The French Connection


Day 10: May 3, 2019

Destination:Gila River Alternate Mile 7

Today’s Miles:18.4

Start Location:Silver City, NM Mile 161.7

Trip Miles:180.1


Before I get started, I want to quickly explain how my tracking of miles will work when I take alternates. As you all probably know by now, the CDT has various routes. Like many trails, the official route changes over time, but because the CDT is a relatively “young” trail and less traveled, some of those changes are happening in more noticeable ways on the trail. I can explain that in a bit.


I will be taking the Gila River Alternate instead of following the CDT through the Black Mountain Range. Honestly, I wish I could do both routes. The Black Mountains are supposed to be the least traveled, most remote, and most brutal stretch, just because there is no resupply for a long time, and very little water. That’s a route where I would be putting in some major daily mileage. The benefit though is said to be more wildlife sightings (including possibly wolves, which are pretty elusive creatures), and a more remote and raw wilderness experience. I think it sounds awesome!


The Gila (pronounced “heela”) River is taken by 99% of hikers. It is a famous and beloved stretch of the CDT because it is so unique. I’m told that we will walk through a canyon that the Gila River runs through and cross it at least 200 times, or something like that. Apparently some of the crossings are waist deep. It is supposed to be quite beautiful, and in this section are also natural hot springs and Native American cliff dwellings. Hard to pass up, right?


So, I’m going to hike the Gila. I had the funny thought that if Colorado isn’t quite ready for me, maybe I would take a bus back to Silver City and hike the Black Mountain Range, but I probably won’t have time for that. It’s a lot of hiking.


In my daily mileage statements, I will be using the Gila River Alternate mileage numbers to indicate my stopping positions for that day. To date, I have just indicated the official CDT mileage points. My total mileage will reflect the mileage I’m actually walking. For example, the trail access point for Silver City was at mile 161.7. The turnoff point for the Gila Alternate is at mile 173.1. That’s 11.4 miles to the turnoff. I then walked from the Gila Alternate start to its mile 7. 11.4+7 gives you my total mileage of 18.4 for the day.

When I exit the Gila Alternate and get back on the official CDT route, my total mileage will show a number less than the CDT mileage marker. Why? Because the Gila Alternate is shorter than the official Black Mountain Range route. Most of you won’t care about this, but I wanted to explain it for those who might notice or find it confusing. Most CDT hikers don’t actually hike the full length of the official trail, so this is my way of seeing how many trail miles I actually do hike.


Lastly, all of the camping out here is stealth camping. That means there aren’t any designated campsites or shelters. I just pick a spot and camp. So, unless I note otherwise, you can assume I’m stealth camping. If I camp at a specific place I will note it. In some of the national parks I will probably have to camp at designated sites.


Ok, now that I covered all of that, hi! Today was a great day. I stayed up a little too late last night having some fun getting caught up with my journal and trying to read some of your comments. I love reading them! You guys are so awesome, and I’m really appreciative that you take the time to read my journal.


I saw this bus on the walk out of Silver City

I got up around 6:45 and set about taping my feet up. My blisters are looking pretty good. The zero day really was what I needed. Pointing the fan in my room at my feet really did the trick to dry them out after I drained them. It was quite effective! I got everything taped and secured, feeling a bit like Mr. Potato Head and his bucket of parts. Seriously, did a hiker think up that toy?


The Continental breakfast started at 7, so I went out to grab some coffee and a banana. Samson, Heatwave, and Canada Claire were eating. We chatted some and had a bit of the craic, as they say in Ireland. I really like those folks! Super easy to be around. They were telling me about a bunch of funny YouTube videos I should watch. Maybe at some point in town they can show me. The girls went to see the Avengers movie in Silver City. I didn’t want to go, mostly because I had things I wanted to get done, but also because I’m not much of a Marvel guy. Apparently the movie was three hours long - woah! That’s a lot of Marvel.

Anyway, after breakfast I headed out first. The others were taking the Walnut Creek Alternate - a shorter road walk out of town. The CDT route I took was longer and confusing. I was really nervous about dogs walking out of town. I would walk by mobile home parks just hoping that there wouldn’t be any loose, angry dogs that wanted to chew me up. Those of you who read my AT trail journal know how I almost got eaten by two very hostile dobermans just south of McAfee Knob in Virginia. Anyway, it’s probably the thing I worry about the most on the trail, that I probably shouldn’t worry about as much. But I think it’s a real risk and much more likely than, say, a bad bear encounter.

Anyway, fortunately I didn’t have any issues. I walked by a big fluffy dog, but she was just relaxing behind her fence watching me like I was her morning digest. Those are the dogs I like! The ones that are relaxed, friendly, and don’t even get up when I walk by!


I walked on the same road for a long time, until I realized I had missed a turnoff that was not well marked. I had walked 0.3 miles past it, so I turned around and went back. That was tricky turn number one.

The trail picked up from there and was really pretty, climbing up and around two hills. I missed another turn where there were no markings and the trail suddenly diverged from a dirt road near a cattle fence. Tricky turn number two!


The last super confusing point was after I started to see a few CDT signs. The trail approached a cattle gate, and there was a big CDT sign pointing to a hard left, where the trail continued. In front of me was a gate. I checked Guthook because I had looked over my topographic maps last night and new there was a weird turn with multiple routes at one point. This was it. Fortunately I did NOT follow that CDT sign! Instead, I went through the gate, only to see another CDT sign pointing in the right direction, completely opposite from the other sign. Why the two signs? Apparently the CDT is being re-routed to where the first sign points, but if you follow it now, it goes for miles and then dead ends. Seems kind of crazy to post signs for it before it is done - too confusing!


I felt good about catching that one, and about a half mile later ran into a couple studying their maps in the trail. I introduced myself and learned that they were from France but had been living and working in Africa (Tanzania and Namibia).The guy’s name was Fred, and his trail name was Fisi Nyeupe, which is Swahili for “white hyena.” In Africa they had a small, white, Jack Russell terrier that their neighbors nicknamed the “white hyena.” He was supposed to come on the CDT hike, but he passed away. So, that’s Fred’s trail name. It made me think of Wallace from the AT (and currently north of me on the CDT). His trail name was also from his dog, which was killed by another dog before Wallace started hiking the trail.


The woman’s name was Pauline, and her trail name was also Swahili: Mbuzi Mawe, which means “stone goat.” She was nicknamed after this African animal, which we might call a klipspringer. She said that animals are often named by putting descriptions around other more common animal names. The klipspringer looks like a small antelope with Mickey Mouse ears and short, straight horns. It’s feet are kind of like rock climbing shoes, so it can run fast and jump, but also cling to precarious rock surfaces and climb like a mountain goat. I loved these trail names because I learned a bit about Swahili.

The mini cows!

The two were really nice and were using the CDT and J. Ley maps. They weren’t sure about the Gila turnoff, location, so I showed them the waypoint in Guthook. We decided to walk the mile to get there together to make sure they (and I!) didn’t miss the turn.


As I walked in front, I looked up and a medium sized white dog was just standing alone in the middle of the trail. Uh oh.... It started to come towards me so I scanned the woods and saw an old man standing a bit too far away. I yelled over “is she friendly?!?!?” Frankly, I was already readying my trekking poles to jab if I had to. The couple wasn’t far behind me, and there is always safety in numbers in a “is it friendly?” situation like that. The old man replied, “oh, she’s friendly all right, maybe too friendly sometimes.” I felt a surge of relief and let my poles go slack. The dog was already beside me looking curious and wanting to sniff me. I was so happy that it was friendly!! The French Connection were excited. I could tell they really missed their dog, so I guess I was happy for them and relieved for me. We chatted with the gentleman for a few minutes. It was his routine to drive to the trail and walk the dog, which was a rescue dog from the shelter. When we walked away she followed me for a while until he called her back. Maybe it was her way of saying “I didn’t mean to put you on edge! I just wanted to be friends!!”


We kept walking on a dirt road that was the alternate route. Eventually it dumped down to an actual, flowing stream! This was the first really full creek we have seen. There were, of course, a few hikers napping nearby. Something this good (and with plentiful shade, I might add) deserves a long break and a celebration!


The French Connection (I guess that’s what I’m calling them!) soaked their feet in the creek, but true to my trail name, I got down to the business of eating. I decided to cook a rice side and add a chicken creation to it. I had no intention of walking much farther, and it was about 3:30 - why not eat?!


I made a yellow rice side, one of my favorites, and plopped the “chicken creation” into it. I feel like if something is labeled a “chicken creation,” it’s kind of like those products that are called “buttery spreads.” You know it’s not butter, but what is it? It tastes like butter, but there are few natural ingredients in it. I was probably eating ground up beaks in sauce, but whatever - them beaks were tasty!

We sat and ate and chatted. They shared some mixed nuts with me, and I remembered how I loved having meals with my French work colleagues the one time I had a business trip to France. There is so much culture surrounding meals and eating, and no matter where you go, it really brings out the flavor in people, in a good way.


We talked about all kinds of stuff. I asked about how complicated it was to get to hike here. The hoops they had to jump through just to get a visa for six months were pretty insane. They had to pay money without any guarantees of getting a visa, and even had to fly from Africa to Paris for an in-person interview. They asked for eight months and only got six. So that’s two months of tourism revenue the US just lost.... They were hoping to see some other parks after the trail, but now will probably spend their time and money in Canada before returning home. I found the whole thing fascinating, and realized how much more expensive it was for them to hike the trail than me - I’m lucky!! I wondered what hoops, if any, I would have to jump through to hike in Europe for 6 months. Sounds expensive!


As we sat there, another French hiker I met a few days back showed up - Viper. He doesn’t speak as much English as the other two, but I didn’t need a translator to understand his French - he had obviously missed the turn and taken the future CDT route that eventually dead ends. He looked tired and frustrated. He said he kept climbing up until he had a good view of a whole lot of nothing. No hikers, no more trail.... Poor guy!


The couple headed out and I wasn’t far behind them. I packed out water, intending to find a place away from water to camp. I quickly encountered 5 creek crossings and got my feet wet. Things dry much more quickly out here though!


At one of the creek crossings, there was a whole group of mini cows. I’m not kidding - they were adult cows, but strangely miniature. Some of them had bells on. They looked at me and kept right on eating grass. I took a photo and walked on. I’ve never seen small cows like that before! They looked like something one would have on a hobby farm.


I walked a bit farther until I heard voices behind me. It was the French Connection! They had taken a wrong turn and I had gotten ahead, but then I realized I had missed a turn too, so the three of us marched back a bit and found the trail turn off. It was a day of many bonus miles....


Eating = happy!

I dropped back as they hiked on, and found a nice spot with a bed of pine straw to pitch my tent on. I sat and aired out my feet and ate half a bag of mashed potatoes. It was nice to be at camp earlier than usual. I listened to some kind of ground squirrel scream at me for a while. And then, like some twisted deja vu scenario, it happened. I hear this little bird voice getting closer and closer. “I think I recognize that,” I thought. I heard it swoop into the tree above my tent, and then it let loose:

“WHIPPOORWILL WHIPPOORWILL WHIPPOORWILL WHIPPOORWILL!!!!”

Over, and over, and over, and over, like the worst car alarm ever. All I could think about was the little girl from The Exorcist: “they’re baaaaaaack!”


For those of you who read my AT journal, you’ll remember the annoying whippoorwill that landed on a shelter I was sleeping in and screamed its call over and over, waking us all up and almost inspiring a hiker named Cody Coyote to attempt bird homicide. They can be super annoying, but it is also kind of funny. Whippoorwills are complete and utter one trick ponies in the bird world. The female Whippoorwills probably mate with the males just to get them to shut up. There’s no finesse, but I guess their tactics work. Maybe the females are annoying too. Maybe they have a bird voice and laugh like Janice from the TV show Friends. If you don’t know who that is, go to YouTube and google Janice in Friends and you’ll see what I mean....


The bird finally flew off, so its time for bed. Tomorrow is going to be an exciting and wet day! I was grateful today to have a smooth town exit and an enjoyable and relaxed day of walking, as well as some good conversation and breaks with The French Connection. They are really great people. Ok, this cat needs his beauty rest - good night!

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