CDT 2021: Day 133, Jefferson River to Whitehall/Interstate 90

This is Mean Street

The moon hangs over Jefferson Valley in Montana

Today was not going to be a typical town day. I usually prefer the day I go into a town to be a nero (near-zero miles day). That gives me extra time for cleaning up and resupply shopping. A nero day also gives my body a little more recovery time.

With 10.5 miles between our campsite and Whitehall, today's distance would fit those goals, but we had another idea for our mileage. It just required someone with a vehicle to help us add some slackpack miles.

Top O' and I just happened to have that person with us.

DateMonday, August 23, 2021
WeatherMostly sunny with some smoke; temperatures from upper-40s to near 80
Trail ConditionsFlat gravel and asphalt roads
Today's Miles18.7
Trip Miles1942.2

We figured out a way to add miles to the day after we walked into town. We would ask Polecat to drive us to the other end of town, then we would walk back. I calculated this would add eight more miles to our day.

When we start hiking tomorrow, we'll have Polecat drop us off at the same spot he dropped us off today. We'll then hike in the other direction. This way, our footsteps will remain connected.

Every mile we've hiked so far has been connected to the previous. Though I'm starting to feel some pressure to finish at the Canadian border before snow starts to fall, I'm not about to break that string now. At any rate, today offered a perfect opportunity to maximize our day's mileage and still get in some town time.

A hot spring feeding Jefferson River

To help this plan work, we got up early. Top O' started a little earlier than me. I began walking before 6:30 a.m.

A mist was rising from the hot spring just up the road when I walked by. I didn't stop to dip my toes in it.

Jefferson River

The shallow Jefferson River snaked alongside or near the road for the first seven miles of today's walk. The water here will flow into the Missouri River and continue into the Mississippi before reaching the Gulf of Mexico. The 3,902 miles of this water system add up to the longest river in the U.S. and the fourth-longest in the world.

The sun rises over Jefferson Valley

I had walked nearly a mile before the sun began to rise above the horizon. There wasn't much wind at first, but conditions became a little breezy and much smokier as the day wore on.

Rolling foothills of the Tobacco Root Mountains

Standing between the road and the river stood a set of stone foundations. I barely noticed these and didn't stop to take a photo because I didn't suspect they were noteworthy. Later, I learned these were the ruins of a failed smelting operation built here by the Parrot Silver and Copper Mining Company in 1895.

It took 500 men to move the smelter here from its original location near Butte. A small town called Gaylord soon grew around the facility at the edge of the Tobacco Root Mountains. By 1897, a general store, lumber yard, post office, school, two saloons, and other buildings had been constructed.

Before the smelter became fully operational, however, Amalgamated Copper Company bought a majority interest in Parrot Mining and shut down the smelter. No smelting was ever done here. The workers and their families moved away, equipment was sold for scrap, and the buildings were torn down or left to deteriorate.

A sign warns that the nearby plants industrial hemp and not marijuana

Although the valley is mostly used for ranching, some crops are grown here as well. What was growing on the other side of a fence might look like marijuana, a sign warned, but the plants were only industrial hemp. There was nothing to be gained by climbing the fence if you were looking for a cheap high.

Three horses stand at a fence

The sign claimed the field was under surveillance. While I didn't see any security cameras, I was soon under the watchful eye of three horses. A short time later, several cows walked up to a fence on the other side of the road to also check me out.

And it wasn't just livestock that were wary of me. I attempted to look friendly and said a pleasant hello when I passed a woman walking on the road. She just scowled at me.

When I caught up with Top O' later, he told me he met her too. He said when he approached, she appeared to be opening several mailboxes.

The woman must not have appreciated Top O' catching her in the act, whatever that might have been. She snapped at him, announcing sternly she wished hikers would take a different route. Then she warned him she had a gun and a knife.

The smoky sky obscures mountains four or five miles away

As I approached the outskirts of Whitehall, I noticed the sky was becoming smokier than it had been recently. I could barely see a small range of mountains that stood only four or five miles away.

Whitehall, Montana

I arrived in Whitehall about 30 minutes after Top O'. Polecat was there too. We met at a diner/restaurant/bar/casino called K Bar & Grill and ordered breakfast.

While we ate, we pitched to Polecat our idea of slackpacking back to town, and he agreed to it.

Polecat, Cheeto Jackson, Spamcake, and Loverboy

We drove to an exit on Interstate 90. From here, we could follow a two-lane access road back to town.

When we arrived at noon, we found Spamcake, Loverboy, and Cheeto Jackson. Spench showed up a couple of minutes later. They stayed in Whitehall last night and had just completed the eight-mile walk out of town.

Polecat offered them some trail magic. The day was already heating into the upper-70s, and they appreciated the cold drinks and chips.

Top O' walks under Interstate 90

Top O' and I left most of our gear in Polecat's truck and began a slackpack walk back to Whitehall. The route we took went under the interstate, then followed the access road back to town.

Top O' talks to Freebird

We didn't get far before we met another hiker. His name was Freebird. We had heard other hikers mention him, but this was the first time we had a chance to meet him.

Like us, Freebird was nearing the end of his CDT hike, but there was a significant difference in our hikes. This was his third time hiking the CDT. What's more, when he finishes, he will have completed his third Triple Crown.

Cattle stand under an agricultural sprinkler

Along the way back to Whitehall, I was amused to see several cattle standing near an irrigation sprinkler. Seeing them cool off that way while I walked on a hot road was the first time I had ever been jealous of cows.

A farm road next to an access road

The access road wasn't busy, but there wasn't a shoulder to walk on for extra safety. Closer to town, however, we found a two-track farm road that allowed us to stay off the hot pavement.

When we arrived in Whitehall again, Top O' and I ran into Beer Goddess and Butters. We hadn't seen them since Day 126 when we arrived in Big Sky.

Beer Goddess was talking on the phone to Thirteen, and I got a chance to say hello to her. She told me she was about a day behind us, and I told her she needed to walk faster to catch up.

Polecat checks out Whitehall's town hall

Whitehall was small, with a population of just more than 1,000. It reminded me of Lordsburg, New Mexico, the first town I passed through on the CDT.

Whitehall's population is about half of Lordsburg's, but I saw some similarities because both were adjacent to major interstate highways. They were both suffering economically and had several closed storefronts. Their populations have been shrinking for decades.

Still, Whitehall seems to be doing better. The median household income here is about $10,000 higher than Lordsburg, and the employment rate is slightly higher.

Our accommodations for tonight were unusual, but they were also agreeable and free. When Whitehall's mayor learned several hikers were following the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate and walking through the town, she offered the town hall as a place to stay.

Without this kind gesture, the only place to stay would be a motel on the edge of town by the interstate. As I mentioned yesterday, there were no places to camp for several miles outside of town.

We never saw the mayor or any other town employee, but a sign on the door welcomed us. We were allowed to use laundry facilities, and the restroom had a shower. Clean towels were even provided for us. We slept in a large garage which was used to store some of the town's maintenance equipment.

After we had cleaned up and started our laundry, we walked back to K Bar & Grill. It may not have been the only restaurant in town, but it was the closest.

We still had time after dinner for grocery shopping, so then we did that. We only needed to resupply for two days because we knew Polecat could take us into Butte when we arrived at a trailhead near it.

Raven was in the town hall when we returned. She has been traveling with Freebird. Though she sometimes hikes with him, she was choosing to stay in Whitehall for now and would catch up to him later.

This was our last night on the Big Sky/Super Butte Alternate. We will rejoin the official CDT footpath tomorrow. I'm hoping we can continue to increase our daily mileage.

At night I walk this stinkin' street past the crazies on my block
And I see the same old faces
And I hear that same old talk
And I'm searching for the latest thing
A break in this routine
I'm talkin' some new kicks
Ones like you ain't never seen

This is home, well, this is Mean Street, it's our home, the only one I know
And we don't worry 'bout tomorrow 'cause we're sick of these four walls
Now what you think is nothin' might be somethin' after all
Now you know this ain't no through street, the end is dead ahead
The poor folks play for keeps down here, they're the living dead

Come on down, down to Mean Street
They're dancin' now, Lord, out on Mean Street
Dance, baby


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.