Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Anaconda Montana to Leadore Idaho: CDT 2013

"So, how's it looking out there in the forest?" I asked a woman working for the Forest Service, just south of Chief Joseph Pass in Southern Montana.
"It's a lot drier than I expected," she replied. 15 minutes earlier, she and her co worker, warned me of a small forest fire they were monitoring a few miles to the east.
"What really worries me is all of this dead timber," she continued. "The bark beetle has really devastated these forests around here." She pointed out many of the dead pines surrounding us.
"It's mostly killing the lodge pole pines, isn't it?" I asked.
"No, it's also beginning to kill the Ponderosa's," her co worker chimed in. "We used to get a period of a few weeks each winter where the temperature would drop to about zero degrees. The cold air would kill off that particular season's bark beetle brood. Now we aren't getting that temperature drop and we are seeing two broods of bark beetle each season which is amplifying the problem."
"Man, that's terrible," I replied.
"Well, Mother Nature does what she wants on Her own particular time frame," the coworker continued. "We just happen to go along for the ride."
Ain't that the truth.

It's been a great couple of weeks on the CDT. It's taken about a month, but my mind, body, and spirit all seem to be working in unison now. My hiking legs have returned and I can basically walk all day with a few breaks in between without any problem. My feet are still sore, bruised, and blistered at times, but I have finally been able to hike without medical tape for the first time since Glacier. I've also caught up with a few hikers. In particular, I am grateful for meeting a dread locked couple named Baboon and Spinns, and another couple from Mississippi named Manparty and Lush. Although our encounters and conversations were often brief, they have had a restorative effect on my spirit and I am thankful to both couples for that.

Northbound and Southbound hikers have finally begun to meet. I met the first Northbounder named Ross, on the 27th. While talking to another Northbounder later in the day, I began describing the trail, as it lay ahead:
"You've got several miles of bullshit to get through before you get to the good stuff," I explained.
"It's all good," the hiker replied. "We're just out here enjoying walking."
Very true, wise words.

The trail has taken us through some majestic areas. Rugged peaks, passes, and alpine lakes have been a common sight. One of my favorite spots was a place called Lemhi Pass. It was here that Lewis and Clarke and their team first reached the Continental Divide with the assistance of Sacajawea. It was one of the climatic moments of their journey when they reached the furthermost spring, the spot where they believed the source of Missouri River began flowing out of the earth. They had spent months battling the river's currents, portaging their gear at times, as they journeyed west. It was a magical moment for me to also see this exact spring. To drink it's ice cold water. Holy water in my opinion. Lemhi Pass is also where Lewis and Clarke realized their journey may have just begun, as their were many jagged peaks to the west to travel through. Sacajawea gave birth to her son not too far from the pass. I am reminded once again, of a small portion of our country's rich history. It's my hope and prayer that we will remind ourselves of the consequences of this particular meeting of cultures. That we will commit ourselves to meeting in a spirit of peace and understanding rather than fear and domination. That words and promises will be honored and kept, that compromise can ultimately be found. I hope we never allow what happened to the Native People happen again.

Another special moment occurred on the 28th, just before a spot called Bannock Pass, along the Montana/Idaho border. It was getting late and I pitched my tarp off the barbed wire fence that separates the two states. I was camped amongst a sea of sage. I fell asleep with the sweet fragrance of the sage filling my nostrils. (a pleasant reprieve, I might add, from the rank smell protruding from my body at this point!) A strong wind was blowing from the west. Later that night, I awoke to a calm, still air. A half moon had risen and was shining down on the vast open expanses of mountain and sage. There were dark clouds in the sky as well. Bolts of heat lightning leaped from cloud to cloud, creating a fantastic light show. Suddenly a chorus of coyotes (or was it wolves?) began yelping and howling in unison, breaking the silence of the desert like night air. I felt like I had gone back in time. Is this what Lewis and Clarke experienced on their journey west? Is this what the natives heard each night in their summer camps? Moments later, an airplane flew overhead, reminding me of my current place in world history.

I am somewhat amazed at the skittishness of animals out here on the Divide. I saw another brown bear on the 28th, with a beautiful, shaggy, brown coat. He was in a clearing and I was no more than 20 yards away when I entered that clearing. I have never seen an animal turn and run away faster than that bear did. In fact, he left a dust cloud in his wake. I guess it's better they still have that fear of humans unlike "Yosemite" bears. As one friend once said, "Yosemite bears will sit down at the picnic table and have lunch with you."

Overall, it's been a great couple of weeks. I'm beginning to really enjoy the solo nature of this hike. Things have calmed down quite a bit, the emotional roller coaster has subsided for now. Hiking is what I do for the time being. "We're just out here enjoying walking," and I am grateful for the opportunity. Thanks for reading and happy trails to all!


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Flyboxer!

Flyboxer turned 36 on the trail this week, and celebrated in town with a turkey sandwich and root beer.  Next stop: Leadore, ID.

Monday, July 22, 2013

CDT Photos - Leg 1, pt. 2

More photos from the first leg.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

CDT Photos - Leg 1

Here are some photos from Flyboxer's first leg of the CDT.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Redwood Break

Readers of this blog know Flyboxer has discovered and measured many redwoods during his wanderings in northern California.  The below photo from National Geographic's "Found" blog puts into perspective the size of some of the lost redwoods that have been felled over the years.  I don't think any featured on this blog come close to this giant.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lincoln to Anaconda, Montana: CDT 2013

"A lot of you guys out there are loners aren't ya?" asked Kevin, owner of the Three Bears Motel in Lincoln, Montana. Kevin is a big burly man, originally from West Virginia. He's pure businessman when it comes to his motel, and to the town of Lincoln. He's also super entertaining, just as comfortable talking about Montana history, to his former career as cattle breeder, to the latest government conspiracy. I told him I didn't need Youtube, I'd be just as satisfied listening to his yarns. He's got a lot of advise to give as well. I think he has a soft spot in his heart for us hikers. Although I didn't know how to answer his original question, I think he meant well.
"Yeah, I guess," I replied. Although I often feel like I am a loner by consequence rather than by choice. Although I definitely have loner tendencies.

It has been another quiet week on the trail. I can probably count on one hand the number of conversations I had with folks, all of them leaning towards the freakish. I'm worried I am beginning to attract that kind of element. Once again, the trail itself seems to have mellowed out again. There was a lot of time to just walk and daydream, and of course make sure I was walking the right way.

I've noticed something that comes with hiking solo. I first noticed it while hiking through Glacier when Grizzly encounters seemed to be more expected. When I was preparing for this trip, a Grizzly encounter truly terrified me. I would have been just as content not seeing one, if it meant that I would come home in one piece. After a few days of trail life, a transformation began taking place. Although I still believe it's probably much safer to hike with others in Grizzly country, I noticed that the possibility of an encounter was not as frightening as it once seemed. Instead of sitting behind my computer in my room reading about encounters and working myself into a frenzy, I was now interacting in the natural world around me. I was no longer an observer, but a participant. If an encounter took place, I would simply have to figure out what to do, just as I had to figure out how to cross that stream safely, or cross that snowfield, or get over that mountain pass. Hopefully, these won't be may famous last words, but being a participant in the wilderness around me has not only felt comforting, but empowering. I had another encounter with a Grizzly, or a very large brown (black)bear a couple days ago. It felt surreal because I was lost in a daydream when it occurred. The bear was walking the trail in front of me. I stopped when I saw it, it stopped when it heard me stop. I called out to it as respectfully as I could to let it know I was in the area. As soon as it heard my voice, it jogged off into the woods. It's attitude almost seemed like, "I don't want to be bothered, I'm out of here..."

Yesterday, a similar event occurred. I was about a half mile outside of the town of Anaconda when another big thunderstorm rolled through. I could see the storm over the town, but instead of waiting for the storm to pass, I decided to see if I could make it before all hell broke loose. I could see a gas station about a half mile ahead. If I could make it in time, not only would I find shelter temporarily, but I could buy a Dr. Pepper to quench my thirst. Well, as it turned out, I was about 15 minutes too late. The clouds unleashed their full fury, and I found myself, head lowered, getting pounded by rain, a fierce, fierce headwind, and getting destroyed by hail. It was like someone throwing rocks all over me. I was hiking along the highway just getting drenched. Lightning and thunder was surrounding the area. It probably would have been very easy to pity my situation. There were a couple of times when I found myself in a state of self pity, but I also realized that it seemed, once again, that I was actually participating in the storm, rather than observing it from a comfortable location. It was an intense situation, but also just another hurdle to get through. Eventually, I sought refuge under an overhang in front of an abandoned dry cleaning store. Now, don't get me wrong, I would not want to go through this on a regular basis. It was just a realization that it wasn't as bad as it could be. Part of me would have liked it if at least someone would have stopped and asked if I was OK. No one did. A homeless man I met in East Glacier had a similar experience. I met him cold and shivering, only wearing short sleeves and a tattered and torn dollar store poncho. He had just walked through an intense, intense storm, and it was probably 20 or 30 degrees colder. No one stopped for him either. It puts things in perspective a bit. How many times have I driven past someone who may have needed help, or could have at least used a word or two of encouragement?

Well, my time is up at the Anaconda library. Next stop, Sula Country Store. Until then, be safe and safe travels. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

CDT Update

This is Mark's brother, Mike. As an update, Mark sent a text on Sunday confirming he'd made it safely to Helena and would be in Anaconda in a few days. I also received a package from him with a couple disks worth of photos. I'll try to post a few here and there, as I have time. For now, below is a self-portrait shortly after hitting the trail in northern Montana. Here's hoping we get an another interesting update from the trail soon!
View Mark's CDT Hike - 2013 in a larger map

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

East Glacier to Lincoln, MT: CDT 2013

"How many days have you gone without seeing another human being?" asked John, a man from Chicago that I met on the Amtrack train a couple weeks ago. "Hmmmm, I think it's only been about 24 hours. Most of the trails I have hiked usually have people on them, despite their remoteness," I answered. "That's it?" asked John. "I once went 11 days without seeing another person when I did some camping near Mt. Adams in Washington State a few years ago." "Wow, 11 days?!" I exclaimed.

Well, I just broke my old record of 24 hours without seeing another human being this past week. My new record is now 48 hours! I know, it's not earth shattering. It was however, a very quiet week and a half of hiking through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, or "The Bob" as it's also known. One of my favorite Carl Sagan quotes is "We are a way for the cosmos to know itself." I know it sounds cheesy, but that's sort of the experience I had this particular section. I hardly saw anyone on the trail, and it seemed very trance like. I was simply watching, listening, smelling, and feeling the wilderness around me, although often in somewhat severe physical pain. Hiking solo, everything seemed magnified 100 fold. The highs, the lows, the successes, the failures, the good decisions and the bad. After the intense experience in Glacier National Park, the trail really mellowed out south of Glacier. Often I found myself asking, "Is this really the CDT?" As soon as I became lulled into a false sense of security, the trail dealt a punishing blow just before Lincoln. It was some strenuous, strenuous hiking.

A couple of days ago felt like a war. Hiking the CDT is like trying to tame a wild beast, and so far the beast appears to be winning. A couple of evenings ago, I happened to be hiking into an area of intense beauty. The trail began climbing in a way it hadn't since Glacier. It was around 6:00 in the evening and I wanted to put a couple more hours of hiking in. Eventually, too exhausted to go any further, I was at the top of a particular mountain with an incredible 360 degree panorama. I usually don't like camping at the top of mountains because I know how moody they can be. One moment they are giving you a hug and a kiss, the next moment they are unleashing hell's fury upon you. However, this particular evening seemed like every other evening I had during the past week. Warm, sunny, overall good weather. I decided to give this particular mountain peak a chance. Not only would I camp at the exposed top, but I would cowboy camp (sleeping without a shelter) so I could enjoy the stars. I found a spot to unroll my sleeping pad and sleeping bag amongst some stunted pines. The spot also offered the ability to set up a quick shelter if the weather did take a turn for the worse. I cooked my dinner, enjoyed an incredible sunset, hung my food, downed a couple of Ibuprofen, and quickly fell asleep. At about 1:00 in the morning, I heard the unmistakable sound of rain drops hitting my sleeping bag. "Dammit, is it raining?" Sluggishly, I tried to comprehend the situation, but instead closed my eyes again in an attempt to fall back asleep. Just then I saw a flash behind my closed eyelids. "Oh shit." I forced my eyes open just in time to see a brighter flash. Thunderstorm's rollin' in! I bolted out of my sleeping bag and quickly set up my shelter as the rain began to intensify. "Dammit, what am I doing camping at the top of this mountain?!" Upon further inspection, it became clear that the storm was moving to the east of where I was camped. My peak had dodged the bullet. While I lay in my shelter still exhausted from the previous day's hike, I had to wrestle with my mind what to do next. It felt too dangerous to remain at the top of the mountain, but I was too tired to break camp, and dreaded the thought of a night hike to a lower location. While I tried to make a decision, the rain let up. It was clear there was no way I was going to be able to comfortably sleep where I was. I decided to break camp. Before long, I was marching down the trail with my headlamp, in search of lower ground. Lightning continued to flash all around the mountain. Eventually, I found another spot amongst stunted pines near a saddle. Still pretty exposed, but at least a little lower. I set up camp once again, tossed my ice axe several feet away from my camp in a grassy area. I did not want that lighting rod anywhere near me. Before long, I was back asleep.

I awoke to a glorious morning. The sun was shining, the wet grass sparkling in the light. Something felt odd though. I slowly began packing up my things. For some reason I decided to leave my shelter up, perhaps still anxious from the night's events. Everything was just about packed when I happened to look over my shoulder. A wall of black clouds were bearing down on my mountain. I had another decision to make. Pack up the shelter and make a run for it, with the hopes of reaching even lower ground, or hunker down and hope for the best. Stupidly, I chose the former. The black clouds stretched as far as I could see. I quickly took down my shelter while the tempest drew closer. Everything was in my pack and I was ready to make a run for it. It was then that I realized I did not have my ice axe. It was lying somewhere in the grass where I had tossed it the night before. In the five minutes it took to locate my "lightning rod," the winds began to increase noticeably. By the time I finally retrieved the ice axe, an oozing black cloud bank began pouring over the ridge into my valley. "This is going to be bad!" I exclaimed. "Hunker down!" I threw down my pack and pulled my shelter out once again. Thick raindrops started falling out of the dark sky popping on my rain jacket. The wind began to howl. I fumbled with my shelter, the wind making it extremely difficult to separate the corners. My hands were shaking. "Hold on Lord, just give me a minute!" I tied the two ends of the tarp to two separate trees. "Lord, I know you've got work to do here, just give me one more minute!" Lightning flashed followed by a loud boom. I staked down the four corners as tight as I could while another flash lit up the black sky. I threw my pack under the tarp, unfolded my sleeping pad and dove under the protective thin layer of carbon fiber, just in the nick of time. Rain, thunder and lightning pummeled my mountain peak. I was uncertain how long this storm would last. It was 8:30 in the morning, I thought it could be an all day event. 20 minutes later however, the rain let up, the thunder dissipated, and a line of blue sky could be seen to the west. I was spared! I started laughing. It was the first time I had laughed in a week.

I could go on and on. That day was probably one of the hardest hiking days of my life. A couple more storms rolled through while the trail remained mostly on beautiful, exposed ridge lines. It was extremely nerve racking, yet incredibly fantastic. There was something moving about seeing the endless peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the west, north and south, and to see the plains of Montana to the east. I could imagine the once bountiful herds of buffalo dotting the eastern landscape. I felt in awe of the early mountain explorers who came to this land in search of fortune, adventure, or a sense of duty and a love of country, I felt sympathetic for the plight of the the natives who once managed to thrive in this land, and now who have been forced to scratch a living on the reservations. What a country, and what a history we have. I was fortunate to see a grizzly, a black bear, elk, and what appeared to be a couple of caribou running up the mountain trail when they saw me approaching from below. The silence and solitude have been both awesome and lonesome at times. I find myself at the back of the "herd" as it's called in hiking terms: Most of the other CDT thru hikers are several days ahead. I'm expecting this, and still trying to prepare myself for many more solo days ahead. For now, I hope to still experience the trail as it comes, as it presents itself. Lincoln has been a great town to rest and take a zero hiking day in. Tomorrow I will again head south, this time towards Helena. Until next time, thanks for reading...