Aloha Decorah!

In Sept we jet-set it to small town Iowa for our thru-hiking friends Tim & Nina’s wedding. We’d first met Nina as Silverfox on the PCT in ’09. Then we’d gotten to know her properly as Kombucha when she hiked the CDT with her boyfriend Tim (Hawkeye). We hiked with Tim & Nina on and off during the entire CDT. And afterwords, they continued vagabonding it – they bought a VW Van an toured all over the US before ending up back in Tim’s hometown of Decorah.

photo by Nina

And Decorah – wow, what a surprise! The town itself is charming, with a great main street that includes a local food co-op, yoga studio, outdoor store and some great bars & cafes. The hills in the distance were already blazing with autumn color and there’s acres of wild prairie, trails winding through the woods and a meandering river.

It was a shame we weren’t able to have a true CDT reunion (we are now spread far and wide – Heaps in Australia, Lost in Alaska, Yas in Japan, Found in Cali, Joker in Washington state) but Mike with a Y & Naomi were able to come. It was hard to believe it had been almost a year since we’d seen Tim & Nina and Mike & Naomi. As soon as we were together again, it seemed like we’d only been apart a few days. It was great catching up and also reminiscing about times on the trail.

the beautiful bride

Tim & Nina’s wedding captured their spirit in every detail. The ceremony was held in the dappled sunshine besides a bubbling spring.  Since they met in Hawaii (and Tim is half Hawaiian) they exchanged gorgeous leis (and hi-fives) at the beginning of the ceremony. Their beloved dog Rio also donned a lei and severed as flower-dog. The vows they’d written were funny, sincere and lovely.  Afterwords we enjoyed dinner and dancing at the historic hotel downtown. Instead of wedding cake, we munched on peanut M&Ms (which was Tim’s sole source of “nourishment” for a 100 mile stretch on CDT) and scotch-a-roos (an amazing chocolatey peanut buttery rice krispy treat that Tim’s mom makes and sent us along the trail).

The only disappointment was that our time in Decorah was much much too short. Reuniting with such kindred spirits was nourishing. We need to find a thru-hiking community in the DC area!  And  witnessing the union of two beautiful free spirits was such a joy.

Yas please!

A few weeks ago our amazing Japanese thru-hiking friend Yas came to visit. We first met Yas briefly on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) but we really got to know him while hiking hundreds of miles with him on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  Here are some things you should know about Yas:

  • he’s a human GPS… seriously, this guy is a navigational miracle who does it all old school with a map and compass
  • he makes his own gear and is ultra/über/super lightweight
  • he’s fast as heck but also slowed waaaaaay down to finish the CDT with us
Now he’s thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) and is bombing it… he hiked from Georgia to West Virginia in just over a month. He’s a hiking celeb in Japan. His trail name on the CDT was “Rock Steady” and on the AT it’s “V8.”  We bought him a 1/2 gallon of V8 to welcome him to our home!
Anyhow, we had an amazing weekend visiting with Yas. It was definitely surreal to see him doing all the usual thru-hiker things – carrying all he needed for months on end in 1 backpack, resupplying on junk food for the next stretch of trail, showering only once a week – while we were doing the “normal life” routine of working 9-5, living in a house and showering daily. Even though Dan & I are both really happy with our jobs, our house and our life, hearing about Yas’ experinces made us long for the trail…. oh trail fever! 
But it was also fun being a tiny bit like Trail Angels and feeding Yas insane amounts of food, providing him with a shower & laundry, doing a whirlwind tour of DC, quizzing him about all his experiences and just generally soaking in all amazingness that is Yas…. until he had to head back to Harper’s Ferry 😦
P.S. We have to brag on Yas so much because he’s a little bit shy and absolutely modest about his many achievements!
We hope to host more friends hiking the AT in the future… if that’s you, please get in touch!

But for now, reminisce with us about our adventures with Yas here….


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.

Darling Deming

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.

Gila Hot Springs

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.

Dwellings + Doc’s

10/18 –

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

Gila River

Trail magic from Wrong Way

10/14 – 10/15 – Over the next few days we walked through ponderosa forests, mainly on jeep roads but we also had our first trail since before Grants.  Wrong Way met us at a non-functioning windmill with water and other goodies.  It would have been a looooooong waterless stretch if not for his generosity. We climbed Mangus and Wagontongue Mountain before descending to the lovely rolling grassland of Collins Park. Pronghorn pranced across the golden hills. Thunder and lightning were looming on the horizon when we arrived at Snow Lake on the afternoon of 10/16.  We were expecting to hunker down in the bathroom for the worst of it, but the storm passed us by without a drop of rain.  At the lake we met some friendly El Pasonians, one of whom owned a pizzeria and generously gave us coupons for 4 free pizzas! 

The Middle Fork of the Gila River

October 17th we faced 77+ crossings of the Middle Fork of the Gila River.  In the frosty morning it was torture to immerse our feet and ankles into the icy water. But as the sun’s rays finally reached into the narrow canyon, the water warmed and terra-cotta cliffs on either side were stunning.  We walked along oak and pine trees and saw lots of bear scat but no bears. But, in the words of Jim Wolf, “enough is enough,” so we climbed up the top of the mesa. Our climb was rewarded with a grand vista of the valley the fuchsia and lemon coloured fruit of various cactus.  In the evening light we descended to the West Fork of the Gila to camp at Upper Scorpion campground.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Forgive us our trespass

10/13 – After pie for breakfast it was time to say good-bye. We said farewells to Phil and Beth, fab travelling Trail Angels; to Nita, the Hawaiian hostess extraordinaire; to Wrong Way, the great storyteller, Harley rider and thru-hiker; and to our fellow SoBos Heeps, Hawkeye and Kombucha.  And so Yas, Mike and DnA set off down the dirt road.

Dan, Phil, Anna and Beth

In the evening we found a suitable camp in a little wooded patch down the bank of the dirt road we’d been walking. It was one of the few places we’d passed that hadn’t been fenced off with barbed wire and No Trespassing signs, so we figured it would be ok to camp there. Now that autumn is here, it begins to get dark around 6:30 or 7pm, so we were enjoying our ramen and mac-n-cheese dinners by the light of our headlamps.  Suddenly a truck that had been proceeding down the road beside us ground to a halt and then slammed into reverse – headed back towards us.  Uh oh!  We heard the car door open and Dan called out a friendly “hello!” but there was no reply.

Two men approached us and called out, “Who gave you permission to camp on this land?” Before we could stammer out a reply he said, “This is my land. You’ve got to move.” 

“We’re so sorry, sir,” Dan said. “We’ll move right now. We didn’t know it was your land.”

Great, I thought. We have to pack up all our stuff, walk in the dark, and how are we even supposed to know when we’re off his land anyway?  

“What are you all doing here anyway?” he asked.  So we told him about how we had started in Canada and were hiking south along the Continental Divide Trail. You could tell he was surprised and impressed. “You started in Canada?!?”  And suddenly his tone changed all together. I guess he’d thought we were hunters, and after realizing we were hikers who would be leaving early the next morning, there was a 180° change.

“Oh, well, don’t worry about it. You all can camp here tonight,” the man said.  “Do you need anything? Can we bring you some food or water?” 

Wow! We couldn’t believe this angry landowner had become a generous benefactor. 

“No, it’s ok, we’ve got plenty of food and water. But thank you so much for letting us camp here!”