Hanging Out in Bonners Ferry (PNT Pt. 7)

Sometimes a lot can happen while in town. Meeting locals and looking for a place to sleep always leads to interesting situations.

The view climbing out of the valley after Highway One.

A Kindly Interrogation

My ride into Bonners Ferry was a casual interrogation; no one person allowing another to finish before I was drilled with another question. I tried my best to wade through the bombardment and answer everyone to the best of my ability. There was sympathy for me, and still more questions. Mostly, the old group of hikers wanted to know where I was headed. That is always difficult to answer, as I will not familiarize myself with a route until after I have already passed through it, and even then, the locals always want to know more topographical knowledge than I can provide.


We arrived into the downtown and everyone piled out of the truck. The woman I had been sitting next to offered me a ride to the grocery store and I readily accepted. Every bit of help makes my life easier out here.

“You want to go to the Super One. The Safeway is expensive,” she said.

“Everything is expensive now,” I replied.

I thanked her profusely as she let me out in the parking lot. Inside, I grabbed food for the stretch to Metaline Falls, about six days and one hundred six miles ahead. Back outside, I found an outlet as I was discarding food packaging. I ended up sitting there for the next three hours as my battery bank charged, typing up new blog posts and putting together other content. The shelter of the awning shielded me from the light rain that began to fall.

Eventually my battery bank was charged up and it was time for me to move. I made my way out into the rain and started walking up the street with my thumb out, it being about two miles back to the downtown.

Hitching Across Town

I had a mind to find some dinner, and the group of hikers had pointed out the fairgrounds as a place I might pitch my tent for the night. As always, people gave me the oddest looks as I waited for a car to stop. A local sheriff drove by and I made sure to smile and wave, having been told that hitching was illegal in Idaho.

An older gentleman pulled over and gave me a ride, offering suggestions for places to eat. There were only a few options and I thanked him as he dropped me off in the downtown. Downtown Bonners Ferry is a quiet place, and quaint, right next to the river and with the hills looming around. All of these old mining towns have a similar vibe, very old western, with old buildings sporting much newer paint jobs.

What’s for Dinner?

I went into Mugsy’s Tavern and Grill and ordered myself a burger and a beer, pulling out my keyboard and typing up as much as I could while I ate. The staff there was friendly, but again, the locals must have thought I was some kind of strange animal.

The Fairground

When I left the restaurant I headed down the road along the river to the fairground and town park. There were kids playing on the playground. A lot of kids. A whole group of over a dozen Mennonites showed up while I was wandering around. I found outlets, water, porta-potties, and a gazebo I could throw my sleeping bag down in, but with all the people, I decided I would come back to set up after dark.

Jack’s Club

Wandering back into town, I looked around for some place to go; anything at all to entertain myself. Right down the street from Mugsy’s was a bar called Jack’s Club. I figured I would go grab another beer and see if there was anyone interesting to talk to.

There was no one inside the bar except the bartender, a skinny man in his early thirties with tattoos all up his arms, neck, and face. In his hands was a bone that he was carving away at with a little scraping tool. He introduced himself as Archie and grabbed me a Blue Moon. I asked to see his carving and was amazed at the fine detail, sinuous folds of billowing cloth draped around a robed figure that I presumed was Death. I complimented Archie on his talent.

We sat and talked for awhile, mostly about nothing. A flat screen television behind the bar played reruns of Married with Children. The place had a weird vibe, and I kind of liked it.

“Your name’s Jack, huh?” Archie said with a sly grin. “You know you’re in Jack’s Club, right?”

“I know. That’s part of the reason I came in here. Is the owner Jack?”

“There is no Jack,” Archie said. “Sometimes I pretend I’m Jack.”

A Place to Stay

I told Archie that I was hoping there would have been people at the bar so that I could find a place to stay for the night. After a moments hesitation he shrugged.

“You can stay upstairs if you want,” he said. “You’re not gonna steal anything, right?”

“I promise I won’t steal anything,” I said. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah, I’ll show you upstairs.” Archie put his bone sculpture down on the counter and came around the bar. I followed him, leaving my stuff downstairs. “There’s another guy staying here,” he said. “I just gotta be sure he’s alright with you staying too.”


A New Friend

We went up a flight of stairs from the foyer, right inside the entrance. At the top, Archie knocked on a door. “Hey David. I’ve got a hiker here who I was thinking about letting stay upstairs. Just wanted to make sure you had no problem with it.”

David came out of his room, a broad shouldered man, with a scruffy beard and a goofy smile.

“Aw man, I’ve got no problem with it,” said David. “The more the merrier. Hey man, nice to meet you. I’m David” He shook my hand and I smiled back at him. David had a certain happy-go-lucky energy.

“I’m Jack, nice to meet you.”

“I’m gonna show Jack where he can sleep, but afterwards, do you mind showing him the shower and kitchen and everything?”

“Aw, yeah man, that’s no problem,” said David.

“Wait, I can shower?” I asked, amazed.

“Yeah, there’s a shower in the bathroom,” said Archie.

“Wow, you guys are awesome,” I said.
Archie showed me to a small room with the electrical box in it. It was perfect.

“Does this work?” Archie asked.

“Yeah! This is great,” I said.

“Feel free to close the door for privacy.”

“Alright. Thank you.”

I asked Archie and David if either had a cigarette I could bum. David was happy to oblige. He went into his room and grabbed a whole pack handing it to me when he came back.

“Here you go, man. Take em,” he said.

“Oh no, that’s alright, I just want the one,” I said. “Care to join me?”

“Alright man. Well, if you want anymore feel free to take some. Yeah! I’d love to join you!” David exclaimed. He led me out the back of the bar and we lit up in the back lot.

I then came to learn that David was a recovering meth addict, five years clean. He had a kind heart and was full of a love of life and a compassion for the suffering of others. We talked about his work leading sailing trips for people in recovery out on Flathead lake for the last five years, and he offered me a job and to teach me how to sail if I came up to Montana. A really genuine guy, and a class act too. I made sure to give him one of my four leaf clovers.

A few more people came into the bar over the next few hours, and though I chatted with them a little, I ended up retiring early, taking a shower and setting up my spot to sleep. I had no idea how muggy and hot that enclosed room would get overnight.

The next morning as I tried to leave, I found I was locked in. As I came back upstairs, David had just come out of the bathroom. I told him my predicament and he laughed and let me out the back door. I joined him for another cigarette and we exchanged contact info.

Getting Work Done

After that I found myself at Under the Sun, where I got a delicious breakfast burrito and drank lots of tea as I continued the effort of getting blog posts typed up. It really ends up being a full time job on the off days.

I spent most of the day at Under the Sun and they were very nice there. The owner came up to me and wanted to know about my hike, even going so far as to take down my Trek blog and Instagram info so that she could follow along on the adventure.

While I sat there, David called me to see if I wanted to work for a couple hours moving sheetrock. I declined because I needed time to do the blog posts. I also had a chat with a hiker, trail name “Bamboo”, over the phone so that I could give him a lowdown on the trail conditions so far. Everyone wanted to know about the snow.

The Guys at Uberleben

As it came around to five o’clock I grabbed some ice cream and headed out to the picnic tables outside so I could continue writing. A man came by pushing a dolly as I tried desperately to catch up my writing as much as possible. He had passed by earlier, and the boxes he had been moving were gone. This time he stopped. The man had a strong jaw with about two weeks of growth on it, and a ball cap to cover a receding hairline.

“Are you out hiking the PNT?” he asked.

“I am, at that,” I said, smiling.

“That’s awesome. I think you’re the first hiker to come through town this year,” he said.

“I probably am. I think I started about two weeks ahead of anyone else because of the snow. It’s been pretty gnarly,” I said.

“Yeah, I bet. Looks like there is still a lot above fifty-five hundred feet.”

I nodded.

“I’m Greg by the way,” the man said, holding out a hand.

“Jack. I go by Captain Jack as my trail name,” I said, shaking his hand.

“Captain Jack. That’s a good one,” he said. “I work at Uberleben across the street there. Have you checked it out?” He was pointing at the storefront right on the other side of the road.

“No, I haven’t, but I wanted to. I saw it says ‘modern fire craft’ on the door. What’s that about?”

“Here, come on over and I’ll show you. We’re about to close,” he said.

I looked at all of my stuff sitting out on the table and hesitated.

“You’re stuff should be fine. You’ll be able to see it all from the window. Can you run fast incase anyone comes and takes it?”

I laughed. “Yeah, I can run pretty fast.”

Greg led me across the street and took me inside the store. There were a couple of guys hanging out inside and Greg introduced me.

“This is Jack. He’s the first PNT hiker to come through town this year,” said Greg.

I felt kind of awkward. “I thought this place looked cool and wanted to come check it out,” I said, trying to reason out why I was standing there. “What do you guys do exactly?”

Tim the owner, a husky man with a black beard, got up and took me over to a little table that they had their wares displayed on. It turned out that Uberleben made portable wood fired camping stoves. Tim did a demonstration for me, showing me one of the stoves and lighting a wick with a ferro rod.

“Do you have a titanium stove?” I asked.

“We do, but they are currently sold out,” said Tim.

“I don’t carry a stove, unfortunately, but this is all very cool,” I said.

“You don’t carry a stove? Then what do you eat?” asked Tim.

“I make burritos,” I told him.

“You make them before you go out on trail?” Greg asked.

“No, I make them as I go. They’re quick and easy to throw together,” I said.

“What do you put in them?” Greg asked.

“Oh, you know, tuna packets, bacon bits, cheese, sometimes cream cheese or parmesan, summer sausage, crushed up potato chips. Sometimes I’ll pack out an avocado. Also, Ranch. Ranch lasts up to two weeks unrefrigerated.”

“You’re making me hungry,” said another guy sitting around the front entrance.

“Here,” said Tim. “Something before you go.” He went into the back and brought out a beautiful wooden mug tied with a leather chord in the handle. “A gift from us.”

“Oh, wow, thank you. This is gorgeous. Is it hand made?” I asked.

“Laser cut,” said Tim. “Also if you were interested in getting a stove, I could give you twenty percent off.”

“That’s really tempting, but like I said, I don’t cook and I can’t really spend that kind of money right now. But, dang, yeah, that is super tempting.”

“You know what,” said Tim. “I’ll give you fifty percent off everything. That will make it around fifty bucks for the stove and pot.”

I exhaled through my teeth and clucked my tongue. “You know what? Let’s do it,” I said. I was shaking my head at myself on the inside. This was one thing that I did not need to carry. I held the aluminum stove when I came in. It was not light.

“Alright!” said Tim, clapping his hands together. “Let’s get him the full hook up.”
They all went into the back and started grabbing things for me, a stove, aluminum pot, laser-cut wooden spoon, a ferro rod and striker, a handful of wicks.

“Wow, this is a lot,” I said.

“Have you used a ferro rod before?” Tim asked.

“Uh, maybe. But I don’t think I got it to work,” I said.

“Here, try it on this one and make sure you can do it,” he said, demonstrating a few strikes onto the display for me. I nodded and took the striker from him. “Oh, you’re left handed? You might need to- never mind you got it.” I got the wick to light after three strikes. It would never again be that easy.

“Do you want the packaging?” Greg asked me, placing the items on the counter.

“Uhm, no. You’ll reuse it if I don’t take them right?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, we’ll reuse it,” he said.

I picked up the aluminum pot and weighed it in my hands, lifting it up and down.

“It’s a bit heavy isn’t it?” said Tim. “You know what, do we have any titanium pots in the back?” Tim asked one of the others.

“Yeah, I think we do,” someone said.

“Go grab him one. We’ll just charge him for the aluminum pot,” Tim said.

“Are you sure?” I asked, eyebrow raised. This was getting to be a bit much.

“Every ounce matters,” he said.

“I’m not gonna argue with that,” I replied.

They rung me up for fifty dollars after giving me almost two hundred dollars worth of stuff. I thanked them, gave Tim a four leaf clover and said I would make an Instagram post, or something, to show them off. The whole thing was a whirlwind experience.

Friendly Locals, Rides to Trail

Finally, I made it back outside and tried to finish up my blog posts, but then Greg came down and sat with me. He was a nice guy, so I postponed what I was doing and we started chatting. I learned that he was out of the Marines after ten years and he was back in his hometown while he figured out what to do next.

We sat and talked for awhile and eventually he offered to give me a ride back up to trail that night. I was hesitant to agree at first, because I really wanted to get the blog post done and posted, but then he agreed to wait with me while I did it. Luckily, I was almost done when he came up to me in the first place, so I just had to run through some edits and make the post. It was really hard to do while holding a conversation at the same time, but again, Greg seemed really nice and I was happy to have the company.

We finally started driving back up to where the trail crossed the highway around eight thirty. He dropped me off on the side of the road in the growing dusk and I thanked him again, getting his contact info before getting out of the car.

And so, I began again to walk.

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