I made a couple of decisions while I was in El Paso.
One was to dump the stroller - I figured that if Matt could get across the deserts of California, Arizona and New Mexico with just the pack on his back, then so could I. Also, I'd be following the interstate, where food and water are never very far away.
The stroller had been something of a luxury ever since I found it in the street between Dallas and Fort Worth, though on one stretch, the four-day journey into El Paso, it had been a real lifesaver.
As a bonus, the people Matt and I stayed with in El Paso were involved with all kinds of women's and immigrants' associations, and said they should easily be able to find a home for one slightly dusty and travelworn but still perfectly usable stroller. That tipped the balance for me; I hate waste, and I didn't want to just abandon it.
The weight of the backpack took a lot of getting used to, and for a couple of painful and uncomfortable days I wondered whether I'd made the right decision.
But I also noticed people were reacting to me differently; before, I was a rather well-dressed vagrant pushing a backpack for an unspecified distance, but now it's more obvious that I'm a long-distance traveller, and more people come up to me and ask questions.
The other decision was to buy my third pair of boots. The second had served me well, carrying me 1,108 miles from Memphis, Tennessee, but the constant battering had left the heels literally hollow, with huge holes in them.
They also made me nervous whenever I took them off and put them in one of those grey plastic crates in airport security on my way to and from New Orleans: the last Brit to fly with hidden cavities in his size 10s
is now serving life in a maximum-security jail in Colorado. But the staff never noticed, except once when I drew the problem to their attention, and then they took them away and dusted them for explosives.
Last time I said farewell to a much-loved item of footwear, Pam and I drank their health with a newly devised cocktail called Boots in the River and then hurled them into the Mississippi. This time inspiration deserted me, and I quietly dropped them in the trash.
I bought another pair of exactly the same size and make, in the hope of fooling my feet into believing they were the same pair. But no sirree Bob, these are clever feet, and they saw through this cheap ruse straight away, so for the past week I've been experiencing symptoms I thought I'd seen the last of: blisters, sore feet, ankle rashes.
I enjoyed the 42-mile walk north from El Paso to Las Cruces, NM. The area is densely populated, so for once I didn't have to worry about food and water. It reminded me very much of southern Spain: a succession of dusty little villages with names like Vado, Berino and San Miguel, each with a store providing a central focus for its social life; a high wall of purple mountains to the east; whitewashed houses hiding from the blazing sun behind screens of tall, prim cypress and blowsily extravagant pine; and endless neat rows of pecans.
Then I headed west, and rather nervously began walking along the I-10 interstate, which stretches all the way from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida. It's one of the country's main arteries, yet it was less crowded with traffic than many of the roads I've walked along.
Once a state trooper sped by without stopping, and another time I had to go through a border patrol checkpoint. Instead of saying excuse me sir, did you know it's illegal to walk on the interstate, they gave me a teddy bear and asked after Matt.
I couldn't help thinking that if I'd begun trudging north up the M1 motorway back home I'd have been in the back seat of a police car faster than you could say 'Closed-circuit TV camera'.
The desert climate is taking some getting used to. In the small hours of yesterday morning the temperature was 22F (-6C). When I got up at 9 am there was ice in the water bottle I'd left outside my tent, but the weather was already warm enough for a t-shirt. And by afternoon it was 73F (23C) and I was wearing my shorts for the first time this year.
Finally, a couple of people have said that there aren't enough photos on my blog. 'They don't have to be great works of art,' Matt told me the other day. 'People just want to know where you've been'.
So on Monday, I tried an experiment: I took a photograph every hour, on the hour, wherever I was. It was actually a short day, because I walked only 12 miles from downtown Las Cruces to the airport, and not all the pictures are that interesting. But here is the result: half a day in the life of Phil.
11 am: Jack Lay Nissan, Main St
Noon: Picacho Avenue and Armijo Street
1 pm: Picacho Mexican Grill
1.30 pm: the Rio Grande, one of the world's great rivers. It originates in the southern Rockies of Colorado, flows the entire length of New Mexico, and then forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico before spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. More than 1,800 miles long, it once provided sustenance for peoples all along its length, but has now been channeled and dammed. In Las Cruces it's not much more than a trickle.
2 pm: Picacho Hills
3 pm: Looking back at Las Cruces from the airport road
4 pm: The airport