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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Emerging 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.
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!
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.