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
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
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
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
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.
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
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 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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.