I hiked into Yellowstone at a reduced pace, knowing my shin wouldn’t be up to too much over the next days. The trail leaves Old Faithful, and heads South East away from the crowds. It isn’t hard to get away from crowds here. According to the NPS 97% of visitors never go more than one hundred yards from their car. This is a great shame but also good for people that like the wilderness in solitary. The rangers allowed my permit to go a quite a bit further each day than normal hiker permits (they treat people attempting the CDT nicely), and said if I did need to use a camp further or closer than the allocated one to just make sure it’s in an official camp area. My first camping place was 18 miles in. With a 10am start and a slow pace I figured I would get there in 9 hours with a little light to spare. I hiked passed Lonestar Geyser and into the Firehole Springs area. The scenery changed from dry pine forest to a prehistoric boiling pot almost instantly. Watching water bubbling and steam rising up from the ground as I hiked made for a fantastic spectacle. I had watched documentaries on Yellowstone as a kid and was finally here. Here at the place I thought would be the highlight of my summer, and 1000 miles in wasn’t even half way. The Firehole Springs area gave way to shallow flooded meadow. It was amazing just how fast the trail disappeared. I squelched through the area until it came back to forest. The forest gave me a lot of time and easy trail to concentrate on my injury, and how stupid I was for coming into this section without being fully healed. Mile after mile ground by until I reached my camp. It was deserted except for flies. I had half a mind to hike on to the next camp, but with an hour or two of light left I though better and pitched up. I find camping alone quite boring, especially when I’m told where to camp. The sun eventually set and I went to sleep.
The next day started with a nearly shoulder-deep wade through the exiting river from Shoshone lake, holding my pack above my head to keep the contents dry. I hiked through pleasant forest and eventually came out on the main road and crossed onto the Heart Lake trail. Here I bumped into Buck30. ‘I thought you’d blown me out the water and were long gone!’ he said. I told him of where I’d been and we hiked onto the Heart Lake Ranger station to have a further break and chat with the ranger about what life was like in the park. We also crossed a North Bound hiker that didn’t flipflop, the first we had seen. You can usually tell a thru hiker from a distance. Wearing worn out clothes, long worn out shoes full of holes, and a very small pack but turning up more than 15 miles from the nearest road. Looking near homeless but with a rather large stride. I forgot to mention I was now on my third pair of shoes. The Moab trail shoes were uncomfortable, the trainers I picked up in Helena were worn out and very holey, and now I was onto a set of Salomon 3-d chassis’ trail shoes. Anyway, back to the trail.
Hiking off from the Heart Lake shore, the trail crossed a small rise and entered into a pleasant small valley with great meadows. The trail was faint, and there were a couple of small backtracks where the trail would lead to a dead end pond or just peter out entirely. It was a fantastic area and enjoyable with no large climbs. At the end of this day I pitched up and Buck kept hiking a while longer to the next camp. I wished I had hiked on because within a few minutes in the morning, I had to wade through the next icy river that was much colder than the mouth of the lake had been. I was getting used to the unpleasant icy chill seeping inside my trainers, but that didn’t mean I wanted it at 6am. Though it does wake you up better than coffee. I was enjoying having my space but knowing there was another hiker on the trail is nice when hiking alone, it’s reassuring to know there might be help if something were to go wrong. By the end of the day we were crossing over the Yellowstone boundary and into the Teton Wilderness. I passed another NOBO (north bound) hiker who was nervous about bears. There was bear scat all over the place and it was big. I mean HUGE!. The kind of thing if you stood in, you would be better off chucking the shoes away. The trail wound down around the Snake River occasionally til one final big crossing over the Buffalo River with a strong current. There were a few gents at a camp at one point with packrafts , small inflatable boats that fit in a backpack. I knew they were about to have so much fun.
This part of the trail was also home to the Parting of the Waters. A river that splits into two, one side will end in the Gulf of Mexico, the other side in the Pacific. I sat here for lunch and once again I came across a famous hiker, this time called Lint. This was the third well reputed hiker I’d bumped into and once again I had no idea who this was, but he was excited to hear Buck30 was behind me. Lint has done the ‘triple triple crown’, the three long distance trails in the US, three times. Shortly after lunch I would come to the horse super highway, or horse way, something to do with horses. It stank and was full of horse poop. All the way. I came across several riders on horseback that were bemused to see a hiker this far out, and when telling them what I was doing and how far I was going in a day were gob smacked and took their hats off to me. That night I camped by a lake alone, pitching up at dark. In the night it misted over, and I was woke in the early hours by bells and the sound of a horse. I looked out my tent and saw a rider on horseback leading several loaded pack animals. It was spooky. I wondered how many times he had been up and down the trail in the dark of night through the mist.
I hiked out ahead for most the next day on my own while still feeling strain in my shin. I was taking it easier, still doing big miles each day but with good rest stops. With five miles to go before the next camp (a lake just off Togwotee Pass) I was admiring the view when I heard ‘BENJAMIN!’. It was Tribhu, caught up and flying like a kite. I informed him I was on a go slow but with a short distance left we split the difference between our paces and hiked on. On reaching the lake, Tim’s girlfriend Kirsten was walking up the way to meet us. We hiked at a gentle pace out the way and to the lake. I said I would wait here, I had told Buck earlier I would probably camp the night at the lake. Shortly after Tribhu and Kirsten left I discovered signs in the camping area stating no soft sided tents, bear and cubs are active in area. It threatened a large fine for breaking the rule, and not wanting that fine, I opted to hike to the road and hitch down the pass.
Seconds after I arrived at the pass, a car came by and offered a ride. It was two girls that had driven up to find mobile signal. They were camped before the next town but offered to drive the extra minutes into Dubois regardless. Pulling into the town they asked ‘Is this it?’. I responded ‘I’ve never been before, I guess it must be’. I hopped out the car and thanked them for the ride. There was a gas station, an agricultural sales place and a motel. The motel cost was a stinger, I think about $110 for the night. A nice modern room with A/C but more than this broke hiker needed. If I had been so bold as to wander around the corner, I would have found the town was far larger than I realised and there were much cheaper options. The next day I did this and kicked myself as punishment. I wandered into a shop and bought a coffee, sitting back on the seating outside and waiting. A NOBO hiker also rolled in who knew Buck30, and was excited to know he would be there soon. Hours rolled by and eventually around lunch Buck came to town unhappy the hitch took so long. The three of us walked to the hikers motel and managed a room each for $30, I wasn’t going to do a second night, but at that price I couldn’t help it. We stuffed our faces with the finest food the town had to offer. Tribhu also turned up but was leaving that day and was just there for a resupply. He mentioned the next town on trail after the Winds had a free camping area and perfect for a day or so off. I said goodbye but presumed this would be the last time our paths would cross due to his quick pace and my injury. The next morning I said I would probably see Buck a bit further down the trail and I walked to the edge of town to hitch.
I knew the sheriff of this town didn’t allow hitchhikers to catch a ride from inside the town so hiked out a good long way clear of any buildings. Minutes after I stuck my thumb out, I saw the police car come rolling around the bend to pull up in front of me. Out stepped a white haired officer. Like a scene from Rambo, he stated ‘Hitchhiking is banned in this town’. I looked back the way into the town. The main town itself was 3/4 of a mile back, so far as I could tell I was a good way out of the town. ‘Where is it OK to hitch from?’ I enquired. ‘See that sign on the other side of the road? Anywhere past that sign’ he said. I looked to the other side of the road in disbelief. About 30 feet down was the Welcome to Dubois sign. I was right out of the town and he came to move me 30 feet. He took my passport and there I waited as he stepped back into his police cruiser and seemed to radio and talk to someone. Eventually he brought it back and said ‘Don’t let me catch you hitching in this town again, have a good day’. With that he drove off. Now. The far more interesting part of this story. Skip ahead two years. I had just finished hiking the Wind River High route and spent the night in the same town again. Hitching in the other direction this time, at the other end of the town I stick my thumb out. A pickup pulls over and a white haired man offers a ride. I hop in and ask what he does around here. ‘Well, I just retired, I was the sheriff around here most my life’. I didn’t mention I had met him before, but it gave me a new insight the kind of man he was. He clearly cared about the people in his area, I don’t want to go into the details too much, but he told me a few stories about being first on the scene at several accidents and having to break it to the families. He said it made it had made for a difficult career and what he had seen, has stuck with him all his life. I was grateful for the ride.