Friday, November 22, 2019

Day 12: Another difficult day....

July 27: The morning started warm. Weather forecasts called for a high of 85 degrees in Eureka--a bit cooler than yesterday but still uncomfortably warm. But at least I'd be going up in elevation so most of the day I figured it would probably be in the 70s. Still quite warm, though!

Immediately after leaving camp, the trail headed up a steep slope quickly rising 3000 feet up Webb Mountain. It was an east-facing slope so even though it was early in the morning, I sweat bullets with the sun pounding down. There were quite a few trees which provided shade at times, but other areas were opened from old forest fires and provided very little shade and my pack was excruciatingly heavy filled with a week of food. It was a tough mountain for me to get up and I had to rest several times along the way.

At the top was an old fire lookout tower. This one was locked up tight and it appeared to be occupied. Inside, I could see food, toys for kids, sleeping bags hanging, etc. People can rent it for the night and apparently, it's quite a popular rental. I had asked the rangers in Eureka about it and they said it was booked full for months.

The views from the top were expansive but a haze had settling along the horizon. I wondered if a fire was burning nearby causing the haze. These hot temperatures and dry air could have easily resulted in a fire near the trail.

Mount Webb fire lookout tower

After a short rest at the lookout tower, I continued onward. The trail bounced up and down throughout the day rising and falling regularly between 500 and 1000 feet. Up and down, up and down, down and up, up and down....

It felt endless and wore me down.

I stopped for a 1.5 hour lunch during the hottest part of the day and took the time to cook dinner. Once again, I did not expect to have any good, quality water to camp near so I cooked dinner and cleaned up my dishes for lunch instead. I also took a short nap. The trail was really wearing me down today!

I filled up with an excruciating 5.5 liters of water to get through the dry spell and questionable water sources.

It was also a lonely day of hiking where I didn't see a single person the entire day. No hikers, no bikers and not even any drivers along the road walks. Not a lot of views to enjoy either since most of the day was in the trees.

I had hoped to reach the Mount Henry lookout tower and spend the night there, but I couldn't make it. The trail kicked my ass. I made it 18.0 miles according to my GPS, but I couldn't quite make it the last couple of miles to the lookout tower--although I was able to see it from a distance. My GPS also said I had climbed 6,700 feet in elevation throughout the day, but it felt like a lot more than that!

Storm clouds roll in over Mount Henry. At the very top, you can see the fire lookout tower that I had hoped to reach by the end of the day but no, the trail was too tough for me. I just couldn't make it!
Shortly after arriving in camp, I heard thunder in the distance and hoped and prayed it wouldn't rain. There wasn't any rain in the forecast and I was set up for cowboy camping! But a short while later, it did start raining. Given the lack of rain in the forecast and the fact that most clouds didn't look like they had rain, I decided that it was a small storm cell passing through and I could wait it out. I threw out my tarp like a blanket and hid under it for about 20 minutes. The storm passed by, the rain stopped, and I threw the tarp off again.

The rest of the evening was uneventful. I read my Kindle and watched Netflix shows that I downloaded to kill the time before heading to sleep. I hoped tomorrow would be a bit easier!

Lots of rabbits on the trail! This one was particularly photogenic letting me get especially close!

View of Koocanusa Lake while climbing up Webb Mountain. The air is a lot hazier today than previous days--a fire nearby, perhaps?

Inside the Mount Webb fire lookout tower. It looked like a family had already occupied the space for the night, but they were nowhere to be seen.
View from the lookout tower

Filling up with water! This fresh spring water was so wonderfully cold to drink!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Day 11: The Rexford Detour

July 26: I woke up, packed up and checked out of the motel. Time to hit the trail again! I got a relatively early start since the forecast called for a high of 91 degrees today. It was going to be a hot, miserable day and I wanted to get as much hiking done as early in the morning as possible while temperatures were still relatively cool. But even by 7:00am, temperatures were uncomfortably warm.

Mural on the Eureka public library

My first stop was the post office where I mailed my laptop ahead. It wouldn't fit in my pack--the giant, hulking thing, so I carried it the mile or two into Eureka's main post office which was uncomfortable and a pain.

Out of Eureka, the trail followed a nice route along the Tobacco River for several miles. It was flat, fast and easy and, except for the soaring temperatures, a nice section to walk.

As the trail approached the podunk known as Rexford, the trail followed gravel roads, which intersected with a lot of other gravel roads and I had severe trouble figuring out which way the trail went. The trail wasn't marked in any way, my map wasn't detailed enough and even my GPS led to a road with posted signs warning that the road was "private property" and "do not enter." This was the trail? Or did it just refer to vehicular traffic? I'm not really inclined to deliberately trespass onto private property, though, and decided to find a way around it.

Still a lot of wasps buzzing around!
So I undoubtedly took some wrong turns, scaled a steep cliff, and cursed the lack of waymarkers to help lead the way.

Early in the afternoon, I finally arrived at a beach with clean water, restrooms and picnic tables. Even better, the picnic tables were in the shade. The restrooms, I swear, were the nicest, cleanest public restrooms I had ever seen! I decided to stop for a three hour break to beat the heat of the day. I'd continue later in the afternoon when, hopefully, it would be cooler with a plan to reach camp just before sunset.

I laid out on the picnic table for a bit and ate snacks, but most of the time I spent reading my Kindle.

After three hours, it was now 4:00. Still miserably hot--actually the hottest time of day in these parts--but temperatures would only cool from here on out. I'd have preferred waiting another hour or two for temperatures to cool but I wouldn't make it to camp before sunset if I did that. The rest of the day would largely be a road walk along a busy highway and I wouldn't have many good camping options. Nope, I needed to get a move on.

I soon lost the trail--again. I'm not even sure the beach I was at was even on the official trail in the first place, but I followed some roads that eventually led past the Rexford post office (which was closed) and a restaurant that seemed to make up the entire downtown core. It also meant I was wildly off track because the official trail on my map clearly showed the trail closer to the shoreline and missing downtown Rexford. At least I could confirm I had taken some wrong turns!

I knew I had definitely taken a wrong turn when I ended up at the Frontier Bar in Rexford!
I eventually traveled cross-country following small game trails before hitting the official trail. After that, the trail was pretty obvious first leading me toward Abayance Bay Marina then dumping me out onto Highway 37.

At that point, the day's hike turned absolutely brutal. The highway provided absolutely zero shade from the blistering heat, it was a relatively busy road with fast-moving vehicles and was paved with heat-absorbing asphalt. And I had to follow it for nearly seven miserable miles.

It was horrible! Okropne! Masakra!

Halfway through the road walk, two bicyclists caught up with me and slowed down to my walking speed to chat for about 5 minutes. They introduced themselves as Chris and Ryan. (Hey! I'm Ryan too!) They had started bicycling from New York and had been on the road for 5 weeks now, heading toward Anacortes in Washington. "Hey, so am I!" I exclaimed. "What a coincidence!" Of course, Anacortes wouldn't be the end of my hike--no, I planned to keep going all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Ryan offered me a beer which I turned down because I just don't like beer, but out of curiosity I asked him how he kept it cool in this heat. Did he carry it in a small ice chest with dry ice or something?

Chris and Ryan leave me in the dust!

My water had warmed to the ambient 91 degree temperature outside and tasted like crap. The spigot at the beech provided nice, cold water and I drank a lot of it during my three-hour break, but after filling up with water and heading out, it quickly warmed to outside temperatures and now tasted absolutely awful.

But no, he said, the beer was hot. Usually he didn't have any during the bike ride and would stay with locals along the route. There's a network of places that bikers who tour this route can often stay at which is what they did most of the time. Civilization and cold beers almost every evening. Made me a little envious and wistful!

But they had a schedule to keep and eventually continued on without me. I think they were curious about the strange creature they saw actually walking the road that they were bicycling. I don't think they had seen many hikers along their route.

Near the end of the highway walk, the road passed over a creek on a bridge and I ducked under the bridge to get cool water from the creek. The bridge also provided a good bit of shade finally allowing me to get out from under the brutal sun. Temperatures had already started cooling by this point, but it was still miserably hot and the shade and cool water were a welcome treat. The water, much to my disappointment, wasn't actually cold. Just cool. It if were deeper, it might have been a nice place for a swim.

I took a half hour rest beating the heat of the day under this bridge and drinking the cool (but not cold) water from the creek flowing under it.

I took a half hour rest here since it was unlikely I'd find anywhere else that would be as pleasant for a break. It was tempting to camp here for the night--there was plenty of space under the bridge--but I really wanted to get through this road walk so I picked up my pack and pushed onward.

Finally I reached an intersection at one end of the bridge crossing Lake Koocanusa. The lake was enormous stretching for something like 100 miles. So long, it even backed up into Canada. (The name of the lake even has "can" in it--short for Canada--and "usa" in it to represent the USA.) This bridge was the only place to cross the lake. It was a man-made lake created in the 1970s with the construction of a large dam downriver. The bridge was also touted as the longest and highest bridge in Montana.

It was a substantial bridge, but I wasn't terribly impressed with either its length or its height, but an informational board at the intersection showed photos of the bridge before the lake had filled with water and in that photo, the height of the bridge looked dizzying high! The part of the bridge sticking out above the water was actually quite small compared to the total height of the bridge. I had no idea that the lake so deep!

Crossing the bridge got me off Highway 37 and its relatively busy traffic. The far side was still a paved road but much quieter. And shaded! The sun had descended far enough so the mountains lining the lake cast long shadows casting the entire west side of the lake in shade. It was positively pleasant to walk again! Except for the asphalt, of course.

I had to hike just over a mile along this road before the PNT veered off into the woods and up a steep mountain. That was my goal for the day--to reach that trailhead. My guidebook said there was a campsite about 10 minutes up the trail and I pushed onward to it. Camping in the woods would be infinitely more comfortable than camping at the trailhead!

And finally, I arrived in camp at about 9:00pm. It didn't leave me with much daylight to set up camp, cook dinner and get ready for bed and the last bit of dinner I ate in the dark.

The longest and highest bridge in Montana!
A giant, oversized fishing pole in the riverside park in Eureka seems to suggest that fishing might be a popular pastime in the area.
The trail out of Eureka followed alongside railroad tracks on one side...
...and the Tobacco River on the other side.

Here the old rail trail passes under Highway 37.

Lake Koocanusa
I know somewhere you can buy firewood in Rexford....

Still Lake Koocanusa--as far as the eye can see!

The long, miserable road walk....
See the bridge crossing the lake far in the distance? That's where I'm heading!
And here it is! Montana's longest, highest bridge!
I looked down, but it didn't seem that high. I didn't realize how deep the water was, though!
I hoped this roadside memorial wasn't a previous PNT thru-hiker!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Day 10: The Eureka Zero

July 25: Today was my first zero day of the trail. A day to rest, relax and enjoy the creature comforts of civilization. I continued catching up with emails, message boards, YouTube videos, etc.

This sculpture was located in General Pershing Veterans Memorial Park

But I also had chores to do--which included laundry. There was an RV camp behind the hotel that we could use, so I did my laundry there.

I also had to buy food for the next section of trail. I made a rough itinerary and figured it would take me about a week to reach my next resupply point in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Looking further ahead, I knew I would want to send food to myself at Ross Lake which I didn't expect to reach for at least a month, but my guidebook warned that packages should be shipped a few weeks in advance so I also planned to send 4 days worth of food ahead. Mostly because that was all I could fit in the flat rate box I used.

I did my grocery shopping at Stein's Family Foods.

And I decided that I would ship my fancy camera with its 300mm zoom lens home. It was bulky and heavy and I was tired of carrying it. I kind of hoped I wouldn't see anything cool where I could use it. If I saw another bear or moose or something, I'd really regret getting rid of the camera! But it was just too heavy, and now that I was no longer traveling through a national park, I figured my chances of seeing particularly cool wildlife would be much more limited.

So I dropped by the post office to mail off my two packages. I padded my camera with some cold weather clothes that I hadn't been using and decided I likely wouldn't need until late in the summer further lightening my load.

I dropped by the ranger station in town mostly because it was there and asked if there were any issues that I should know about further up the trail. But no, they said there weren't any fires, no problem bears to watch out for, no problems with the trail. But last year, they told me, the smoke from the wildfires had been absolutely horrid--a story I would hear over and over again throughout the length of the trail. Glad I wasn't hiking last year! But this year, things were pretty boring--definitely a good thing!

I made a quick visit to the ranger station to learn that there were no problems or obstacles ahead on the trail.

The pizza I ordered for dinner the evening before I ate for breakfast, then for lunch and--improbably--I still had enough left over for dinner as well! I hadn't expected to eat pizza for four meals in a row and regretted getting the large size. I'd have liked more variety.

I walked around and explored the town of Eureka a bit. The downtown area was quite pleasant with a historical village to explore and a riverfront park to enjoy.

And then I headed back to the hotel for the rest of the evening. Tomorrow, it was time to hit the trail again!
On a hot, sunny day like today, homemade (or "homemade"?) ice cream sounded good!
Two thumbs up!
The historical village had all sorts of old buildings and equipment to check out.
This was a thrashing machine. Now it's a part of the historical village.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Day 9: Eureka!

July 24: It rained on and off throughout the night but the weather forecast showed no rain after 8:00am, so I slept in late and waited it out. In any case, I only had about 12 miles to hike to get into Eureka, Montana, so it's not as if I had a long day of hiking. I had time to wait out rain.

The US-Canadian border... not heavily patrolled as far as I could tell. The only border patrol agent I saw was driving a vehicle on Highway 93 during the last stretch into Eureka.
Much to my surprise, the border patrol never stopped for a visit during the night. I guess my camping on the Canadian border either wasn't a big deal or they didn't monitor the border very closely. I was almost a little disappointed that I didn't get a late-night visit. It would have given me more stories to tell later.

The rain did, in fact, stop at the appointed hour but dark and ominous clouds stayed overhead for most of the morning.

I had a mile or two of walking along an old, abandoned dirt road that now functioned as a trail before hitting the end of the trail and had to finish the day with an 11-mile road walk into Eureka. At first, the road walk wasn't so bad. It was along a gravel road--generally nice to walk on--and I didn't see any cars at all for the first couple of hours.

Eventually, the dirt road turned to pavement which is when the day's hiking deteriorated. Not only was it less comfortable to walk on, but the traffic picked up as well.

But it wasn't until the route intersected with Highway 93 into Eureka that the walk became truly miserable. It was a major highway with a lot of loud traffic. There wasn't much of a shoulder to walk on so I largely walked through the brush along the edge of a golf course.

By this time, the sun had finally broken through the clouds and temperatures rose uncomfortably high, and with the recent rains, the humidity was terrible.

I picked up four stray golf balls along the route too just because... they were golf balls. They're always fun to play with, bounce, and tear apart. I thought I'd try rolling my feet over them at the hotel in town to massage my feet as well. =)

Shucks, I didn't think to bring any golf clubs!

And at last, I finally arrived into town and checked into the Silverado hotel. My first task was taking a shower--my first in nine days! And I rested a bit.

Then it was time to head to the post office. I had mailed my laptop ahead and needed to get online to catch up with some work! Unfortunately for me, however, the post office was located another mile or two away near downtown. It wasn't close to the hotel at all. Ugh!

I walked the extra mile or two and picked up my mail drop, then stopped at the nearby Valley Pizza for dinner. I ordered a large pizza--far more than I knew I would eat in a single sitting, but my room had a mini fridge and microwave and I planned to save the extra for lunch tomorrow. =)

I wasn't anxious to walk another mile or two back to the hotel, though, and decided to try hitching a ride back to the hotel. It took about 15 minutes before a truck pulled over and offered me a ride. I offered the fellow a slice of pizza for his trouble which he seemed to enjoy but didn't want his wife to know about which amused me a bit.

And that was it. I was in for the night. I spent the rest of the evening catching up with email, fixing some minor bugs on Atlas Quest and just relaxing. Life was good!

Home, sweet home!
The trail in the morning followed a former gravel road for a mile or two.
Views through the trees were nice at times! See the deforested line marking the US-Canadian border to the right of center?

My collection of golf balls!

There's a lot of logging in this area.
My dinner at Valley Pizza was delicious!