Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Day 127: The Non-Slackpacking Slackpacker

August 25: The next section of trail covered about 24 miles, from trailhead-to-trailhead, with not even the barest of dirt roads for Amanda to meet me on. So my plan was to slackpack the entire distance. Well, sort of.... The other problem was that I was 'off the reservation' in a sense, on an alternate route that wasn't listed on Guthook so I had very little information about this route. I didn't know if there would be bad blowdowns or other obstacles to slow my way, and 24 miles was definitely a full day of hiking. Especially if the terrain was particularly rough and slow-going.

So for safety's sake, I felt it was important that I carried at least the bear minimum of camping equipment including my sleeping bag, a ground sheet and a tarp. I could still travel lighter than normal--just one day of meals should cover me! And hopefully I wouldn't need the extra precautions and could slam through that 24 miles relatively easily.

But to give myself the best chance of finishing before sunset, I needed to start as early as possible--which meant waking up at 5:00am, which gave us plenty of time to leave the hotel by 6:00am, which gave us plenty of time to drop me off at the trailhead by about 7:00am, at which point it should be light enough for me to take photos and start hiking.

Also, being such a long distance over questionable terrain, I had trouble making a solid estimate for when I would finish, so I told Amanda that I'd use my SPOT device to notify her when I was getting near the designated pick-up point. I knew I wouldn't have cell phone service out there, but the SPOT device works pretty much everywhere. From West Yellowstone, it was about a half-hour drive to pick me up, so I'd try to trigger it about a half hour before I expected to finish and we could both arrive at the pick-up point at more-or-less the same time. It seemed like a good plan. If, for some reason, I wasn't able to finish the whole 24 miles today, I'd trigger another (different) alarm to let her know and she wouldn't even have to make the drive out at all.

It was a good plan, and I hit the trail which immediately started climbing over a long, steep ridge.

The trail entered a wilderness area and the views within it were pleasantly nice and enjoyable. The entire day, I never saw a single person on the trail. The trail was in good shape, though, and I made good time. The thing that slowed me down the most was the elevation changes with multi-thousand foot climbs then multi-thousand foot drops. Over the course of those 24 miles, I pulled in about 10,000 feet of elevation changes--which is quite a bit! It helped that my pack wasn't loaded down with a week of food. =)

About a mile from the designated pick-up point, I triggered my SPOT device to let Amanda know that I was about finished. When I reached the main highway, Highway 191, I didn't see Amanda parked at the pullout. My route had me following the highway for about a quarter-mile, however, so I went ahead and continued walking. Maybe she was parked at a different pullout? An any case, may as well knock out that extra quarter-mile. No problem!

But I didn't find Amanda. No worries, though. I was sure Amanda was on her way, and I sat down on what looked like a bear box on the side of the road to wait. I pushed the button on my SPOT device to set another notification. Maybe I was too deep in the trees and the first one hadn't gotten through and Amanda didn't realized I had finished already, but here I had a clear view of the sky. This one should definitely go through.

I read my Kindle to pass the time, and the time seemed to pass slowly. A half hour went by, and there was still no sign of Amanda. The drive from West Yellowstone should have only taken a half-hour. What happened to Amanda? Was everything okay? Visions of her crashed on the side of the road floated through my mind. I hoped she was just letterboxing out of cell phone service and just didn't get my notifications, but she knew I'd probably be finishing sometime this evening. I felt like I needed to start doing something, just in case she wasn't going to show.

So I did the only thing I could do--I stuck my thumb out and started trying to hitch a ride back to West Yellowstone. I had already reserved and paid for a hotel room in town, and by golly, I wanted to use it!

My new problem, however, was that it was getting near sunset and the traffic on the highway had died down. Very few vehicles were driving by. Anytime a vehicle approached from the north, I stuck out my thumb and tried to get a ride. Anytime a vehicle approached from the south, I'd check to see if it might be Amanda.

After a half hour with no luck, I was growing increasingly worried I'd have to spend the night out here. Argh! Not the end of the world, but still very frustrating when I knew there was already a warm, clean hotel room for me in West Yellowstone!

About 40 minutes after I started, a vehicle pulled over and picked me up. Yes! Thank goodness! It was about 7:00pm, a little after sunset, but I'd finally make it into town. The driver, Josh, dropped me off at the edge of town--just a few blocks from the hotel I had made a reservation for--and I tried giving Amanda a call now that I had cell phone service again.

"Where are you?!" she said upon answering the phone. This wasn't how I expected the conversation to go....

"What do you mean, where am I? Where are you?!" I asked, turning the question around.

As it turned out, Amanda had noticed a trailhead near where my route passed and assumed that that was where I'd be coming out of the woods, and she had been waiting for me there for hours, finally giving up and driving back to West Yellowstone shortly before I hitched a ride in myself. I knew exactly where she was talking about, and it was perhaps a 5 minute walk away from where I had been waiting on Highway 191. We were practically a stone's throw from each other for well over an hour, my wondering what happened to Amanda and her wondering what had happened to me. But she had already been there when I arrived--I just didn't know it, nor did I know to look for her there. Argh!

Then when she drove into town, her cell phone started getting alerts from my SPOT device, which she thought meant that I wasn't going to finish today and I'd camp for the night in the woods. So she was rather surprised when I called 15 minutes later, thinking that I was still out in the woods without cell phone service.

Basically, the plan we made in the morning got totally screwed up. Which wouldn't have been so bad, except that Amanda had found a trailhead which was hidden from view of the highway that I walked down so we never saw each other. That had been our undoing.

I walked a few blocks down to the hotel where we met up. It was now approaching 8:00pm and I was tired and didn't really feel like going out to eat, at least not a particularly big meal or one that would take very long to make, so we went through the drive-thru at McDonalds where I got a small burger and some ice cream. I really needed the ice cream. I felt like I had earned it. =)

Back at the hotel, the internet didn't seem to work especially well which was frustrating for me, but I was pretty tired anyhow and soon just went to sleep. Another day was done!

1 comment:

Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men..." Robert Burns

well over 40 years ago while backpacking as a Boy Scout troop along the Long Trail in Vermont we had gotten strung out along the trail and the faster hikers came to an unexpected trail junction. The signs said the LT had been rerouted and pointed the way north to the right while the old trail was now a side trail. Rather than wait for everyone to catch up and make a decision as a group they headed down the new trail.

The next group came to the junction and waited - the scoutmaster was in this group. After the tailgunner (last hiker in the group) showed up they proceeded down the old trail as our rides were arranged to meet us at the (old) trail junction with the highway in the valley below.

When we get to the bottom the faster group of hikers were no where to be found. The reroute came out onto the same highway but over 4 miles away. Chaos insued for HOURS.