CouchtoCDT

Hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) Northbound in 2013- sharing my preparation for the hike and my day to day experience while I'm on the trail. Inspiring people to follow their dreams.


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Butte to Helena

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I arrived in Butte with a good spirit, having just joined my new group of hikers who allowed me to join them on the trail for however long I wanted to.  I was excited to be with a new group, to have some new experiences and learn from these 3 other hikers that were on their way to achieving their triple crown (Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail & Continental Divide Trail).

We spent a couple of days resting in the cramped confines of a two queen bed hotel room for the 5 of us, 1 of them being a old friend of my new group from Oregon who was in the neighborhood.  We ate Chinese food, enjoyed the local brewery and I saw my first and only movie on the trail on Labor Day.  I was grossly disappointed with the movie but at least the movie theatre experience made me feel a apart of society again, that I was once again capable of doing normal things.  We spotted a Labor Day picnic at a community park hosted by the local electrical and pipe fitters union where there was free hotdogs and soda to be had and being cheap hikers we were obligated to stop by and consume our 3 hotdogs and 4 bags of chips like any true American.

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After a couple of days of leisure we started back on the trail right where we had stopped.  I was only about a mile outside of Whitehall but my other companions were about 4 miles behind me.  A farmers market that offered up fresh local produce and cookies that I was happy to buy and enjoy immediately distracted me.  My companions passed me after finding a too comfortable tree to enjoy my new food.  Walking the roads several people stopped to ask what we were doing and I gave them my regular response.  Most said that’s great but a few said that’s crazy.

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That day was all about road walking, going under the bridge of highway 90 as the cars and trucks zipped by at high speeds and then entering the local forest area on the east side of Butte.  Walking the gravel roads of forest areas is a big part of a CDT hike and they can be methodical and boring.  I was lucky enough to be recommended a new podcast ‘Things you should know’ and was enjoying learning about how ejector seats work, universal health care and diving bells.  Podcasts are a great way to make the miles just slip away.  That night we slept in a typical car camping spot while our friend from Oregon met up with us and brought pizza and beer.  The next morning we rose with a purpose but not the usual one.  It was Sunday and that meant that the newest episode of Breaking Bad was on AMC and we did not want to miss it. It would be a 17-mile day and we had to be done by 5 to get back to a hotel room that had AMC and watch our show that night.  We all walked with a purpose that day even if it was for a T.V show.

You hike for different reasons every day

You hike for different reasons every day

After we all injected or should I say snorted our Breaking Bad fix we were off again, entering the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National forest.  We had 71 miles to go to get to Helena and we were back on the official CDT after taking the Big Sky Variant due to time restraints and fires.   We made it up Champions Pass and through some pretty normal hiking that had good water sources, easy to follow trail signs, big open views and old mining towns long ago abandoned.  Excitingly as we sat next to the trail one day for lunch 2 old friends happened to turn the corner and walk right into us.  We hadn’t seen them in several weeks and it was great to be back with them.  Immediately we started talking about which sections had sucked, what town was cool and what goodies we had decided to carry.  We had ourselves a little party at camp that night and it was great to be amongst friends.  I knew that night was one to be cherished and remembered as only a night like that can be.

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We all hiked at different speeds so it was a constant game of leapfrog as you went.  One person would stop for a break as the other person kept going until you started up again and caught back up to them.  Each person was in their own worlds, listening to their music, books, podcasts or the sound of their own feet.  The trail would take you up high to gorgeous views and then surround you in woods that looked like no one had hiked them in a long time.  You’re brought back to reality when you pass huge power lines as they buzz with electricity and make eerie sounds as the wind passes around them.

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After only 3 days we covered the 71 miles to McDonald Pass, which was our highway to hitch into Helena.  The view before you hit the highway was a vast expanse of forest and a large open valley to the east where Helena waited for us.  It was a gorgeous view and one that I will remember.  I arrived at the pass, second only to Bonelady, who was drying out her sleeping bag from last nights rain waiting for us to arrive.  I had chatted up some nice tourist at the ‘lookout’ but that did not lead to a ride into town.  It’s all about chatting up the people you can actually talk to to get a ride because that is much easier then putting out your thumb and hoping for the best.  Eventually 5 out of 6 of us were at the pass and a nice guy pulled over and immediately asked if we were CDT hikers.  We said yes and he mentioned how we were going to be the 15th hikers he was taking into town.  We had great trail magic with someone who knew what we were all about.   We piled into his truck leaving one person behind to catch his own ride.  Now this isn’t considered rude mind you.  We had waited for as long as we could and you can’t jeopardize a ride that can take 5 hikers to town.  If we had let this ride slip away we wouldn’t have been considered nice but idiots.  So we drove off heading into Helena for a day of rest and the fried chicken I had been dreaming about for the past several days.

HIKER TO TOWN

HIKER TO TOWN

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Big Sky to Butte

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I sat shivering on the bus stop bench after being dumped off at the base of Big Sky Ski resort.  Having spent the night in a park in Bozeman and getting drenched by the parks sprinkler system at 5 am started my day off on the wrong path.  Now I just wanted to get warm and get my mood into a better place.

Walking up to the base I found a visitor center and met ‘Chad’ a mountain concierge who asked me how my overnight hike went; assuming I was a tourist who ventured out for the evening.  I gave him a slight smile and explained my already scripted CDT story.  I think he saw my desperation for a warm place to relax and charge my phone.  He took me to the hotel across the way and got me an access card to the fitness center.  Another act of kindness from a complete stranger. This place was heaven!  Stocked with showers, sauna, shampoo, conditioner, TV and places to hang my gear out to dry.  I spent the next 3 hours taking full advantage of everything; getting my core warm with a long hot shower, drying gear and going through my food resupply.

Leaving Big Sky with dry gear and a warm core lifted my spirits.  I left town staring at the beauty of the mountain and promising myself to come back and ski here one day.  I turned on my newest audio book, Ted Turners autobiography “Call Me Ted”, began following Jay Road, a private dirt road with many millionaire’s homes, winding over and through the mountains.

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The next day I stood in an open valley surrounded by hay fields and beautiful farms that seemed to go on forever.  There is something beautiful about being in the middle of a large valley surrounded by fields, watching high thin clouds, and a truly big sky.

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Crossing the Madison River I entered the town of Ennis, MT population 900, on the town’s main street that served as its main corridor.    After eating at the  local pharmacy/diner I found the local library and hopped on the computer to catch up on some blog posts and overdue emails to friends.  Many of these small town libraries have time limits of 50 minutes on the Internet, so you have to type fast or beg the librarian for more time, which is usually accomplished with a small donation.  I still had plenty of food from my Big Sky resupply but I bought some small treats and snacks that I couldn’t pass up.  I had been planning on leaving that same day but after long phone calls home, eating at the diner again and some general wondering around the sun was setting and I didn’t want to get stuck on the side of the highway for the night.  Instead I ended up hanging out in the back of the library where their Wifi reached and I caught up on the first 3 episodes of the new second half of Breaking Bad on my phone.  It was fun to squat behind the back of a library snacking and watching shows.  I finished my last episode at 11:30 pm and simply laid out my sleeping bag between the library and the house next to it in the dark shadows hoping I wouldn’t get caught.  Thankfully I didn’t, instead I caught a great nights sleep!

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Nice place to camp

Nice place to camp

Heading up the highway towards McAllister the sky opened up with a flash of rain that sent me running towards an old bar with an overhanging roof.  There I stayed until some other thru hikers came by and sat under the overhang with me.  One of them, Bone Lady, had found some money as she was walking the road and then more, and then eventually finding a pile of credit cards, hunting/fishing license and a total of $375 in cash!  Thankfully we found a phone number on the fishing license and called the relieved owner who had left it on top of his car.  We agreed to leave the contents at the post office across the street for him to pick up later.  Thru hiking karma points!

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We turned off the road at McAlister and began walking on a dirt road that lead us into the Tobacco Root Mountains in the Beaverhead National Forest, a 26 mile long and 18 mile wide wilderness full of 10,000 ft peaks, lakes and old mining claims.  Walking up the road, reaching a high point, I looked back into the valley of where I had just been and with the shine of Ennis Lake and the Spanish Peaks with the Big Sky mountains in the background.  I closed my eyes to lock in that view in my memory forever.  It was truly amazing.

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The next morning we continued on the hike up the forest road, watching the clouds creeping in over the range to the west of us.  We knew we were going to get hit by them but when and how bad was another question.  Shortly after pondering this question, the clouds came in and unleashed a world of hell on us.  The rain came down hard, like buckets of water being poured on us with the wind and cold right behind it.  I hid under a scraggly group of trees that offered little protection but at least made me feel like I was somewhat protected.  My MLD pack cover was keeping the contents of my pack dry but I was another story for the most part.

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After about 30 minutes of non-stop rain it suddenly came to an end.  Content with my future of walking through mud and cold I continued on.  Shortly after passing a barrier to keep out the jeeps and off road vehicles I reconnected with my fellow thru hiker, Cheese, who had hid only about a 100 yards ahead of me.  As we walked ahead on the trail we chatted but noticed the second wave of clouds approaching.  Cheese, being a veteran thru hiker and on the CDT to complete his Triple Crown, saw the signs and started setting up his tent.  Not one to be left out, I helped him setup quickly and as soon as we got inside, the second wave had reached us.  This time the rain came down harder then before with bigger rain drops, stinging wind and cold and it was relentless.  We hid inside that tent listening to Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine and Black Joe Lewis & The Honey Bears pouring out of my phones speakers.

One hour passed before the rain let up and we packed up Cheese’s drenched tent into his pack.  We hiked up and over the pass that was covered in old mining equipment long along left behind; it must have been cheaper to leave it behind then to bring it back out.  Coming down the trail was reminisce of old cabins, cables and every kind of mining equipment you could think of.  I always try to imagine the life of those miners who had lived here before, how they had lived, where they were from and about the day that they left.

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P1010672Emerging off the trail we were back on a dirt road that lead us to the town of Mammoth, a very small cluster of houses that looked abandoned but still lived in.  It was a very cool looking town; the kind you know you could survive any looming zombie apocalypse in.   I wish I could have met some of the people who lived there but no one was in sight and knocking on a door was not an option.

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The next morning was cool, with a slight frost on my tent, which is just how I like it.  It was a good morning because I knew that within 23 miles I would be taking respite in Whitehall that night, sipping a beer with my feet kicked up.  Unfortunately it would be dirt roads and pavement for 20 miles to get me there but nonetheless I was excited for the day.  Dirt roads never bother me but the main paved roads were different because of the traffic and percentages were against me.  The best part of my walk into Whitehall was the apple a group of older women gave me as I walked past their property.  They asked if I was a hitchhiker, which I explained I wasn’t and told them about my hike.  They were amazed and offered me a fresh picked apple from the tree.  They said they were collecting them to make some pies that night, so I jokingly said I would be walking past again tomorrow to get a slice!

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As I approached Whitehall, Cheese told me that a friend of theirs was going to pick them up at Whitehall and take them into Butte where they would be taking a zero day.  I was ready to take a zero but felt bad leaving the guy I had been hiking with for the past month, who unfortunately was not getting along with the other 3 hikers.  We had been having some tension building between us for a while and I was ready to hike with a new group.  I made the tough decision to tell him I was leaving and essentially had to break up with him on the side of the highway.  He was ready to hike alone anyways so I feel it was mutual but it was still a little awkward. I began getting excited about moving on from Whitehall into Butte.   As I hopped into the back of Dirty Feet’s pickup, I waved good-bye to Flippi and looked into the setting sun looking forward to the cold beer waiting for me in Butte.