CDT

Day 142: The Grizzly

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When we woke up, we were relieved to find that our tent was still in one piece. Overnight the wind had shifted direction hitting our tent point blank. Our rain fly popping from loose to taught created a loud, sporadic noise that left us in a shallow sleep for much of the night. Sunlight hitting our tent was just want we needed to convince ourselves that it was time to get moving regardless of the quality of our sleep. Checking our phones with the little bit of service that we had we were notified that Jason had finished CCC, his race around Mt Blanc. We were extremely thrilled for him.

After packing up camp, we climbed back up to the top of the ridge and picked up the trail. The smoke had cleared opening up a three hundred and sixty degree view of the mountains around us. The sun was peaking up to the East, and the air felt fresh. We practically skipped down trail as it descended to our next water source. We followed switch back after switch back down into a gully. We could see the other side of the mountains fold as we lowered towards the water. Once we arrived we stopped to filter some water for the rest of the day. A couple going southbound  passed, we exchanged trail beta, and then they continued on up what we had just come down.

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As we emerged into more open land the first bit of smoke started to move in. We passed a man nestled up in a bundle of trees eating lunch. He looked like Robin Williams in the face and kind of sounded like him as well. We later learned that they called him Maine Man. We kept going until we were ready to stop for lunch. Crossing over one more stream we took our shoes off on the other side to let our feet air out and shoes dry out while we ate lunch. We were listening to the quietness that had become relevant once more. No birds. No wind. All of a sudden we heard aggressive wrestling in some bushes by the water followed by a voice with a northeastern accent say, “I’m not a bear!” Maine Man stepped through the bush and up onto dry land. We spoke briefly about our plans and where we planned on making it that night, and then Maine Man turn starting back down trail. 

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We sat for another ten minutes snacking. The smell of smoke was beginning to return forcing us to pack up and keep moving. It’s hard to relax when you are breathing in that shit. So we got up and headed down trail. By the time we walked away from our lunch spot, the sun began to disappear begin the smoke becoming bright red. Our midday afternoon darkened to the color of an eerie dusk. The blue drained out of the sky replaced by the color of coffee when it stains something that you hold dear. The air we were breathing in scratched like tiny little shards of glass being swallowed... without the aid of a swig of water. As we hiked up trail through a valley climbing back up to the top of a saddle, everything was quiet. There weren’t any birds to fill the somber air with song. There weren’t any beetles scurrying across trail. No signs of life were visible. We were in another burn area, and this time it was evident that nothing had survived. The fire must have burned so hot that it absolutely destroyed the soil extinguishing any sort of life... for now. It was tough to find beauty in a place this barren. It wasn’t like the desert, with its beauty resting in between the cracks of dry earth. No, this place felt like death. 

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Our conception of time became skewed. We were no longer connected to the sun’s position in the sky. We hiked a little further before descending over the saddle in the hills. This new valley did not look much better. Tiny white flecks were falling on us. They were as fragile as snow. Now that ash was falling on us, we knew we must be getting close to the fires. The flakes grew bigger and fell steadily. We realized it must be six or seven o’clock by this point and found a flat spot right off of trail to eat dinner. It was hard to eat but we needed the boost. With a mile or more left to camp, we tried to be quick. Ash was still falling on us and landing in our food. Critter found her last pack of Patagonia Provisions salmon in her food bag. This seemed like a perfect pick-us-up. It was delicious, of course, and just want we needed to put a smile on our faces. 

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When we finished we packed up our bags and headed down trail just as the sun was leaving our valley. Not two hundred yards down trail from where we ate did we hear a loud grunt and growl followed by the huffing stomps of four big paws. We looked to our left to see a giant male grizzly bear running away from where the trail met the tall golden brush. Standing almost as tall as Garbelly, the grass framing trail showed the hump on the top of the bear’s back and his ears sticking straight into the sky. We froze in our tracks and began to make noise. We struggled with figuring out where he was now that we startled him, and we did not want to startle him again. We stood tall and talked loudly to each other as we started walking again. Another grunt and growl filled by loud paw stomps and the bear headed away from us. Now we could see he was headed in the same direction as we were. We were unintentionally scaring him into camp. We stopped and tried again to figure out where he was. We began walking again and this time the silence had returned. He must have changed direction and taken off up the hill to our left. As discombobulated as we were from the smoke and threat of fire, he did not seem threatened by us. He had more pressing matters to worry about- seeking safety. A mile later and we saw the sharp angled lines of Maine Man’s shelter tucked off trail in a flat area by the river. Our headlamps were now on as we passed his camp before we too cut down off of trail to find a place to sleep. All the trees were burned to a crisp so camping was not really ideal in this area. However, somehow by one large fallen log lay a flat spot just big enough for our tent. In case a tree fell in the night the log would theoretically break the fall, right? 

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We were not concerned about the bear visiting us during the night. We were concerned about tomorrow. How would the fires change over night? How close were we getting? What did fresh air feel like, smell like, taste like?  

As always, 

Garbelly and Critter  

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Day 141: Fire Reroute: Indian Meadows, Heart Lake, and back on the CDT

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In order to meet Gary, the trail angel, in time for a ride back to trail, our morning started early. We checked out of our room at the Blue Sky Motel, and began making our way down the street. Gary was able to pick us out of the people heading into the restaurant for breakfast, it was not a difficult task, and we loaded up in his car. There was an amber glow in the air. We had noticed more smoke and a red tinted sky slowly barreling into town as we drove away. As he drove us out of town he pointed out some places we needed to come to visit on our next trip to Lincoln. The conversation did not carry on too long before the fires were brought up. The fires had finally rerouted us, but new information was popping up daily. However, it did not appear that all the rangers knew the most current details. All we knew was that the reroute would take us through an old burn area through Indian Meadows and then past Heart Lake before meeting back up with the official trail.

We parted ways with Gary, who wished us safety and luck. Being out here did not make much of a difference, for the smoky haze still sat heavy on us. The air was hot like midday but it could not have been later than 8:00am. We hiked rolling hills until we dropped down towards Heart Lake where we stopped for lunch.

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The water was still and tinted a melancholy silver reflecting the smoke in the sky. Everything was quiet as we sat there snacking on peanut M&Ms and cheese. Garbelly decided to jump in for a quick swim. Upon wading out in the cold water, he broke the silence with his yelps and coos. After he dried off and we packed up, we began back down trail now through dense trees that even the sun was having trouble penetrating.

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We climbed down, and then we started climbing up again. Just when we gained elevation, we would lose it. It felt like dusk before we broke out of the trees in a more open climb. It was tough to tell where the ground stopped and the sky began. Everything was the same hue of orange. We were in a burn area again. Rather than shadows the dark contrasts of the land in front of us were from what was left of burnt trees.

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We quickly ascended a steep narrow trail until we were dumped out in this bizarre gully on top of the hill. Folded into the elbow of the mountain range we were on, we saw where the original trail cut through, and we hopped back on.

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In the callused ground lay the tracks of a grizzly fossilized in the scorched mud. The reality of the strength and size of the animal set in. Now we were in bear country. Critter stepped her foot into the pad and ran her fingers along the imprints from the claws. An immense quietness overcame both of us. We continued on climbing past a water source that was apparently tucked in the sage brush. We had enough water so that we didn’t have to stop. We saw a plastic baggie under a rock with the words calling the attention of a particular hiker and informing them about a water source. We placed the baggie back under the rock and climbing up short switchbacks to the ridge. The sun was beginning to set or so we thought. The smoke had moved in so thick that the sun was nothing but a red saucer in the sky. Enjoying the view from the ridge with the Scapegoat Wilderness surrounding us, we decided to bunk down on a flat spot just out of sight of trail and on a spot just large enough for our tent. We ate dinner shielded from the wind as we looked out at the sunset.

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We decided to camp here mainly due to having cell phone service. Our good friend was finishing up his run at a race around Mt. Blanc in France, and we wanted to make sure we could recover updates. However, as we sat there our phones were silence. A type of loneliness set in. No sounds of birds or scurrying of critters comforted us. No sounds of civilization, and no other hikers. Everything was still except for the fire growing on the horizon.

Cheers, 

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 136-140: Around Helena

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We woke up extra early just in case we had accidentally been camping on private property. The air was cold but very still and quiet. The crunch of our footsteps down the gravel road was the only noise in the area. We both were not yet completely awake, so we followed our map in silence for a few miles, winding down the mountain. Finally at the bottom of our decent, we heard running water. Since we both needed water, we planned on stopping at the first water source we saw. However, this particular creek was next to a new construction house and building debris sat in the water up against a culvert. Passing up water is always a dumb decision, but we pressed our luck after seeing a couple potential sources on our maps within the next five miles.

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Continuing down the road, we came to a telephone pole where someone had drawn a CDT logo and an arrow directing us to head into tall grass. While locals may have seen this as sharpie graffiti, we saw it as a welcome sign for hikers and confirmation of being on the right path.

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In a couple miles we came to a powerful spring not listed on our maps. Our wait paid off with ice cold fresh spring water. We sat down to eat a small snack, but didn’t wait too long. Today was not only a town day, but we also were going to be able to see a good friend from home. Thinking about this made us pick up the pace a little bit.

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We climbed up and down pine covered mountains, on and off gravel roads and more frequently than we would have wanted, through big areas of blow downs. We startled a few antelope while walking through a small grove of trees at the top of our last climb for the day. The whole burn area seemed eerie as usual, but the antelope seemed so out of place in the woods. Tall grass framed the trail. Lightly scattered through the tall grass were single Thimbleberries bright red against the golden backdrop. Most had already been plucked but we each gathered four or five delicate berries to eat. The tiny bursts of flavor packed the taste of a whole berry pie. The sweets and sours were so rich and delicious. Oh and how fresh they tasted! 

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We finally got signal to call John and found out he wouldn’t be off work for a few hours. Perfect! We had time to hike the remaining three miles to the highway, hitch into town and eat some real food!

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We quickly walked to the highway with excitement, passing an old signal tower used during the days of airmail. We got to the highway and had no luck hitching for the first 30 minutes. However, TenneSteve showed up back on trail and his ride agreed to go ahead and take us into town.

In town we ate at a funky restaurant that made bread in old soup cans then made sandwiches inside that bread. After eating we went to the laundry mat where John’s girlfriend, Alyssa, soon met up with us and took us to their house to drop our stuff off. After this we headed to the brewery to meet up with John. It was so amazing to see another good friend on trail. We had now met up with friends and family in every state except Idaho (no offense, Idaho).

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The next day was easily decided to be a zero day. There was so much to see.  Helena is a pretty great trail town. Plenty of places to stay, numerous breweries, an abundance of restaurants and a couple gear shops give hikers everything they could ask for. 

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The next day we woke up just in time to start coughing again on the thick smoke that filled the city and John and Alyssa’s house. According to Montana’s online fire report, the levels of smoke in the air were at a severely dangerous level and we could feel it. It felt like breathing through a straw. Our eyes were itchy. Our mouths were dry. We knew the fires were bad when even some of the older locals we talked to said they had never seen smoke like this before.

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As we left their house, we ran into their neighbor Lisa who began walking with us and asking us about our hike. She ended up leading us on a shortcut route to the post office where we found out that we were at the wrong post office and that there were four in Helena. Fortunately, a kind older gentleman behind us in line offered to drive us to the building our packages were located. We enjoyed our ride with this man, mainly because he wasn’t really too interested in what we were doing and why we were doing it. It was kind of nice just to ride around Helena and make small talk.

After we picked up our box, he dropped us off near the first post office. We noticed a cafe nearby called “No Sweat Cafe,” and we immediately headed over. This cash only cafe was a nice place to sort our resupply plus they served incredible vegetarian friendly comfort food. It is definitely a recommended breakfast spot for future thru-hikers stopping in Helena.

As we left the cafe, we decided to procrastinate getting on trail a little longer, so we walked around the surrounding shops and bookstores looking for things we didn’t need. We ended up buying some cheap town clothes to mail to Garbelly’s friend Cheetah who we would be staying with in Calgary, but after finding out it would cost one hundred and fifty dollars to mail internationally, we ended up just sending everything back to Nashville.

Finally we began walking the few miles through town to get to the right highway to be able to hitch back to trail. We slowing wandered an hour or two down the road before someone finally picked us up. Conveniently his house sat directly along the trail where we needed to start walking again.

When we arrived, he kindly gave us each a Coke and we began down a one car wide gravel road. As we climbed up the road, we noticed how hard the hiking had become with all of the smoke in the air. We also noticed jet black clouds rolling into view. We couldn’t see any rain on the horizon, but we could see large lightning bolts stringing the mountains south of us. We decided to walk as far as we could until the storm was right on top of our heads and then set up camp. As we walked, Garbelly’s stomach grumbled and churned. It was not just a hungry grumble, there was a feeling of sudden sickness behind it. This mixed with the visible smoky air was enough to slow us down. We continued on but realized we were headed into an exposed ridge and lightning began striking all around us.

We decided to set up camp here. Beneath a couple large pine trees. Garbelly couldn’t stomach dinner, a very very uncommon occurrence. We sat quietly for quite some time until we saw a forest service fire truck drive by in the distance. We found out that the small few minute long thunderstorm had left over sixty spot fires in the area. We knew we needed to hike faster.

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The next morning arrived without much improvement for Garbelly. We went back and forth on pushing through with big miles since we had planned our meals around bigger miles or regrouping back in town, since we knew we were headed into some funky hiking with all the threats of fires. Critter had taken her bail into town back in Colorado when the altitude sickness hit, now it was time for Garbelly to redeem his one bail. We headed back towards the highway, where we were able to catch a ride with a trail angel taking some more hikers down the pass. Young Blood, Treeman, and Jeremy were all crammed into the car with us. It was a nice reunion since we had not seen Treeman since the Mexican border, Young Blood since early Montana, and Jeremy since Breckinridge. Back in town, Barb let us sit on her porch while she ran some errands. Garbelly took a shower, drank loads of water and took a nap. 

Trail decisions are usually not hard to make. However, when you do not feel well and you can feel the time crunch of fire closures and the first snow fall on your heels, trail decisions become the toughest decision to make.  

Cheers,

Garbelly and Critter  

Day 134-135: Out of Anaconda, More Cows, and a Very Long Dirt Road to Thunderbolt Creek

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Our stay in Anaconda was extended due to lost resupply boxes. We woke up ready to pick up our boxes and leave town, but upon arriving at the post office, our plans stopped in their tracks. Our boxes were in Montana, but they were currently bouncing back and forth between two towns, two towns that we were currently not in. We had a slight hesitation before we arrived at a game plan. The woman at the Post Office offered to look into our missing boxes and text us when they came in and then forward them to Helena. This was such a relief. We left the post office feeling better about everything and headed over to grab food for the next couple of days in Helena. We packed our packs at the Anaconda Adventure Camp, and then stepped back out into the brightness of the day, now afternoon. On our way out of town we stopped to grab some lunch at the Classic Cafe.

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Back on the road we had a long road walk in front of us so we hunkered down and tried to focus on the miles. Cars raced by us on the highway as they headed towards Missoula. We finally crossed over the highway and with our backs now turned to the all of the cars, we headed back up into the rolling hills. Crossing over a bridge we noticed it was a small section of the Clark Fork River. We peered down into the water and quickly saw large shadows stacked up in the current. A man was pulling on waders as a fly rod leaned up against his car. Met by the burning temptation to stop and fish we forced ourselves to drag on up trail. We passed by a house here and there but there was not a whole lot going on. We could still see and hear the highway as we walked the paralleling dirt road.

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Arriving at a handwritten sign welcoming hikers to coffee and water, we looked up to see a man about 200 yards down the driveway waving us to come over. We looked at each other, shrugged, and then left the mind numbing road onto the driveway. The man, Joe, lived in an RV as a caretaker of the property. He invited us in for some water. Stevie Nicks sang quietly from his FM radio, while his friend was working on a motorcycle right outside. We sat long enough to finish our water before deciding we should probably get back to our day’s mileage. Back on the dirt road, we kept walking. And walking. And walking. Passing by the occasional house and frequent field. The highway was still in the distance but here we could not have felt more separate from the world of passing cars and sixty mile hours.

Critter had to pee. There were no trees or bushes to squat behind just road. After judging our aloneness and how we might as well have been on another planet, she made the decision to go right off of the road. She had to go really bad, so the relief brought so much happiness to her. Until Garbelly turned around yelling, “CAR! CAR! Stop there’s a car coming!” There was no turning back for Critter but in the frantic moment stood up pulling her shorts back on. The pee, however, did not stop. Garbelly looked at her apologetically with a slight cringe. Critter looked back ashamed and shocked as her socks became damp. The car passed us both and then disappeared behind the dust the tires kicked up. We stood there stunned by what just happened before Garbelly continued on down trail and Critter used her rationed, clean water to rinse herself off.

Following the gravel road up into the Deerlodge National Forest, we were finally out of sight of the highway. While we were on a road, we felt alone again in our trail world. We sat on the side of the road to eat a quick dinner before walking a mile or so to camp. That night we ended up finding a nice hill off of the road to camp on. Cows were grazing nearby but we posed no threat. A small stream separated us from the exposure of the road. We weren’t sure anyone would use the road during the night but we couldn’t be to safe.


The next morning as Critter was breaking down camp, she heard Garbelly struggling to free the bear bags from a tree. He hopped and he huffed but he could not get the bags down. Calling her over to help, she left what she was doing and wandered through the cold, crisp air. Staring up at the bags full of our food, we had no choice but to get them down. If only Garbelly was a Critter taller...

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The road finally disintegrated into trail and a spring became the perfect place for a snack. After we filtered enough water, we climbed over the fence running perpendicular to the tank and back into the sun. The trail turned into road again and disappeared again carrying us along rolling hills with a view of nothing but space and a distant home. The air was hazy from smoke, and the sun was hot on our skin. The trail left the trees a few times and snaked along cow coated ridgelines. The hike was beautiful, but it paralleled gravel roads and power lines, so we had a falsified feeling that we were close to a town. Garbelly was starting to feel his body eating itself after four months of not taking in enough calories. He spotted a distant interstate and thought of all the people in their air conditioned cars eating away at their burgers, unknowing of two hungry hikers high above that would pay good money for a few bites.

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We crossed back over into the trees and into the darkness of the woods. Passing by a murky lake we found our water source, Thunderbolt Creek. We filtered water for dinner and the following morning. Walking a ways we stopped for dinner and walking a mile or so more we ducked off of trail into the trees to find camp. Perfectly boxed in by fallen pines, we brushed away the forest floor with our feet before setting up our tent. Crackling late in the evening, early in the morning, jolted us awake, but our eyes softly fluttered back asleep. The sounds of the forest at dark are familiar to us now. There are no boogymen in the woods. Based on the loudness of a stick braking or the bass of a thud made by a hoof or a paw, we can lay to sleep fear of the unknown.

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The next morning we continued to the spring before beginning our climb back up to the treeline. The trail switched back and forth over pine needle beds and rock covered trail. We dipped and dived in and out of the sunlight. Towards the end of the day we found a gravel road underneath our feet once more. We filtered water from a large culvert and stopped for a quick dinner before continuing on for as many miles as we could squeeze into the day. The sun set over the trees catching the smoke layer painting the sky redder than a Harvest Moon.

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Old cabins started to appear around us and our chances of finding a suitable, legal camp spot became slim. We kept walking, later into the night than we wanted. Until we found a small flat spot on the top of a hill tucked away from the cabins and the road. Quietly we set up camp, keeping our headlights dim. Just as we had closed our eyes, the bugling of an elk warned us of winter approaching. A few moments later, a stick popped loudly under the weight of a large animal nearby, but sleep had already taken us.


Cheers,

Garbelly and Critter

Day 132-133: The Road Less Traveled

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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 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. 

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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.  

Goodnight,

Garbelly and Critter  

Day 131: Watching the Eclipse in Leadore

We woke up early with intent on leaving before 8:00AM with Wire Rims. Today was the day of the complete solar eclipse over the United States. We heard Liam and Kate wake up and knew that if they got out of their tent and talked to us, there would be no way we would make it to trail until later that day. 

We woke up before sunrise in an attempt to get out of Leadore for the solar eclipse. We heard the crinkling of Wire Rims packing up his cuban fiber LightHeart gear tent and knew that it was definitely time for us to wake up and get out of our tent. The morning was cold, but we started to see the light of the sun. We had still not made up our minds on which route to take. We wanted to hike the trail, but with air quality getting much worse and knowing that the majority of the current wildfires were just ahead of us on trail, we seriously considered the alternate route that a dozen hikers had taken just a couple days before us. We packed up our bags with thirty minutes to spare before Sam would be heading up the pass. We then heard the faint noises of Liam and Kate waking up. 

“Garbelly and Critter, “ Liam called.

Sure enough we knew we would again be eating breakfast at the Silver Dollar. We talked our plan over with Liam and Kate and decided on staying in town for the eclipse and then heading up the pass and walking towards Anaconda.

When we walked in we were greeted by the always excited and confused Becky.

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“Why are you still here.... never mind, what do you want to eat? Most of the hikers eat the deep fried French Toast. It’s not on the menu. You haven’t eaten that yet,” she rattled.

Deep fried French toast it was. Liam and Kate ordered and then we continued to sit for a good hour before she reappeared from the kitchen.

“What do you want to eat?” she asked.

At this point we were used to her normal scattered demeanor. We reordered the French toast, mistakenly ordering one plate each. We then sat and talked for the next thirty minutes in the otherwise silent restaurant.

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Becky was not planning on going outside for the eclipse simply because she had yet to hear about the eclipse. We told her we had an extra pair of eclipse glasses and she agreed to come out and look at it when it happened. We all gathered outside around a picnic table and watched the sky for any signs of what was to come. After about 45 minutes passed the sky begin to enter a very strange dusky light. The already quiet town of Leadore somehow got quieter and more still. 

The sun became more and more dim and we looked up to see it only a sliver. Everyone became silent for the near total eclipse. It was a lot more powerful than we imagined.

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Now, we had a decision to make. We had been advised by many hikers ahead to take an alternate route to Anaconda. In addition, our friend who was busy fighting fires North of us told us to do whatever it takes to hike fast through Montana before the fires get worse. It was predicted that the fires wouldn’t get any better until the first snow. The air we were breathing, and had been breathing, was a dense cloud. On the other hand, there was the CDT. Hiking high into the cloud of smoke on a stretch known for little water. So many things played into this decision; Critter's asthma, getting to Canada before the trail closed, and road walking.

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We decided to follow the hikers ahead of us and take the route that would get us to the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. 

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We headed up the pass and continued past the trail turnoff without stopping. In fact, we walked another 15 miles down the road before it turned into pavement and we came to our turnoff. Bloody Dick Road. Not a very inviting road, but that was our road. After walking up the road and filtering water, we found a sign for a block of public land. Perfect. A place to sleep.

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We cooked dinner on an antelope filled hill and watched the sun dip beneath a horizon of smoke, reappear and then sink below the Earth’s horizon. It had been such a strange, yet phenomenal day. Once we found a flatten mound just large enough for our tent, we began setting up in the dark. Our eyes were beginning to adjust just in time to see a nighthawk swoop down in front of us before taking flight back up to the sky. We stood in wonder. It swooped again right at our eye level. We could feel the whoosh if it’s body and hear the single flap of its wings gaining height once more far beyond us our rooted feet. In this moment everything was here. Being here, filled us with happiness. In our solidarity and solitude, a distant barn light told us that we were not as alone as we usually were. A comforting and uneasy feeling. 

Cheers to the calm, clean air, 

Garbelly and Critter  

 

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Day 129-130: Into Leadore and the Silver Dollar Cafe

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By the time the sun rose over Morrison Lake, we started back down trail. We passed by the glass like surface of the lake. No fish were raising quite yet and the two campers that sat at the water’s edge remained lifeless from the night before. We began to climb up a steep two track road before reaching a sandy green saddle. A pack of a dozen bull elk moved in unison away from us as we approached, stopping only once to look back at us before continuing on into the trees. We continued on down the trail into Leadore, but not without hiking through cow herd after cow herd after cow herd. We would pass by the cows that would startle at first sight of us, then we would pass by the ones that stood their ground causing us to pick up the pace and not turn our backs. Back and forth we danced with the cows, between superior and inferior, intimidating and passive. We followed the gravel road through a canyon with large rock walls extending on either side and the smell of manure warming up in the morning sun. We passed by a campground with people setting up for the upcoming eclipse. We even passed by a dead badger laying on the road lifeless yet still intimidating at the sight of his razor sharp claws.

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Finally, the small town of Leadore, Idaho came into view nestled in the valley. Here began the never ending road walk into town. We will save you the mind numbing details and jump ahead to when we arrived outside of the Stage Stop market and wondered inside. Cool drinks and an extended version of your typical convenience mart. We were in heaven.

After grabbing a much desired Sprite and Gatorade, we started walking down the street towards The Leadore Inn, known to hikers as Sam’s house. Positioned on the highway facing porch looking out into the world from the familiarity and comfort of an office chair, a grey haired gentleman sat. Although he was seated, his height did not diminish. He was a big man but spoke gently. Tyke sat in a wooden chair joining Sam on the porch. We found out that there were no more rooms available but we were welcome to camp on his lawn. We also were pleasantly surprised to see our boxes sitting among towers of other resupply boxes. Camping sounded perfect and cheap. So we paid Sam five dollars for the night, five for showers, and five for laundry.

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Before showers and laundry, we decided to find some food before the grumpiness  creeped in (it may have been too late for Critter). We looked at our options. In a town of one restaurant, it was certainly a tough decision. We only took but a second or two to process our next move before we began to walk down to the Silver Dollar Cafe.

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When we arrived at the front door, we left the bright, washed out tones of the cradle of the valley and entered into a dark, musk. As the door shut behind us, whilst our eyes adjusted, a small women stomped past us and out the door, yelling over her shoulder, “I have to run an errand. Grab a menu and sit down!”

The door slammed shut once again. With no luck of finding a menu, we just took a seat at a table. A healthy amount of time passed as we took in the family-owned decor and grew hungrier and hungrier. Signs that were scattered around the room taught us that we probably should not make any modifications to whatever we did decide to order. Finally, a younger woman came up to us dropping menus down in front of us and two glasses of water.

“Becky, will be right with you,” she said as she whipped around and disappeared back into the kitchen. The woman named Becky did end up showing back up, maybe an hour later. She took our order; a grilled cheese with fries and a burger with fries. Ten minutes later she came back out and asked, “Hun, what cheese do you want? Bread?” Critter answered, “Swiss on sourdough?” In response to Critter’s hesitation, Becky spat out, “got it,” and marched back into the kitchen. Another hour or so passed before we finally were able to eat, pay, and leave the Silver Dollar Cafe. Lunchtime had long passed, and as we emerged from the dark restaurant, the unforgiving intensity of the afternoon sun took us by surprised. We made our way back down to Sam’s.

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The occupants of the Inn took their place on the porches of their rooms. We began our laundry, showered, and started to organize all of our food in our resupply box. Critter, in effort to finish her own laundry, folded another hiker’s laundry and returned them to him. Quickly she was mocked by a handful of surrounding hikers... apparently that’s not a common thing that happens in the hiking community.

As Critter began to set up the tent, Garbelly went back out in search of dinner. See, we had been in the Cafe for so long that we were hungry again. This would prove to be a common theme over the next day and the hours spent at the Silver Dollar. Garbelly arrived at the bar that shared the same building as the Cafe. Walking in he immediately was out-of-place. The room became quiet and all eyes were on him. A knife couldn’t cut the tension in the room. However, simply ordering a beer at the bar retuned the room to normal.  

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The next day we headed back down to the Silver Dollar for breakfast before heading back to trail. Just as we were paying... two hours later... who walked through the door but Liam and Kate! At this point our day was toast and immediately turned into a zero day. They joined us for then lunch at the Cafe and afterwards we all headed back to Sam’s to sit on the porch for a couple of hours.

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Sam took to his daily routine of sitting on the porch waving at every car to pass by on the small highway that bisected town. Beyond the buildings of town and the fields of sage brush rose the mountains. Hadie Mae and Yogi, Sam’s friend, joined us on the porch, and the late sun started to lower behind us. John Prine played from their small CD player and they sang along under their breaths.

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Dinner time rolled around and Liam, Kate, and the two of us headed back down to the Silver Dollar for some food. After our meal, Becky brought out Pictionary and the four of us dove into a hilarious game. The game finished, and we made it back to our tents way past hikers midnight.  Having Liam and Kate’s tent awkwardly close to our tent had become comfort by this point, familiar, and we all fell asleep as our laughing faded out with the passing of the occasional car on the highway. 

 

Salute!  

Garbelly e Critter  

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Day 128: Cottonwood Peak

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The early morning moo’s of the cows broke through the cold air sounding almost like they were covered in frost. We started going through our routine of getting ready, and we finished up by throwing our packs once again over our shoulders. In order to the combat the cold morning, we still had our down jackets, but as soon as we followed the trail out of the gully, we started to climb. This portion of trail was covered in morning sun unlike where we had camped, so the air was noticeably warmer.

We started our ascent surrounded by herds upon herds of cows, black cows, brown cows, and even the albino ones. As we passed they looked up from their breakfast and watched as we wandered past. We started to heat up quickly being in the sun now in addition to climbing. We each stopped and took a brief few seconds to shed our insulated layer and begin climbing again. Critter took a couple of extra minutes to patch a tear she got when she was taking off her pack to take of her down jacket, but soon enough we began walking once more. If we did not mentioned in April that over the next months we would mention walking a bunch, we will go ahead and apologize.

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We had decided to take another alternate pointed out on our Ley Maps. The initial climb was tougher but the overall climbing distance would (technically) be less that the official route. However, this alternate would take us up and over Cottonwood Peak standing tall at 11,029 feet. We stopped to filter at our last water source until the end of the day, and then continued on turning off from trail when we arrived at the alternate’s trail junction.

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The trail began to climb immediately. In the mile that we had to the top, we had around 2,000 feet to climb. We left the openness of the the trail and entered into the trees for our trail-less scramble up to the top. There is no feeling quite like the one when you leave tree-line. The dense forest began to fade until there was nothing in between us and the air surrounding us. We could see where we had come from the days before behind us and we could see where we were headed. We could see the wall of exposed rock to our left and the seemingly innocent rolling mountains to our right. Trail, still nonexistent, became a massive talis and scree field. The summit was almost in sight.

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We kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. Our trekking poles digging deep into the loose rock for grip as our minds tried to ignore each slide our feet took with each step. As quick as the peak came into view, we took our final steps before the ground leveled out at the top. Still rocky and straddling the Montana-Idaho border, the top was decorated with its very own geographical marker. We sat at the top for a handful of minutes before making our descent. The descent was more gradual than the climb but ironic when we began losing all the elevation we just worked for very quickly. We reached a saddle where we met back up with the official trail and suddenly we were climbing again.

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For the rest of the day, the trail took us over the tops of balds as it tucked us into the most beautiful mountains. Intense layers surrounded us. On the ridge we were on, we were not the highest point but we also were not the lowest among the layers. There was no trail to follow so we followed cairns and kept our eyes on the general direction we know we needed to head in. Finally, we popped back into the trees and began to descend down towards a water source, Tex Creek. We stopped sooner than what was marked on our maps to filter and make dinner. A hiker, named Wire-Rims, that we had met after joining back up with trail continued on down trail before stopping for the night. We made dinner and as the sun started to lower we kept heading down trail. Our goal was to make it to Morrison Lake for the day. We had five more miles to go so we picked up speed and hiked on. Cows surrounded the trail and as we came up and over a hill we were face to face with a line of young bulls. We made noise and continued on past trying not to turn our backs to them.

As we arrived at Morrison Lake, the sun had already set and the air was beginning to cool off once more. We found a non-sagebrush spot to set up camp, and as soon as we climbed into our sleeping bags we were out.

 

Cheers,

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 127: Deadman Pass

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We woke up fairly early on the side of a very uneven slope overlooking Lima. We knew it would be a beautiful sunrise, but part of us was too exhausted to get out of the tent to look. Instead we laid there and talked to each other about our plans for the day. Part of us wanted to hike as fast as we could to get to Leadore, but the other half wanted to explore the area. When we looked at our maps, the official trail went in more of a straight line and skipped a lot of the dramatic mountains we wanted to wonder through. After next to zero discussion, we decided to take the route that would be nine miles longer but with better views. This motivated us to finally get out of the tent and get walking for the day.

Just a short ways down the trail, we took a side trip to visit a small cave we had heard about. Sure enough, as we approached the edge of a giant white cliff, there was a deep shaft with hundreds of bones laying at the bottom. Our map read that during the winter, snow covered the entrance and animals fell through only to be trapped in the pit below. Garbelly began to climb down, but then decided it was not the best time to get trapped in a deep pit.

After we headed a mile or two down the mountain, we came to the junction of the alternate trail going over Deadman Pass. Some hiker out there once said, "it's not about the miles, it's all about the smiles." We headed west down a road for awhile, then it quickly turned into a bushwhack through sage brush and tall grass. While wading through the waste deep grass we startled a few large sandhill cranes that took off through the air with their rattling call resonating through the field. We were definitely startled by them, too, and quickly remembered how massive their seven to eight foot wing span is as they fly through the air.

Finally, we made it to a trail that fit the description of the trail we needed to take. The plan would be to hike to a lake right on the divide and then bushwhack over a large hill and down into a different valley. From here we would hike over a pass and back to trail.

Within the first hundred yards of this trail, we became surrounded by wild raspberry bushes. This is never a good thing for making quick miles, but we didn't care because they were delicious. Looking at the ground, we saw bear prints and just about every other animal print you could imagine. As we continued the steps faded as the trail took us winding through a narrow valley.

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Before we knew it, we heard a deep rumble. It seemed extremely close. It went silent. Then we heard it again and realized it was our stomachs. We had not eaten yet and it was nearing noon. Unfortunately we had not made near the mileage that we had hoped to have at this time of the day. We found some shade near a small cave and laid down on a cool rock as we snacked on Cheetos.

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After lunch, we quickly made it up to Divide Lake. Garbelly tried to catch a few fish with no luck. We were way behind schedule, but we did not care. It had been an awesome day of adventure. It felt good to rely solely on our paper maps for a day. As we passed over the large berm behind the lake and entered a new valley, we felt the thrill of adventure. We also felt dumb as we found out the creek on our map was bone dry. With half a liter of water between the both of us and seven miles until the next water, we contemplated hiking southbound to get water. However, since neither of us had much experience hiking south, we decided we would press onward.

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We had hiked about two miles, when we rounded a bend in the valley, we found ourselfs staring at shale cliffs that spanned thousand of feet above the trail.  

Fortunately for us, a tiny stream of snow melt from the last remaining patch of snow poured down the mountain. We eagerly put our water bottles under the stream and thanked the mountains for the wonderful gift. We only had a few hundred feet left to climb to the top of Deadman's pass and we sped right through it. Towards the top however, we started noticing tiny fossils on every rock around us. We slowed down and began looking at every small fossil and wondering how old it must have been. We saw a dozens that looked like shells and others like small crinoids. The biology nerds definitely came out and we searched the entire pass for fossils.

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The rest of the day consisted of us scrambling down the pass and finding our way back to the official CDT. This was easier planned than executed however, and ended up being a couple hours of bushwhacking. Along the way we ran into large herds of black angus and dozens of albino cows with bright red eyes.

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We stopped at a creek crossing to filter water and eat dinner before continuing on to camp. When the horizon opened back out to prairie lands that stretched for miles was where we stopped for the night. The sun was sharing its last rays of light with us before we were sucked back into the comfortability of darkness. 

Cheers to bonus miles! 

Garbelly & Critter  

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Day 126: Leaving Lima

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The repetitive drum of the phone alarm blasted away the silence of our dark room at the Mountain View Motel. “BACK TO TRAIL. BACK TO TRAIL,” seemed to take the place of the normally obnoxious, robotic scream replacing it with the urgency of our next task. We stumbled out of bed and into our hiking clothes. With full packs, we made our way back to trail leaving the small town of Lima and its eight glowing Tesla chargers behind. Once on trail, we began climbing back up to the ridge-line. We were then among the open land of rolling hills and beneath the red-tint of Garfield Peak.

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We arrived at a pipe spring just in time to stop for dinner while we filtered water for the next day.  After sitting our packs down in a dry area, we hopped across the swampy ground balancing on small rocks before finally climbing up onto the rail around the spring. Leaning over the rail, we took turns filling up our Sawyer bags before carefully stepping our way back to dry land. We had more miles we wanted to get in before dark so we ate a quick dinner and then headed on down trail.

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The trail traversed the ridge as we climbed up to the top. Surrounding us were mountains and their valleys down below. The sun was beginning to lower in the sky casting this world in a golden light once more. Listening to the magic of Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled album as it was powered by the magic of the land around us, we moved with ease no longer restricted by the weight of our packs. Gravity’s pull did not even seem to be a limit instead our connectedness to the earth came from our own free choice. So, we dug in deep.

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During the sun’s final moves below the horizon, the colors in the sky began to display what could only be but a grand finale. We climbed up high away from the traversing trail and sat to watch, when two shadows appearing as tiny specks appeared down trail. As they grew closer the colors of the sun grew richer, and then as they approached us they too stopped to admire the show. We watched in silence. In the sun’s final stages, when the colors began to die out as the sun made its exit behind a mountain peak, we turned to the new hikers and before we knew it we were lost in conversation. They too were climbers. They too were interested in all of the side trails and alternates. In fact, Garbelly had met one of the two, Hot Mess, on the PCT two years earlier. As we laughed and carried on, an owl swooped in for a listen. Flying about, he did not go far during the rest of our time together, and even when we could not see his shadow we knew he was close by. By the time we began to wrap up, darkness had completely fallen and the coldness of the cloudless night settled over us. We had not even noticed that our faces had been reduced to silhouettes, to shadows in the night. Our goodbyes were more like “until next times”, and we ended up not wondering far to set up camp. We could still see the fluttering lights of Lima tucked into the layers of the peaks and valleys below, and we could see the headlamps of Hot Mess and Om Gee navigate South down the trail. 

Cheers to the comfort of the night,

Garbelly & Critter

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Day 124-125: When Gear Fails and Leaves You Unprepared

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The sound of rain slowly pulled us out of sleep. As our eyes fluttered awake they were met by a surrounding darkness and as our faces appeared from their burrows they were touched by a trembling cold. The clock on our phone read 3:00am, so we let the rain carry us back into sleep. Our eyes reopened again. The sound of rain was now heavier than before. A very faint light had begun to flood the tent. The time chimed 7:00am. Big miles were waiting to be chiseled away. We knew we needed to get up. This trail does not wait for fair weathered days, but our minds immediately landed on the thought of our predicament. During the rain we received going into Yellowstone, our rain jackets began to soak through. No matter how quick we moved, our bodies became alarmingly chilled and wet. We were perfectly fine in the end when the sun came out and dried us out, but would we get this lucky again? The forecast called for rain all day for the next few days. If this was true, we were NOT prepared. 

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Quick Note: The Alpine Houdini that we had used for wind and higher alpine protection for the better part of the trip simply could not stand up to rain if even for a short period. This could have been a combination of us expecting too much from the jackets as well as a jacket that is marketed sightly out of its comfort zone. There are much better options out there such as Frog Toggs and even other jackets in Patagonia’s line. 

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Thick clouds surrounded our tent as its damp walls surrounded us. We began to pack up but hesitation altered every move. It was only a matter of time exposed to the rain before we would be wet and cold again. Without a layer in between us and the elements, we felt vulnerable and utterly unprepared. We stood under the slight protection of a tree as we began to weigh our options. We could hope for the best and continue on or we could find a way to get lower and out of the storm. Our answer did not come easily. We were met by our wanting to stay on the trail faced by the little voice in our heads warning us of what might could come of staying exposed. We swayed back and forth between pride and caution. Critter leaned towards caution while Garbelly leaned towards continuing on. Then the balance would exchange its weight to Critter wanting to continue on when Garbelly wanted to find a way to get lower. We could not settle easily into a decision.

We began to walk down trail and towards our first climb when we were jolted to a stop as if attached to an imaginary leash. We could not shake down the red flag that had gone up in our minds. Our trajectory switched leading us away from trail and towards a four wheeler road. Our last couple of steps on trail stirred up a family of grouse sending the mature grouse flying off and the small chicks to scatter deeper into the tall grass. Leaving trail left us uneasy but we slowly picked up our pace once more. Several miles down the road led us to a larger road, however it was still gravel. As we reached the road we watched as two people standing with a tandem bike watched us. We approached asking them about the nearest town and how to get to the highway. After receiving our bearings, they offered to give us a ride to the highway after they finished their bike ride. Afraid of making them go out of their way we decided to continue to walk. We eventually made it to  the tiny town of Spencer, Idaho.

We hobbled into a small diner and grabbed some lunch and water. As we ate we watched people outside sorting through a giant mound of loose rocks. They kept bringing in pieces to show the employees and to verify their find. Once we were finished we headed to the on-ramp of the interstate and began to wait for an seemingly impossible ride into Lima. We waited and smiled as cars drove by some going in the wrong direction others turning onto the highway headed East. We watched as people pulled into a rock and gem shop right across the street from where we stood. A younger woman in jeans and a jean jacket frequently ran to let the visitors into the shop, locking up each time before running back towards a small home next door. We watched as cars left the parking lot and drove past us. Then we watched as the young woman in the jean jacket ran towards us. She asked if we needed a ride, when we said we would love a ride to Lima, she said she could drive us after her shift. She invited us over to a picnic bench by the shop and made us tea while we waited. We poked around looking at the rocks and gems they had sitting on a table outside. When it was time for her to close up, she let us hop in a car she borrowed from her boss. As we headed towards Lima, an intense rain began to fall restricting our view from the car and quickly covering the road in a thick layer of water.  

We arrived in town and headed towards the Mountain View Motel. That night we ate dinner as we watched a storm rest on top of  the surrounding mountains. During a break in the rain, we ran and jumped in our tent. What felt like centuries ago as the morning's hours began to invest in the day, we knew one thing: our gear had failed us leaving us unprotected and unprepared. We did not know what the weather had planned for the hours to come or how we would feel. As we laid dry and warm in our tent, we still felt uneasy by our decision but our guilt began to slowly melt away. 

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We woke up in our tent to sounds of semi trucks flying by us on interstate 15. We woke up in time to make it to the post office just in time for it to open. Arriving there we found out quickly that the packages we were expecting  that had our rain jackets in them had not yet arrived. The postal worker told us that Mike may have already picked them up and to check in with him. When we went back to see him, again we were disappointed to find out he also did not have our box.

We decided the best move would be to head over to Jan's Diner and have a bite to eat. Food heals all problems. We returned to the post office and found out our box still was not there and began to worry that we would be trapped in this town for a few days. This was not just any box either, it carried over a thousand dollars worth of gear. According to the tracking number it had arrived in Lima, but no one knew where it was. 

When we walked back to the Inn, we were greeted by Scavenger, Winter and T.I. Toe. We discussed the big storms from the days before and they mentioned Mike was going to drive them back to trail that night. As we were talking to them, the lady cleaning the motel rooms let us know that our room for the night was ready for us. We let the guys know they could crash in our room for the day and get out of the sun. We decided to head to the post office one more time.

Once we arrived, it was clear that we had become a friendly face to the post master. She welcomed us back and we all began brainstorming on the whereabouts of our package. We had looked everywhere when our if nowhere she said, “hold on, are you M.E. and Ethan?” It appears that our first names were on the box the whole time. We felt silly, but we all laughed it off and said a final goodbye to the post master.  Today’s lesson: Zeros days can be exciting in their own way! 

After Mike took everyone back to the pass around 6:00 PM, we once again found ourselves hungry and ready to try out the other restaurant in town, "Peat’s Steakhouse." We were told a few days earlier by Thor that you could grill your own steaks and vegetables. It only took a three, yes three, hours to complete the restaurant experience with ordering, eating, and paying the bill. Worn out and ready to get out we headed back towards the Mountain View Motel but not without swinging into Jan’s Diner for a piece of pie. 

We sat down at the bar with a couple we had met in Peat’s. They were from Spain and were biking from Canada to Yellowstone. We bonded with them quickly sharing stories of the trail asking about their lives across the Atlantic. They invited us to Spain in the future and we invited them to good ole  Nashville, a fair trade to say the least. We spent a good bit of time talking with them over pie and tea, before heading back to the motel and heading to bed. 

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter  

Day 123: Trail-Bushwhack Transition

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We took it a bit easy this morning packing up and grabbed some last minute resupply items before heading down a gravel road. We walked the road up towards Sawtelle Mountain for what seemed like an eternity. Dusty air getting kicked up with each step left us feeling immediately dirty and disgusting. Finally, we made it back to a single track trail.

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We followed the trail as it took us up and over small hills. The trail suddenly disappeared into faint trail of slightly trampled grass. This left us following our compass and beginning what our maps called a "trail-bushwhack transition". We stayed high overlooking a river valley as we passed through tall fields of wildflowers and different grasses. The "bushwhack" did not truly begin until we were nearing the official CDT. Our nice field turned into a brushy maze of tall moose willows and boggy paths. We stood at the edge of the last dry bit of grass over looking a deep marsh with no where to go but through it. Our feet dunked under and were quickly consumed by the silty bottom like stepping into quicksand.

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We stumbled across finding stability on the top of a beaver dam which we followed to dry land on the other side. The trail met back up with the official trail and continued steadily climbing as a rain began to fell. Due to the rain, we kept putting off filtering water, but our sources listed on our maps were dry as a bone when we came up on them. However, to our relief, we found flowing spring water at an unmarked source. We filtered enough water to drink and cook with and then continued down the trail. A couple of miles later we found a flat camp spot tucked into some trees for a windbreak and set up camp.

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The night was cold and windy. A storm was blowing in, but we would worry about that in the morning. We closed our eyes and drifted to a warmer, drier place.

Cheers!

Garbelly & Critter

Day 122: Mack's Inn & Island Park

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We woke up in Idaho, an exciting accomplishment, indeed. However, our first night took place on the side of a residential road tucked out of sight into trees. We woke up early, packed up quickly, and marched with ease into town. Once arriving at the small town of Mack's Inn, we could smell the laundromat before we saw its timber frame walls. Peering into the dirty windows, we saw Scavenger who waved back at us.

We stepped inside to find both Scavenger and Winter just finishing up their laundry. We joined them, throwing our clothes in the wash and sitting down to eat some snacks for breakfast. After finishing up our laundry, we repacked our packs and put on our fresh clothes. Our next goal was food, more food. We walked to the main highway and crossed over the Henry Fork of the Snake River, apparently an amazing fishing spot. This river pours out of the mountains at a place called Big Spring, pumping out over 120 gallons of water per day. Next to the river sat a Mexican restaurant. Here we ate way more than we should have and left feeling slightly miserable and satisfied.

With full bellies, we headed towards Island Park to find a place to stay the night. Sawtelle Resort and RV Park was recommended to us by other hikers, and after checking it out for ourselves it really was a great deal. Twenty dollars bought us a camp spot, two towels, unlimited showers and pool access! It was truly a hiker heaven.

We picked out a campsite and then perched up for the rest of the afternoon. A heavy rain started to fall as a storm moved through and we watched from the comfort of the porch. Thunder boomed throughout the sky and eroded dirt covered the roads. We both acknowledged how happy we were to be in shelter and not on top of a ridge at that moment.

For dinner, we walked back across the street to the Chinese restaurant, and along the way, we met some more Southbound hikers and a film crew shooting a documentary of a group of hikers on the trail. We drooled over some of their equipment and probably dreamt about the possibilities of camera gear that night. The Chinese food was extremely good, which surprised us in a town that small. We headed back to our tent and fell asleep to the sound of a neighbors campfire and a distant owl.

 

Cheers! 

Garbelly & Critter

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Large crew of SOBOs from the 3mph film group