Cuba to Chama – Giardia and Hypothermia aren’t so bad, except when you have them at the same time

Monday, May 19, 2014

Grabbed a couple breakfast burritos at the gas station/food joint just around the corner after I was able to sort out my package situation between the post office and the motel.  I don’t even wanna get into it. Fed up.  Didn’t even get goin until about 11-1130am which is much much later than I was anticipating.  Whatever, not like I’m not used to it at this point….miles and miles to go and minimal time to do it in. The others were at least a full day ahead of me. 

I had a 7 mile road walk out of town until I reached the trail head to start my ascent into the San Pedro Wilderness.  The moment I hit the trail there was a flowing brook less than 100 yards into it. Unbelievable. Where the HELL was this BEFORE CUBA….nowhere. It became apparent that I was going to be surrounded by water for the rest of the day as the San Pedro Mountains still had snow melting on them and that meant flowing water everywhere.  I drank directly from this brook even though I had plenty of water in my pack. I dunked my bottle in a rapid and filled it to the top and screwed on my filter and drank a liter just for the hell of it. I was making absolutely sure to do my best to rehydrate and keep hydrated from this point on.  The higher up I got the cooler it became and the lower the sun got. Once I reached the top of the first considerable up I was sitting at the 9,000 foot range and the vast forest of pines and aspens opened up to beautiful fields of grass surrounded by pockets of white snow.  The very first field I came across had several Elk grazing among the vivid green grass. I stopped and just looked 360 degrees around me and marveled at what a different environment I found myself in compared to my day hiking into Cuba. I smiled and got one of those feelings of sound happiness. This is why you suffer through those brutal conditions in the desert on this trail. This is why you push the fight north and keep moving your feet, one in front of the other. You eventually find yourself perpetually surrounded by the incredible and awe-inspiring power of nature and life……and WATER.

The trail followed in and out of boggy fields of grass and along mountain streams that were the products of snow melt.  The further I went the higher up I got and the swampier the fields became. For the most part the trail stayed out of the bogs but as the sun was about to set over the trees I came across the last “stream” for a while and decided to cook dinner here and fill up my water.  I had to travel through the bog to get to the stream and my mesh shoes started to saturate with water. I didn’t love this as the sun was setting and the temperatures were about to plummet.  No way of warming up or drying out once that happened until morning.  I was able to finish cooking and filtering before sundown but only just before. I had another 60-90 mins of light before I would need my headlamp and decided to hike until just before that.

During my next stretch I encountered even more bogs and my feet became completely soaked. There was no avoiding it, this was snow melt and it was all around. What am I gonna do, complain about water after my last couple of days? Keep it all in perspective, Jabba. Good with the bad, bad with the good. The bad makes the good that much more worth it and enjoyable….there is always a balance. There must always be a balance and it’s I always say, “You can’t win ‘em all!”

As chance should have it the trail brought me to the summit of San Pedro Peak which sat above 10,000 feet and had a spectacular view to the east which set up for the perfect morning sunrise.  The wind was cold and stiff and I was eager to get in my 17 degree down sleeping bag. I set my bag up on the calm side of a tall pine tree that had limbs and needles down to the ground to protect me from the brunt of the wind.  The sky was completely clear and I cowboy camped yet again, the stars were bursting and the sky was brilliant. Bitter cold was setting in though, time to zip the bag and pull the drawstring on the hood….seal that shit up tight tight tight!

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Woke up to the sun blazing my bag up. It was still cold out but a 17 degree bag is nice and toasty for my since I sleep hot, add that sun beating down on its synthetic skin and you got yourself a super cooker. I grabbed my shoes to put them on and they were covered with ice as they were soaked when I went to bed, I pulled the insoles out and placed them in the heat of the direct sunlight and one each propped up on my hiking poles that were punctured into the ground to thaw out while I tackled all my other morning chores. No time to lose, had to break camp and get a move on. Jocked up and hit it within 30 mins of waking up. Big day ahead. I sent a resupply box to Ghost Ranch near the Rio Chama and I told the other hikers that I would catch them by that point which was 53 total miles from Cuba.  I only knocked out 14 yesterday because it was almost entirely all up until the point where I camped. Extremely difficult to maintain a high MPH when you’re constantly going up. My goal was to hike 25-30 miles today and get within 10 miles to hit Ghost Ranch before lunch time tomorrow.

The day started nice and easy, water was plentiful and I was hiking at a good clip as it was mostly down for the better part of the morning. I eventually came to a fresh mountain spring after a few hours of walking.  It was incredible. It was the greatest thing my eyes had ever seen, it was like I was actually hiking in the Appalachian Mountains. The water was coming out from under a rock that was underneath the root system of a tree in the side of the mountain. It was so cold and so crisp. This water was drinkable right from the ground. I sat there and ate a few snacks and drank a couple liters unfiltered. As a rule I never filter anything that I can see coming right out of the mountain. This is the mountain’s purest form of water and I relished every drop I took from it.

I pushed on a few more miles and came to another stream but just before I got there another hiker came up behind me, it was Seminole. I met him briefly back in Cuba and he was accompanied by Texas Poo and Seeking. When we got to the stream there was the most inviting patch of green grass just beyond it.  This was the lunch spot. You don’t pass a spot like this up on this trail.  Green grass, wonderful breeze, sun shining, crisp cool air, and a babbling brook to top it all off.  We all kicked off our shoes and set in for a nice long lunch. We all whipped out our stoves and pots and drank our fill and ate til satisfied.  Seminole even cooked up bacon and brought cheese and veggies to make these awesome wraps. He made an extra one and cut it into thirds for all of us, it was incredibly delicious. We had a good time shootin’ the shit for a while, these were good dudes.  But as it goes with thru hiking, somebody has to hit it first and I felt the need to cover more ground so I packed up, thanked Seminole and slapped hands with all before shoving off.

The noon sun began to beat down harder the further I descended out of the San Pedros. To my surprise the further I went the more it began to feel like desert, yet there were still trees.  The dry and hot climate began to take hold of me.  I thought I was hydrated enough since my last encounter with the intense sun. I guess I wasn’t cautious enough, the further I hiked the harder it became. There was shade to be found all around but the sun found the trail more often than not and that’s where the action was.  I had plenty of water but it didn’t feel like enough. The further I went the closer I found myself approaching the bottom of a monstrous mesa or cliff wall, it appeared to be a couple thousand feet high. I prayed that I wasn’t going to be forced to climb it because if that was the case I’d be climbing it during the hottest part of the day. The closer I came to the beautiful and incredibly colorful cliff wall I knew that I would be going straight up it, especially when I cross-referenced the terrain with my topo maps and my GPS….the reality set in. Time to suck it the fuck up and keep going.  I knew the other three wouldn’t be too far behind me and while normally this would be motivation to push hard and not let them catch me, I knew that I was coming off a close call back in the desert south of Cuba and this was no time to let my pride get in the way of safety.  I took my time and ducked into the shade and drank water and took breaks as needed. About half way up I began to feel extremely fatigued and a part of me began to worry if that last heat exhaustion incident had permanently affected me…luckily that was just my brain playing tricks on me but the fatigue was real. While I lay ducked under a Juniper, the other three passed me and secretly my pride took a hit, I don’t like being passed. I don’t like being anything but dominant. But this wasn’t a sprint to Canada and I’ve seen too many prideful hikers come off trail for a plethora of reasons. This was survival and I aimed to make my mark.

I took my time and I eventually made it to the top not too far behind the other three and when we were up there we all bailed off trail to a spring that was down a gravel road. The road paralleled the trail for about a mile until the spring until they forked and the trail went straight up the ridgeline.  We made it to the spring and were all incredibly glad to be there, it was a freaking hot afternoon and the climb up the cliff was strenuous and took its toll. The others I gathered were all out of water, I still had a little when I made it there but I drank my fill and topped off. They sat down for a little bit of a longer break and I picked up and shoved off ahead of them.

The rest of the evening was gorgeous, the sun cooled off and the breeze picked up on top of the ridgeline above the spring. Little did I know that what I was about to walk down into was an incredible canyon. But before I did I stopped before the descent and set in for a long dinner break.  Time to cook.  My feet were tired as I had already hiked about 22 miles or so up until this point and it was pretty rough trail.  The other three pushed on ahead of me as we were all trying to make for the Rio Chama by day’s end to make for an easy 10 mile morning to have lunch at the Ghost Ranch chow hall.  I told the boys id meet them at camp no later than 11pm as the sun set where I was about to cook dinner.  Sometimes you just gotta sit the hell down and feed the body the calories it needs to push on. This was one of those times. 

After the feet and shoes dried out and my belly was satisfied I jocked back up and began the seemingly unending descent down the canyon. Switching back this way and that through canyon walls and down to a stream that wound around like a snake for miles, dipping up and down and in and out. The terrain was as winding as you would want when all you were doing was essentially walking a straight line to the Rio Chama miles out.  Makes for a long a mile, a very long mile, mile after mile. The further down the canyon I walked the more incredible the walls became and the more articulated the colors and nooks and crannies became as well. It was truly a marvel and a sight to behold. To be standing beneath these massive walls felt almost fake, that’s how puny I was compared to them.  

Finally it became too dark to safely walk without a headlamp and slapped that sucker on my forehead as I still had about 4 or 5 miles to go. As soon as you put your headlamp on in desert conditions like this you really get a sense for how dry it is as every step you take shoots the dirt at your feet into the air above and your headlamp lights each particle up like the 4th of July.  You really start to understand why it is that your nose has been dried up and blood-booger filled for the last several hundred miles. As I passed through the sage brush fields, the canyon began to open up further and further as I approached the river.  My headlamp was also lighting up each and every single spider’s eyes as they came out from the spider holes at night.  Millions of them everywhere.  If you aren’t content with the knowledge that you are sharing the ground with inspects and spiders and cow shit, then cowboy camping ain’t for you and that’s exactly what I intended on doing this night, yet again. 

I finally got close enough to the river that the other boys saw my headlamp and they flagged me down with their own headlamps from the other side of the river from about a half mile out.  I came up to their camp and they were perched right alongside the rushing river, it was clearly flowing heavily from the snow melt in the mountains further upstream.  I set up my site and was in bed asleep by 10. Roughly a 30 mile day and I felt pretty good considering. My body was surely adapting to these big mile days very well, excluding the dehydration factor.  Days like this on the AT came much, much harder for me.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to truly compare the two. The sound of the rushing river put me right to sleep before I even had a chance to try.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What happens every morning? I get the hell out of my sleeping bag, that’s what. It’s not easy every morning but on this particular morning it was very mild and I didn’t have to sleep with my bag zipped up completely for what felt like the first time on the trail since I started.  I crammed a couple snacks down my gullet and rushed out of camp before Texas Poo, Seeking, and Seminole.  They wouldn’t be far behind though, these guys keep a similar pace to my own if not faster. Seminole was definitely running damn near ultralight so his pace was noticeably faster and he usually had a little more pep in his step.

The morning sun revealed the true nature of the river canyon, as well as all the canyons that stemmed off from the main one. Pretty powerful views. I stopped several times just to look around and take it all in. Apparently this was the region that Georgia O’Keefe used as her inspiration for many of her most famous paintings and Ghost Ranch, where we were heading, was her home base for a lot of it.  Rumor was that you had to make it to the place by 11 to purchase tickets for the meal at noon, I learned this when I was about 3 miles out and I had exactly 40 minutes to make it there by 11….I was wearing my crocs at this point because it was a gravel road walk and my feet were a little sore from the big miles in the new shoes. So there I was in crocs and had to cover 3 miles in 40 minutes. Now, if you’re walking 3 miles an hour you can cover 2 miles in 40 minutes exactly. With a pack on 3 miles is moving at a pretty good clip…I made the call, time to punch it. I was just barely ahead of Seeking and Texas Poo at this point and took off like a bat out of hell. There was no damn way I was going to allow myself to miss a hot cooked meal that I didn’t have to prepare myself in a titanium camping cook pot. I ran like the wind and crushed the three miles in less than 30 minutes easily. Not bad for a hairy ogre with a pack on in a pair of crocs. Of course when I arrived there was no need for all the rush as you could buy your ticket right up until the time when they were serving dinner. But guess who didn’t care? Me. I was there and I wasn’t late. And now I had a good hour to chill out and learn the lay of the place before lunch time.  I came in just minutes behind Hikaholic and the other Warrior Hikers got in around midnight the night before as they decided to death march it on in, my first time not doing so at a town stop or place of significance.  Although don’t think it didn’t cross my mind the night before. 

Lunch was pizza and wings, what timing.  You couldn’t have planned a better meal for a group of thru hikers.  There were all sorts of other people on the campus as the place was huge. People were there to ride horseback through the vast canyons, hike, go on bus tours of Georgia O’Keefe painting scenery, and then there was the Hiker Trash, just there to be all trashy….polite and respectful, but trashy.  We stink, and badly.  We know it and everybody else knows it.  We are a different breed, so when we step off the trail into a place like this, we feel the gap between our different cultures.  We are practically second class citizens but we are proud of who we are and what we do.  You’ll rarely find someone with the amount of freedom that we possess and display daily.  Lunch was incredible. Instead of grabbing a tray and a plate to put on it, I just grabbed the tray sans the plate and pilled it high with pizza and wings of all varieties.  A mountain of food on a lunch tray lay in front of me at the cafeteria table. If you put anything in the way of me and that food you were probably going to lose it.  Bit by bit I devoured the mountain and conquered the lunch.  At the end I wasn’t as satisfied as I thought I would be, my stomach kind of hurt. It didn’t feel right.  This wasn’t how I normally felt after a scrumptiously, non-nutritious meal. I almost felt the need to head to the rest room and take care of some back door type business. But I got it under control and went back to main desk area where I left my pack.  By the time I staggered back there my stomach was getting worse. I grabbed my pack and made the walk back to the RV camping area which was where I would make my home for the next 24 hours. No more hiking today. I carried my box of food with me that I had mailed there for a resupply.

By the time I made it back to the camping area I was in desperate need of a bathroom. Now, I don’t wanna gross anyone out but this is the reality of what I was dealing with. THEE most severe diarrhea that you could possibly ever freaking imagine hit me like a Mack truck carrying a ton of shit bricks. And this wasn’t a one and done. This was a once every 10-15 minutes. After about a dozen trips to the bath house that was beside where I decided to camp I determined that I had, indeed, contracted giardia.  If you don’t know what giardia is, you get it from drinking contaminated water.  Usually from a water source that has animal feces in or near it, yum. They say that sometimes symptoms take 10-14 days to present themselves after actually ingesting the contaminated water. So really there is no telling what water source I got it from and it really didn’t matter. I was nowhere that I could seek medical help. My best bet was to hydrate as much as possible as the severe diarrhea would drain my bodily fluids, fluids that I needed to hike long distances.  I had no option for taking a zero day here, I had to hike out in the morning. As the day wore on my condition worsened, I felt ill, I felt queasy and I was burping up food constantly.  I tried laying down and napping and that didn’t really help too much. I just tried to rest and keep drinking liquids.

Dinner time rolled around and it was chicken Alfredo. I tried to scarf some down but nothing was appetizing and I shoved my plate away barely having eaten anything. I must have had to run to the bathroom 4 times during dinner too, this did not bode well for hiking.  I went back to my campsite and was camped away from all the others as I wanted to be closest to the bath house.

Now for the really embarrassing shit, pun intended. I woke up in the middle of the night having shit my pants. This was horrible. Luckily it was pitch black and nobody was around because I climbed out of my sleeping bag and ripped my underwear to assess the damage. Luckily everything was consolidated in there and the sleeping wasn’t touched. I walked naked through the dark night to the bath house hoping not to encounter another soul and made for the showers.  This was to be a two-fer as I washed my body and cleaned my underwear. A grown man shat himself and drank his own urine within one week, terrific. I came out of the shower and dried off with a few paper towels and walked outside yet again buck naked. This wasn’t a vacant camp ground either. There were people all over. All I needed next was to be charged for indecent exposure or defecation in public, yeah buddy! I casually strolled on back to my sleeping bag and slipped on in after hanging my underwear up to dry on a Juniper branch overhead. Back to sleep for this poor bastard. How was I going to hike tomorrow?

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Woke up early and packed all my things up first thing in the morning, after about a dozen trips to the restroom, of course. This was going to be tricky. I needed to eat but I still didn’t feel like eating.  I went to the main office and asked if their first aid facility was open to maybe get some anti-diarrheal medication but the lady informed me that it would not be open until their peak summer season which just happened to be in one week. All the other guys were going to be ready to push out right after breakfast. We all made it there and they all feasted on all the goodies, bacon, eggs, cereal, coffee, toast. I could barely eat a few eggs and a glass of orange juice.  The others finished breakfast and prepared to hike out. I sat there pondering how long it would take me to take a shit once I hiked out. Probably two freaking minutes, since that’s exactly what happened when I put my pack on. Pack down, back to the bathroom.  I pondered staying there an extra night but that would seriously mess up the mileage plan to make it to Cumbres Pass by Monday (which is officially over the Colorado border).  All our cold weather gear and snow shoes were meeting us in Chama which is a 12 mile hitch from Cumbres Pass. Before we ended up making our definitive plan we learned some new information about the next stretch of miles and apparently there was some substantially snow standing in our way between here and Cumbres. We decided to find an alternate way to get into Chama before we had to tackle the worst of it so we could pick up the proper gear. It was 54 miles to route 64 and Hopewell Lake. We coordinated a ride with a gentleman that lived in Chama who was friends with Rick Romero from Cuba and we arranged a pick up two mornings from now. That means I DEFINITELY had to get truckin’. 

I needed to hike out and couldn’t really afford to waste a ton more time thinking about it. Time to do some more suffering on this trail. Embrace the Brutality or get the fuck off the trail, that’s what I’ve been saying. I even told the Continental Divide Trail Coalition Director that when she asked me for a quote for some Denver news publication, haha. I literally told her she could quote me. Not sure if that happened or not.  I suppose that I will find out eventually. 

I hiked out by around 11ish a couple hours behind all the others. My goal was to push 23-24 miles.  And let me tell you those first several miles were some of the slowest and least productive of my life, every 50 steps I had to duck off trail to take care of business, I was seriously worried that I was going to run out of baby wipes. Not only that but the amount of fluids I was losing was leaving me in a vulnerable state and the hike out of the canyon was made that much more difficult for me while the sun beat upon me. Here we go again. Flash backs from dehydration city the other day. I just couldn’t seem to totally shake the symptoms. It had longer lasting effects than I ever could have realized.  It had me out of whack in all sorts of ways. Once I climbed out of the initial part of the canyon I began to make my way into the pine forest and actually got off trail without even realizing it.  That’s how easy it is to get lost on this trail, it happens all the time. You stop paying attention to your maps and GPS and you think you’re on the trail but you’re really not. I found myself in a canyon between two ridges. On one side was the official trail, and on the other side was the trail coming out of Ghost Ranch, which was the one I was supposed to be on.  There really is no reason to panic as long as you know where you are, and as long as you know where you’re going. Just make sure you have a plan and stick to it and PAY ATTENTION. I decided to bushwhack back up the ridge to the alternate route after following the canyon for a bit.  Once I got back to the trail I had been hiking for about 5 hours and had only made 6 miles. This was not good progress and it had me a little concerned. I had about 18 miles to go still and it was 4pm. 

At about 14 miles in there was a spring and I figured I could make it there before night fall to tank up, camel up, and cook dinner…this was the goal and I would figure out the rest of my miles once I took care of that business. I was still shitting constantly so this sucked ass, again pun intended. I was not having a fun day hiking but it was beautiful and tried to enjoy myself as best I could.  I definitely talk to myself out loud a lot. This helps keep me sane believe or not.

Made it to the spring around 7pm and was happy to find a beautiful field facing the sunset and a pipe pumping fresh spring water out of it into a metal tank.  I would take a nice long break here and kick off my shoes and socks, cook, the usual.  Unfortunately for me, the distant sound of thunder that was happening all day seemed to be finally encroaching on me. I wasn’t sure how long it would hold out before the rain started but the threat wasn’t quite yet immediate. The clouds were rollin in though. It was only a matter of time.  About halfway through my break, Hikesawhile and Hikaholic (no relation) showed up so it was nice to have some company for a little while before I shoved off. They had no intention of leaving that spot as they were going to camp there for the night. But I did find it interesting that I got ahead of them somehow even when they left before me and I got lost and stopped about a billion times to “release the hounds.”  Apparently they got even more lost than I did and on more occasions. 

I decided to beat feet before it got too dark and bid those two a very fond farewell. They didn’t even ponder joining me on more miles as their day was done and they were content staying safe out of the looming storm. 

Somehow, I was able to muster up the fortitude to push the next 9-10 miles at blazing speed, especially compared to how the first few went. My stomach calmed down enough (but not entirely) to allow me to move at a good clip. Before I knew it, it was 10pm and I only had 5 miles to go, I picked up the pace as the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in harder. I began seeing lightning in the distance from on top of the ridge and began to worry that I would be caught exposed at this high altitude while this electric storm pushed closer towards me. Every time the light flashed my heart skipped a beat as it got closer and closer. I decided it was a good idea to start running because it felt like the rain was gonna come crashing down on me any second but as soon as the trail started ascending up I immediately stopped running. I mean I didn’t wanna get wet, but I wasn’t trying to OVERexert myself, haha. It was only water. Besides, if it was about to rain I still had about a mile to go at this point and there was no way I was going to dodge it. About a half mile from where I had decided to camp the sprinkles started. I didn’t bother actually stopping to throw my rain jacket on but I did have easy access to it and threw the hood over my head and draped the rest of the jacket over my pack by flinging it over my head as if I had rock star hair (which I kind of do). I rolled up to the water source where I was to make my camp just as there was a break in the spritzing rain and I realized I had caught up to all the other Warrior Hikers AND Scarecrow as they were all camped there with their tents set up. Except for Greyhound who was cowboy camping and got woken up by the rain, he was setting up his tarp as I rolled in.

I quickly found the most level piece of grass that I could find at this hour and busted out my shelter lickity-split. If the lightning was any indication, I had mere moments before the brunt of the storm hit. I got the rain fly up and threw all my gear in in the nick of time and sealed it up with me inside. Within seconds of hopping in the rains came down. I stripped down out of my wet clothes and ripped my sleeping bag out of the bottom of my pack and climbed on in to its warm embrace.  For the first night on the trail I crashed out to the sounds of an all-out downpour as the lightning lit up the inside of my shelter every 5 minutes or so. 

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Friday, May 23, 2014

We woke up without any sort of vigilance as we were dealing with some soaking wet tents and tarps, packing those things away while wet can way your pack down and we took our time doing our best drying them out. I stayed in my shelter probably the longest and I was surprised that I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to “take care of business” if you know what I mean.  I was terribly worried I would have to do that while the storm raged outside.  That would have been pretty miserable.  But the sun shone bright in the morning and it felt like a promising start to the day.

Things didn’t get completely dry but it was time to pack up and get going. I tried eating a little bit before going and brushed my teeth before setting off. EMBARASSING MOMENT ALERT. I wasn’t out of the woods yet, folks. And that statement held true on many levels.  As I was brushing my teeth I felt a little gaseous and attempted to do something extremely risky. I attempted the release of this gas, or what I thought was gas.  PANTS SHAT NUMERO DOS! Awesome.  Of course, I announced it proudly to all around and ran off to the woods behind a downed tree to take care of it, luckily I still had plenty of baby wipes. Two combat tour Marine needs a diaper. But then again most people wouldn’t be hiking in my current condition so I still felt like a man, haha. Since I only possess one pair of underwear, the best I could do was to clean the mess the best I could and to shove them in a zip lock bag until we got to town. I would go commando from here on out. It actually felt pretty good, but there was no more safety barrier between my danger zone and the pants. Also my pants crotch had a huge blow out so if I was sitting in front of you with my legs spread, you were definitely getting an eyeful. Lucky you.

Time to hike. Scarecrow and NO2 and I decided to take an alternate route around a few terrain features to shave a mile or two off and ended up coming back on trail right behind Ursa who camped just a little down from us. Texas Poo, Seeking and Seminole were camped just behind us and I must have passed them in the night without knowing as I rolled in around 11pm the night before. Doc Rocket was moving slowly, he apparently hurt his ankle pretty bad the day before while he was hiking in the night. 

We hiked for several miles before coming to a nice snow melt stream that had a nice sunny plot of grass near it. I was first to arrive and I dropped my pack and pulled out all my wet things and laid them all out in the sun to dry while I took a snack break and grabbed water. I didn’t filter any, you’d think I would, but I didn’t. My reasoning was that I already had giardia and at this point I just wanted to build up my immune system while I let it pass through my system, although I knew the real reason was pure laziness. 

We stayed there for a solid 30-40 minutes and I took several bathroom breaks. When the hell was this going to end? It’s really a huge inconvenience and slows me down considerably. Ursa and I jocked up and pushed out and up the mountain. The higher we got the more the clouds began to roll on as the sun became blocked out.  He made sure to keep his distance from my posterior as I was running the risk of farting constantly. We talked at length for a while. A good kid, age 23. We enjoyed some laughs and he told me I should be a comedian, I’ve been hearing this my whole life and I told him that I don’t have the patience to be sitting down and writing jokes. I work better when I can feed off the people around me. And really I’m not all that funny, I trick people into thinking that I am funny. My secret is that I just laugh at everything I say and I mean everything. The trick is that my laugh is contagious, you can’t help but laugh along with me. TA-DA, I’m FUNNY…but I’m not.

After a few bathroom breaks that separated me from Ursa, I found myself on top of an exposed ridge. Thunder and lightning was rolling in and I knew I was about to get rained on, or worse.  And it was worse. I threw my rain jacket on for the first time on this hike while actually hiking.  What I thought was going to be rain ended up being an ice storm. Pellets of snow and hail came down and pelted my legs and face for about an hour before the trail began to descend off the ridge. The lower I got , the further I made it from the storm and the clouds. I began to hike back into the sun and took my jacket off and hung it off the back of my pack to dry. I was back into 70 degree temperatures before I knew it. What a contrast of conditions. The CDT is crazy. I actually rather enjoyed the ice storm just because it was something different, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it if I was stuck up there for too long.

I began to descend down into a lush valley with green everywhere and the sun beaming down into it. IT was about noon at this point and there looked to be a pretty nice brook flowing down the middle of it. This would be where I would take my lunch and let the others catch up. I kicked off all my clothes and laid them out like the Hiker Trash that I am to dry out. Cooked some instant mashed potatoes up and hoped that the storm I just walked out of didn’t follow me. The sun was so nice and warm and this small valley was gorgeous. I almost didn’t want to leave but I still had miles and miles to go. While I was sitting there I started to hear engines in the distance. The closer the sound got I realized there was some kind of ATV entourage approaching, only it wasn’t normal ATVs. It was those mud buggies and these things came RIPPIN down into the valley at an alarming rate of speed. There were about a dozen of them. It was memorial day weekend and these guys were taking advantage. They were gone before I knew it, and not one of them offered me a ride to Canada. Assholes.

While I was wrapping up all my cooking, the lot of the group were walking down the road to my position. When they arrived I was about ready to leave but we talked about the ice storm and they definitely got the worst of it. They said they all had to bail under a tree that it was so intense. Lucky for me, I must have been just ahead of the worst of it.  We must have had around 18 miles or so to go from this point and I felt the need to get trudging while the weather was good.  I observed the terrain on my GPS and looked at where the trail went and it seemed to mindlessly follow a few forest service roads. I decided to bushwhack to cut off a few miles that seemed to double back once or twice. Again, this isn’t the AT or PCT, finding your own way is encouraged and it’s more fun to explore this way.  The purist mentality does not exist out here the way it does on those trails. My goal was to make Hopewell Lake before night fall so shaving a mile or so was definitely a step in the right direction for that.

During a few of my bushwhacking moments I ran into a bunch of wildlife, a few antelope and some wild horses. The amount of wildlife that you find on this trail is incredible. Every day you run into something. And you ALWAYS see tracks of bears, mountain lions, wolves, elk, deer, etc. My bushwhacking led me to a ravine that I had to descend into to meet back up with the trail. Thunder was getting closer to me and I felt the urgent need to make it to the trail before the rains came down.  The trail was leading me to a river crossing about a mile or so away. I didn’t know what to expect from it. Was it going to be a small creek that I could hop over? Or a raging stream? I would have to wait to find out because the lightning and rain forced me under a dense grouping of pine trees. While under there I would prepare myself and my gear for the storm. I consumed as many snacks as I could as I felt my body needing the energy. I put pants on and put my rain jacket on and slipped my pack fly over my pack and secured it tightly. The rains were coming down pretty good.  To my dismay, I could hear the river from where I was and it didn’t sound very promising for an easy river crossing.  I sat there wondering if the storm would pass soon but the rains only came down harder. No chance in dodging this one, I was about to get wet, and there would be no drying out later for this storm was here for the long haul. 

I left the shelter of the thick pines and approached the crossing. As luck would have it there was a tree extending over the whole river. With a flat edge cut out for walking on. Unfortunately, a prior flood had turned the flat edge from upright to a 90 degree angle. The part of the log that was facing up to walk on was all slick, rounded, and knobby from broken branches, this wasn’t going to be an easy maneuver in the rain.  I did my best to shimmy over and across the first half of the log but I slipped and fell, smashing my knee and leg into one of the branches and my other leg almost completely dunked into the raging river below.  My foot got wet which annoyed me, but really every single part of me was about to be soaking wet so it didn’t matter. I really could have just forded the river and it would have been the same with the amount of rain I was going to be hiking through. But I just wasn’t prepared to be wet for the long yet and I shimmied across the rest of the log to the other side.

The trail followed a canyon up, up and up and up. And the further up I went the colder the temperatures became. I began to worry about the conditions the further I ascended in elevation. I found a road that paralleled the trail and didn’t quite go to the elevations that the trail did. It was actually a longer route but I decided to take the road the rest of the way to Hopewell Lake. I don’t know the actual distance but it was probably something like 8 miles to the lake where there was supposedly a campground. I didn’t know what kind of campground to expect but I did know that no matter what I was going to make it to that point as our ride was picking us up there in the morning. My real concern was the temperatures in this rain. I had ZERO cold weather gear minus the rain jacket I was wearing that was completely soaked, as was everything else on my body. I could no longer use my trekking poles as my hands were too cold to be out and exposed to the rain and cold. I tucked my fists into my soaking wet pants pockets. A little warmer for them and at least it was a break from the wind.

Now things took a turn for the worse, the muddy sloppy road that I was slipping and sliding around on had ascended to above 10,000 feet at this point and that’s when it happened. Snow. It started to change from rain slowly but the higher I got, the fatter and more consistent the flakes became. The temperatures kept dropping. At first it was kind of cool and I preferred the snow to the rain definitely. But I was already soaked to the bone and in the cold this spelled bad news.  The snow turned to an almost white out blizzard status and I quickly realized that this was going to be a march for my life. If I stopped my core temperature would surely drop. If I stopped it was only going to be to set up my shelter and to get in a sleeping bag to stay alive.  I began to feel all my limbs numb up and I started walking faster and harder. The mud turned into a sloppy snowy mud and my feet were completely soaked walking in the snow as it began to accumulate on the ground. I couldn’t feel my toes, I couldn’t feel my feet.  I was actually worried I was about go hypothermic. I just kept saying to myself that if I stopped, I’d be in REAL trouble. The campground was always the destination. I was going to make it and I was going to make it by nightfall.  Ironic that I’m getting slammed with a blizzard the day before I get all my snow gear. 

To make matters worse I had been holding “it” in for quite some time now and it was really doing a number on my stomach. There was a lot of pressure building in there and it was painful. It made breathing and walking painful. After so long of this I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to stop. I had to release the demon inside me.  Stopping was hard and it definitely dropped my core temperature even further but at this point it was 8pm and I was within 2 miles of the campground. I was gonna make it JUST before night fall but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. I was in pain all over. I felt like I was walking on cinder blocks.  I got to the entrance of the campground by 9pm and found an unlocked brick shithouse, which was just a glorified outhouse. The moment I set foot in there I knew I would be sleeping on its floor as it was much warmer in there than it was in the below freezing outdoor temps. I ripped off all my wet things and put on my base layers which were my only warm and dry clothes at this point. What a relief. I threw on my crocs over thick warm socks and I began to explore the campground for running water and found none.  I had about ¾ of a liter of purple Gatorade mix water left in pack and that was it so I decided to head back to my bathroom and cook my last remaining Mountain House meal with boiling purple Gatorade. I was starving.  As I approached the bathroom I reached for the door handle and practically had the shit scared out of me as SCARECROW popped out screaming to startle me. What a prick, haha. NO2 and Scarecrow had pushed hard to make the campground and were in the same boat as me, soaking wet and nearly hypothermic.  I was glad to see that they made it. I informed Scarecrow to get the hell out of my bedroom/king bathroom suite. I allowed him the use of it to change into dry clothes but really I had to get on that pot POST HASTE. Luckily for me I’d be sleeping directly next to a toilet. Some of you may scoff at the thought of sleeping next to an outhouse toilet but to me, this was as close to heaven as I could get in my current situation. I cooked my Chili Mac with Beef with my boiling Gatorade and it was surprisingly not the worst thing in the world. I threw my ear plugs in and climbed in my bag and set in for the night. The bathroom door didn’t lock so I anticipated being rudely awakened by some surprised individual in the morning. DON’T CARE. 

One thought on “Cuba to Chama – Giardia and Hypothermia aren’t so bad, except when you have them at the same time

  1. So???? Did ya get woken up in the shithouse? How long did you have your “symptoms”?

    I could read this stuff all day. I just found you on facebook somehow and that lead me here. As much as I love your pictures, I really love this diary of yours. You should keep this up more.

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