Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Day 5: Polebridge! Civilization! Sort of....

July 20: I woke up, packed my stuff and hit the trail. I planned to complete about 20 miles of hiking today and needed an early start if I hoped to reach my goal. I didn't have to do 20 miles. I'd be hiking out of Glacier National Park in a few hours and at that point, I could camp almost anywhere I wanted. The reason for my long day was because the next 20 miles was a road walk and I wanted to get past it. The Pacific Northwest Trail is legendary for a lot of road walks, and today was going to be the first section I'd have to navigate.

The nice part about this road walk, however, was that the vast majority of it was on gravel roads which made it a lot easier, and the road was still wet from the sprinkle yesterday evening so the occasional vehicles driving by didn't raise any dust. It also helped that it was so early in the morning. I suspect the gravel road into Glacier was probably busier later in the afternoon as more visitors arrived and people out for the afternoon left.

Being a road walk, I figured I'd make good time. The road was in good condition, easy to follow, not muddy. Twenty miles was still a big day this early in the hike, but my pack was already about 10 pounds lighter than when I started the trail from all the food I had eaten, and it was flat almost the entire way. Boring, but flat! I thought 20 miles was totally doable, but even if I grew tired, I knew I could probably find somewhere to camp on the side of the road if necessary.

I started hiking by around 7:15, and neither of my neighbors appeared to be stirring yet so I slunk off without saying goodbye. Every 20 minutes or so, a vehicle would drive past me leaving the park. I recognized them from the campground. The road was active, but not super busy. At least not this early in the morning.

The moon was nearly full. *nodding*

A couple of hours into my walk, a car entering the park pulled up to a stop next to me and rolled down their window. Probably wondering why I was walking out here in the middle of nowhere.

"There's a bear on the road about a quarter-mile back," he told me.

A bear?! Yes!!!! Cool!

He just wanted to give me the warning and continued his drive into the park. I dropped my pack and pulled out my fancy camera with the 300mm zoom lens. I definitely wanted to see the bear and get some great photos, but I definitely didn't want to get too close to him either!

Another car entering the park stopped next to me and told me there was a bear about 200 yards back.

He must be walking in my direction! First a quarter-mile back, and now just 200 yards away? I hadn't moved at all! =)

That car continued it's journey into the park as another vehicle approached. Where did all these cars suddenly come from?!

This truck was traveling out of the park and I recognized it as my Texan neighbors. They stopped next to me and the wife--in the passenger seat--said she thought that was me walking down the road and asked if I was interested in a couple of Clif bars. Sure! I wasn't hungry yet--still too early in the morning for that and I was saving my appetite for some real food later, but I was happy to get a couple of extra Clif bars. I also told them that the previous two vehicles that passed me going into the park said there was a bear on the road a little way ahead so to keep their eyes peeled.

"But don't scare it off!" I said, waving my camera around. "I wanna get a photo first!"

The Texans continued on, and I finally did as well hoping the bear was still on the road. I also unholstered my bear spray. It probably wasn't necessary, and neither of the two drivers said anything to suggest that the bear was acting aggressively, but better safe than sorry!

A few minutes later, I saw the bear. It was at a curve in the road but leaving up small hill, maybe 100 feet away. I got one photo of it before it was off the road and into the brush where I couldn't get anymore photos. Not good ones, at least. I was glad the bear wasn't on the road anymore--it would have been difficult for me to walk around the bear at a safe distance if he had still been on the road. Three vehicles were pulled over just past the bear--including the Texans. It was a traffic jam!

The bear had a collar on it. Did that mean it was a problem bear they were monitoring? Or just a bear that they monitor even when it isn't a problem bear?

'Twas a grizzly bear! I came face-to-face with my first grizzly bear! Or, okay, it was mostly a face-to-butt encounter, but still.... a grizzly! And my best bear photo! =)

The bear didn't seemed pleased with all the vehicles and people around and apparently decided to leave. He turned around and started going up the hill. I snapped a few quick photos before I lost sight of him in the brush. The photos weren't great but I only had seconds to snap them before the bear was out of view. I was a little disappointed he didn't linger just a little bit longer.

Traffic started moving again and I set down my pack and returned the fancy camera into it. It was much too bulky and heavy to carry in my hands for regular point-and-shoot work.

As the morning wore on, the traffic on the road increased. And--as the warm weather dried the road--dust started becoming more of an annoyance.

I eventually crossed the boundary out of Glacier NP at which point there was a short distance to the small community of Polebridge. Civilization! Sort of...

Polebridge was certainly the largest community I had reached on the trail, but it's not entirely "civilized" either. The entire town consists of a few buildings and is located completely off the grid. Electricity is provided by solar power and generators and there was no cell phone coverage at all.

I spent most of my time in Polebridge on that bench on the right side of the porch of the Merc. Very comfortable! =)

I was ready for lunch but had arrived too early to get food at the saloon and went to the Merc instead--a small store with food, souvenirs and a bakery. The place was adorable! I bought a Coke and a cinnamon roll to wait until the saloon opened. I also purchased a few postcards which I wrote in a chair on the patio and mailed at the old-fashioned mailbox in front.

I also ended up with a jalapeno roll for free--part of their "hiker special" for anyone who hikes or bikes into the town and stops at the Merc. Actually, they usually give fritters for the hiker special but they didn't have any available when I arrived and allowed me to pick from their selection of rolls and I picked the jalapeno roll.

I made myself more comfortable on their patio by taking off my shoes. I planned to hang around for an hour or two living the good life. =)

One man asked me if I was thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail. I guess I already had that thru-hiker look going! Only took 5 days! I told him no, I was thru-hiking the PNT. The CDT was a few days behind me now. He said his daughter was hiking the CDT. She had started at the Mexican border and was now in Colorado at some place I had never heard of. Apparently, it was a really bad snow year in the Rockies and thru-hikers on the CDT had been having a pretty rough time. I joked that if she made it to Canada but wanted to keep hiking, turned left at Goat Haunt and she could keep hiking all the way to the Pacific Ocean! =)

I chatted with other tourists who were coming and going and eventually noticed the population of the town steadily climbing which I assumed was normal as the morning and afternoon wore on until I overheard one tourist saying that Glacier NP had been closed. WHAT?!

So I asked about that and apparently the parking lot at Bowman Lake was full so the park service temporarily closed the park to new visitors!

"Don't blame me," I joked. "I didn't bring a car!" =)

This was my appetizer while I waited for the Northern Lights Saloon to open for lunch. =)

So everyone who was being denied entry into the park were doubling back to Polebridge to kill time until they could enter the park. Parking in the town was starting to grow scarce as well. Cars were parking on the side of the road quite a ways down the otherwise empty road.

When the Northern Lights Saloon was scheduled to open, I wandered over there for lunch except they hadn't actually opened yet. I waited at an outdoor picnic table until the saloon opened about 5 minutes late.

I ordered a burger which came with home fries and by the time I finished, I was absolutely stuffed. It would have been easier to roll down the trail than walk! I ate more food between the Merc and the saloon than I had in the last two days!

Before I left town, I used the toilets because hey--flushing toilets! It was a luxury I hadn't seen since I started the trail! And now that I was out of the national park, there probably weren't going to be pit toilets either.

My lunch at the Northern Lights Saloon. (I was reading my Kindle while it was being prepared which is why you see that on the side.)

Then, about two hours after I arrived, it was time to leave town.

It took nearly 10 minutes to pass all the cars parked on the side of the road and I wondered if there were more people stuck in Polebridge than there were actually inside of the park!

A short ways out of town, the road became paved which was a curse and a blessing. It was a curse because it wasn't as comfortable to walk on but it was a blessing because the passing vehicles--and they were a lot of them now!--didn't raise any dust.

The road out of town was overflowing with the vehicles of people unable to get into Glacier NP!

But it only lasted a few miles before the trail veered off onto Hay Creek Road--another gravel road that was gloriously empty of vehicles now that I wasn't on the main road between civilization and Glacier National Park. Only one car would pass me the entire rest of the day.

A few miles down Hay Creek Road and I saw a pack left on the side of the road. It was bright purple with an orange pack over with a bright purple coat next to it and I figured it was probably a girl hiking the trail who dashed off into the nearby trees to pee. It seemed logical enough. I figured it must be a girl given how purple all of the gear looked. It didn't seem like the kind of colors a man would choose.

But what direction was she hiking? Once I reached Bowman Lake, I hadn't seen any hikers on the road walk! It wasn't a trail. The only people who would possibly be hiking this road would be other thru-hikers. Could this be a thru-hiker?! I wanted to know!

But it seemed rude to disturb the girl while she was peeing so I sat down nearby and took a break. I was ready for a break anyhow.

After sitting around for more than five minutes I wondered if she was doing a number two. Then after 10 minutes I started wondering if she was having trouble. Then 15 minutes went by and I started wondering what the hell happened to this person? Did she get attacked by a bear and dragged off?

I started wondering if I should report this abandoned pack. But how? My phone didn't work here and I certainly didn't want to walk all the way back to Polebridge. Maybe the next vehicle that drove by? Which could be... who knows when?

About 20 minutes after I first arrived, a girl walked up in the opposite direction I had been hiking. Ah-ha! The owner returns! I was immensely curious about the abandoned pack. She explained that she had walked back to get water at a creek just out of view and stopped to eat lunch while she was there.

I was flabbergasted! To leave her entire pack unattended to get water and have lunch by a creek? We weren't just in bear country--we were in grizzly country! And even if a bear didn't get into her pack, squirrels and chipmunks certainly could have. It seemed incredibly irresponsible to leave her pack entirely unattended like that. I get nervous leaving my pack unattended for even a couple of minutes.

She spoke with a British accent and confirmed that she was from England. She flew into Kalispell and got a ride to Polebridge where she planned to start hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail. She skipped Glacier National Park completely because Polebridge was easier to get to than the official start of the trail, then only make it a couple of days down the trail before deciding to quit the trail and was now hiking back to Polebridge with the plan to hike around Glacier National Park. For a little while, at least. She seemed embarrassed to admit that she had already quit the trail, although I didn't think that was a big deal. I was surprised she was okay with missing Glacier National Park in the first place, though, because it was amazing! Gorgeous, gorgeous scenery!

I wondered if she realized how problematic getting a permit could be, but considering that she was no longer restricted to just following the PNT, she could veer off on other trails to explore if the campsites on the PNT were already full. It was easier when your route could be flexible.

We chatted for about 10 minutes then continued on our separate ways. I was a little disappointed I hadn't found another thru-hiker. Now that I was out of the park, I expected my hike to be very, very lonely and was hoping to find some company along the way, even if it was just for a short while.

Late in the day, dark clouds rolled in and a light sprinkle started to fall. I was annoyed. Again! Rain, again?! Argh! It had rained every single day on the trail so far! I ducked under the branches of a thick pine tree in the hopes of waiting out the rain. The rain stopped after about 15 minutes and I continued my hike still dry. =)

A couple of hours before sunset, I had done my 20 miles and reached the end of the road walk. Well, kind of.... It was obvious that the road used to continue ahead but they piled a bunch of dirt and boulders in front of it to block access to vehicles and turned the former road into a trail. But it was the end of the road--vehicular traffic could not go any further than this trailhead.

The trailhead had a large pullout for vehicles and a fire ring where people had clearly camped regularly. Being such a remote location and the fact that only one car passed me in the last few hours, I felt safe to set up camp right at the trailhead.

I did have one car drive up a short time later, a local who explained that he drove out to find out where the road went. Okay.... "Well, this is it!" I told him. =)

Then he turned around and drove off and I had the rest of the evening all to myself.

After 20 miles... the end of the road walk! Yeah! =)

The Polebridge ranger station marked this entrance to (and exit from) Glacier NP.
If you got a postcard from me from Postbridge, this is where I mailed them from!
Inside the Merc smelled wonderful with all the stuff the bakery was baking!

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