Tuesday, August 18, 2015

June 28 Day 63 - June 30 Day 65 - Missoula Warren Alum

The Montana wilderness continued as it does and we found ourselves on some dirt roads booking it to McDonald Pass. Machine Gun, Handstand, Grim, Guy, and me were all going to be getting into Helena together. Grim was ahead, he is fast, and I was behind him, with Guy just behind me. Machine Gun and Handstand were not too far behind all of us. I was worried that Papi would leave to Missoula without me, so I was keen to get to Helena as soon as I could. As we neared McDonald Pass, where we would hitch into Helena, I got a text from Grim exuberantly letting me know that Frodo was there with her RV waiting to pick us all up! Wow! She's amazing!

I was all excited about the near future in so many ways! As I was walking on the main road toward Frodo and Grim, a car pulls up to me and its Papi! He tells me to get in, so I do, and he drives me immediately to Helena where Beads and Kramers are packing up the hotel room they had stayed in the night before. They order me to shower and pack up ASAP so we can all head to Missoula. I let Frodo and Grim know so they wouldn't wait for me and I got myself ready.

By the time I was all set, everyone else was in Helena and we got to say goodbye. It was definitely bittersweet saying goodbye to Guy as we really weren't sure what the next week would bring for us as hiking partners. Would this separation mark the end or would it reaffirm things? Welp! We would find out. I was excited to take some time off trail and stay with family, regardless.

An hour or so later we were in Missoula. Papi dropped me off at Pete and Valerie's house and they quickly invited my hiking friends to stay at the house that night if they wanted to.  The hospitality of these people really blew me away. Everyone said yes and then headed out to an arts and crafts market going on down town. I stayed with Pete and Val and we connected immediately. I could see why my dad got on so well with Pete all these years. Truly down to earth, good people.

They pulled out pictures of family from decades past, as well as old photo albums of my great-great-grandfather who kept records of everything. Just wow! Pete, I discovered, also went to Camp Warren as a kid! WHAT?!?  How cool is that? I even got to see some pictures! Talk about amazing connections!

We spent the evening strolling around the art market, wading in the river and watching the rafting people float, watch Jurassic World, and go out for dinner with their son Paige. I spent the next day updating the blog and watching Orange is the New Black. It's my summer show and I was very excited to see that Pete and Val had Netflix!

The day passed too quickly and ended with Papi picking me up to see Spy with everyone at the movies. Hikers love theaters! We stayed up late that night chatting with Val and Pete, not knowing if we'd have the opportunity to say goodbye in the morning. We were going to be heading out early to return the car in Helena.

On the drive back the next morning my eyes were very wet with tears as we left Missoula. I had loved my time with Pete and Val and it was very difficult for me to leave. I had felt like their daughter, so welcomed and so comfortable. The idea of staying in Missoula crossed my mind more than once, but I found myself sitting in the rental car with the other hikers. My heart broke a little that day and I vowed to keep in touch and visit again.

It turned out that Grim and Guy had ended up zeroing in Helena and had just gotten on trail as we arrived. Actually it was quite the coincidence. Guy got on trail in the late morning and Wonderer was there at McDonald Pass trying to hitch into town. Guy called us to see if we were potentially nearby and we happened to be 5 minutes from McDonald Pass, so we grabbed Wonderer and had the opportunity to say another goodbye to Guy. Grim was planning to leave Helena soon, so we dropped Wonderer off in Grim's hotel room where he took it over for the next night.

After resupplying and getting new shoes, I was SO done with my Merrills (I got Altra Lone Peak 2.0), we met a nice man at the post office who gave us all a ride to the pass. Grim said he'd meet us at the water source, 8 miles down the trail, and so we camped there with Kathleen, who had gotten lost in the Bob for 3 days without maps or her phone, and Ben.

June 25 Day 60 - June 27 Day 62 - The Story of Dana Spring

This is the part where I pull the bad blogger card as well as the serious hiker fatigue card. I stopped taking pictures. Whether it was because my phone's storage was full, I really do need to get a phone with more memory next time around, or I just wasn't seeing the beauty around me, I'm unsure. It was more Montana. A lot of the same. A lot of great views that all start to look like the same great views we just saw.

Anyway, Guy and I left Lincoln later than everyone else. They got on trail in the late morning and Guy and I took our time and hung out with Frodo at the pass.  I was quite down on the day out of town. My mood couldn't seem to stabilize and I definitely felt like I needed some space. Guy was forced to listen to me lament existence for a while and ask him questions about what motivated him to keep hiking on. It was time for some solo hiking. We both came to terms with that idea. We were technically both out here as solo hikers and we had both wanted time alone to hike and experience the wilderness for ourselves. The opportunity came in the form of Papi Chulo.

Papi had plans to rent a car in Helena, our next town stop, and head toward Missoula, where he would meet his friend and go play in the hot springs nearby.  Anybody who wanted to head that way as well was welcome to join. My dad reached out to me to let me know that I had family in Missoula and they were particularly wonderful family members who I should go visit if I could, his best-friend-cousin and his cousin's wife. The timing was spot on, as it often is on trail, and I decided to join Papi, Beads, and Kramers and head to Missoula for a couple of days. Guy and I thought this would be a great opportunity to have solo hiking time too. He would head out from Helena and take the Butte route, the official CDT, which is almost 100 miles longer than the Anaconda Cutoff, an alternate that most hikers take. I would take the Anaconda route in order to catch up to Guy and Guy would do big miles on the Butte and we'd meet in Darby. Lots of places you've never heard of, doesn't matter, it's a good plan.

Great. And so the stretch from Lincoln to Helena was rather uneventful aside from my lack of spirit and constant attempts at not bringing Guy down as I questioned the meaning of life. As we do sometimes. It was also toeing 90-100 Degrees outside almost every day. That may have instilled a deeper feeling of mortality and nihilism to my hike.

We had longer water carries than usual, like 10 miles up mountains, which wouldn't be terrible in theory but was because of the heat. On a particularly hot day near the end of this stretch we were looking forward to Dana Spring, the water source at the end of this particularly elevation-y 10 mile stretch. I had finally gotten to a point of irritation with clothing at this point that I took scissors to dress and cut about an inch and a half off the bottom of my hiking dress to use as a wrap around shirt/bra with my swimming suit style underwear. I couldn't wear more than that with this heat. Luckily my skin doesn't burn easily, but I did apply sunscreen just in case, especially to the paler parts of my now exposed body.

We both ran out of water by the time we got to the top of the climb and it was still another few miles downhill to Dana Spring. It would be an extraordinary understatement to say that we were parched by the time we saw the spring in the distance. Mouth gummy, head floating, body moving a bit more sluggishly than usual, but there was the spring, .5 miles ahead! A wooden fence surrounded the spring itself to keep the cows out, and the metal pipe was just down the hill allowing the fresh water to pour into a trough.

We quickly filled up our water straight from the pipe, no filtering, and drank a liter immediately. Then we proceeded to dump cold water on ourselves and dance around in joy at the prospect of being hydrated once again. It was a great time for lunch and maybe a nap in the shade, so we made our way to a copse of trees nearby with our full water bottles. There were chatted, ate, and dozed, covered from head to toe to keep the biting bugs away. We were in full horsefly and mosquito season now.

As I adjusted my position at one point, I opened my eyes and saw a hiker passing by, away from the trees, closer to the spring,  Chrome Dome sun umbrella up.  Could it be? It looked like Grim! I called out, startling Guy from his sleep, and sure enough, Grim turned and smiled and came our way! We were wondering when he was going to catch us! He had been sitting at the spring for an hour and a half without us seeing him in our tree shelter! We almost missed him! He told us his story about meeting some other hikers, Handstand and Machine Gun, who he's been hiking with, which slowed his pace down from our projected Grim catch up path. He also asked us if we saw the squirrels in the spring.

Excuse me? Squirrels in the spring!? Questions we communicated with silence and seriously significant looks to each other.
"Yah, there's like 7 of them dead in there. Did you not see the post on Facebook about it?"
"You did filter the water before you drank it right?"
"No................" Uh oh!
"They looked very healthy." Grim assured us.
"Healthy looking dead squirrels?" Guy asked with a defeated laugh. The poor guy is vegan too.

After a bit of back and forth about who would get sick first, or at all, me or Guy, Grim concluded (he's a nurse) that Guy would be the more likely one to get sick because he had taken antibiotics more recently than me and he was vegan so his gut bacteria would be less ready to deal with rotting animals. Score?

This worry remained in the back of our minds for the next few days, waiting for an inevitable bout of severe diarrhea that never came. Thankfully. Those squirrels were eventually removed by the caretakers of the spring and future hikers were much less queasy about drinking the water, filtered or unfiltered.

Monday, August 17, 2015

June 22 Day 57 - June 24 Day 59 - A Blur and Birthday Into Lincoln, MT

June 22 - The Bob was blurring together. So much of the same. So much effort to make my legs move. My feet had developed new blisters and were having trouble readjusting to trail and perhaps to my new shoes, Merrills. Lots of river crossings, overgrown plants, nobody around, repetition. 29.4 miles today. Hot miles. Gatorade powder became something delicious after years of being something I would cringe at. That happens a lot out here. The things I enjoy eating and drinking would have been unthinkable additions to my diet not a few months before.

Today was an almost dry day for our feet, finally! Dry feet are kind of a big deal out here. Constant wetness and heat leads to increased bacterial growth, blisters, athletes foot, and stank! Guy was pretty adamant about getting in 30 miles today so we pushed later into the night, getting to a great camping spot around 10pm where we saw 3 tents on top of a hill. We tried to be quiet as we set up on another hill not too far away when we heard a sneeze. I yelled "Bless you!" and a head popped out. It was Papi Chulo, Beads, and Kramers! Yay! People! We had caught up to them!

June 23 - We had finally reached the Divide. Exposed ridges, mountaintops, lots of elevation gains and losses. Lots of amazing, expansive views. Over and over again, which slowed us all down. 21.5 miles today. It is also my birthday. I turned 27. Our initial goal was to get into Lincoln for my birthday, but that became an unreasonable expectation clearly after a while. It was a hard day. But a rewarding one too. Beads had just had her birthday and was carrying an extra balloon that she blew up and wrote "Happy Birthday" on for me. I tied it to my pack, feeling loved and appreciated! Kramers broke out in the Happy Birthday song continuously throughout the day, which always made me laugh.
(Birthday love!)

Eventually the balloon popped on my ice ax, and we caught up to Mehap and Apache at the end of the day. We also finally ran into Ratna and Wide Angle, who had also ridden with us in the van. They had gotten of in Butte and were going to hike north to Glacier, so we had been looking forward to seeing them as we hiked south. They were going to then hitch south to Chama I believe and hike north from there so we'd run into them again later! I was really happy to see them on my birthday and it was so nice to be around other people again.
(Wide Angle, Ratna, me, Papi Chulo, Beads, Kramer's)

We all camped up high on a pass and watched the sun set and rise from the perfect vantage point.

June 24 - I had reached out to Frodo who was going to be in Lincoln and was picking up hikers and doing some trail magic since she and Scout had just gotten back from Alaska. I over estimated hoe quickly we could move with all o this elevation, so she was at the pass petty early. Oops! We ended up getting to her around 2PM vs the 9:30AM I had estimated. Talk about bad math. 

As we descended toward the pass she was waiting with a cooler of cold drinks, fresh cherries, and snap peas! There was a small group of us all in Lincoln, Me, Guy, Beads, Kramers, and Papi along with Carrot Quinn, Spark, Apache, and Mehap. We all went out for dinner to celebrate the 3 birthdays that had occurred while in the Bob!
(Apache and Mehap)

June 19 Day 56 - June 21 Day 56 Heart of Darkness

June 19 - As Guy was setting up the bear hang last night, and I was setting up my sleeping area, I heard a rumbling coming toward me. Something big was moving very fast in my general direction. My heart rate immediately increased as my mind jumped to the conclusion that it was probably a moose. Moose are NOT to be trifled with. They can and will attack if they feel threatened or annoyed. My eyes were scanning the dimly lit brush beyond my shelter for something I could make out. It was one of those times I wished I had actually brought my glasses on trail. I was convinced I would break or lose them if I did.

A head emerged and to my utter surprise it was a light brown horse. A wild horse? It looked awfully well fed and fit and it trotted very purposefully over to me and then toward Guy and then down the road. It had a destination in mind for the evening. We burst into laughter as the initial tension needed a release and the randomness of the encounter tickled us.

This morning we ran into a ranger first thing in the morning who was leading a pack of horses and mules out and asked us if we had seen a horse pass through. The mystery was solved. They had all escaped from the ranger station that night and that horse never came back. She said that he probably went to the trail head as he was prone to do. A 28 mile hike for her to catch him today.

We did about 30 miles today, though 34 trail miles, having taken an alternate that cut 4 miles off. It put us in front of Apache again, who passed us later in the day very confused as to how he was passing us again! We all had a fun laugh about his confusion. He hadn't seen the alternate and so we were conveniently placed just in front of his path when we emerged from our little excursion.  We camped in a burn area, surrounded by dead trees that make the eeriest noise as the wind blows through them.

June 20/21 - Today was a rough day. We only did 22.4 miles today and 25 the next day only because we just couldn't motivate ourselves. It was mostly me really. I have been down. I feel jaded, tired, emotionally exhausted. I'm ready to be done. I'm ready to do something more purposeful with my life. I feel selfish and purposeless. There is a lot going on in the world that I could be helping with and instead I'm hiking for 5 months. Completely self-indulgent. That's how it feels sometimes. Unfortunately my discussions about my feelings and my perceptions got Guy down too. That just made me feel worse of course. Now I was bringing him down, someone who hadn't had any hiker fatigue.

As we were taking a 2 hour break, staring at the Chinese Wall, a gorgeous part of the Bob where the Earth's Crust juts out of the ground, another hiker walks by and we chat with him. He talks about The Wind River Range, coming up in Wyoming. The Winds, he says, are so magnificent they make you remember why you fell in love with backpacking in the first place. I needed that. And I needed the bacon that some rangers gave us at the end of the day when we ran into them making dinner.

Just not feeling the motivation. I need to get my mental state in the right place. Even if I wanted to quit, I'd still have to get out of the Bob. All you can do is keep walking.
(Chinese Wall)

The evening of the 21st we found this amazing campsite at the bottom of a hill and decided to cowboy camp there. We watched the stars and had a campfire where I cooked some tasty noodles. We slept under a big tree to keep the dew off of us and though a later night, a lovely one.

June 17 Day 54 & June 18 Day 55 - Welcome to the Bob

June 17 in East Glacier became an unplanned Zero Day. We were a bit disorganized with our resupply, and decided to stay at the Hostel one more night as thunderstorm rolled in.

June 18 we had 30 miles planned. We were going to heading out of Glacier National Park and moving into The Bob Marshall Wilderness. The Bob is one of the longest and most isolated stretches we would be experiencing. There is an option to resupply at a place called Benchmark, but Guy and I had decided to do all 170 miles in one go. Our packs were heavy. We wanted to push as many 30 mile days as we could in order to make it through more quickly. The bears were supposed to be bigger here. We got an early start and ended up catching up with Scout in the thick of the overgrown greenery. Sometimes you couldn't even see the trail, the plants were so enveloping. We sang songs an told stories to make the grabbing plants more bearable.

Halfway through, 15 miles, we got to a trail head, Marias Pass, where Frodo was waiting with the RV to pick Scout up. They had a wedding to officiate in Alaska and would be heading out from there. Grim had a friend visiting him from Asheville, NC, so he was taking a few days in East Glacier. Apache had passed us along the way and was enjoying the trail magic Frodo was providing, hot cocoa and fresh fruit an veggies. After a long lunch, Guy and I headed out, Apache already far ahead. We gave hugs to Scout and Frodo and wished them well in Alaska.

Then we entered The Bob. The Bob was my low point on trail. The Bob was when I thought I was done. I was going to quit, to head home. The Bob almost broke me.

We did 28.7 miles that day.

June 11 Day 48 - June 16 Day 53 - Glacier National Park

(William, Scout, HoJo, Guy, Kramers, Axle, Me, Grim)

Guy, Grim, and I shared a room at the motel in Glacier. We had an early start to get to the Chief Mountain trail head on the Canadian Border. 6:30am, out the door and into Scout and Frodo's RV. With permission to cross the border, we took some pictures of Canada. 
(Sunlight on the monument at Chief Mountain)

Generally the CDT would be at Waterton, which is much more scenic and has the monument, but it was closed due to snow conditions, so we had settled on Chief Mountain.

After more pictures at the trail head we finally got walking, feet to trail. It was a bit surreal. Our purpose as hikers is to walk. It's what we do and what we do best. Not walking means so much to us. It means not fulfilling our purpose. It's like losing a limb in a way, or finding yourself in a place where you don't speak the language. You feel lost and disconnected. Walking the trail brings you right back to where you're supposed to be. We're fluent here.
(Welcome to Glacier and using my Duluth Lumbar Pack as a front pack- experiment)

I should really introduce this whole section, really most of Montana, with a bit of a forewarning. Montana was tough for me. It was tough for everyone. I don't know if it's because the state seems endless, being almost 1,000 miles of trail, or if it was the flip and the stress, or if it was the inordinate amount of being stuck in the trees and dense greenery. Whatever it was, many of us went through what I like to call "Hiker Fatigue." Every amazing view is "just another amazing view." Every step became tedious and motivation dropped off. Big miles didn't seem like an option let alone a necessity. The reason for being out on trail at all seemed to allude everyone. There was a distinct minority who did not feel this way. The rest of us did, and we did not talk about it. Until later, but I'll come back to it then, when we reach Anaconda.

For now, let's stick to Glacier. It is a beautiful place. Pictures can say more about my experience there than words can in this case.

It felt like a constant uphill with these huge passes to climb for hours. The snow was there and we did use our ice axes to carve steps to cross snow fields. We even played around with glissading, where you slide on your butt down the mountainside, and we practiced self-arrest, stopping yourself from sliding down a mountainside using your ice ax.

The blue of the lakes and of the ice was that deep glacial blue. The water tasted like purity and looked too good to filter, so I didn't. No Giardia, yay! The mountains were epic and grand. Proud even, if you can call mountains proud. They seemed to puff their chests. We could see for miles and note with excitement at how far we had come.
(Guy and Grim)
(Scout hiding from the wind)

At the top of the passes the wind was so strong it could knock you over, or at least me. I'm not the most physically substantial of the group, so I get a bit more tossed around by the elements. Within minutes the cold air and the wind would cool your sweat soaked body and force you into more warm layers if you wanted to spend any amount of time enjoying the view. Or you could get hypothermia, your choice. The wind was so strong in fact that Axle took is gloves off for a moment and they went flying down the side of the mountain! He spent the better part of an hour searching for them successfully!
(HoJo, Axle, Kramer's, me, Guy, Buck 30)
(Scout, Frodo, Grim)

(Grim, me, Guy)

William earned his trail name Sandman by sleeping in as everyone left camp one morning, forgetting to wake him. He had no maps of the area and didn't even know what the next campsite was! He somehow managed to connect with HoJo and found us all by the end of the day. Guy and I spent a lot of time hiking with Scout and Frodo, enjoying their stories and songs.
(Just taking a break!)
(That way!)
Our mileages were 20, 23, 15, 10, 10. Adorable is a good adjective to describe our plan. We all enjoyed early campfires, late starts, and meals together. It was a welcome break and a good reset as we got used to trail again.
(Just being awesome)
(We came from somewhere over there!)
(Serious wand shop in East Glacier)

We ended in East Glacier where we got a room at Brownie's Hostel and had a HUGE hiker dinner at Serrano's Mexican Restaurant. There may have been 20 hikers there. Many more people had decided to flip after we led the charge and it seemed like they were all here in East Glacier!