Monday, December 2, 2019

Day 16: The First Bushwhack!

Day 16: I woke up and got my earliest start yet! I was hiking by 6:00am! Of course, I had an extra hour helping me out since the time zone changed when I crossed into Idaho yesterday. Several miles west it was already 7:00am and a pretty normal start time.

I had stopped yesterday evening couple of miles before I originally planned to--the site was too nice of a spot to skip (or so I thought). So I spent the first couple of miles this morning checking out other possible campsites and was happy that I found nothing better than where I did stop for the night. I had made a good choice where I stopped. *nodding*

Much of the day was on nice, easy gravel roads. It wasn't spectacular or particularly noteworthy except for being relatively quick and easy. The heat of the day was my biggest obstacles with temperatures expected to rise to nearly 90 degrees.

Until.... the gravel road leading to Brush Lake.

The gravel road makes a long U-shaped turn maybe a couple of miles long. That's not the primary PNT, however. No, my maps showed the primary route cutting directly across the U shape between the two endpoints. It was shorter--no doubt about that! But there was no road between the two endpoints either. In fact, there was also no trail. It was a bushwhack. A one-mile bushwhack--the first bushwhack of the trail.

It was completely avoidable since the gravel road curved around it and there's not really any reason for the bushwhack except, perhaps, to put hair on people's chest. It might make sense if it was a busy, paved road, but the gravel road was practically empty of cars and they weren't a big deal.

But it was the primary route and I wanted to stick as close to the primary route as possible so--I decided to go for it.

The beginning of the bushwhack didn't look so bad...

From the road, it didn't look so bad but almost immediately I had to push through the overgrown vegetation. Lots of logs blocked the route which required scrambling over and around. I reached a steep, slippery slope and had to hunt around a bit looking for a place to scramble down safely. Near a creek, the grass grew as tall as the top of my head and I couldn't see more than a couple of feet in any direction, but I pushed through the grass.

Rather than checking my GPS constantly to make sure I was walking in the correct direction, I took note that my shadow fell just slightly right of the direction I needed to go and used my shadow to stay on track. Every 10 or 15 minutes I'd check my GPS to see if I was still on track and it worked pretty well.

But the route was exhausting! A half hour into the bushwhack, I stumbled onto an actual trail and practically hugged it with excitement. Where did it come from?! Where was it going?! I didn't know, but as long it was going in my direction, I planned to follow it. It was easy to walk on!

I followed it for about 5 minutes before it was definitely going in the wrong direction. I reluctantly left the trail and continued the bushwhack.

Definitely getting a little harder to walk through....

Progress continued to be slow and difficult. At one point, I reached a large rocky hump and scrambled to the top for a view and to get a better sense of my location. I knew what direction I needed to go, but there was a steep cliff in the way. Should I go around it to the south or north? I didn't know. The guidebook and maps I followed said that the bushwhacks displayed weren't to be followed precisely--they were generally a mostly straight line around the edge of a lake between the endpoints but that hikers should meander as needed.

I decided to go around to the north, which I later regretted as I scrambled up a steep slope. But for all I knew, I would have regretted the southern route as well. When it comes to bushwhacking, there is no correct route! *shrug*

The heat of the day continued to grow and I was positively miserable, cursing the trail and wishing I had just followed the gravel around this section. Ugh!

Then I saw it--another hiking trail. A real trail! And it was heading vaguely in the direction I needed! I started following it toward the road for Brush Lake and finally made it to the road and the official end of the bushwhack. I had survived! It took me over an hour to cover just one mile. It felt kind of like a test. There were more sections of trail ahead that required bushwhacks, and they were a lot longer than this one. It seemed like this was a test--if you couldn't do this one-mile bushwhack, maybe you shouldn't be doing them further up the trail.

I was never so happy as when I stumbled onto this trail! An actual trail!
But I survived and was pumped to have made it out.

The gravel road continued onward and my pace picked up dramatically--but the heat still bore down.

The gravel road eventually connected up with Highway 95, which I followed north a short way before jumping over the guardrail and doing another short bushwhack to Old Highway 95. This bushwhack wasn't too difficult, though, without all of the vegetation and logs to slow me down. It was also a lot shorter!

The trail, in this section, passed three different roads that lead southward to the town of Bonners Ferry and my next resupply point. Highway 93 was the first option, but the vehicles traveled by at a high rate of speed and it seemed like a difficult place to get a hitch. I didn't know that the road crossings ahead were any better, but I figured I'd give it a try. I wanted to maximize my miles today when my pack was empty of food than do it after resupplying and my pack was heavy with food.

So I pushed on, but Old Highway 93--although a paved road--was completely empty of traffic. Absolutely nobody was driving up and down this road and I pushed onward following the road to its intersection with Highway 1.

This intersection was the closest that the trail would get to Bonners Ferry and there was a nice, wide shoulder where cars could pull over to pick me up. Vehicles wouldn't be driving as fast here as they did on Highway 95 either. It seemed like a good place to hitchhike. And I definitely needed to hitchhike because the town was 15 miles to the south. I was not going to walk 15 miles into town!

Come on... daddy needs a ride into town! (The road behind my thumb is Old Highway 95 where I came from.)

The traffic on Highway 1 wasn't super busy nor super empty. It was moderately busy--by my count, 43 vehicles passed me during the first hour.

But nobody seemed interested in picking me up. I grew more and more desperate as the time wore on. What if it got dark before I got a ride? I pulled out my cell phone--I was more than happy to call for a taxi if that's what it took, but I got no service. I couldn't call my way for help. I needed an actual person to stop and pick me up.

"I know some jokes!" I shouted out at one car. "I'm funny!" I pleaded with another. "I have a lot of interesting stories I could tell you!"

I wondered if holding out a $5 would help my chances. The worst part of this hitch wasn't the uncertainty of how long I'd be out here, but rather the heat. There was no shade near the shoulder of the road and I roasted in the brutal sun on the heat-baked pavement. I set my pack down and would try to sit in the shade of my own pack when there was a short one or two-minute break between vehicles.

Not a lot of shade to enjoy at this hitch. The heat was brutal!

Then a truck pulled over... going in the wrong direction. Argh!

He asked if I was thru-hiking the PNT. Well yes! That was a promising sign if he already knew what I was doing out here!

He knew I was trying to get to Bonners Ferry and had passed me earlier but wasn't going to Bonners Ferry and left me behind. He went to some sort of overlook at Highway 95, but after doing that, he felt sorry for me and backtracked to offer me a ride (assuming that I was still there at that lonely intersection--which I was.)

I don't remember his vehicle driving by earlier (I also stopped counting them after an hour), but apparently he could see my sad little face as he drove by earlier and left me behind.

In any case, it was a ride! He'd take me into Bonners Ferry! Awesome!!!

I threw my pack into the back of his truck and got into the passenger seat. He introduced himself as Gypsy, a triple-crowner who did his first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail in 1990. He lives in Baltimore but was spending the summer doing the nicer parts of the PNT and skipping the long road walks and other boring areas.

We chatted all the way into town comparing notes about the Pacific Northwest Trail and our previous thru-hikes. We stopped briefly in downtown so I could pick up my mail drop from the post office, then he drove me 2 miles further to the south side of town where the lodging options were located. The first hotel I hit said it would cost $99/night--which I choked on a bit. That was a lot of money by my standards for a hotel! I said I'd check another hotel a quarter-mile down the road first and did that, but the second hotel also was offering rooms for $99/night.

I liked the decor of the first hotel better, however, and returned there, but then the desk clerk said he had a windowless room available for $79/night and I jumped on that. It was still more than I wanted to pay, but it was better than sleeping outside again!

He hadn't planned to rent out that room and needed to remove some groceries that he was storing there. Once I was alone in the room, I went to use the toilet. Shortly thereafter, the wife of the desk clerk knock on the door because she had left food in the mini-fridge that her husband hadn't known about. Literally caught me while I was on the toilet. *sigh*

I finally got my burger and "road fries" at the Two Tones Cafe--perhaps my favorite restaurant ever. *nodding* =) I really can't say enough nice things about this place!

Then I took a much-needed shower and walked to the Two Tones Cafe a few minutes walk down the road where I finally ordered a burger with fries--something I'd been hankering for ever since yesterday's failed lunch/dinner. The food was awesome, the restaurant charming and the wait staff was absolutely amazing. They didn't seem to know anything about the Pacific Northwest Trail but found the idea interesting and asked me all sorts of questions, refilled my Coke over and over again and I left an hour or two later (I stuck around to write in my journal, look through maps and plan the upcoming section and relax).

By the time I left, the sun had already set and I felt like I was best friends with the entire wait staff. Especially my waitress, T.D. Short, she said, for Totally Dangerous. "You have a trailname?!" I exclaimed. =)

When I returned to the hotel, I noticed the "no vacancy" sign was lit and was glad I got the room when I did! I didn't realize that Bonners Ferry was such a hopping place on a Wednesday night.

This is something I've never seen on a backcountry trail before... Mud was definitely not a problem here, though!

Bonners Ferry is out there... somewhere....
On the bushwhack, this looked a bit too steep... I should find another way around this rock!
The end of the bushwhacking!
The trail is about to intersect Highway 95 just ahead.
Highway 95--time to cross!
The bushwhack from Highway 95 to Old Highway 95 didn't have a lot of bushes or whacking involved! Thank goodness!
Old Highway 95 was completely barren of traffic. This would be a terrible road to hitch on!

1 comment:

GG said...

Maybe the No Vacancy sign was just their way of saying good night, don't bug us 'til morning.