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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
Garbelly and Critter