I Been Through the Desert (but the Horse never came)
Nevada border to Winter Camp Ranch, 51.5 miles
a segment of the Idaho Centennial Trail
March 3-7, 2005
Thursday March 3rd
Darla dropped me off at Albertsons where Jerry and his friend Scott Pressman were waiting. Rode in Jerry's Suburban while Scott followed in his Suburban. Showed Scott where to park at Winter Camp above the canyon. Scott was going to mountain bike south, while Jerry and I hiked north from Murphy Hot Springs. Left Scott there, drove another hour and 15 minutes south to the Nevada border. Camped in the parking lot at the trailhead. No tents, we just threw our ground sheets, mats, and sleeping bags on the ground and sacked out around 9:30 pm.
Friday March 4th
Woke up early to frost on our sleeping bags, low of about 25 F. Jerry found a flat tire on the Suburban. First order of business, hike (without our packs) the 2 miles south to the marker at the Nevada border, then 2 miles back to the trailhead parking lot. Changed the flat tire. Then cooked our breakfast (actually heated water and poured it into dehydrated meals). Packed up and started hiking about 9:30 am. Backpacked 14 miles (+4 without packs this morning for an 18 mile day). Saw about 20 deer, 5 sage hens, Murphy "International" Airport (grass runway, no baggage claim). Stopped along Poison Creek at an abandoned log cabin. Cooked dinner in the cabin to get out of the wind, went to bed as soon as the sun went down.
Saturday March 5th
Hard frost this morning. Low 20's I guess. I thought it had snowed when I first opened the rain fly on my tent. Cold morning. We heated our water in the cabin and ate breakfast while waiting for the sun to dry everything out. It took us a couple of hours to get everything dried out and packed up. Started out about 8:30 am. About 1/2 mile up the trail, after going through a barbed wire gate, I saw a head bobbin up and down on the trail ahead of us. As I watched it appeared to be someone on a bike. It was Scott. He had biked 25 miles the first day, and about 6 already this morning. It was good to see someone on the trail. Scott told us that there was absolutely NO water ahead. Jerry's water drop of last week was our only hope for re-supply. We told him about the trail and Scott told us how tough the trail had been for him. After about 10 minutes, we parted ways. Scott went south, we went north. Scott would drive Jerry's truck back to Winter Camp and park it there for us at the end of our walk. A few miles down the road, we took a small side hike to see the Jarbidge Canyon. A few miles later, the trail crossed over Poison Creek, which was totally dry. Jerry rested and ate lunch while I hiked on for another couple of miles. Then I stopped for lunch and to rest. From this point on the day was very tough for me. The trail took a double-back of 2 miles to the west which seemed to go on forever. Jerry hiked on and was lost from sight for a long time. I finally caught up to him waiting for me near Inside Lakes (basically ponds which were undrinkable due to heavy livestock usage). He said we had only gone 12.5 miles so far. I was almost spent. We had known Day 2 would be tough. I said I could go on for another mile or so. Jerry scouted ahead for a suitable campsite in the heavy sagebrush lining both sides of the road. Finding one, we made camp with about 30 minutes of sunlight remaining. Being low on water, and falling 3.5 miles short of our water stash, we had a cold dinner and fell in bed.
Sunday March 6th
I arose with the sun. Jerry was still snoozing. I quietly started getting ready and packing up. Since I hike slower than Jerry, I would get a head start. I was also concerned about our water situation and was anxious to see if our water stash was intact. I was down to about 2 inches of my last 1 liter bottle. 5 liters had lasted about 31.5 miles. The road intersection was 3.5 miles ahead. Jerry, from inside his tent, asked if I had left and I said I was going to walk ahead since I was slower. Several cows had drifted over and thought I was going to feed them or something. They really thought my shaking of the rain fly and ground sheet was quite strange. They finally decided I wasn't going to feed them and started moving away. As I started walking north, a small black calf popped up from the sagebrush and started bawling at me. He was alone, apart from the others. It sounded like he was saying, "Mom!" "Mom!" "Mom!" I kept saying "I'm not your mama." He started following me down the road, bawling, "Mom! Mom!" Finally, he quit following me and hid in the sagebrush once again. I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure MOM wasn't charging at my back. I passed one road at 1.5 miles, then the Bruneau River road in another mile. 1 more mile and I would come to Indian Hot Springs road, where our water stash was supposed to be. With all the traffic apparent on this section of the trail, I was worried that someone may have taken or tampered with our bottles. I was praying "LORD, please let our water be there." We were facing another 17 miles of hiking without water if it were not there. As I approached the Y in the road, I began scanning from side to side trying to spot the bottles. Finally, and with great relief, I spotted 2 bottles hidden behind a big rock. Jerry was about a half mile back. I pulled the bottles out of hiding and set them on the road. I was so relieved and over-joyed to see those 2 gallons of water that I took a picture of them! It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen, right there just under the sight of my wife in her wedding gown coming down the aisle, and each of my children the first time they looked at me. 2 gallons of LIFE. I raised POLAMA high over my head and hollered down the road at Jerry as he was approaching. Then I picked up the two bottles and waved them around. What a relief! We heated water for our breakfast, and re-filled our bottles. I had about 2.5 liters left over to make it the rest of the way. We hiked on, passing the historic Bengoichea cabin which was a stone hut built into the side of a hill. On up over a big hill and down through Sheepshead Draw, several miles across. Sometime after noon, we saw a truck approaching from the south. We dropped our packs to rest and waited. A young couple from Boise pulled up in a Toyota Tundra pickup and asked for directions to the Bruneau River. They were out for a Sunday outing. I pulled out my map and we shared trail information. He wanted to know what we were doing hiking the trail, if we were Idaho historians or something? No, we answered, we're hiking the ICT in sections, as a multi-year project, hoping to someday finish. Then maybe write a book about it. He let their 2 dogs out of the camper shell to run a bit. I impulsively inquired if they might have some extra water? He reached in the back seat and held out to me the most beautiful Sunkist orange ever, and tossed it to me with a grin! Then he pulled out a water bottle and topped off our bottles. It was a nice gift. We would need that extra few inches of water before this was all over. After a few more minutes of pleasant conversation, they turned around and headed back south on the trail. We continued on north. Jerry hiked on ahead and soon disappeared. From this point, I began to hit the wall. I was only making about 1 mile per hour. The trail was so rough, with ruts on either side and deep cow hoof print indentations all over the place, that it required intense concentration on each and every step. About 2:30 pm, I caught up to Jerry waiting for me at a barbed wire gate over a cattle guard. A long fence row stretched off to the west toward the walls of the Bruneau River Canyon. Jerry wanted to take a side hike of 2 miles to see the canyon. I was so tired that I just wanted to stay on the ICT. He said we had gone as far as we needed to for today. He would go to see the river while I rested. I ate some and napped some. After about 2 hours, Jerry returned. He said it was a long way down there to see the river, but it was a very deep canyon. I said I could hike on another couple of miles, and we would have that much less to walk tomorrow. He showed me our mileage on his maps, and I figured out why I had been so tired and spent. Since arising early that morning, I had already walked 13 miles by 2:30 pm. We went another 2 miles to Draw Canyon. We pitched our tents in the dry river bed. I did not have enough water to cook supper, so I went to bed. Jerry chided me that I needed to keep up my calorie intake for energy. I knew he was right, I was just too tired to really eat much. I felt good that I had pulled out a 15 mile day after yesterday's dismal 13.5 miles.
Monday March 7th
Jerry was up before me, rising at first light. We "only" had about 6 more miles to go, but the trail was not about to get any easier for this last section. Even though I had been conserving water, I only had about .5 of a liter left. Jerry had a little bit more than that in one bottle and some raspberry tea mix in another bottle. After packing up, we got started around 8 am. We climbed out of Draw Canyon, then had to descend into and climb out of the much larger Juniper Tree Draw. The combination of blisters on my feet, my soreness from hiking 44 miles from the border, slight de-hydration, and my reduced appetite were taking a toll on me. I was staggering and stumbling along. Jerry had obviously slowed his pace way down, but was still hiking 100-200 yards ahead of me. We finally approached the large canyon walls of the East Fork of the Bruneau River, which meant that we were nearing Winter Camp Ranch. Every step forward for me was an act of the will over my tired body. I knew we were getting close to the end, but I just wanted to lay down and quit. I kept telling myself, "you wanted to do this, you put yourself out here, now DO IT! ALL OF IT! This is part of it! It doesn't do you any good to come this far and not finish." I kept myself going. I wasn't about to be carried out of here, no sir. About this time, the most welcome distraction came along. A pair of Air Force F-15's were flying maneuvers at the Saylor Creek USAF Bombing Range. After they completed their air-to-ground sorties, they then engaged in dogfights directly overhead for over an hour. It was awesome! They practiced air combat maneuvers, approaching each with full afterburners, doing head-on passes, each taking turns being the aggressor and the defender. It was highly entertaining, and helped to keep me going. We descended into the canyon and found that there was water flowing in the river. I was saving my last inch of water in my bottle as a reward for getting to Winter Camp Ranch. Jerry informed me at one of our rest stops that, oh yeah, the truck is not parked here, it's another 1.5 miles up the road and out of the canyon. Groan. We stopped at the river and found that the water was flowing reasonably clean. Jerry pulled out his water filter and pumped a bottle full for each of us. I added some powdered Gatorade to my bottle and downed a full liter in about 3 gulps. I was so dehydrated. Jerry looked at me with surprise. That made 10 liters that I had drank over 50 miles. He then re-filled my bottle. That way I would have enough to get to the truck. The stone house and farm house were still there at Winter Camp, though they had obviously been long abandoned. Lots of farm implements and irrigation equipment lay about in various states of usage or disarray. Someone obviously still used the ranch, but no one appeared to be living down here in this canyon. We passed through a couple of gates, heading north along the road down the canyon. A herd of cows moo-ed loudly at us, expecting to be fed. They began running ahead of us down the canyon. It was as though we were herding them along. I took a picture of Jerry which I am going to call "Jerry stampedes the herd." The canyon seemed to wind around on and on. We finally reached a gate at the end. The cows climbed up the south wall of the canyon and stopped at the fence. They finally decided we were not there to feed them. Jerry yelled at them, "Go on, go back" and they all turned around as though on cue and started to go back! It was quite funny. We came to the final quarter mile of road which went steeply up the canyon wall before us. This was it. No let up on this road. All I could do was shuffle slowly up the road, taking small baby steps. I rested about 3 times on the way. Finally I got near the top of the canyon. Jerry came running back down the road toward me, without his pack. He jogged down to where I was, and said, "I forgot my keys to the Suburban, I'm going back to camp, see you in a couple of hours!" He jogged on a few paces beyond me, and turned around. I was so tired that he had me going for a second there. It was a great joke. He walked beside me the rest of the way up the road and back to the Suburban. It was the second most beautiful sight of the hike to finally make it to the truck. 51.5 miles. I looked to the south and could see the tip of the very highest snow-capped mountain on the Nevada side. We had started on Friday morning on the lower slopes of that very mountain, now so very far away. Jerry said, "you walked all that way!" We shook hands with a firm grip and shared a victory cola. The desert section was done. A large chunk of the ICT under our belts.