Youth

Hiking the CDT: Old friends in new places

By Henry Strawbridge

Editor’s Note: The Strawbridge family from Lakeland, Fla., hiked the length of the Continental Divide Trail – all 3,100 miles of it – from Canada to Mexico. Henry Strawbridge, 14, provided updates of their journey to Trout Unlimited as they passed through the historic range of seven native trout species. You can track the family and see reports submitted by Henry on this map.

While we were hiking along the road between Grants and Pie Town, our sometime fellow hikers, Doug and Liam, decide to go off by themselves. By the time we were headed out of Pie Town, they were almost all the way to Doc Campbell’s, an outpost more than 100 miles away on the Gila River. We wouldn’t see them for a while. They got a good deal of pleasure from texting the Garmin with cool stories about caves and mountain lions that they saw along the way.

As we covered the ground between us and the Gila, I was growing ever more excited about jumping in the river. We were in a pretty dry stretch, with an average of 10 miles between water sources. One thing I’ve learned is that you always want the thing you don’t have. We call it “If Only Syndrome”. 

The landscape of New Mexico. Georgie Strawbridge photo.

Way back at the very beginning, when we were only a day from the Canadian Border, we met another family who was on a rafting trip heading down the Flathead River. Apparently, these river rafters, the Nelsons, were a very adventurous family. Mr. Nelson told us to look him up in Hamilton, Mont., and we took him up on the offer.

While we were there, my dad suggested that they join us down trail. It wouldn’t be until New Mexico that we would meet up with them again. They had the week free and decided to join us on the trail from the Gila River all the way to Silver City.

Joining up with the Nelsons about two days in, we still had a whole day’s walk to get to the water. The Nelsons were very impressive walkers. Their very first day they did 22 miles, and the next, 20. I’m sure I couldn’t have done that when I started out. Maybe the 22, but the next day I would’ve been too sore for a 20. 

A view of the river gorge from the cliffs. Georgie Strawbridge photo.

The third morning we dropped down into the river gorge, and stayed there all the way to Doc Campbell’s. The Gila is a quiet river this time of year. It has been carving through the desert for ages. Over that time, it has gouged a dramatic cut into the surface of the earth. Every time it has changed course, it leaves rock shelves and deep caves carved into the steep walls of the gorge.

We spent two days on the river, crossing over it every 400 yards or so. In the morning, when it’s cold, the water is frigid. Every time you enter the water your feet lose feeling. You pound those feet on the rocks for another 400 yards, and they start to tingle as they thaw. Just when the feeling comes back into your feet, you’ve got to cross it again. Repeat. Repeat. Before we were done we had crossed the river more than 100 times.

One of the multiple crossings of the Gila River. Georgie Strawbridge photo.

We took it pretty easy on the miles. We ambled along about 17 miles on the first day and then 15 on the next. We were having fun now. We played card games at lunch and at camp when there was still light. We would even have had time for campfires, but there was a fire ban across the state this year.

When we ran into Doug and Liam at Doc Campbell’s. They were eating ice cream, of course. We gladly joined them in that activity, and quickly packed our food for the next two-day push to Silver City.

Doug and Liam decided to end on a high note. They walked down the road with us for about three miles to where the trail turns back down the river. Once there, they proved their incredible hitchhiking skills by getting picked up by the very first car to drive by.

We carried on with the Nelsons as though nothing ever happened, but the hike wouldn’t be the same without seeing Doug and Liam every couple days.

There was a storm at our backs as we neared Silver City, a winter storm calling for 6 inches of snow. That night, we had to use tents for the first and last time in New Mexico. I was annoyed because it broke our cowboy camping streak. We had slept out every night in New Mexico. Thankfully, it only sprinkled.

Sun up or sun down? Georgie Strawbridge

There was no trail on the last morning. We had to bushwack for miles and miles until we came to a jeep road. The road delivered us out of the Gila Wilderness.

Coming around a corner we walked up on a big white car and a massive gray van. I recognized both immediately, the white one was my grandfather’s, and the gray one was the Nelson’s van. 

Grandpa, and two of his great friends, Ted and Mark, stood there with pizza in hand. We ate up the last six miles to town. We walked at top speed to beat the storm and rest. We timed it perfectly. We arrived at our hotel, went to bed, and woke the next morning to a landscape covered in several inches of snow. The greatest gift about Silver City was that we didn’t freeze in the cold.

Until next time,

Henry

COVID-19 note: The Strawbridge family anxiously watched as the coronavirus issue threatened their plans to do the CDT this year. After careful consideration the family made the decision to drive to Montana to start the trip to avoid any possible exposure on airplanes. None of the family members exhibited symptoms during the journey.

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