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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.