CDT Day 15-23: Montana Days

CDT Day 15

I try my hardest to sleep in after going to bed late, but I am wide awake at 6 am. The only time in my life when I am a morning person is when I am thru-hiking.

I feel well rested despite the lack of sleep after being in a comfy bed for the first time in over two weeks. I grab some hotel coffee and try and catch up on my blog and sorting through the millions of emails I have been ignoring. I wander around downtown a bit more when I get antsy. I love exploring new cities, especially first thing in the morning, seeing everything wake up. I manage to shove a couple thousand more calories in my mouth, mostly in the form of the biggest maple bacon apple fritters one has ever seen.

I use the town shuttle that only costs $1 per ride to get as far out of town as it will take me because I figure it will be easier to hitchhike outside of town. I smile as big as I can as I hold my thumb out and car after car zooms by me and eventually get picked up by a wonderful woman who’s brother hiked the CDT last year. She said she always picks up hikers every chance she gets.

She drives me all the way up to the trail even though she wasn’t even going that direction at all. People are amazing.

I get to hiking, feeling very energized after three cups of cheap coffee and a huge surplus of calories. The morning flies by and even the miles of road walking are enjoyable.

I find trail magic at one point. Always the most unexpected surprise. I forgot to pack a beer out of town, but the trail always provides.

A quiet day, mostly alone in the woods.

I only see two other ladies who are section hiking until I run into another thru-hiker at the end of the day who will also be triple-crowning when he finishes this trail. A triple-crowner is someone who has completed all three of the longest trails in the US: AT, PCT, and CDT.

The CDT is so lush with flowers right now. With the late season storms they are blooming way later then normal and it just so happens to be perfect timing for us SOBOs.

I find a nice place to camp despite the eight millions mosquitos that are immune to my bug spray no matter how much I spray myself. But a cold beer helps me forget about them.

After not getting much sleep the past few nights, I think I will sleep food tonight. Especially since I have a full belly for once. I almost forgot what that feels like.

CDT Day 16

It’s a beautiful morning for hiking. Warm enough to make getting out of my tent easy, but cool enough to make the climbs feel easier. I run into Natty, another SOBO early in the day and we power quickly through the morning. Having someone new to talk to always makes the miles go quickly as you learn about each other. One of my favorite things about thru-hiking is the ease at which us hikers become friends. Pretty much everyone out here is a potential friend, especially on a trail like this where you aren’t meeting nearly as many people compared to a more popular trail. There’s something about walking behind or in front of someone that makes the conversation flow effortlessly and within a couple hours you can basically know everything about a new friend, probably even better than you might know people you work with or have known for years.

We run into Stardust and Some Guy, a couple I have been flip-flopping with from Day 1. It’s always fun to catch up and compare experiences with someone you haven’t seen in a few days.

The day is pretty cruisy, in and out of forests and meadows. Lots of dead trees. A decent amount of blowdowns to climb over.

The water sources get far and few between so I chug as much as possible whenever I find a good one.

I reach a cutoff trail that leads to the city of Anaconda. Most thru-hikers take this alternate instead of sticking to the main trail to cut off some miles and make resupplying a little easier. Most people I have talked to are taking the cutoff trail so the next week might be even more desolate than it has been.

I hike until I find a meadow that is away from all the dead trees to camp in. It’s a little sloped, but it’s the best option around. I expect to be alone tonight, but Natty and Zack Galifianakis, a hiker I met last night (that’s his trail name, not the real dude), show up too.

Natty busts out some playing cards and teaches us a new game. We watch the sun set into the smoke from a nearby fire. I think I’ll be heading towards the fire in a few days so hopefully it gets under control by then.

It’s fun camping with people again after spending the past few nights alone. Thru-hiking has definitely taught me how to enjoy whatever situation I’m in. To appreciate the alone time when I have it and to appreciate being around people when I am. As an introvert who has become more extroverted over the years mainly from my line of work, I definitely crave human interaction, but also need a lot of time alone. Thru-hiking always seems to provide both always in the right proportions. And the ease to change that by either speeding up or slowing down is such a nice way to live to meet my personal and social needs.

Going to bed with a happy heart, tired legs, and some very chapped lips.

CDT Day 17

Wake up. It’s cold. It’s early. My tent is wet with dew. I toss and turn and try to sleep, but my face is freezing and burrowing it into my quilt is too suffocating. I finally get up and go pull my food bag down and get back in my quilt to eat. The worst part about having to hang your food is having to go get it in the morning when it’s freezing and your feet aren’t functioning yet.

The morning is cruisy. I’m lost in daydream land and the miles fly by. Then I hit a long road walk and the miles creep by. Road walks always sound so much easier and they should be theoretically since they’re usually much flatter than the trail without obstacles, but the monotony makes them go on forever. Or maybe all the time walking in the sun on asphalt is just frying my mind.

I moo at the cows. They just stare at me as I walk past.

I finally get back on trail. And start the hardest afternoon thus far on trail. Because I’m climbing up a downhill mountain biking trail. I love mountain biking trails. I like mountain bikes. I love mountain biking. What I don’t like doing is hiking on them.

Mountain bike trails are built completely different than hiking trails. They have rollers, banked switchbacks, and they gain and lose elevation very, very slowly. Which is great on a bike and horrible when you are trying to hike. Pretty much the most annoying and inefficient way to walk up or down a mountain. Four steps up, three steps down, on repeat for miles. I can’t believe how exhausting it is and more so just mentally frustrating. I would rather climb any of the 14ers I’ve done again with a full pack before I hiked this again.

I finally make it to the last water for the day and load up and push a couple miles farther to find a flat place to camp. Dry camping (camping away from water) is hard because you have to carry more water, but it’s almost always worth it because you usually have a better view and can wake up dryer as long as you’re not tenting on grass.

I’m exhausted and hot which makes food sound horrible. But my stomach is growling as it always is out here after a few hours without food so I make a ramen bomb (ramen and instant potatoes) and load up on peanut butter.

I’ll be in town tomorrow luckily and can get some real food. Trail food just doesn’t quite cut it after a few hard days in the woods.

I crawl in my tent to get away from the million ants and listen to trees falling every so often around me.

CDT Day 18

Wake up warm, but way too early. Sleep has not been my friend recently.

It’s more mountain bike trails all day. Up down, up down, up down. Get a good view of the valley I’m heading to.

Pass old mine remnants.

See lots of rocks.

Make it down to the highway and get a quick hitch into town from an old timer. He drops me off at the KOA, the cheapest place to stay in town, especially with their hiker discount.

There’s already a couple thru-hikers there and I happen to know one of them who lived in Redding for a bit! What a small world!

A hot shower. A walk to Safeway to resupply and buy lots of yummy food. But my eyes were bigger than my stomach and for some reason my body is not liking this non-hiking food. I sit around all evening attempting to slowly force-feed myself knowing I need the calories, but unfortunately it’s just making me feel horrible. Another hiker shows up at dusk and I give him the rest of my dinner, at least it won’t go to waste. He is not having the same problem I am with eating and gladly shovels everything I give him in.

I know what I really need is a good night of rest so I crawl in my tent, thankful for the warm night down in the valley, and hope I wake up in the morning feeling back to normal with an appetite.

CDT Day 19

I wake up and assess how I’m feeling. I feel like I could keep sleeping, but I know it won’t be good sleep now that I can hear cars and the occasional early morning dog-walker. I still feel exhausted, but once I’m up and moving around, I start to feel a little normal. I’m actually hungry which is a good sign.

The KOA makes a free breakfast for all the campers once a month and we just happened to hit it on THAT day. Talk about luck. I don’t think I’ve ever seen four happier hikers as we shovel in pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, and all the coffee. I try to take it easy. Don’t want to overdue it now that my stomach is finally feeling better. Still not sure what was wrong with me, but I’m guessing a combo of overexertion, too much sun, not enough sleep, maybe drank some bad water, and maybe just a bit of a cold. Hey, every day can’t be great, just gotta roll with the bad ones, and know the good ones will come again and will be that much sweeter.

I pack up and walk down to the post office to pick up a loaner tent since I’m shipping mine back to Zpacks to get some repairs done. What great customer service to not even charge me for repairs and send me a loaner tent ASAP out to the trail. Then I walk down to the shoe store and get some new kicks! Even though these ones didn’t even hit 500 miles, I am feeling every rock in them recently and that is not fun. Then a quick hitch back to the trail from a super nice college kid who is on a scholarship from Kuwait at Montana State University in Bozeman.

I hit the trail and even though I’m back on mountain biking trails, these ones are muuuuuch more cruisy. I see evidence of a recent race that happened.

And even stumble on a water cache, so thankful for it in this dry section.

This area is rocky in the high desert, and I go back and forth from beautiful meadows to lush forest to dead forest to ridge views.

I am feeling a million times better than I was 24 hours ago, apparently I’m just meant to stay on the trail. I also pick up quite a few pieces of trash from the race, mostly small Gu packets and Hammer Gels. Gonna have to teach these bikers about Leave No Trace!

I have a few good laughs at the fun signs I stumble upon today.

It’s a bug’s life
SOBOs are always on their way to hell

I find the last water source for the day before camping and have to scoop muddy water from a tiny puddle. Thank goodness for filters!

Same water source. One filtered, one not. Too bad the filtered water still tastes like mud.

I find a rocky outcropping to set up camp and climb up on a rock to watch the sunset as I make dinner.

Random thought of the day: how freaking amazing would it be if every mosquito turned into a butterfly!

CDT Day 20

I wake and it’s warm! Best feeling ever. And I didn’t get eaten by a mountain lion, despite tossing and turning all night because I had camped in what looked like a perfect place for a mountain lion den. I break camp and climb up on my rock as I make my standard breakfast of coffee and a PB, trail mix, some kind of sugar (in this case half a cinnamon roll) burrito as I watch the sunrise peak through the mountains.

It’s a cruisy trail morning and then a really long road walk down to an interstate and through a bunch of ranch land. I see more cows than people today.

I run into my friends from the KOA, Bodega and Kaylie, and it’s nice to have people to chat with for a while. But I lose them eventually and then it’s a hot rest of the day winding along old logging roads and mounting bike trails. More long water carries and I end the day by accidentally missing a turn in the trail and ending up on the old CDT trail which requires an insane amount of steep climbing until I reconnect to the new trail. I am drenched in sweat and my calfs are burning when I finally call it quits for the day.

I find a meadow that’s on top of a hill with a little tree protection from the wind that looks perfect.

Despite the ground always looking soft in Montana, it is ridiculously hard once you get about an inch down, so I am always scoping out camping places that look easy enough to drive my tent stakes into since my tent doesn’t use poles and has to be staked out to stay up.

I set up and then realize there are about a million bees swarming my tent. Perks of camping in a glorious flower field. Oh well. They seem to be more interested in my tent than me so I’m not too worried. My hip flexors and IT bands are screaming after all the road walking today so I take awhile to try and stretch them out. The hills don’t seem to bother them as much, but for some reason the consistency of the road walking destroys them. It’s the same problem I have with running and try to stick to trail running instead of road running for that reason. In normal life that is. I’m definitely not running out here with a heavy pack on!

I eat dinner in my tent to avoid the crazy bees and mosquitos. My food bag is getting lighter which will be good for walking tomorrow, but not good for my hungry belly. Luckily I’ll be making a quick stop to resupply in Wise River tomorrow… assuming I can get a ride in the middle of nowhere!

CDT Day 21

Once I scared all the cows off from munching around my tent last night I slept great! Wake to a beautiful morning. I am instantly warmed as the sun finally pops over the mountain as I am eating breakfast. It’s always so crazy to me how it can go from freezing to hot in about three minutes once the sun finally shows its face. Which is why I always try to camp somewhere that i will be in the sunlight in the morning if I can.

It’s a chill day walking along old logging roads, through green forests, and then onto ranch land.

See tons of remnants of old cabins.

I hike with the cows for miles. I love how cows are both terrified of me, a tiny human, and also are not smart enough to actually get away from me. They just keep running the same direction I’m going, mooing as loud as possible. I sing Beatles songs to them, which just makes them moo louder.

I get a hitch into the teeny tiny town of Wise River. I ask for advice as I pass by its waters, but can only hear the distant mooing of cows. The only store in town is a little mom and pop convenience store run by a sweet old lady who also pumps everyone’s gas. Surprisingly, the store has everything I need, even shitty gas station style sandwiches. Hey, anything is better than trail food. I buy a tomato to slice up and put in it and it seriously tastes like heaven. I sit outside and eat my lunch as I pack up my resupply and talk to everyone who comes and goes from the store. Some guy thinks I work there and asks if there’s ice cream. Lucky for him, I know right where it is.

I get a hitch back on the main highway and decide to just walk the last few miles back to trail on the other highway because the views are so pretty.

Then it’s a long dirt road walk to get back to the mountains. I pass the most scenic ranch houses and cabins along the way that sit atop green meadows looking out to the northern mountain range. Omg, I want to live here. Maybe one of these rich country folk will adopt me.

I find a cute, little forest service campground and decide to stay the night. Theres a creek nearby, a pit toilet, a picnic table, and it’s free! I mean what more could a hiker want? The only other people staying there wander over and ask me the normal thru-hiker questions: do I have a weapon (no), how much does my pack weigh (10ish pounds plus food), how do I hike in tennis shoes (trail runners… waaaaay better than boots), am I hiking alone (yes, for now, could change tomorrow). I love telling people about thru-hiking. Any way I can get more people into the outdoors, specifically living outside for a period of time, the better our world will be in my opinion.

I enjoy an early evening despite hiking 27 miles and going into town, all thanks to the cruisy road walking. A beer, a sandwich, and the banter and yelling of a boy scout troup who has just pulled in make me smile. It’s the little things in life.

Work hard all day and even the smallest rewards and conveniences will seem that much more amazing. About to get into some serious climbing tomorrow, so praying the creek will lull me into a blissful slumber tonight.

CDT Day 22

Wake up so rested after a great night of sleep. The morning is cold, but I know I’m gonna be climbing soon so I wait ’til the last second to strip off all my warm clothes and hit the trail. I am in a magical forest. After days of dry trail, there is water everyone. The smell is one I’ve never smelled before, so clean and fresh, and oh so refreshing. I power through the morning and end up a gorgeous lake I would love to camp at.

But it’s only 9 am. Up to a high ridge where I can see forever. Ranchland was great, but how I missed these big mountains. The day seems to fly by for the most part. Big, steady climbs up to gorgeous ridges, mountain lakes, thick forests. This is my kinda hiking.

I can’t believe how pretty this wilderness area is and the fact that it is practically empty. I only see one group of three day hikers all day. I’m guessing this area has stayed hidden, despite its beauty, since it is surrounded by all the epicness of Glacier, The Tetons, and Yellowstone, but I’m secretly glad noone seems to know about it. I’m guessing it’s also pretty hard to access, can’t drive up to these alpine lakes!

I’ve officially been on trail for over three weeks. The first three weeks are always the hardest as your body adjusts and get used to hiking all day. But like anything in life, if you do it long enough, you’ll get good at it. And spending 8-12 hours a day hiking for three straight weeks seems to be the magic amount of time where your body finally starts to get it. I’m not saying it gets easy, you just feel less like you’re dying all the time and are able to do bigger miles, and either the pains lessen or you just get used to them and can forget about them more often. Most new thru-hikers who quit a trail usually do so in the beginning. If I could give new thru-hikers any advice it would be to start slow and give it time. You’ll be surprised how much you can improve in just a few weeks.

I find a gorgeous lake to camp at, shocked once again that noone is here. I eat dinner as I watch the fish jump and fight off the mutant mosquitos who are immune to bug spray. It’s probably going to be a cold night camping above 8,000 feet on a lake shore, but I’m sure the sunrise will be worth it.

CDT Day 23

Wake up much less damp than I expected for sleeping on a lake shore. I’ll take it. And the sunrise.

Tossed and turned all night. Not sure why I haven’t been sleeping well recently when I have been destroying my body every day and should be exhausted. But since I’ve been hiking mostly alone for awhile now, I think the lack of conversation during the day is keeping my mind from being tired. Talking to myself is pretty exhausting, but in a totally different slightly psychotic kinda way.

The day has more gorgeous lake views.

Walking through a ton of hot burned area. And all the beautiful flowers that pop up in the valleys in between that survived the fire.

And of course all the blowdowns, as are now the norm in any burned area. Having flashbacks to The Bob. And all the climbing. It seemed like every time I reach a peak, it’s straight down the other side. And every time I reach a valley, it’s right back up another climb. My legs and feet are definitely on the struggle bus by the end of the day.

I saw five or six NOBOs today. Before today I had only seen two. It’s crazy to pass people who are on the same trail you are, doing the exact same thing, yet neither of you has hiked any of the trail that the other has yet. We’re so connected, yet so not.

I had to hold myself back from devouring all my food tonight. My stomach could not be satisfied. But I still have 23 miles to get to town tomorrow, so gotta save a little!

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