Hydrate or Diedrate – Polebridge to Eureka, Montana
Have you ever owned a plant and forgotten to water it? Waking up to a languid plant child, pitiful and wilted, staring into your soul, begging for a drop of water. So you water the poor plant and by the end of the day they are spry, revived, a complete 180 from before. I am the plant. I dunno about y’all, but I personally suck at drinking water. This has been a problem since birth. I am particularly good at being perpetually and chronically dehydrated. Being on trail, however, actually helps me drink more water because it legitimately gives me energy and life, like a plant. The section from Polebridge to Eureka was a learning point for me and my perpetual dehydration.
And so began the new era of road walks.
Just like the road coming into Polebridge, the road out was equally dusty. Reagan and I happened to be here on a relatively bopping day, so the road was lined in big 4×4 trucks, jeeps, and motorcycles. Our goal for the day was to reach the Hay Creek Trailhead which a little over 11 miles out of Polebridge. The sun was blazing, our foreheads were coated in a layer of sweat, and there was very little sun coverage on the hike out. Luckily, once you’re on Hay Creek Road, you rarely run into another vehicle, so the dust was no longer a big concern. Though, we did run into a few very packed dune buggies. The trees in this area were very tall, very thin, and very close together. It looked like the area hadn’t had any preventative clearing (for fires) because it was so thick and dense with trees.
At this point, it still felt very unreal to be on trail. We blazed through Glacier, got our first resupply, and have been completely off-grid since we began. There is solace and comfort in being detached from the rest of the world. No social media to doom scroll, no responsibilities to uphold. It is you and the wilderness. There is a special kind of feeling to have everything you need to sustain yourself within the confinements of the pack you carry, and to be so far removed from society. It’s quiet: no cars, no crowds, no heavy machinery. Instead, there are birds, the swaying of trees in the wind, the crackle of dirt and rocks beneath your feet as you walk.
From down the cliff to our left, I heard a rustle.
Was it a squirrel? Nah, too big of a sound for a squirrel. Maybe it was a deer? I paused and carefully watched for any movement in the brush. Lo and behold, I see a blip of black trudging through the bushes. “Look at the baaaaaaby,” I say to Reagan, as I point to the bear in the ravine. I watch as his hand clutches the bear spray. He explains that the bear is not a baby, and in fact actually quite large for a black bear. Oops, I think. We watch the bear move briskly towards the creek in the distance, so we carefully return back to hiking. Reagan explains that as the sun sets, bears are more likely to be seen because the heat of the day is dying down and the bears will be ready for food or water. This makes sense to me.
When I say that this hike has been hot, I mean it’s been 95-105 degrees (F) every day. This is river float weather. You know, bathing suits, inner tubes, feet dipped in water all day kind of weather. I don’t blame the bears for avoiding the high heat of the day, I would too if this was my home.
One of the many appeals of The PNT (Pacific Northwest Trail), is that it journeys through the Pacific Northwest. It’s known for the mountains, the abundance of evergreen trees, the overcast weather, the plentiful rain. A dream for people who enjoy a good temperate climate. 2021 however, has been an unusually hot year for this region. Just before leaving for trail, Portland had a record-breaking temperature of 116 degrees (F), after three days of 105+ weather already. Portland aside, the PNW region as a whole was heavily affected by the rise in temperature this year. It was hot y’all.
From mosquitoes to flies to bees, there was no shortage of bugs in the area.
At this point, I am acclimated to the mosquitoes. They were annoying, but the new real problem was the bees. Sweat bees. Every time you set your pack down, a mini-swarm of bees flocked over to occupy. Buzzing little creatures wiggling their butts around and feeding on our salty sweat-drenched packs. It became custom to set our packs in one spot and to sit a few meters away, in order to avoid the pesky bees. Today was our first sliver of reception since getting off the train in East Glacier. We found ourselves at the top of an unnamed peak attempting to take as much cover from the sun as possible. After a quick snack break to rejuvenate myself from the 3k foot climb up, I wandered off to find the best spot for reception. The sun beamed down on me and made it hard to see my screen, so I went to crouch down to shield my phone from the light.
Suddenly, the ditch behind my knee was in immense pain. What the hell, I thought to myself. I attempted to twist my body to look behind my knee to see what had happened. It was red, but I couldn’t see anything else. I don’t think this is what they mean when they say the bee’s knees. I hobbled over to Reagan, “I think I’ve been stung.” He tells me to take my credit card and aggressively rub the edge of the card back and forth around the area I was stung. Apparently, it helps remove the stinger if it’s stuck inside. It hurts, but after a while, the pain dies down a bit. The rest of the day was slow-moving. Lots of breaks, very little water, an abundance of bees, and a big burn area on Mount Locke. We ended the day by settling in near a creek with another hiker, A. We chatted about gear for a bit and discussed the things we were most excited for on trail. It was cool to actually get to spend time with another hiker.
Day six, I wake up with eight dead sweat bees on my bug net. Every night without fail, they buzz around at the peak of my tarp and have their own little party of buzzing. And every morning, without fail, I wake up to a bunch of dead bees. I have yet to figure out a way to save the bees.
Today was exposed ridgelines, scorching heat, and a 12-mile dry carry (a section without water). I quite literally -could not- drink enough water to sustain myself. I found myself in thought loops thinking water, water, waterrrr. It was impossible to distract myself. Heat and water aside, I was on the brink of a UTI from being so dehydrated. It was hard to enjoy the views while being in pain. Rough dude.
Lots of climbs for our baby legs.
Up and up was the theme of the day. Managed to take a nice lunch break at Wam lookout, which was deceptively farther from trail than the guide suggested. Ah, a break from the heat, covered shelter. Reagan and I were having a pretty slow-moving day. It was 2 o’clock and we still had a little over 10 miles to go. Time to PUSH. A few miles later I began to feel sick, disoriented, woozy. I was down to my last sips of water and still miles away from the next water source. Everyone on Guthook said Stahl peak was the bee’s knees in terms of lookouts, but I needed water and I needed it STAT. I was trucking. The guide said there was water at 111.7, so I was on a one-track mission to get there. I kept checking my app and as soon as I hit 111.7, I bushwhacked my way to the lake. AT LAST, the promised land– err water.
I know you’re not supposed to chug water because it won’t adequately absorb into your bloodstream, but I downed a liter so fast. I could feel myself reviving like the desert flora after the first rain of the season. Eventually, I hear Reagan in the distance, “Where are you,” he asked. I had left my pack on the trail, right where I decided to bushwhack. I told him to go like 100 meters farther where there was a game trail I had glossed over. We took a dip in the lake, just in time to dry off a little before the sun plunged behind the ridgeline. Only a few more miles to camp. Our goal was to get as close to Eureka as possible so that we could get into town super early and just veg out. Maximum town time.
Our final descent of this leg.
Our last miles into Eureka consisted of one baby climb and then long beautifully graded switchbacks to a dirt road. Amongst the switchbacks, there is a point where you can stand on the border between the US and Canada. It was silly how much joy it brought to be able to stand in Canada for a second, no border patrol, no fence, just a small cul-de-sac of bushes and trees. You could look out over the border below and see a distinct clearing of trees that went on and on towards the horizon. Definitely an interesting sight to see.
Down and down we went, from a lush deserted forest road to dusty gravel to blacktop cement. The road was lined in dead grass, and as you brushed through it, grasshoppers would fly about. I’m talking like 30-40 grasshoppers fleeing from the grass. Reagan kept accidentally launching them with his toes. I laughed. The sky was hazy, everything around was dead, yellow, brown. Everything except the golf course? Why was there this immaculate golf course in the middle of such a dry, dead, rural town? Interesting.
We followed the highway into town and eventually made our way to the Silverado Motel. We had planned to get a room for the night and treat ourselves to our own bathroom. The lady at the counter snarkily asks, “Did you walk all the way here in that mask?” I gave her some polite response about how I wear masks indoors. I don’t understand the need to be rude to me, but I let it rest, not worth my energy.
Showers? Laundry? Resupply food? Dinner?
Reagan and I managed to knock out 17 miles by noon, so we could have the whole day to do our town chores. It started with showers and getting into our ridiculous town clothes so that we could do laundry. Reagan wore his pink capri-length kitten leggings and his blue rain jacket, while I wore my black custom-made rain pants and my PCT-themed buff as a tube top. Signature looks I tell ya.
As we sat around waiting for laundry to finish, we tirelessly checked the menus for nearby restaurants. Reagan is normally vegan, but on trail is a bit more lax with his cheese intake. I’m just a regular ol’ vegetarian, so I eat eggs, cheese, dairy, etc. though I do try to avoid dairy a bit. Western Montana restaurants though? Burgers, ribs, meat dishes, and fried food. Not that I didn’t expect this, but it was comical at the lack of vegetarian-friendly options. We settled on some local place and ended up ordering:
- fried pickles
- french fries
- sweet potato fries
- onion rings
- tater tots
Reagan also ordered a side salad which was iceberg lettuce, a carrot slice, a cucumber, and a cherry tomato. I ordered a kid’s grilled cheese. Needless to say, our stomachs weren’t feeling the -best- from all this fried food, but we lived to tell the tale.
Our last mission of the day was to resupply, so we sauntered over to the grocery store.
A few miles down the road there was a natural food store, so we planned to get the majority of our stuff at this general grocery store and then any specialty snacks in the morning from the natural food store. Nobody really wore a mask here, so I found myself sticking out like a sore thumb in a multitude of ways. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Made sure to load up on electrolytes and beverages to hydrate myself to combat this potential UTI, since I am susceptible to them. I also brought a full dose of antibiotics, but I really wanted to refrain from having to be on antibiotics if able. I spent the night trying to down a whole bottle of pure cranberry juice, Pedialyte, a Gatorade, water, and some tea.
My goal was to get my pee as clear as possible before hitting trail tomorrow. Time to CAMEL UP.
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