I woke up roadside, packed up my things, and continued down the pavement towards the Midge Creek Trail.
In just .5 mile I came to a roadside water source, adding nearly 11 lbs to my pack.
I was cold. I stoodd briefly in a sun patch to warm my bones.
My mood shifted so quickly as I climbed to Midge Creek: tears for lost love and friendship, comfort through an especially loving and welcoming stretch of woods, joy from the simple nourishment of a food-bar and freshly collected water, appreciation for all I have experienced thus far in life.
I stop at a stream. Water is reportedly scarce for the next 18 miles, and the trail is reported to be faint or disappear in the next stretch near Rock Candy Mountain.
I watch as bugs mate on the shaft of my ice axe.
Sometimes I consider whether I am having fun on this trail. I am certainly enjoying myself, the challenge. It is invigorating to spend so much time in the wilderness.I am unable to relax as much, however, as I always need to be certain that I am heading in the right direction. The thru-hiking culture is faint. These obstacles, however, cause me to grow stronger. These lessons are harsher, they teach me more.
Just as it sometimes does with a soul-stirring song, determination too can rush over me in a powerful wave that causes my skin to rise in goosebumps.
I can do this.
As my motivation rose, as I seemed to transcend the struggle, feel almost out-of-body with determination, something stings or bites me, and I am brought right back.
I continue on towards Rock Candy Mountain Trail for a bit longer before I stop for a break.
I consider who I am as a person. Thru-hiking is interesting because you get to witness yourself slowly adapt and change to your environment. This is what helps me to understand who I am, recognizing the “constants”, regardless of time or space.
Every bit of water is so precious. I mix my instant coffee with the tiniest bit possible.
I fall back on the trail. Lay there for a moment. Gaze at the sky. I sit back up. Sip some coffee.
Ok. Let’s go.
As I continue, a faint junction appears. I see sticks blocking one of the pathways, so I follow the other. The trail disappears. I find my way back up. Maybe I should stop thinking those sign are for me.
As I climb, it is hot, I am thirsty. I am afraid, however, of drinking too much.
I spot a pond by the ridge line ascent. I stop to collect. Its buggy and foggy but it’s another liter, just in case.
I rose, slipped on my sandals, puffy, and raincoat. I descended the wooden staircase in the powerful morning wind to relieve myself.
My moon-time had come. The new moon was only days ago, I was syncing…or was it the loads of phytoestrogen I have consumed in the form of textured soy protein? Either way, it had arrived. No wonder I ate so much yesterday.
Hopefully my energy will now rise. I need to increase my my mileage. I have consistently been averaging 15 miles per day. I need be averaging 20. Carrying over four liters of water at a time due to these water-less stretches, certainly has not helped.
How disoriented I had gotten atop Mount Henry in the night! Via continuous checks of my compass, I was certain I was headed the right way. Water, here I come!
I located the Vinal Creek Trail and made my descent. I came to the Turner Falls junction and headed towards Fish Lake. I crossed a small bridge over Vinal Creek.
I stopped just passed the bridge and returned to collect some water. I was stung. After filtering my collection and returning for more, I noticed a hive attached to the underside of the bridge. I moved upstream for the rest of my collection.
As I sat and enjoyed a meal, I reviewed the maps and guidebooks. Another waterless climb with unclear routing was ahead. There was another option, however — an unofficial alternate that follows Vinal Creek for 3 miles before hitting Forest Road 746 and rejoining the PNT. I did not have maps to illustrate the route, but I was able to locate it on my GPS.
I was tired. The afternoon was hot. I was eager to reach the community of Yaak. I turned back to the Turners Falls Junction and took the Vinal Creek Trail.
Half way through, I was pleased with my decision.
The trail was fairly well maintained. There were tall grasses that minimized trail visibility in some areas, and many of the numerous bridges were not in the best of shape (though all stood up to my weight), but I was always certain I was headed in the right direction. The nearby creek was comforting, and the many trees provided refuge from the hot afternoon sun.
By 1534 I was roadside!
After a few miles of walking on gravel, I took a break on the side of the road. When I lifted my pack I noticed a circle of water. I realized that my pack had been resting on the hose of my water bladder, and it had been leaking. I felt momentary panic. Not too much was lost. I need to be more cautious.
I feel like an underdog at the back of the pack, but I will give it my all.
This trail has certainly proved challenging. That is when I seem to truly learn, however, when I throw myself out there. When I take on something that stirs fear within me, something I am barely ready for.
So much road.
By 1733 I had reconnected to the PNT (which was still road).
A pick-up truck drove by and offered me a ride. I kindly declined. He told me to make sure to hang a left when I hit pavement.
I watched a very large bird soar through the air. I followed the bend in the road to see another hop around something of interest, then fly off as it noticed me. The item of interest remained. I approached with curious excitement. It was toilet paper.
By 2000 I was heading southwest on Yaak River Rd.
The community of Yaak was still about 7 miles off trail. I headed towards the community, sticking my thumb out at each passing vehicle.
A car passed, but only granted me a wave.
I called to the universe aloud, asking that it please send me a ride.
A car appeared in the distance. I stood, arm proudly outstretched, right thumb displayed.
A grin spread across my face as I noticed the car slow.
George was just returning home after procuring some fresh eggs from a neighbor down the road. He stopped his car and I jumped in. I told him I was heading to The Yaak Mercantile and Tavern. He asked if I was getting my “resupply”. He was hip to the thru-hiker lingo.
“I always stop for you guys,” he said “you always have such good stories!”
On our way towards Yaak he mentioned that he and his wife have an apartment behind their home that I was free to stay in for the night, if I’d like.
“Really!? I would love that!”
He waited as I asked the Tavern to retrieve my package. We then set off to his home.
He told me that him and his wife had been coming up to this property for over twenty years, but they had only recently completed building their home there. They had built a little apartment in the back for when family came over– it was complete with a little kitchen, bathroom, and hot water!
As we drove George began to tell me about his wife, Caroline. The way he spoke of her made my heart melt and rekindled my belief in lasting love.
When we arrived and entered their beautiful home, he called out: “I brought back a hiker.” Caroline was sitting on the couch in their living room, all smiles and kindness.
“You like bok-choy?” George asked.
“How about carrots?”
Straight away he began preparing me a hot bowl of ramen and veggies.
I sat at their round wooden dinner table and sipped hot soup and noodles, while George and Caroline sat on their couches with their two sweet dogs. We chatted comfortably until my meal was completed. They told me that there was some controversy concerning the routing of the trail through that area. Many people were concerned with the impact that the trail may have on the grizzly bear population, and were fighting to have the trail re-routed further south. Caroline then offered me some fresh, unfiltered apple and kale juice, straight from their garden! My body rejoiced!
I used their telephone to call my mom, and they showed me to my room.
I felt so blessed. Their kindness and encouragement was positively uplifting. It was people like themselves that help give me the strength to carry on.
This trail is hard.
I took a hot shower and watched the dirt run from my body. I scrubbed and scrubbed. Flaps of hardening skin hang from my feet where blisters have popped and new ones are forming.
The thick pink carpet felt divine on my battered toes.
I hand washed my bandannas and undergarment and set them to dry in front of a fan.
I repackaged my food (on a counter!), set my devices to charge, and comfortably fell to sleep.
I woke at 0630 but only rolled about lazily, remaining horizontal. At 0730 I heard voices. I turned to see the two hikers I had met at the Silverado Motel. They were not more than 50 feet away. I stayed quiet, sitting still in my sleeping bag. They did not see me. They were chatting as they walked.
I ate breakfast, had coffee, and prepared a lunch of textured soy protein. There was no vegan dehydrated soup in Eureka.
At 0811 I hit the road. The construction workers were very friendly. I chatted with one; both of us calling out loudly from opposing sides of the street. I told him to wish me luck. The conversation lifted my spirits from the hot asphalt.
I reached Pinkham Creek. The water rolled over stones beneath a concrete bridge. I was thankful that I had acquired a working filter. This would be the last reliable water source for over 10 miles.
I sat on a stone in the middle of the creek and dipped my sore feet in the icy water.
Sleep deprived, I indulged in a nap beneath the bridge, elevating my feet as I rested my eyes.
After rising, I spent a long while bandaging my toes and heels, trying on my boots, re-bandaging, adjusting.
Soon I came to the Kookanusa Bridge, the tallest and largest bridge in Montana. It was certainly impressive.
I gazed down at the lake as I crossed, watching the tiny seagulls and a fishing boat move about.
The sound of the wind fascinated me. Forceful, it whistled and wailed, changing pitch as if over empty glass bottles of varying size.
I weaved back and forth towards whichever side of the road provided easier tread.
I felt as though my skin was cooking in the heat.
I realized that what I had mistaken for water spigots, was in fact a small flying insect: a katydid.
I found Thirsty Mountain Trail (aptly named, mind you) on the side of the road, and began the climb.
The heat tasted like cedar.
Lake Kookanusa became small in the distance.
The climb was long and intense, my eyes heavy.
Eventually, I reached the lookout tower. An SUV with a canoe strapped to its top was parked beneath it. I heard voices and two young girls clamoring about. A family must have rented it for the night. I utilized the pit toilet and found a lightly wooded flat space beneath the tower to sleep. The next water source was just under 4 miles away. Though I would not have water to spare for my morning coffee, I would not face dehydration.
As I settled myself in, I could hear the family interacting above me. Their sounds came closer. “There is someone down there!” one child called. I was already in my sleeping bag at this point. I turned so not to face them. There was a fire ring near where I laid. I hoped they had not intended on making a fire. I worried that I had made a foolish decision in my camp selection. Soon, however, the yelling and playing of the girls faded away.
I bundled up for fear of chill, choosing to wear my rain-gear as I slept.