East Glacier, Montana

July 20, 2019

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.

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