Total Miles: 2289.2
It wasn't supposed to work out this way. Watching the snow fall and the temperature plummet yesterday, we knew that our plans were about to change yet again. The adventure along the Gila River that we'd been looking forward to—tracing the river at the floor of the canyon and crossing it some 100 times or more—was about to meet an unfortunate end before it even began.
As we raced to outrun the coming storm, we'd already abandoned the upper portion of the river, instead opting for the high water route on the mesa above in the interest of speed. With the thermometer now stuck in the teens, it was time to come to terms with the other half of disappointment: the trail along the lower portion of the river wouldn’t be happening either. Making matters worse, our only other option was a 38-mile road walk to our next planned stop in the town of Silver City. It might be better than having frozen blocks where our feet once were from the 50 or so fords of the lower Gila that would otherwise lie ahead in these icy temperatures, but not by much.
It's a funny thing, disappointment. It can sometimes open doors that you hadn't even realized were there. Normally reserved as an alternate for when early spring runoff can bring dangerously high water to the lower Gila, the road from Gila Hot Springs to Silver City was something of an unknown, and given the amount of road walking we've done in central New Mexico its appeal was about as low as you might expect. Until, that is, we started walking it.
We waved goodbye to the Gila wearing nearly all of our layers, and began to ascend 2000 feet above the river on a road almost completely devoid of cars. The snows of the last 36 hours had blanketed every inch of the forest, canyons, and bluffs that seemed to be all around us from our newfound vantage point.
If not for the cold and fresh snow, the storm would otherwise be forgotten as the blue sky and sun we've known so well in New Mexico were back to their old selves. Descending back to river level and climbing up a second time, what had begun as a defeated exercise in disappointment had become perhaps the most enjoyable stretch of road walking on the entire trail.
When the late afternoon sun began to play hide and seek while the road snaked its way through a narrow canyon, the fleeting semi-warmth of the day was making a run for the exits. The layers we'd taken off hours ago were now back to active duty, and when each breath began issuing a small cloud it was time to start looking for a place to call home for what promises to be a very cold night. When we finally did, a gaggle of javelinas went scurrying away through the nearby brush.
In the end, it was lesson number 517 that things don't need to go according to plan to work out just fine.