Don’t Forget to Enjoy the Little Things (PNT pt. 4)
Enjoy the Rain
In the night a thunderstorm rolled lethargically through the valley. Little rain came of it, but the boom of thunder came from directly above. In a way it was soothing. Natural.
Rangers with Guns
In the morning I packed my camp and strolled easily through the morning. After the isolation I had felt over the pass few days, my heart pumped adrenaline through me at the sight of people, day hikers, coming up the trail. In a sense, my body was preparing itself for a danger that was false. There was no fear in me, but anxiety at the presence of others, nonetheless.
I came onto the beach around the west end of the lake, right at the entrance of the parking lot. People gathered to sit and look out at the water, others were swimming along side their dogs in the cool morning. I waived at a ranger as he came down from another trail.
“You come all the way through?” he asked.
“All the way from Chief Mountain,” I confirmed. “I’m doing the PNT.”
“I know what you’re doing,” he said with a smile. “Where’d you camp last night? You got a permit?”
“Yeah, I have a permit. Uh, I camped at Waterton,” I said, stumbling over my words.
“The township?” he asked in slight amazement.
“No, sorry, that’s not right. I camped at the Bowman Lake Head campsite. Waterton was way back. Whoops. I did camp there the other night. There was another guy who was supposed to camp there with me, but I think he turned around before Stoney Indian.” I was rambling. Damn ranger making me nervous. There was another one with a gun on his hip, off talking to an older couple on the beach. They seemed to be having a pleasant conversation. I was much more comfortable with this round bellied old guy and his mustache. He had a jolly vibe to him.
“How was Stoney Indian? See any grizzlies?” the ranger asked me.
“Hm. Oh, no grizzlies, but I did see a black bear eating dandelion down at Waterton Lake. Stoney Indian was pretty socked in with snow. Had to take it slow, dig steps in a couple spots.”
The ranger and I proceeded to discuss the conditions over the last fifty miles, talking about everything from the wash outs to the specific bushwhacks you had to do in some places. He seemed very familiar with all the trail conditions on the west side of Brown Pass. Internally, I felt a bit chastened that I had thought so little of the rangers and their ability to gather beta. Though, again, I thought about the stout blonde back at Two Medicine trying to fear monger everyone out of their trip.
“Oliver, who owns the hostel in Polebridge, he should be down at the entrance gate when you walk through. You’ll probably see him,” the ranger told me.
I nodded, “That’s good to know. I’ll probably try and talk to him before I head into town, then. Thanks.”
The ranger nodded in return and I went to lie on the rocky beach and dry out my things. My tent had not been set up quite as taught as I would have liked it during the night and do to its design, some of my items that had been pushed to the side were a little waterlogged from the rain.
I spread out each item in the sunniest spot that I could find. The hardest to bear was my journal having been drenched, the pages beginning to curl up around the edges and the graphite becoming slightly smeared. Everything else that was wet did not require much notice.
Bear, Bears, Bears
Sitting for awhile, I ate lunch and then made my way out of the park officially. There was a gravel road walk down the mountain in which many cars passed me. At one point a car stopped and honked and I looked up to find a black bear right next to the car about sixty feet up the way. I started yelling and proceeded to walk along the left side of the road, opposite the bear. The bear itself seemed tired and lazy and I was not overly concerned with it. The car rolled by me and the guy driving rolled down his window.
“Are you alright?” He asked, glancing nervously back at the bear.
“I’ll be fine,” I said, waving him off and continuing.
An hour or so later I made it down to the park entrance and the ranger station. I walked into the station and asked if Oliver was in. The young ranger there told me he was out doing a short loop and would be back any minute if I wanted to wait. I nodded and went back outside to sit on the gravel. I pulled out my phone and scratched my head before walking back inside. The young ranger came back out to see what I wanted.
“Any chance I can get the wifi?” I asked.
I shrugged. “Worth an ask,” I said, walking back outside to sit and read my book.
Oliver eventually came back, and let me tell you, what a character. Nicest guy you’ll ever meet, with long strawberry blonde hair and the strongest Canadian accent I have ever heard. My whole interaction with this man had me enraptured. He asked me if I had a moment to discuss all the trail conditions going through, and I agreed.
“So, I hear you run the hostel in town,” I said. “But I was told that you like three day advanced notice before showing up. At least, that’s what a guy named Eric who I was hiking with told me.”
“Oh, no, hikers are an exception,” he said. “I had Eric stay with me a couple days ago.”
“So he’s okay then!” I was relieved. “I didn’t see him after the first day and I figured he must have turned back before the pass.”
“Seems like what happened,” said Oliver.
Oliver gave me the rundown, forty dollars to stay in a bunk, and then the “hiker discount”, he specifically said in air quotes, of twenty dollars to camp in his yard. There is no doubt in my mind that I made a face at that.
“I’ll probably go check it out,” I said. I was not yet tired enough to pay forty bucks for a bed, and I definitely was not desperate enough in the middle of nowhere Montana to pay twenty dollars to camp.
The Little Settlement of Polebridge
Taking my leave, I made my way the last mile in a half into Polebridge. I don’t know what I expected, but it was not the little frontier style trade post that made up the majority of infrastructure. Some locals told me that things had improved a lot in the last ten years, when before electricity had been a dear commodity.
My first action when getting into town was to resupply and find a place to charge my electronics. I went into the Mercantile, which I found out later from the employees is lovingly called “The Merc”, and looked around for what I could scrounge up. It was not a wide selection, especially for me, who does not carry a stove, but I grabbed a jar of peanut butter, a fresh made loaf of cinnamon monkey bread, and a handful of bars, and felt like I had made out pretty well.
Outside, I walked up the fruit stand right off to the side, seeing their power strip, and asked if I could charge my phone and battery bank. The owner was standing their with her baby talking to the cute blonde with dreads running the stand. They looked at each other, and the owner shrugged with a smile.
“Get your things charged,” the owner told me. She had an eastern European accent that I later found out was Czech.
I plugged my things in and then went back into the Merc for a beer. At two dollars and fifty cents, I thought the deals were pretty good. Returning back outside, I made my way to a picnic table to enjoy my hard earned beverage and read while I waited.
After awhile, I came up and started talking to the cute blonde. I’ll leave her name out for purposes of discretion, but we started talking about how we both ended up in such a place in the middle of nowhere, each on adventures of our own. She gave me a cut of rhubarb from the garden, which tasted like a Warhead, you know, those super sour lozenge candies? The whole interaction left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I had to unplug my electronics after because she was closing up for the night. After that, I went and sat back down on the porch of the Merc and contemplated my next move.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
I decided to check out the hostel, but it was quiet and empty, just a void for my money so I could lie alone staring at the ceiling. I left just as Oliver came rolling by on his bike, coming home from the ranger station.
“Hitting the trail?” he asked.
“I think so,” I said.
“No worries! Be safe.”
Young and Tongue Tied
However, I did not head back to trail. Instead, I walked back to the Merc, and bought another beer. The cute blonde was inside getting some food after her shift and we exchanged a few awkward words. Blanching at my thick tongue, I went back to sit on the porch, read, and sip my beer like an idiot.
Having finished my beer, I moved to leave, but I saw the cute blonde and one of the cashiers from the Merc talking across the lawn. I approached awkwardly.
“Hey!” they said in unison.
“So, I was about to head back to trail and find a campsite for the night, but I thought, I’m probably not going to see any people for a few days, so, I figured I’d ask if ya’ll wanted to hangout?”
I already knew they were super nice from talking to them before, but they seemed ecstatic about the idea. I ended up hanging out with them and some of the other employees until after dark. I was led through a whole yoga session. The cute blonde made me a bratwurst. I gave everyone four leaf clovers. They gave me more snacks to bring on trail. It was a really wholesome experience, and I felt drawn to stay, but knew I needed to get moving. They were just lighting the fire to get the sauna started when I said I had to get walking. The sun had already set and I knew I’d be heading out in the dark.
I bid farewell to everyone and headed off for the road out of Polebridge. The cute blonde stopped me and grabbed my number before I went. I do not think I will ever hear from her, and there is no service or wifi in Polebridge, but then again, you never know what the trail will bring.
I walked up the road in the dark and found my way to the forest service road that headed up the mountain. My decision saw me walking three miles uphill in the dark before I chose a spot that was only somewhat to my liking. I noticed that a giant industrial roll of toilet paper was jammed on the branch of a tree behind where I set up my tent. That was interesting. Ahead of me lie eighty miles until Eureka, and little did I know, they were going to be a tough eighty miles.
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