The Hunger Games
Anaconda is a large town, but it didn’t feel like it. Everyone was friendly, and everything I needed was less than a block away from the alternate. I arrived just after 10:00 a.m. and walked the remaining mile to Family Dollar without stopping along the way. There was a long road walk still ahead, and I wanted to get back to the trail before dark.
I bought two resupplies, went to the post office, and mailed a box to Lima. I bounced another resupply to Leadore and sent my microspikes home. Then I went for lunch at the Firefly Café, and it occurred to me that a change of plans might be nice.
I got a room at the Pintlers Portal Hostel, dropped my pack, and went to “The Bighorn Bottle Shop and Wine Bar.” It was a warm day, and I hadn’t showered, so I sat at an outside table. Soon afterwards, that section of Main Street was closed off. The owner of the bar explained what was happening, “Today’s the first market day of the summer.”
Changing my plans had inadvertently presented me with an opportunity to combine two of my favorite pastimes: day-drinking and people-watching. Usually, I only get to do that in bars at airports. It was a relaxing, interesting, fun afternoon.
In the days leading up to my CDT start-date, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t completely at ease. This wasn’t my first thru-hike, but for some reason I felt a little nervous. Some of my worries stemmed from a lingering overuse injury, and some of them were due to the prospect of hiking through Grizzly territory. Other concerns, I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
Within a few days of hiking, my pre-trail nerves started to fade, but the self-doubt remained. Every day, I’d have the same, vague, useless thought.
“Why are you doing this again? This should be easy. You should be better at this.”
It’s true that at times, the trail was rough and climbs were steep. And yes, sometimes the weather was bad and days were long. During the moments when things were actually tough, the recurring thought never crossed my mind. It only ever popped into my head when I was relaxing in my tent in the evening. I’d have sore feet, and they’d have been like that for the last three hours of hiking. I didn’t have any actual injuries, just soles that felt like they’d taken a beating.
I expected the initial mental and physical adjustment to take about three weeks. In that time, I’ve found that my feet gradually toughen up, hiker-hunger takes off, and I forget about all the things that might go wrong. Leaving Anaconda, all of these things happened virtually overnight.
I completed the road-walk out of town and camped at the appropriately named Storm Lake. I pitched my tent in the rain, as thunder echoed around the mountains. Once I’d mopped-up the puddles, wiped-down the floor, and carefully arranged everything, I lay down on my sleeping pad. My feet felt pretty good.
Next morning, day 19, I entered the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, and hiked up to Storm Lake Pass. At the top, I was looking at some of the nicest scenery so far. Half a mile later, I arrived at Goat Flat, which was also gorgeous. I left the alternate behind, rejoined the redline, and continued enjoying the views. No sore feet for the last three hours of the day’s hike, and no throbbing feet once I lay down.
My third day out of Anaconda, I knew something had changed. I’ll skip the details, but I realized my digestive system had slowed to about half of its original speed. (I was still hungry all the time, but that had been true since day one.) My feet were no longer sore by the time I reached camp. That recurring, unhelpful thought never came back. I found myself hiking “in the zone” more of the time. Maybe the timing of all this was just coincidence. Or maybe, just maybe, my body had finally accepted its new, calorie-deficient reality.
Sure, don’t quit on a bad day. But also, don’t quit until after the hiker-hunger kicks in.
A word to the wise
My first glimpses of the mountains of eastern Idaho meant that the initial stage of my hike was almost over. I would soon be spending two weeks following the ID/MT state line all the way to Wyoming. But first, I needed more food.
I arrived at Chief Joseph Pass mid-morning, and Highway 43 was quiet in both directions. If I’d read the FarOut comments when planning my hike, I’d have known this would be a tough hitch. Still, I had a plan, and that plan involved resupplying in Wisdom, Montana. I decided to wait no more than an hour, and if I still hadn’t been picked up, I’d walk to the junction with Highway 93 and hitch there.
After 55 minutes, a car pulled over. I was, as usual, relieved and grateful. If I’m being honest, I also felt a small amount of disappointment. I knew I’d probably have to wait just as long to hitch back out of town. Still, a big thank-you to Sam & Maddy for dropping me off at Wisdom Market.
The store was pretty well-stocked, except in a few critical areas. Many of the items I would normally have bought were sold out or almost gone. For example, there were no Pop-Tarts, only two packets of peanut M&M’s, and just four packs of Ramen. It looked like a swarm of backpacking locusts had recently swept through. Assembling five days’ worth of meals and snacks required a little more creativity than usual.
After repacking my bear canister and ignoring the fact that it was lighter than usual, I went to the Antler Saloon. While eating a brisket sandwich, I chatted to a pair of cyclists, Chris and Diego, who were biking the TransAmerica Trail. It was a leisurely lunch, and I’m glad I didn’t rush, because returning to the CDT was much easier than expected. I only had to wait five minutes for a hitch out of town, so a big thank-you to VonDell. He dropped me off at the trailhead at 3:30 that afternoon, and I hiked until it was almost dark. That evening, I found BBQ sauce on my ear – probably my peak hiker-trash moment.
Next morning, as I double-checked my rations for the next five days, I realized I’d seriously miscalculated.
- Dinners: 4. ✅ Roughly the same number of calories as usual.
- Breakfasts: 4. ❌ Each meal had fewer calories than usual.
- Snacks: 50. ❌ One per hour, for ten hours a day, for five days. Each snack contained eight pretzels and a Nutter Butter cookie. Nowhere near enough calories.
- Emergency snacks: 5. ❌ Two packets of peanut M&M’s and three packets of “Caramel Cold Brew” M&M’s. Still too few calories. (I don’t even particularly like coffee-flavored stuff. Neither do the patrons of Wisdom Market, because these were the only M&M’s left.)
Until I reached Leadore, I would have to survive on less than 2,000 calories a day. (Normally, I eat about 3,000 calories per day on trail, which is about as much as I can carry.)
That day, the only notable thing was that nothing notable happened. The rest of the section was more interesting. There were mountain passes and saddles, ridge-walks and long-range views, alpine lakes and bare-granite peaks. There were thru-hikers, normal hikers, runners, horse riders, ATVers, and a family of five, fishing. (Thank-you to NOBO “Princess Anne” for the Slim Jim.) I camped in a cabin with no roof, had a close encounter with a pine marten, and crossed the most comically ineffective bridge on the entire CDT. But overall, my favorite day was the penultimate one.
I raced out of camp just after six with a cloud of mosquitoes hot on my heels. Soon after, fellow SOBO “Gatsby” overtook me. He breathlessly explained that Beaverhead 100k runners would be passing us that morning, and we’d be passing one of the aid stations. Then he disappeared in the direction of an off-trail spring, leaving me to daydream about the possibility of snacks.
The first runners reached me about two hours later, looking remarkably fresh. The 55k and 100k races share the same course, so the first runners I saw had been running for an hour, not four. I only discovered this later. I stepped aside for each runner, which, given the rough terrain, didn’t actually slow me down much. Everyone was really friendly, and some runners gave me a high-five. One even greeted me with a “SOBOOOOOH!!” as he passed.
The aid station was run by members of Salmon Running Club, and they were just as friendly. They explained when and where the two races started and invited me to help myself to some food. There were PB&J sandwiches cut into quarters, and little cups of gummy bears and chocolate M&M’s. The 100k runners hadn’t yet arrived, so I had to exercise a little (OK, a lot) of self-restraint.
I met the first 100k runners a couple of miles before Lemhi Pass, and they looked more like I expected. They had the appearance of people who’d been going for at least six hours. Lemhi Pass, the 55k starting line, was busy. I chatted to a few bystanders before continuing to the Sacagawea Memorial, where there was peace and quiet, shade and spring water. There, I met a friendly couple, Gene and Renée, who were visiting from Texas. They were staying in Leadore for a few days and invited me to drop by when I was in town.
My afternoon consisted of a hot road-walk through meadows and sagebrush, followed by a 2,000 foot climb up a rough, steep, dirt road. When I had cellphone service, I called Randy (a Leadore trail angel) and asked if he could pick me up at Bannock Pass the next day. Then, I took an extended break, and flopped down in the shade at the roadside. The calorie deficit was starting to take its toll, and I was running on fumes.
I heard it before I saw it. An ATV approached slowly around a corner, gradually making its way down the steep, rocky road. It stopped next to me, and the driver asked if I needed anything. To cut a long story short, he and his wife gave me an ice-cold bottle of water, a bowl of chicken/pasta salad, and a ham/lettuce/coleslaw wrap. As they drove away, I couldn’t believe my luck. To say that I was deliriously, euphorically happy would only be a slight exaggeration.
Next morning, there were some remarkable views of the Lemhi Range on the other side of the valley. Had I been in less of a hurry, I might have stopped to enjoy the scenery, but Randy had agreed to collect me at 3:30 p.m. In the end, I arrived two hours early. I waited in the meagre patch of shade provided by a row of portable toilets (Bannock Pass was the 100k starting line). I was glad I wasn’t hitching: I only saw one car while I was waiting, and it was driving away from town. With nothing else to do, I tracked the progress of its dust plume as it disappeared into the vast expanse of sagebrush.
Randy dropped me off at the “Stage Stop Junction” store just before it closed. There was a small group of SOBOs outside, some I knew, others were new. While I ate my sandwich, everyone swapped stories about their experiences so far, and then I went to see if there was space at the Mustang Inn. There was not.
I crossed the road, spotted Gene and Renée at the RV park, and went to say hello. We chatted for an hour or two, and they invited me to stay for dinner. It was dark by the time I left, and Renée gave me a lift to Leadore City Park, where I camped for the night. It was one of my favorite evenings on the CDT, and a perfect way to end a section that had been full of ups and downs. And having recently eaten the largest pork chop ever, it was the first time in five nights that I didn’t fall asleep to the sound of a rumbling stomach.
Welcome to Clive’s Discount Timber Structures! Can I interest you folks in a matching pair of decorative bridges? They’re priced to sell, and significantly cheaper than a single span of the same overall length. I’ll even throw in a free set of steppingstones because you seem like nice people.
Clive, owner and head salesman at CDT Structures.
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