Total Miles: 1983.4
Pavement. Dirt. Sand. Stone. As Cuba shrank into the distance behind us, each surface gave way to the next as the highway leading out of town became a dirt road and finally a trail. It didn’t take much to appreciate that in the heat of summer, this would be a veritable oven. Even with a temperature in only the high 70s or low 80s, the intensity of the sun and the dryness of the air conspire to make it feel decidedly warmer. The resulting cotton mouth meant that my desire would also be on the rise for the one thing that would be in increasingly short supply: water.
Expecting that the land south of Cuba would largely be open and flat—perhaps similar to the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming—we were surprised to find ourselves in decidedly more interesting terrain. Gradually ascending to the rim of a mesa with long views of fascinating rock formations both near and far, the trail was largely sandy, often blurring the lines between sand dune and sandstone. A slog through fine sand would, only steps later, become hard packed or outright stone only to revert back to a beachy consistency that made for frustrating walking.
Cuba was, by now, only a memory, the port from which we’d cast off our lines and set sail onto open trail once again. You’d think it would be harder, pulling yourself away from the creature comforts that only 36 hours earlier had provided the magnetic pull to churn our legs the final few miles of the previous stretch. And yet that cycle is one we’ve had to repeat over and over again, embracing the prospect of food, relaxation, and cleanliness only to reject it a day later and return to the tiny footpath that has tempted us along its length for 4 months. Like sailors returning to their home on the sea.
By the standard of those past 4 months, it was an exceptionally social day to boot. Running into both day hikers and a woman hiking half the trail this year whom we’d met once before in Colorado, we stopped more to chat with people than any day I can remember. Aside from the social novelty, each of them offered us water which we gladly accepted given that the only source we were expecting to encounter today was reported to be fouled by cattle.
As we left our customary early evening dinner break, the air had cooled to that temperature that reminded me of the summer nights of my childhood—the kind of perfectly pleasant cool that felt like the reward for surviving the earlier heat. The opening act of the nightly sky show was a sun dissolving into torrid shades of red and orange beyond the horizon until the stars took their rightful places. Lying down beneath them and drifting off to sleep: the final daily task we’re always happy to complete.