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?!


Unknown said...

What you saw was an overlander/Moog/high clearance/go anywhere RV. There are a few of these in the US, but more common in Europe. They are pretty amazing self contained living units that are capable of reaching places your "traditional" RV cannot. said...

The Unimog—or, to give its full name, the ‘Universal-Motor-Gerät, is a Mercedes-Benz product. A go anywhere RV. They cannot be bought new in the US now but were imported for a couple of brief times. I think the price has a lot to do with it, new is about $370,000.