There are many lessons I have learned in the deserts we have stayed in during this trip, but none as salient and important as the lessons I learned in the Chihuahuan Desert on the Continental Divide Trail. Here is a summary of what I think is important:
- It’s easier to get dehydrated in the desert than you think. I was in the desert for not even a full day when I started to get dehydrated. It is a dangerous climate when your body can’t retain water–especially when you’re on a 26-mile trek in the beating sun. I never expected this to happen to me, and was alarmed when it did…but I was taken care of by my instructors, and my needs were met. It was uncomfortable, maybe even a little miserable, but I got through it.
- If you get dehydrated, you might have to be evacuated for your own safety. This is what happened to me, and as disappointed as I was to leave the trek early, I realized it was the best for me and my health. A lack of water in the desert is seriously no joke. Boy, was that an experience. At least now I have a fun story to tell at parties!
- ‘Trail angels’ will help you get out of the desert, even if you’re in the middle of nowhere. ‘Trail angels’ are people who drive up and down the trail, looking out for hikers who may be hungry, dehydrated, or disgruntled. My instructor, Joe, and I, got a ride from a ‘trail angel’ named Gary. He drove us out of the desert for 30 minutes, and dropped us off at our van. He looked like Santa Claus, and it was a bit of a miracle that he was there to help us out. Though I may never see him again, I am very grateful for Gary the Trail Angel.
- It’s more important to be safe than to be satisfied. I didn’t want to leave the trek. I even, for a while, felt like it was a personal failure that I left the trek. Upon further reflection, I realize how important it was that I left when I did, even if it wasn’t my first choice. It is always much more important to be safe than to be stubborn. Things ended in the best possible way, which may not have happened if I acted stubbornly instead of out of my own safety.
- Protecting yourself is not a failure. I had to come to terms with this and it has not been easy, but if I had continued on the trek, I could have seriously hurt myself. The desert is a dangerous climate, and without water retention, even more dangerous. Putting myself first was not a failure, but a triumph. I am proud of myself for listening to my needs.
Overall, though my experience in the Chihuahuan Desert was cut short by dehydration, I learned important lessons about the landscape and about myself. Sometimes, the right thing to do isn’t always the fun thing to do…but it takes a certain amount of strength to get there, and I am proud of myself for making it as far as I did. I am also proud of myself for recognizing my needs and vocalizing them to my instructors, and for leaving the trek, though I didn’t want to. Nothing in life is predictable, but now I’ll always have a fun story about how I was evacuated off of the Continental Divide Trail by a man named Gary.