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**From October 2015**

As we were hitching and not getting picked up, a mini bus pulled over. A tour mini bus. With older people. We thought there was a mistake. Until Memphis popped out of the window and the driver opened the doors and told us to get in. Only Memphis could yogi a ride from a paid tour group full of people in nice shoes and cardigans. In exchange for the ride, the driver had us talk about our hike until we got to Chama.

Hoping out of the tour mini bus, we set our packs down in the bar. E.D. and I had both sent packages to the post office, so we ran over there before it closed while The Darkness, Crosby, and Memphis got a head start on beers. Technically, E.D. finished her flip in Chama, but The Darkness, Crosby, and I had been trying to convince her to just keep hiking and become a true sobo. What’s another 700ish miles? Why not, right? We had celebratory beers anyway, partly because Platoro had none.

Full of food and beer, we heading toward the Y, the best, cheap, hiker friendly motel in the area. It was about a mile away, so we threw our thumbs out just in case. At an intersection, a very large man in camo pants and a neon green shirt waved us down and ran across the street. He was giving out New Mexico bandanas to passersby. When he heard we were hikers, he offered us a ride in his monster truck to the motel.

We climbed up and got there lickity split. As we piled out, we saw the front desk lady laughing and shaking her head. Leaving our packs outside, we meandered in to see what spaces she had.

Front Desk Lady: I knew you were hikers the second I saw five of you jump out the back of that thing! Haven’t seen to0 many of you since April!

She hooked us up with a good deal on two rooms between the five of us and we set about the normal chores plus a few extra ones. In The Darkness’s absence from us, she had decided to stop brushing her hair and had formed a single dread under her hat with all of her hair somehow in it. One job was to brush that out.

The weather had begun to look nasty again as we managed to sneak in the laundromat right before it closed with a six pack. We snagged that and decided to leave the next day late morning or so, hoping it might have a chance of improving in the morning.

However, when we woke up, the weather in town had cleared, but we couldn’t see the ridges in the slightest. We took our time leaving the rooms and ultimately decided to road walk to Ghost Ranch as we heard thunder cracking. In short time, we were trudging along the road in full rain gear plodding away.

Apparently we looked odd enough that a cop turned around. We dutifully took off our sunglasses and chatted politely. She seemed simply curious. We pointed where the trail actually was and her reply was:

Cop Lady: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be up there either.

Thunder clapped again.

Cop Lady: Hmm, yeah, definitely not. Have fun.

We proceeded over to a store on the side of the road where we enjoyed sodas and chips and scoped out the maps for possible stealth sites. Loitering until we finished our snacks, we headed back out and found a slightly stealth spot off the side of the road near a fence. We stayed on the roadside of the fence.

Suddenly, I woke up to dogs. Loud dogs. Sniffing. Great. We probably shouldn’t have camped where we did, but we weren’t trespassing either. The dogs went away eventually, although not silently.

The next day, we had a fun activity planned. Walk 14 miles to a bar on the side of the road. On the way, a car slammed on it’s breaks and pulled over.  All of us paused.  Then Axel popped out of the car excited having finished his flip.  We met his sister who had taken him to Ghost Ranch for a massage and they passed us sodas.  We meandered along finding odd bits of trash, license plates, and other questionable roadside items until we found the bar.

The $2 bill.

The Bar, El Cuerno, had five bar stools. The bar itself had no food, however the gas station convenience store attached had a microwave in which one could put frozen pizzas and other classic convenience store items in to heat up. The bartender also ran the convenience store and conveniently believed in tabs. El Cuerno had $1, $5, $10, $20, and a few $50 bills plastered to the walls and ceiling.

About three hours into our patronage of El Cuerno, we decided to put a bill for the CDT up. The Darkness looked smug and pulled a $2 bill out. We wrote “CDT SOBO 2015” with all of our trail names.

Eventually, we meandered on to find another stealth campsite when we ran into the spot where the trail crosses the road. Conveniently, it had a wonderful campsite near some questionable water.

Coming into Ghost Ranch.

We meandered into Ghost Ranch just in time for lunch the next day and were greeted well. They reminded us that lunch was not AYCE like our guidebook (Yogi) said. We just said ok and loaded a tray up each. Probably higher than most, if not all, but we did not need seconds after that.

Snagging a campsite, we split the cost and headed for the shower room where we could charge devises and do some laundry. Underneath one of the sinks, we found Whistle’s discarded and decrepitated Altra shoes. We knew they were his because we had been following his tracks for close to 2,000 miles.

Whistle’s discarded shoes.

We used plenty of their wifi and hoped to watch a movie in a room ED remembered with great fondness. However, when we wandered that way, a religious meeting of some sort had staged a coup of the movie room for the entire evening. Instead, Memphis downloaded some comedy podcasts and we enjoyed them over the picnic table at the campsite.

In the morning, we plotted our route to into Cuba, New Mexico.

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Once we got off of the paved roads and the dirt roads, the CDT became its usual self of being a trail then disappearing, then reappearing, then disappearing. It liked to disappear right around dark and Guthook would just have a note that said, “follow cairns.” Easy enough, usually, in daylight. Tougher with headlamps, but do-able for a bit.

 

Sunset

The CDT hit some amazing ridgelines that offered stunning views and even more stunning sunsets and sunrises. The ridges all soared above treeline, except when we needed to get over to another ridge.

On one such ridgeline, we lost the trail in the dark. After having already lost it and found it several times, we decided to just camp and find it in the morning. According to Guthook and Gaia, we were on trail, but there was no tread. Classic. We were supposed to contour down to a saddle, which would be easier if we could see some tread in the daylight.

Conveniently, the top of that ridge had just enough internet to check the weather. Of course, the prediction: severe thunderstorms starting around noon the next day throughout the afternoon.

I checked the elevation profile on Guthook to see how exposed we’d be. Guthook showed a startlingly steep climb up and over Parkview mountain with about five miles totally exposed. Thrilling.

I switched to Ley’s maps to see the bigger area. He noted a forest service road as a “thunderstorm avoidance route” which was nine miles compared to five, but the dirt road would keep us between 10,000 and 10,600 and still below treeline. If the storm became bad, at least we would have somewhere to hunker down.

We had a solid eight miles or so to the junction which would place us there right before the thunderstorms would probably hit.

Ducking down for the road, we stopped and ate an early lunch while it wasn’t raining. Eating lunch in the rain is the worst. While we sat there and moved multiple bars into easy access places for the storm, an ATV roared up. Atop it sat a hunter completely in camo with a gun on his hip belt and a very large bow strapped to the back. He stopped to chat. The same general hunter/hiker conversation began.

Hunter: “See any elk recently?”

Me: “Not since Wyoming.”

Hunter: “You all have hiked here from Wyoming?!”

Me: “We started in Canada, actually.”

E.D.: “We’re thru-hiking the continental divide.”

Hunter: “So…where’d ya’ll park?”

Memphis: “We don’t have a car…we walked.”

Hunter: “From Canada…”

Memphis: “Yeah…”

Hunter: “So you parked in Canada?”

Memphis: “No…”

Hunter: “hmmph. Where ya going?”

Me: “Mexico.”

Hunter: Blank stare. “Huh.”

After lunch, we walked up the rough dirt road and within fifteen minutes, we had to scramble to throw on rain gear. The rain, which came quick and fast, shifted into hail almost as quickly. Thinking it would only last a few minutes then return to rain, we ducked under a conifer tree. A few minutes went by. The hail continued with equal voracity. Damn. We gave up cover and just walked in it, leaning forward and guarding our hands. The hail stings when it hits exposed skin.

 

Some of the hail.

The hail continued for upwards of half an hour while thunder boomed nearby and we caught occasional flashes of lightening when we weren’t staring at our feet to avoid hail to the face. The storm did let up on the hail, but the rain kept up for about five more hours. We had to keep moving to keep warm; if we stopped, we would become too cold. I kept reminding myself that it could be worse…we could be higher and more exposed through the lightening.

We got back to the trail and crossed a road. Memphis decided that we were camping early because it was his birthday. I came to the conclusion that trail birthdays on the CDT were cursed because of the storm that day and the thundersnow on Scallywag’s birthday.

 

The fog after the rain.

I didn’t particularly want to stop early because I wanted to get over Bowen Pass the next day before any more storms invariably came in to drench us, but it’s hard to argue with the birthday line and it did feel good to lay down.

The next morning, we did have to haul ass to get over to and up the pass with storms forming in the distance. It was a long climb, but not horrendously steep, so with some loud electronic music, it went quickly.

E.D. surged ahead and Memphis took awhile on the downhill. I accidentally scared the shit out of some day hikers who didn’t hear me approach until I said, “Hi” behind them in an attempt to pass.

I found E.D. chilling under a privy porch cooking ramen while it misted. The main storm had passed, but a bit continued now and then. After we called the hostel in Grand Lake, to let them know we’d be coming in a bit late, we trudged through the last few miles where we saw about 25 elk in two groups.

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After we found a room for six people and a dog, the route debate began. Do we want to take the newly rebuilt trail Butte route or do we take the Anaconda cutoff? The Darkness and I threw our cards saying we wanted to take the cutoff which would give us four days of wiggle room for bad weather later in the trail. Scallywag held tough on Butte because it was newly built trail and therefore avoided a bit of road walking. He, however, had to go against me, The Darkness, and Easily Distracted.
Scallywag: “Is this what marriage feels like?! All of you are giving me puppy dog eyes!”

Me: ” No, this is what polygamy feels like…”

Scallywag: “I’ve been practicing the wrong religion the whole time!”

Tails: “If it makes you feel better, we can flip to a random page in the bible and see what it says…where is it? These motels always have one…”

Scallywag: “The atheists used it to prop open the window…”

Tails: * grabs bible and puts in something else to hold the window * ” Ommmmmmmmmm”

Scallywag: “Wrong religion Tails….”

Tails: “Oops!” * Throws bible so it flips to a random page upside down and reads * “…feet will be beaten…”

E.D: “So…the Anaconda route…”
The debate lasted that night and into the next morning when the Anaconda route won, in part because of the Sir Mix-a-lot song. 
After the debate came to a conclusion, we went to resupply. I had called the Helena post office and despite the 3 day delivery on priority mail, the package had not come. Therefore, I went to resupply at the grocery store. This took me awhile because I’m more accustomed to the amazing, awesome, wonderful, complete packages my resupply logistician mother sends, including home baked vegan cookies.
The Darkness and I managed to leave town early-ish by getting a ride with Alejandro in a BMW…first time I’ve been picked up in one of those!

At the trailhead, The Darkness and I stayed for a moment putting on sunscreen, braiding hair, and wondering how we got a ride within five minutes.
We headed down the trail and about a mile in, we meet Tom. This conversation was so intriguing that The Darkness and I threw down our packs, sat on them, and listened.
Tom had a thick Brooklyn accent.
Tom: “I just brought Hatchet and Hot Lips to the trail and hiked a few miles out with them; they were heading to Butte next.”

Me: “So, she’s embracing her name finally…”

Tom: “Well…she was in the post office and I asked Sarah what their trail names were and Sarah told me she was going by Hatchet now, then she giggled and said Jo was going by Hot Lips. But when she came out of the post office, I said, ‘Get everything sent off, Hot Lips?’ And she turned to Sarah and yelled a lot saying she was trying to go by Yukon, but that didn’t make any sense. Then I tried to delicately explain the MASH reference because she’s…well…sensitive…that there were doctors and nurses in the Korean War and they, uhh, got together. She didn’t like it any better, but I kept calling her it anyway.”
The conversation continued in several directions. Don’t forget the Brooklyn accent. One was:
Tom: “Let me tell you girls a short bio. I grew up in Brooklyn, went to college at Carot College in Helena and never left.”

The Darkness: “Wow, that was short.”
The conversation proceeded and as we sat there, the stories got more entertaining. We had to slow ourselves down to allow the others to get out of town and catch up anyway, so we kept listening and prompting more stories. The Brooklyn accent is important for this one…
The Darkness: “Have you ever been to Loggers Days in Darby? We think we’ll be there then by a fluke.”

Tom: “Loggers Days! Let me tell you about Loggers Days! I had this girlfriend at the time, Claudia. We were at a bar and she was playing this machine that she really liked. Then the bartender tells me one of the loggers was looking at my girlfriend. He was a big, mean guy. Claudia was a gymnast and had these little short shorts. I said, ‘Claudia, we gotta get outta here!’ But she didn’t wanna leave! I had to practically drag her out by her hair! That’s Loggers Days!”
After half an hour and hearing about Monica, too, we went our separate ways and The Darkness and I reenacted bits and pieces of the conservation with our attempts at the Brooklyn accent. We went about nine miles to the second water source, and the first one with a flat spot and set up camp.
We knew the others would have to be in town for chores longer, but the spread out town had taken them awhile to traverse. This allowed us to sleep in, which was pleasant.
The Darkness: “I heard you get up and I was worried you weren’t sleeping in, then I realized that you weren’t taking down your tent. That meant that you were pooping and I had ten more minutes to doze.”
Tails, Chaps, and Skeeter caught us right as we were finishing packing up. The four of us headed down the trail wondering how far out E.D and Scallywag got.
When we were lagging at a water source around 11am, up they came! Within the first few minutes, we had updated each other on all the bowel movements we’d missed being separated for 24 hours. They had gotten up at 5am and powered through to try and catch us.
Most of the day went through the woods of Montana, small ups and downs, lots of lodgepole pines, meadows and small streams. Then the sky got darker and darker. Wait…it’s only five pm…it’s supposed to get dark in four hours…
All six of us sat by a water source which was marked as a spring, but it looked gross. Seeing a stream in two miles, most us just planned to keep going with a half liter or so and fill up at a better source, but Chaos and Tails were out. Chaps scooped up four liters of it into the dirty bag for the gravity filter and hung it in a tree.
Scallywag: “Now that’s done discolored water!”

Chaps: “It looks like something you’d take out of the toilet at Oktoberfest…”

The Darkness: “You could not have said anything more German…”
Right as the sprinkles were getting to the point that rain gear needed to get thrown on, we ran into Momma Bear and Monkey going nobo for a big section: all of Montana. We chatted while we waterproofed everything. Luckily, I only had to waterproof myself because my pack consists of just a dry bag. Worked fantastically and all my stuff was dry.
This storm was not just a passing shower, it was rain that was settling in for the long haul. My rain skirt trash bag worked great. I cut the bottom open and used the draw strings around the waist.
We hiked for several hours in the rain. It wasn’t quite as drenching as east coast rain, but it was enough that everything was wet.
Then, we looked at the map. We could go toward the Little Blackfoot Creek or go almost to the top of Thunderbolt Mountain. While hiking in the rain with the occasional thunder rumble, going to the top of something called Thunderbolt just did not seem smart.
We hiked toward the Little Blackfoot and ended up finding a flat-ish spot to camp near a side stream. We had to clear a few blowdowns and place our tents right next to each other, but we found enough space. Tails and Chaps ended up putting their tent in the middle of the trail.
It rained most of the night. I woke up around five…still raining. Rolled over. I woke up a little after six…still raining. Rolled over. I woke up just before seven…still raining. Damn…I have to pee! Reluctantly, I got up and went, then dove straight back into my sleeping bag. The whole world was wet. My sleeping bag was nice and dry and warm. We all began reluctantly getting ready, eating breakfast and trying to find excuses to stay in our tents.
Finally, the time came when we had nothing else to do in our tents and we had to get out, pack them up, then hike on brushing up against all the wet grasses bending over into the trail. Luckily, it was mostly just dripping off the trees and not actually raining. That helped.

That day, we went past some dilapidated cabins in a place called “Leadville” on the map. Disappointed that there was no porch to sit on, we sat on some ruins and took advantage of the sun break to dry our tents.
The sun break was unfortunately short lived and succumbed to a rain shower, forcing us to hike on. We passed some interesting trail signs pointing to “trails” that didn’t exist.
Easily Distracted: “It’s like they just put up a sign and said, oh we’ll build the trail later.”
That evening, we camped at the four corners where the Anaconda and Butte routes split. We made a nice little campfire.

 

At the four corners.

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