We Hit the CDT, and It Hits Back

Out the Front Door and Into Adventure (Day -4 to Day Zero)

With the house ready for cat sitters and our boxes on their way, we walked out our front door on Saturday morning and headed for the airport. Trees were covered with spring flowers–how strange to think we won’t be back until the leaves are turning.

Obligatory airplane shot.

We flew from Detroit to Tucson, staying at a boutique hotel that was walkable to the train station. We could barely stay awake through a farm-to-table dinner at Five Points. The time change played a role, and we were finally allowing ourselves to relax a bit after a frantic final few weeks of planning and preparing to leave for the trail. We slept for almost ten hours that night! 

Loving life at the Downtown Clifton, Tucson.

Early Sunday morning we met up with my brother and sister-in-law who live just north of Tucson. We hiked with nearly full packs to the petroglyphs in Coronado National Forest, and while it was only a six mile hike the 90F+ Tucson heat made it feel more like ten.

An art experience you really have to work for.

We were grateful for the tough shakedown, and the cooler forecast for the Bootheel. I had already switched some clothes before we left home: instead of my Alpine Fit leggings, made me miserably hot on Franconia Ridge last summer and were fraying at the seams, I packed some Under Armor Heat Gear black capri leggings, but those were still too hot in the full desert sun. My legs and feet felt great but my face overheated quickly, and I regretted leaving my sun umbrella in the car.

Somehow my brother is a desert rat. I missed that gene.

After the hike and a veggie-heavy lunch we stopped at REI to pick up fuel cans. I tried on every pair of women’s ultralight bottoms they had and chose a pair of Mountain Hardwear Dynama pull-on pants in gray—very airy, with mesh pockets. Todd swapped his drugstore flip flops, which were not comfy enough for light town use after all, for a pair of Oofos.

I also made a change to the cache of skin potions I mentioned in my gear post. I learned the hard way that eucalyptus oil is volatile, meaning it evaporates–which is why they sell it in glass! The tiny plastic dropper bottle I had filled to the brim a couple of weeks ago was now only half full despite zero use, and I suddenly understood why my pack had smelled faintly of menthol despite no obvious leaks. I toyed with mixing it with some Aquaphor to stabilize it before realizing I was “inventing” Mentholatum and should just buy that. (I’m really good at inventing things that already exist, like the time I dreamed up sustainable trail runners made of deer hide. You know, moccasins….

Now we’re really on our way!

We caught the train from Tucson to Lordsburg on Monday at 8am, and met two fellow hikers on the platform: Rainman, from the UK, and Horse, from Denver. Conversation about reported Gila water levels and workarounds quickly ensued. Horse was heading north from Lordsburg immediately, while Rainman reported he was booked on the same shuttle with us two days later but that he was hoping to switch it to a day earlier if possible. (Rising Sun was seated behind us, but we didn’t meet him until we hit the trail.) We loved the train trip. The Texas Eagle has recliner-style seats, a big step up from other Amtrak trains we’ve experienced.

A not very good photo of a very cool place—don’t miss out on Chiricahua!

As we journeyed past Wilcox, AZ and Chiricahua National Monument we saw Cochise Head on the horizon and remembered our fun hike there last year when we stayed in a yurt on a lavender farm. Because AZ doesn’t recognize Daylight Savings Time—and the train was 38 minutes late—our “three hour trip” got us to Lordsburg after 12:30. We encountered two hikers from Germany as we lined up to leave the train but didn’t catch their names. Lordsburg doesn’t really have a train station–the “platform” is literally a metal step stool that an Amtrak agent lowered from the train door, and an information sign with a shade booth.

Slightly more formal than being thrown from the train.

The Econolodge is the hiker hotel of choice in Lordsburg, but we had Hilton points to burn and decided to stay at the relatively upscale Hampton instead—there will be plenty of time for crappy roadside motels later when we will enjoy them more gratefully. At the hotel we met hiker couple Butters and Hot Mess who had just made the 85-mile journey from Crazy Cook back to Lordsburg and were planning a zero the next day. Hearing about their slog through the heat we were once again grateful for the cooler forecast ahead. We were SO grateful for real talk from seasoned hikers who had found the desert a bit of a shock. (You can read about their adventures on their site WanderinThru–Hot Mess is vlogging, and Butters is blogging their CDT hike.)

Lordsburg has seen better days, but we loved the people we met.

Lordsburg is short on restaurants and most of them are closed on Mondays, so we hit the grocery store for some frozen tamales, veggies, chips, queso, and salsa. Everyone we encountered in town was friendly and aware that we were CDT hikers. It was nice to feel welcome, and we saw that the county newspaper had a front page story about becoming an official CDT Gateway Community. The staff at the Hampton went above and beyond, even emptying a box to give us one so we could leave behind our supplies for the next section at no charge.

Our first Lordsburg sunset—and the last big trees we’d see for days.

The next morning, our final pre-trail day, we walked 1.9 miles south of town to visit the ghost town of Shakespeare just in time for the 10am tour. The town was first a stagecoach stop called Mexican Springs, then called Grant after the Civil War, and then Ralston, named after the California banker who funded a silver mine leading to a boom starting in 1871. Then the Great Diamond Swindle of 1873 ruined the town’s reputation: some crafty character put some diamonds in various ant hills and then tricked people into thinking the ants were carrying them out of the mountain. When the U.S. dollar moved from the silver standard to the gold standard, Ralston was bust.

This ghost town once comprised 3,000 men, 16 saloons—and zero official lawmen.

A few years later electricity was the new fad, requiring copper–so the mining resumed, and the town got a new name to shake off its bad reputation: Shakespeare. They even had a classy hotel called the Stratford, fittingly on Avon Street. Today the Stratford is falling down around its ears: baby birds call out for food from the rafters where they used to hang horse thieves.

Dave, center, prepares us for careers in stagecoach repair in 1872.

We learned the surprising stories of Rita Hill, who built a shack to block (unsuccessfully) the construction of I-10, and her daughter Janaloo Hill, whose promising career as a model and dancer was cut short when she was called home to take over the ranch and ghost town lest they fall to ruin. She ran a dance studio for the young people of Lordsburg while also maintaining the ranch–the little museum showcases the many dresses and costumes she sewed, alongside the folding knife she used to castrate calves. After her death in 2005 her husband Manny preserved both the ghost town and her memory. Today the caretaker is Manny’s son-in-law Dave who grew up in NE Ohio and came out to Shakespeare every summer as a child. The blacksmith barn featured the biggest set of old tools I’ve ever seen, and Dave is an engaging if eclectic tour guide. If you happen to be in town on a day they are open, it’s a trip–just be sure to call ahead, Dave says.

The salsa and guacamole at Ramona’s are on point.

We enjoyed a hearty New Mexican lunch at Ramona’s, which now occupies what used to be Kranberry’s. Everything was homemade and delicious. See you on the other side, Ramona! We hit the hay early in anticipation of our pre-dawn shuttle ride. 

Goodbye, bathtub and comfy bed.

Day 1 — Introductions, and the brutality begins — 14.6 miles 

On Wednesday morning a little before 6am we headed out on foot to the Lordsburg Chamber of Commerce to catch our CDTC shuttle to the terminus. We were a big group of fifteen, requiring three trucks instead of the usual two–our driver Dan is a trail coordinator who was driving one of the shuttles for the first time.

Before leaving we all claimed our hang tags, and were given CDT bandanas and stickers. We rode with hiker Eva from Germany, Rising Sun from LA, and Houlin from Bend, OR, who had first attempted the CDT in the early 90’s. We also met Hamilton, Baggins, Highlander, Bus Driver, Achilles, Raptor, and others I’m forgetting. The road was bumpy and slow going, and we shared stories about gear and route choices, backgrounds, and past adventures.

Little does he know what he’s gotten himself into.

We stopped in Hachita for a bathroom break and last snacks, and we also stopped at one of the four official water caches between the border and Lordsburg for a quick tutorial. The water cache boxes also include hand sanitizer, sunscreen, and the ever-crucial trail register notebooks. 

The water cache tutorial boiled down to, “wash your damn hands first, and put the lid back on.”

As we got closer to the border, about 20 miles away, we saw Rainman walking along the road–his shuttle day switch had been successful. We were at the Crazy Cook rock by 9:30, and after a group photo and many individual photos atop the monument we all hit the trail around 10am, quickly putting space between us in the vast, desolate, unrelentingly sunny landscape. 


Don’t piss off the chef.

The before picture.

At first the sun and heat seemed manageable, and we bounced along with delight that we were finally setting out. Soon the midday heat swelled to its peak, with no shade available. While some members of our party had managed to make it to a big shade tree for a siesta, Todd and I had not made it so far by then, and huddled under our sun umbrellas along scanty shrubs.

Gimme shelter.

A long-dead Holstein cow lay along the trail, sneering at us as the desert slowly reclaimed it. We were grateful we’d each carried 3L of water to start, and we needed every drop before finally reaching the first water cache box 14.5 miles later. 

Here’s something you’d never see in grizzly country.

Fortunately a bit of cloud cover developed in the afternoon. We had planned to hike onward a few miles before making camp, but we had nothing left in the tank. We enjoyed our first trail dinner, tofu and rice noodles with ginger eggplant and green peas. 

So far so good.

We set up our Lunar Duo tent, which was very frustrating on such rocky, dusty ground–it’s a fussy tent that needs a lot of restaking, and we couldn’t get it taut, so the high winds made it flap and wobble all night. (This was foreshadowing, it turned out.) Nevertheless, we were so glad to be out there–and ready to do some serious miles in the following days. 

Our least favorite gear choice, made slack by a long windy night. Good morning, sunshine! 

Next time: Days 2-8, Crazy Cook to the Burro Mountains

Tune in next time for the full download on our first week on trail. See you all soon, when we’ll share Todd’s new trail name! 


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Comments 6

  • Professor Jellybean : Apr 30th

    Loving your posts, Liz! MAY 10? That’s more than a week to wait!! 😛

    • Liz Seger : May 4th

      PJ, you’re right, ten days is too long for me, too! Edited accordingly.

  • Scott Bischke : May 1st

    Tried this once but got a “not posted” notification. So will try again.

    Wonderful start Liz and thank you sharing. I love the unknowns and shakouts and, to be sure (!) long journal entries of the first few weeks. Very best of luck to you and Todd.

    Kate and I chuckled at the line about plenty of time for seedy hotels ahead–yes, some, but be aware (as were sure you are) that the CDT is not the PCT (almost done!) or AT (don’t plan to do but have read plenty) regarding motels and services. That said, we walked the NMCDT in 2002 and your post has revealed much has changed! Trail Angels (we had none), an organized ride to the border (we had an uncle living in the area), 4 maintained water caches (what?! AWESOME! we dropped ours on drive w Uncle), other CDTers (we saw 0 though as single state sectioners were off the center timeline for the few through hikers). Such incredible changes to the benefit of the hiker!!

    I fully suspect you will love the CDT for all its wildness and raw. I signed up to get notice of your blogs so please add 1 (actually 2 counting Kate!) Montanans to your cheering squad!


    • Liz Seger : May 4th

      Thanks for cheering us on, and for sharing your memories!

  • Donna Brooks : May 1st

    My husband and I hope to meet you in Platoro or Pagosa this summer as you pass thru. Enjoy every step of your amazing journey. Keep sharing your story with all of us.

    • Liz Seger : May 4th

      Donna, we’ll love that. I promise to keep in touch as we get closer.


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