On a Sunday morning we rose up and went to the roadside to hitch back up to the pass. It was quiet, with the odd car heading to church I guessed. Not many rides going for three people. It took an hour before a van pulled over and a gent told us to hop in. Dropping us at the pass we climbed straight up, thousands of feet til the vistas opened up. A beautiful day. Today each of us went at our own pace, with me out ahead. I sat on a rock for a while. Now, you might guess I’m about to paint a perfect picture, taking in scenery before me. But it is on this rock I left my first pair of sunglasses. A pair I bought from the gas station for $19.99, and honestly, I liked them. But didn’t like them enough to hike back 5 miles. Sod it, I would hike without. And how painful it proved on the eyes. I learned from this to make it so I couldn’t possibly lose another pair again, by using a bit of cord around the neck. I would have mocked it as a child but my how I now understood why people with glasses do it.
On we walked until the next pass over the road. Early in the day I sat and read the map waiting for the others. The maps- Now, over the years of people attempting to hike this trail a man called Jonathan Ley decided to make a downloadable version of them designed for A4 letterhead paper which we all have a printer for. On these map are annotated details, thinks like ‘spring located here’ which, when mainly following a ridgeline, is mighty handy to know and helps plan where your next water source is. Or contact details for local Motel owners willing to give a ride to the pass and back. At this particular point on the map where I sat the annotation said ‘this is the only water source for the next 18 miles’. I’ll be honest – I cant remember if that’s exactly what it said, but know it well, I filled up to capacity my 4 litres of water and let the others know.
As we walked I also told Oldschool and Kathleen that after the next town I planned on picking up the pace and trying for some bigger days. As my aspiration was growing but bank account was not. We finished the day camped at the roadside below the next climb. The next day would be one to remember.
At a time of year when one expects cool temperatures, Helena Montana was experiencing a heatwave. Up the mountain it was no different. It was scalding heat. Missing sunglasses was tolerable, but this heat was not. Combined with the heat was a 24 mile dirt roller coaster with no source of water, which doesn’t sound bad but it was. Lots of up and down, for mile after mile. With little in the way of respite. The issue with the continental divide is it tries to follow a dividing ridgeline. My dehydration was so bad my tongue would stick to which ever part of my mouth it touched, and pull off painfully when I tried to move it. Salt was crystallising all over my body and face. Down at Helena it was 38c (100f) and while it was a little cooler a couple of thousand feet up, it was no joke. We were aiming at a dot on the map marked as a spring. The hours ground by painfully. This was probably the worst dehydration I had ever experienced. Dust kicked off the path with every step. I was a long way past sweating, there was no water left to sweat out. When the spring came in to site it was joyous. I was ahead of the others and walked towards it confident in my saviour of a small puddle of water. Fenced off to prevent cattle contaminating it I climbed over and approached the boxed off cool water, cool fresh clean water, an ice cold beverage of mountain spring water which was… full of dead rodents. My heart sank. The lid to the spring was ajar, and inside many dead rodent, possibly squirrel like, but in their state, hard to make out. It was torture, the choice between this contaminated water, or dehydration. The others arrive. I showed both of them. Even with a filter it wasn’t a prospect I would look forwards to.
The next spring on the map was 5 mile further. After for how far we had walked, that isn’t far. But after a day of being dried out slowly by the burning sun. It was. Sometimes luck in life is low, but for us it changed so quickly. A couple on a quad bike in the distance were passing, we waved at them and they came over. Explaining our situation we asked if they had any water. They said no. But, the husband reaches over to the cooler box on the back of the quad bike. He pulls out an ice covered bottle of Cocacola. ‘We do have these though, and some fresh fruit on the ice’. If ever there has been a commercial worthy moment on the face of this planet, this was the moment. The planets had aligned. I took the bottle….. Slowly unscrewed the cap. Paused, the condensation ran down the side onto my leathered hand. I held it up into the light to experience the translucent syrup in all its glory… turned sideways… and poured. At that moment, no one had ever experienced a more perfect silhouette of a man drinking ice cold heaven. Sounds good huh? In reality flies were buzzing around driving me insane and the Cola almost felt like a burning cold, I gasped for breathe and drank again. Man it was good. The couple gave us a mobile number and an invitation to their house when we made it to the pass for showers, food and laundry. What a day.
Feeling like a million dollars we hiked on into the evening. It started raining. Then came the lighting. I watched from the edge of the tree line, seeing it cracking across the sky and striking the field before me. The flat land between me and the next car ride. That was enough for the day. We went back into the trees a little way and pitched up for the night. Flashes bringing full illumination to the inside of my tent before reverting to blackness. I sipped a small amount of Black Velvet Whisky I had in my pack and went to sleep. This was a pass day, Oldschool was up in the dark and ready to go. These are the days you want to get into town early, enjoy civilisation to the max then get out by evening. We hiked on through down beautiful lanes the last 10 miles. Arriving at the pass we stuck thumbs out and moments later were on the way down again. This time riding in a pickup with a man shocked about the news of Caitlyn Jenner. Its funny five how years on I still remember that detail. Down in the town Oldschool told us he was taking some time off the trail, it had been a rough few days. The trail was living up to reputation. I don’t think it’s the trail itself that is hard, but the massive variation of extremes over such a long distance as a body is pushed hard. In the town, Kathleen rang the number we had and the wife came down with ice cold spring water from their home for us. Man, the simple things in life. We went to our new friends house, showered, had our clothes washed then headed back to the supermarket to resupply and go on. By this time over 400 miles into the hike and half of my intended hike I thought was possible. On the way over to the main road we passed a bunch of kids selling fresh lemonade, which in the heat couldn’t be more welcome.
Maybe this whole hike is just about making cold drinks taste better than ever.