We awoke on top of an eerily silent hillside, our tent still filled with a visible haze of smoke. Garbelly was the first to wake up only to find the view of the distant mountains completely covered by the blanket of smoke. As Critter awoke, we layed in silence, listening to the slight breeze blowing the tent fly into the body of our tent. The crinkling of fabric was slightly unnerving today. Neither of us had gotten any sleep after last night’s cactus incident. Just as we had rolled over to begin our descent into sleep, a small but audible pop sounded through the tent. Shit. We knew exactly what that was. Critter sat up and quickly rotated to the bottom of your sleeping pad. Lifting the pad she found inch long spikes sticking up from tent fabric. Once on the outside of the tent she found the cutest little round cactus with spikes of destruction. Hearing a sleeping pad deflate is a pretty traumatic sound for a hiker. We had attempted to patch the hole many times throughout the night, but we just couldn’t seem to locate all of the holes. Resulting in a terrible night sleep. Talk about broken dreams... going to sleep with the intent to sleep well and then not sleeping well at all. Heartbreaking, to say the least.
If we came across a pond or lake, we would be able to submerge it and locate the leaks. Critter however was pretty bummed out from only getting a few minutes of sleep and had her mind set on fixing the problem completely. Since the two of us were now sleeping on leaky pads, she decided as soon as we got signal we would order a two person pad and deal with our leaky pads when we returned home. When we got signal, we checked our bank accounts and decided it would be doable. We were now somewhat excited about our gravel road walk. A new sleeping pad would be waiting for us in Anaconda. Just a few days away.
We began our walk down a faint four wheeler trail that quickly disappeared and turned into a fence line. Our usual use of paper maps had now been reverted into trusting gps maps and even google maps. We hated every bit of it. If you ever get the time, go to the middle of nowhere and try using google maps walking directions. It’s as good as not having any maps. Roads that may have been present years ago are still listed and result in very long bushwhacks.
We quickly realized our route was taking us to a large farmhouse. This was good news and bad news. The good news was that we were quickly approaching a place that had known roads leading to it. The bad news was that we were now definitely trespassing. Dogs began barking as we jumped a couple fences. As we swiftly began walking down the driveway, a tractor rode by in the field next to us and a car began zipping down the long gravel driveway towards us. We remained confident that everything would be ok, but part of us was worried about some sort of retaliation for trespassing.
The car slowly came to a halt and rolled the window down. A young woman asked us why we were on the farm and we said we honestly had just been following maps and they had not at all indicated this section of private land. Fortunately she ended up being very helpful and helped us find maps to head North and even maps of the surrounding farms and which was private and public land.
Leaving the farm we began following gravel, then pavement, then gravel again. Every few hours a car zoomed past us leaving us covered in limestone silt.
Road walking is exhausting in every way. Mentally, physically and emotionally. Sustained impact on the exact same area of the feet and shins can break even the strongest hikers. These monotonous stretches are the moments the mind wanders to places it has not been in a long time. Some days those moments are embraced and deep thought is welcomed. Today however, we welcomed those silent moments with a podcast or two.
We took a wrong turn at one point and ended up in the ruins of a worn down restaurant and it’s surrounding homes. Dogs barked as we tried to right ourselves. Out of the corner of our eyes we could see fingers pull back curtains as eyes stared at us through dusty windows. We circled around the large wooden building that used to be the restaurant and that was now just a dump of trash and broken glass. A figure on the top porch sat in a chair staring at us. We tried to not look directly at this person, who seemed slightly disfigured from the distance, but we could feel his gaze burning holes in our backs. A feeling of complete unease ran through our veins and all we wanted to do was get out of sight. Every time we would glance over our shoulders we could see him looking at us, now standing with his hand on the railing, standing lifeless and still.
After a long day with no tree cover, we camped by the Big Hole River along sounds of the water and crackling of the campfire. The Wind blew the smell of cold fishy water into our tent reminding us of our sweet Tennessee autumns. This campground was actually quite wonderful and comfortable. A definite place to return to in the future.
When we woke up, we walked a narrow highway with no shoulder into the town of Wise River, Montana and had a bite to eat at the Wise River Club. After a tasty breakfast, we decided it was in our best interest to follow it up with some ice cream. While eating ice cream, we met a father and his two sons that were biking the Divide. It was very interesting to discuss the difference between our journeys. Where they always stayed on small roads, we attempted to stay away from them. Where we walked mountain ridges, they flew though the valleys below. The thing we did have in common was our desire for food and ability to smell extremely bad in a short period of time. They headed off on their way and we decided it was in our best interest to head out too.
We tried to talk ourselves into a third meal, but began our walk down the narrow road and were outside the town limits in just a few steps. We walked and walked down the road. Highways feel like giant treadmills after being used to trails. Sometimes you can see the road on a distant hill and walk for hours until reaching it. We became dehydrated and overheated. We felt our shoes stick to the pavement with each step. Anytime we doubted our decision to speed hike to Anaconda, we inhaled and were reminded of our reasoning.
After another day of rolling roads, we crossed paths with the CDT again. We decided that it would be a very comforting place to sleep. We hid up on a hill, hung our bear bags and attempted to fall to sleep.
An old truck drove by. It had been the first car we had seen in quite some time. The way it crept by kept us awake for another five minutes, but nothing could keep us awake for too long. We were exhausted.
We woke up to the same silent hill and in the same tent covered in ash and filled with smoky air. These had been the standard conditions recently. After getting started, we followed a road all the way into the small city of Anaconda, Montana, the ninth most populated city in the state with a bustling 9,100 residents. This old mining town, made evidently so by a 585 foot tall smelter stack, was home to a number of famous people including Lucile Ball (it’s worth a google).
We didn’t know exactly where to go first, but food and the post office were always a good first start. At the post office, we found another hiker by the name Maine Man, but we will talk more about him later up trail. Our packages were no where to be found so we figured we would stay the night and try again in the morning.
Lydia, a resident of Anaconda, and one of the caretakers of the Anaconda Adventure Camp tracked us down and offered us a ride from the post office to the camp. She was as excited to see us as if we were old friends which put our minds to ease and we too felt as if we were reuniting with a friend. During the couple minute drive, she introduced us to the town and asked us about our travels so far. Once we arrived at the camp which was a built out, large storage shed, she showed us all of its accommodations. From plugs for our phones to lockers to store our bags, a bike stand and tools for bikers, and a picnic table with loads of space to spread out, within its thin walls we felt surprisingly comfortable. Like a large tent, with power, a fan, and plenty of seating options.
In passing we mentioned our dream of fresh fruit, and when we went to do laundry back in town, Lydia did not just deliver our box with our new sleeping pad in it but also a handful of the tastiest peaches. We could not thank her enough. We made a quick dinner in the microwave of the camp and then headed to bed.
Garbelly and Critter