Tales from the Road: Journey of a Chilly Kind

Original posting from RumBum.com’s Dirtbagger Diaries

How Low Can You Go?

 

© Patricia Poulin / RumBum.com
© Patricia Poulin / RumBum.com

The car was packed, dog loaded and tentative plans mapped out yet the reality of my newfound vagabond lifestyle had still not sunk in. Headed for Phoenix, I was making a brief stop to pick up Doug, my partner in adventure for the next couple of weeks. As I pulled up to the front door, nerves sank in. Not only was I headed into the unknown and open road, but I was about to embark upon it with the added pressure of being with another person 24 hours a day. Being a fiercely independent person, I began to wonder what the next two weeks would bring; I wondered if I would be able to break through, or at least muffle, the stubborn streak that plagues much of my life. I even pictured one of us ending up on the side of the road with bags in hand and thumb high in the air. Yet before I could give it another thought, we were loaded up, dog crammed in with our ridiculous amounts of camping gear, and headed to New Mexico.

 

Outside in the “Arctic Blast”

 

Welcome to Gila! / Patricia Poulin / RumBum.com© Patricia Poulin / RumBum.com

After spending our first night in the warmth of southeast Arizona, we arrived in the Gila Wilderness after  driving 40 miles down a winding, desolate, two-lane road dodging ice patches and hurried drivers. The sun had set hours before our arrival and temperatures quickly began to drop into the teens. When we originally started this tour, we accepted that the temperatures would be cold, but the aptly deemed “Arctic Blast” that was sweeping the nation had never been a consideration. It felt as if my body froze instantaneously after arriving at our campsite for the evening.

Starving, we quickly set up camp and I proudly pulled out my hand-me-down Coleman stove, deemed my “super stove.” I was anxious to cook my first meal on this single burner and grill combo. As I fumbled to assemble the stove with frozen fingers I began to realize something was missing. Taking inventory once more, I began to realize the connection from propane to stove was missing. Both in denial, Doug and I scoured the box it came in; we checked the car and after much frustration, finally accepted the fact that we were relegated to using our less powerful backpacking stoves.

Shaking off my frustration, I went back to preparing dinner and grabbed a bottle of water only to realize that it had already began to freeze after pouring it into the pot. Hungry, cold, and tired, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into; maybe I should have listened to the smarter people in my life and waited for spring. Dinner was devoured quicker than it was made and I was off to bed in hopes of sleeping off the evening’s events. I curled up in the tent with Sienna; she shivered through the night and my face began to freeze as temperatures dipped into single digits. Morning light could not come soon enough and even as the sun rose over the surrounding cliffs, the little doubtful voice continued to fill my thoughts.

 

Our New Years Eve

 

Hiking into the New Year / Patricia Poulin / RumBum.com© Patricia Poulin / RumBum.com

It’s difficult to get up before the sun when you lose all feeling in your face overnight. After Doug slept in much later than expected, he got up and prepared coffee. The campground was relatively empty of campers, and day-use visitors drove by us in their warm minivans and sedans looking at us as if we were sideshow freaks, crazy for camping in the bitter cold. Yet even with the brisk evening, we remained hopeful that our plan to bring in the New Year from the backcountry of the Gila Wilderness next to Jordan Hot Spring was within reach.

As we prepared our bags, my spirits lifted, or maybe it was just the coffee buzz. Either way, we were on the trail and headed out around noon on New Years Eve. It was not until close to four miles in that we once again faced with a challenge. A challenge that made me realize why the visitor’s center attendant at the Gila cliff dwellings looked at us as if we were crazy when we mentioned that we were heading to the hot spring for the night. Sure, six miles into the backcountry is not so bad; 15 river crossings are also not so bad; but when it’s 20 degrees outside, and the river is too wide to cross without getting your feet wet, it gets to be pretty bad.

We had a mere two miles left after already traveling a solid four miles; how badly did we really want to spend New Year’s Eve by this elusive hot spring? Not wanting to be the one to give up, we egged each other on like two grade school children, about how far we would actually go.

Warm hiking boots removed, pant legs rolled up, we finished the last two miles in flip-flops, walking across packed snow and through freezing water. By the sixth crossing my feet began to turn bright red. All I though about was the hot spring, and hoped that it actually existed. Each step sent pins and needles up on my legs. I stumbled over algae-covered rocks in the river as Sienna bounded past me with ease. After what felt like a number of miles, the evening’s darkness began to fall, and that not-so-sweet smell of Sulfur filled the air. I wondered if I was starting to hallucinate, or if we really made it. I could see Doug smiling up ahead and I began to believe it was going to be a great New Year’s Eve after all.

Not only had we made it to our destination, we somehow did so while working as a team and without too much complaining in the process. I wearily threw my backpack to the ground and we pitched our shelter in record time. Stillness blanketed the valley and cliff walls around us. The cold set in, yet somehow the sweet victory of our trek made it not so bitter. (Or it could have been the celebratory champagne flowing into our classy enamel ware cups.) We made it in one piece with smiles and humor still intact. Now all we had to do was hike back.

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