I left the motel just as the bar was closing for the night.
I chose to take Montana Highway 37 out of Eureka.
The night is still and sleepy. I hear only crickets and the hum-thrumming of electricity. A water spigot sounds in the distance.
I turn my headlamp to its red light setting to see the stars. So brilliant.
I made it bright again to see a skunk. It began to wobble towards me. Fearful of getting sprayed, I ran a few paces back from which I came. I waited there until it was safe to pass.
From the corner of my eye there was a flash. I turned quickly to see the brightest falling star I have ever seen, a glitering tail of incandescence cascading in its wake.
After a few miles of walking the bike path, then the road, I came to a lightly wooded flat space. Behind a tree, I spread out my tarp and mat. The inky dark of night was fading away. It is 0444. I must rest my eyes now, if they are to get any closure before the sun.
A car stopped and parked. I could see its headlights carving hollows in the remaining darkness. I thought of my ice axe and bear spray. I thought of how I should lie flat.
I sit in the lounge/casino attached to the Silverado hotel in Eureka. Alone in the room, I swivel on a bar stool sipping hot coffee from a styrofoam mug. Two small, plastic wrapped blueberry muffins have been left for me. A sweet gesture.
A large flat screen TV displays our current president. The world boggles my mind. Next flash: Mississippi shooting in Walmart.
I hit it off with a kind lady named Brenda, who works at the Silverado. We chatted about life and trails.
I asked her if there was a post-office downtown, and she offered to help get me there when her shift ended, early that afternoon.
At around 1230, Brenda and I were on our way. I sent off some of the weighty, unnecessary items I was carrying. She then offered to take me around town. I could not believe it! The support lifted my spirits, and saved my tired feet.
We waited for a clearing to merge back in to traffic and head to the organic food store.
“Eureka is only seven miles from Canada.” Brenda said, “A lot of Canadians have been moving in. The town does not have street lights. Due to the build-up in traffic, this may have to change soon.”
After the food store we travelled further in to town. She pointed me in the direction of two thrift-stores, and told me to come find her in the bar when I was done. “Okay, thank you!” I smiled and set off.
In the second thrift-store I entered, I found a pair of crock sandals, just my size.
Feeling triumphant, I returned to the bar to find my new friend. I entered, exclaiming gleefully “My feet are free!”.
I pulled up a seat next to Brenda. She offered to buy me a drink. I gratefully accepted, ordering a vodka-soda. I enjoyed her company very much. Her kindness and encouragement helped me gather the strength to refocus, and enter the next leg of my journey.
After we finished our drinks, she dropped me back at the motel. I hugged her through the car window, and wished her farewell.
When I re-entered the hotel lounge, I met two thru-hikers that had just arrived. They were very kind. When I began to speak of the challenges of Mt. Locke, they told me that they had taken the original PNT, not the primary. They did not go over Mt. Locke.
We chatted at the bar as I ordered my next resupply online, to be shipped to The Yaak Mercantile and Tavern.
I snagged a Sawyer-Squeeze filter from a hiker-box, returned to my hotel room, organized my things a bit, and got distracted with distractions.
Soaking one foot at a time in an Epsom salt bath I made in an empty trash bin, I watched the story of Pocahontas on the Smithsonian channel.
I heard an animal early this morning. I played my quena (wooden flute) before fetching my food bag.
Waking up at 6700 ft, it was much chillier than last night.
It rained gently on my tent as I slumbered. I have been enjoying the Montana summer-time.
Experiencing some upper back and shoulder pain, I applied 1/2 strip of KT tape around each shoulder. Last time I did this it ripped my skin upon removal. I am hoping for better results this time.
Only 29 miles to Eureka!
As I pack up my food after an oatmeal/chia/strawberry breakfast with a protein/coffee chaser, I take “foodventory” (a term my friend “Suds” from PCT, 2016 loved to use). Not too shabby. Even planning 20 plus mile days as being the ideal (and only averaging 15), it looks like, with 29 miles between Eureka and I, I did pretty darn good. I am tempted to eat the last of the “good stuff” (nuts, dried fruit [oh my goodness dried pineapple is divine], the last standing lara bar),the instant satisfiers.
This trail is teaching me more than the others, that what lies ahead is unknown. Life can throw you a curb ball at any moment. Though I still believe that one can accomplish most anything if they put their mind to it, the path to get there is never a certain one. What can be controlled is the recourses one has to keep safe and alive and strong, eyes and spirit open and uplifted, venturing forth, to the beauty any struggle will always offer.
And, yes! To the bed and shower and food-laden land that is Eureka.
As I review and pack the maps and guide book notes for the day, the sunshine dries my tent. I will take Trail 339 past Therriault Pass, continuing through the Kootenai National Forest, until I turn northwest on to Blacktail Trail 92 near the Ten Lakes Scenic Area.
I alternate between hungry and less hungry. Never full.
I find a hole in my tent as I am packing up. I am tempted to put it off, but I quickly stitch it before packing it away so that it does not get worse. The mosquitos get their morning fill as I stand stationary to sew.
I lifted my trekking poles to set off. Something had chewed off and ran away with the wrist strap of my right pole in the night! I searched around for it but couldn’t find it. Darn it. After my salty sweat, I suppose. Maybe that is also where the hole in my tent came from. A bit saddening. I like my pole strap
I will to try to make a new one in town.
It must have been a small creature, as it made it’s way into my tent vestibule.
I carry on.
I think of my life, of my body–my vessel for travel. I think of how each muscle and finger and toe is utilized until they hurt; how this enables me carry myself to places that lift my spirit to where it longs to. I am so thankful.
I stop at a log for a break. I set off again making sure to stay on trail 339 at all junctions.
I can see town in the distance
The descent is all chipmunks an butterflies.
Wait, wrong descent. The junction was confusing and I did not reference all my sources. I noticed half a mile in to a steep descent that I seemed to be turning south. This was not right. Back up I went.
I thought of how the shape of trails change at junctions. Each trail has its personal traits, some sense of continuity.
Dogs bark in the distance as I ascend towards Blacktail junction. I stop at a log and take ibuprofen for my shoulder and feet.
Little Therriault lake was beautiful from the ridgeline. The shale and sheer drop was intimidating.
As the trail climbed and become more wooded, some of the inclines were so steep I nearly lost traction on the smooth dirt. It would have proved terribly difficult without my trekking poles.
I break by a small and beautiful stream, I rose bug-bitten, but refueled, rejuvenated, and with plenty of water!
I came to the junction.
The descent was beautiful. The trail is clearly routed, but rough. Many fallen trees were on the path.
A burnt orange sunset shone through the trees as I walked north near the border.
Soon, on a switchback of an old mining road, I grew too weary to carry on.
The grit is building within me. Never before on a trail has this happened so fast.
Though my journey has certainly been rough, and slower than expected, I have many blessings. The sun continues to shine, the birds sing, the wildflowers dance and blow perfumed kisses. I have food, I have water, I can ambulate and walk and climb, I have both shoes. I will make it to Eureka.
I will merge from this tent and smile and laugh. I was scared last night. I am thankful I had the tools, the calm, and the sense to lead myself to safety.
It may have been nothing but a walk in a park for the more serious and skilled navigator. For me, it was the first real slice of wilderness reality this trail had to offer. The first true navigational challenge I had ever faced alone. I had not anticipated this until the infamous seven mile bushwhack in Idaho.
Thank you world, thank you body, thank you mind, thank you you spirit. Thank you loved ones. I adore you.
My energy and spirits rise with the strength of the sun. It is nearly 1000. I am still not fully packed. I don’t mind. I am patient this morning. I have nourished myself and tended my spirits. Time well spent. I am ready for the love and the struggle and the touches and the scrapes and the smells and the challenges and the lessons of today. Alone, on a journey through wilderness, each day is bursting with life and learning. I can feel myself expanding and contracting, growing and contorting and thinking in ways I have never exercised before. This experience is magic.
My body is growing stronger.
A deer runs down the trail in the distance. So graceful, they leap unimaginably high and lope off into the woods.
As I walk, I repeat to myself. “I did it. I can do it again. It will only get easier.”
In reviewing the elevation chart, today does not look nearly as challenging as yesterday…these first few miles are a breeze.
I can feel the spring water heal my body with each sip as I walk.
I also feel heartburn.
I am thankful for the easy terrain.
The sky looks dark above me. Heavy clouds. A strong breeze.
My awareness of the dark-dangerous-beauty of the wild had been rekindled.
A prairie dog scurries across trail quickly, nearly under my feet. It provided a shock. I let out a hearty laugh. It was pleasant. I needed that. The wilderness, still, is light of heart as well.
A snake slithered by. Small and black like the last.
I came across an empty trail register. I was carrying an extra Moleskin notebook. I pulled it out, signed my name and date and trail, and placed it in the empty box.
I am near a road. Two cars watch as they drive slowly by.
People always seem to populate on the weekend.
This time I did not mind the road walk so much, with its relative safety and eastside creek.
I heard an unknown sing-song call in the distance to the west. I listened as the creek wandered off and returned.
Unsettling billows of dust were turned up by passing vehicles that did not care to slow.
The sheriff did not slow, dust rose
I quickly got sick of the road.
I watched as a woman pedaled by on a bicycle.
A van stopped. I was offered a soda by the man, woman, and two young girls inside. The man was very inquisitive, almost uncomfortably so. He asked how men reacted to me on trail. “What men?” I responded. He asked something else I did not quite make out, nor did I care to. The young girls wished me luck, and they drove off.
I came to a road junction and stopped for a break in a dirt lot, roadside.
A man on a bike came in to view. He slowed, then stopped entirely. We watched eachother. His behavior was curious. I realized that he must have thought I was a bear. “I’m human!” I called out. He did not hear me. He continued his approach with caution.
After realizing that I was not a bear, he stopped for a chat. Soon a friend of his biked up behind him. They were a group bike-packing down from Canada.
The conversation, the shared stories of hardships and reward, were comforting and rewarding to both parties.
It is always encouraging to meet fellow travelers along the way.
Not long after they left, I heard hollering from the woods across the road. “Hold on a minute!” I watched, very curious. A man came out of the brush with a bucket to a honking car. He must have been collecting huckleberries. An elderly lady smiled from the driver’s seat as they passed.
I continued on. I considered when I needed to change the declination on my compass.
Though some cars did slow, many did not, creating billows of dust. Were these drivers rude, or just lacking in awareness. At what point is not being aware rude?
Just half a mile from Foundation Creek, around 1712, a large grizzly appeared on trail. I stopped. The bear continued towards me, slow but steady. I began backing up, I started singing “hey bear, I’m backing up now bear” and with unsteady hands unharnessed my spray. I continued walking backwards. I had to move relatively quickly to keep space between the bear and myself. I glanced behind me on occasion to ensure I would not trip. As I rounded a bend, the bear left the trail for the woods.
My heart pounded. I waited a few minutes, and continued back up trail, singing loudly, bear spray in hand.
I did not see the bear again.
I move forward from foundation creek at full capacity: 5 ltrs
As the trail climbs further and further from the creek, I think of what it would take to access a water source so steep. Though there is no snow on trail, there are many ways by which an ice axe is advantageous.
The edge of the climb was dulled by a variety of bear grass. How I adore this plant!
It rains lightly. A faint rainbow colors the sky near Mt Wam.
I found a place to camp. I set up my tent, ate, tied up my food bag and returned to my tent. Moments later I hear a heavy animal amble through the brush, then a scratching. I turn my headlamp off and then back on. It hurried off. I hope it does not return.
In moments like this, changes in the sound of the wind scare me. It ripples along my tent. It sounds like an animal.
Nothing out there wants to hurt me. I fall asleep.
I rose earlier than usual (one of the many upsides to “star-camping”). My watch reads 0630. I was pleased. I collected my food bag, which appeared untouched. I cleaned my face and teeth and feet. I tended to my toes and hotspots, cutting and attaching strips of Moleskin.
Assessing reassessing and streamlining ones routine is a challenge. Today I had breakfast, did not prepare lunch. It is nearly 0900 and I have not left.
A car drives by and quickly parks. I hear a door slam.
I pack up. I notice a shell for a Winston 43 auto.
Another car, this time an SUV. I suppose it is Friday.
I continue along trail #26.
There are many ups and downs.
I sit for a break and ponder what it is like to be a bug caught in the wind.
The ups and downs of the trail are tempered by small stretches of level terrain. This is when I take in the views. The trees stand so very tall.
I miss a switchback and experience temporary confusion before again finding my way. The trail now climbs toward Mt Locke.
I am carrying too much weight. The needles of a pine brush my forearm and whisper “you can do it”.
Still climbing and descending and climbing, I stop for a break. I sang a song of encouragement to myself, making up the lyrics as I went.
Then, I was approaching Mt Locke. I could see the fire-ravaged mountainside in the distance. It looked frightening. I had read that this portion of trail had been burned away. I was nervous. It was hot. Only a half liter of water remains in my pack. I just needed to make it to the water source, roughly three miles away.
Then, among the burn damage,the trail disappeared.
I wandered, foolishly trying to navigate by sight. Trying to sense the trail, footprints, warn paths in the mountainside, anything. I realized this was a fast way to get lost. I began to scramble towards the summit. Grasping fallen trees for support. I stopped to access my compass.
My compass fell.
Oh, how dramatic!
The slope was steep. I removed my pack and lowered myself to where my compass had gotten tangled in tree limbs.
I returned to my pack, set a northwest bearing on my compass, took a deep breath, and went for it.To my absolute delight, I found the trail!
It was 0618. It was time to find water.
My hands are covered in ash by using downed burned trees as handholds.
I continue to ascend along the trail. I reach the summit of Mt. Locke. There is no eastbound trail junction, for me to take. It is all burned up. There are pieces of twisted metal, remnants of a building which once stood.
The trail seems to end at a cliff. I am again without a path.What if I can’t find my way? What I can’t find my way forward or back?
I referred to my GPS. I considered abandoning the trail in pursuit of water. I decided to scramble northeast down the side of the mountain. I found the trail, mid switch-back! Oh, thank-goodness!
There was one more junction. The path that led to water. I turned the corner, and there stood a grizzly! So focused on navigation and possible dehydration, I failed to consider potential animal threats. We were both startled. It ran off. I continued in the opposite direction. I found the junction!
The descent was fast. I came upon a beautiful spring, sooner than expected.
Relief rushed over me. I realized that miles were uncertain. I promised myself that I would always carry enough water to be able to stop and camp at any moment.
The sound of rushing water fills the air and drips from the pores of the moist mountainside. Music to my ears.
I finally come to Swift Creek. It is 1000. The sun has set. A fording is required to cross. Not wanting to get my boots wet, I remove them in favor of my camp sandals. After removing one boot and setting it to the side, it quickly tumbles down and into the creek. Oh, no! I quickly snatch it before it could be carried downstream. My heart pounds as I consider the ramifications of a lost boot.
I secure both boots and reached for my camp sandals. They were gone, along with my second pair of hiking socks. I must have lost them scrambling up the mountain; or weaving over and squeezing under one of the many downed trees on the Blue Sky Trail.
Losing things is always disappointing. I feel bad for depositing such foreign objects in the wilderness. I feel bad for my feet. At least the lost items should be easy to replace.
I thought I had also lost one gaitor in the creek, but it caught on a rock, and wriggled, swimming in place, just within reach.
I carried on, fording sockless inside boots with gaitors. My boots stayed surprisingly dry. I have become a great fan of gaitors.
There was a campsite immediately following the ford. I chose to set up my tent. I wanted all the security and comfort I could get. Besides, my sleeping bag was still damp from star-camping last night.
I reflected on what had just passed. I was so thankful for the scrambling and navigation courses I took with The Mountaineers in Seattle, WA. Maybe I should keep my ice axe after all.
Today was one of the hardest, most challenging days of my my life.
I ate spoonfuls of almond butter for dinner.
I crawled in to my tent, and slipped into a downy sleeping bag embrace.”I made it”, I said aloud to myself. I giggled and smiled wide, so thankful to be safe and hydrated, humbled, and learning so much.
It is 0849. I have only just risen and relieved myself.
I hear the crunching of footsteps. I peer through the netting of my tent. A man, around my age, no pack, staring at his phone, heading southeast along Hay Creek Road/PNT. He did not even glance this way; did not feel my stare. They were too busy glancing at their phone.
I have been feeling a little off lately. I think it is just my body adjusting. They did not have a filter replacement to my liking at the Mercantile. I will have to get one somewhere up the road.
It sounds like traffic is picking up. It was time to move.
As I organized my maps for the day, I discovered that I had accidentally tossed the next 50 miles. I am carrying the entire mapset with me. I folded the upcoming portion while at Mercantile to be more accessible, then accidentally threw them out with old ones. It’s just 50 miles, I told myself. Learn from this.
I packed up my things and made iced coffee with protein powder. I shake it in my almond butter jar and it develops a frothy texture (delicious).
I think of the relationships I have forged while hiking other long-trails.
It is already 1039. Though I must still mind time strongly in relation to changing seasons, the wilderness seems to be the one place where I can begin to wrap my mind around the idea that time is illusionary, non-linear. Just keep walking.
Drivers on the roads don’t crane there heads or gawk; they acknowledge and wave.
I found that it was not uncommon, after telling a Montana-born individual that I am originally from California, to receive the response “…well, we won’t hold that against ya.”
I think of people’s experience venturing someplace new. I think of what is accepted in certain regions as opposed to others. I think of recognition, followed by either accceptance, indifference, or rejection of something different than oneself.
Road walking empty gravel leaves lots of space for thoughts.
I experience physical discomfort, but I am happy. I wonder which would be amplified if I were hiking with a partner: discomfort, or happiness. I wonder if I could ever hike a long-distance trail with a romantic partner. Surely, I could. Would we each need our own tents? Certainly so.
Though I shift beneath my pack uncomfortably, from time to time, overall the weight feels easier to carry. It could just be the level nature of the road.
I spot faint signs of hikers that have walked the road before me. Slightly worn paths appear in roadside fields, or beneath a bridge and leading upstream for water collection. It makes me feel connected to a traveling network much larger than myself. Though I am physically singular, in another sense, I am not travelling alone.
I begin to miss the beauty of Glacier, of hiking through the wildnerness. Despite the roadwalk, I am in love with the feeling of independence and anonymity. I am unaccounted for, no mandated designations or obligations. My world is vast. I am a speck floating freely on the breeze in the sun.
I take roadside rest in the relative shade.
I spot cairns that help confirm my way.
I think of the term “thru-hiker”. How hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail almost seems to imply a “thru-hike”. The PNT is not one trail, but the network by which many trails and roads connect. I find it’s slightly fragmented nature, a beautiful challenge.
…more roads, and a landscape filled with thoughts.
I’m not sure how to express what I am feeling. I am everywhere and no where. I am centered yet beautifully scattered, sensing everything with such intensity. Meeting the sun and the earth and the wind and the rain. Meeting the journey. Floating above high velocity, I feel I am in my element. I feel I am home.
I think of four days from now. When I’ll have hopefully made it to the town of Eureka. To a bed, a shower, a mirror. I will meet my society self. I wonder if I’ll have something to teach them.
Then, I reached Hay Creek Trail.
The wildflowers and the breeze and the cream colored butterflies and the sway and the distant creek–I am intoxicated. I can’t help but slow my steps. One must honor such beauty.
Heaving bodies of small birds shuffle through the foliage.
The trail ends abruptly in brush and dirt and clearing: the “Hay Creek Trail u-turn”. The trail now heads southwest. I stop in an opening at the turn. I unfold my mat. I recline. Flat back on mat and earth and stone. I stare at the clouds. Two large ones, wispy at their edges, move swiftly to the northeast. I feel my bones, my muscles, my fatigue. The breeze kisses my skin. I breathe deeply. This is what rest should feel like.
I connect to the Whitedish Divide Trail #26.
Oh my beautiful bear grass!
I hide my skin from mosquitos, wrapping myself in a rain jacket and skirt. This provides significant relief.
My path turns from trail to road and back again. I chose to follow the primary PNT route.I collect water from what I understand to be the final reliable source for the next 12 miles. In total I have 5 liters.
I reach a big open lot by nightfall. It is near the next trail junction. I will find my way in the morning. I will sleep in the dirt lot.
The stars have asked me to sleep, unobstructed, beneath them. I cannot help but comply.
This is the first night I will sleep without a tent in “bear country”. I have my ice axe beside me. My bear spray is steadied in a boot, unhinged and ready for deployment. Though these formalities are comforting, deep down I know I will be alright.
The night is so still and clear, not even the sound of a stream, not even a breeze! The silence! The stars!
I hear something in the distance. My heart pounds. Relax. Of course there are other things out here.
I gaze at the Milky Way. I can hear the stream, now.
Oh, the brilliance of those fiery stars! A fantastical display, circularly framed by the far reaching silhouettes of pines.
Beneath them, I slept.
I opened my eyes in the middle of the night. I heard heavy steps in the distance. I shined my headlamp towards my food bag that was secured to a distant tree. Nothing. I scanned the woods behind me. Nothing.
I began to drift off once more.
The stars seemed to sing: now sleep Earthling, sleep.
It is very blustery this morning. My tent heaves and shakes. In just a few more moments my tent should be dry.
How lovely to put away a tent so dry it crinkles! So much lighter!
The trees continue to creak in the wind. They are dead and cracking, like hollow bones. This morning they sound more like quacking ducks than lost children in the night.
At about 0820 I head over to collect my food bag. I finally leave an hour later.
I viewed Bowman Lake for the first time.
I met the first snake of the trip.
They were small and frightened. Too fearful to move at first, but with a little coaxing, they slinked off into the brush.
The pines stood so strong, so erect– almost proud; like living ambassadors of the mountains.
Today I would leave Glacier National Park and follow the trail through the small community of Polebridge. I sent a food package to the Polebridge Mercantile, a small store and bakery.
Once I hit pavement and cars and campground parking lots I became very disoriented. I found my way out of the parking lot and continued on a very long road walk.
People waved as they passed in their metal vehicles. Two drivers stopped to offer me a ride. After declining one drivers offer, they then asked If I would like a beer. When I said “No, thank you” and smiled, her response seemed to be a mix of shock and disappontment. I almost felt bad, save I had no reason to. “Too much weight” I said, trying to soften the blow of rejection.
“You can drink it quick and throw the can in the back.” She was referring to the bed of her pick-up truck.
A beer was the last thing I wanted in the middle of a sweltering hot road walk. “That’s, alright. Thank you, though”. She then drove off and wished me luck.
Though I was not interested in getting a ride…or drinking a beer, the kind offers and conversation provided me with little sparks of energy that made my ambulation joyful and lighthearted.
Finally, I arrived in Polebridge. I entered the Mercantile and browsed the shelves.
There was fresh fruit! I collected bananas and apples and an orange, and one of those pre-made rice/quinoa dishes. I looked for bug spray, but they only had 25% deet. I was unsure that it was even worth the weight. I did however claim some toilet paper, sheets of moleskin, band-aids, and hydrocortizone cream, and brought my collection to the counter. I told the young woman behind the register that I should have a package there for pick-up. She collected my package, rang-up my items, and I moved to a grassy area to organize my goods.
I ate the fruit and moved on to the rice dish. The dish was tasty but crunchy, I neglected to acknowledge its need for microwaves.
I let my things charge inside the Mercantile, and reviewed the maps, and packed up my food. I purchased hot coffee and sat at a bench. I let my things charge until near 2100, the hour of store closure. There was live music playing on an outdoor stage affiliated with the café next door. It was very pleasant. The musicians, two men with guitars, were from Oregon.
I read in the notes on the Guthook application, that there should be a campsite about 1.6 miles out of Polebridge. I decided that this is where I would sleep.
I set off.
I felt so anonymous. It was as if had slipped in and out of Polebridge a nameless ghost. It was a far cry from the city, town, village, or community visits along the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trails.
The solitude was hauntingly beautiful.
As I continued along the road, I scanned the woods on either side.
I grew a bit nervous that a campsite would not appear, or that I may have difficulty spotting it in the night.
As it became darker and more desolate, I found myself willing no cars to pass.
Then, I came upon a tent site and fire ring, just off the side of the road.
I unloaded my pack and began to set up for the night.
This was my first night outside of Glacier National Park. I was truly alone now.
The hydrocortizone cream is off-brand. Half a tube later I find little relief
Today I decided to wear my pants, for fear of bugs. This did not last long, for it was hot.
That morning, misery drove me to ask for help from fellow hikers. One hiker offered a few sprays of bug repellant, another a hydrocortisone packet. I was thankful. I went back to my tent-site to pack up my things.
After breaking camp, I returned to the designated dining area to fetch my food bag, have breakfast, and prepare for departure. Two park employees who were stationed at that camp were enjoying breakfast as well.
I made small talk with them. One of them asked if I was hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail. “I am!” I exclaimed. Being recognized as a thru-hiker, to me, was of the highest of compliments. She told me that the trails I was about to connect through the park followed a historic route for the Native American Blackfeet Tribe. She then mentioned that the leaves of the abundant yarrow plant can be used as a natural mosquito repellant. I thanked her profusely, and gathered the yarrow leaves. She had given me a glimpse of hope.
I departed shortly thereafter.
Just after leaving the camp, I met a black bear. They heard me approach as I was wading through the brush. Startled, they ran off quickly.
The beauty was as powerful as the sound of rushing water cascading from icy peaks in the distance.
A man leading a pack of mules came up behind me as I stood, lost in the view.
I learned that the whimsical, magical, ethereal plant I had been seeing mountainside–with its tall green stalks and white bushy flowers–was called bear-grass; a member of the corn lily family. Bear-grass only blooms once every seven years. There were two cycles in the park. One of these cycles was a spectacular show. I happened to have front-row seats. This plant certainly has personality; adapting to its environment by growing tall or short, straight or curved, sometimes geometric or horizontal, often seeming to reach out towards the trail to say “hello”. Each plant was remarkably unique. I was in love.
Another flower charmed me; reminding me of the multiplicity in us all.
I continued my ascent toward Brown Pass.
A deep rumble sounded from the sky. I had begun my descent. It was 1819. I was still five miles from camp.
As I continued my descent, the foliage grew thick and tall, often reaching past my waist. It brushed against me as I walked. I enjoyed the feeling of wet leaves on my legs. It eased the burning of my bites.
There were many dead and wavering trees in the valley. As they are pushed and pulled by the wind, their wooden cries sound eerily like that of a lost baby in the night.
More rumbles sound. I prepare for the rain. The rain came gently, with healing encouragement. The plants rejoiced, their hues ever more vibrant. The mosquitos were thwarted. I was thankful.
I arrived to camp (the head of Bowman Lake) late. Night was falling quickly. I ate a hurried meal and packed up my food bag. I put on my headlamp and moved to the food hanging pole. I attempted to lob my carabeener-weighted rope over the top of the pole. No luck. Again. No luck. I continued. As the carabeener hit the supporting poles on the way down, the sound of metal on metal chimed in announcement of my repeated failure. What was it? Was this pole higher than the others (I swear it was.)? Was it the darkness? Was I just that tired? In the end, I could not manage to get my rope over the pole, so I tied my ursack to the base of the tree.
It was warm enough that I had a full sack of wool under-layers and rain gear to rest my head upon. I tossed and turned a bit. I woke to numb hands and bird-song.
I went to use the designated pit toilet. On the way back I spoke briefly with a group of hikers that had gathered in the dining area. A woman with a dead cellular device was in need of a charging-cord. I offered mine for use. She followed me to my tent to retrieve it. On the way she asked of I had bear spray. I noticed that I did not have it on me. She then commented that she “still can’t believe that [I am] doing this alone.” I can’t help but wonder if she says that to all solo hikers.
After packing up, I returned to fetch my food bag. The group made mention of night hiking; that they had done it in the park. I liked hearing this very much. I have been a bit more weary of night hiking in “bear country”. The PNT mapset, until mid way through section four, says “Grizzly Bear Country. Bear spray is recommended. Do not hike after dark”. Not: hiking after dark is not recommended, or highly discouraged. So explicit. It made me wonder. But in all the nights and days I have spent hiking in the woods, I have only seen bears in daylight. I certainly would not, however, like to meet a grizzly in the night.
I am the last one to leave the camp site.
The trail weaves through brush. A barely discernable line extending to the distance.
I made my ascent towards Stony Indian Pass.
With each step, I am remembering who I am.
I feel I am breaking free. Like a veneer, a loosened lining, is hardening in the sunshine, cracking with every bruise, flaking with every leafy kiss, and blowing away in the scent-filled breeze. My city-shell is rigid and seductive. I am highly sensitive–and am often overtaken–by consumption and distraction.
It is amazing to be out here.
I collect water from a beautiful spring. I ford my first river of the trail. Though my body moves slow and steady, my mind dances and spins and frolicks in wonder.
The wildflowers are so abundant! The brush so green! I recall what dear Linda said about it usually being brown this time of year. I am so thankful to feast my senses on such richness of colors and smells.
I stop for a break at the mountain pass. Stony Indian pass is majestic. I am however, suffering from the bugs. I do not have bug-spray. Not even the cool mountain breeze can save me. It makes one hardly want to stop for break. I don my puffy in the heat. That helps a little.
I open my food sack and make snack-time selections.
I heard a rustle from behind. I turned in time to catch sight of a medium sized grizzly run across the pass and out of view.
I jumped to my feet. My bear spray is at my hip. I stand and continue watching in that direction, my food splayed about me. I had a strong feeling that the bear was entirely disinterested in my presence. I decided to stay and finish my meal. But only briefly.
The bugs were relentless. I wrapped my legs in my ground tarp. This provided some relief.
As I descended from the pass I heard hikers calling out “hiker, hiker!”. When our paths crossed I mentioned the bear encounter. They said it must have been the same one they had just seen. They told me that it popped out right in front of them on trail. “Then what happened!?” I asked. They told me that it was busy chasing a deer.
As I descended, the breeze grew stronger, the bugs less prominent.
Oh, the flowers!
I consider the vastness of this country and the beautiful geographical changes from either coast to divide.
As I drop lower, humidity rises, heavy clouds are rolling in. It is 1520, by 1621 down comes the rain. I continue on.
I come across a spring. The kind that makes me giggle with glee and makes my bottles frosty with its earthen chill. Terribly pleased, I collect three liters and carry on.
In the weather change, the bugs became virulent. I whimpered and wailed softly to myself, entertaining personal pity parties when it seemed too much to bear. I cursed at the mosquitos, then asked them kindly to stop. Neither tactic worked. I tried not to scratch, but often the beloved brush and the outstretched limbs of trees scratched for me. Each scratch sent strange intense sensations through my body. It was an almost euphoric dermal sensation that left me craving more.
I squirmed and danced as I removed my boots and strapped on my sandals to ford one final creek that stood between myself and the campsite. I made it.
I could not sleep. I woke in the night to itching and burning. I found some little packets of hydrocortisone cream in a first aid kit a kind friend had gifted me. I was so thankful. It was 1300. My legs were on fire.
I kept seeing flashes of light in the distance. At first I thought I was imagining things, or having some sort of peripheral sensory malfunction. It continued, but no sound followed.
Around 1400 the flashes of light moved closer. By 1600 the rumbles were so loud they seemed to shake the ground beneath me. The flashes were so astounding, they caused momentary blindness. A bit of fear began to sink in through the edges of darkness. The food-hang pole, I thought. If anything were to be stricken it would be that metal pole. This was calming.
Then the showers came.
The sound of the rain on my tent, the gentle drumming, led my march to slumber.
The morning started with coffee and small talk. Then quickly, we were off! Lisa and Roger and their sweet niece and I all piled in to their SUV and headed to the Chief Mountain trailhead. After over an hour of driving, and a quick detour to a beautiful alpine lake, we pulled in to a parking lot a stones throw from the Canadian border.
I was a bit uncertain that where we were was exactly where the trailhead started. They understood that I romanticize these journeys, and that a continuous footpath is very important to me. They offered to drive me back the way we came–just a ways–so that I could be certain that I started at the correct point. This meant so much to me. I am not sure that I expressed my gratitude to them enough. Making it to that trailhead would have proved an extremely difficult challenge. I will be forever grateful for such a loving and generous start to my journey.
Oh! The beauty.
The start of the trail was filled with wildflowers and mountain meadows and thick green brush.
All nerves wash away as I hear the familiar sounds of my body moving through the woods. Wet leaves tickle and kiss my skin. Birds call in the distance. Wildflowers sway in the breeze, calling out for pollination. Oh, how I hear you, how I smell you! How you stir my soul!
The weight of my pack pulls at my shoulders and tugs at my hips. I always enter these hikes feeling as though I can carry the world on my shoulders. This is never the case, nor should it be. These hikes are to see the World, and realize how little one truly needs to carry/”own” to ignite that spark of joy that lifts the spirit. The transition, from city to woods, can be materially trying. Cities make me want “things”, they make me vain. The line between “need” and “want” becomes blured.
A few miles in to my trek, I glance behind me. The view is just as astounding as the one before me, possibly more so.
I think of how incredibly different journeys of the same path can be.
Mid-day I stopped for water at a creek which flowed beside the trail. I attached my Sawyer Squeeze filter to my Smart Water bottle and…nothing. No flow at all whatsoever. I had not used the filter for months, I did not test it before leaving. I told myself that I could pick one up in town further along the trail. In the mean time, I just needed to be selective about my sources.
At 2030 I arrived at the head of Glenn Lake campground. I ate dinner in the designated dining area: cold-soaked split pea soup with nutritional yeast, seasonings, and almond flour. A curious deer meandered about me as I ate.
Each of the campsites in Glacier National Park have a designating cooking/dining area, bear hang pole, and pit toilet. There are three designated tent sites at the head of Glenn Lake. The other hikers had yet to arrive.
I went to hang my bear bag. There was no bear bag hang for me to mimic. I did what I could. Then I heard oncoming voices. Suddenly feeling extremely antisocial, I moved in a hurry to pick my tent site, set up, and throw myself inside.
I had first choice of the three sites of the campground. My view was spectacular.
Though only 12 miles from the start, I was very tired.
I caught the Empire Builder train from Seattle, Washington to East Glacier, Montana on July 19th. Though the train departed in late afternoon, and though my nerves were kinetic as I sipped coffee and stared out the window, the motion of the wheels and the rails and the sway of the train lulled me from any conscious desires.
Sleepy, I pulled out my sleeping bag and contorted my body. This way, then that way I turned and twisted, utilizing the vacant seat beside me to assume what I believed to be the highest quality sleeping position. I repeated this process frequently throughout the night.
Around midnight, the train picked up an observation car in Spokane. Around 6:40am I relocated to a table in the observation car, coffee in hand.
I made conversation with very friendly and interesting people. I felt my nerves rise and fall like I never had before.
Then, at just around 10 am, on July 20th I arrived.
The plan was to hitch to Two Medicine Ranger station (about 11 miles NW of the amtrak station). I made my way to highway 49 and began walking, thumb outstretched for each passing vehicle. It was Saturday. There was plenty of traffic. I was hopeful.
Then, a kind man in a Polaris RZR pulled up and asked where I was headed. I told him I was trying to get my backcountry permit from the nearby ranger station.
“I can take you there!” He replied.
I lifted my (very) heavy pack in to the back of the little vehicle, and I hopped in the front. He told me that he was going to be “RZR-ing” (taking said vehicle in to the backcountry) with some members of the local Native American Tribe, Blackfeet, that afternoon. I was welcome to come along if I’d like. I never like to turn down opportunities like these, but I thought of Chief Mountain. Chief Mountain, the eastern terminus of the Pacific Northwest Trail, was still over 60 miles away.
“I am just concerned about making it to Chief Mountain. Do you think it would be difficult to get a hitch there?”
“I can take you in the morning!”
“Really!? Oh my goodness, thank you!
At the ranger station I had to register the exact campgrounds that I would be staying at each night in the park. Some sites were completely booked. I managed to register for sites that had between 14 to 20 trail miles between them. I would be camping in Glacier National Park for three nights before I reach my first re-supply point in Polebridge. I watched a mandatory 12 minute backcountry safety video in the ranger’s station, and then we were off.
The smell of fennel, and pine, and wildflower were invigorating.
The group was extremely friendly and welcoming. They were boisterous, with rough humor and belly laughs.
We drove through brush, what the locals call “Sasquatch Alley”. Chainsaws were used to cut large fallen trees to moveable pieces, to clear obstructed pathways.
A fire was lit, just off trail, where hamburgers and hot-dogs were cooked for lunch. Roger commented that there was someone who practiced “leave no trace” in their midst.
“We were raised to leave a trace” replied one of the tribe members, commenting on its relevance to the survival of their people.
Upon discovering I was vegan, I was offered fruit and veggies as they made jokes about what they call people who don’t eat meat: “bad hunters”.
It began to rain, then hail, then the sun shone once more.
We returned to Roger’s home and were greeted by his lovely wife Lisa. She made us special vodka cocktails with homemade lavender simple syrup and lemon.
We picked Lisa’s father up, the nearby town of Browning. They treated me to a lunch of Subway, which we enjoyed in their beautiful home.
I had the lovely opportunity to meet Roger’s three sisters and niece.
I will never forget their kindness! They have touched my heart. What an amazing start to my journey!
My cheeks hurt from all the smiling.
Now, I am in a ridiculously soft and cozy bed in their upstairs guest room.
Tomorrow morning, at 6:47 am, there will be a family outing to send me on my way along the Pacific Northwest Trail at the Chief Mountain Trailhead.
When I rose, my friend had already risen and was preparing to drive. We had only slept a short while. We did not have long to go.
As we were approaching Tracy, she asked where I would like to be dropped off. I told her any truck stop with access to I-99 would be great.
We settled on a truck-stop in Ripon. When employees saw my sign, they told me that hitchhiking was illegal.
Eventually I managed to get a ride with a truck-driver who was going to be taking I-80 to Reno. Perfect!
There was some confusion as to where he could drop me off exactly, so before we got too far east, I asked him to pull over on to the shoulder of the Exposition Blvd. Exit. He got out to bless me before he said goodbye.
I called my father and told him that I had just arrived in Sacramento. He was already on his way to Reno for work. Thrilled that I was home, he turned around to get me. I told him that I would meet him at Cal Expo.
I rose early, packed my things, and made my way to the Love’s Travel Stop that was only a block or so from the house.
After arriving I sat myself in a booth at the adjacent Arby’s and organized some of the food-stuff I had picked up during a grocery run the day before.
I hardly had time to finish before a man approached me. He said he was going west, but not far. Then, having overheard the conversation, a woman approached. “What part of California you going to?”, she interrupted.
“Sacramento.” I replied.
“I’m headed to Tracy. Let’s go.”
And with that, we were off.
She was very chatty, and she was determined to drive through the night. Turns out she was supposed to be on the road yesterday, but she stayed an extra night in town with her boyfriend. She had been sitting in the Arby’s with her boyfriend when they overheard my conversation with the other westbound driver. He told her to go over there before that guy tries to take me. He suggested that with my company, she might be able to stay up all night driving to make up for the time she lost by staying in bed with him.
The trip would not be a straight shot, however. She needed to take I-15 down through Las Vegas eventually connecting with I-99 and I-5 up through California. That was fine with me. I was just thrilled to be going home.
The drive was beautiful.
We passed through Las Vegas as the sun was setting.
Somewhere in central California, along I-99, we stopped to sleep. We both slept in the back, heads resting at opposite ends of the mattress.
I opened my eyes with the morning sun. I tossed and turned a bit. I sat up. We were close.
“Utah, life elevated.”
I was ecstatic. I was so close to home!
Joe and Mary were incredibly kind. They invited me to stay the night in their home in Salt Lake City. I gratefully accepted.
Their house was full of humans and fish and love. I was made to feel at home. They told me that I was welcome to stay for a few days. The following week Joe’s brother, who was also a truck-driver, would be heading towards Sacramento and would be happy to take me along. I was very appreciative of the offer, but it felt so arranged. I also wanted to keep moving.
We all ate dinner together. After dinner Mary and I watched a movie. I fell asleep on the couch.