Touring N.M.

The Perseverance of a Hiker

Jon Knudsen, May 2017
Posted

It was exactly 20 years ago that I decided to hike the Continental Divide. As you might imagine, along the divide there is a general lack of nearby water, especially in southern New Mexico. Naturally, having a bit more enthusiasm than common sense, that is where I started.

As for hiking companions, nobody volunteered except my dog Baby. I decided to go anyway. Backpacking alone in the desert is never a good idea.

My plan was to begin in Palomas, Mexico, go north to Columbus, head west into the Tres Hermanas Mountains and then north to Deming. I figured it would be about 45 miles of backpacking, mostly along seldom used dirt roads.

I had cached gallon water jugs wherever I could along the way. This was the smartest thing I did. I got a ride to Palomas in the morning and started hiking the three miles to Columbus. My step was lively. My pack felt light. Baby trotted alongside.

By midmorning I was in Columbus, ate and headed for the western edge of town. I filled up my water bottles at a cemetery and hiked uphill into the Tres Hermanas until almost sundown.

Now, I was super-tired. What was I thinking? I was alone, out of shape, in my mid-50s, and certain that I could not get to Deming carrying that heavy backpack. I resolved to throw things out in the morning.

The next morning I got rid of some food, and a half gallon of extra water, my accident insurance. My pack felt better. But by afternoon I was curled around a small mesquite bush looking for shade. The phrase “30 miles from Deming and six feet from hell” kept running through my mind. A couple of hours later I found a hide-out in some bushes with a stack of crime magazines. I finally got to the downhill side of the mountains, and Baby and I camped out for a second night.

A day and a half later, I was in Deming. I found all my water caches, but my feet were in tatters and my skin was burned. I went to a motel, set down my pack outside the lobby and tied Baby to it. “I have a reservation,” I told the clerk.

She smiled and disappeared. A minute later a voice bellowed from the office, “Well, rent him a room!”

I slept the sleep of a lucky man.

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