CDT day 60: grumpies

July 3
Mileage: 28
1,140 miles hiked

I feel so groggy in the morning, even though I slept pretty well. Why? Who’s to say. Why does one feel amazing some days, tired others? One of the great mysteries of the universe.

The Anaconda-Pintler wilderness continues to enchant. The lupine and paintbrush and small happy yellow flowers whose names I do not know continue to bend gently in the breeze alongside streams that sparkle in the sunlight. The trail climbs through the forest, over ridges, over passes, over saddles. So many climbs. Endless climbs! I am tired today. Yesterday I felt strong. Am I strong? I don’t know.

At one point we enter a burn and there is no water. There’s supposed to be a spring, but the spring is an opaque mud puddle two feet wide and two inches deep, undrinkable. A few miles back we were passed by a northbound section hiker named Mango. Mango said only of the spring-

“The spring… it won’t be what you expect.”

Which I took to mean- the spring will be a pond. Which has already happened a couple of times.

Now as I climb in the 90 degree heat in this exposed burn without any water, I direct all my irritation at this Mango fellow. Why would you pass southbound hikers and not tell them that the one water source coming up is dry? Especially in such a hot, exposed section? Who does that? This breach in hiker etiquette is appalling to me. But mostly, I’m irritated because it’s the first thing that happens when you’re dehydrated. It’s hot as fuck, and I’m sweating like crazy, and there’s no shade, and the climb goes on and on. Ugh.

By the time I catch up to Spark and Track Meat at the next water source, I feel like a hot dog that’s been sitting on a car’s dashboard for a really long time. I pee, and my pee is straight brown. Brown. I down a liter of good cold water and stick my head in the stream. Mango! What kind of a name is that, anyway?

My grumpies continue until camp, which happens after we’ve re-entered the lush un-burnt forest and there is water everywhere again. We dry camp on a ridge, where there is much light from the sinking sun and a breeze keeps the mosquitos at bay. I eat my breakfast (granola) for dinner, because I’m out of dinner. I’m cutting it close with food this section, but I think I’ll have just enough to make the 17 miles into town tomorrow, probably cruise in famished with a couple of gross bars in my pack that I can’t bring myself to eat.

Tomorrow is the Forth of July! And we’ll be in Darby, Montana, a small town I know nothing about. I can’t wait!

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CDT day 59: entering the Anaconda-Pintler wilderness

July 2
Mileage 28
1,112 miles hiked

It’s forty degrees when I wake up next to the lake. Forty degrees! Now I wish I hadn’t sent my stove away. I shiver in my sleeping bag, which is damp from condensation, as I eat my cold granola in protein powder milk. No hot tea for me! Oh well.

Everything is fine again, though, once the sun comes up over the granite peaks. The day warms until it’s almost, but not quite, too warm. The elevation profile today looks like this- round a sparkling lake. Climb through the damp flowery forest, up into alpine meadow, and over a pass. Descend down the other side of the pass. Cutaway pass. Rainbow pass. Goat flat. Two others without names. Climbing no longer feels as hard as it did in Glacier- I cruise right along. Montana has made me strong.

We’re in the Anaconda-Pintler wilderness. There’s water everywhere. This water tastes like snowmelt. Springs run out of the bottoms of trees. We take long breaks. I finish my audiobook- All the Light We Cannot See, about a German boy in the nazi army and a blind girl in France. The book has been fantastic. It just won the pulitzer prize for fiction!

My puncture wound is doing well. Twice a day I put some hand sanitizer on it, then some neosporin, and change the band-aid. It doesn’t seem to be infected.

I’m still dizzy. What gives.

Camp is at another wonderful lake, the water glassy and broad, the light long. I’m so tired, coated in cold sweat and cooked from the sun. I eat all sorts of random things for dinner and brush my teeth. Time for sleep.

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CDT day 58: back into the mountains, thank god

July 1
Mileage: 12.5
1,084 miles hiked

We stay up until eleven watching Terminator II and then I wake at five a.m., even though the curtains block out the sunrise. Is it the full moon? Is the full moon doing this to me? I am so over it! The air conditioner in our room is broken and it’s already stuffy and too-warm. And we’ve got an eleven mile paved roadwalk, along the shoulder of the highway in the heat. Fuck, this is going to be a long day.

Not with enough caffeine though! After town errands (I bounce my tights, gloves and stove to southern Wyoming- will I regret this?) I drink massive quantities of iced tea and eat tacos at Taco Time, Track Meat, Spark and I huddled under the air conditioner in the corner. Then there is this and that to do, visiting junk shops in town to oggle the taxidermy there, buying an inflatable frog floatie meant for a child (for river crossings! I joke), and by the time we’re walking out of town it’s two p.m.

You know what doesn’t suck? Hitching eleven miles of hot, shadeless paved roadwalk. So now I’ve skipped a total of seventeen miles. Add it to my tab. Only god can judge me!

Our ride drops us off where the CDT leaves the paved highway and joins a dirt road that winds up into the mountains. The high granite mountains! With their damp meadows of paintbrush and lupine! And pikas in the rockpiles! And secret lakes!

Twelve miles later we are at one such lake, Storm Lake, pumped full of endorphins from the climb and eating our dinners on the grassy bank watching the light move over the glassy water. We’re back at eight thousand feet, and it’s much cooler up here. I’m so glad to be out of the baking valley! The mosquitos bump against us idly. I’m eating cold-soaked spinach/kale and hotdogs wrapped in misson gluten-free tortillas that are made from chemicals. For dessert I might have some chocolate hazelnut butter- the good kind, not nutella. Life is pretty sweet after all.

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CDT day 57: Anaconda

June 30
Mileage 17
1,071.5 miles hiked

I wake at 5 a.m. sharp, even though I didn’t fall asleep until after 10. Well fuck. This is going to be a long day. Why does my body do this?

The last of the thunderstorms blew over in the night and the morning sky is clear. I have no water for tea and I eat sad bars for breakfast. Time for the long hot roadwalk to Anaconda. I feel exhausted. Bring it on!

Except here’s what happens- when I hit the last six miles of the roadwalk, which is on the paved shoulder of the highway, I stick out my thumb and get a ride into town, changing my 23 mile day to an easy 17. Fuck it! Fuck it all! I haven’t skipped a mile of this trail yet, but I’m thirsty and hungry and we’re in a heat wave and I just cannot right now.

I get a room first thing and take an incredible shower. Anaconda is a “long, skinny town”, which I think is funny. Get it?

Fast food. Taxidermy shops. Heat. I find the boys at a coffee shop, looking as fried as I feel. At the grocery store I buy a bunch of boring trail food, as well as exciting things like raspberries and gluten-free muffins. Then we all cram into the motel room with the AC rumbling and eat ice-cream in the flickering light of Terminator II on the bigscreen TV. It’s Spark’s birthday! I give him a bag of jerky, just like in 2013. Tomorrow we do the eleven mile paved roadwalk out of town… I mean I guess.

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CDT day 56: venus and jupiter

June 29
Mileage: 34.5
1,054.5 miles hiked

I sleep hard in my small stuffy net while the orange sun drops low in the trees, finally disappears. I wake up at dawn, feeling hungover. Weird. What did I do. I stand up and am so dizzy I almost fall over. Huh. Why am I dizzy? Is it giardia? Did I finally catch something from all the unfiltered water I’ve been drinking? But my poop is normal.

All day I’m dizzy. I stop to get water and I’m dizzy. I eat a snack and I’m dizzy. I’m dizzy going uphill. I have no idea what is wrong with me. I’m crushing, though, otherwise- it’s not very fun to take breaks when I’m by myself. Boring third-growth pine forest all day- up and down, up and down. I feel bored. I keep walking.

There’s a newish looking stretch of trail along the divide that’s not on guthook or the Ley maps but has lots of nice CDT markers. I follow it in the afternoon as clouds coalesce on the horizon. Thunder claps but there is no rain. Finally it begins to sprinkle a little, washing away the heat. I put on my rain jacket and march happily in this cool drizzle.

I’d planned to camp at 29 miles, but the water source there turns out to be some standing, rust colored water with an oily sheen on top. Fuck, I say, squatting over the water in the drizzle. I’m tired and I want to make dinner. No matter, the Anaconda cutoff, which will take me to Anaconda where I’ll resupply, starts in three miles and that should be easy walking on a dirt road. I’ve been following the boys’ footprints all day- now in the dust of the road I see the chevrons of Track Meat’s altras, the tetris pieces of Spark’s solomons. Mehap’s cascadia stripes, just like mine. I wonder where they are? After a mile the alternate begins to follow a stream and I get water there, climb way up on a ridge to camp. The horizon turns rosy as the sun sinks and I cook my noodles. I see what looks like a UFO on the horizon- I’ll learn tomorrow that it’s just Venus and Jupiter, in alignment for the first time in 200 years.

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CDT day 55: heat wave got me like

June 28
Mileage: 21.5
1,020 miles hiked

At eight a.m. I meet Frodo at the car rental place, drop off the keys to the rental car and climb into her sweet camper van for the ride back to Mcdonald pass. Frodo is gonna hang at the trailhead this morning to wait for a few other hikers, so it works out perfectly for me re: getting back to the trail. Thank you Frodo!

It’s a little hazy this morning but soon that burns off and it is so. fucking. hot. I slept maybe five hours last night. My sleep deprivation, combined with the heat, creates a fatigue so profound I feel as though I’ve been drugged. On top of that, my dear friends the biting flies are out in full force. I slap them off my legs but I can’t get them all, and their bites are really painful. Motherfucker!

I’m in the forest, climbing up to the ridges and down- at one point I lose the trail, as one does on the CDT, and end up bushwhacking for a full mile, climbing carefully over the blowdowns. No more puncture wounds! I startle a herd of twenty or so elk and watch them stream around me, through the trees. One of them bugles. Their antlers are so velvety and brown. I’m hiking solo, so the forest is extra peaceful and enchanted seeming- even with the flies and the heat.

Around midday the trail joins a dirt road and follows it, and now I’m roasting in the sun with no shade at all. I’m too warm to really eat or drink much, which doesn’t help my energy level. What is this, a hundred degrees? At one point I realize that I can do a short day if I want to, and relief floods over me.

Camp is at what was described in my data as a “spring” but which is actually a small, mucky pond filled with tall grasses. I walk out on a log to gather water and watch the frogs plop away around me. The broth-colored water is full of pollywogs and other transitional creatures going about their business. I treat the water. It tastes like dirt, but not in a bad way. Miraculously, there are no mosquitos at this pond. The pollywogs must eat the larvae. Yay!

I make my dinner and chase the narrow bands of shade thrown by the spindly pines along the bank of the pond. It’s almost evening but the sun just will not quit with the roasting. After dinner I set up my tarp and string up my bug net, creating a magical biting-fly-free space. It’s only 7 p.m. but I crawl inside and lay on my back, feeling my spine sink into the earth. It’s too hot to even take my sleeping bag from its stuff sack.

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CDT day 54: Helena

June 27
Mileage: 7
998.5 miles hiked

I wake in the night to the sounds of engines revving and people screaming at each other.

“You think I won’t do it?” Screams a man, obviously drunk beyond measure. “You think I won’t?” There is the sound of gunshots. A woman is yelling. More revving of engines and then the ATVs peal away over the bare hills and the night is still again. I look up at the big dipper, wheeling in the clear dark sky. I fall asleep.

I wake to more engines. Trucks with banks of LED lights, parked in a circle below us. The people, who I cannot see, are chanting something horrible. I won’t repeat it here. Chanting, and chanting, and chanting. Did I wake in some awful, parallel universe? More chanting. A couple of ATVs tool by beyond where we’re camped, at the edge of the trees. The ATVs stop and a man and a woman scream at each other. Everyone is drunk beyond comprehension. They probably won’t even remember this in the morning. Is this what rural montana parties are always like?

We’re all exhausted in the morning. That party, we say. What the fuck was that party. It’s only seven miles to the highway where we’ll hitch into Helena, with just one big climb. In Helena I have to make my resupply boxes all the way to Grand Lake, Colorado, effectively fixing my hike from NoBo to SoBo. Since Glacier I haven’t had the dried vegetables and protein powder I usually send myself on the trail, and I think I’ve been feeling it. Nutrition, people. It’s important!

On the walk to the highway I end up off trail and must navigate a quarter mile of blowdowns. In between two blowdowns a stick jumps out of the leaves and stabs me in the shin. Literally stabs me. FUCK! I shout into the empty woods. FUCK! OW! The stick poked all the way through my skin, into the muscle a bit. I’m bleeding, blood running down my leg and into my watermelon-print gaiter. Puncture wound on the trail, yay. Fuck.

“What happened to your leg?” asks MeHap, when I reach the highway. “It looks like someone stabbed you with a pocket knife.”

“It’s fine,” I say.

A man in a classic car stops to talk to us, runs home to get his truck, and then ferries us all into Helena. What kindness! We pick up our boxes from the post office and then rent a car so that we can get around without having to hitch/wait an hour for the bus in the heat. Did I mention that we’re having a heat wave? 101 degrees, says the display in the rental car. Heat makes me grumpy. Ugh.

We go to the chinese buffet, which always seems like a good idea until you stop being ravenously hungry and start to notice what’s actually on your plate. Dried-out sushi, cold oily broccoli and a jello square? What the fuck am I eating? There is the fantasy of the buffet, and there is the having of the buffet. These are two very different things.

The boys go to see the new Jurassic Park movie and I wander around Walmart, filling my cart with enough food for eight boxes. I look at the people in the aisles, young dudes in camo baseball caps and women in short-shorts buying infant formula, and think- were you at that party? Were you at that party?

I assemble my boxes in the parking lot of the post office, everything already melting in the heat. Melted chocolate, melted wal-mart brand gluten free oreos. In case you’re wondering, wal-mart carries exactly three varieties of lara bar- apple pie, peanut butter cookie, and peanut butter chocolate chip. They also carry gluten free honey-mustard pretzel sticks and small, plastic 8 oz bottles of olive oil. I’m getting pretty good at wal-mart resupply.

The boys want to go back to the trail tonite so I give them a ride to the pass in the rental car. I have a motel room in town- I need to write my blog, figure out how to put the new memory card into my phone and charge my external battery, which takes all night. As a blogger I am bound to these things. It’s worth it, though.

The hotel room reeks of stale cigarettes, even though it’s non-smoking. Kind of reminds me of my childhood. I clean out the puncture wound on my leg, add neosporin and a band-aid. Hopefully I can keep it from getting infected on the trail. I stay up way too late doing all the little things, even though I know I’ll wake up at 5 in the morning, like I do. I’ll be behind the boys tomorrow, and will likely hike this section solo. I’m sort of looking forward to it tho- it’ll be peaceful, and I can walk/not walk as much or as little as I like.

I fall asleep with the fan all the way up, cold blue lights from the parking lot making their way in around the curtains.

Photos on instagram

CDT day 53: flies, mosquitos and PUDS. yay!

June 26
Mileage: 30
991.5 miles hiked

I sleep good on the picnic table until 5 a.m., when the mosquitos reappear. Dammit! Oh well. I guess the mosquitos are starting to crank up. It’s that time of year!

And flies. Biting flies, of all varieties. The small triangular ones, the giant horseflies. They attack me as I work my way up the super steep climbs in my very lowest gear. Oh, and it’s hot. Montana is having a heatwave. Am I complaining too much? I guess today is hard.

The trail continues to stick right on the divide, which means ridgewalking and lots of PUDs, aka pointless ups and downs. Ugh, I never thought I’d use that phrase. I guess they don’t have these on the PCT? Straight up to the peak in rocks and scree, then straight down the other side. Repeat all day.

It’s beautiful though, per usual. I’m sweating like crazy. These climbs are making me strong! Soon I’ll finally feel like a real hiker! There’s not much water up here on the ridge, so we pay close attention to our maps and poke around for what little there is. We reach the one surefire reliable water, Dana spring, at 2 p.m. The five of us have been climbing all day in the heat, and we each drank the last of our water miles ago. When I get to the saddle where the spring is I walk past the cows, climb over the fence into the enclosure, lift the lid off the spring box and there I see, floating in the clear cold water, two super bloated, super decomposed squirrels.

Fuck. Fuck fuck.

The boys are all sitting in the shade, looking as roasted as I feel. None of us know where the next sure water is, although there are a couple of maybe waters on the Ley maps, including a cow pond in a mile and a half that was apparently dry last year. We set off down the dirt road, feeling apprehensive. My mouth is dry but at the same time, I’ve been more thirsty than this. I know I’ll be ok for a while longer.

The cowpond has water in it! Clear brown water with an oily sheen on top. And fuck, it tastes bad! That weird metallic off taste I remember from the metal tanks in Mew Mexico. We don’t care though. We add whatever drink powders we have and suck it down. It feels so good to rehydrate!

The rest of the day, amazingly, we more or less follow water- a steam runs in the meadow alongside of us and the water even gets deep enough at one spot that we stop and dunk ourselves into it, gasping at the cold. The heat lasts until we reach camp and then it still lingers, until the sun finally sinks behind the mountains. Then the mosquitos burst into action, and we hide in our shelters. I string up my bug net, which is free standing, and watch the sky explode into colors. In the morning we’ll reach the highway where we’ll hitch into Helena- I’ve got to make some boxes there.

Photos on instagram

CDT day 52: fresh legs!

June 25
Mileage: 25
961.5 miles hikes

I stay up way too late in the dark hotel room scrolling on instagram but then finally drift off and sleep like a tired rock, earplugs stuffed into my ears. When I wake it’s 7 a.m. and everyone is already up- Track Meat, MeHap and Spark are sitting in plastic chairs in front of the motel drinking coffee, and Apache is uploading a youtube video. I jump up, feeling as though I’ve missed everything. I feel incredible though- a good night’s sleep will do that for you.

After packing up we all walk to the gas station and Spark and Apache split a large pepperoni pizza for breakfast, because we’re classy like that. We loiter for a while and then it’s time to hitch- this will be our sixth time at Rodgers pass, after our hilarious indecisive back-and-forth shenanigans. Luckily the people of this town are generous, and Track Meat, Spark and I get a ride in no time. It’s 10 a.m. when we start to hike.

Fresh legs. It feels so good to have fresh legs! I can walk forever. I love walking! We’re ridgewalking again today, mountains on mountains on mountains, flowers everywhere. The trail climbs and drops, climbs and drops. There’s a heat wave coming through, so for once it’s actually warm. I’m sweating like crazy- what even is this? Sweat? I never sweat on the CDT, not like I did on the PCT. It always seems to be kind of a little bit cold.

Today is a good day. I’m well rested, I feel good, and I’m out here with my friends. I love my friends! They’re funny. So funny. And kind. We’re such weirdos! We get to be weirdos together. In the nature. Who gets to do that?!

Water is more scarce this section, the sources 12 to 15 miles apart instead of running all over the trail. We scout around for them, walk down random forest service roads to find tiny streams. Camp is a glorious dirt-road pass with a pit toilet and front row seats to the sunset. There are three picnic tables, so we each get one to sleep on. We cook our dinners as the sky turns orange and the mosquitos come out in full force. Another good day.

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CDT day 51: F it, let’s take a zero in Lincoln

June 24
Mileage: zero

You’re not gonna believe this, but… in the morning we pack up slow, imbibe caffeine, share a box of capn’ crunch w crunch berries and a box of peanut butter capn’ crunch among the three of us, along with a carton of almond milk, and then hitch back to Rodgers pass to start hiking…

When we get to the pass Frodo is there, in a camp chair next to her camper van, waiting for the hikers behind us, who are due to arrive any minute. Our friends! We haven’t seen anyone else in a week. We need to see other people! Then we’re sitting in the dirt behind the camper van, drinking sodas, playing Hit The Rock With The Other Rock. I pull out the last of the peanut butter capn’ crunch and we try to toss it into each others’ mouths from great distances. Then Track Meat and I are making up new dance moves. Before we know it’s eleven a.m. The other hikers should be here any minute. We think about it. What would make the most sense would be to turn around, hitch back into Lincoln and take a zero, right?

And so we do.

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