Friday, September 16 Roadwalking Through the Aspens

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

SUMMARY:  Well, we roadwalked through aspen forests all day and we are camped in the aspens tonight, with the wind roaring all around us.  (We are down in a little hollow place, so we’re not being blown away!).  We were hiking on Highway 89 most of the day, enjoying more great views of the mountains.  By 11:00 am, we’d reached the town of St. Mary.  When we stopped at a café for lunch, as soon as we walked in, the waitress recognized we were CDT hikers and gave us a warm welcome.  That’s when a guy sitting at one of the tables said, “CDT hikers?  C’mon over here and sit with me.  I want to hear all about your hike!”  So we did, and it turned out he really wanted to have a chance to be a “trail angel” and do something nice for the hikers.

He said we could stay in a cabin owned by a friend of his (located about 8 miles from the border) and that he’d give us a ride back to East Glacier tomorrow.  Wow!!!

Well, we hiked as fast as we could, but did not reach the cabin, because we got stopped by the Border Patrol for awhile (did we really look “suspicious”?) and then we were almost to the cabin when a guy in a pickup truck stopped to warn us of a nasty moose in the road, just ahead.  So we turned off (it was starting to get dark, anyway) and found our nice spot among the aspens.  A great “last campsite”!

DETAILS:  As soon as there was enough daylight, we were back to walking along Hwy 89.  The views continue to be awesome–what a contrast between the steep, castle-like Glacier mountains to our left and the rolling plains to our right!  We were counting down the miles, using the green mile markers along the road, and finally realized, “Hey, we can be in St. Mary’s for lunch!”

For most of today, we were walking in aspen forests, but they are different from the aspens of Colorado.  Back there, the aspens were very tall, but here they are much shorter, and right now they are turning all shades of yellow and gold.  The weather is distinctly cooler today than yesterday; the wind is definitely picking up and a bit gusty at times.  We walked steadily along, and we did make it to St. Mary’s by noon.  The town is located inbetween two very long lakes.  The first cafe we got to had a sign, “Closed for the season.”  Then there was a grocery store, so I went in and asked where we could go to get lunch.  They said, “Johnson’s is open–they’re a quarter mile down the road.”  So off we went again, only to discover that Johnson’s access road was a quarter mile, all right, but then it’s quite a climb up to the top.  Meanwhile, right across the street was a Mexican place that said “Open”, but when we went to it, turned out that only the cook had showed up, and no server, so no luck there, either.  We did have fun hanging out for a short bit (hoping the server would show up; he/she never did) and talking to some locals.

Finally we gave up and climbed the hill to Johnson’s.  It turned out to be WONDERFUL!  Not only was the food really good (and plenty of it–no skimpy plates) but the waitress immediately recognized us as being CDT hikers.  Not only did she give us a warm welcome, but a guy and gal (brother and sister as it turned out) called out, “CDT hikers?  Come on over here and sit with us!”  They were eager to hear about our hike, and the guy was especially excited, because he’s always wanted a chance to be a “trail angel”.  So he offered us a place to stay tonight, at a friend’s cabin on the Chief Mountain Road, only 8 miles from the border.  Getting there before dark would be a challenge, but the thought of a cabin was really encouraging.

He also offered to meet us at the border tomorrow and give us a ride back to East Glacier!  Wow!  No worries about hitching!  He described the location of the cabin–his directions were a bit vague, but sounded do-able, and he promised he would mark the driveway so we’d be able to spot it easily.

So we walked on to the intersection of Hwy 89 with a road headed for the border, and stopped there to get some ice cream, Gatorade, peaches, and something for breakfast.  Clouds were building, and so was the wind–at times it made walking just a bit of a challenge.  We cheered when we reached the beginning of our final “leg” to Canada–the Chief Mountain Parkway.  We did a few miles before stopping to eat supper, and while we were eating, along came the guy from the cafe, on his way to mark the driveway of his friend’s cabin.  He told us it was about 6 miles away.  It was almost 6:00 at that point, but we figured if we pushed a bit, we could get there, no problem.

So even though our feet were very tired (roadwalking is hard on feet), we really tried our best.  There were hardly any cars at all on the Parkway, because the border station was closing for the night.  We could see Chief Mountain up ahead–wow!  What a huge, dramatic rock!  It’s very massive, and stands alone.  We were looking at it and saying, “Canada!  Almost there!”

But then, alas–along came a Border Patrol guy.  He stopped and got out of his vehicle and said to us, “Are you aware that you are very close to the Canada border?”  We said, “Yes!  That’s where we are headed!  We’re CDT hikers!”  He looked very dubious and suspicious.  “I need to see your ID,” he said.  “Passports, preferably.”  Well, my passport card was right in my fannypack, so I just unzipped it, pulled out the card and showed him, while he looked at it carefully.  But poor Fixit had all his important papers at the BOTTOM of his pack.  He undid the pack and began pulling everything out.  To my amazement, the Border Patrol guy quickly put a hand on his gun!  Did he think Fixit was going to pull out a weapon and attack him?  I thought we looked pretty harmless–two old, tired hikers.

Fixit finally got everything out of his pack and found his passport card.  The Patrol guy looked it over, studied us, asked a bunch more questions and finally said, “OK.  I guess you’re good.”  I even showed him my CDT bandana, which has a map of the trail, including BOTH official CDT Canada border locations.  I pointed to the Chief Mountain crossing and told him, “This is the trail we’ve been doing all summer, and that (Chief Mtn) is where we’re headed.”

We were glad the Patrol guy was trying so hard to do a good job, and thought how we ourselves would never want to have to do what he was doing, but it had been a fair amount of delay, and the sun was really getting low.  So after he left, even though we were horribly tired, we tried our best to “turn on the afterburners” and hike as fast as we could.  At 7:30 we reached a driveway that seemed to match the description the guy from the restaurant had given us, but it was not marked.  The wind was howling and roaring–was it possible that his marker had been blown away?   We looked and we hesitated.  We tried walking up the driveway a bit, and there was no sign at all of a cabin.

So back to the Parkway we went, and continued on.  By now, the sun was down.  “Let’s go to the next driveway,” we said.  “That might be THE driveway or it might not, but in any case, that’s as far as we will go.”   But we hadn’t gone far when along came a pickup truck.  He stopped and said, “There’s a really big, really nasty moose in the road just around the bend up ahead.  If I were you, I wouldn’t mess with him.  You guys better not go any farther.”   Fixit and I did NOT like the sound of that!  Moose really can be seriously nasty.  So we turned around and went back to the driveway we had just come from.

Now the challenge was finding someplace to camp.  The light was fading fast, and the wind was roaring.  We needed something sheltered.  Hooray for the aspens!  We found a little spot down in a hollow, protected from the wind, set up our tent, and collapsed.  It’s hard to believe we are ALMOST done!   We are so grateful to the Lord for all He has done for us and with us!

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