Taking a shower after 10 days is a great feeling. The mud, dirt and grime of your body washes away, sloshing down the drain and quickly forgotten. How much dirt and grime I put down the drain is a badge of honor and this time it didn’t disappoint. We were dropped off at the Lamplighter Motel, a collection of small individual ‘bunkhouses’ that accommodated various sized groups. The owner was a kind man who offered us a little discount because we were hikers but crammed 5 of us into a 2-room bunkhouse. It’s a crazy atmosphere with 5 people in one little room. It’s a yard sale of clothes, groceries, beer cans, cell phones, drying sleeping bags and cameras being charged and prepared for the next section. My first stop was the grocery store to pick up all the cravings I had during the last section including chicken, grape gatorade and popcorn. With my food needs satisfied, the group settled in to watch the beginning of the NFL season with my beloved Broncos playing their season opener. We slept that night two to a bed with the smell of nasty shoes and Taco Bell clinging in the air. The next morning came on like a tidal wave. The guy who had dropped us off called and said he could take us back to the pass at 9 am. It was 8:30 am. I had hoped to hang out more in town and relax but a guaranteed ride is hard to pass up. I couldn’t decide but soon opted for the guaranteed ride. I now had 15 minutes to shop for the 64-mile section to Rogers Pass, which would get me to Lincoln for resupply. You would have thought I was on the old 90’s TV show Super Market sweep for how fast I got all my grocery shopping done. Before I knew it, I was riding in the back of the pickup, waving good-bye, ending my “lengthy” 12-hour stay in Helena. The trail snaked up and around the mountain. I opted to take the Ley purple route, staying low in the valley versus going up high on the divide because of the thick clouds in the distant. Walking the dirt roads for a few hours I found a nice patch of shade and had a quick lunch. Surprisingly I got a call from my mom who lives in Europe and I Skyped with her awhile, sitting in the shade of the trees. All was well until a large crack broke the conversation. I quickly, and probably to my mothers horror, hung up while yelling something like ‘Here it comes!’. I quickly threw on my rain gear and battened down my pack and walked right into the storm. The marble sized hail came with a fury, slamming into my head and body from all angles. Trickles of water quickly collaborated with the others to create large streams where there once was a dirt road. I cowered under a tree that offered little protection and after a while I just said “to hell with it” and walked out into the bombing of hail. The hail bombardment continued for a solid 30 minutes before letting up and the sun finally smiled on me again.
I was walking alone and climbed even higher into the Helena National Forest feeling great. That day I learned that I actually enjoy being wet, cold and a little miserable while hiking. Cresting a ridge I found my next water source, which I definitely felt in need of. I opened up the lid of the spring and found it to be nearly empty. I was able to get enough water out of it for that night and a little for the next day to make it. I would later learn that the group behind me would find it in even worse condition, filled with dead squirrels that had fallen in. My nose awoke me the next morning. It was a clean smell; a freshness that absorbed into my nostrils. I rolled to my side, still in my sleeping bag and peeked out under my vestibule and saw that I was surrounded in mud thick fog. I could barely see 15 feet from the tent. It was a slow moving ghost of white that flowed over me like a stone in a creek. I crawled out of my bag and stood outside my tent with my bare feet sending a cold mossy chill up my body as the fog engulfed me. It was the freshest air I had ever smelled in my life. I raised my arms out, puffed out my chest, tilted my head back, opened up my nose and took a long deep breath. The air quickly ran down my throat, into my lungs and was absorbed throughout my entire body. I was cleansed. I was free and I knew it. The whole day was full of amazing hiking. The fog rolled in and over me all day leaving the forest mysterious and medieval. Pine trees with green moss hanging from its limbs and fog hiding everything else in the background. The fog was my mistress, teasing me with quick flashes of distant peaks and trail. I snaked up and down the crest of the mountain excited to feel its next move and tantalizing surprise. This day had been an experience that I would soon not forget. The day ended with a continued rain but I didn’t care. I was happy and content. I made it to Stemple Pass where a hunter invited me into his RV for hamburger steak and 2 tasty beers. I slept that night with a smile stretched across my face. In the morning I woke to a revived spirit, one that was ready to tackle the trail with no worries, only focus on the end goal. I hiked along the mix of trail and dusty dirt road having to choose between the confusing official CDT route and or the alternates. Thinking I was on the alternate I headed around a mountain and came to a clearing. An established trail was to my left; a more defined one was on the right. I choose right. Wrong choice. I went for about 2 miles, always looking back, questioning my decision. Finally I realized I had taken a wrong turn. Instead of turning around and going back the way I came, I figured why not just go cross country and connect back up with the trail I should have gone with. I was in the middle of the woods, following game trails that lead nowhere but somewhere. I knew I was in the middle of nothing but kept going thinking that eventually I would hit a road I saw on my map but wasn’t particularly sure if I would. The place was uninviting but not scary. I decided to just keeping going, assuming it was the best course of action at this point. Stop thinking and just go. I hit a road about 2 hours later and followed it to what I figured was an intersection with the trail I should have been on from the get go. I needed to clear my head so I sat there, drying out my gear from the night before, digging into my food bag finding whatever chocolate I had left. I eventually went cross -country to meet up with the original trail and followed it until nightfall, giving up on the ridge walk that awaited me in the morning. In the morning I woke up to beautiful conditions of more fog and clouds that covered my path. It was glorious. I was high up on a ridge that was obscured with clouds rolling through, up and over the ridge. I felt like I was part of the clouds and not just passing through. This lasted for about 15 miles before coming down the mountain to Rogers Pass and my highway to Lincoln. I was semi-happy to have hit the road, not really needing to get to town other than to satisfy my stomach’s desire for the indulgences of town food. I put out my thumb in the cold and waited for a ride. No ride came. I didn’t care deep down if someone stopped or not, I was in the zone, fully charged and ready to tackle the trail. My trail friends popped out of trees and I noticed them out of the corner of my eye. I felt happy to see them, and ready to abandon my hitchhiking quest. After standing by the side of the road for the better part of 2 hours I felt ready to hike, instead of hitchhiking. It was 53 miles to my next resupply in Benchmark. My food bag was getting a little light but I had bought more food then I needed in Helena. Maybe I would make it on what I had to eat or maybe I would go hungry for a day or so. What I lacked in food I made up in desire to keep going and not stop. I was ready for the next section dubbed “The Roller Coaster”.