We still had to hike through more of Glacier National Park, but it was the southeast corner, nobody hiked there. There was a trail, the park service made sure of that, but it wasn’t a particularly good one. The route traversed below unseen peaks, in a tunnel of trees. It was flat, but it was the toughest bit of CDT hiking I’d done so far. Since it was 7 or 8 days to Lincoln, my backpack was 1 snickers away from exploding, it was dreadfully heavy. We were all in the same sorry state. Every few miles, it was time for a break. It took little excuse to stop and a great deal of effort to get moving again. All our songs had been sung to death. Our warnings to the bears consisted of an occasional, “hey bear” or “coming up”… or Mario, clapping in Dutch. After a dozen miles, we popped out on the highway, that other world. Marias Pass. Cars whizzed by, seeing us as we saw them – imperceptible blurs. We stopped for dinner at a campground on the other side of the highway, then searched for the trail south.
The others had driven through Marias Pass on their way to Glacier, and swore there was a big “CDT” sign somewhere on the south side of the road. My map told me to head straight into the woods, but I decided to trust the others’ first-hand observation. A mile down the highway, we found it – bit of tire-burned earth that doubled as a trailhead parking area. We turned south, into the forest, straight for the Bob.
The Bob was big, the Bob was bad… bigger and badder than Glacier anyway. Fewer people went there. There was no going-to-the-moon road, there was no “Bob Lodge”. Just us, some bears, and a maze of interlocking trails. The Bob Marshall Wilderness was rarely called by its full name. We’d heard from the locals that all troublesome bears got relocated to the Bob. Like so many things locals were sure they knew, it wasn’t true. Troublesome bears were released close to where they were trapped – bombed with pepper spray, shot with bean bags, and attacked by dogs – it took a lot to freak-out a bear. Hopefully, it was enough to drive them away for good. But drive them to where? What did they do when the woods were full?
We weren’t officially in the Bob yet. We camped a few miles from the road, just far enough so that we couldn’t hear it. Instead, the wind made the trees sing, and evening rains provided an encore.
A mile into the next day, the trail disappeared. That was the CDT, barely even a line on a map. We stood in a meadow of knee-high grass and flowers, looking, looking. We found wildlife trails heading out of the meadow… they disappeared in a few hundred yards, couldn’t be the trail. We spotted an old tree blaze – an upside-down exclamation point cut out of the bark – it was probably 15 years old. Was that it? yup. The trail quickly got us frustrated with pointless ups and downs. Why hike over a hundred-foot hill, when you could just as easily go around it? Ahead, the trail followed a jeep road along the South Fork Two Medicine River below. We decided to cut down to the river early.
The jeep road wasn’t used by many jeeps it seemed. Almost every print in the frequent mud was that of a large bear. They were headed in every direction. Each time our feet were on the verge of being dry, the route crossed the river – a knee-deep ford in most places. It wasn’t tough, and if it wasn’t for the fact that my shoes didn’t dry easily, I would have liked crossing the river. 10 miles or so later, we reached an empty ranger station.
We sat on the porch eating cheese and crackers, debating who, if anyone, used the place. The door was locked. Then, a young woman showed up – a wildlife biology student. 21 years old, all smiles… the kind of biologist you see in the movies and say, “ya right, they’re all like that.”. We didn’t feel so tough anymore. She was spending the summer studying, trapping (well, assisting), tagging and tracking bears. She said they’d already tagged more bears that year than they had the entire previous year. The bears were spreading, growing. She was the one responsible for the bizarrely raked 10-foot sections of road we’d seen – she was counting bear prints. She’d seen a couple bears earlier in the day. She had a healthy fear of them, but there she was, alone, doing it, armed with a little experience and a big can of pepper spray. I wanted to stay, I felt old.
The map ahead showed a web of trails, all led to the same place. The official CDT route took a 3 mile detour to the southwest – over a hill and back down, why? We picked another path, the shortest route from ‘here to there’. The trails got nicer as we neared the border of the Bob. We paralleled Montana streams – shallow, wide rippled sheets of water over smooth egg-shaped rocks. We were in old woods. A moose watched us go by – freaks, brightly colored aliens in a sea of sameness. We came upon a sand bar and called it a day.
My nose was bothering me – filled with gunk that had no accurate name. I chipped away at it… just a little relief… Then I was back at the beginning, dripping and bleeding, for 10 minutes watching a frothy red puddle in the sand steadily grow. There was nothing my friends could do, “just worry for me, so I don’t have to.”, I thought. It was just a bloody nose, but I couldn’t afford it. I needed all my blood. A simple affliction of light-headedness could be disastrous. I had 6 or 7 more days to go. The flow slowed and slowed, had it stopped? From then on, I treated my nose like a Chinese vase, no more itching, no more jerky movements, no more breathing through it, just let it alone I thought. I propped up my head up closed my eyes.
The next day started where the last one had left off. We climbed up Crucifixion Creek, past Blue Lake and reached the divide. The continental divide was flat and swampy. The snow had just about all melted, but the mosquitoes hadn’t yet hatched. Clumps of evergreen forest divided up empty soon-to-be green meadows. The area was a chain of parks in immense proportions. We took what we thought would be a cross-country shortcut, my map showed it as a trail. There had been a trail at one time, probably 20 years ago, but it was gone. We crashed through the brittle bottoms of trees, pushed ourselves up eroded gullies and made slow difficult progress. Suddenly, we were standing on brand-new tread. Somebody had moved the trail. They’d spent a lot of time on it – wooden structures lined the path, and drainage channels were cut to help the trail last. It was all a dozen miles from the nearest dead-end dirt road. It was a joy to walk on. In a couple miles we crossed into the Bob.
A few minutes into the Bob, we passed a group of trail workers headed the other way – young employees of the forest service, and mules loaded with tools and food. They had been clearing the trail of downed trees, roaming the Bob for a week at a time. We didn’t talk long, we wished each other well, and headed our separate ways. The trail became long and monotonous, I could feel the bigness of it. I was just seeing a small bit of the Bob, a small bit of the earth, and it felt gigantic. Every step brought more of it, a world in which to disappear. Varied thrushes rang like cell phones, no, not like cell phones, here and there, hidden by the green. Mule deer darted off the path ahead. We drifted apart, Drew, then me, then Mario, then John… the little differences in our walking speed amplified over the miles. We passed each other, leapfrogging as one then another stopped for lonely breaks. Our calls to the bears had devolved to a simple “‘NUP!”, the loudest sound we could make with the least amount of effort. The tunnel led us to Gooseberry, to Forest Service central. click to enlarge
A dozen mules and 3 or 4 people were at Gooseberry, mulling around a back-country cabin. The older one was clearly the leader, dispatching teams to scour the trails for downed logs and patches of mud. We told him of our encounter earlier in the day, “Hmmm, just where I thought they’d be…”, he rubbed his beard. He loved it all. I’d picked up a heavy metal file along the way, it had been laying on the side of the trail. “Must’ve fallen off a mule, thanks”. He gave us juice. We had to ford the Flathead river. It split in two there – one of the crew gave us advice on where to cross, it wasn’t very accurate information – but well-intentioned. We took off our socks to keep them dry, put our shoes back on, and crashed into the frigid stream. It was about waist deep, but not too swift and not too wide.
We ate dinner on the other side of the crossing, then found a bit of earth surrounded by wetland on which to spend the night. My nose was still crusted in dried blood, not bleeding, so it was fine.
It rained most of the night, the damp forest became damper. The morning was nothing but a dull misty greyness. During the night, a team of mice had attacked my food. One had chewed through the line that held it in the trees, another had penetrated deep inside – sampling some hot chocolate, some mac & cheese, and settling on gorp, good gorp, gorp drew had given me, gorp I was saving and savoring – pistachios, macadamias, exotic seeds… damn.
I spotted an unfamiliar creature, spotting me from the trees. A pine marten, a giant killer squirrel, or… squirrel killer. The big weasel thought of the implications of Drew and me – aliens! and bounded off in panic. The gloom quickly gave way to rain, the trail turned to mud. We were climbing, getting colder, the rain become sleet, then snow. Stupidly, I had tucked my nylon pants inside my ankle gaiters, water ran down my legs and into my shoes. I’d done it before sometime, but too long ago to learn from the mistake. My feet were numb with cold, sloshed, wrinkled and white. I put on my last pair of dry socks – 2 minutes of aaaahhh, then they were gone – soaked. I was out of energy, out of blood?, behind all my companions and slipping. Then it all changed.
The snow faded, the clouds crumbled and blue took over the sky. The sun beamed, brightened and warmed. The terrain opened up – lakes, boulders, flowers… In the span of an hour, I went from misery to joy. I ate a snickers, a ‘big one’. I was back. The trail disappeared again, under snow. We climbed to 8000 ft, the highest we’d been on the trip so far, and took a long break on rocks on top of Kevan Mountain, in the sun, finally… a view.
A snake-like cliff extended southward, it was the northern section of the chinese wall. Not an original name, but a great wall. The top of the wall was the divide, sheer cliffs dropped down a thousand feet or more to an alpine slope below – that’s where the trail was. The trail headed down, then up, then down then up, over ridges streaming out from the wall. We had to cut cross country to the CDT. It didn’t go over Kevan Mountain, it went through the woods below somewhere… we’d had enough of that. We could see for 50 miles, it was obvious where to go. click to enlarge
We cut down slopes of boulders and scree, down snowbanks like kids sledding at Christmas. We hit the trail. It was glorious, especially in contrast to the last couple days, those 50 miles of wooded tunnels. We followed the base of the cliff as it meandered south. The sun illuminated bands of colored rock in the cliff face – red, grey, mauve, black, yellow, brown – soft tones of solid earth. Tiny yellow flowers danced in the breeze and sunlight. I didn’t know their name, but what did it matter? Why name such a beautiful thing? Why make it human? Why destroy the mystery and magic? click to enlarge
We followed the wall the rest of the day, finally settling to camp in some trees just below it. A mule deer with fuzzy velvet antlers came by to say hello… and lick our pee (I’ve never tried it, but it must be good stuff). The Swainson’s thrushes whistled, the shadows grew and another day of CDT passed.
Drew left early. The rest of us were in no hurry. It was a clear sunny morning, the sun blasted the wall above us. We had to make a long detour southeast into the tunnel, then southwest to the other end of the wall. In-between the two sections, the wall went crazy and wasn’t navigable, it was to remain a secret from us. We looked for the trail but could find nothing. The only thing we did find were Drew’s footprints, headed up some decent, maintained tread that wasn’t on the map. Perhaps “they” had re-routed the trail? We followed Drew.
The tread led over the next ridge, then disappeared into a fan of faint paths. According to the map, there was supposed to be a trail up on the ridge someplace. We followed one of the faint paths along the ridge, but it ended in a cliff. Frustrated and confused, we headed down the other side of the ridge… perhaps we didn’t know where we were? We figured that if we followed the stream below, it should lead us to our trail… somewhere. We set off, through the untrammeled forest. The woods got thick, huge, the ground approximate. It was rotten mossy logs, broken bits of branches and random patches of mud… it all made for difficult walking. Then it got worse.
Giant fires had swept through the Bob in 1988. The lush green gave way to a land of bleached and broken trees. Some trees still stood, but many had fallen. They’d crashed on top of each other into a tangled skeletal mess. Green grasses and bright flowers grew below the menagerie of greyish white. In some places, the pile was 20 feet high – solid dead wood, in other places the earth was bare. We clamored over the brittle bones. The only way through was to snap whatever got in our way, whatever grabbed onto our clothes, our packs, our skin. Anything thinner than a pencil snapped from a touch, anything thinner than a baseball bat required a stiff kick. Eroded, steep-banked streambeds cut perpendicular to our path, we balanced high above the ground, trying to walk the length of whatever trees had fallen a favorable direction. We caught up to Drew and took a break. John spotted a bear crouching behind a log a hundred yards away – just a head, checking us out. We decided to keep moving, progress was slow. Everything grabbing, sticking, scratching, breaking… Then we hit the trail and instant relief. It had taken 3 hours to go 3 miles. It felt longer, it felt farther.
We were behind schedule… not that we really had a schedule, but we’d hoped to be farther by then. We kept hiking, the burned area gave way to green after 5-6 more miles, we drifted into our solo places again. A group of horse-packers passed by, 3 people with 9 horses carrying their junk. I hopped off the trail into the woods, but it wasn’t far enough for the horses – they panicked, they jumped around, the people yelled at me. Screw these people… I thought… It’s not my fault your horses are stupid.
We were determined to get back as close to the south end of the wall as possible. We had a good climb ahead… a couple thousand feet or so. John got in front and we all marched in silence behind. All of us were tired and we were about out of water. We didn’t stop. John reached the top and threw his poles at a trail sign, “HAAA!”, A desperate release of steam. We had to hike a few more miles to find water, eat, then one more to camp. I set up my tarp in a steady grey drizzle. The clouds had been building all day, now they were letting go.
We awoke in a thin forest of larches, covered in dew and blessed with another clear morning. Another day of “the wall” was ahead.
The south section of the chinese wall was more regular than the north half, more straight. We stopped everywhere, soaking in the sun and soaking in the mystical power of the wall. Sometimes it took something so large to remind me how small I was – how weak, how insignificant, how helpless. The trail was routed just above the tree line, among the short flowers, but below the rocks that had crumbled from the cliff above. Through most of the summer, horses provided the bulk of the traffic on the trail, and everywhere they went – mud, ripped up earth, diverted streams… The damage was mostly cosmetic, that bit of trail hardly made or broke the local ecosystem, but it was disturbing and annoying. It was like graffiti on a statue. It was like litter. The trail was my home, and I had the feeling that people just didn’t care about it. But, I knew they did care… in their own way. They just had different priorities, they rode high above the mess, protected from it by a thousand pound poop machine. I walked in the poop. click to enlarge
The trail turned away from the wall, downhill into the forest. I decided to stop at Benchmark Wilderness Ranch with my companions. After the mouse incident and our generally slow progress, I didn’t really have enough food to get all the way to Lincoln. I didn’t have any food waiting for me at Benchmark, but John did, and he wouldn’t need it – he was taking a break from hiking to go play rugby for a few days… whatever. The route through Benchmark was a little longer, but not much… maybe 5 miles or so.
A family of backpackers passed us – Dad, Mom, brother, sister… heading up to the wall. They told us that a couple women had their camp wrecked by a bear the previous night at Indian Point. The women had hiked out. The summer was getting underway. We stopped at Indian Point to get some water, and the strangest thing happened. I actually saw a tree fall over. It had been resting on another tree and a slight breeze upset the balance. Crash! I’d seen probably hundreds of thousands of old trees lying on the ground in my lifetime, but I’d never actually seen one fall. One has to spend a lot of time in the woods to see that happen.
Another 15 minutes down the trail and the sky exploded. The clouds had been building a lot faster all day than they usually did. A blanket of heavy rain poured down in waves, we ducked under trees, covered in nylon and plastic. Thunder echoed through the mountains, rumbling almost continuously. Then, it was over. Blue skies, a few tattered clouds… The air was cleaner than it had ever been (if that was even possible), the trees glistened, the grass and flowers glew. There was too much energy in the atmosphere though, the clouds built again, more rain. The cycle repeated a couple more times.
We crossed a pack-bridge over the West Fork Sun River, and stopped to eat on the other side. Across the river, a man in blue jeans was a lugging huge container of water up the river bank – one of a group of horse-packers who’d made camp not far away. A little while later, he returned with 4 nervous horses and another man. I had to stop myself from shouting, “Hey, you can lead a horse to water…”. We hiked a few more miles down the trail, which became a well-worn horse-highway, about 10 feet across. The landscape was fairly flat, clumps of forest and clumps of soft meadow. It looked manicured, almost fake, like a big city park, or a fairy tale. Any minute, I expected to see a merchant on wagon full of treasure roll past and get jumped by a band of merry men, and a green-clad chap swinging from the treetops. Every place was a perfect place to camp. Drew picked out a spot, and we all shrugged our shoulders, “looks great”. click to enlarge
It was only a few more miles to the trailhead – the end of the road, or the beginning. Benchmark Wilderness Ranch was a few more miles down that road. The trailhead parking area was filled with cars and trucks. A group was getting ready for an extended stay in the woods. One man in the group had a giant external frame backpack, counterbalanced by a bulging gut. The pack probably weighed 90 pounds, pots and pans were lashed here and there, a shotgun, ammo, I supposed he was going to war since hunting season was months away. He knew what he was doing of course, he was experienced. What was he intending to get out of his time in the mountains? I wondered. A backache? Blisters? Was that his understanding of backpacking? It didn’t look fun. I didn’t care about the guy, I was just sorry that he was spreading his, “ain’t a man if ya’ can’t take it…” philosophy, ruining the experience of backpacking for whoever happened to listen to him.
I was down to 2 granola bars and a few crackers. We walked a few hundred yards past the entrance of the trailhead, then accepted a ride in the back of a pickup the rest of the way to Benchmark. There wasn’t much at Benchmark – one woman, a couple cabins. Benchmark was primarily a horse-packing business, their biggest draw, hunting season, was months away – $2000 for a week’s worth of shooting big animals and camping with generators… Drew’s package hadn’t shown up. The woman who ran the place was heading down past Augusta later, and offered him a ride. Augusta was the nearest town, about 30 miles of gravel road. His package was likely at the post office. We decided to rent a cabin and take some showers… The only problem was that we had no extra food. The hours clicked away… 12PM, 1PM, 2PM… two old guys drove an old blue pickup truck back and forth… 3PM, 4PM… Drew’s ride never materialized. Apparently “later” meant “tomorrow”. I was starving, but couldn’t afford to eat my provisions – I needed those for the hike out. Timidly, I headed to the house, “Do you have any food… like, any meat we could, like, buy off you?”, I asked. The woman returned with 4 venison steaks. “Here you go, she said with a smile.” Wow, real meat. Protein. I returned to the cabin triumphant. We sat around, deciding how to make the most of our unexpected bounty. Then Willie showed up.
Willie “worked” at the ranch – a high-school-aged country boy, 100%. He brought us a cooler full of chips, potatoes and pop… we prepared a feast. “I put sugar in my stepdad’s gas tank… He was pissed.”, Willie volunteered. He kept going, telling us stories that if repeated to the wrong person, would’ve won him free meals at the Univerity of Montana State Correctional Facility. He was beyond correction though. The only advice we could give him was that he ought not to talk so much. I ate so much that I couldn’t stand after dinner. I lay in bed, immobilized by my bloated stomach.
Drew finally got his ride early the next morning. The rest of us sat around, lazy. Sitting was a treat. I finished reading “Mountain Man”, by Vardis Fisher, getting the pages from John as he finished them… handing them off to Mario when I was done. Drew got back around 3PM. It had taken him 3 hitches and 4 miles of walking to get back to Benchmark. John’s rugby friends hadn’t shown up yet, but we were eager to get going. “See you up ahead, man”, I knew I’d cross paths with John again… the hike was still young.
The Bob was behind us. We were hiking into the Scapegoat Wilderness. It was all attached, it was all the same land, but the scapegoat did have a subtly different character. The mountains were tighter, there were crickets, cicadas, different birds, fewer bear prints. The fires which had burned the Bob in 1988 devastated the Scapegoat. A map at the trailhead showed how the Scapegoat’s forests were primarily dead white snags.
We walked along the length of a river, the clouds made sand-dune ripples in the sky. It felt good to be hiking again, it was what I was for. click to enlarge
We entered the burn soon after breaking camp the next morning. The trees were twisted into white spirals by the intense heat over a decade ago – locked into place like some pompeiin family in eternal denial. The graveyard stretched as far as we could see, up mountainsides, along rivers, everything had been consumed, recycled. Flowers, grass, bugs… they were taking over. In these mountains, 13 years was a blink. Near the occasional lucky patch of trees that bore witness to the fires and lived, a thick cover of saplings took root… smaller and smaller as they got further away from their progenic source. That was the way a forest came back, slowly, eventually, but quickly all the same. click to enlarge
The trail crossed Dearborn Creek, then headed back up toward the divide. We got there and examined our options. The official CDT route went down the other side, then back up another drainage… crossing the divide again after 8 miles and thousands of vertical feet… up and down. It seemed it would be easier to walk along the open country that constituted the divide and get to the same place in 3 miles, with dramatic views all the way. A path was beaten into the ground heading up the divide – we weren’t the first ones to balk at the stupidly circuitous CDT. click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge
Tiny blue-white-pink flowers, smaller than thumbtacks, carpeted the landscape. The few trees, most of them white relics, grew in formations decided by the whimsy of the ever-present winds. Swaths of standing dead forests reached up the mountainsides, clouds covered the ridge, making the wind visible. Far below, Bighorn Lake rested as a puddle of blue in an immense rocky white bowl. We hooked up with the CDT and descended to a pond below Caribou Peak. Our venture to the mountaintops was too brief. click to enlarge click to enlarge
For breakfast, I re-hydrated some hash browns that I’d picked out of a hiker box in Benchmark. They were probably 4 years old, completely bland and disgusting. I was no longer hungry, I felt sick instead. I had no energy, but managed to drag myself back up to the divide. The mountaintops were slowly changing. The bare rolling hills were splattered with cliff faces, fewer and fewer as time and the miles went on. South. We dipped down to Lewis and Clark Pass. click to enlarge
Merriwether Lewis had passed through there on his way back from the Pacific nearly 200 years ago. I could see his face – tired, torn, confused and worn. The landscape looked more tame than I’d imagined. I was sure it had changed in 200 years, but not much. The mountains were still the same. The trees and grasses had shifted here and there, but 200 years is a short time for a mountain. I had heard that one could still see ruts in the earth from Indian traders – the pass had always been a popular route across the divide. I didn’t see any ruts, only a modern dirt road leading down to a spring, a source of water used for more than a mere 200 years I imagined.
We headed back up the divide, up Green Mountain… a green mountain, a windy mountain. The wind kept anything from getting too tall. Trees there grew sideways, as if pressed by a dry-cleaner. The wind was blowing fiercely, as if trying to rid the mountain of its human infestation. All sound disappeared into the white noise of wind whipping by our ears. It was only there though, just that one mountainside… strange. We got to the other side and headed through more forest.
The CDT was getting more and more vague. Every couple miles, we’d have the luxury of a sign “CDT–>” to remind us we were still on course, but that was all. There was little actual trail, just open land. We came upon one of these signs… it was aimed (like most of them) at hikers who were headed north, an arrow pointed the way toward where we’d come. It appeared the sign was intended for travellers who came up ridge to our right. Drew headed down the ridge and into the woods to investigate. Yup, there was an old road there… he disappeared behind the trees. Mario and I followed. The road continued along the ridge, then disappeared into a latticework of blown-down trees. I kept going, Mario was behind me, but my legs didn’t want to wait for him, couldn’t. After a couple more miles of forest, meadow, forest, meadow, I was frustrated, no road, no trail, no signs, nothing. I pulled out my compass and map – too late. I’d been headed the wrong direction since that damn sign. We should have gone left, not right. I’d paid a price for not paying attention to where I was. I was off my map. Mario caught up and we had a little conference. We figured we were on a ridge NW of Bartlett creek. If we headed down to the creek, we’d hit a forest road. We could follow that to the highway. We called out for Drew, but he was gone. He could take care of himself. We headed down the steep wooded hillside, intersecting a road halfway down the mountain. We looked around and saw a patchwork of clear-cuts all along the mountainsides surrounding us – logging roads headed this way and that, none of them were on the map. We tried to pick roads that headed our general direction, but came to one dead-end after another with lots of bushwhacking in-between. Finally, we got to the bottom of the valley, on the main “trunk” road. We were out of water though, and for whatever reason didn’t keep going down to the creek to get some. Instead we followed the road. I kept thinking… We should have been in Lincoln by now… if we’d only managed to follow the CDT to Rogers Pass. We’d taken our wrong turn only a couple miles before the pass, and had been hiking parallel to the highway ever since. A couple miles down the road, a pickup came down the road from the mountains.
I just about grabbed the truck as it drove by. We tried to play on right side of the fine line between pathetic and scary (the pathetic side). The couple driving by was rock-hounding – looking for rocks to use in some home-improvement project. The bed of their pickup was filled with brittle flat rocks. They offered us some water. We told them our story, and they apprehensively let us sit with the rocks as they drove toward the highway. They had one more stop to make, at a public gravel pit. We helped them shovel gravel into plastic 5-gallon buckets, and got promoted to “back seat” status. Inside the vehicle we could actually talk to them. He’d grown up in Lincoln, lived in California for a while, then come home to Montana. He had a gun, and was concerned because we didn’t. “There’s mountain lions out there…”, he warned, “Ya never know what might happen…”. Oh ya… bears AND lions. By the time we reached the highway, we had a ride to Lincoln. “Just pass the favor on to someone else”, he told us. I had tried to do as many favors as possible since the PCT, I figured I was still slightly in Karmic debt… now definitely… I had a lot of work ahead of me.
Our ride dropped us off in the middle of Lincoln, the biggest town I’d seen since leaving Seattle. It was a metropolis of over 2000! I wanted a milkshake, Mario wanted meat. We found both at the eatery in the middle of town. We stood out like… well, like a couple of smelly hiking bums. Families avoided our eyes, the waitress was cordial and curt. Lincoln was the one-time home of Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski, and the people had little tolerance for the dirty, smelly and bearded. We split a room at a hotel next to the restaurant and set out to discover… Lincoln. We didn’t have to look far, John was walking down the street. Drew was at another hotel. The man in the blue suit had arrived.
He had a regular name like you or I, but to us, he was simply the man in the blue suit. A veteran of the AT and PCT, he’d started hiking the CDT about 10 days after us. He had a tiny pack. He’d passed us while we were in Benchmark. He’d sprained his ankle in a horse print along the chinese wall. He wore a one piece blue jumpsuit. “This thing is great”, he told us, “let’s just see a tick try and get in there.”. I nodded my head in approval. He kept up his sales pitch, “It breathes… it’s warm AND it’s cool”. He was one with the blue suit, naked without it (literally). He couldn’t have been fabricated by any imaginative whimsy, he was too real, too fake, one of a kind. He left that afternoon, “Aw, my ankle just needs a little exercise.” It was twice the size of its twin. “Damn horses…”, he complained.
John had a friend joining him on the trail. J.J. was from New Jersey… er, rather, Big Sky Montana. He’d dropped John & Drew & Mario off in Glacier, I’d met him there briefly. He hadn’t hiked any long trail, but he really wanted to do it – that was his most important piece of equipment, one of the mind, one that couldn’t be bought at REI. He was a teacher with a couple months off, looking to learn and discover something.
Mario and I had agreed to try and stick together, if for nothing else than to split hotel rooms. We stayed until lunch the next day – grease, protein, cream, fat. Then, after one last polish sausage, we raised our thumbs.