The idea of the Gila Hot Springs has seen us through a few cold difficult moments over the past few days so a fourteen mile side trip with a thousand foot climb over a mountain to get there doesn’t deter us at all. We are also motivated by the thought of a ‘hiker box’, a stash of food left by passing hikers, reputed to exist at the solitary store there. The food George donated to us in Pie Town has long since been consumed and Cass and I have all but empty food panniers.
Jeff and Cass race over the mountain to try to catch the store before it closes at 4.30pm while I follow at a more sedate pace. I arrive just before 5pm to discover the guys deep in conversation with Klara, the manager of the Gila Hot Springs camp site. Jeff had arrived at 4.20pm, ten minutes before the store closed, to find the doors already locked and the store owner not disposed to reopen them despite our dire foodless predicament. Klara, the store owner’s sister-in-law, obviously a far kinder soul has raided her larder to provide us with ground elk meat, pasta and a tin of tomato sauce for Jeff, who is vegetarian. Dinner assured, all that remains is for us to set up camp before submerging cold, tired, aching bodies in natural pools of hot water.
We ride down to the campsite by the pools and hurriedly put up our tents. I am first in the water and it is only hunger that drives me out a couple of hours later. After a fine elk bolognese with pasta, I am back in the pool until after midnight. The water is warm but the outside temperature is well below freezing. Finally I fall into my tent and sleep but I am up long before the sunlight spills over the rocky bluff to the east and back in the hot water.
Sadly, I cannot stay soaking in hot water forever. The frosty prospect of packing up an ice encrusted tent lies before me. However, Klara, very kindly, has offered us a lift to the top of the mountain we crossed yesterday and we are all grateful to be spared the prospect of a 2000 foot climb, with severe grades, on our bicycles to get back onto the road to Silver City. We pile our bikes precariously on the back of her husband’s flat bed truck and enjoy the luxury of motorised transport for a short while, feeling that life doesn’t really get much better than this.