Total Miles: 2299.2
A guest post by Ace
We finished our road walk from Doc Campbell’s to Silver City. As far as road walks go, it was quite pleasant. Well maintained, not busy, nice views. While Mountain Man and I were disappointed not to walk along the Gila River, a shady river valley with over 50 river crossings in 20-degree weather sounded like too much discomfort and too much cold. While we enjoy a planned, yet not needed zero day in Silver City, I also took time to write my next rookie post. Enjoy!
It’s been awhile since I shared my perspective. In fact, since I last wrote we’ve hiked the entirety of Wyoming and now find ourselves in New Mexico, less than 200 miles from the finish.
To be honest, I just haven’t been motivated to write. Perhaps it’s because we’ve hit our stride hiking (stupid pun intended). Or perhaps it’s because we haven’t had much adversity ever since we got caught in that snowstorm outside of Old Faithful. Though as I type this we are waiting out a cold front and snowstorm that hit New Mexico and derailed our plans to get through the Gila Wilderness (insert sad face here).
Most likely my lack of motivation stems from the fact that I just I can’t find the words to describe this experience. No words can describe it. So I shall make up a word right now: Scrumptralescent. For those SNL fans out there, I hope you caught that reference.
The thru-hiking life is a simple one. When on trail, it’s amazing how much I look forward to my breakfast bar or after lunch when I finally allow myself the luxury of listening to music or podcasts. I love it when the scenery of the trail surprises me, especially here in NM where there’s been a lot of road walking. I also feel rewarded when we bank miles, reach a landmark or milestone and lay down at night after hiking 25+ miles that day. My feet are especially grateful.
But, despite not being motivated to write, there has been a theme playing on repeat in my head for nearly a thousand miles. I mean, I have a lot of time to think while hiking—surprising, I know. The theme I keep coming back to is how this thru-hike has allowed me to spend time outside the bubble—outside the bubble of comfort and familiarity and commonality.
Let’s get the most trivial example of being “outside the bubble” out of the way. I am new to long distance thru-hiking and though I have enjoyed my experience immensely and have gotten more confident through the miles, this is a sub-culture I do not consider myself a part of and not sure I will even when we finish this trail. Sure, I will want to hike more long trails but I don’t think I would ever describe myself as an avid, dedicated thru-hiker that geeks out on gear, studies routes and maps just for fun or dreams of accomplishing her FKT.
Second example: Election 2020. Instead of being in the cozy confines of my Seattle bubble—those damn liberal coastal elites, of which I am one—I’ve been walking through towns, sleeping in towns, and engaging with the residents and small business owners of towns that unless you live there, ranch there, hunt there, or hike or bike the CDT there, one would probably never end up in. Towns such as Jackson, MT (population 36) or Atlantic City, WY (population 57) where there is one place to stay in town and everyone at the local watering hole knows your name.
In both of these towns we had interesting encounters where it was apparent how different our political and societal views are versus those of the residents. One experience was with the proprietor of the inn we stayed at in Atlantic City, WY. Unprovoked, she brought up the high cost of Obamacare and how frustrating it is that illegal immigrants get free healthcare. Her husband on the other hand was disgusted by how much Democrats are pushing “their socialist agendas” and allowing protests of systemic racism and supportive cries for defunding the police. Mountain Man and I both considered how to counter these falsehoods by asking how much healthcare cost before Obamacare and clarifying the Fox News talking points they were clearly reciting about health care, immigration and democratic socialism. We thought better of it. Why turn an otherwise positive encounter into something negative and divisive?
In Jackson, MT, we found ourselves participating in what has to be a nightly ritual—sitting on the porch of the local bunkhouse with the proprietor and two ranchers. It was the middle of hay baling season and it was fascinating to hear about their work and how hard it is. In the same breath, they would bemoan Democrats (you know those damn liberal coastal elites) and praise Trump. It was and still is perplexing to both of us that these self-styled, salt-of-the-earth types don’t see the hypocrisy in their love of Trump. He is a man that contradicts the values they espouse in every conceivable way. A loud mouth New Yorker who has never worked a “hard” day in his life, who implements policies that do not support their livelihood. It’s mind boggling.
And, finally let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Covid. Mountain Man and I recognize this pandemic is a threat and that it is real—a fact that shouldn't be controversial. We are well aware of how it’s upended so many lives as well as our economy. We lived with it in Seattle before we left in June. Luckily for us, our friends and family have remained safe (which probably has something to do with the fact they wear and believe in the science of mask-wearing and social distancing).
But, since we’ve been on the trail our only interaction with this pandemic is when we enter towns—with our masks in hand—to resupply or spend a zero day. It’s been interesting to see what protocols and restrictions each community has put in place such as mask mandates, dining limitations, educational signage, etc as well as the compliance with those restrictions. New Mexico and Colorado get gold stars. Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, however, aren’t really buying in to this whole pandemic thing. In Anaconda, MT, I was confronted by a man who made a snide remark about me wearing a mask. Outside of Dubois, WY, we met a couple from Michigan who were on a camping road trip. It was an affable conversation until we learned she was a healthcare worker at an elder care facility who thought Covid was a hoax. Quote: “I feel bad for people who have been duped into wearing masks. They've been brainwashed.” End quote. On Mountain Man’s birthday we actually witnessed an anti-mask protest in Kalispell, MT. This was coupled with the every Friday tradition of a Trump parade up and down Main Street.
While I do not agree with any of the sentiments expressed in these instances, our interactions with these people outside those particular comments were pleasant and reminded me just how far outside the bubble I’ve been while on trail. Despite their world view—which I wholeheartedly disagree with—they are all kind people who are appreciative for our business and interested in learning about the trail and our lives.
All of these conservations reminded me of a time when we probably just conversed with people without bringing up and dwelling on politics. Who knows? And, while I don’t agree with their perspective or share their values or beliefs, I can’t really fault them for believing what they do. They choose to live where they do to be left alone. And, if you replace my MSNBC with their Fox News, the news and messaging they are receiving is just as slanted to support their world view and the societal culture they engage with on a daily basis. Their “bubble” is just as influential as my own.
But, as we fast approach the end of the trail (in fact, we will be in our final town stop on Election Day), I’m excited to re-enter my bubble and be with my peeps. I am not sure what lies ahead for me or our country. I am just hopeful we don’t find ourselves in the midst of a civil war.
Until then, I will enjoy my final week on the trail and reflect fondly upon my first long distance thru-hiking experience. It’s something I will never forget.