it! Pete moved to New Mexico a few years ago because of health problems and to be closer to his good friend Julie who runs a little store in San Lorenzo. It was great chatting with Pete as we ate the most flavorful little green apple from a tree in his front yard. Yum! New Mexico rocks – there’s Trail Angels in almost every town!
The next morning we had muy rico burritos at the store, resupplied, said goodbye to Hawkeye & Kombucha 😦 and then it was back to the trail.
10/18 – For a fantastic finish to our Nero Day, we went for a dip in the Gila Hot Springs and then to dinner. At the hot springs there was some beautiful sculptures made from driftwood and found objects. It was an enchanting place. And, our tour guide Esther had invivted us over to her and her husband’s trailer for a home-cooked meal. It was the first home-cooked food we’d had since Yellowstone. Ester whipped up a scrupmtious vegetarian meal of lentils, veggies, wild rice, fresh salad from the garden, deviled eggs and more. It was great chatting with them about straw bail homes, York, wolves, and art. In addition to leading tours of the Cliff Dwellings, Esther paints beautiful oil portraits. After one more dip in the steaming hot springs by the light of the moon, it was time for bed.
We slept in, nibbled on our few remaining crumbs and then headed over to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Our tour guide, Esther, was a friendly Brit who’d gone to uni in York. The Dwellings were fascinating. The were built by the Mogollon Native American people around the 1300s but only occupied for about 30 years. Unfortunately it didn’t become a protected site until 1975 so most archeological artifacts were plundered, but the adobe brick structures remain, tucked into deep caves. The setting is superb and Esther was a very informative tour guide. It’s incredible to me that Americans are still taught our history began in 1620 with the arrival of the Mayflower when there is a rich history that extends hundreds of years before Plymouth.
Shortly after arriving at Doc Campbell’s store, where we feasted on homemade ice cream, Kombucha and Hawkeye arrived. They’d had some exciting bear encounters in the Gila. Then, to our surprise, Wing It and Don’t Panic arrived! Wing It and Don’t Panic had started really moving and had already finished the trail, taking the Crazy Cook route. DP’s parents had met them at the border and they’d come back up to the Gila to see the cliff dwellings. It was great to see them.
Kombucha, Hawkeye, Yas, Wing It, Don't Panic, DnA, Mike