I'm not sure what prompted me to count how many days I've hiked so far on long-distance trails. I did that recently by totaling the days I've hiked on the AT (179 days), the PCT (172 days), and the Benton MacKaye Trail (22 days). When I added to that the 130 days I've hiked so far on the CDT, the result was 503.
That number was a little startling to me, even though I was the person who did the hiking. It's more than a year of my life, and I'm not yet done with this trail.
|Date||Friday, August 20, 2021|
|Weather||Rain, drizzle, and fog, then mostly cloudy; temperatures from low-40s to low-50s|
|Trail Conditions||Flat road walking on asphalt and gravel before a long climb and descent|
Perhaps I found this number surprising because I know I didn't set out with a plan to hike the Triple Crown. I only wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. From start to finish on that hike, I intended to be "one and done."
I always assumed when I finished I would return to the same life I had before. Yet here I am now hiking my fourth long trail.
Grasping how this happened is difficult for me. It seems crazy to think how far removed I am from where I thought I would be. I struggle to understand or explain it.
Seeing a mother moose and her calf outside my tent this morning helped to drive home how absurdly different my days are now compared to when I'm not hiking. That's not a sight I would ever see at home.
Today they were yet another wonderment of the trail.
Rain was still falling when I woke up. Like yesterday, Top O' and I waited for it to diminish before preparing to leave. We were able to do that at 6:30 a.m.
We intended to walk about 20 miles today and knew the whole distance was on roads. As long as we didn't delay our start too long, that didn't seem like an unreasonable goal.
We finally left our campsite at 8:15 a.m. Polecat didn't leave with us. We planned to meet him again tonight at a National Forest campground.
Clouds still hung low for the next couple of hours, with small patches of blue beginning to appear in the sky. I was hopeful we had seen the last of the rain.
That thought was premature, however. Rain returned, though only for a short duration.
Much larger patches of blue sky appeared after 11:15 a.m. My optimism for sunshine wasn't completely satisfied, however. The remaining clouds weren't positioned to allow the sun to shine through.
Nevertheless, when Top O' and I found a rail fence along the road, we decided this was our best opportunity to dry out our gear. We used the fence like a drying rack. The sun made a short appearance while we were there.
Top O' told me a man in a truck stopped to ask him why there were so many hikers walking this road. We hadn't seen any today, so we figured he was talking about hikers passing by in the last few weeks.
As I've noted before, the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate isn't often used by hikers. Under normal conditions, we would be hiking the official CDT route right now and are only going this way because of fires west of here.
The route so far this morning had gone through a wide, nearly flat valley. Soon after our gear was dry and we started walking again, we turned and entered a region known as the Tobacco Root Mountains.
Historians aren't sure how or when the mountain range was given that name. It's assumed the root of a plant was used by Native Americans or trappers as a replacement for tobacco, though it's unclear which plant was used.
The first 10 miles of today's hike made a gradual climb of about 900 feet. On roads, the elevation change was barely noticeable.
The climb continued for the next seven miles, though now it was noticeably steeper. We continued on a gravel road that followed Meadow Creek into the mountains.
Though I knew we were in cattle country, I had no choice but to collect water from the creek and hope my filter was still working as it should.
Looking to my left, which was in a southwesterly direction from me, clouds were still lingering low over Ward Peak (10,217 feet). That was one of 43 Tobacco Root mountains that are higher than 10,000 feet.
The view behind me included Ennis Lake, where we camped last night, and the mountains we hiked down from yesterday morning. The clouds were finally parting enough to reveal the first full sunshine since Day 126.
Remarkably, there wasn't a lot of smoke in the view. That's not to say the air was clear. A dirty haze persisted, but the smoke wasn't nearly as thick as when we left Big Sky on Day 127.
The sky was clear enough for me to zoom in for a better look at the Madison Range behind me. Lone Mountain's peak (11,167 feet) was fully covered in fresh snow.
The mountain stands about halfway between Ennis Lake and Big Sky, and there was no snow visible on it when we left Big Sky.
Geologists say Lone Mountain is a laccolith, meaning it is an uplift of rock layers caused by a volcano that didn't fully erupt.
After the road crested the top of the climb just short of 7,600 feet, we began a descent that continued for the last three miles of the day. This started out easy because we were still walking on a maintained gravel road.
We then turned onto a different road. This one had a sign warning it was "primitive," which is to say it wasn't graded or maintained in any way. It may have been suitable for high-clearance 4WD vehicles, but it wasn't ideal for walking.
The road was so sketchy it didn't appear on some maps. While descending, we passed a family attempting to drive up the road in a Jeep. They weren't having an easy time getting their vehicle up this rutted, washed-out road.
Oddly, the driver was the second person of the day to ask us why so many hikers were on the road. I later caught up to Spamcake and Cheeto Jackson. That's when I realized the driver had just passed them.
Top O' and I finally arrived at 7 p.m. at the campground where we agreed to meet Polecat. Spench, Loverboy, Spamcake, and Cheeto Jackson soon joined us.
They quickly realized the benefits of camping with Polecat when he brought out a cooler of beer and a bottle of wine.
I often struggle to fully explain why I've hiked more than 500 days (so far) on long-distance trails. Perhaps simply describing what I did today does that best.
This was a day like most. It offered many of the experiences I treasure. Several highlights came from nature, from changing weather to dramatic scenery. The day also gave me the physical challenge of walking more than 20.5 miles with 3,216 feet of ascents.
The best part of today, however, was also the best of any day. That was the time I spent with good friends.
Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
I don't know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels
Look around for the friends that I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes, I see them running too
Running on (running on empty)
Running on (running blind)
Running on (running into the sun)
But I'm running behind
"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.