Back at the pass after a successful pit stop in Helena, Kathleen and I hiked on, starting early afternoon. At this point my feet were toughening up and developing thick callus. I ditched my uncomfortable hiking shoes and picked up a set of cheap trainers. With a new level of comfort we advanced. Most of this day was spent walking through thick forest, breaking into meadows, some old forestry trail long since disused and overgrown. Reclaimed by nature, the trail either wasn’t well marked or we just weren’t on it. At one point a tree on the other side of the valley fell and we were there to see and hear it. In the hundreds of years it had stood tall and grown, surviving storms, droughts, fires and weathering. In this blink of an eye it was gone., the last day of its long life. I would be on this earth for half its own life span if I am so lucky, of the thousands of trees over the thousands of years, that moment was its last and life goes on, just like mine one day will. I hope it left a good dent.
We were cutting across country on a rough bearing according to where we thought we should be on the map. It was a little cooler today and we went at a steady pace. We knew ahead of us somewhere was a hiker bubble. The ‘bubble’ is a main group of hikers much like a peloton in a cycle tour. One fact I hadn’t mentioned so far is all the hikers that started on the Mexican border and hike up to the San Juans in Southern Colorado had been stopped by high snowfall, but this stoppage coincided with the trail opening up enough at the Canadian Border, so many of the hikers did what is know as a flip-flop. A jump to another part of the trail, to start hiking South. We knew from the last trail log (a small ledger kept at trailheads, signed by everyone who passes) that the bubble was on this trail earlier in the morning. And we were likely to see them the next day. Kathleen hoped her two friends would be near by. We were taking a break at the side of a gravel forestry road close to sunset, and, while deciding which route to take, heard a shout from the brush beside the road. Another hiker was at down relaxing waiting for the bubble to catch up. Some how we had trimmed time by cutting across country and managed to get ahead of them. A few minutes later they arrived. We all pitched up inside the brush and sat chatting till dark. Waking the next day the whole group set off in a broken manner. After hiking til around mid day with some of the group, we came across Kathleen’s friends having lunch by the river. The next day was spent ambling along and chatting. I was running on solar power and my phone spent most the time dead so I didn’t get many photos of this section. I won’t start on the hassle with the roll up solar panel I thought was the solution to all my life’s problems, but in the next town would replace it with more suitable means. The penultimate day of this section, was known as the Anaconda Cutoff .
The Anaconda Cutoff, as in title, cuts off a large loop from the official trail, 90 miles to be exact off the 3100mile hike, and most CDT hikers opt for it. By opting for it you pass through the town of Anaconda. Which is a cracking small town with shops, motels and even a small bowling alley. Logistically easier but with the downside- a very long boring roadwalk for 15 or so miles into the town.
The walk was long and passes both a juvenile Penitentiary and a state prison, with signs warning not to pick up hitch hikers from the roadside. I imagine the look of a bunch of scraggly people hiking outside them causes nervousness among the locals. We approached the road section on the evening and a local informed us the campsite we were aiming for on the edge had closed down, and invited us to camp on his front lawn instead. The so called trail magic had struck again. I was quite surprised a stranger would show this kindness to a group of 8 hikers. I had more expected a pointed shotgun and ‘Get away from my property!’. The next morning we completed the trudge along the road and into town. First port of call- Mcdonalds. Everybody likes a good burger and a group of lean calorie consuming hikers are no exception. The bubble of hikers intended on spending the night in town but I knew a town stay would kill the bank and I was hungry for more miles. I did a shop for food and while I was on the pavement outside the store a police man came over and asked what I was doing. I looked near homeless, with a dirty shirt and mud-up shoes. I told him what I was attempting. “Wait here” he exclaimed before driving off. Ten minutes passed and he pulled back in. In a bag were maybe 10-15 dehydrated hikers meals, the kind that weren’t in my budget but sold at any good outdoor store for $5-10 dollars a piece. Having the option of scrambled eggs for breakfast, chilli con carne for lunch and a curry for supper was a real treat. He also gave me a fabric police badge from his precinct as a memento and a story behind the numbers on it with a reference to lawless times. Being something you cant just buy easily, its a favourite memento. I still have it.
I said goodbye to the bunch and hiked off down the road to the start of the next range I would hike. This had a great feel, my legs sped along. It was another ten or so miles of road walking, which was interrupted by a local running out her house to give me an ice cream. I could get used to these surprises. I found the forestry trail that would lead onto my next footpath. The target I picked for the night was a lake. I was glad not to be stopping in a town for a day off. Here is a rough equation, if I pay $70 for a motel room the night I get into town, $20 on breakfast, $20 on lunch, $35 on dinner, $70 more for the final night’s sleep then I’ve spent $215 for the 24 hour town stop as a minimum. A stop like that every 150miles on a trail like the CDT would be around an extra $4000. To hike a bit further and have a better chance of finishing my hike, more like it. I carried on climbing the 4×4 track until I passed a sign banning bikes and cars, from here it deteriorated significantly until I was smashing through brush knowing I must have taken a wrong branch earlier. But in words echoed eternally through the minds of many a hiker ‘Always push forwards’, and so I did.
Eventually I pushed far forwards enough to break through to the trail I was supposed to be on. As the sun began to dip I pitched my tent beside a lake, ate one of my new tasty meals, and zipped into my tent to sleep. I felt a little lonely that night knowing everybody else would be back in the town bowling and drinking the night away. It was also a strangely spooky place, I had bad vibes from it and didn’t sleep easy. It looked so idyllic when I had arrived, but as I lay I imagined this grassy constriction being visited by larger creatures in the night. But enough, tomorrow, I would start hiking big miles in a way I didn’t know was possible. It was time to let loose.