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!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Day 8: The 49th Parallel

July 23: Despite the drama overnight with the thunderstorm, by morning, the storm was gone and I woke up to a beautiful sunrise. Sleeping in the fire lookout tower had been a cozy experience and it was still warm and comfortable so I lingered enjoying the comfort until hitting the trail at 7:15.

Sunrise from the fire lookout tower!

The trail was rough at first and despite being early in the morning, I sweat like a pig on a roast on a hot day in the sun. It was uncomfortably warm and humid, and--even worse--I had to ration my water because I was near the start of a 10-mile dry stretch. I thought I had plenty of water for a mere 10 miles, but it was a lot warmer than I expected!

Late in the morning I reached Bluebird Lake where I could finally resupply my water and no longer had to ration it.

There was a large, scattered campsite set up that, at first glance, I thought might have been trail workers given the size of the camp and how spread out it was, but then I noticed smaller details like they had left items like soap and sunscreen sitting out--obvious bear attractants. An officially designated work crew would never have been so careless to leave bear attractants sitting out in the open and unattended. It seemed like an incredibly stupid thing to do. Nobody was around so whoever they were, they were off hiking somewhere.

I decided to cook my dinner here. I needed a good, long rest and there was plenty of water available--which I did not expect to have where I planned to camp tonight. I was just finishing up when the people at the campsite had arrived. It was a large family and I chatted with one of the people who kept asking me "What would you do differently?" in regards to the camp setup. It felt like a trick question--as if he knew he wasn't supposed to leave all those bear attractants laying out unattended and wanted to pick a fight over it. I didn't want to play along, though, and instead suggested one of those slip-and-slide things would have been a nice addition.

After that, I was anxious to leave the family behind. They were making me uncomfortable. Or at least the one guy was making me uncomfortable.

During the rest of the afternoon, I also ran into two other sets of hikers. Both of them were couples with a dog. It seemed like a dog was required for hiking in this area! They were out on day hikes from a campground a few miles off trail. The trail was positively packed with people compared to the previous few days! It was a gorgeous area, though--much prettier than the previous few days since leaving Glacier NP.

Near the end of the day, I headed down the Blacktail Trail which had numerous annoying blowdowns to get around, but at least it was largely shaded in the trees and much cooler than being exposed in the sun.

The Blacktail Trail passed an old mine with old mining equipment littering the area as it headed toward the Canadian border--and it was definitely heading toward the Canadian border. The trail would come right up to the deforested path marking the border and my guidebook suggested that it would be a bad idea to enter the deforested area. I thought that was absurd--but I did look around for hidden cameras or sensors in the area but I didn't see anything. Doesn't mean they weren't there... I just didn't see any!

The US is on the left, Canada is on the right.

The view down the US-Canadian border was awesome! I pulled out my GPS which, in the middle of the deforested area, showed my location as being 48.9998 degrees latitude. The official border is supposed to be 49 degrees. Maybe at the far end of the deforested area? I was happy being in the middle of it and didn't really want to touch Canada. Just in case there were sensors or cameras watching, I didn't want border patrol to accidentally think I was trying to sneak in the US from Canada. Or that Canada thought I was trying to sneak in from the United States!

I sat down for a break and pulled out my phone to see if I could get a signal. I was getting near the town of Eureka. I planned to camp as close to town as possible so I'd have all day to resupply and relax, and on this slope without trees to block the signal, I figured there was a good chance I could get a signal, and I did! The first cell phone signal I got since starting my hike!

The first place I tried calling was the Silverado, a hotel in town, to make a reservation. I was a little worried they might be full. The family I had chatted with said that the hotel often fills up with construction workers during the summer since it's the only place nearby for people to stay. Seasonal construction workers come into town to maintain roads and such and stay at the hotel. It never occurred to me that that could be an issue until he mentioned it, and now I was a little paranoid that I'd walk into town and not be able to find lodging!

But they had space and I booked myself a room for two nights. I was definitely ready for a shower, a bed and some real food after more than a week on the trail. And a day of rest. I definitely deserved a day of rest!

Dark clouds started rolling in and distant thunder rolled through the mountains before a few sprinkles fell. I had wanted to hike a couple of more miles, but not if it was going to rain. Again! Argh!

I quickly pulled out my tarp and set it up right next to the US side of the deforested area. I had trouble hammering my stakes into the ground since the ground was an old gravel road that switchbacked sharply at the border. Getting stakes into an old gravel road is not an easy process! At best, I could get the stakes just a few inches into the ground. When a windstorm picked up, I was concerned that my tarp could, quite literally, blow away, so I collapsed the tarp to rest directly on the ground with me under it. A half hour later when the wind died down, I restored it to its original raised position.

The rain stopped, briefly at least, and I thought about packing it up and pushing on a couple of more miles but ultimately decided not to. It was starting to get late now and I was comfortable. Camping right on the border like this, I totally expected a visit from border patrol during the night, but they had to know this was part of the Pacific Northwest Trail and I certainly looked the part! Except for waking me up to question why I was there, I didn't think it would be a problem. Nothing suggested that camping here was actually illegal or anything. =)

And that was the end of my hiking day--going to sleep with dreams that I'd be woken in the middle of the night by border patrol shining a flashlight in my face. =)

Hello, Canada!
The cleared area behind my tarp is the deforested line marking the US-Canadian border. The trees behind that are Canada. I'm so going to get a visit from border patrol during the night....

I see a face in the stump. What about you? =)
The moon is up!

The day hikers I met had camped by the lake in the distance. It's off trail for me, though, and I wouldn't be hiking by it.

Old, abandoned mining equipment near the trail.
The lake in the distance at the bottom of the valley...? The trail will cross it in another 30 miles or so.
Lots of "boulder turkeys" on the trail! (Yeah, I know it's a grouse, but I've always called them boulder turkeys which I think is a much better name.)