I rose, repackaged my food, and sorted my bag. I would not be checking out until tomorrow. My sweet mother, concerned about the coming storm, had offered to pay for another nights accommodation.
I began the 2 mile walk downtown. My first stop was Larson’s Department Store. They honor the Darn Tough Sock exchange. I have a pair that was wearing pretty thin, and finally developed a hole. The thought of turning them in for thick, fresh, tightly wound wool, was certainly exciting. I was also in the market for a long sleeve shirt for the bushwhack.
The people of Bonner’s Ferry were incredibly welcoming.
After leaving the department store with fresh socks and a long-sleeved button-up, I headed to the library.
I uploaded photos and organized my thoughts on one of their available computers.
I chatted with a very interesting soul that sat beside me.
After a few hours, I made my way back to the motel.
My mind reflected on the day–uneventful but productive– as my eyes watched the character Giselle flit about in the movie Enchanted (I have always found this movie to be wonderfully charming).
I would leave tomorrow. I would move slowly; let the storm pass as I hike the roads and trails leading up to the bushwhack.
I woke at 0730, later than usual. I slept well in the woods. The canopy of trees overhead saved my sleeping bag from moisture. To my delight, it retained its fluffiness through the night and in to day break.
I passed Rock Creek and joined Camp Nine Mile Road 397. I chose to continue along the road rather than attempting the two mile Brush Lake bushwhack.
Soon I came to US 95. I crossed the highway and stuck my thumb out for the southbound vehicles. The town of Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho was bout 15 miles away.
After about 35 minutes in the heat with no luck, I became discouraged.
Then, a car slowed.
Inside was a kind man called Jim. He told me that it was sometimes difficult to hitch a ride here, but that people usually stop more readily for girls. He did not realize I was female when he first pulled over.
Jim had recently been involved in an unfortunate accident where a car smashed his leg. He usually propped it up on the passengers side when he drove, but he rearranged himself and some items within his vehicle to make space for me and my pack. His spirits were high, however. “If physical therapy doesn’t work, it certainly won’t be for my lack of effort.” He had spent many years climbing mountains, and new the area well.
The maps state that after crossing US 95 the trail travels “cross-country” to Old US 95 and reconnects to some roads, and eventually to a trail. I asked him about this. He offered to drive me all the way to the Parker Ridge trail head so that I could get a visual. As I gazed out the window, I wondered why I never considered just how beautiful Idaho could be. Jim pointed out bird after bird. I was impressed with his sighting skills. He was a wildlife photographer. He shared some of his photos with me. They were incredible!
We arrived at the trail head and parked. We reviewed the maps together. It felt nice to look over them with someone familiar with the area.
Jim then drove me to the Kootenai Valley Motel in Bonner’s Ferry. Again, after parking we reviewed some maps. This time Jim pulled out a map of his own, which had an overview of a larger region. We discussed potential alternates that I might take, should the bushwhack prove too challenging. I was nervous, and wanted to consider all of my options.
Jim gave me his contact information just in case I ran in to any trouble or needed help. I thanked him and told him that I was meant to meet him. Our time together was very encouraging. With that, I bid him farewell.
I went inside the reception area and checked in to the hotel.
The hikers that I had met at the Silverado Motel in Eureka had stayed there as well, and were just heading out. We exchanged contact information and chatted for a bit. They mentioned that a thunderstorm was supposed to pass through in the next couple of days. Because of this they were choosing to stick to the lower elevation bushwhack along Lion Creek, rather than the scramble along Lion’s Head ridge.
They did not seem too nervous about the bushwhack. There were two of them, however.
“Loads of people have done it!” one of them remarked. Their attitude towards it was comforting.
“Leave a good trail for me!” I jested.
We said our goodbyes and wished each other luck.
I moved across the street to the grocery store. I was pleased with their options. They even had a natural/organic section! This next portion of trail not only contained the 5 mile long bushwhack, but was within a 104 mile stretch before the next town of Metalline Falls, WA. It was not uncommon for the bushwhack to take an entire day to complete. Considering my pace thus far, and the heightened challenges of the upcoming terrain (overgrown brush, blow-downs, etc.) , I was anticipating that it could take me up to 7 days before I made it to the next resupply point.
I was nervous. I bought a lot of food.
After shopping I did laundry, showered, had dinner, and called family.
Nerves, excitement, and concern about being in the thick of the bushwhack during the lightning storm, made it difficult for my mind to quiet enough for sleep.
Eventually however, within the off-white walls of the hotel room, I drifted off.
I woke to a wet sleeping bag and the buzzing of mosquitoes.
I ate breakfast, drank coffee, and prepared lunch.
I shook my sleeping bag, feeling a bit sad as its wet feathers clung to its surface and gathered in limp clumps.
Every morning when I put on my boots I tell myself aloud “you can do it, you can do it, you can do it”.
Trail 35 was like a breath of fresh air. So clear and clean with easy tread. I could relax and enjoy the view.
I stopped to gather delicious huckleberries.
Then the trail hit the road. I turned southeast in search of a nearby spring. Though it was a bit hidden, and did not make much sound, it was clear that it was nearby when the foliage turned so green and lush. The spring was such a light trickle that I had to use my Nalgene bottle to collect little bits at a time and transfer it to my Smart Water bottle. I was able to collect an additional liter doing this.
The descent from the road was steep and hurt my feet. I stopped for lunch at the bottom. I am unsure of what bit or stung me yesterday, but my body certainly did not like it. A swollen red circle has formed around the bite.
Soon my shade refuge was overtaken by sunlight, and I carried on.
Further on, I followed a jeep road off trail to access Kreist Creek. I drank a liter and took an additional two and a half to go, then continued towards Moyie River Road.
They were paving the bridge over Moyie River as I passed . It smelled awful.
I was already hungry and thirsty. It was time to climb Bussard Mountain. Fearful of a strenuous ascent without water, I climbed up a dry creek bed to where water still flowed. I gathered water and had another meal.
I knew I must hurry, however, if I wanted to make the descent before dark.
The climb was pleasant. How I adore those moments when you can gaze down upon from where you have come!
As I continued the ascent, a large deer kept me company, grabbing huge mouthfuls of leaves, scurrying up the trail, then stopping again to eat until I got within 20 ft or so.
Some of the trail was lined with concrete. I had never seen this before.
The views were stunning, causing me to laugh with joy.
As I descended, and neared a road, I saw headlamps and heard tires screech in the distance. I was growing tired of camping roadside. The trail I was following was large (quite wide enough to sleep on), but covered in tire tracks. The signs of vehicles made me uncomfortable.
I was very pleased to come upon a sliver of clear level space, within the woods, just big enough to star-camp.
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 woke to a knock on the apartment door. It was followed by a call: “breakfast is ready!”
“Okay. Thank you! I will be right down.”
I sat with George at their round wooden table as we ate a breakfast of oatmeal and dried berries. Then George was off to tend to a neighbors dog. The couple offered to give me a ride back to the trail on their way to church, at 0930.
Back in the apartment I reviewed the maps. There is an extensive amount of road walking ahead. My guidebook reads “due to the lightning-caused wildfire in July 2018, the PNT was closed between French-Carver Road –FR5827 and the Rock Candy Mountain Trail 461. At publication, there are no reports of trail conditions.”
The upcoming section was dry as well. I cannot wait until water is prevalent again!
Caroline came up as I was bandaging my feet. We chatted. She warned me to be cautious. She said that I would mostly run in to huckleberry pickers out their, but sometimes their could be unsavory who use the backwoods as a place for drug deals. “You can tell by their eyes”, she said. She told me that she would pray for me. That warmed my heart.
I washed my almond butter container, and filled up on water. I was ready!
Oh how nice they looked, all dressed up for church!
Then, I was on the road, again.
After a few miles I stopped for a coffee break. A car stopped and the man inside asked if I was okay. Later, another car stopped and offered me water. The people in Montana are tremendously kind.
I reflected on all of the wonderful people who have showed me kindness on this journey thus far.
The afternoon sun and hard concrete made for an unforgiving pair..
So much road.
I listened to music and danced with my shadow.
At around 1521 an elderly couple in a van offered me a ride to the top of the hill. Again, I declined. This time I wondered what sort of relationships I could be missing out on by denying rides in favor of a continuous footpath.
I came to a roadside stream and took a break. This time I removed my shoes and socks and elevated my feet.
I put some of the dehydrated soup mix to soak. I had not been able to see the product before purchase, as I had bought it online. It was a little heavier than the previous dehydrated soups I had carried. I was a tad concerned that it would not soak as efficiently. Only time will tell.
The van containing the elderly couple was making its return trip down the hill. Gary and Judy introduced themselves. They were huckleberry pickers. They held out a plastic milk jug filled with berries. They let me try one so that I might recognize the berry as I journeyed forward. I thanked them.
I looked to the east after reaching the top of the hill. I gazed down to where I had journeyed from. I let out a howl.
Oh, how glorious to be on trail again!
I passed through many spider webs. Their magnificent designs were beautifully highlighted as the setting sun cast slivers of illumination about the forest.
I walk around them when I can. Especially those that have rather large residents. When I don’t catch sight of one in time, the sticky threads attach themselves to my body by little points and dance in the wind of my cadence.
I passed a very pretty “200” mile marker, adorned with little pine cones.
I stop to eat my soup. It is a tad crunchy, but still edible, enjoyable even.
Then again, the trail joins a forest road.
At the Forest Road 5902 junction, I chose to stick to the original PNT, bypassing the Northwest Peak Scenic Area alternate. Though the views are said to be fantastic, it was also supposed to be quite challenging, with cross-country scrambling and route-finding. At this point, I was not entirely comfortable attempting it solo.
I continued my roadside trek.
Finally, about a mile or so shy of Midge Creek Trail 177, I found a pull-out area that was large and flat enough to set up a tent and not fear being ran over. Tomorrow is Monday, I am hoping this will help eliminate the chance of vehicles.
My tent smelled like mold. I used a wet wipe to clear the white dust (mold?) that lingered on the tent ceiling.
I unfurled my sleeping bag, slipped inside, and fell to asleep.
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 up rather warm. The humidity level had risen while I slept.
It felt good to wake up in the woods, instead of roadside.
I packed up hurriedly as it began to lightly sprinkle.
Thunder cracked loudly.
It was 0714, it was time to go.
As I began my descent, the rain fell hard. I was so thankful that it did not rain on me last night.
I felt tired. I yearned for coffee. I had just over a half liter water. The next water source was roughly 3 miles away. Coffee would have to wait.
The wind moved loudly, changing direction often.
Th woods are so beautiful. The forest floor rejoiced, illuminated by each drop of rain. The scent of moist dirt and wildflowers filled my soul.
But I am cold. I long for the sun.
I passed the water source. Tucked away within some brush, the spring was not clearly visible. Due to the rain, I was unable to hear its trickle.
I turned back, trying desperately to hear it through the rainfall.
I spotted a light footpath in the tall grass.
The spring was fantastically beautiful. It was not flowing strongly, however.
I collected enough water for breakfast and coffee. I then propped up my Smart Water bottle with stones to catch the tiny streams of water as I ate.
The rain ceased as I unfolded my mat to sit upon. The sun came out and kissed my skin. I removed my hat and let sun-rays flood my face. Every once in a while a spattering of drips called my attention, but to my relief it was just the breeze casting residual water from the pines of the trees. The warmth came and left and came again with the passing of clouds. Oh please stay uncovered in all your glory, dear sun!
I finish breakfast and coffee, and prepare a lunch of textured soy protein, walnuts, nutritional yeast, and seasonings. I have determined that I am just fine with textured soy protein as a backpacking food. It was especially tasty with sun-dried tomatoes, though I had mindlessly depleted my stash one by tasty one last night.
I could hear the Earth suck the spring water back down and under where I sat. At first I thought it was an animal through the woods, but the perfect rhythmic patterns of sound, and no response to ‘hey bear!”, made me realize otherwise.
I knew that lounging in the sunshine and slowly taking in the beauty of it all would lead to having to face worsening weather down the line. Somehow, I did not care.
I continued on my way.
I move slowly, but with persistence.
I gazed at Mount Henry. I could see a tower at it’s peak. That was where I was headed.
I made it to the look out tower by dark. The wind was a monstrous force.
The structures windows and door were barricaded by wooden planks. In the darkness I could not spot a way in. I tried lifting planks, only to find resistance. Finally, I lifted a plank part way to shine my headlamp through the window. I saw the door on the opposite side. I went around and found that the plank covering the door was easily removed. I entered. It was quite cozy. I was rather pleased with my home for the night.
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.
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.