Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Day 139: Labor Day Laborings

September 6: I woke and spent much of the morning repacking my food into Ziplocks before packing up my backpack. Afterward, I headed to the front desk where I picked up a voucher for a meal across the street at a restaurant called 1889 where I picked up a sausage burrito and cinnamon roll. Normally, the hotel would offer a complementary breakfast at their restaurant, but their own restaurant was closed since it was Labor Day, so vouchers for the restaurant across the street were being handed out instead.

Veering off the highway near MacDonald Pass onto this gravel road.

After that, I gave Barb a call about a ride back to the trail. She's the trail angel I met yesterday who was dropping Just Awesome off back on the trail. I got her voice mail and left a message, but after about an hour of waiting for a callback, I finally gave up and checked out of the motel, preparing the hitchhike the old-fashioned way.

The street in front of the 1889 restaurant was pretty busy and heading in the correct direction, so that was my destination. But as I was walking out to it, Barb called me back and said there was a guy named Bob who could pick me up in about 15 minutes and give me a ride to the trail. Awesome!

I had already checked out of my motel room and with nowhere else better to go, I said I'd wait for him at a table outside the 1889 restaurant where he picked me up.

He dropped me off back on MacDonald Pass, and I started hiking by around 9:30am. It was a bit later than I had initially hoped, however, so I decided I would hike rather late. The morning started off with super smoky skies and a stiff wind. I followed the route a short distance downhill along the highway before veering off onto a gravel road where the trail picked up a lot of elevation.

The rest of the day, the trail varied between gravel roads and real trail. Neither of them were busy with people or vehicles, and I only passed a couple of ATVs once early in the afternoon. Other than that, I had the trail entirely to myself.

At the tops of exposed hills, the winds were especially strong!
In the afternoon, the strong winds blew the smoke away which was nice, leaving me with relatively clear, blue skies. The wind stayed annoying strong, however, especially at the highest and most exposed elevations.

My goal for the day was to reach a water source about 20 miles away, but when I got near it, I saw it surrounded with cattle. It was about 7:30pm, however, and although I had hoped to hike another half hour (at a minimum), I figured I may as well stop here. I set up camp nearby among some trees to help break the wind, far enough away from the cattle hoping that they wouldn't bother me during the night. And, if I were lucky, they'd have moved somewhere else to eat greener grass and wouldn't get in my way when I picked up water in the morning. I just didn't want to deal with them if I didn't have to. *fingers crossed* =)

Thus ended my day of laboring on Labor Day. There are no holidays on the trail. Every day is a work day!

This old railroad trestle doesn't look very safe to use anymore! I hadn't even realized I'd been following an old railroad bed for a bit until I saw this dilapidated trestle next to the trail.

The funny part about this sign.... It seemed like I saw this same sign over again over again for a couple of hours. You get to the end of the 1.5 miles, then there would be an identical sign warning the same thing for the next 1.5 miles. And again, and again....

An old, abandoned mine and some of its leftover equipment.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Day 138: Helena! Oh, Helena!

September 5: My morning started off a little rough. It was still fairly dark when I had woken, and I poured myself a bowl of granola cereal for breakfast--or so I thought. As it turns out, dehydrated ground beef looks and feels a lot like granola in the dark, and I wound up pouring milk all over it, kind of wasting the ground beef. Oops! That was an annoyance! Beef. It's what's for breakfast. Beef and milk.

Hiking before sunrise!

Despite that hiccup, I finished getting ready and hit the trail at at 6:50am. I was a little surprised when I noticed that sunrise wasn't scheduled until 6:54am. When did that happen?! Sunrise wasn't for another four minutes! I rarely started hiking before sunrise, but it was already so late!

Today I had a short day of hiking since I planned to hitch into the capital of Montana to resupply: Helena. The weather was still great and I really didn't want to go into town. In fact, I was a little worried about going into town today. It was Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Would I even be able to find a hotel room on Labor Day weekend?

Most of the time, I'd think that was a pie-in-the-sky idea, but as it turns out, Helena isn't much of a tourist attraction, and being the capital of the state, tends to be busiest on workdays. And Labor Day weekend was anything but a workday. Looking around online, not only were there hotel rooms available, but they were actually priced quite nicely. I made a reservation for one for about $50/night.

So I had less than 10 miles of hiking before I'd reach MacDonald Pass, then I'd hitch a half-hour or so ride into town.That was the plan!

The route mostly followed gravel roads, although some short sections followed real trails. As I approached the pass, I actually passed several day hikers heading in the opposite direction, two of whom asked how far the trail led.

"Well...." I said, thinking about how to answer that. "Technically, it goes all the way to Mexico." Of course, there were some road walks along the way. I wasn't actually sure how far the actual trail portion of this section could be followed since I joined it midway along the route and anything off the CDT was completely foreign terrain for me. So I wasn't particularly helpful!

About a half-hour into my day's hike, I reached the long-coveted trail magic that I had heard about the day before. It was nice, although I definitely would have enjoyed it more yesterday afternoon when I was hot and sweaty. Early in the morning, I was still cool and a cold Coke didn't hit the spot like it otherwise would have. (I drank one anyhow, but they're definitely much better when one is hot and sweaty and tired!)

A note in the register in the cooler explained that the people who put it out had a daughter currently thru-hiking the PCT and asked that they do this for hikers in her neck of the woods doing the CDT. I gave a mental thanks for the PCT hiker that made this possible and hoped she'd find some trail magic herself that day, wherever she was. =)

Trail magic!

I finally reached MacDonald Pass, just as Just Awesome was being dropped off. I got the phone number of the trail angel who had dropped him off, and I had hoped to get a ride back with the trail angel, but alas, she was going out for a day hike and not returning to Helena immediately. Still, she gave me a number to call in case I wanted a ride back tomorrow and said if I was still there in another hour or two, she'd pick me up on her way back into town.

At least there would be a time limit to how long I would have to try hitching. That's always nice. =) She assured me that it was usually pretty easy to get a ride into town.

Just Awesome started hiking northward, the trail angel drove into the woods along the gravel roads, and I set up at the edge of the road with my thumb sticking out for a ride into town.

There was another ice chest with trail magic at MacDonald Pass, but since I was going into town already anyhow, it wasn't as exciting for me. Plus, it only included water, which I already had!

In all, it took me nearly an hour before Lauren and Susan stopped to give me a ride into town. They dropped me off at my hotel for the night, the Jorgenson's which they told me was a "fancy" hotel. They seemed astonished that I could get a room there for just $50, but figured it must be their Labor Day "please come visit us" sale.

The hotel I found a bit disappointing, though. Although I had a non-smoking room, I could smell smoke from neighboring rooms that weren't non-smoking. Plus, the Internet connection was slow and unreliable.

Being a Sunday--on a Labor Day weekend, no less--there wasn't any hope of picking up my laptop at the post office. I knew this when planning my trek from Whitehall, however, which is why I never tried calling the Butte post office to forward my laptop to Helena. I'd never be able to pick it up until Tuesday, and I'd have to take a double zero to make use of it. That wasn't going to happen! Anyhow, the weather forecast continued to be favorable for the next week. I didn't really want to take any zero days with such favorable weather in the forecast. I needed every good day of weather I could get to finish this trail.

So I'd just stay a single night, and a laptop wasn't necessary. But I still wanted to get online with my phone and do what I could with it while I could, and the poor Internet connection was frustrating.

Home, sweet home, for the night!

For lunch, I headed around the block and went to Wendy's, then hung out there for nearly two hours using their Internet. It ran a lot faster and more reliably than the Internet at the hotel!

Then I headed to Alberton's where I resupplied for the next section of trail, then back to the hotel where I started a load of laundry washing in one of their self-help washing machines.

I decided that my next resupply point would be Augusta, and it would be nice if my laptop was there when I arrived. Being Sunday today and a holiday tomorrow, I wouldn't be able to call them until Tuesday to forward the package ahead. I'd be somewhere deep in the backcountry and likely without cell phone service come Tuesday. Unsure of when I'd be able to call to forward my package, I asked my mom to try calling them on Tuesday after they opened and see if she could get it forwarded. I warned that they might not listen to her since the package wasn't for her, but perhaps they'd be familiar with thru-hikers and their lack of a cell phone signal and holiday issues and be willing to work with her on my behalf. In fact, given my past experience, I wasn't particularly optimistic it would work, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

And with that, I finally went to sleep late in the night. I really wished I could have taken a zero day--it had been about 2 1/2 weeks since my last one in Dubois, WY! I could have enjoyed a day off, but the weather forecast was just too darned favorable for hiking. Nope, I'd get back on the trail again tomorrow. I was going to finish this trail this year!


Tailings from an old mine the trail went by

Hitching a ride into Helena from MacDonald Pass

This was the strangest-looking vehicle that went by as I was trying to hitch a ride. What the heck is it?!

Friday, August 26, 2022

Day 137: The Great Western Loop

September 4: I woke up and hit the trail at around 7:00am--a pretty normal time for this time of year. Even this early in the morning, however, I could smell the scent of smoke in the air and see it on the horizon. Wildfires were still burning... somewhere....

The trail was largely uneventful once again. The trail went up and down and around.

The most interesting thing I came across was actually a person, a hiker heading southbound named Phish. He told me that he was hiking the Great Western Loop. He had started hiking in Arizona, traveled west to the Pacific Crest Trail, then north to the Pacific Northwest Trail, then east to the Continental Divide Trail and was now heading south to eventually reconnect with where he started in Arizona. He still had a couple of thousand miles of hiking before he'd finish. To say that the route was ambitious is more than an understatement. I'd never actually met anyone who had tried anything quite so ambitious.

We wound up chatting for about an hour or so, which surprised me, really--he still had a lot of hiking to do before he'd be finished. I think he had been pretty lonely on his hike, though, and I was happy to stop and chat for awhile. He might have even been lonelier than myself! I was also one of the few people who he had likely met that was familiar with most of the route he was hiking having done the PCT, PNT and AZT. The only pieces I won't have completed are the connecting routes from the AZT to the PCT and the AZT to the CDT. But I'd probably done about 95% of the route--over four different years, though, rather than one crazy year!

He was hoping to reach Silverton before the winter snows started but could bail from the red-line CDT as early as Steamboat Springs and head westward out of the high mountains if necessary. He seemed determined that he'd definitely finish this year--just that the precise route he would take would depend on when the snow started to fall.


I gave him some suggestions about the route south--including the fact that it was entirely possible to skip Butte and resupply in Whitehall if he was trying to speed things up. The free place to stay in Whitehall was a nice perk as well. He was really excited to hear about that, wanting to reach town for some sort of sports event that he wanted to watch live. I think I sold him on the idea. He asked a couple of times about the Internet--there had to be Internet for him to watch the event with his friends. Yes, there was Internet, I assured him.

It was a nice conversation, but eventually we continued on our own way. We both had miles we wanted to get done. Him more than I, but I had miles to do before the snow started flying as well!

Phish told me that there was trail magic not far ahead on the trail, so I was looking forward to that but I never did find any. Was it further up the trail? It didn't sound like it was particularly far away. Or maybe it had run its course and was no longer there? In any case, I wound up disappointed without any trail magic. =(

Near the end of the day, the route started following gravel roads again, which were remarkably busy with people, so I walked a few hundred feet off the route to find a more private place to camp away from the passing ATVs. Another day done!

That's me!! I'm foot traffic! =)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Day 136: Section Hikers on the Trail!

September 3: This morning didn't seem as cold as yesterday, and I was up and moving considerably earlier this time around. A few minutes after 7:00am, I was on the trail and hiking!

A few hours later, while walking across a high ridge, I checked for a cell phone signal and was able to download a new set of Azena-Ley maps. The emptiness in my life that was a lack of topo maps had finally been filled, and I was glad that I only had to hike for a few hours without them.

Along this ridge, I was able to get a cell phone signal strong enough that let me download topo maps of the area. I was no longer hiking naked and blind! *whew*

In the afternoon, I ran into my first hiker on the trail in nearly two weeks. He had started as a south-bounder but later turned it into a section hike after a couple of injuries and weather-related issues. We were heading in opposite directions, and he was an older gentleman in his 60s. I'd mention his thick, gray beard, but I was guilty of the same thing so I'm not sure that helps with the description. =)

We wound up sitting around on the trail and chatting for an hour. I think both of us were starved for company! He was planning to finish this year's hiking in Butte. "Almost done!" I told him, a little envious. Actually, I was almost done myself--just a few more weeks if all went well--but it still seemed like a long way off.

Late in the afternoon, I finally reached a water source. The first of three that were relatively close to each other on the trail. I filled up a bit at the first one before topping up a lot at the last one. The one in the middle I skipped. Not just because I didn't need it, but also because a large herd of cattle were guarding it. It wasn't worth the fight.

I hadn't drank as much water as I figured I would, though, and arrived with plenty of water still on my back. Temperatures were much more moderate than I had been expecting. Perhaps the higher altitudes and plenty of shade had an effect. =) 

Beautiful, clear water! =)

Late in the day, I passed another hiker who had already set up camp. He introduced himself as Hit and Miss and he had started the hiking season with the intention of section hiking the PCT, but wound up bailing on that idea because the Dixie Fire had burned about 70 miles of the trail and the smoke was horrendously bad. So he quit the PCT and moved over to the CDT to use up the food he had already prepared for himself for the PCT. He lived nearby as well, so it was easy for him to access.

I only stopped to chat with him for about 15 minutes before continuing onward, wanting to get in a bit more mileage before calling it quits for the night. I already lost about an hour of hiking time chatting with the first section hiker on the trail--who was to know I'd run into a second one later?!

I finally set up camp fairly late in the day, near 7:30pm. 'Twas a good day of hiking!

These cattle guarded the second of three water sources late in the day. I decided to skip it!