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“Wander a whole summer if you can…time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.” John Muir

Month

September 2016

Day 155: The One About A Dead Horse

Miles: 31

Camp: My CDT mile 2470

Today we had planned to go as many miles as we could. We are nearing East Glacier where we have our last town stop before the end of the trail. It is surreal to even go through the motions, but it is inevitably going to end soon and we are kind of ready for that. Ready in the sense that we haven’t had a lot of rest on this trail and it will feel good to relax, rest our bodies and see our friends/families again. On the other hand, I am not all that excited to go back to a “regular” life. No, this is regular now.

I walked alone all day, even though I said I wouldn’t. Sometimes I just have to keep moving. I think best in motion. The day was beautiful, though I began coming across bits of trash far too regularly; candy wrappers, bags from chips, bandaid and I kid you not, a handle of whiskey. It was strange and I did my best to pick up what I could…leaving the whiskey in the middle of the trail for the guys to find. They are way more into drinking on trail, which doesn’t really appeal to me.

As I was enjoying the day I began to notice some larger than average bear prints. They were certainly the biggest I have seen and definitely grizzly. I put some music on my Bluetooth speaker and walked somewhat carefully ahead when I spotted something gruesome and wickedly unsettling…a dead horse. It was laying contorted in a ditch by the trail, it’s face in a permanent grimace, it’s shoulder skinned completely. My heart immediately leapt into my throat as I instinctively reached for my bear spray.

The bear wasn’t within sight as I hurried on remembering the warning about being caught near a grizzly kill. It is the second place you never want to be aside from between a mom and her cubs. My blood pumped fiercely and I chose the loudest music to play on my speaker; my friends’ band, “My Life In Black And White.” I chose them because I could sing along, because they are loud and because it was somewhat soothing. My bear spray stayed poised in my hand as my eyes darted back and forth across the trail and trees, super alert to any and all movement nearby. A jumping squirrel nearly gave me a heart attack.

I wanted more than anything for one of the guys to appear, to see that Limey (who was ahead of me) was okay. My mouth tasted like fear.

I approached a river crossing and seeing no way to hop across immediately, I charged through the water. On the other side I was able to relax a bit, a river between myself and death. What a thing to have seen, to have experienced. It was really quite disturbing. I found Limey on the other side and was even more relieved…especially to find out that he had come across the bear feeding on the horse! He said it ran away immediately and was big enough to come up to his chest on all fours (he is 6′ tall). He said he wasn’t even scared. I don’t get it.

We hiked the rest of the miles until dark. My toe screamed in pain, with nothing I could do but keep walking. I’m exhausted from the miles and the adrenaline. It was really quite a day. Tomorrow we reach town where I can give my toe a chance to breath, where I can eat and where we can plan the last leg of our journey.

Dinner: mac and cheese with salsa, tuna and green beans.

Day 154: All Of The Switchbacks 

Miles: 28

Camp: My CDT mile 2439

It was a long day again, not leaving much steam for writing. It involved lots more bear tracks (no bears), several cowboy types out riding horses and hunting elk, a pass aptly titled, “Switchback Pass,” an inspiring conversation with Righton about hiking across Europe and a pile of us cowboy camping under a blanket of perfect stars with the full moon yet to rise. Tomorrow is another big day for us, but the plan is to slow down for the final 100. I can’t believe we are that close! I’m so excited to accomplish this, to see the reward for all of my hard work; I’m tired, happy, sad and ultimately ready for my body to stop hurting. I want to sprint and drag my heels all at.once…looks like a little of both.

Dinner: creamy broccoli and tuna pasta with tomatoes.

Day 153: Big Wall

Miles: 28

Camp: My CDT mile 2411

It rained off and on all night, keeping me awake. That is two nights in a row of poor sleep for me…so this will be a short account of the day.

It was very muddy with LOTS of animal tracks. It was slow going in the slick mud, but we kept going with our hearts and eyes set on Canada. It was cold, and rained off and on most of the day. It was somehow very pleasant though.

We climbed to the Chinese Wall today. A 6 plus mile long granite wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. This place is beautiful, no wonder bears live here. I did see a black bear in a valley today as I walked safely along the mountain above. 

I think I might lose a toenail…a first for me and a head scratcher this late in the game. The shoes are even a half size bigger than I’m used to…so I really have no idea why this is happening, but it could be worse. 

And so I don’t forget, this was the night we night hiked through the vegetation car wash. Basically pushing through wet plants growing over the sides of the trail as we turned our headlamps in all directions looking for camping. 

All in all, a successful day. Only 9 left. 9 days of the best life I’ve ever lived. I can’t stand knowing it will end soon. 

Dinner: rom bomb 

Looking back on the wall

Day 152: Squeaky Trees

Miles: 29

Camp: My CDT mile 2383

I woke up after a night of relatively rough sleep. Every time I tried to sleep on my side, my knee would hurt…and I frequently rotate to my sides in the night. I was more tired than is normal, but the day got underway without hassle. I moved out of camp first and saw that the guys were getting ready so I knew they wouldn’t be far behind. There were bear prints pretty much everywhere, so I was pretty happy to see Judd come up behind me. We agreed to not hike alone any more as the bear evidence was far too strong to ignore.

We were in areas of mostly dead trees pretty much all day as a strong wind blew all around. The trees swayed, squeaked and whistled in the gusts; one even falling not too far off trail. It was spooky, especially as we kept our eyes peeled for bears. (We never saw one).

We all met up for lunch and then made our way to Benchmark Ranch. Benchmark is a rustic ranch set away from the trail where we sent resupply boxes. The owners hold our boxes for a fee and it was well worth it. We had a very nice couple give us a ride up the side road and they left us with a few beers to drink while we dug through our food. We all sent more than we will need, especially since we have had some plans change. The forecast threatens snow up north and we need to get up there before it gets too much. We have a few days of fairly easy terrain between us and Glacier National Park, so we are trying to get in as many miles as we can to get up there and evaluate the situation. We are looking at days around 30 miles that normally would have been 20-25, but at this point we are running out of options to finish in time. All is looking like it will work out though, we feel good about our plans.

As we left the ranch, rain began to fall. It was very light at first, but became more dramatic as we hiked. We had to make a quick camp in a small valley to block the crazy wind and avoid dead trees…it is tight and uneven, but we are all dry in our tents for the night. This weather was not in the forecast though, so we have no idea what to expect tomorrow. We are ready to face whatever it might be though…We came prepared!

I’m beyond excited to catch up on sleep now, so I bid you goodnight.

Dinner: pasta with green beans, tomatoes, coconut oil, parmesan and other spices. 

Day 151: The Day That Got Away?

Miles: 26

Camp: My CDT mile 2354

I apparently didn’t write a blog this day. As far as I recall there was nothing special about the day…it was hot, we crossed some rivers, had some great conversations and all cowboy camped together in a neat little grove next to a river. 

Day 150: Get Outta Town

Miles: 9

Camp: My CDT mile 2328

This morning was the day I got to have the much lauded cinnamon roll french toast at Lambkins. I had been told about this by one of my roommates back in Portland and also from Tickled Pink. This restaurant has been on my radar for a long time and it lived up to my expectations. Cinnamon roll french toast is the most glorious invention I’ve ever encountered. Two of my favorite foods were married in a most agreeable combination. What a treat! I’ll never forget about it.

After what seemed like ages of sitting around, chores and another round of fried chicken, we got back to the trail at 3:00. The trail greeted us with a big climb and a nice roller coaster ride on the divide. We moved slowly and agreed on making an early camp tonight. It has been ages since we set up camp before dark and it is delightful. I ate dinner before 9 pm and am so looking forward to extra rest. The terrain coming up looks like we can make bigger miles and that is great knowing we have a long distance between us and our next town meals, showers and laundry. None of us did laundry in Lincoln, so we will be quite a stinky bunch after over 250 miles in the same clothes. That is one hotel room that will need to be fumigated after our departure!

Anyhow, my knee felt better today and though I was exhausted, the trail was great. I’ll miss hiking along the divide, being on top of the world. I’m definitely starting to get sentimental…let the countdown begin.

Dinner: mac and cheese with bacon bits 

A Moxie bunch

Limey takes the lead

I could live there

Day 149: Lincoln

Miles: 21

Camp: My CDT mile 2319

I somehow managed to wake up naturally before 7am. It has been a while since I’ve done that and it felt good to be hiking by 8. I was so slow yesterday that I was concerned about making miles before dark today. It was a silly fear, but I just don’t know what to expect from my knee right now. It hurts in the morning, but gets better as I hike on it. There are moments when it is quite sore and going downhill is a painfully slow process…but at no point does it seem to be getting worse. It makes me a little nervous about keeping up with the guys and making it to Canada, but I am definitely optimistic. 

By the time we reached Flesher Pass we still hadn’t seen Righton and Titan. The rest of us took a break and gathered water from a cache there. With only 12 more miles to the road into Lincoln, we didn’t linger long. Lincoln is the last real town we will stay in before the border. The next stretch will be one of the longest of the trail and Lincoln is our last chance to take care of chores for almost 200 miles. The stop comes so close behind our days off in Helena that it isn’t highly anticipated, but knowing the significance of it being the second to last town made us happy to be headed there.

The trail followed paths of melted snow up and along the divide, opening up to grand views of the mountains to come. We are headed to some of the best of the CDT…the grand finale of the Bob Marshall Wilderness followed by Glacier National Park. The ridges we walked today gave us tiny glimpses of the peaks ahead (a peek at peaks!). I love the way we watch a mountain range grow closer, only to watch it grow farther away as we walk through and past them. I love the way it makes the trail seem endless, like we could walk north forever, never reaching a destination. 

I ended up arriving at the road alone. Limey had been ahead of me, but appeared to have already gotten a ride in. I walked to a turnout area and stuck out my thumb. A truck stopped straight away and I was on my way to Lincoln. The man was a crop adjuster who had a small office in his truck, complete with a printer fixed to the center console. He was a local and we chatted about the upcoming section of trail, but more importantly, he gave me the intel on the restaurants in town. This town is actually known to have some of the better food on trail. I was excited!

I met up with Limey and Shadow at the motel. We were able to get a room big enough for the 7 of us and it was nice to not have to be separated. We will soon have to say goodbye to each other (less than 2 weks!) and we want to soak up the remaining time together. I can’t imagine my life without these people in it, I don’t want to.

We had a wonderful dinner of fried chicken at a nearby restaurant and then we hung out in our room having beers and sharing stories. It was a late night and we have to keep moving tomorrow. Time to get some rest!

Judd taking it in

Deer are more common than squirrels in Lincoln

Day 148: Perfectly Imperfect

Miles: 24

Camp: My CDT mile 2298

Besides the fact that it was noticeably warmer this morning, the first thing I noticed was my sore knee. The pain was sharp, but there was still no swelling and I could move around ok. I took some ibuprofen and tried to keep it to myself. The water was half a mile back on trail and feeling rather down about my knee…sweet ol Uber got me a liter. I don’t usually like having other people do things for me that I should be able to do by myself, but a little humbling shouldn’t  hurt.

My knee felt pretty bad on the climb out of camp and going down the other side was worse. I worried a lot and wondered how much I could ultimately take if it stayed like this. As the terrain leveled out though, it was as if something loosened up and my knee actually felt better. It was still sore, but nowhere near the pain from earlier. I was cautiously optimistic. 

As the day wore on the discomfort/pain seemed to ebb and flow; almost always hurting when going downhill and improving with uphill or level terrain. It never got any worse either, a sign I like to take as positive. I remarked to Limey about how I had a blister that formed where I thought I had some nerve damage to my toe (from the snow), and how that was a good sign because I could feel the toe again! He laughed about how crazy we are and I found the humor in all of it. I looked to his 2 knee braces (his knees hyper extend) and knew I had a peer in the pain game. We all feel the effects of the trail at this point, we all raise our threshold for pain as our egos move in for the finish line. With only 300 miles left you are going to have to physically remove us to make us stop. Now, I’m smart enough to know when the pain hits that mark, but for now I will see how far I can push myself for this. It is only 2 more weeks, I can put up with a lot for only 2 weeks…and the payoff is so sweet.

The day was so perfect otherwise. The temperature was cool enough to make for pleasant hiking without that frosty chill, snow melting from trees and grass, the sun shining and the terrain was just the right amount of up and down. If it weren’t for my knee and the new blister, like an old friend swinging in for one more visit; if not for them, today would have been pretty perfect. I guess it was after all, because every day on the CDT is perfectly imperfect, just like all of us. 

All together it is the right amount of crazy to keep life interesting. 

Dinner: tuna and black pepper cheddar in tortillas with horseradish. 

Day 142-147: On My Knees

Miles: 4 Zero days and a 20

Camp: My CDT mile 2273

I parted ways with the guys in Anaconda, as they headed to Helena by foot and I by thumb. I got a ride with some mail carriers, a veterinarian and a veteran. I had some great conversations and the 3 rides got me safely to my destination. I holed up in the hotel with an Epsom salt bath, a bottle of wine, a burrito and the football game. My knee felt much better by nightfall, but I still planned to get it checked out. I don’t want to risk permanent damage by pushing on…but oh how dreadful if I have to stop hiking. I don’t even know what to do with that level of heartbreak and disappointment. Trying to stay optimistic!

……….

In the morning I had to go two miles to get to the urgent care in Helena. I had asked about bus service at the front desk and the lovely owner of the lovely Budget Inn offered me a ride! Jenny brought me to the front door on her way to a meeting, a very kind gesture on her part! Unfortunately though, the clinic couldn’t see me today! The receptionist explained that they had, ‘lost’ a provider and the others were in surgery (?!). I think she sensed my helplessness as she recommended a nearby clinic. I explained how I was on foot and nursing my knee…and without hesitation she said, “I’ll just clock out and bring you over.”

I’ve had some very kind strangers go out of their way for me recently and I’m overwhelmed with the kindness!

When I was finally seen by an RN, we discussed my knee. She poked, pushed, pulled and prodded me. Nothing caused discomfort or pain so she confidently told me an xray wouldn’t even be necessary  (my wallet said, “Yay!”). She said it was likely that I had bruised the cartilage behind the patella which is probably the least possible knee injury (phew!). It will be pretty sore, but if I can ice it every day (Yay for snow!?) and if it doesn’t swell up, then it should be okay. The days of rest I had already prescribed myself were about all she had for me, an expensive vote of confidence, but a vote of confidence nonetheless. In the meantime I have another couple of days to give my knee some rest before finishing the trail! I have a bit over 300 miles to Canada, then back here to make up the 80 miles I skipped from Anaconda to Helena. 

…………

The next couple of days were spent resting and exploring the parts of Helena within a reasonable distance. It is a great little town, full of nice people and cute businesses. The guys arrived on Saturday afternoon and decided that they wanted to take a zero on Sunday. I was happy that I would get one more day of rest and extra happy to have the company of my friends again. They sure keep me laughing and it feels good to be part of a good team. I remember the days of wanting to be alone so badly that I left people behind…and now I couldn’t imagine doing this without them. I am thankful to have seen both sides of the coin enough to know that it is just better together than alone…as much as being alone is it’s own kind of special experience. I get a pretty good balance of that with the guys.

……..

On Monday, all geared up for whatever flavor of winter Montana has for us, we left Helena. Uber and Limey paid for a cab to the pass, Judd and I teamed up to hitchhike while Titan and Righton stopped by the comic book store. Those guys and their magic cards…the most athletic nerds you will ever meet. Judd and I danced and smiled on the side of the road for about 30 minutes before a van pulled over. It was driven by a man named Rudolph who wore a top hat and was a chimney sweep by trade. He chain smoked cigarettes and played music far too loudly on his poor sound system…but the music was pretty good and Rudolph was pretty cool. We had to run a couple of errands with him, but eventually made it up to the pass.

It felt strange to hike from a place I didn’t walk to, but I don’t regret the decision to get a green light on my knee before hiking on. The sky was both light and dark, the air bitterly cold, snow clinging to trees and grass as we climbed our first pass.

We eventually caught up with Uber and Limey just after dark. It was very cold and I couldn’t have been more thankful for the $60 I spent on a sleeping bag liner…instant warmth! My dinner cooked slowly in the below freezing evening and I curled up immediately after, ready for sleep. It was too cold to blog last night, but it is early morning and I have the time right now.

My knee is very sore, but not swollen. I’m slightly worried. I’m hoping it doesn’t get worse and that not getting an xray when I had the chance was the right choice. If I have to stop hiking I will, reluctantly…but high hopes that I make it to Lincoln without needing to make that choice. I’ve come too far to stop now. Fingers crossed. 

Uberdude bought a mumu!
The Anaconda smokestack…apparently the tallest in the world (?)
The doctors office put a barcode on me. 
Not just shoes…Waterproof shoes!

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