Nothing could be worse on a long hike than a swollen, bruised up foot. I had been mentally tormented by the condition of my foot for the past four days. I was happy to finally see the black and blue disappearing from the bottoms of my foot after four days of relaxing. The new shoes I picked up at the post office helped me realize that relief was here for my feet and that I could finally get back on the trail and stop worrying about problems that weren’t there anymore.
A fire started in the upper portions of the Wind Rivers range the day I had gotten out, so the CDT was closed and I couldn’t get back on the trail to finish that section. I was upset because I had been looking forward to that section for years, but once again I wouldn’t see it come true. Instead, I had to bypass the upper Winds and start back up at Togatte Pass. As long as Yellowstone wasn’t on fire I would at least see them.
Going around Brooks Lake I was now in certified Grizzly country and that was obvious with the no camping signs around the lake due to recent grizzly activity. A couple of cowboys passed me with their wrangler jeans, cowboy hats and classic six shooters on their hips. They warned me of 2 grizzly cubs hanging around Upper Brooks Lake and that I should watch out. That’s one way to get introduced to this area. I hiked down the trail keeping a vigilant eye out for the cubs with my own modern version of a six shooter on my pack… a can of bear spray. I practiced reaching into my backpack’s left side pocket to grab my bear canister, releasing the safety lock and spraying a grizz if he came near me. I practiced over and over again as if getting ready for my standoff at the OK Corral. It felt silly, but I felt prepared if a bear came towards me and I had to spray it.
After 2 days of walking through open meadows, on a winding trail up and down small ravines, I came to my new route, the Super Butte Cut off. This one is an alternate to the official CDT and was a way for me to take a short cut to Butte, Montana. I was getting really worried about winter coming since many of the locals said it was going to be an early one. From where I was that day I would have had to hike 22.67 miles a day to make it to the border by October 7th. If I took the cut-off I would make it there by the last days of September and lessen my chances of not finishing. I hate to leave the actual trail but, in order to finish I had to take the cut-off. The beauty of the cut-off is that you actually spend more time in Yellowstone and go through Big Sky country as well. This was not what I had planned, but I was still looking forward to the adventure and would still be hiking the whole way, not skipping any miles.
At Two Oceans Pass the trail traveled North East towards the boundary of Yellowstone. This is the least visited section of Yellowstone and the most remote. This area is so remote that there is a spot that is, factually, the most remote spot in the lower 48 states. Its is the point that is farther from any road in America and I would be there.
Entering the valley I was struck by the raw beauty that was around me. A large river valley full of willows and peaks seemed to go on forever. The Yellowstone river flowed through this valley that housed bear and elk. I walked through the willows on a little bridge system that was partially flooded, but the raw beauty distracted me from my wet feet. I walked up to the Yellowstone River and right on the spot that was the most remote spot you could stand on in the lower 48 states. It was surreal. I felt so alive and so far removed from everything. When you hear people say “I’d like be in the middle of nowhere”… well that was where I was. I held on to that moment like it was my dying day. I’ll never forget it and I know that I can recall that memory, if I’m ever feeling overwhelmed. It was at at that very moment, I looked around – of course seeing no one – and quickly stripped off all my clothes and plunged into the cold Yellowstone River. It was Amazing! I swam in its cold water, plunging my head into its icy hold, pausing to enjoy the moment. I relaxed my body and allowed the current to move me as a leaf, floating effortlessly. I closed my eyes and thought of nothing. Nothing but pause and a relaxation in my body and wanting the moment to last forever.
I got my clothes and gear back together as I hiked up the valley. Stopping by the ranger station to get a permit for the one night I would be in that section of the park but no one was home. I slept that night just inside the park boundary ‘technically’ illegally but I caused no harm and was in and out early to get to Cody, WY where my next resupply was.
After a quick resupply in Cody, my hitching skills attracted a park ranger to pick me up and take me into the park. I was dropped off at the Bridge Bay campground where I could get my backcountry permit for the Lamar Valley that would then take me to Mammoth and then out of the park. I camped in the campground which was hectic with all the tourists and RVs in the area. The campground was filled with smoke, car alarms and people wrangling to get the most out of their wilderness experience. I settled for a Hiker/Biker camping spot which was quieter and away from the major crowds. I enjoyed a 9 pm nature talk by an experienced ranger who talked about the history of Yellowstone and the lake and the animals that inhabit the area. I highly suggest attending these classic fireside chats because you can learn a lot and get to talk with the ranger. He was a great guy and was excited about my trip. He put in a good word for me in the permit office the next morning and I got all the permits I needed for the next section.
The next section was to go through the Lamar Valley, an area known for its large wolf population. One day into the hike, which was breathtaking, I was intercepted by a ranger who told me I needed to leave the valley because the wolf pack was acting “unusually aggressive” lately. With a heavy hand, the ranger suggested/demanded I get out of the area. I was bummed because it was a beautiful section that I would have to miss and now had to find an alternate route once again. He did give me a ride to the permit office again where I settled on an alternate that was nice but not as much as the first choice. During my bureaucratic permit efforts I decided to hitch to Old Faithful and see the iconic Yellowstone attraction. The Old Faithful area was FULL of tourists from all over the world. The pattern I noticed after watching Old Faithful go off three times was people start to gather 30 mins before, encircling it on the wooded benches that surround it. At show time, everyone gets out their cameras, phones and iPads and video tapes it with ooohhs and awwws. Then everyone rushes to the ice cream shop as soon as its over. This repeated every time and was typically followed by people coming 3 minutes after the show to ask when the next show was. I was overwhelmed by all the people so I got back on the trail and hiked to Mammoth.
Once at Mammoth I learned of a new fire that was raging across my route to the northwest. Again I would have to change my route! This was my third detour in under a week. Having nowhere to go I went to a hotel and asked about about a room. They said $130 for a night. I said thank you but no thank you and proceeded to sleep in the field across the street facing the hotel for free. This is true hiker trash style. The next day I met several other hikers who were stuck in the same predicament so we made a plan to go to Gardnier, MT 15 miles away. An hour after leaving Mammoth I had left Wyoming and was now in Montana, my final state. I was thrilled to finally be in Montana and be closer to the finish! I hoped Montana would be nicer to me with less fires and more predictability but, you must believe in the trail because the trail will provide.