Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Day 112: Familiar faces

August 10: The morning was brutally cold. Frost formed on everything, and even some of the water in my water bottle had frozen. After eating breakfast, I went to brush my teeth and was pretty surprised when I stuck a toothbrush in my mouth and realized the bristles had frozen solid during the night! Had to thaw them out with my mouth before I could really brush with it.

With that sort of cold, I really didn't feel like getting up in the morning, so I stayed in my sleeping bag a bit later than normal and wasn't on the trail and hiking until 7:00am.

Just before I start hiking, I typically turn on my SPOT device which updates my location every 5 to 10 minutes so my friends and family can see precisely where I am, but this morning, I found it not working. It was still working fine when I turned it off the evening before, but by morning, it wouldn't go. I wondered if the cold helped kill the batteries as well.

Even worse, I hadn't expected the batteries to die so quickly. Typically, the batteries it uses only needed to replaced about once per month and I was sure they still had at least a week before they needed to be replaced. As a result, I didn't carry any extras. They were in the bounce box that had my laptop that I forwarded to the next trail town. Hopefully, if my mom noticed that I'm not moving today, she just assumes that I forgot to turn it on and doesn't think I was eaten by a bear during the night!

The day's hike was gorgeous. The Wind River Range really does not disappoint! But the whole day, I felt unmotivated and not particularly excited about hiking. At least the trail wasn't difficult. In fact, it was pretty easy overall. By the end of the day, my GPS had recorded only about 1,000 feet of elevation gain--which isn't to say that the trail was flat because there was over 4,000 feet of elevation drop. But it was pretty easy overall. I was glad about this. Maybe if I camped 3,000 feet lower tonight, it might not get quite so cold as it did last night.

Throughout the day, I probably passed over 20 south-bounders. I had long stopped counting them at this point. There were a lot of them, though, and--as it turned out--I actually knew one of them!

I was heading down a particularly steep drop while he was climbing up and I recognized him immediately.

"Ryan!" I said, feeling a bit weird since it was my own name as well, but that's also why I remembered his name so clearly.

He looked at me, kind of with a "how does this guy know my name?" look.

"It's me! Ryan! From the PNT!"

He was the one and only PNT thru-hiker I had met on that entire trail so he stuck out in my mind. We even shared a hotel room in Bonners Ferry, ID. 

This is Ryan, the one and only thru-hiker I met while hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail, who was now thru-hiking the CDT southbound.

Then he recognized me. We chatted for about 10 minutes. He had a trail name now: Rewind. When I had met him on the PNT, he hadn't had a trailname. 

He suggested certain alternates routes ahead on the trail that he had done and highly recommended, and I told him about the blowdowns he'd soon be facing. Typical thru-hiker chat.

It was fun catching up, but we eventually continued on in our own directions. It was a shame we hadn't crossed paths at the end of the day and could camp together.

Another southbound hiker I met was named Moose. "That makes you, like, the 10th moose I've seen on this trail!" I joked.

He noticed my pack and asked if I had made it myself. "Well, yes I did!" I replied.

As it turned out, Moose had also sewed his own pack, and then we got into a big discussion about sewing packs. His pack looked very professional and awesome and I told him as much. It was so good, I hadn't even recognized that he sewed it himself until he pointed it out, and I felt like an idiot that I hadn't noticed. But it was a top-notch pack. I could sew a pack like that, but deliberately throw all sorts of wild colors into it to make it look like I made it myself. =) I'm still a bit bitter that Cotopaxi stole that idea of mine since now sometimes people think I'm wearing one of their packs. (I'm sure they didn't really steal that idea from me, but I was making my colorful packs long before that company was even founded.)

A photo of Moose's homemade pack.

Unlike me, however, he actually sells some of the stuff he makes and had stickers with his company name and logo asking if I wanted one. Well of course! =) I never knew a thru-hiker that carried his own stickers! Brilliant! I added it to the cover of my journal, along with the other stickers that I picked up in my travels. He told me that most thru-hikers don't want the "extra weight" of a sticker. Yeah... not a problem for me. "I carry my own stamp and ink pad," I told him. *nodding*

We took photos of each other's packs because, you know, why not? =)

Then we continued onward in our separate directions.

For all the southbound thru-hikers I was meeting, I never saw anyone going northbound the whole day. Funny how that works.

At the end of the day, I set up camp. I pulled out the batteries from my headlamp and some spare batteries for the headlamp to get my SPOT device working long enough so I could click the check-in button and let everyone know I was still moving and fine. Then I popped the batteries back out to put back in my headlamp for later in the evening. 

I really couldn't use them throughout the day. The headlamp batteries were already used so they might not have much juice in the them. The spare batteries I had for my headlamp were fresh and new, but there weren't enough of them to power the SPOT device. So I only put them in the device long enough to check in, and figured I'd do that each afternoon when I set up camp. The rest of the day, the SPOT would be turned off during the day so as not to run down the batteries, and I'd use the batteries at night to power my headlamp.

I set up camp near the Green River Lakes, not far from the headwaters of the Green River, which flows into the Colorado River. The river was a gorgeous light blue color, clearly filled with glacial flour from the high elevation glaciers nearby.

And thus ended another day on the trail.....

Have you ever seen a more gorgeous valley?! I set up camp not long after taking this photo.

This is the Green River, which will eventually flow into the Colorado River.

The light blue color of the water is glacial flour! I wouldn't want to drink it, but it sure is pretty to look at. =)

Monday, June 27, 2022

Day 111: Goodbye, Pinedale!

August 9: I took my time getting up this morning, but only because the post office didn't open until 8:45am. That's not a typo--that's the actual time it was supposed to open. I'd never seen such a weird opening time for the post office, but it is what it is.

But it also meant I could sleep in late and take my time checking out of the motel.

There was a line at the post office when I arrived--apparently it was the happening place in Pinedale! But I eventually got to the front of the line and picked up two packages.

The first was my shoes and the main reason I stuck around in town for so long. Baby really needed a new pair of shoes!

I walked over in my Crocs leaving my old shoes behind at the motel to be disposed of with the expectation that the new shoes would be at the post office and in good condition. It was a bit of a gamble, but I had checked the tracking number for the package and it showed as being ready for pick-up at the Pinedale post office. *fingers crossed* So that worked out well and I laced up my new shoes right there in the post office lobby.

The other package, I realized, wasn't actually mine. It was addressed to a Carpenter, but it wasn't my first name. "This isn't my package," I told the lady behind the counter. She went back and searched some more, eventually finding the package with my laptop. Thank goodness the other Carpenter didn't drop in and steal my laptop. *shaking head*

Of course, now that I was leaving town, the laptop was pretty useless and I didn't really need anything else in the package, so I asked for it to be forwarded to the next trail town.

Mission accomplished, I was cleared to leave town!

But... since I was here.... I decided to grab a lunch from a deli next door to the motel, ordering the Italian sandwich. I thought about taking it with me. It was still a bit early for lunch and it would make a nice lunch later, but I decided that I really didn't want to carry the extra weight (nor the trash it would leave behind afterwards), so I wound up eating it right then and there.

Then I walked over to the road leading back to the trailhead, stuck out my thumb and started hitching a ride. I'd been at it for about 15 minutes when Puffy arrived, also ready to return to the trail. We were there for another 5 minutes or so when a local couple pulled over to give us a ride. They weren't originally planning to go all the way to the Elkhart Park trailhead but decided to go out of their way to drop us off which we were both very grateful for.

And then it was another 11 miles of off-trail hiking to get back to the CDT. Fortunately, I didn't have to retrace all of my steps. About halfway down the side-trail, it splits in a Y shape. When I walked to the trailhead, I went down the right side of the Y. Now to return to the trail, I'll go down the left side. So there was only about 5 or 6 miles that I actually had to repeat, and adding the extra miles didn't feel quite so bad as long as I didn't have to walk over the same path twice. It was actually a pretty scenic route, after all.

The trail was just as busy as the Elkhart Park TH looked!

In fact, it was a little too scenic. The trail was absolutely crowded with day hikers and weekenders and felt positively claustrophobic. It wasn't until I reconnected with the main red-line CDT where I finally got away from the big crowds.

About a half hour into the hike, my phone unexpected started ringing. It was somewhat of a surprise for a couple of reasons. First, I thought I had turned on the airport mode to save battery power so it shouldn't have worked, and second, I didn't even realize I got a signal out here!

I went ahead and answered the phone, and it was the desk clerk from the motel I had checked out of. She wanted to let me know that I had forgotten my shoes in the room!

Which made me chuckle. I explained that I had new shoes shipped to me at the post office and no longer needed the old ones, but that she was more than welcome to keep them herself or give them away to someone if she still thought they were still usable. Or just throw them away. I wasn't going to back for them.

But that was really, really nice of them. The staff at the Sundance Motel were really good. They were really top notch and very friendly.

I hung up, and then turned the airplane mode on--like I thought it was before. I still needed to conserve battery power as much as possible until the next trail town! Anyone else who called would just have to leave a message for me to check later.

A couple of hours into the day's hike, I found a moose off the side of the trail. I took a few photos, and when a group of five loud people came up behind me, I tried signaling for them to shush so as not to startle off the moose. He was just minding his own business, eating leaves off of trees, and it was nice to watch.

See the moose in this photo?

The trail climbed steadily higher and higher until reading the CDT. The last hour or so of hiking, the heel of my foot was hurting a bit, but I wrote it off as part of breaking in the new shoes and didn't think much of it.

I eventually set up camp a bit off trail late in the afternoon, a little before sunset. I hadn't actually gone particularly far--a little over 15 miles in all--but I got a late start on the trail getting out of town and to the trailhead.

In camp, when I pulled off my shoes and socks, I saw what the problem with my heel was. A thick callus had formed on my foot (that part wasn't new news), but my skin had cracked down to the live layer of skin. That's what was hurting me. I applied some Neosporin and slapped a band-aid over it. I didn't know what else to do with it. That had never happened to my foot before, but the skin was very dry so I figured the Neosporin's creamy coolness might feel good and help prevent infection at the same time. Win-win! =)

I also noticed that a small hole had formed in my pack where the shoulder straps attached to my pack. I knew that would have to be patched up before the hole got worse and my pack suffered a catastrophic failure, but the sun had already set and at these high elevations, my hands were absolutely freezing. I just couldn't do anything that needed as much dexterity as hand-sewing. The hole in my pack would have to wait a bit. Maybe I'd fix it tomorrow. 

It didn't look like the hole would be an immediate problem, so I figured it could wait until tomorrow afternoon when the temperatures were warmer. During a lunch break or something. I'd definitely keep an eye on the hole to make sure it didn't get too bad in the meantime.

And thus ended another day on the trail. 

There are rules about how far you can camp from water sources and trails and such, but this trailhead had markers so people could count out how many steps it took them to go 100 or 200 feet.

For me, it was about 33-34 steps to reach 100 feet, which is the distance that one should camp from streams and rivers. (From trails and lakes, the required distance was 200 feet, but it seemed pointless to share that photo. It's just like this one except for the text.)

Puffy is on the trail!

So many horses on the trail.....

I have no idea who this is. Just one of the many, many people admiring all the wonderful views.

See that dark crack that formed under my callus? It hurt! And there really wasn't much I could do about it.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Day 110: The Pinedale Zero

August 8: I had a zero day, but that didn't mean there wasn't stuff to do. Nope, I had to get my clothes washed. They were filthy! So I walked to the other side of town where I reached a laundromat in a car wash and did a load of clothes. I didn't bother with the driers, however. I could simply hang the clothes in my room and let them dry naturally.

I also figured out my plan of attack for the next section of trail, this time carrying me from Pinedale to Dubois. After figuring out how long it would take to take hike that distance, I headed over to Ridley's Family Markets where I bought enough food to last the necessary distance.

However, for the most part, the day was dull and uneventful. With the required tasks done, I had the rest of the day free to relax and explore. And without a laptop, it's not like I could lock myself into my hotel room and do some work. So I decided to head out to the Museum of the Mountain Men and their exhibits about the fur trade in the 1800s throughout the Rocky Mountains. It was an interesting museum where I could easily spend an hour or two looking through all the exhibits, and that's exactly what I did.

I stopped at the Museum of the Mountain Men to pass some of the town today. An interesting place and I enjoyed taking as look around.

For lunch, I walked over to the Burger Barn. It was a bit of a walk, located a short way out of town, but I felt like stretching my legs a bit and didn't mind the walk. The traffic along the road wasn't pleasant, but at least there was a wide shoulder to walk on. The owner of the restaurant seemed stunned when she found out that I had walked there all the way from Mexico and kept asking why people would do this. She couldn't wrap her head around it. It seemed like an utterly ridiculous and crazy thing to do, and to be fair, she wasn't wrong.

I stopped for lunch at the Burger Barn. =)

Later in the evening after returning to my room, I flipped on the TV and checked what was on. I usually watch shows on my laptop or even my phone, but I didn't feel like watching a show on my phone and turned on the TV of a hotel room for the first time in months. Flipping through the stations, I finally settled on the movie Crazy Rich Asians which was playing and the family was, indeed, crazy, rich and Asian. Truth in advertising! =)

And that was about it for the day. Nothing particularly exciting. And if I wasn't forced into a zero waiting for the post office to open, I wouldn't have even bothered with a zero day. I still felt a little bitter about that.

Foxy, for her part, was thinking about flipping up to the Canadian border and hiking southbound. For the time being, she was also taking a day off the trail, waiting for Prince and his friend whose name I still forgot to arrive in town. They were actually the ones thinking about flipping up to Canada and she was thinking of joining them.

I was actually a bit surprised at the match-up. Foxy seems absolutely determined to complete this trail with a level of dedication that far surpassed my own. She had suffered an injury back in New Mexico and wound up taking a zero month in Pie Town waiting to heal. I had joked with her that I couldn't have done that. I would have committed suicide if I were stuck in Pie Town for a whole month with nowhere to go or anything to do, and the only Internet access was a poor connection at a restaurant in town.

At the very least, I'd have gotten off the trail for a month then returned after the injury healed, but living in Georgia, she figured it was just easier and cheaper to stay in Pie Town the whole time. She suffered other hardships and difficulties along the way, never even enjoying luxuries like an occasional night in a hotel and relying almost exclusively on free hostels or free camping within trail towns. This was her first thru-hike and she was absolutely bound and determined to finish this trail no matter what. I admired her determination. I certainly planned to complete the trail, but I was definitely not as dedicated about the matter. I'd be disappointed if I couldn't finish this year, but I didn't feel like it would be the end of the world either. I'd just have to return and finish another year.

Which is why I was so surprised that she wanted to hook her ship to Prince, who seemed friendly enough but seemed completely unmotivated and unconcerned about actually completing the entire trail. I think he might have even skipped some of the "boring" sections, although I don't know that for certain and it didn't matter enough to me to ask. He was out to enjoy a bit of camping and nature, but without any hard goals. (I had goals, but wasn't driven exclusively by them.) So it felt like an unlikely alliance between Foxy and Prince, but it didn't really concern me. It just surprised me that she'd take a zero day to wait for him which would just slow her progress and make it less likely that she could finish. 

But he had some friends or family (or something) that could drive him up to the Canadian border and Foxy somehow figured joining up with him was a good idea. There actually was a certain logic to this idea. The snow near the Canadian border would likely be heavier and come sooner than further south on the trail, so it extends the hiking season by flip-flopping. I think Foxy's logic was that a longer hiking season would increase her chances of success. On the other hand, she was taking an otherwise unnecessary zero (or two) waiting for Prince and it wasn't so late in the season that she had to worry about flip-flopping. Not yet, at least! Actually, we were cutting it close at this point, but I didn't think it was necessary to flip-flop quite yet, but it definitely might be necessary at some point.

So her somewhat tentative plan was to finish getting through the Wind River Range (also known for early and heavy snows), then flip north to Glacier NP and get through that area, then have plenty of time to connect the section between those points at her leisure.

Anyhow, that was some of the stuff going on on my zero days. Plans being made!

This was the same hiker box from which I grabbed the bear spray the day before. I dropped by again today to take photos after realizing that I failed to do so yesterday.

At first I though this was a recreation of a thru-hiker attacked by a bear. No... just a mountain man being attacked by a bear. If I recall correctly (I didn't take notes, so correct me if I'm wrong), this is actually based on the real-life attack of Hugh Glass who survived the mauling and whose story was later turned into the movie The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Teepees outside of the Museum of the Mountain Men.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Day 109: Bear! It's a bear! RUN!!!!

August 7: It sprinkled during the night, but my tarp did a pretty decent job of keeping me dry. More annoyingly, however, temperatures dropped a lot during the night and by morning, it was so cold, the rain that had fallen on my tarp had frozen into sheets of ice. It was very difficult getting motivated to leave the warmth of my sleeping bag.

But we had a post office to reach before they closed at 11:00am, so Foxy and I were both up and started hiking by around 6:30. 

Foxy is ready to hit the trail in the morning!

As we neared the trailhead, the number of campers and hikers along the trail increased dramatically. And a few miles away from the trailhead, we stopped at one group of people to ask if we were headed in the correct direction for the Elkhart Park trailhead. For some inexplicable reason, our Guthook apps didn't include the side trail to the trailhead, and the off-trail route was so far off trail that it didn't include maps for the last several miles. We knew the general direction that we had to go, and we knew it was downhill, and we figured the trail would probably get larger and larger the closer we got to the trailhead, so we generally tried staying on the bigger of the trails at each junction.... but unless there was a sign explicitly pointing the correct direction, we weren't 100% certain that we were headed in the correct direction. So we stopped to ask other campers who had come up from there.

A few miles from the trailhead, I was hiking in front of Foxy when the trail rounded a corner and there it was: a bear! It was on the trail when I saw it and I stopped dead in my tracks and shouted back at Foxy, "Bear! Bear!"

Bear! Bear!

The bear seemed startled by my sudden appearance and jumped up onto a small boulder hanging over the trail, and Foxy slowly approached behind me. Later she'd tell me that since I hadn't freaked out or started running or anything, she felt it was safe to approach at least as close as I had when I spotted the bear.

I pulled out my camera to take a few photos, and Foxy pulled out her phone to take some videos. After a few moments, the bear dropped back down on the trail then slowly started approaching us. "Go away! Go away!" I shouted. Foxy joined in and also started banging her trekking poles against a rock. After a few seconds, the bear decided we must be crazy and finally ran off. It stopped briefly at the far end of a small meadow where we watched it poop. I joked about "Does a bear poop in the woods? A definite YES!" I could officially confirm that with a first-hand account. =)

It was pretty exciting, and definitely much nicer than my first bear encounter where I wasn't even able to get a blurry photo of a bear. This bear had been pretty close and I got some (relatively) good shots and a shaky video. This was the first bear that Foxy had seen on the trail. Very cool to see, although I was a little bothered by how close the bear had approached without seeming to be very concerned about our presence.

Anyhow, we continued onward, passing increasingly large numbers of people and even a few different horse trains. Lots of horses on this trail! We arrived at the trailhead by around 9:30am, and the trailhead was huge! A massive parking lot with seemingly a hundred or more cars in it. The drive into Pinedale was probably a half hour from here, so that gave us about an hour to hitch a ride and make it into town before the post office closed. No sweat!

But we quickly realized that there was a major flaw in this plan: everyone was coming to the trailhead to begin their hikes into the wilderness. Absolutely nobody was leaving and heading into town. Nobody at all was going in our direction.

We looked at my phone's Google Maps and saw a couple of intersecting roads a bit further up the road and thought maybe there would be more traffic if we walked down to those, so we started walking down the road. Car after car passed us in the opposite direction, but not a single car passed us in the direction we were walking. It wasn't looking good....

"I bet if we were here at 5:00 in the afternoon, we'd have a ride in 5 seconds flat," I told Foxy. That didn't do us any good now, however, and it wouldn't get us into town before the post office closed.

We wound up walking down the road about a mile, and the intersecting roads we saw on Google Maps turned out to be more of the gravel variety or closed to traffic and completely useless. Basically, we walked for a mile for no good reason at all.

The trailhead was packed with people, but unfortunately they were all headed onto the trail and not off of it. It turned out to be a surprisingly long wait for us to get a hitch into Pinedale.

We found a place on the side of the road to sit down and wait for traffic. We picked a location with good sight lines, where people could see us long before their vehicle would pass by and there was a good pullout if a car wanted to pick us up.

I did get a cell phone signal on my phone and looked into seeing if we could call someone to pick us up, but I couldn't find anything. Nope, we were on our own.

Eventually, a few cars did come by in the correct direction, and they continued on without even slowing down. *sigh*

By around 10:45am, I knew we weren't going to get to the post office in time. Not a chance, even in a speeding car. It wasn't going to happen. I had my mom send me a replacement pair of shoes there since my current ones were wearing thin, but I figured I could push my luck and keep hiking with them to the next town. I definitely needed the new shoes by the next town, however, so I called the post office. Or rather, I tried calling the post office in town so they could forward my package to the next trail town. I did not want to take a zero day here in town and wait until Monday to deal with the package. Except when I called, nobody answered the phone. It just rang and rang and rang.

I waited a couple of minutes, then tried again. And again. A bit after 11:00am, they still weren't answering the phone, but now I just got a busy signal. I tried calling the post office for over an hour but never got through to direct them to forward my packages. The busy signal never stopped. Did they just pick the phone off the hook and set it on its side so they didn't have to listen to me calling it and having it ring incessantly? It really felt to me like that's exactly what happened. The constant calling was annoying them, so they just took the phone off the hook. Damn these post offices!!!! I really couldn't leave town before forwarding my package, though. Argh! This was pissing me off! I'd never had so much trouble with post offices on my previous thru-hikes!

In the meantime, a van eventually pulled over and offered us a ride, but he was headed to a ski resort halfway down toward Pinedale. We'd have to hitch another ride, but we took him up on his offer. At the very least, it gave us a change of scenery and perhaps the road would be busier halfway down it.

And fortunately, it took us all of about 5 minutes before another vehicle pulled over and gave us a ride the rest of the way into Pinedale. Hurray! We had finally made it! Of course, the post office was long since closed, and I still hadn't been able to get my packages forwarded. Reluctantly, I realized I'd have to wait around until the post office opened again on Monday. *sigh*

Checking online for lodging, the options were discouraging. Everything either had no vacancies or was $200+ per night. I could camp for free in one of the city parks. Pinedale was one of the gateway communities for the CDT which required them to allow a free place for thru-hikers to camp. The problem, however, was that I did not want to camp! I had plenty of camping already. I wanted to go into town to take a break from camping. 

Foxy planned to do the free camping and wasn't even remotely interested in splitting the cost of a hotel room. Especially not at these prices. It sounded like she was working with a pretty small budget in any case and wanted to avoid going into debt for her hike, which I could certainly understand. Foxy headed into the supermarket to look for some food, but I was still more interested in lodging so we parted ways but exchanged phone numbers.

I tried calling a couple of hotels. Even one of the next two nights in a hotel would have been welcome, and I found a couple options online that didn't mention costs or availability, but neither of them turned out to have space available. I feared that I was going to be stuck camping in the city park for two nights waiting for the post office to open. Curse this town!

I liked the giant fish on the grocery store in Pinedale. =)

I noticed a hotel across the street about a block away. I had no idea if there was any space available or how much it cost, but since it was so close, I went ahead and figured I may as well check. I had nothing to lose, but I wasn't optimistic either.

I didn't want to waste my time walking that far for nothing, however, so I looked up their number online then called with my phone and much to my surprise and delight, they said that they had one room left which was going for the low-low price of $125/night (plus taxes). That was almost half the next cheapest price I had seen online, although admittedly about double what I would normally prefer to pay and perhaps the most expensive room I'd ever paid for, but I immediately said I'd take it!

I needed to provide a credit card to confirm it, and I started fumbling around in my pack looking for my wallet, but then asked if they could just hold it for five minutes--just 5. I was literally a block away looking at their hotel, and I'd have my credit card and everything ready to pay. I'd be there in mere moments.

The lady on the phone said that was fine, and a few minutes later I was in the lobby checking in.

Once I got my room, I immediately stripped off all my dirty clothes and took a good long shower, then I put on my less-smelly camp clothes and stepped back outside to Dave's burger stand located nearby for lunch. While eating lunch, Foxy texted me that there was bear spray in the hiker box behind the town's visitor center. I had told her my plan for saving $50 by grabbing the bear spray of a south-bound hiker who ditched it, so she kindly informed me of the can so I could grab it before anyone else could. =)

I quickly dashed over there, probably not more than about 15 minutes later, and found the bear spray. I was set! I looked through the rest of the hiker box while I was at it, but the bear spray was the main thing I wanted. Foxy wasn't around anymore, so I pulled out my phone and texted her a thanks for the bear spray tip. 

Then I returned to my room for the night. I didn't have my laptop so I couldn't do any real work, but I was able to get online with my phone to check emails and messages and watch YouTube videos and download more Netflix shows. Plenty to keep me busy for the rest of the night!

Where there were distant views, you could easily see all the smoke in the air. *nodding* Definitely some wildfires are burning out there somewhere.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Day 108: Holy Giant Hail Balls!

August 6: When I had gone to sleep, the sky was clear and the Milky Way stretched across the sky. It was gorgeous. But at around midnight, things had changed dramatically. The first hint of trouble were the flashes of light on the horizon: lightning. I was camped on the shore of a lake with absolutely zero trees nearby to set up my tarp. It was a terrible location for setting up a tarp.


So I simply threw my tarp over myself like a blanket and hoped to wait it out. Before long, the storm was directly overhead. Lightning! Thunder! And heavy, heavy rain. It poured buckets, and all I could do was lay miserably under my tarp wondering how long it would take the storm to pass.

The rain had stopped by sunrise, but the damage was done. I was soaked through. And for the second time in a week, no less! I really needed to stop making a habit of this. *grumbling*

To say the sun rose was somewhat of an understatement. It was much too cloudy to see any sun, but the sky did brighten a bit by sunrise.

Because everything was sopping wet, it took me a bit longer to pack up camp and get moving and I wasn't on the trail until about 7:00am. Foxy and Little Red Riding Hood were still in camp. Foxy reported a leak in her tent, but I have a feeling that she came out in the morning considerably drier than I did. Little Red Riding Hood used a bivy sack and seemed none the worse for wear. 

I had tried using one before really wanting something super light for bad weather conditions and a way to keep mosquitoes off of me when they were an issue, but I found them far too constrained and claustrophobic and returned it to REI the first chance I got. On a clear night, it wasn't so bad when I could leave the head end open, but then it wouldn't work for bad weather or bugs which were the main reasons I wanted it! She was actually the first hiker I ever remember meeting who actually used a bivy bag, though. Definitely an ultra-light option!

Knowing it had rained so much during the night and that the trail was sopping wet, I decided to wear my waterproof socks today. It turned out to be a good decision. The water on the grass along the trail would soak through my shoes almost immediately. As it turned out, there were also a couple of creeks that needed to be forded as well and I was extra glad when I already had the special socks on. =)

Anyhow, I said goodbye to them then headed down the trail on my own once again.

Drying out gear during my lunch break!

The trail continued onward, up and down and around. It was scenic but nothing particularly noteworthy. By around 1:00pm, there was a small sun break and I took the opportunity to stop for lunch and spread out gear and clothes to dry out.

Foxy hiked by during my break, and I had figured that Little Red Riding Hood would probably pass by me as well, but I never did see her again. She was just out for a couple of weeks, though, not thru-hiking nor on a thru-hiker schedule and was taking her time.

I had been stopped for about an hour when I heard thunder in the distance coming from some dark, ugly clouds on the horizon. Drying out my gear would have to be delayed.... Most of my gear had dried by this point, but my sleeping bag was still a bit damp.

While packing up, a few light drops fell. I figured the storm would pass quickly, however, and decided to duck under a small cluster of nearby trees to wait it out. Overall, it seemed like a good place to wait out a thunderstorm. I went ahead and pulled out my umbrella as well, ready to shed whatever rain made it through the pine trees to my position.

And then the storm struck. BOOM! Thunder echoed throughout the mountains and even in the daylight, I could see the flashes from the lightning among the dark clouds. Then it started hailing. At first the hail was pretty normal, small pellets of ice bouncing off the ground. But as the seconds ticked by, I noticed the hail growing larger and larger. I hadn't really been watching for it, but I noticed when they became about the size of a penny. It was the largest chucks of hail I'd ever seen! Wow!

But the hail continued to grow ever bigger and bigger, with some chucks eventually growing to the size of quarters. I couldn't believe my eyes! Holy crap! I was so happy that I wasn't caught out on an exposed section of trail. Chucks of hail that large could seriously hurt! I've heard of large hail that could dent cars and break windshields, but I'd never before experienced anything like that and definitely hadn't expected to see it today.

Holy giant balls of ice!

Fortunately for me, however, I was never in any danger from it. I was well-protected under some trees that blunted their impact, and most of them bounced off around the tree rather than under it where I was located. And the few that did get under the tree were blocked by my umbrella. So I just admired the this amazing work of nature, and also feeling sorry for anyone stuck out in an exposed area..

Eventually the storm finally passed, and I continued hiking. The trail was covered with such a thick layer of hail, it looked like it had snowed. The hail blocked water from draining off the trails so there were lots of puddles and I was happy that I still had the waterproof socks on.

The dark clouds never went away, however, and more storms looked imminent. It was tempting just to set up camp and stop for the day, but tomorrow was Saturday and I had planned to get into Pinedale, and I really wanted to get into town before the post office closed at 11:00am, which meant I needed to camp close enough to the trailhead to finish early in the morning. Nope, I had to keep hiking, weather be damned!

I still had a couple of passes to get over, though. I made it up and over the first one without any problems, but I was maybe 100 feet from the top of the next pass--perhaps just 15 seconds before reaching the top--when I saw a thick lightning bolt flash from the cloud to a distant mountaintop. Damn!

Definitely not a good day for weather!

I was in a terrible place for a thunderstorm now: at the top of a very exposed pass. I quickly got over it and hiked as hard and fast as I could down the other side, racing the storm. I really wanted to get somewhere less exposed before the storm caught up with me, but the storm was on top of me about 5 minutes later. Crap! Crap! Crap! The wind had also picked up and tried ripping my hat from my head. I tightened the strap around my chin to make sure it was securely set, and I was practically running down the trail at this point. I didn't feel safe at all. I wasn't at the top of the pass anymore, so that was good, but it was still very exposed terrain and very high. It wasn't a good place to be in a lightning storm.

I finally reached a valley bottom along with several trees about a mile further down the trail at which point I felt relatively safe again. I stopped by a bush to break the wind and keep warm until the storm had passed, although by this point, the worst of the storm had already passed.

After sitting around for about 5 minutes, I decided that the storm was definitely on its way out and I continued walking.

A few minutes later, I spotted a mama moose with its baby moose. "Hey, guys!" I told them, waving. They just ignored me and continued to do their moose-like activities. They didn't seem at all bothered by the weather. Go figure.


Late in the afternoon, I reached the junction with the Pole Lakes Trail. My next resupply point was Pinedale. It wasn't a great resupply point, however, as it required hiking over 10 miles off trail to reach the trailhead at Elkhart Park, then the actual town was located another couple of dozen miles away down the road so I'd have to hitch a ride as well. It could easily take half a day just to do the off-trail hiking to reach the trailhead, but the alternative was to carry even more food and skip the town completely. I already skipped Lander, though, and skipping two trail towns was a bit of a stretch, so into town I would go. And to get into town early enough to pick up a maildrop in Pinedale, I wanted to camp within about 5 miles of the trailhead.

So I followed the Pole Lakes Trail toward the trailhead, and maybe a half hour later I caught up with Foxy crossing a creek. She was hopping from rock to rock, trying to cross the substantial river without getting her feet wet. I shouted out to her, "Hello!" which startled her, but not enough to fall into the river which was good since that hadn't meant to scare her at all.

She shouted out directions about how she was getting across so I could follow in her footsteps, but I wasn't worried about getting my feet wet. They were already wet from the previous creek crossings and the slushy hail on the trail, plus I was still wearing my waterproof socks. So I just stomped through the water to the other side then waited until Foxy caught up a few minutes later.

Foxy rock hops across the river

After that, we continued hiking together for the rest of the day. It was growing increasingly dark as sunset approached, but both of us wanted to make it to the post office before they closed tomorrow so we continued pushing onward much later than either of us would have normally preferred. I kind of figured we'd end up camping on our own. Eventually I would have to stop just because it was getting too dark for me to take photos, but Foxy seemed to prefer staying near me. She seemed a bit concerned about bears now that we were in grizzly territory. Northbound hikers were picking up bear spray and some of the hikers were quite nervous about the idea of grizzlies. There were a couple of hikers back in New Mexico who were already worried about grizzly country and hoping to go through as part of a larger convoy. Not that she seemed super worried, but she definitely wasn't excited about the idea of seeing bears and I suspect would have been happy to do the entire trail without seeing any.

I didn't have any bear spray. Not yet, at least, but Foxy did so she was better prepared for a grizzly attack than I was! =) I couldn't bring my bear spray from the PNT which was still in Seattle since I couldn't fly with it to the start of the trail, and I didn't want to carry it for 2000 miles just to get to this point and probably wouldn't need it anyhow. It couldn't be mailed to me on the trail either. I also didn't want to pay $50+ for a canister of bear spray. Nope, I had another plan: Now that we were passing south-bounders, I knew that they would be ditching their bear spray. I saw it happen on the PNT as well when hikers got out of grizzly country. Bear spray often collected in hiker boxes in the towns around that transition area, so my plan was to find one for free in a hiker box. =) And if I didn't.... well, that was okay. I probably didn't really need it. I never had a problem with grizzlies in the past despite all the hiking I'd done in their territory.

But I also think Foxy might have been a bit nervous at the idea of hitchhiking into Pinedale by herself as well, and wanted someone to hitchhike with. I didn't really care why she wanted to hang out with me, however--I just was happy for a little company after hiking alone for so much. And I've always been a big fan of hitchhiking with women. I figure it makes me look less threatening and probably improves my chances for a ride. =)

Of course, we compared notes about the giant hail storm. She too had ducked under some trees to protect herself from the massive hail stones, and even saw a baby moose careening through the forest, seemingly in a panic looking for mama. I could imagine how that might have freaked out the baby moose. It sounded like it happened several miles before I had seen a mama and baby moose, however, so it seemed unlikely that we had seen the same moose. Hopefully the baby moose and mother that Foxy had seen managed to get reunited eventually.

We finally found a place to camp at about 8:30pm--by far the latest time I had stopped hiking on the CDT, and I definitely had to stop because it was just getting too dark for for me to take photos. I set up my tarp--rain was definitely in the forecast! In fact, the air was thick with that fog-like rain already. Foxy set up her tent nearby, and thus ended another wild day on the trail.....

I took several photos of the hail as it continued to grow larger and larger!

By the time the hail finished, it looked like a light layer of snow had fallen.

Despite all the rain, hail and storm clouds, the skies were also still filled with smoke from wildfires which was obvious when you could see how red the sun looked in this reflection on the water. Most of the day I couldn't see the sun at all and hadn't realized how red it was until I noticed this reflection.