From the hundreds of sheets of paper maps I had been carrying I was down to the last pages. I had discarded the rest making my pack the lightest it had been this whole journey. This day I was late on the trail after oversleeping in a real bed, and my ride landed me short of where I finished the previous day. This took an extra hour or so before I reached the start of my actual day. I had 28 miles to cover from the trail head but it was 10am. Not my best start but doable. This finish in 28 miles was dictated by a lake, I liked finishing by lakes as they gave a good place to wash and an unlimited supply of water. I hiked around ten miles and got chatting to a nice man who wanted to record all the thru hikers on trail this year. We chatted about how it had been so far, and after round half an hour I set off down a valley. Pleasant as it was to talk, I was slightly stressed by losing so much daylight, it marred my chance of making the lake before nightfall. I realised after jogging downhill for ten minutes the trail I was on was taking me further down than the map showed, and I should have been going up. It was wrong. I hated the fact I had pretty much jogged downhill for ten minutes, and then had to walk uphill 15 minutes more. This day was getting out of hand for my target finish. After climbing back up I found my trail faintly marked and tucked against a fence I had passed 25 minutes before.
I was now on a mission and pacing at my limit, traversing up over and around the many hills as fast as I could. The trail up the final hill of the day was faint and faded away a for a good while. After walking a good distance back and forwards I picked it up a half mile higher after trudging through deep foliage. There were lots of dud trails leading off to the side here and there, with the actual trail being less tangible than the main route through. I understood why this trail was not for novices. The motto for the CDT, if there is one, is ‘Embrace the Brutality’. The heat, lack of water and poor marking certainly helped towards its reputation. Cresting the last ridge the sun dipped onto the horizon, and I watched it slowly fade. The first real rest stop of the day was to watch my light disappear. As the sun ebbed I dug into my pack for a my head torch. The head torch I chose for the trip was the Petzl E light. An emergency LED with a retractable cord to be worn on the head and weighing around an ounce. I descended off the ridge into the forest as the civil twilight dimmed and pure darkness followed. The light output of my torch was poor, illuminating a small circle in front of me. Initially the trail could be followed, but after climbing over a few downed and uprooted trees the trail was lost. I couldn’t tell where I had come from or where it was I should be. I looked at the map and decided I knew where I was though. I couldn’t be far. I took out my compass, set a bearing, and advanced.
On and on I hiked slowly in the black. After an hour or so of walking in silence, I could hear water ever so faintly off to my left. I checked the map. There was a river that would drop into the lake, that had to be my river. I was making slow but steady decisions, one step at a time. Man I was thirsty. A while longer brought me to a steepening of a descent, but also in front of me like a welcome beacon there was a clear path. I knew it had to be the trail to my lake. I arrived at 11pm. With a camp area marked on the map, I knew there would be a bear box too. A steel container to put food and smelly things in that is bear proof. I walked around the lake looking for it, stumbling and kicking my toe occasionally. I came across a couple of families out camping and still up. I could sense the alarm of the two dads as a stranger approached in the night. I called out and asked if the bear box was nearby to try and put them at ease. They came closer and after seeing me in torchlight, one asked ‘Are you a thru Hiker?’. I responded ‘I’m trying to be’. They laughed. ‘O man, we were just talking about what it must be like to thru hike a trail like this, that’s really neat.’ I talked with them for ten or so minutes covering the journey so far, but in the end had to politely say I am really tired and needed to sleep. They pointed me to the bear box and I wished them goodnight. I chucked my food into the box while eating some of the junk food I had, then roughly pitched my tent. I was so tired I pitched about 7 or 8 yards away from the box. I went into a deep sleep.
The next day I woke at sunrise, a little late but not terribly so. I ate a snicker bar for breakfast and hit the trail, stashing a couple of extra bars in my waist belt to eat while I hiked. I few hours later I found myself slowly catching up with another hiker. His name was Buck30. I think this name originated with the dollar and 30 cent he carried the length of a long distance trail without realising. Hikers try to ditch every ounce they can, some would even cut a toothbrush in half. So to carry a dollar and thirty cent in change, scandalous. Buck30 is an exceptionally gifted hiker who’s life was dedicated to exploration, having hiked tens of thousands of miles all over the world. (over 24,000 at the time I met him in 2015, now much more). He was on his second hike of the CDT and taking note of how it had changed in ten years since he last did it. I hiked with him for a day or so, becoming alarmed after seeing him drink from a spring with a dead bird in it and found out he never filtered the water he drank. This was something I was seeing increasingly more. Carrot, Spark and Trackmeet never filtered water either. I can only imagine Buck30 must have an insanely strong immune system that can kill anything that walks. Ask most hikers about Giardia, and they will have a tale to tell. I would find later on this trail my stomach is not as capable in fighting off parasites. The hiking in this area was beautiful, following the divide ridge for the main part. Eventually we would branch off and head towards Macs Inn, a cut-off popular on the divide. It doesn’t save a great deal of distance, but it’s a great bit of cross country with river crossings, meadows, and overgrown willow groves higher than me; so thick I had to force my way through blind. This route also takes you over a main road right outside a Subway. I’m sure you can understand the temptation. You’re walking hundreds of miles, one route will keep you scenic while the other has fast food, western toilets and a small shop to buy more food from. I left Buck30 one evening high on the mountain and said I was going to carry on down a way before camping. This was the straw that broke the camels back. I joined onto a forestry track and hiked down thinking I could have a subway for breakfast. It was about 10 miles and I didn’t fancy the distance in the morning. But as I hiked, a small niggle started in my shin. I kept going only because there wasn’t a flat enough place to pitch my tent. Down and down I went, and the pain went up and up. By the time I was a couple of miles from the main road it was excruciating pain. I was kicking myself, instead of camping high with a view I pitched on a sloped bit of ground. I figured it would be better by morning.
The next day I woke with a painful leg. I hobbled the last couple of miles to the main road. The junction was crowded with kids and families on ATVs’. I don’t mind them, but after nearly 1000 miles of tranquillity, coming to this two-stroke infused air was a shock. With the abrasive sound of revving engines and constant pipping horns, I couldn’t feel further from the wilderness. I grabbed a coffee in the shop, ate a couple of doughnuts and sighed. Not knowing a lot about these types of injuries, I tried binding it up to restrict the movement and thus be able to hobble. The hike I had originally planned finished a few miles away. What I though would take most the summer was over in a month. My last sheet of paper was out. The last miles. Buck30 joined me a hour later and we sat drinking coffee. He planned on hanging around most the day here, but I wanted to get on the way knowing it would be slow. I told him I would probably see him towards the evening and I hobbled off down the road. I walked out the town and took my next turn, after walking down it a few miles I was in agony. What a stupid thing to have done. I turned back and headed for a campsite I passed back at the junction. I pitched up and knew my next day or so would be here while I figure out what to do next. I made a point of downloading some more music as my current selection was slim. I also downloaded a few audio books knowing they would help pass miles. I then start on my next problem. Maps. I was out of them and there was nowhere to print more. Once in the boundary of Yellowstone I would have no means of navigation. This was an issue and one I didn’t know how to solve. The next day I forced myself to relax and picked up a book from the campsite reception to read. It was dreary and dull. I hate murder mystery, but it seemed the best of the bunch to choose from. The day was agonisingly slow, the wrong kind of quiet. I wanted to be hiking but knew I had to be patient.
That evening Carrot, Spark and Trackmeet rolled into town. I invited them to camp on my pitch and mentioned my map problem. ‘We’re hitching into West Yellowstone tomorrow, come with us. There will definitely be a place to print maps there, it’s a big town!’. Since I wasn’t hiking far and needed a little more time off it seemed a brilliant idea. The next day after joining them I did find a print shop that gave me for the first time legible maps I could read details on. Up to now the low print quality of my home printer had been a pain. I opted to get them printed to get me through to Grand Lake, Colorado. I was aiming a long way South now and if my shin healed (injury noted), at the pace I was going I could hike at least a thousand miles more before the end of the season. I knew I’d gone too fast, but if I struck a balance and had longer slower days I could still do it. The three suggested hitching into Old Faithful to rejoin the trail as hitching back around to complete the last few miles would take longer and be less pretty. I didn’t know a lot about thru hiking etiquette at the time so it didn’t concern me to miss these miles. I stocked up on a little more food and said I would see them out there as I would be moving slow. I camped the night in a National Park site after hitching in with a Dutch family, and the next morning received a ride in a convertible mustang to Old Faithful. I left my hat in the back of the car by mistake. Walking into the national park gift shop I was left with two choices. A cap that said I ❤ Yellowstone, or a Stetson Crushable. I think every kid at some point wants to be a cowboy, and this is probably the closest I would get. I also despise any hat that says ‘I ❤’. I chose the Stetson. I walked over to the permit office and asked which campsites were available over the coming days. They really try to limit the miles you can hike in a day for safety. But when a dirty scrawny hiker comes in fresh from a thousand miles, they are willing to give a bit more. It was around 10am and with me starting the trail moments later I opted for 18 miles the first day. I bumped up the miles for the second. The ranger told me they cut a little slack to CDT hikers in the South of the park, and if I chose to go beyond my allocated camp it would be fine as long as I camped inside an official camp area. I walked out and towards the trailhead. I was excited about the next section. I was about to see Yellowstone.