I felt energised as I charged up the trail and over my first small pass of the day. Like a tuned machine with one purpose. I was given a set of hiking poles in Helena and it was like being given an extra set of legs. The speed I could climb at was phenomenal. If Glacier or the Bob was the starter, I was coming into the main course. The next days were hypnotic, crunching 10 miles before breakfast, a cup of tea, quick study of the map lining it up to the peaks around me then blasting away again. By lunch 20 or more miles down, by 4pm, 30 or more. I felt unstoppable. I had my limited music collection of around 15 songs on my mobile on repeat and how I came to know every word. I passed one other hiker doing a section hike over 120 miles.
The trail would wind up and down from one pass to the next, I was climbing thousands and thousands of feet every day. I loved it. One thing I should note is, the miles I was hiking were in fact higher than the miles I thought I was doing. The annotations on the maps included rough distances, but the author acknowledges they often are shy of the actual mileage by 10-15 percent. To my knowledge my days would have 34miles or so. In reality I believe I did more.
I felt until a few years ago I wasn’t particularly skilled at much in life until this scrappy bunch of maps landed in my hand while hiking in poorly marked out terrain and I was let loose. I felt more at home than I ever had before, like this was what my body was meant to do. Below me was Surprise View Lake and it was breathtaking. I figured I would have lunch here but the mosquitoes were intolerable. I hiked on, miles and miles on before I finally sat down for lunch that day. The evening also didn’t disappoint giving another fantastic lake to eat an evening meal by. I can’t remember all of the camps I did through here. It was sensory overload.
The second to last day I climbed into a burned out area after a lake and hiked my shoes off, the sun seemed to move incredibly slowly, and the trees had an eerie feeling. After hiking on my own for several days this beautiful area felt like something out of the Blair Witch. Was I hiking in circles? As the sun set shadows would dance, and I found myself hiking faster hoping to camp in a clearing. In the bottom of a valley ahead I saw my clearing. I always love coming across large meadows and while they aren’t the perfect place to pitch a tent, they are spacious and free. Being the first days camped completely alone, I still feared anything possibly resembling the sound a a grizzly in the night.
The final morning out I had a choice of the official route, or a more cross country route. The cross country route was more appealing as it featured a river and that meant I wouldn’t be thirsty. I came by a log cabin. I wasn’t aware of the date but it was around July 4. There was an old man with many dog residing there, I shouted from a long distance so as not to startle him and sat for a little while talking. He told me he served in Vietnam and fireworks bring back a lot of bad memories to him, so he prefers to be away from them around independence day. As such, he also takes his neighbours dogs as well every year and has a couple of days to himself out here in the quiet. He also told me about the history of the area, the Nez Pierce Tribe, Chief Joseph, and the removal of tribe from land and subsequent 1170 mile chase by the US military before finally surrendering to terms that were never met. I felt happy to have sat and chat for a half hour or so and learn about the area. It is shocking this was in 1877. Almost the modern world. It was refreshing to talk to someone not in a hurry. He offered an orange but I turned it down. A second offer ensued, if he sees me at the pass, he would offer again. I hiked on until I joined a well trodden trail, Then, picked up the pace again. A while later I came out at Chief Joseph Pass, moments later a pickup pulled over and the drive passed me an orange. I was glad he did. He informed me of the towns in different directions and offered a ride to the town of Salomon, but I already intended on the town of Darby and had a subsequent long wait. This was the Montana/Idaho borderline, and Idaho was not very receptive to outsiders, especially hikers that have no car. Most my day was waiting for a ride to and from the town, with many cars passing. It was probably the worst hitching place on the whole divide. I guess some of that is the luck of the draw. On the way back from Darby, a pickup gave me a lift and a couple of beers to drink on route. Combined with the salad I packed it made for a nice evening back near the trail.