Tuesday, October 20, 2015

July 10-17 Day 75-82 Fun as a Family Darby - Leadore

As a chef, I pride myself on being able to feed my fellow hikers in town when we have access to a kitchen. This was not so in Darby. We went to the nearest grocery store, where we, in true hiker fashion, couldn't decide on anything, so we picked up frozen pizzas. When we were back at the cabin I cooked up some pasta I had in my hiker box and we popped our pizzas in the small oven, one at a time. I managed to forget my pizza and burn the entire thing, setting off the smoke alarm in the process. Well done chef NomNom. 
(Guy, me, Mehap, Apache)

Mehap and I were sharing the no longer edible pizza, and so we satiated our hunger with the various types of pastas set out.
(Rose and her dog!)

We spent our zero day at a couchsurfer's house. Rose is her name and it was her first time hosting. She was a doll and actually hosted 5 out of 7 of us! Wow! 
We hope we got her revved about long distance hiking! Darby is a cute town, filled with small stores and people who know each other. Even Rose, who had just moved there a month before was chatting with new friends she had made at the various businesses she took us to.

The next day we headed back to trail. Our goal for this leg was to do big miles at the start and then slow down when we got about 40 miles away. This was to allow Whistle to hike with us for a part of the leg. 
(Whistle and Grim)

You see, Whistle had started the CDT in March and, as would be expected, ran into snow in Colorado, so after realizing the snow wasn't going anywhere anytime soon, she decided to jump around and hike different parts of the trail and the surrounding areas. It also meant that she didn't quite have her trail legs in the same way that we did, so, in order for her to hike with us and for us to do things in the time we wanted to, we had to get the big miles done sooner.
(Mehap and Guy)
(Choo choo train!)

Plans inevitably change and so they did. We couldn't seem to manage big miles. It wasn't like we tried particularly hard though! We were all finally really enjoying ourselves! Camp fires, giggles and belly laughs, late nights and sleeping in. We became a little hiker family and we loved it! This is what trail life was supposed to feel like!

It had been getting rainier and rainier. We had one night during which it rained for hours, soaking our stuff and chilling us. Apache and I seem to have the hardest time maintaining our body heat during cold rains. Luckily it was near enough the end of the day that we all agreed to set up shelter and get dry and warm. Of course the rain stopped as soon as we set up. Typical.

It was around the 15th that we caught Whistle. She was waiting patiently at a trail head where she had been camped for a whole day already! Poor girl had to wait longer than expected fro us to get there. Grim and I arrived first and immediately gave her big hugs followed by a yard sale, setting all our stuff out in the sun to dry. The warm sun was becoming less frequent, so we needed to take advantage when we could. Whistle had brought extra food, thank goodness because I was a bit tight on food this stretch for whatever reason. Poor planning. It happens.
(Wonderer, Guy, Mehap, Apache, Whistle, Grim- waiting for a storm
To pass)

I was just finishing shoving cheese, crackers, and Oreos into my mouth when the others began to trickle in. We quickly put the rest of the food away because there wasn't enough for everyone, and spent another hour chatting and getting to know Whistle more.
(Whistle left us jokes to find along the way)

On we hiked, dodging thunderstorms along the way and seeing nature at its best. In such a large group, we couldn't help having an awesome time, even when the weather wasn't ideal.

Leadore was the next town down a long dirt road. There were too many of us to fit in Whistle's car, which she had parked at the trail head, so Apache drove Mehap, Guy on a Buffalo, and me. He returned and grabbed Grim, Whistle, and Wonderer.  Leadore was hardly a town. One restaurant catered to our needs with a sassy waitress/owner/cook. Yup, one lady ran the whole place. We stayed at a 4 room motel where the owner also carved wood into animals to make extra money. He said that the hikers are the reason he can even stay open. Towns like these get hit hard during tough economic times. Once a mining town full with life, it was now crumbling, losing its residents as children become adults and want somewhere with more opportunity.
(Whistle and Mehap)

The morning we headed out we stopped in for breakfast to the only restaurant. The waitress informed us that she was not in the mood to cook today, so we should pick easy things. We did our best, choosing simple things, and when Mehap arrived belatedly, the spunky owner overheard Whistle offer him her leftover biscuits, gravy, and hash-browns, grabbed the plate and offered to throw some more gravy onto the plate. When she returned, she eyed Grim's plate and told him matter of factly, "You're not going to finish those potatoes. Put them on here for your friend." And so Mehap got a free meal and we all got a good laugh.

Frodo arrived with the RV that morning resulting in a bit of catch up on how Scout was doing with his hike. Then we all got back on trail sometime in the afternoon. 7.5 miles later we found a fire ring and set up camp. No need to rush right?

July 27 Day 92 Luxury and Hardship

(Apache at lunch. Mehap missed the turn. He arrived an hour later so we got comfortable)

Trail magic is something given by someone wonderful. In this case it came from a lovely man in a white pick up truck with 2 thru-bikers in his car. He drove by us as we were on yet another dirt road walking down a mountain, approaching Sawtell, the resort town. He stopped to chat and see what we were up to. Looking suspiciously like hikers, we admitted that we were, in fact, hiking, and yes, it was as he had guessed, the CDT. After a longer than usual conversation about not all that much, we asked him if he knew of any good camping areas near town, which he replied with a cryptic "I just have to check on something up the mountain, but I'll catch you on the way down and let you know if I remember. I may have a solution for you."

That solution worked out luckily and he offered us a cabin to stay at! 
(The cabin living room the thru-bikers!)

He was managing some rental properties and the renters had just left that day and the cleaning service wouldn't be in until the next day to make the place ready for the next renters, which meant we could crash in this luxury rental cabin with laundry AND a HOT TUB!!!! We were so excited! Talk about magic! I caught a ride 2 miles down there to get all the information from him because he had to head to a nearby town soon. Once I scoped the place out, and got all the rules and regulation sorted, I walked to the restaurant in town and noshed on yummy food with everyone. Just as we were finishing up, Wonderer walked in! We hadn't seen him for a while and were not sure what had become of him or how to communicate our good fortune so he could benefit too. Boy was he lucky to have pushed a bit to get in!

We popped into the store and grabbed some resupply, donuts, and drinks, and headed to the cabin to take care of cleaning up and soaking in the hot tub. It felt great!

In the morning on the 27th we woke up from the nooks we had each taken over, scattered throughout the cabin and headed out. We had breakfast at the grocery store and an hour or so later had lunch at a Mexican Restaurant 3 miles down near Mack's Inn. We schedule our lives around food. It's a thing.

We had been able to check the weather and knew there was 100% chance of rain starting around noon, which is right when we left the restaurant. We had 18 more miles to do for the day, ending right on the border of Montana-Wyoming and right at the border of Yellowstone National Park. It was important that we made it because you're not allowed to camp within park boundaries without a permit and you have to camp at designated camp sites. So, realistically, we had to reach the border tonight, hike into Old Faithful Village tomorrow and get our permits, and hike out to a camp site. But first get through today.

The weather quickly turned dangerous as temperatures plummeted and a slow steady drizzle persisted. I was envious of Grim's umbrella. I was getting grumpy. I was getting cold. My rain gear wasn't enough to keep me dry, and my layers weren't enough to keep me warm. Apache and Grim were ahead while Guy, Mehap, Wonderer, and I were brining up the rear. Mehap and Apache didn't have pants to wear, and so they suffered the cold in their shorts. I don't know how they did it because I had a hard enough time WITH pants on!

About halfway through our trudge, when the rain had let up and turned to a light mist, we sat down to have a bit of food. It couldn't have been more than 15 minutes of shoving Cliff bars into our faces before I realized I might not be able to make it to the border. I could feel my core temperature dropping. I needed to get moving or I needed to set up my tarp and crawl into my dry sleeping bag. The heat of exertion would hopefully heat me up enough to get to camp, but sometimes that isn't enough, as I remembered from New Mexico and 9 years before in Alaska.

On we went, Guy trying to continually ask me for updates on my perceived state of being, and Mehap trying to distract Guy from doing so. I'll admit I had a very short fuse by this point and was grateful for Mehap's efforts. I had let myself cry a few times already today, once because my hands were so unresponsive from the cold that I couldn't button my pants up after peeing. They sagged below my hip bones, driving me crazy for the rest of the day. Another time when a thundercloud passed directly above us, a mere second or two between flash and rumble, pelting us with extraordinary amounts of hail, sleet, slush, and finally snow, which persisted for the rest of the evening.
(Apache surprised it's snowing in July)

We somehow managed to reach Grim and Apache, seeing their shelters peeking out from the trees. I found a spot somewhat sheltered under some branches near Grim and began the arduous task of setting up my tarp with frozen hands in the wet snow. Grim talking to me throughout the process to make sure I was still coherent. I found out the next day that he had made space in his tent in case I had gotten hypothermic and needed help bringing up my core temperature. That's why it's a good idea to hike with people, and that's why I love my hiking family.

I managed to heat up what little water I had left and make ramen for dinner. We were all dry, WE were wet, but we had no water left, and it was another 8 or so miles to the first water in Yellowstone tomorrow. Most people skipped cooking tonight, eating bars and snacks instead. I needed the heat. And so, with a belly full of warm noodles, I fell asleep to the soft sound of snow on my tarp.

July 23-26 Day 88-91 Perfect Moments and Lazy Days

I'm in a funk. Not knowing what I want to do. To stay on trail, or to try to get to Warren? Did I really want to leave, or was it a reaction to not feeling connected to this experience the way I thought I would?

When we all woke up by the side of the road, we had a lovely sunrise in the crisp air over the flat stretch that surrounded us. There were some low mountains in the nearby distance that drew dark clouds to them and more double rainbows. It was one of my favorite mornings, watching the guys slowly wake up from the fogged up windows of Whistle's car. There was a muted quality to their conversations as I watched from our little metal and glass shelter. One of the guys would look at the other and say something. The other would laugh, silently from my perspective, but it was clearly a deep appreciative belly laugh with the most wonderful look of relaxed happiness in his eyes. This pure, relaxed joy feels so right, like the way it always should be. I knew I would never forget that morning and all it represented. That laugh made my eyes tear up. I didn't want it to end. I never wanted to see those faces, so care-free now, look hurt or anxious. It was only a moment, but the kind of moment that seems to go on indefinitely, repeating in a loop in your memory.
(A photo from the last stretch)

The guys had another couple of miles to do before getting to the highway. I had decided the night before to drive into town with Whistle. When it comes to road walking, I'm not exceptionally uptight about connecting my footsteps when it's only a couple of miles. Some people frown and lecture about the purity of the thru-hike, but I hike my hike the way I believe in, and getting to the restaurant for breakfast ASAP is what I believed in that morning. So Whistle and I enjoyed a leisurely meal and were soon joined by the others. We all got a room at the motel and took care of our town chores, which included a drive to a nearby town for resupply and groceries.
(That's a lot of food!)

We ended up Zeroing in Lima due to some severe thunderstorms that rolled in, all of us not feeling motivated to keep hiking. I know, you're probably getting tired of hearing that, but it's just the way it was. We were getting tired, in general. We got 2 rooms again, with Grim, Whistle, and me in the smaller one, and Guy, Wonderer, Mehap, and Apache in the larger room with the kitchenette. The gas station had DVDs for rent and the rooms had DVD players, which, if you've ever been deprived of flashy movie entertainment for this long, is such a treat and very exciting. We were a tad too excited and rented 3 movies along with way too much food from the grocery store in the nearby town. But, we managed to finish all the food, as hikers do, and left one movie unwatched.

It was a great snuggle day. Just lay around, let the muscles and joints rest as the rain fell outside. It was necessary. One of those sweet zeros that don't feel like an over indulgence so much as a rehabilitating respite. Not much else happened aside from interesting conversations with the motel owners who were looking to sell the spot and get out of Lima.

And so, with a lack of excuses to stay longer, we headed out the next day, taking the Mack's Inn cutoff, a shortcut that takes us through a resort town where we could get food and resupply. Apache and Mehap may have been the only one who planned for this resupply, carrying just enough food to get that far. The rest of us carried way too much food.

And then the best trail magic happened!

July 18-23 Day 83-88 Rain, Warren, and Lima, MT

(Me, Grim, Apache, Guy, Mehap)

The weather has been more temperamental recently with plummeting temperatures in the evenings and the regular threat of afternoon thunderstorms. 
(Guy, Apache, Mehap, Grim)

Our path takes us up and down on ridge lines all day. Legs exhausted, asthma wearing me down, rain, and cold. The motivation to push and do big miles is at a minimum. 
(Grim and Guy)

We are all happy to do whatever we end up doing, enjoy each other's company, get into camp before the rain, make a fire, and tell jokes over dinner. It is, overall, a very happy time.

 This leg is full of getting to know each other more deeply and creating new dynamics in the group.
(Up and down up and down)

I've been enjoying the luxury of my sleeping bag liner. It's a Sea to Summit 25+ synthetic liner and it adds so much comfort in the form of added warmth and snuggle-ability! Having something soft on your skin makes those nights on trail that much more enjoyable and comfortable. A big thank you to Grim for making the recommendation!
(Grim, Apache, Mehap)

I've been hiking with Grim, Mehap, and Apache a lot, with Guy and Wonderer hiking on and off together. It's been good. 

I've been continuing to push myself on the uphills and keep pace. I can feel myself getting stronger and faster. I am becoming a walking machine!
(Wonderer looking stealthy at a beautiful lake we stopped at early to swim, fish, and make camp)

The transition from Nom and Guy as hiking partners to the bigger group has had its ups and downs as is normal in any group situation. Overall it is great though and any kinks in the system generally get worked out somehow, though often I don't understand how. Being the only woman in this group is interesting. Men communicate differently and they solve social problems differently. I have to admit, it was intriguing and a great learning experience!

This was the point on trail when I started to think about working at Warren. Why wasn't I there now? Why wasn't I directly impacting people's lives there rather than doing this? Was I being selfish? Was I enjoying this as much as I expected? It wasn't so much that I was questioning if I should be out hiking so much as I was questioning why I wasn't working at Warren instead. I kept these thoughts to myself until we caught up with Whistle again.

She managed to let herself be convinced to hang out with us a little longer and drive her car to the road near Lima, where we would be theoretically getting a ride into town.

Double Rainbows find themselves living near Lima, MT. It is the gathering place for them. Almost everyday double rainbows appear in the sky as yet another thunderstorm passes, moving away from us. We feel as though we've found the end of the rainbow, and the treasure there is more rainbows to look at with an epic backdrop. I'll take that over a pot of gold. The cacophony of cows mooing and yelling at each other and at us reminds us that we are not THAT far removed from society.

This relatively short section finds us on a meandering dirt road walk, taking us through fields where people and cows spend their time relaxing. We were not sure if Whistle was going to hike with us or just wait for us in Lima until, there she was waiting with Oreos, Doritos, and drinks by her car!

 It was just pouring rain on us as a storm passed through when we saw her! We only had a few more miles to go before we hit the main road where we decided to camp for the night, and Nero into Lima the next day.
(Wonderer, Guy, Apache, and Mehap getting knighted)

Whistle and I decided to just sleep in her car and chat about expectations, experiences, this summer, and plans after trail. That was when I opened up about my heartache for Camp Warren. How I missed the community and the love, singing songs, running around, and playing with kids all day. What if I called Dave and asked to work at Warren this summer? Would it work out? Would I regret getting off trail?

Out of coincidence, Whistle would be driving through Chicago on her way back home to Michigan in  few days. This gave me the opportunity to catch a ride with her and take the train to Minneapolis. It would be so easy! The temptation! I had to think about this. It would define my summer and my whole hiking experience.

I'll give it our day in Lima, then I'll make my decision.