Friday, September 9 Where is Benchmark Ranch?

September 9th, 2016

SUMMARY:  After walking through many miles of dead forest (the only good thing about that kind of hiking is the nice views of the mountains), we reached green forest and the turnoff for the Straight River shortcut to Benchmark Ranch.

It was a fine trail (very pretty views of the river) and by 3:30pm we had reached the “Benchmark Valley”. But where was the Ranch? We were looking at our maps while standing at the intersection of the campground road and main road, when along came an old guy in a red pickup. He offered us a ride to the Ranch!

Just as we were climbing into his truck, along came 2 more hikers who’d walked down from the official trail. Meeting the truck guy was a wonderful thing both for us and for them!  It turned out that to get to Benchmark Ranch, we needed to turn right from the campground road, then the Ranch is just beyond the airstrip, on the left.  Nobody was around when we got there, and apparently that’s the way it usually is.  All our hopes of “shower/bed/etc” were instantly completely dashed.  The Ranch is just a “main cabin” and a couple of other cabins. On the porch are a bear box and other bear proof containers, all full of hiker boxes. There’s a big picnic table for sorting, and garbage cans, too. The truck guy waited for us and drove us back to where he picked us up! Thank you, truck guy!  And thank You, Lord, for sending him at the perfect time!

DETAILS:  Elusive passed us this morning just as we were rolling up our tent and breezed by with a cheery “Hello!”  He and we are both eager to reach Benchmark Ranch, get our resupply done, and head for East Glacier.

After only a little bit of hiking this morning, we entered a large area of dead forest.  Was it the beetles?  A fire?   We could not tell.  It was very sad to see the thousands of dead tree skeletons.  The only bright side of all this is that we could SEE the beautiful mountains around us.  If the trees were alive, we would have been in a green tunnel.  The weather was gorgeous–a cool, sunny, beautiful fall day, wonderful for hiking.

We finally reached green forest again, and at that point, the CDT went straight, but our shortcut alternate turned off and followed the Straight River, straight to the road that goes to Benchmark. 🙂  The alternate trail was a good one, through green, pretty forest (though a bit muddy in spots from the recent snow/rain).  There are still some wildflowers blooming, and the aspens are occasionally showing a tiny bit of fall color.

We followed the route down to where the campground road intersects what we guessed was the “main” road.  And at that point, we were very puzzled.  We could not figure out where the RANCH was.  On the map, there was the airstrip (off to our right) and there was the Benchmark Work Center (off to the left), but we didn’t know where the Ranch itself was.  (Actually, I had marked the  location on our map, but with a tiny note in the map margin, and as we were standing there puzzling, for some reason I did not notice my note!)  We had just decided to try walking to the airstrip (correct choice!) when along came an old guy in a red pickup truck.  He stopped and offered us a ride to the Ranch!   Awesome!

We tossed our packs into the back of the truck, and were just getting in, when along came two more CDT hikers.  They had followed the official trail, which passes by the Benchmark Valley some distance to the north, and they were walking down the road headed for the Ranch.  So they climbed in, too, and the guy gave us all a ride.

Turns out that Benchmark Ranch is just beyond the airstrip, and on the left.  It’s very cute.  The “main house” has a little pond nearby, and a big porch with comfortable chairs….and bearproof containers full of hiker boxes.  I had to look through all the containers before I found ours (I was beginning to get a bit worried!).  There are picnic tables for sorting your stuff, and garbage cans for the garbage.  The old guy with the truck offered to wait for us–wow!  But that meant we felt obligated to work hard ‘n fast to get our resupply organizing and pack reloading done.  Fixit has no idea how to help with this, so he just sat and talked to the old guy while the rest of us worked as fast as we could.

Turns out that pretty much all the time, NOBODY is there at Benchmark, so no hope of any showers or soft beds.  If it were raining and nasty, it would certainly be possible to camp on the porch and be dry, but that’s about all.

When we were done packing up (ouch–6 days of food–heavy!!) the truck guy dropped Fixit and I off where he picked us up, and gave the other hikers a ride back to the trailhead.  Just after the truck left Benchmark, we passed Elusive walking down the road.  Since he was almost there, all we could tell him was where it was and what to expect.  He was disappointed–he had been hoping to rent a cabin and take a break.

Once Fixit and I reached the trailhead campground, we stopped and ate supper and got water before putting in another 2 1/2 miles or so, on very muddy trail that was all torn up by horses.  There were also warning signs posted about “bears” and “flash floods”.  The guy with the truck had mentioned to us about the bears.  He said they were becoming a problem OUTSIDE the valley, too.

Well, camping options were few.  We were back in a dead tree zone, full of tangles and blowdowns.  We finally found a spot that would sort of work.  Sort of.  We are really looking forward to seeing the famous Chinese Wall tomorrow!  And we are very grateful to God for sending the guy with the truck–not because we needed a ride (though that was nice) but to show us WHERE the Ranch was!

Thursday, September 8 Wind Insanity

September 8th, 2016

SUMMARY:  To our surprise, it began to rain last night and continued till we were getting ready to pack up. We put on raingear partly to stay warm (the wind was strong and cold) and partly because it looked like more rain.

The trail climbed higher and higher, till we were in snow left over from Monday. The wind grew more and more fierce until it was the strongest wind I have ever personally experienced. I could hardly walk, only take one step at a time while bracing myself and trying not to get blown over. Actually, at one point, the wind did knock me right down onto the ground. It was insane. But we kept going as best we could, and now we are finally down in a quiet, forested river valley. What a relief!

DETAILS:   I was so tired that last night I totally zonked out and didn’t even know it when rain arrived and the wind picked up till it was blowing so hard that even our somewhat protected campsite was being blasted.  The wind blew so hard that one of our tent guylines was pulled off its stake, and one of the trek poles that holds up the tent fell right on top of me….and I never knew it.  I just slept through the whole thing, and it was Fixit who got up in the rain and fierce wind to refasten the guy line and reset the trek pole.  I was absolutely amazed when he tol me about it while we were eating breakfast.  We were still in the tent, and it was raining and the wind was blowing.  Oh man, what a night!  And me, oblivious.

But hooray, just as it was packup time, the rain stopped, so we did not have to deal with the “fun” of doing it in the rain.  The wind was something else, though–howling and roaring and fierce and cold.  We remembered that back when we were in Lincoln, the weather report had said that today would be “very windy.”  No kidding!

We set out wearing all our raingear plus some “warm layers.”  The trail went up and up–finally we were up so high that there was a lot of snow, left from the previous storm.  But we weren’t done–the CDT went still higher, till we were IN the clouds, and it began to snow–not big soft globs like it did before we went to Lincoln, but tiny, dry flakes that didn’t seem to stick to the ground–they just blew away.  Finally we broke out of the clouds and were onto bare, grassy ridgetops.  The views were spectacular (yes, I know, I keep saying that–but it’s true!).  There were steep-sided mountains still speckled and brushed with snow, and amazing rock formations.

But the wind grew worse.  I have never in my life experienced anything like it.   I could hardly walk at all, even with the help of my trek poles.  I just put my head down and did my best to keep going, staggering along like a drunken sailor.  What made it additionally scary was that to our left, it was a rounded hillside, but to the right, it was sheer cliffs and big dropoffs.  Which way was the wind coming from?  You guessed it, from the left, pushing us toward the right.  So I just gave up trying to walk on the trail (too close to the cliffs) and instead walked along much more to the left.  Part of what makes this type of situation harder for me is that I have my RidgeRest ground pad rolled up and lashed to the top of my pack, which gives me a much broader profile in wind, and makes it a lot harder for me than for Fixit, whose pack is very narrow by comparison.  At one point, I was so tired from fighting the wind, that along came one big blast that just pushed me over to the point where all I could do was lie down on the ground for a minute before getting back on my feet.

On top of all that, I was very worried about Fixit’s hands.  He’s had several operations on them for Dupuytren’s Contracture, and one side effect is that the circulation is not as good and his hands get awfully cold and stiff to the point where he can barely use them.  So knowing how cold the CDT can be, he brought some really warm gloves, but the problem is, they are so bulky that he can’t easily get his rain mitts over them.  This morning he decided to just hike without the gloves and have rain mitts only.  But the wind was freezing cold, and blowing little bits of icy snow at us.  I was hugely worried about Fixit’s hands in those conditions, and as I staggered along, I started praying like crazy, “Oh please, Lord, stop this wind and snow for just enough time that we can stop and get Fixit’s gloves on!”   And the Lord did.  The wind stopped for just a little while, and that gave us precious time to get the gloves out and go through the battle of getting the rain mitts to go over them.  I’m the one who made the rain mitts, and if I had known ahead of time that Fixit was bringing such huge gloves, I would have made the rain mitts way bigger.   But I didn’t know till we were well into the trail and it was too late.

After that brief hiatus (Thank you, Lord!) the wind came back with a vengeance.  It was truly awful.  For hours we were up high on very exposed ridges with not even a tree or bush to give us shelter. Most of the time the wind was coming from the side, which was sort of a blessing–had it been a headwind, that would have been truly horrendous.   Finally, finally, the CDT began to drop down into a valley, where we had a bit more protection.  But even there, we saw one of the CDT hikers who was just ahead of us, suddenly veering off the trail and running, because her hat had blown off and she was trying to catch it before it was totally blown away.  She did manage to retrieve it!  She told me later how scared she was about “What will I do with no hat?”  All of us hikers pretty much depend on our hats for sun protection.

Once we were down off the high, exposed ridges, I was hoping we would be able to stay off them for the rest of the day, and whew, it turned out OK.  I was even able to cook us a late lunch in a sheltered spot.  Hot lunch, oh yes!  We were so cold and windblown that it was wonderful to be having something warm to eat, and be out of the wind for awhile.  Finally we reached the Dearborne River valley, so the rest of the day we were just plain ol’ walking up a valley, with very pretty trees and plants, and of course, the river.

Today, once again, we were being passed by a number of young CDT hikers.  They all started a lot earlier than we did, but apparently spent a lot of time messing around in towns along the way, so we ended up passing them.  But the Canada finish line “clock” is now running out of time, so they are all turning on the afterburners to finish up before the snow really gets serious, and as a result, they are all passing us.

We are camped tonight by a trail junction.  It’s not raining and it’s not windy, which is nice.  And when I figured out our mileage, I was very pleased to find that even with the insane wind battle, we still did 22 miles.  Tomorrow we should be at Benchmark Ranch, and are thinking about things like “Showers!  Maybe a bed!”

Wednesday, September 7 A Very Windy Day

September 7th, 2016

SUMMARY:  This morning was much more pleasant—not so cold, and a mix of sun and big clouds. We enjoyed eating breakfast with Elusive. Wow, when he finishes the CDT, he’s going off to kayak down the Missouri River!

We got a ride back to the road junction we hitched from, and walked back to the CDT. It was a chilly day with clouds and lots of wind. Once we were back up on the Divide, the wind was so fierce that it was hard for me to walk. And cold-brrr! We wore raingear just to stay warm, though it did rain a bit, too. There are cliffs and rock formations up here and trees that obviously have a battle to survive. We are camped among them, protected from the wind, but we can hear it roaring up above us, and it’s very cold. Double-brrr!

DETAILS:  We found this morning to be very different from yesterday morning–not so cold, and only  a partly cloudy sky.  We met with Elusive for breakfast, and he told us about his CDT adventures, which included a 3 day hiatus from the trail feeling desperately sick–turned out it was food poisoning.  But he is an amazing adventurer!  He and Fixit are the two oldest guys doing the CDT this year, and he’s not just doing the CDT–he’s been “weaving” his way across the USA, doing all sorts of trails and bike runs, AND when he’s done with the CDT, he plans to kayak the Missouri River!   Whew!  When we finish, all we want to do is go home–no other ambitions.

We all got rides back to the trail from a guy named Mountain Bear.  He’s temporarily out of work, and decided to spend his time doing good deeds to help people.  He dropped us off at the junction we hitched from day before yesterday, and then headed up to drop Elusive off at Rodgers Pass.

We had a nice walk up the Rodgers Pass road; the weather was cool and windy, but there was plenty of sunshine. We noticed a lot of trucks going UP the mountain empty and coming back FULL of dirt.  “Must be some big construction project” we thought.  When we got there, it turned out to be a mine reclamation project, where they were removing a lot of polluted dirt.  Eventually it will be replaced with “clean” dirt.  (Strange irony there!!).

By 11:00 we were at Rodgers Pass.  Just before the pass, we came to a sign that said “Near this spot was recorded the COLDEST temperature on record in the USA, in January 1954: 70 degrees below zero.”   That is mindboggling.  Who recorded it, and how did they ever survive?

Well, of course, from Rodgers Pass, up we went, a big climb in wind that often was so strong that I could hardly walk.  It was very cold, too, but I didn’t want to put on my down jacket, because dark clouds were rolling in, and I could see rain off to the west.  So I managed with my “polypew” (long underwear top), with my bandana on my neck to keep my neck warm, plus fleece gloves and headband.

We were doing another big climb up Green Mountain when we were passed by some young guy CDT hikers.  One of them was another Aussie, but quite different from Shepherd!  This guy had lots of piercings and tattoos and dreadlocks.  He and his hiking buddy are strong, fast, and very cheerful.  It was fun to meet them.  Then we met up with “Boston” another young CDT hiker guy, but very different yet again.  Boston is….just angry…all the time, about all sorts of things.  This time he was angry about having lost one of his base layers in the wind.  It blew off his pack, apparently.  When he described it, we immediately knew we had seen it, caught on a tree by the trail.  Elusive had seen it too, and told him, so he was on his way back to get it.  Having to go back made him angry, too.  Poor Boston.  What a way to live!

We finally caught up with Elusive at a very interesting round hut, out in the middle of nowhere on the side of the mountain.  It was well built and looked like a great place to stay, but who it belonged to???  We have no idea.  The CDT here just follows along the top of the Divide, up and down, over and over.  On one of the “ups” we were at Lewis and Clark Pass, complete with a sign that told how they had gone through here.  Again, it was a great feeling to know we are walking in the footsteps of history!

The wind continued all day, and it was obvious that’s standard weather up here, because all the trees are stunted and bent over.  There are more and more rocky cliffs and rock formations, too, not just rounded forested hills.  It did finally rain a bit, and it felt good to put the raingear on–WARM!  There were still bits of fresh snow left from the storm, and as the afternoon went on, it got colder and colder.

So instead of eating supper by the trail, we pushed on till at 6:30 we found a campsite in a protected spot, set up the tent, and ate inside the tent.  We could sure hear the wind, rushing and roaring above us.  We looked at the maps and figure on reaching Benchmark Ranch day after tomorrow.  Then it was time to get horizontal!

Tuesday, September 6 Watching the Sky

September 6th, 2016

SUMMARY:  This morning the town of Lincoln was full of grey, bitter cold (32 degrees) ground fog. We’d had an awesome breakfast at Lambkin’s restaurant—the waitress could not believe how much we ate! But all day we had our eye on the sky, wondering if we’d done the right thing by staying another day. The morning improved tremendously—some blue sky and sun. Several hikers went back to the trail.

All that changed in the afternoon—the dark clouds were back and rain began to fall. Now, we were glad to stay in town! And, a whole bunch more hikers came in, looking exhausted, all their gear sopping wet, with tales of their adventures in the snow. Whew!

DETAILS:  By 6:00 am, I was wide awake and my stomach was growling, but too bad–the restaurants don’t open till 7:00.  At 6:55, we stepped outside into a very cold (I checked the thermometer–32 degrees!) and very foggy morning.  It was a ground fog, so we couldn’t even see much down the street.  But our breakfast (at Lambkin’s) was awesome.  The waitress didn’t think I would be able to eat everything I ordered: a huge cinnamon roll, sliced into 4 pieces and cooked like french toast, plus scrambled eggs and bacon.  She was shocked when I finished it all.   Fixit also ate a lot!

I stopped by the grocery store to see what they had so that I could make a plan for our food the rest of the way to Benchmark Ranch (2 1/2 days, hopefully).  Then I emptied and cleaned out our pack food bags and figured out what I needed for lunch today plus a bit more stuff to hike on tomorrow.  Fixit and I took a stroll to see the cute Baptist Church nearby, then we stopped at the grocery store before going back to the motel.  We had just returned, when there was a knock at the door–the motel owner was standing there, looking very dismayed.  “I am so sorry,” she said.  “We need to shut off all the water for the whole building for 2 or 3 days, starting now.  We knew we had a water leak somewhere, and my husband just found it, and it’s in the main water line, so we have to shut off all the water.  We’ll refund your money you already paid for tonight.”  She was very flustered and I assured her it would be OK.

Fixit and I walked down the street to the next motel, and hooray, they had a vacancy–probably due to the crummy weather, otherwise they would have been full of bowhunters.  Fixit said, “Well, if there was no place to stay, we could just go back to the trail.”  We had already seen four hikers headed for the trail this morning–they’d taken a zero day yesterday and said they were bored with town.  One young couple had bought a box of black plastic garbage bags to use for pack covers in case the weather went bad, and they couldn’t use them all, so I took two for Fixit and I.

As the morning progressed, the fog lifted, the clouds broke up and the sun started to come out.  “Maybe we could have gone back to the trail, too,” we thought.  Oh well.  For lunch we ate our usual zero day fare:  all the stuff we miss having on the trail–fresh fruit, yogurt, avocados and juice.  Then I left Fixit in the motel room (he was reading the “Montana Christian Journal” newspaper I’d found in a rack at the motel office) because I wanted to see if I could find a trail map for “The Bobs”.  Our Bear and Ley maps only show the CDT, and I was worried about having to bail out due to weather or something, and I wanted a more complete map “picture.”

I had just started walking when I met a whole big group of CDT hikers who had just come off the trail.  They had gotten the one room left at our motel and were sharing it.  They were  busy unloading their packs and spreading wet, soggy gear all over the place in the sun to dry.  They looked pretty haggard, and told me some epic tales about their adventures in the snowstorm that drove Fixit and I off the trail.  Basically what they did, once they realized that the storm was pretty bad, was they just stopped and hunkered in their tents all day and all night.  This morning things were better, so they packed up and made it to Rodgers Pass, then hitched down here.

I went to a store down the street that’s sort of half “guy” stuff (fish & hunt) and half “girl” stuff (party decorations and sewing).  I hoped they might have a map of The Bobs.  They didn’t, but phoned around to find one…and found out that it cost $10 at the ranger station way down the road.  I didn’t want to walk all that way, or pay that much, so I ended up just talking to the store owner.  She’s a Christian, and a widow (as of a year ago), 74 years old and trying to manage on her own.  She’s thinking about moving back to Oregon, where she and her husband were originally from.

When I stepped out of the store to go back to the motel, wow, the weather had changed fast.  Dark clouds were moving in, and it was turning very cold.  Shortly after that, the rain began again.  Fixit and I looked at it and said, “Whew, glad we did NOT go back to the trail today!”

We had a good dinner (steak and potatoes) at one of the restaurants, then back at the motel I rigged the black plastic garbage bags onto our packs.  Tomorrow I hope the weather will improve–we need to get back to the trail!  Canada is calling!

Monday, September 5 Let’s Not Re-enact the Donner Party!

September 5th, 2016

SUMMARY:  It rained all night, but we were fine in our tent. It didn’t stay fine, though. Just after we finished eating breakfast (6:15am) the rain suddenly changed to big globs of heavy, wet snow. Very quickly it began piling up on everything, including our tent, and the trail. “Yikes! We’d better pack up and get going fast!” We did our best, but the snow was coming down so hard that we finally just rolled up the tent and lashed it to the top of Fixit’s pack. Then, just as I started walking the few steps over to the trail, wham! I was suddenly overwhelmed with horrendous nausea and “lost my breakfast”.

Still feeling wobbly, I headed up the trail anyway and was hit with problems at the “other end”. What’s wrong with me? I was fine 5 minutes ago! Then I thought, wait, maybe this is the only way God could get my attention. It’s 10 1/2 tough miles to Roger’s Pass, and only 3 miles back to Flesher Pass. I told Fixit, and he’d started thinking the same thing. “I don’t want to do a re-enactment of the Donner Party,” he said. So back we went, and with some amazing help from God,  we are now in Lincoln, and will need to wait a day for the weather to clear.

DETAILS:  It rained all night (though not hard) and it was still raining while we were eating breakfast in the tent.  Brrr, it was cold, though!  We had just finished eating, when the sound of raindrops suddenly changed–and a quick look outside showed SNOW!  And not just pretty light snowflakes, but great big huge, wet glops falling from the sky.  It immediately began to accumulate on our tent, on the plants and trees.  Yikes!  So we hurried to finish packing up, eyeing the quickly building snow cover.  We had a terrible time with the tent–the snow was falling so fast and so heavy that we couldn’t keep it brushed off the tent long enough to get it folded up and packed away.

Finally Fixit said, “Forget this!” and just rolled the tent up, snow and all, then lashed it on top of his pack instead of stowing it neatly inside as usual.  We shouldered our packs and headed for the trail–what we could see of it!  The trail was also being quickly buried in snow.  Just when we were a few steps away from the trail, wham, I was hit with an incredible sort of “wave” of nausea, and oh no!  There went my nice breakfast I’d been enjoying only a half hour before.  I could not believe it.  I felt fine just a few minutes ago.

But I was determined to go on, and we started up the trail (we had been camped in a little dell).  A couple of minutes later, wham again–another round of throwing up, and I was feeling weird and wobbly.  What was this?  I sort of gritted my teeth and thought, “It’s 10 1/2 tough miles of steep, high trail to Rodgers Pass.  How will I ever make it at this rate?  I’ll just have to do the best I can.”  I tried to keep going, but a minute later I realized that my “other end” was about to lose it, too.  So I had to do a quick stop to take care of that.  Yuck.  I stood up and looked around.  The snow was building up really fast; even our footprints were rapidly filling in.  And that’s when I had a thought:  “It’s only 3 miles back, and mostly downhill, to Flesher Pass.  From there we could go down to Lincoln, and figure out what to do.”

I sort of staggered back over to the trail, where Fixit was patiently waiting, and it turned out he’d been starting to think the same thing.  “I don’t want to re-enact the Donner Party,” he said.  “They ended up not being able to go forward or back.  I think we’d better go back.”

We looked at how fast and heavy the snow was coming down, and without a word, we turned and headed for Flesher Pass.  I had a hard time at first, feeling very weak and wobbly, but after about a half hour of hiking, it was like my strength came back, the nausea totally disappeared, and I could hike right along in the fast-falling snow.  But I was still very puzzled over the whole thing.  Why did I get so sick so fast, and why am I now OK?  This is seriously weird.

Then I had another thought.  “Lord, I think You are in on this!  You sure know how to do tough love–was this the only way You could get our attention and get us to turn back?  Ouch!”  Fixit was busy thinking, too, as we walked through what had become a “winter wonderland” that was incredibly beautiful, but with a rapidly disappearing trail.  Finally he said, “I don’t know how long this weather will last or how long this snow will stick.  When we get down to the road, we can walk to the Lincoln highway, hitch into town, and then go back to the trail when the weather clears.”

(Note: We learned later from other hikers caught in the storm, that they did not even attempt to hike, but simply stayed in their tents all day)

Even though it was quite a descent to the road, the snow was still falling heavily when we got there.  And that was when we made a HUGE mistake.  Somehow we got our directions muddled, and instead of hiking west (to the right), we started going east.  Not knowing our mistake, we started walking.  But God was being REALLY good to us!  When we’d only been walking the wrong way for about 20 minutes, along came a pickup truck towing a trailer.  He stopped and said, “Need a ride?” and it turned out to be the same guy we’d talked to at the campground yesterday.  He remembered us and when he saw us hiking in the snowstorm, he wanted to help.

When we told him we were headed for Lincoln, he said, “Oh no!   You’re going the wrong way–this way goes to Helena!”  I looked at him and thought, “Wow, Lord, thank you for turning us around again!”  I figured it was no coincidence that the guy already knew us and that he “happened” to be headed home at just the right time to spot us.

The hunter guy was so kind–he offered to drive us all the way to Lincoln, but we said, “That’s OK, just a ride back to Flesher Pass would be a big help!”  So he turned around (he was headed for Helena), we tossed our very snowy packs in the back of his truck, and climbed into the cab (ahh, warm!) for a quick ride back up the hill.  The guy told us that the only reason he stopped was that he recognized us from yesterday.  He had given up hope of doing any hunting today when he saw the snow start.  “Normally this time of year it’s like 70 degrees and sunshine” he said.  Back at the Flesher Pass summit, the snow was now coming down so hard that it verged on a whiteout, and even the paved road was covered with white.  We assured the kind hunter that we would be fine, and that we were very grateful for his help, then we headed downhill toward the Lincoln highway, and he headed back for Helena.

We walked through the whiteout, saying, “Wow, if it’s this bad down here, I hate to think what it’s like up high on the trail!”  And we were also saying, “Thank you, Lord, thank you for turning us around and pointing us in the right direction!”  Once again, yet another assurance that He is watching over us.  I figure He’s saying, “I love you” and in spite of the cold and the heavy snow, I felt wonderful.

We had 6 miles to walk to the junction with  Rodgers Pass Road (which goes to Lincoln).  We figured that when we got there, we could hitch into Lincoln, wait till things cleared up, then hitch back to the junction and walk up the Rodgers Pass Road back to the trail.  That way, we can still leave a trail of our footprints from Mexico to Canada.  “And if we get to Rodgers Pass and the trail is full of deep snow and is un-doable, we will just keep walking, and walk by road all the way to Benchmark Ranch,” we decided.  “We’re not going to risk our lives trying to walk the high country in deep snow.  Yes, we have the Garmin, but it would still be crazy.”

As the miles went by, and the elevation was lower, the snow grew less, and finally changed to just a cold rain, and by the time we reached the junction, even the rain had stopped and the sun made a brief attempt to come out (sure felt good for a few minutes!).  We started trying to hitch, but it was tough.  The cars on the Rodgers Pass road were just flying by, and no one showed any interest in picking up two grubby hikers.

It was just starting to drip rain again, when a pickup truck came down from Flesher Pass.  The back of it was almost completely full with TWO dead elk (all cut up, but they were BIG!)  and in the cab were a guy and a gal.  They stopped to wait for a chance to turn toward Lincoln, and I ran up and begged for a ride.  “Sorry, I don’t have any room,” said the driver.  But I told him I thought Fixit could squeeze in back with the elk, and I could sit in the cab.  So he agreed.  We fitted our packs in between the elk, and Fixit scrunched up into a tiny space that was left.  He said it was sort of weird riding along facing a very dead bull elk head with its tongue hanging out, only a foot away from his face.  Meanwhile, I was having a good conversation with the elk hunter and his wife.  She said someday she would really like to hike the CDT and PCT.  And they both told me their opinion about the well-meant but totally wrong/stupid government policy of the last few years–introducing WOLVES to try to control the elk population, rather than letting the hunters take care of it.  “Wolves multiply a lot faster than deer or elk,” said the hunter. “And they don’t just kill for food.  They kill just for fun, too.  They’ve been killing a lot of the ranchers’ calves.  Those wolves are decimating the ranchers and even the small towns that depend on ranching and hunting business.”

Once we got to Lincoln, the hunter was supernice.  He could have just dropped us off anyplace, but he insisted on finding us a place to stay–he drove by 3 different places till he found one with a vacancy–the Three Bears Motel.  At one intersection, another guy stopped next to us and yelled, “Hey!  How’d you get those elk so quick?”  The hunter guy yelled back, “Did my homework!”  He explained to me that meant he’d done a lot of “survey” trips into the back country well before hunting season, and figured out where to set up his “stand”.  He doesn’t just wander around looking for elk.  He finds out where they go, and lets them come to him.  It only took him a half hour to “bag” his two big elk.

So now we are staying warm (it’s still very cold and wet outside) in a motel room, with our wet stuff hanging all over the place to dry.  The weather report is for more bad weather tomorrow, but clearing on Wednesday.  So we’ll hang out here in Lincoln for a day.  And we are so grateful to the Lord for sending us back to Flesher Pass, for sending one hunter to get us on the right track, and to the second hunter for his kindness in getting us here!

Sunday, September 4 The “Weather” Arrives

September 4th, 2016

SUMMARY:  Back in Anaconda, we were eating lunch with Shepherd, the CDT hiker from Australia, and he was checking the weather forecast on his iPhone. “Looks like some weather coming in a week, maybe,” he said. Well, the “weather” arrived today. There was sun for awhile in the morning, but the clouds finally took over, and eventually it began to drip. It’s really cold, too—we wore our raingear—partly just to stay warm.

The mountaintops are hidden in cloud, and since the trail often goes up there, we were in the cloud, as well. Had to carry a lot of water, since the water sources are so far apart. Once again, we saw a lot of hunters. We’re camped now on a low saddle below the cloud, and it’s raining. But we’re warm and comfortable, and over halfway to Benchmark Ranch!

DETAILS:  Last night when Fixit and I went to bed, we were both a wreck–so tired.  But it’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do!  This morning we did our usual “halfway get up” and ate breakfast in our tent while it was still dark enough outside to see the stars.  There were some clouds, too, and it was very cold.

For the next few hours, it was like the sun and the clouds were having a battle, and in the end, the clouds won.  Back as we were leaving Anaconda, we ate lunch with Shepherd, and he was checking the weather forecast on his phone.  “Looks like there’s some weather headed here in a week,” he said.  Well, exactly one week later, “the weather” has arrived.  It didn’t actually rain this morning, which was a good thing, because we needed water, and getting to that water was going to be tricky.

It was about 8:15-ish when we got to a road where the Ley map said we could walk down the road a bit, then bushwhack down to a reliable creek.  Our technique for this sort of adventure is that Fixit takes everything out of his pack, then he takes all the platypuses and water bottles and does the bushwhacking to the water source, while I stand guard on all the food & stuff.  So Fixit disappeared into the bushes while I waited.

The sun was still shining at that point, but the wind was blowing, and it was very cold.  A hunter went by in his pickup truck and I talked to him briefly.  He said that yes, there should be water in the creek.  Fixit was gone for quite awhile, to the point where I started getting a bit worried.  Wow, was I glad to see him coming back up the hill!  We loaded the water into our packs, had a snack, and walked back to the CDT.

At Semple Pass, we found a very nice water cache!   If we had known it would be there, we would not have needed to go down to the creek.  Oh well.  We did stop and put on our raingear, not because it was actually raining (just an occasional little drip), but because it was so cold and windy.  At lunchtime, I did cook us a hot lunch, and that helped!  And the trail was nice, too–no killer climbs.

In the afternoon, the rain increased to the point where it was sort of a light rain, not just a drip, and continued very cold.  Finally we reached Flesher Pass, and there was an RV parked there, owned by another hunter guy, who came out to say hello when he saw us.  He said that having this cold, rainy weather was unusual, and that bowhunting season, it’s usually nice and warm in the daytime and chilly only at night.  Apparently all the bowhunters are very frustrated by the crummy weather right now.  We had fun talking to him, and he even told us an easier way down to the highway than taking the CDT trail.  So we followed his advice, and reconnected with the CDT at the road.

Then it was “killer climb time” again as we headed up from there.  Well, maybe not totally “killer”–the trail did have some switchbacks!  At that point, we were way up high, and in the clouds.  It wasn’t exactly raining, but it was very misty and wet.  The trail went up and down, and in one of the “downs”, there was a flat place in the trees, below the cloud line.   It was a little bit early to be stopping, but we looked at the maps and realized that up ahead, we’d just be going higher and higher, which would mean camping in the cloud–and that means all our stuff would get wet.  Yuck.  So we stopped and camped right there.

Just after we got “stowed” in our tent, real rain began.  Good thing we decided to stop!  We were warm and dry, and ate a good dinner in the tent.  After that, Fixit went to sleep, while I did my usual routine of studying the maps for tomorrow to figure out where we would get water, and to see what to expect.  Then I wrote my “photo log” and journal.  It is so cold right now that I am burrowed into my sleeping bag as I write, trying to keep my hands warm.  The rain is coming down steadily, with occasional wind.  And hooray, the maps say we have only 60 more miles to Benchmark Ranch!

Saturday, September 3 Mapmakers Do Their Best—But…

September 3rd, 2016

SUMMARY:  We carry 2 sets of maps—”J-Ley” and “Bear” plus our Garmin GPS. “J-Ley” is good for notes, advice, and suggestions for alternate routes. We did one of those this morning so we could get some water. The “Bear” maps are the ones we use constantly, and the mapmakers do their best. But due to map error, we ended up doing more bushwhacking today.

Up on Black Mountain, the map did not show a trail that was there and could cause hikers to miss a key junction of the CDT. On Nevada Mountain, the map showed a trail that was not there and caused great confusion. We finally got both of those figured out, but it was frustrating.

The trail itself for most of today was horrendously rocky, with steep, long ups and downs. But aside from all that, most of today we had spectacular views that went for miles. There are mountains all around us, and the Divide is not always the highest. But wow such awesome scenery!

DETAILS:  This morning we did a lot of roadwalking, and met a lot of cows and a lot of hunters.  The hunters were all camo-ed up and looking very impressive as they drove by in their pickup trucks.  Some just waved at us, and others stopped to talk.  I meant to ask one of them, but kept forgetting:  “Do you carry a gun at all, or just your bows?  What do you do if you knock down an elk/deer with your bow, but when you get to it, it’s not dead?”  Oh well, I guess some day I’ll find out.

We were on a J-Ley alternate route, because it has water, while the “official” Bear route does not.  That water was our only opportunity for water during this entire day.   We had “where’s the trail??” issues three times today, though, due to map mixups.  The first one was when we were climbing Black Mountain–a long, rough, steep uphill on a FWD dirt “road”.  According to the maps, near the top, the trail would turn off to the right and go onto the east side of the mountain.  We were huffing our way up the steep road, and looking hard for where the trail turned off.  But there was no sign of it, so we kept going, still looking.

Finally the FWD road started heading DOWN the mountain.  This should not be.  For SURE, we had missed the trail.  We turned around and went back, looking very hard for the turnoff.  No luck at all.  So we fired up the Garmin and just started bushwhacking till we finally found the trail again, and yes, it was on the east side of the mountain.  But the maps had not shown the route of the FWD road correctly, so we’d been looking in the wrong place.

A little while later, we’d reached Nevada Mountain.  Here the map showed the CDT had a junction next to the mountain, where we needed to turn right.  Well, we got to where the junction was supposed to be….and there was nothing.  We hunted and we puzzled and finally concluded that the map was wrong and was showing us a junction that wasn’t there at all.  Grrrr.  Out came the Garmin again, and we bushwhacked again for awhile before we finally located the CDT.

Late in the day, the “trail” became a route across the ridgetops in a very cold wind–brrrrr!   But wow, the views!  I tried to take pictures, but the camera just can’t seem to “see” the awesomeness of these massive landscapes.  And the mountains are changing again–becoming more “dramatic-looking”, with rocky cliffs and big drop-offs.  As far as we can see up ahead, there are more and more mountains, crowding higher and higher.  Down below, we get glimpses of valleys.

We were glad to “get horizontal” tonight, though!  We are exhausted from the steep climbs today, and all the bushwhacking.

Friday, September 2 A Good Pit Stop in Elliston

September 2nd, 2016

SUMMARY:  Well, instead of a really nice “nero” day in Elliston, with soft bed, showers, laundry, and lots to eat, we ended up with a 5-hour “pit stop”, because the motel was full of bow hunters! Can’t complain too much, though—a bow hunter gave us a ride down to Elliston. He told us he has a 10-month old son, and he puts the kid in a backpack and takes him out hunting. “Start ’em young, that’s the way to go,” he said. We agree!

So we got our box, ate breakfast, sorted food, repacked our packs, ate lunch at the “Lawdog Saloon” and hitched a ride back to the trail. The weather is cloudy, windy, and chilly. The scenery—gorgeous! Rolling grassy hills, forests. Still pretty smoky, though. The trail was hard to follow several times—Garmin was a big help.

DETAILS:  Last night we could hear cars going by on the highway–yawn–and we could hear train whistles–NICE!  Apparently there is a railroad going through Elliston.  And since there was no need to do a bunch of miles, we stayed in our sleeping bags till it was completely light outside, ate a bit of our leftover food (breakfast pastries) and headed out.  It didn’t take long before we were at a “vista point” just off the highway.  And we lucked out–there were some pipeline worker trucks there, and one of them offered us a ride to town.  Great!!

So I climbed into the back seat of his pickup and sat there next to…his awesome compound hunting bow, arrows and other gear. Turns out that bowhunting season just started, and he is ready!  He told us that when he goes hunting, he puts his 10-month-old son in a backpack and takes him along.  “Start ’em young!” he said, and we agreed!  We were carrying our kids in backpacks on hikes when they were that age, too.  (Only we weren’t hunting–never got into that).

We reached Elliston at 7:45, but nothing was open till 8:00, so we wandered around looking at things.  Yes indeed, the railroad DOES run right through town–what there is of it.  There’s the post office, a little store, a restaurant and a motel, on one side of the tracks, and on the other side are some houses and a church.  That’s about it.  Elliston isn’t very big.

As soon as the post office opened, we got our box, then we went to the store (which had also just opened) and I wandered around trying to find stuff we could eat for breakfast, because the restaurant is only open for lunch and dinner.  We sat in the sun on a bench in front of the store to eat, then off to the motel to see about getting a room.  But oh no! They were all full up with bowhunters–not a vacancy to be had.  Megabummer.  Fixit and I are filthy dirty and really, really tired.  We’d been looking forward to getting clean and resting on a comfortable bed.  The motel owner said we could camp out back if we wanted.  Should we give up and hitch a ride east to Helena?  In the end we decided “No, we’ll just push on.”

I noticed that there was some activity in the restaurant, “Lawdog Saloon”, so I went in and asked if it would be OK for us to come in and use one of their tables to sort our food and reload our packs, even though they weren’t open yet.  It would be a lot easier there than outside on the grass.  They said “No problem”.  Whew, good thing– there was a LOT of food to sort through and divide between our packs–six days’ worth.  AND, there’s not much water on the trail from this point, either, so we had to load up with a lot of water.  When I finished loading my pack, it was so heavy I could barely lift it.

Once the Lawdog officially opened just before noon, Fixit got the “Bounty Hunter Burger” (huge!) and I got a “Law Dog”–a very large sausage smothered with french fries and all kinds of stuff.  I could not finish it!  Wow, it was good, but I just could not manage another bite.  Fixit ate the rest of it for me.  We had a fun time talking to the waitress and the other customers, because since it was a bar, we were all sort of facing each other and could easily carry on a conversation.

We had no problem hitching a ride back to MacDonald Pass, and just before 1 pm, we were back on the trail.  It was cloudy, and there was a very cold wind blowing.  The Elliston folks said there’s a snowstorm on the way for this weekend.  We’ll see!  The trail at first was a dirt road going up to some radar towers, and after that it varied from faint and hard to follow (blowdowns, too) to a “road” that had been all deliberately plowed up and messed up so that no vehicle could use it.  We’ve been running into this sort of thing more and more–looks like the official government policy now is to do everything they can to keep people OUT of the backcountry.  Anyway, the route was hard to follow in many places, so the Garmin was a big help once again.

Scenery-wise, it was awesome!  We had gorgeous views of rolling hills with trees, and glimpses of the railroad.  The trains actually run UNDER the CDT, through a tunnel!  We found a place to camp, and a gorgeous sunset with a few mooing cows finished our day….we thought.  But then some guys went by on the dirt road and stopped not too far away from us, where they proceeded to hoot ‘n holler and shoot off guns.  Oh great.  We lay as flat to the ground as possible and hoped that no stray bullets came our way.  Finally they quieted down.  I hope they all sleep in really late tomorrow so we can get past them!


Thursday, Sept. 1 A New “Normal”

September 1st, 2016

SUMMARY:  Just after we settled down for the night last night, a bit of weather blew through with some rain and wind. We were fine and comfortable, but I was listening to it and thinking about how frustrated I felt at our low mileage after hiking all day. Then I remembered the training we took on how to help disaster survivors, and part of it was “your life will never be the same and you’ll learn to live in a ‘new normal.'”

OK, forget 25-30 miles per day, 20 is our “new normal” because this trail is so very tough. Today we spent 1 1/2 hours bushwhacking over a mountain because we lost the trail. We also had awesome trail magic from the parents of Lucky, who is one of the Warrior Hikers. They gave us coffee, juice, and cantaloupes. And we finally got some views, not just forest. Some plants are beginning to turn fall red and yellow—very pretty. We are camped about a mile from the highway to Elliston/Helena.

DETAILS:  Last night we got some spatters of rain and also some very strong, loud wind for a little bit.  No problem for us–we were very comfortable in our little blue tent, and enjoyed listening to it all.  But at the same time I was getting frustrated by the fact that our daily mileages have been so low compared to the amount of effort we’re putting in.  On the PCT, the effort we put out yesterday would have meant probably close to a 30 mile day.  We barely made 21.  Pathetic.

Then I realized something.  True, on the PCT we usually did at least 25 and often 30 miles a day.  On this trail, it’s been more like 20 miles a day…or less. BUT–a few years back, Fixit and I did a training program put on by the Billy Graham Rapid Response chaplain team, so that we could learn how to effectively and compassionately help people who have just survived some horrible trauma or disaster.  Let’s put it this way–we learned a lot about what NOT to do and NOT to say.  But one of the things that stood out was that when you have survived some horrible experience, you come out of it a different person.  Your life will never be the same, and you need to accept “a NEW normal.”  If you keep trying to make your life the same as it was before, you will not succeed, and you’ll end up pretty miserable.

So it hit me last night–I need to stop fretting and accept a “NEW normal”.  This isn’t the PCT, it’s the CDT, and I need to change my expectations about miles-per-day.  Maybe that sounds silly, but it really helped.

Anyway, this morning when we got up, it was very cloudy and that made it stay “early morning dark” for longer than usual.  It turned out to be a rather varied day!  In the morning the trail went along the edge of a huge lava flow/rockslide of large, clinkery rocks that came right down to the edge of the trail.  We were leapfrogging again with Shepherd, so we saw him several times.  I can’t believe we are keeping up with him!  Another surprise today were the grouse–we saw several of them at various times, right in the trail.  They made no attempt to fly away, just hunkered down and peeped.

The trail at one point was a dirt road, and up ahead we spotted an RV.  When we got to it, we saw Shepherd’s pack sitting outside.  Trail magic??  Yes, it was!   Turned out that it was the parents of one of the Warrior Hikers (trail name “Lucky”).  They invited us in, and we got to hang out with them and Shepherd, eating cantaloupe (yum!) and drinking coffee and juice.  Sounds weird, but it sure was good!  We also found out that Lucky is known as the only Warrior HIKER.  The rest are called the “Warrior HITCH-HIKERS” because they spend way more time hitching into town than they do hiking.  Result: they are all way behind Lucky, who is determined to make it to Canada.

In the afternoon, we lost the trail in a meadow, and it took us 1 1/2 hours of bushwhacking to find it again, even with the help of the Garmin.  After that, we nearly lost it again several times, because of twists and turns and unmarked junctions.  To add to the fun, thunder was rumbling, and we could see occasional flashes of lightning, including a time when we were crossing the top of a broad grassy ridge.  But most of the time, we were in forest, and while we were eating our supper, a dead tree came crashing down not far away.

By 7:00, we could see the highway up ahead, and debated, “Should we push on and try to hitch into Elliston tonight, or wait till tomorrow morning?”  We decided to wait–a good decision, as it turned out.  We set up our tent with thunder still rumbling and lightning still flashing in the distance.  And I didn’t worry about mileage.  “New normal!” I kept telling myself.

Wednesday, August 31 A Cloudy Day In the Forest

August 31st, 2016

SUMMARY:  We met a couple of hunters today (out on a pre-season expedition). They said the forecast for today was 90 degrees — yikes! But clouds moved in, and it was overcast all day, which made hiking much more pleasant. Basically we were in forest all day, with an occasional meadow, one rather swampy lake, and a couple of glimpses of valleys below.

Sometimes the forest was so thick and the trees crowded so close together that it was almost like walking through a giant corn maze. Some of the undergrowth is beginning to show fall color. We were “lost” for awhile today, even with the Garmin, and at the end of the day, we were disappointed to find we’d only done 21 miles. Thought we did better than that—oh well.

DETAILS:  It never got cold last night, and I didn’t even need to put my jacket on to eat breakfast.  I was thinking, “Oh boy, it’s gonna be a hot one today!”  The smell of smoke is still very strong and the sunrise was very “smoky” too–so smoky that it was hard to see the fact that there were clouds in the sky.

In the morning, we had our first time of going over some “new style” cattle guards–no pit needed.  Nice!  It was a very warm morning, but tempered by the overcast skies.  The trail was pretty much in thick forest all day, with hardly any views.  But the few views we had showed us that we are WAY up high!

One nice thing today was that somebody had been through and logged out all the blowdowns.  It would have been really awful getting through here, otherwise.  One of the worst was where several trees all went down together in a giant pile.  But no problem–“Paul Bunyan” had cut a way through it.   Sometimes we did get to go through some pretty meadows.  There are still wildflowers, including a lot of what looks like a small yellow snapdragon.

To our great surprise, we were leapfrogging all day with Shepherd.  Normally he would be way faster than us, but he says for some reason he’s really tired, and he has a very heavy pack with enough food to get him all the way to Lincoln.  Part of what’s slowing him down (and us, too) is that getting water has become a tedious business.  The springs are all barely trickling, and the only way to get water is to collect it in a cup before pouring it into our platypuses.  Sloooow.

We also missed a turn in the trail near Cottonwood “Lake”.  (Swamp would be a better term–it’s not really a lake.)  We finally realized our mistake and went back, but even with the Garmin, we still could not find the trail.  Grrrr.  So we ended up just bushwhacking straight up the mountain until voila!  The trail!  After that came a big climb around Thunderbolt Mountain.  It was still overcast, hooray–otherwise it would have been really tough to do all that climbing in sun and heat.

Along the way we met two guys who were out on a pre-hunting season survey trip.  They told us that the weather forecast had been for 90 degree heat, but the clouds were taking care of that.  When they found out that we’d walked all the way here from Mexico, they were very impressed and insisted on shaking hands “with 2 tough people.”

In the afternoon, the trail was often confusing and we had to stop and look at maps and Garmin several times.  At 7:00 we found a nice campsite in the forest, and I was bummed that we only made 21 miles.  But I guess with all the time spent getting water and being “lost”, that’s what happened.  And we are just plain tired.  It’s been a long trail!