While attempting to thru-hike the CDT in 2016, Dad began to suffer from some respiratory issues. He had reached a remote spring, about 15 miles south of Cuba, New Mexico, where he found two guys doing some maintenance work. They offered him a ride to town, and that was all he needed to throw in the towel. This is how Cuba (really the spring south of Cuba) had become the finish line for the “long-ass section hike” he was attempting this year. Now, an early snowstorm had derailed those plans, 150 miles north of the spring. But since we could stop by Cuba on the way back to Austin, Dad started thinking that he could at least knock off those lingering 15 miles into Cuba if there wasn’t much snow, leaving a funny little 135-mile section of the CDT as a project for another time. On the drive down, we discovered that there was no snow south of Chama. Dad said, as much to himself as to me, that he’d consider continuing northbound beyond Cuba (what thru-hikers call a “flipflop”), provided that he didn’t hit heavy snow on the trail and that he could slackpack every day—a tall order that would require finding Jeepable roads across the trail every 15 miles.
After dropping Dad off at the spring, I pored over maps of the trail to see if I could break it into bite-size chunks. The biggest challenge was just north of Cuba. It didn’t seem like there were any roads that reached the trail within a 28-mile stretch. But I did find a Forest Service road that got close—near the 20-mile mark. That was a lot to ask, given Dad’s preferred 15-mile target, but it looked like the only option. It was early in the afternoon, so I drove there, 45 minutes away, to see how close it got. What I got was another four-wheel drive adventure, that spit me out right at the trail. Paydirt! So I hurried back to Cuba to wait for Dad, and I started looking at potential meetup spots farther up. By the time he reached me just after 5pm, I’d created a schedule where he’d be hiking roughly 20-mile days, for the next 6 days, and finishing on the 7th (at the spot where we got stuck in the snow) after a 10-mile victory nero. I felt a little presumptuous pushing this aggressive new plan, given that he’d be the one hiking it, but the carrot, of course, was that he’d be able to slackpack it—carrying only food, water, and inReach—every day to the end. I could tell he felt good having gotten back on the trail after 3 days off. His reaction to the plan was, “Ok, all I can do is try, and take it one day at a time.” Six meetups and 7 one-day-at-a-times later, he slackpacked back to the scene where we’d made our snowy stand. After 69 days, Dad had hiked 1,060.6 miles. He was done.