Lincoln to Anaconda
June 30, 2009
Zero days are just too sweet for householders to understand.
They're too comfortable, too soft, to truly comprehend unless you
just spent a long time living with what you can carry on your back.
There is work to do, of course, like going to the store for supplies
to last me to Anaconda, or going to the post office for a bounce
bucket, or heading to Subway for two feet of subs and a twelve pack.
I called home and found that I would be on trail at least to
Anaconda. Once I left there, though, getting off the trail, and
possibly back to it, would become more difficult. I looked at the
email from the girl in pig tails again. I had answered it and hoped
to hear something when I got to into town. I wrote out a postcard for
another woman, whose birthday was tomorrow, and who had significance
for me and the CDT. I couldn't call her from here. That would just be
too much. Words would have to do.
The omelet at Bootleggers was just as bad as it was four years
ago. Like egg paper wrapped around flavorless fillings. Aaron's
country fried steak with gravy, eggs, and bacon looked a lot better.
The coffee was bad, too. Lincoln is not a culinary destination.
Although I faced some tiring hiking, I was eager to get back into the
high, open ridge country to the south of here. After dealing with
some final post office business, Aaron gave me a lift up to Rogers
Pass, where it was cold, overcast, and blowing. The trailhead was a
bit toward Lincoln and up an unmarked jeep track. A large CDT sign
marked the way.
After a rest and a map check, I started up the switchbacking hillside, heading for the higher ground above.
In Lincoln I had swapped out a lot of clothing, sending my pants and long sleeve wool shirt home in exchange for
shorts and a T-shirt, and my eVENT raingear for FroggToggs. I hated the FroggToggs from the start. The Rab eVENT jacket and
Loki pants are light and work very, very well, but are also expensive and would get ruined on a thruhike. The FroggToggs
are awful, but I didn't mind destroying them. After a mile or so of climbing through the blowing mist, I broke into
the high country, with some joy.
This is the kind of hiking that I like best. Although the craggy, glaciated terrain of the Cascades is scenically beyond
comparison, they are also intimidating. There are things there, like seracs, rocks, crevasses, bergschrunds that will
kill you if you are not careful. They are like dating a porn star: Nice to look at, but a little intimidating to spend time
with on an intimate level.
But this land to the south of the Scapegoat, like the Scapegoat itself, was gentle, open, and welcoming. Instead of trying
to sneak through the playground of some tyrannic mountain god, I was striding along, happy and content, knowing that here I
belonged. Nature, as it turns out, doesn't care a lick about the individual. Nature supports the species. But the land
here was not hostile. Views stretched out forever and I could see the next few hours of hiking with ease. Slowly the clouds
and mist burned off and the land took on an even finer aspect.
Rather than luxuriating in the hiking, I should have been slathering on sunblock. A fall and winter in the Puget Sound region
had left my body the color of a cadaver and the sun was rapidly burning my skin. Having been completely covered during
the traverses of Glacier, the Bob, and the Scapegoat, my skin was receiving its first dose of UV light and would later in the
day express its hatred of my carelessness.
The open,rolling ridgewalk eventually ended with a descent to Flesher Pass, accessible by a high standard gravel road from
Lincoln and other parts. I crossed the road and found some shade in the trees for lunch. I hadn't properly accounted for
a lack of water and found myself in the position of having to cover the twenty miles from Rogers Pass to Page Gulch
on only two liters of water. While not a terrible prospect, it wasn't going to be much fun.
The terrain to the south of Flesher Pass wasn't nearly as entertaining as the open ridgewalk I had just passed through.
Living in the Pacific Northwest has made me a forest snob (along with a scenery snob, a coffee snob, and a beer snob): The
temperate rain forest and the massive growths found there dwarf the pitiful lodgepole forests of Montana. The trail was easy to
follow, however, and I made rapid progress toward the spring at Page Gulch and the relief of my rapidly increasing thirst.
After passing through a newly planted (and hence recently harvested) tract of land, I curved around on an old jeep track and
reached a junction. I check my map and licked my dry lips with my dry tongue. This was it. I made a left turn and held
my ears and nose open as wide as they would go. Ahh. A nice, pure stream was flowing well. I filled up a liter bottle and
quickly downed it. I filled both my bottles and began looking for a campsite. A small alcove in the woods, just off the old jeep
track, was flat enough, in the shade, and without ants. Skeeters, though, were there in force.
I quickly made dinner and hung my food, swatting bugs as I chewed. With an open tarp without mosquito netting, I was relying
on the temperature to drop low enough for the bugs to go away. I had DEET just in case, though. I settled into my home for
the night and thought about the girl in pigtails. I didn't know why she had chosen to contact me when she did. But she had,
and now I had something to look forward to when I returned home. I wasn't sure when that would be. I didn't even know if I'd
be able to hike beyond Anaconda. There were so many unknowns in my immediate future that it wasn't worthwhile trying to
settle on one particular fork. Better just to let the stream carry me where it might.
The bugs were horrible overnight and it was easy to get moving, even at the early hour of 6:15, as they were swarming still.
I packed up, including a nice supply of water, and was hiking through the thin forest with a modest smile. Stemple Pass was nothing
more than an intersection of dirt roads and a sign, with an outhouse and a picnic area for anyone who might make the drive up
to the viewless pass.
However, after the pass the trail climbed sweetly up onto the bald, open ridges with infinite views in every direction that I
had been enjoying for the past few days. The pale morning light was especially nice. It is the sort of light that you see
in a cathedral, though unknown in churches. A holy light that costs you nothing except for a bit of sweat and time. The trail
along the ridges was an old jeep track, marked with posts and CDT signs, and was easy to follow.
While I was in the open, grassy mountains, far below me was the rapidly drying valley, an expanse of browns and tans and yellows that the
summer would eventually burn into a crisp. Lowlands in Montana are hot, dry, arid places. The valleys inbetween the
mountain ranges, and especially the expansive plains in the central and eastern portions of the state, see very little
rainfall and almost all agriculture is low grade grain, fed by damned rivers.
But for now I was on the top of the world. I go on long hikes for stretches like this. I doubted that I would ever have
come here if it wasn't a part of the CDT. It wasn't well known and it was unlikely that I would have found it in a
guidebook, if I ever read guidebooks.
Only locals would come up here, along with CDT hikers. Local hunters or ORVers, but locals only. But on a long hike you
pass through an immense amount of land, some of it quality, some of it dull. But you get to go to those places that
every small town bar dweller swells up with pride and tells you about how he hunts there, or hikes there, or rides there.
These places are where our National Scenic Trails go, and to hike them gives us the best of America.
The trail unfortunately had to come down from the heights and crossed a perfect, gushing, spring, where I spent thirty minutes
drinking the icy water and reading maps. With a fresh load, I was able to tackle the hike once again. But my morning enthusiasm
quickly began to fade as I hiked through the forest. I couldn't identify anything that I should be sad or depressed about.
But I was. As surely as the sun had ripped my skin into a lobster red, I was not happy, and for no good reason.
I wasn't hungry or thirsty or tired. But the trail that had seemed so glorious in the morning was now oppressive in the afternoon.
I was walking and only thinking about how I wanted to be elsewhere, where life was easier. Where my skin didn't hurt. Where the
bugs were conveniently separated from me. Where I could grow fat and soft if I wanted to. And at the moment I wanted to. I climbed
out of the woods and reached a large cairn with a CDT post in it. The open views helped a bit.
The true way was obscure, but I eventually figured out that I needed to climb to the top of a hill above me, where I picked up
a faint trail and eventually some signs that led to a solid track, once again on a high ridge. As I walked through the
open air my depression began to fade and I began to grow happy once again. Being able to see for hundreds of miles in every
direction was calming.
I hiked steeply over the flanks of Black Mountain, following only a faint tread. Th jeep track had disappeared many miles
ago and I was now on something approximating a cross country route. A few posts and cairns helped keep me on track, but for the
most part the route was obvious: Follow the ridge. In the below photo, I'm heading straight for the snow patches and then around
the hump and to the snow on the other side.
All of the land that I was traversing was in the Helena National Forest and had been heavily mined back in the early days of the
state. I had seen the remnants of mining operations, such as cabins, abandoned equipment, digs, and tailings, but the mining
days had ended, with only a few large scale operations remaining around Anaconda and Butte. The land was minimally protected,
but I suspected that local hunters and riders would fight vigorously if new mining operations were proposed for their local
My depression had vanished, but chasing me were dark clouds that threatened me with something nasty from the sky. I hiked
quickly, hoping to get over Nevada Mountain before the lightning got to me. It was a race that I would be running for as
long as I was in the Rockies this summer. As the heat of the day built, hot air from down low would reach the cold air up
high and thunderheads would be the result. Despite the sunshine now, I knew it couldn't last.
I crested the mountain, with its thin, old lodgepoles, and quickly began the descent as lightning, rain, and then hail
began crashing down on me. I stopped to put on my functionally worthless FroggToggs, a silnylon rain skirt, and to deploy my
umbrella. If I seem overly harsh on FroggToggs, reflect that I hiked the entire PCT in a FroggToggs anorak. There are much
better options than FroggToggs, but they cost more. I should know. I sent them back home just a few days ago. The nastiness lasted
for a while, then cleared, but was on its way back as I approached Dana Spring, an important water source for the area.
With the booms of thunder around me, I quickly pitched my tarp for a temporary hideaway and gathered water for a long rest.
When the rain came, I was safe underneath, listening to my radio and cooking a fine pot of broccoli and cheddar rice. Jukebox Hero
came on. I closed my eyes and smiled at the sublimity of it all. I stayed under my tarp for almost two hours until the storm
passed. I was going to leave the CDT and take a more direct route through the area that at least had a hope of some water
along the way. I liked doing that sort of thing. I liked it so much I started dreaming up another alternate route that would take
me through Elliston. I had no idea what I might find in Elliston. That's why I wanted to go there.
With the passing of the storm the sun came out and the world smelled reborn: The powerful smelling grasses and wildflowers
mixed with the rank smell of cow dung. For I was now in cattle country and began rapidly to encounter the hooved locusts.
Bred for stupidity over many generations, the modern beeve is the most repulsive of creatures. The green slime dripping
down their rear haunches doesn't endear one to them. Neither does their fearful stampedes. When a cow flees, they flee in a
direct line from what they are afraid of. Hence, the cows would run down the road in front of me, precisely the direction I was
heading. They would flee, then stop and moo. I would approach, and they would crap themselves and then flee again.
I was coming in and out of public land and needed to find a place not totally polluted by cows and with water. Not an easy
thing to do. Although the distinction between public and private land was a thin one, I wanted to try my best out here to
be on public. Not because I was worried about an irate rancher finding me, but rather because I preferred to be on my
land and not someone else's. A few ATVers were in the neighborhood, but I managed to find a place in a stand of woods where it
was clear than others had camped before. I was more or less out of sight, and fairly confident that I was on public land, but
there was no way I was going to drink, untreated, the cowass water that I pulled out of drainage ditch. I could smell
the cow on it. And so I settled into my home for the night, without worry of bears or ranchers, and relaxed while reading and
writing and pondering the future of my hike. Living in the woods and mountains of America was a fine occupation, I decided.
But the true benefits of civilization were also desirable. Bach and Beethoven and Lagunitas Brewing and ibuprofen.
I liked these things. I just needed balance. All was balance.
The skies were grey and unsettled when I began to stir. Morning tea and map reading, a final check of my made up route, the
Elliston cutoff. Someone these insignificant things now seem to be the height of pleasure. My at-home routine of stuffing
my face as quickly as possible, showering with rapidity, jumping into formal clothes, and racing off to work seems so
uncivilized in comparison to the leisure of sitting on a thin foam mat, on the ground, and looking at what the day might
bring. I was filtering a liter of water for the hike when the skies opened up and began dropping rain and hail on me.
I scurried under my tarp and started water boiling for an additional round of tea.
Once the rain passed I broke down the tarp and started down the misty road. The morning's hike felt like I was back home
in the Pacific Northwest, with fog banks holding onto the curves of the pasture lands, the scent of water hanging about
everywhere. Montana smells dry, with a tinge of flowers and pine. Now it smelled of home. I banked above and around a working
ranch below me and spied the railroad. The alternate I was on went in one direction back to the CDT, which itself ran over
Mullan Pass, where the railroad went. My Elliston cutoff route, though was going to drop down in the other direction.
Two mountain bikers came cruising down a feeder road, loaded up with panniers and other luggage, and slowed to a stop in
front of me. They were on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, an almost entirely pavementless ride from the Canadian border
to the Mexican border along the Rocky Mountains, sort of a mountain bike version of the CDT. I had been interested in
long distance cycle touring, though not necessarily on a mountain bike, for quite some time and we chatted for a while about
our respective journeys. It was nice to meet fellow travelers out here, as it had been some time since I had been able to talk
to someone who might understand what I was doing and why. That was a luxury.
They eventually sped off and I continued my downhill walk toward US12. The gravel road I was walking was mostly untraveled,
though there were a few families setting up along the river for the upcoming Independence Day holiday. I liked that. No huge RVers.
There were a few pickups with camper shells, but mostly there were passenger cars and working trucks, with tents thrown
up and kids playing in the river. Fishing poles and ATVs and plenty of firewood and beer and raw meat. They were celebrating
right, and I would have joined them had I not had plans of my own for the Fourth. I reached US12 and made a right turn
To the left was, a long ways out, Helena. My plan was to hike to near Elliston, then make a left on
Blackfoot Meadows Road, a Forest Service route, and walk that perhaps a dozen miles to a trailhead, which would take me to
Blackfoot Meadows itself and a reunion with the CDT.
It was short, perhaps two mile, walk down the busy highway to the forest service road, but rather than turning I kept on
toward Elliston. I could just make out a Sinclair Oil sign and decided to indulge a little with a soda before heading back
into the wilds. Elliston was a small town, even by the in-the-middle-of-nowhere standards that I'm used to applying. A very
old looking motel called the Last Chance sat next to a watering hole called Law Dog's. The gas station was
next door. I bought an iced tea and sat out front pondering what to do. Elliston looking promising. I checked in at the motel
and got a room for $35 a night. Two beds, a nice shower, a fridge, and a television with VCR. Only one channel of reception, though:
Whatever the hosts were watching was what I would be watching. I dropped my gear and rolled into Lawdog's for some lunch.
Lawdog's was the sort of place where the community gathers, for there is no other place. I pulled up at the bar next to
a muscular, yet lean, man a few years old than myself who had been clearing painting something John Deer green. Two women next to
him were drinking cocktails out of plastic keg cups, just like they were at a frat party in college. Behind the bar was the
proprietor and sole worker. Sporting a large, grey handlebar moustache and cowboy hat, this was Lawdog. A former murder investigator
for Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties (the Puget Sound region), he had retired recently and moved to Elliston, where the
pace of life was a bit slower and the crime rate rather lower. The last crime, according to Blair, the painter guy, was three years
ago, when a couple of teens from Deer Lodge, about 40 miles down the road, broke into the gas station and stole some
cigarettes, then broke into the post office. No no, said Lawdog. Just last week a couple of teens from Deer Lodge (again) broke into the bar. They
stole an empty bottle of tequilla and nothing else. They then broke into the gas station and stole some cigarettes.
The police caught them as they walked down the road with cartons in hand.
Blair was good fun, as were the two drunk women sitting next to him. Blair worked at the prison in Deer Lodge and lived in Elliston
because land was plentiful and cheap and there were no social problems as there would be in any city worthy of the name. He drank
nothing of oil cans of Fosters, which Lawdogs stocked just for him. The two women were part of a larger group, who had gone out
ATVing. They came to the bar in a side-by-side ORV and figured that as long as they drove back to camp in the drainage ditch
alongside the road, they couldn't get charged with DUI. The density out here was so low that they were probably right. I sucked down
beer after beer along with a cheeseburger and fries as I learned about Elliston and the area. More people flowed in as the
afternoon wore on. In a small town, people need a place to gather as a community. In the South, this was the role of the church.
In Montana, and much of the West, the bar was the place. I soon knew most the people in the bar and where they lived the
extent to which the pine beetle was ravaging their trees. The five bottles of beer that I drank, plus the cheeseburger and fries,
came to a total of $14, cash only.
I had a few chores to do, but I would be back. I put out my tarp and other gear to dry and washed clothes and myself in the
shower, then laid out for a pre-diner nap. I hadn't been out of Lincoln for very long, but the soft bed felt good, as did
the freedom from mosquitoes, gnats, and flies. My clothes clean, I returned to Lawdogs for dinner. It was now packed. Blair
was ripping drunk and feeling happy. He made space for me next to him and introduced me to yet more members of the community.
I didn't even know the names of the people who lived next to me in my apartment, yet I quickly knew more people in Elliston than
in my entire apartment complex. I ordered up a Lawdog: A 1 lb hot dog. I didn't have the guts to try the super special version,
with chili and other toppings, preferring a more basic version with mustard and sauerkraut.
The evening wore on and the saloon got more and more crowded as people came back from work and wanted to connect with the
people around them. Everyone, without exceptions, had some direct connection with the land, either through working it as
a rancher or farmer, or through caring for their property (not development, but care), or through recreation. But everyone
not only knew where I was going, but had recommendations for side trips and tidbits of local history. It was better than any guidebook.
I tried to listen only, but to be fair had to share some of my own stories. Not that I was telling anyone anything new,
for it seemed everyone had spent time in the Bob and the Scapegoat. I was the rookie here. I was able to give some
information about snow conditions along the Wall, which a horsepacker was in need of.
It wasn't dark when I finally rolled out of Lawdogs, but it was bed time. Blair offered, and I accepted, a ride to the
Blackfoot Meadows trailhead, and we arranged to meet at the Last Chance at 10, which would give me sufficient time to relax
and drink at least two pots of coffee before heading back into the hills for the two to three day hike to Anaconda. Elliston had
proved to be the best of town visits. I relish these opportunities, savouring them like those things that are best in life.
In a society that emphasizes the separation and isolation of people beyond the familial unit, Elliston had welcomed me like
a native son. And that was something I appreciated. I had learned something new. And hopefully had brought something new to
Elliston as well. And best of all, it had been completely unplanned. I just had to be open enough to let it happen. No
structure, no plan, no action item list or agenda or itinerary or outcomes or assessment. Just live for a while. I liked that.
Despite having drunk far too much beer overnight, I slept well and was rested in the morning. I made sure that I got up
several hours before Blair would show so that I could make and drink one pot of coffee while reading maps, and then drink a
second pot just for pure luxury. Blair arrived at 10 am in his old school, open top Jeep that looked like it probably saw service in
World War II. He looked like he'd been painting again. As we drove down the gravel road he pointed out various abandoned mines
and the homesteads of various people I had met at Lawdogs last night. Blair knew the history of the valley and the area
in general far better than I knew the general history of Lakewood or Tacoma. I could paint the past in very broad strokes.
Blair could tell me the names of the people who started various mines, or how a certain mountain came to be named. The connection
that people had with the land here had was not the same as a detached environmentalist or a watched of An Inconvenient Truth.
The land was a part of their life just as the rain was a part of my life back home. They knew it, and knew it well far
beyond what people would generally give them credit for. They knew it because they could not do otherwise. To live here
was to be connected to the land.
Blair dropped me off at 10:30 and we parted. I was very glad that I had come through Elliston rather than walking the
official CDT route. The clouds were beginning to gather in the sky, so I wasted little time. Also encouraging speed were
the swarms of mosquitoes and gnats. It had been a long winter and the bugs were recently hatched and hungry. The trail led along
the Little Blackfoot river and eventually came to the expansive meadows that the trailhead was named form. I suspected that
this was a better winter or late summer destination, when snow would make even the ugliest of land beautiful, or when the summer
sun would have dried the meadows into something other than a bog.
The trail began to climb into the mountains once more, just as the sound of distant, for the moment, thunder began to
reach my ears. I was going to get wet, but for now the hiking was pleasant, especially as the valley fell away and the bugs
slowly dropped off. The climb was, for the most part, on single track, old road. That is, someone many years ago had built a
road to haul mining equipment up here and over the years it had slowly decayed into something approximating a muddy trail
that hikers, hunters, and horsepackers used.
The major mining development in the area was called, quite originally, Leadville. No longer in use, Leadville was once a
fairly substantial operation judging by the number of old cabins and the amount of equipment and tailings left behind. I had been
rained on for only fifteen minutes after several hours of build up, and now the sun was back out for me to enjoy Leadville under.
Two ATVers came up from Rock Creek, but failed to see me sitting on a log in the woods eating a Snickers bar. The ruins were
interesting, but a sense of general danger from old mines kept me from exploring too much.
I hiked up and over the ridge beyond Leadville, where the land began to open up a bit more. I missed the high, open ridgewalking
through the Scapegoat and on the other side of Rogers Pass. The forest could get boring after too many miles in it. In the
far distance I began to see my future.
To the south and west lay a great valley holding the Clark Fork River. Although one might think that is was a fork of some other, larger
river, the Clark Fork apparently was its own, though perhaps it might be the Clark Fork of the Bitterroot River. I couldn't
tell from the map. What I did know was that it was one of the more polluted rivers in the Rocky Mountains, draining a massive
area of prime mining land. In that valley sat Deer Lodge and, further upstream, places like Butte and, a bit off of it, Anaconda.
I was planning to camp by the Clark Fork tomorrow night, which would give me a short haul into Anaconda the next day.
The views into the valley were sublime and put me in a content mood. I reached a family of three (father, daughter, son) who were
out camping for the weekend. They were enjoying some ATVing and "shooting gophers". They seemed incredulous that I had walked up
here (instead taking a horse, ATV, or truck) and even more so when I told them that I had walked from Elliston to here. We talked briefly
before I headed on to Cold Spring, which was a fabulous water source tucked onto an open hillside, just below a few clumps of
trees that would furnish me with an excellent bedroom for the night.
After fetching water, I set up my tarp in the shelter of some pines, in case the weather decided to make a return visit,
and started water boiling for dinner. Though technically still in bear country, I was well out of the range of grizzlies and the
signs of cattle grazing meant that black bears would be rare. I sat at the front of my tarp looking at the valley below and
felt, again, content with life. This, I thought, really was the goal, rather than happiness. Being content has a lot going
for it, unlike the sugar high of happiness, that will only come crashing to the ground when its source goes away. I was
content to be where I was, under the fragrant trees, eating macaroni and cheese and contemplating the world around me. It wasn't
very much, I thought. But the feeling of belonging was strong here and had been strong for the entire trip so far. I was in the
right place at the right time and that was important to me. We humans seem to spend most of our lives looking for home. We seem
to never quite find it, and when we do tend to be blind to it. I was very conscious of having found home here in the mountains
of Montana. Even though every day I picked up and moved, I was still at home. And at peace. At that was worth everything
Almost every morning out here seems to be special. The cool air and the pale light, the lack of bugs and the silence
of the land is something to be anticipated, and enjoyed when it comes. A pot of green tea and maps. A couple of granola bars.
My camp is simple enough, and I have few enough possessions, that when I begin to strike camp I can be walking seven minutes later.
Today I would be taking the Anaconda cut-off, one of the more popular alternate routes on the CDT. The reason is pretty simple.
The geographical divide makes a loop around Butte and the trail follows a track that, until recently, was usually described only
as ugly. I'm told its better now. Rather than following the loop, the Anaconda cut-off comes down out of the mountains
and heads directly to the town of Anaconda via roads and then back into the mountains via more roads. It cuts off, perhaps,
a day and a half of hiking. Maybe more.
One of the beautiful things about the CDT is the lack of purity. Purity is a concept from the Appalachian Trail that says
a true thruhiker should walk every step of the trail, without alternate routes. For example, if a hiker takes a side trail
to go to a shelter, they should walk back to the point where they left the AT, rather than taking a different connecting
trail. Or, if they hitch hitch into town, when they hitch back they should start exactly where they got their ride, rather
than some other, possibly more convenient, place. The idea of a pure hike is just that to say you've hiked a trail, you should
actually have walked the entire way and not skipped anything, no matter how small.
On the Pacific Crest Trail there isn't much purity, but it does sneak in, especially in more recent times as more and
more AT hikers migrate out to the vastly superior PCT and discover Western hiking. But on trails like the
Pacific Northwest Trail or the CDT the concept of purity is laughable. It is laughable because in many parts there is
no official trail, and frequently the trail is official only as a compromise with landowners and equestrians. In some places
there is no trail whatsoever. Moreover, hikers on the more advanced trails realize that the hike is about the experience,
not about the particular path taken.
And so I was going to take the Anaconda cutoff because it made more sense: It was short and to the point, rather than
winding. My time was limited, though I did not know how limited, and I wanted to get to the wild lands along the
Montana-Idaho border before I had to leave. I hit Blizzard Hill, which had a weather station on top and a curious
new route leading away from it. It appeared to be not completely finished, for although marked with flagging tape it was
hardly cleared. Since it just moved the route off the road, I hiked the easy road instead. I made Champion Pass and hiked
past mining relics to Four Corners, where I left the official CDT for the Anaconda cut off.
My radio was mostly broken, but I was able to tune in a few fuzzy stations on the walk down the road. Clouds were gathering for a
storm, which kept the heat low but also theatened to soak me at some point today. I didn't know how far it was to Warm Springs,
my nominal destination for the day, but not knowing didn't really matter much. I still had to walk thte distance. The old Anaconda
cutoff had been partly on private land, but justifiable complaints from landowners had moved it completely onto public roads,
though ones that go past working ranches. Ranchers are dependent on the land for their income, and it is understandable that
they don't want hikers crossing their land. A fire would be devastating to them.
The road took me out of the mountains and into the valley that I had been looking this morning when I awoke. During the
day's walk so far, only one jeep had passed me, and a pair of ATVers. Not many people came out here. The road took me past
several large ranches, many cows, and a few llamas. The llamas took the intelligent approach to humans: They stood their ground and
chewed their cud while I walked slowly past, giving them plenty of room. Rather than emptying their bowels down their
legs and fleeing in my direction of travel, as cows do, they realized that I was a human like the ones that bring them
food and was not a threat.
The road began to wear on me. My radio became stuck on an evangelical Christian station. My left heel began to throb with a
new blister. My joints started to hurt. I became thirsty. I became bored. This is the danger of the road walk: Although
you can make a lot of miles in a short amount of time, you also have to pay a greater price for those miles. Road walks are
ok for a short amount of time, but are not a good long term plan, sort of like grinding seed corn for your daily bread.
I tried to entertain myself by watching the storm coming at me from the other side of the mountains. It would hit me eventually,
but it was unclear when. I passed a few isolated houses and then made the turn over the Clark Fork, where I had intended to
camp for the night. It was only 2:45 and there was no reason to try to stealth camp when Anaconda was probably only another
dozen miles or so. I crossed the Clark Fork and entered Warm Springs, which was a non-existent town with, I think, a mental
hospital. The bar that Blair had encouraged me to go to was closed and so I hiked on.
Just as I cleared "town", the storm hit with a fury. High winds and driving rain, with a little thunder and lightning
thrown in. I retreated back fifty yards to a state fishing pond, where a man and his grandson had just piled into their
mini van to hide from the storm. I found a large tree and knelt next to it, wearing my turquoise rain jacket, safety orange
rain skirt, and blue umbrella. I was warm and dry. So were the two anglers. We looked at each other. They seemed to be
trying to figure out what, exactly, I was. What I was was temporarily inconvenienced by the weather. But once the rain
stopped I'd again be unencumbered by those things that I could not carry with me. Maybe the boy would remember me some time
later as he set out on his own journey. Or when he related the story of the funny hobo to his co-workers at at advertising
agency. I sat for 15 minutes until the rain passed. Then I started walking once again.
The walk into Anaconda was long, tiring, and on a very busy highway. I didn't even bother trying to hitch into town. By the
time I arrived I had been rained on again and was very tired. I stopped at the Tradewinds motel, which looked just
the sort of place that a long distance hiker should stay at. They even had a hiker rate ($46). Although very tired and aching, I
had enough energy to visit Peppermint Patty's, a really run down looking place that served up a hot, fairly respectable,
pork cutlet sandwich with spicy tater tots. I love places like that. Not renovated since WWII, it was America writ large. With
the last bit of strength, I visited the grocery store for beer and dessert, and then back to the motel, where I collapsed on the
bed. Thirty two or so miles, mostly on the road, were tiring. But I was in a soft place listening to the rain fall outside
and had a cold beer in hand. That was nice, even if the way I got here wasn't so nice. I had a day off tomorrow and wanted to
get online as soon as I could. After all, the girl in pig tails might have gotten back to me. It was something to look
forward to for when I returned home. Something of value. Something other than my job and my stuff.