Lincoln to Bozeman
June 27, 2005
I slept until the shockingly late hour of 9 am, and still didn't want to get out of bed. I wanted to sleep until noon or two in the afternoon, but couldn't. I stared at the phone for a while, then put on clothes and went out for breakfast. On my way out I ran straight into Buck-30 and Lisa, who had just arrived in town after hitchhiking down from Rogers Pass. It took them thirty minutes to get a ride here and they were looking for a place to stay in town. I showed them my room and they decided to take one of their own. I went to Bootleggers for breakfast and ordered an omelet, accompanied by the standard things, and a cinnamon roll, which the waitress thought amusing. I wasn't especially hungry and ate out of tradition rather than want or need, which turned out to be for the best. The omelet was as far from being an omelet as possible. Cooked on a wide, flat griddle, the chef had spread the beaten eggs out as thinly as possible, making something that resembled paper more than the dense, yet fluffy, creation that is a true omelet. Fillings were cooked separately, then rolled up into the egg paper like a burrito. Unfortunately, you find this sort of thing in most places. Except on the PCT, where apparently a chef's association teaches everyone along the trail how to make an omelet. Standard, frozen hashbrowns came along with it. I hate these things. The cinnamon roll was, however, quite respectable and came out hot and gooey with a large slab of frosting on top and an icecream scoop of butter on top of that. Not as good as the one at Thelmas in Big Bear City, but nothing could ever equal that one.
I showered and then picked up the phone to call. Voice mail. Left phone number. Turned on television and thought about beer; 11 am was just too early to make a beer run. Forty minutes later the phone rang and we talked. Mundane things, initially. Then I unburdened myself on her in the gentlest way that I could. It was surprisingly easy. I had been thinking about these things for more than two weeks. Time spent in tortuous solitude, with a few breaks in between. She had not thought of them at all and couldn't answer any of the questions that I put to her. Or didn't want to. I hated doing this, especially over the phone, but I couldn't have left Lincoln without doing so. We talked for an hour and I hung up with an odd mixture of confusion and certainty. I knew and did not know, hurt and relieved, scarred and healed. I didn't know if I felt better or worse for calling, but it was something that I had to do. I didn't know what to do. I needed to think, and being stuck in a strange town is the worst place for that activity. I went to the laundromat to clean my few possessions as a sort of compromise.
While sitting out front of the laundromat, I spotted Dave and Leslie and chatted with them for a bit. I was very surprised to see them, but when I heard their story I understood. They had walked the road out from Benchmark to Augusta, as no one would pick them up. Actually, no cars had passed. Thirty miles, no cars. Dave was having foot problems and their gear was failing and they needed some ease for a change. Leslie's parents met them in Augusta and drove them down to Lincoln, and would eventually take them to Missoula for gear. They would then, roadwalk from Augusta down to Rogers Pass, where they'd pick up the CDT again. I told them something of my troubles and they sympathized. At that moment, I knew that I was hiking on, though not on the CDT. I needed good, solid trail without route issues, like on the CDT. Dave and Leslie were right. I needed to get to Helena to pick up stuff from the post office. From Helena I could take a Greyhound to Bozeman and pick up the extensive trail system in the Greater Yellowstone area. That would get me, after a few hundred miles of hiking, to Jackson. I'd call her again when I got there in a few weeks. Maybe things would have changed by then. Maybe she would put some time in thinking. And so I hiked on because going home wouldn't change things and I still had some pride. I was hiking on because I couldn't think of anything else to do.
Being the afternoon, I went to the store for a six pack of beer and retired to my room to watch television. I was disappointed in myself for how the summer had progressed so far. I had been counting the days until the summer ended, rather than despairing that another day had slipped away. I wanted it to end. I wanted things to be like they were in the Springtime, I wanted things to be different from the Springtime. I wanted to hike and I wanted to go home. I couldn't remember a time in my life when I was so fractured. Four o'clock found me out of beer and no closer to answer than before. I went for a walk across town to the library, where there was internet access and met Buck-30 and Lisa again when they strolled in while I read email and posted a message to an internet bulletin board. We talked briefly, but there was a large line for internet access due to a cycling group being in town.
I had drunk three beers and consumed most of a cheeseburger at the Scapegoat when they showed up and ordered an extra large pizza with a salad. Their appetite was not failing, which was a good sign for the future of their hike. If I didn't start eating more, my body would begin to fail. And failing in the remote lands that I was heading toward would not be good. We chatted for a while, then went our separate ways. They back to the motel, myself to the store for more beer. I could avoid the mirror of solitude for a while. I watched television, swilled awful local beer. And then phone rang. I was surprised to hear her voice on the other end. Only for a few minutes, but that she called made me feel better. Almost special again. I managed to turn the light off before falling asleep.
I had another terrible omelet at Bootleggers, checked out of the motel, and was standing on the outskirts of town, in front of the library, with a sign made out of a pizza box sign by 9:30. This should be simple, I assured myself. Helena is the state capital, I've got a sign proclaiming who I am and where I need to go, and this road only goes to Helena or Great Falls. A ride shouldn't take much more than an hour, I thought. The temperature dropped, a cold wind started to blow, and rain fell. An hour passed. A second. I grew into a foul mood. Cars were driving by slowly, reading the sign, and then speeding up as they passed. The rain fell in patches, but it was always cold. A third hour passed. All I wanted to do, at this point, was to go home. If a Greyhound station was in town, I'd have bought a ticket back to the wonderful Pacific Northwest in a heart beat. A fourth hour passed. Buck-30 and Lisa came walking by with their packs, heading to the library to buy some gear before hitching out of town themselves. They had seen me walking out to the road while they ate breakfast and were shocked to find me still hitching. Buck-30 jokingly offered to lend me Lisa for a few minutes to help secure a ride. At two in the afternoon, the rain and cold were too much and I joined them in the library, where I could warm up. Ellinor, the librarian, was shocked as well that no one had given me a lift by then. Disappointed, almost, in her fellow Lincolnians. I stayed and talked with Ellinor and Buck-30 and Lisa for thirty minutes, not wanting to face the cold outside. But, it had stopped raining and I wouldn't get a ride by sitting in the library.
I stood with my sign and smiled as best as I could. After a few minutes a car pulled over, but they could only take me about 10 miles outside of town, just past the Alice Creek road. I thanked them and started smiling again. Just before three, Ellinor came out and offered me a ride to Helena. The library wasn't busy and there was another librarian there anyways. She was taking off of work early to drive me to Helena. There were no words to express how much I appreciated the lift. As we drove and talked the sensation of speeding along in a car was a sweet one: Floating and moving without effort. We found the postoffice in downtown Helena, but it wasn't the one where General Delivery parcels are held. Ellinor could have left me in downtown and I would have managed to get to the postoffice on my own (in fact, a woman in a VW bus offered me a lift), but she wouldn't hear of it. We drove to the correct PO and I got my stuff and mailed out more stuff to Jackson. Again, Ellinor could have split, but she wanted to make sure I got everything done, wanted to help. I offered to fill her tank, but she wouldn't hear of it. Could I buy her dinner? No. We sped to the otherside of town and found the Greyhound station, where she waited while I bought ticket to Bozeman for the next day. And then she drove me over to a local Motel 6 where I got a room. Finally, with me safe and sound and everything taken care of, she left. Helena was a huge town and it would have taken me forever on foot to do the things that I needed to do. I couldn't express my gratitude toward her, not even to myself. I didn't have the words for it. I had yet another debt of kindness to repay.
After settling in the motel room, I walked up to the grocery store to find something to eat, as I had something of an appetite. I bought a pound and a half of a noodle dish at the the Albertson's deli, then added a half pound of Greek salad. Then an entire, triple layer chocolate cake that was discounted because it was slightly smushed. Two 20 oz. cans of Steel Reserve and a bottle of cheap red wine rounded out my evening repast. My time with Ellinor had left me feeling well, especially after such a trying morning and early afternoon.
I ate in bed, finishing the noodles, salad, and half of the chocolate cake, washing it all down with the beers. Some idiot movie was on television. I was glad that I no longer watched TV at home, as I felt distinctly dumber as the night wore on. Not just from the wine. No, the TV itself was making me dumberer.
My bus didn't leave until 4:30 in the afternoon, so I slept in as long as I could, then watched the Fox News Channel and ate most of the rest of the chocolate cake for breakfast. Unfortunately, I had to check out at noon, which gave me quite a bit of time to kill. I bought a paper and coffee at a gas station near the bus stop and found a shady tree to sit under and read. And read. And read. I read every article in the Helena paper, even all the stupid ones that only locals could care about. I read the advice columns and the reports on the local minor league baseball team. The fishing report. I did the crossword and the jumble. I killed four hours of my life sitting under that tree. But, they passed sweetly and blissfully. I think the prospect of doing my own thing for a while was a salubrious one.
My time finally came around and I got on the packed bus, sitting next to a pretty girl, who told me she was a model heading to Billings for a photoshoot for Urban Outfitters. It seemed rather odd to be riding a bus to a photoshoot, but plane fares are expensive between Missoula, where she had finished her first year at the University of Montana, and Billings. She asked me if I had a girlfriend or was married, which forced me to come with some sort of half truth story. A woman across the aisle added sympathetic comments from the heart. "You're better off without her anyways. Too young to settle down." When I added that I was 31, the model was shocked. She had thought that I was 24 or something. Not the most observant person, I thought. She was studying communications at the University, but for no real reason. She had no interest in school, no ambition to learn something, and was only there to make her parents happy. She'd slide through the four year school and then get married and be very middle class. I was disappointed in myself when I reflected that I had been dreaming of the same thing for much of the summer. The bus rolled into Bozeman just as it was getting dark and I left the model to her photoshoot and her life, whatever that might hold. I didn't want it any more. I wanted to hike south.
I checked at two of the close by motels, but they were full. It was the beginning of the tourist season in Bozeman and I began to fear that I might end up sleeping in the park like a true vagrant. However, I got the last available room at the Blue Sky motel (not affiliated with the one in Lincoln). The night clerk was reading Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture, about which my father had written a scathing review in the journal Arion. We talked a bit about the book before I dropped my rig in the room and went out in search of dinner and beer. Dinner was a bag of chips and two sandwiches from the gas station. Beer was Steel Reserve, which seemed to be my beer of choice this summer. On the PCT, it was Sierra Nevada. That told me something.
I was getting on trail today, though I didn't know quite how. The trailhead for the Devil's Backbone, my route into Yellowstone, was a 15 or 20 mile walk out of town. I did, however, have a phone number for a contact in Bozeman. Ryan Jordan, the head guru over at BackpackingLight, lived here and we had been in contact before my hike about the alternate route that I had been planning. I hadn't been able to get a hold of him in Lincoln or in Helena, but I thought I'd try once more. This time, I succeeded and he offered to give me a lift out to the trailhead in the afternoon. Things were changing for me. Getting better. I was getting into the groove. Happy, I called home to wish her a happy birthday, but only got a voice mail system, and then went out to resupply for the long haul to Cooke City, Montana. My best estimate was that it would be a 150 mile walk, which mean that I needed a solid six day supply of food.
I returned with several bags of food and some donuts and spent the remainder of my time getting the food packed up and my rig set to go. Check out time was 11, which gave me a lot of time to fuddle about. The lobby advertised internet for five dollars. For how long, I asked the clerk? "As long as you want." I spent two hours doing email stuff and posting a few messages, then wandered into Bozeman to look around. Cute town, very livable, not yet trashed by the tourist trade. At Barrel Mountaineering, I bought a better map for the Devil's Backbone area, one that showed actual contour lines and that I could navigate with. My forest service map was close to worthless for just about anything. A large sandwich, a tub of potato salad, and a bag of chips from the store formed my lunch, which I took in the local park. I began to feel nervous about the hike down the Devil's Backbone as I looked over the map I had bought, yet I was also happy to be heading south again, to be hiking again. I hoped that the feeling would last, that it would grow, that I could have my summer back again.
Ryan picked me up at 3:30 and we drove out to the trailhead as I told him something of my woes so far. Completely understanding, despite my not giving him all the details of why I had been so miserable, Ryan knew from experience that a long distance hike, in wilderness and solitude, when your mind and heart were not in it was always a painful event. We switched topics to gear and the resupply and then conditions in the area. When we reached the trailhead I showed him some of the experimental gear that I was testing out this summer, like the prototype pack and the carbon fiber ice axe. Perhaps to delay the inevitable. But then he was gone and I had to hike.
I was alone again, but didn't feel lonely. I was out doing what I wanted to be doing at the time. I felt no desire to be elsewhere. I climbed up and up, passing day hikers on their way down, making good time on the inclined trail. The body was functioning properly, aligned with the mind, and I ascended with ease. Snow was fully melting and the creeks were swollen and raging. Some had bridges over them.
Unfortunately, some did not and I had to get my feet wet. There hadn't been a single hiking day in which I'd had dry feet throughout the day. Not one. I didn't care today.
As the trail climber higher, I began to get the sort of expansive views that heralds the start of the alpine. Looking back toward the Hyalite trailhead, where I had started, I was filled with that supreme confidence that a long distance hiker gets. Nothing could touch me. I was invincible. Higher and higher I went. The trail became buried in snow, but I had someone's postholes to follow for a while. Until, that is, the person went another way, the wrong way, I was sure, and I had to find my own path.
I eventually gave up trying to follow the trail corridor as it kept switchbacking, forcing me to traverse steeply banked snow, and instead just headed directly up, where I cut the actual trail in a small, snow free spot. I smiled at my luck, checked my map, and headed off in the direction of the trail. I was hunting for Hyalite Lake, where I thought I might camp for the night. A few tracks came and went, but mostly I just formed my own postholes. I was almost reveling in the effort, each drop of sweat off my brow a medal. Hyalite Peak came into view and I gave up thoughts of the lake, as I had to go to Hyalite Peak anyways. I walked directly toward it, scanning for the proper way up as I broke through the snow.
I found a nice clear spot, free of snow, and set up camp in the otherwise snow filled basin. As I boiled water for my dinner, I looked over the map to confirm what I had seen earlier. There was nice big ramp leading up toward the mountain, and the map indicated that that was where the trail went. After that it undoubtedly switchbacked through the thick snow to the ridge, then up to the top. That part didn't matter to me, as I knew that once I got up the ramp, I'd be able to climb the snow and some rocky slopes to the top. My own route.
I ate dinner and quickly got into my sleeping bag, for it was cold out even with my down jacket on. Tomorrow was July 1 and her birthday. She'd be flying out to Las Vegas to celebrate and I would not be with her. I could not be with her, even if I had never come out on this hike. We had no future together, a fact that my mind knew but that I couldn't convince my heart of. Until I could reconcile the two warring factions, I would know no peace. The last two days had been promising and it was with hope for a better tomorrow that I closed my eyes on the world around me.