If you want to skip to the end, I’m off the trail. I’ve got some damage to my ankle that won’t clear up in time for me to finish. It’s been a great trip but I had to head home. This was a tough one. Still, I made it 1900 miles to Dubois, WY, just short of Yellowstone. I will be posting a full summary of mileages for those of you following along and pledging for charity.
Thanks to everyone for following along!
It is a strange road, and folk are glad to reach their journey’s end, whether the time is long or short.Strider, The Fellowship of the Ring
I hitched all the way from Lander, back to the trail up north of Dubois. This was the 2nd day I had tried to get a ride; the first saw me standing outside the Safeway for 8 hours. I finally flew a sign. I think Lander is a hard hitch because it’s so far off trail – nobody knows about the CDT, and people are busy living in the real world. Lander’s another town that’s big enough for Walk/Don’t Walk signs. In the end a young couple of kids who had stayed over at the Lander City Park en route to the Tetons picked me up. I think they saw the sign, the backpack, and the beard and figured, why not? We had a good chat for the hour and half or so it took, and I got to really check out the WY landscape. Such a different view from a car than being IN the landscape. WY is really cool, so different in different places. Northern WY gets rocky and sort of canyon-ish.
Coming out of the Basin and stopping in Lander really gave me a chance to reflect on the whole experience. I’d been doing this for 3 months now, and a lot of the time, it wasn’t doing it for me. It’s difficult to explain why, but it wasn’t as fun or immersive as I was looking for. I think the distance to trail towns, and the overarching set of logistics took the fun, or enough of the fun, out of the hiking. It was great to hike for a few days at a time, drink water from streams, eat candy bars, watch sunsets, dig catholes, and climb mountains. But (seemingly) every time you turn around you’re planning how to get into, or out of town, how to arrange maildrops, how to acquire permits, etc. To hike along the geographic divide, by itself, isn’t something super appealing by itself. Some people really get into it, focusing on the “continuous footpath” approach, or making sure to take the high routes when possible. Me, I’m more about seeing what the area has to offer. Some of my best days were on alternates, certainly most of my wildlife sightings.
But I was recharged and excited to do WY and get to Yellowstone, I had plans for taking time there to see sights, then do a modified cutoff up to Bozeman/Butte. From there it was straight north to Augusta, MT, just south of the (in)famous Bob Marshall Wilderness. Because its remote, and a Wilderness, and because storms and fires, the trail there is reportedly terrible, and covered in blowdowns. Like, 1 mph, “Chutes and Ladders” style clambering for miles. People, fast people, said “bring an extra day of food”. My plan was to skip. This sounded just awful. From Augusta to the southern border of Glacier National Park, and then, Waterton.
But, read on, injury snuffed out the already flickering chance I had of grinding this out.
From the road N of Dubois, it was a faint path up into the hills. This soon disappeared, and I was reminded that there were bears. And here, it’s not your basically-giant-racoon, trash-eating, birdfeeder-destroying black bears back east. It’s grizzlies. Hence the bear spray.
I bushwhacked a bit – pretty easy, since I knew the CDT route intersected a dirt road, and that dirt road ran along the top of the valley I was in – all I had to do was keep walking up. It’s like climbing a mountain – easy to do without a trail because you walk until you run out of “up”. It’s getting DOWN properly that’s hard.
The trail opened into a wide valley, huge sedementary rocks on either side. Still some snow, too, which told me that a) it gets chilly at night and b) there’d be plenty of water. The lakes in the valley were occasionally host to cyanobacteria, which creates un-filterable toxins in the water. So I didn’t drink from the lake.
Near the parking area, I ran into Teva and Pigpen, two guys I hadn’t seen since Pagosa Springs in southern Colorado. “Wait, is that Smokebeard?” they said as they walked into the parking area. It was good to catch up, both had recovered from their injuries. They were planning a separate, unofficial cutoff route from Yellowstone up to Butte. They were going to bypass Old Faithful and cut a more direct path on some other trails. Pigpen’s buddy had done it, and given him the GPX track. Kids these days, am I right? Pigpen’s tourist visa was going to expire “soon” so they had a carefully measured number of days to hit Glacier. Very quickly they left me in the dust.
Later I ran into Woodpecker and G-String, a couple of crazy kids I had last seen WAY down in Lake City, CO.
Wyoming hiking is great, especially compared to Colorado. You start high up near CO, then hit some cool towns, then go through days and days of the epic Great Basin, then you get to do this kind of thing. And while the Basin was hot, it was dry. Here in the hills it was cooler at altitude, although still nice and warm.
Everyone was planning on pushing up and over 1 more hill to Buffalo Creek, a serious ford. The last notes we had were about a week old, but they all read along the lines of “crotch high at 7:30pm”, or “I had to turn around”, or “very high water”. But being optimistic hikers, we all assumed that wouldn’t apply to us, despite the seriously hot day. Just after the Creek was supposedly good camping. The day was getting late, and I was starting to think about dinner when it happened. Striding along on the un-maintained trail ( remember, its a Wilderness ), I hit a rock wrong, and bam! ended up on the ground. If you want to see a grown man cry, you should have tuned in. It was brutal, and this one felt a little … different. I wasn’t excited about walking on it, but I pressed on, found a small meadow and camped. It sucked.
Day2 – hiking out
I t ook 800 mg of Vitamin-I, ate a bunch of chocolate, and woke up sore anyway. Pain 3 out of 10 just standing on it. The ankle felt wobbly, so I went slow. I figured once it loosened up, I’d be at least good to hike, except the pain went up to 4, touching 5.
So I called it. Perhaps being in pain doesn’t lead to the clearest of decision making processes, but I was still sharp enough to do math. This would be a 2-weeker, given the pain level, the strange things I felt when it happened, and history. That would put me mid-August. That meant 6 weeks to Canada, an on-trail distance of 1000 miles. Event with alternates I was down to about 800 miles. Skipping the Bob Marshall Wilderness would shave about another 100 miles. I’d be hiking, hard, until the end of September – not the middle. General wisdom is to be off trail by Oct 1 at the latest due to storms, and I was in no mood to deal with a Rocky Mountain blizzard. The math wasn’t in my favor. An option was just driving to Glacier to see it, but I figured that would be best done as a proper vacation.
On the way out I met 9 hikers, incl Pat, the kid I hiked Grays Peak with in CO. I was good to see him once more, he was a cool guy. I got to the USFS campground by around 2pm – 10 miles or so in 7 hours on easy trail, and hitched in about 5 minutes. Turns out the guy who picked me up was from Mass, and was friends with the brother of Erik Weihenmayer, the blind guy who climbed Mt. Everest. He was heading north, so once we got to the asphalt road he dropped me off. But, I got ANOTHER hitch in 5, maybe 10 minutes. I rode with Walter the dog for a half hour or so while the driver pointed out all kinds of cool local stuff.
In Dubois I got coffee at possibly the best place on the whole trail so far, at The Perch Coffee House (also the ONLY coffee place in Dubois), ate some pastry, and called home. Then I limped through town to the St. Thomas church, where hikers can sleep in their function hall for free. Matthew 25:40 and all that I guess. The people were super nice. No showers, but they had soap and shampoo, and for 5 bucks you could use the showers (and towels!) at the KOA in town.
Day 3 & 4 – to Rawlins and Denver
After the longest hitch of my life, 200 miles in 2 separate cards, I was back in Rawlins, and the Econolodge still had rooms at the hiker rate. Once I was in Rawlins, I knew I could catch the bus to Denver, so I firmed up the rest of my plans. A bus to Denver, a crap hotel at the airport, and then Southwest from DEN to PVD. On the way out, the flight was overbooked and they did the usual thing where they ask who wants to be bumped. In THAT instance I was in no hurry, and they were going to get me there the same day anyway, so I took the next flight and a $300 voucher. So my flight home ended up being basically free!
The next day I slept in, because I could. Showered again, because I could. At 11 I started the long walk through the shitty part of Rawlins to the caravanserai outside of town. Even walking slowly (ankle, remember) I was early, so I got to people-watch the truck stop for the next 2 hours. Then it was on the Greyhound, where they now have movies you can watch on your phone. Eastern/Southeastern WY is not nearly as cool as the rest – mostly flat, power lines, oil wells, and highway stuff. Protip: the 4th Matrix movie is BAD.
Despite the noise in the news lately about how hard it is to fly, I made it home without incident. Plenty of time to switch planes in Chicago, and arrived, if memory serves, exactly on time in Providence. My saran-wrap entombed pack made it home safely. DO THIS IF YOU TRAVEL WITH A PACK. The stuff is cheap, recyclable, and requires no tape. For less than 5 bucks, half a roll of wrap will protect you.
Peroneal brevis, fibular retinacula. No, not a spell from Hogwarts, but parts of my ankle I didn’t know were a thing. The doc says if I wear this big boot on my foot for 2 weeks, I should feel better, and if not, MAYBE surgery is in order. I’m hoping for just the boot.
It’s good to be home, even if I’m just sitting on the couch with the dog watching Ash vs. Evil Dead, for the 2nd time – this was on when I came back from the PCT too, so it’s weirdly synchronous that I get to watch it again.
The Road goes ever on and onBilbo Baggins, the Return of the King
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet..