Day- Day 15
Location- Great Falls, MT
Distance Traveled Today- 4.7 official CDT miles. More side trail
Distance Traveled Total- 213.9 miles
Weather/Temp- sunny 90s
Pain level- none
Spirits/Morale- depressed but relieved
Wildlife encounters- none
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 0
What. A. Day.
Today was not a good day for me at all, but it ended on a good note.
So we woke up early next to the river and were hiking by 7. We wanted to get in and out of the ranch as quick as possible due to the “sideways miles” (extra miles you walk that don’t count towards finishing the trail).
Katana was not well. She slept all through the night, but this morning she was wobbly, off balance, and was walking with shaky legs. She looked sick or injured. I felt her paws and and all her joints and looked her over; nothing. I put pressure with my hands on all her paws and all her joints to see if I could illicit a pained reaction and pin point something; nothing. I put her drops in and checked her eye…normal. What the hell is wrong with her?! I felt panicked to see her like this. Either she was the queen of drama (which she already is), or there’s something I can’t see. She’s gotten worse every day that we’ve been out here, no matter how easy I take it with her, how much I let her sleep, or how much I carry her. I’m totally at a loss. She’s never been like this…unadaptive.
I carried her the uneventful 8 total miles into the ranch. There was a campground with horse back riders that were hitting the trail, but the person in charge of the ranch was nowhere to be found. I sat in the shade of the ranch cabin with the flies for a couple hours with Katana and Schweppes. She wasn’t looking good, and seemed very stressed out. The heat was bad, but nowhere near what we faced on the PCT last year…or what we face in Florida year round.
As I sat there, I knew I needed to make a decision. If we hiked out of there, it would be another 60 miles to the next road into a town. That was 60 miles of probably carrying Katana non stop. Stressing her out more and making whatever was wrong with her worse. I couldn’t do that. There was no point in it. Neither me or Katana had anything to gain by putting ourselves through another 60 miles of what had been getting worse over the last couple days. Giving it more time to “see what happens” was now off the table.
As Schweppes began to prompt us to start hiking out, I let him know Katana was done. “I’m not putting her through anymore, I’m taking her home.” I told him. If she got any worse, she might inflame the glaucoma in her last eye. I wasn’t going to live with that. Seeing her so weak and out of it made the decision very plain and simple. No more. I would not keep her out here. It was a painful decision to make, but it felt like a no brainer. Katana is not going to triple crown this year, or possibly ever.
So my mind was made up right then and there and the focus was to get Katana to the nearest town, then figure out how to safely get her home. Schweppes wanted no part in all those logistics, and I don’t blame him. It’s not his responsibility, it’s mine. So he hiked out and I went to the road in hopes of flagging down any passerby.
The road to the ranch was made of gravel, and 30 miles down it to the east was the small town of Augusta. That would be the target destination. Almost right away, a forest service truck came down, heading east. I flagged it down with Katana in my arms and plead my case. The older gentleman behind the wheel DID NOT want to give me a ride. He had two other younger guys with him who seemed more than fine with it, but the old man was clearly in charge. It was like pulling teeth to get him to agree to take me down the road. I apologized for putting him on the spot, but I let him know it was urgent, that I’d been carrying a dog for two days, and that I’d have to carry her another 60 miles if I didn’t get a ride. He finally agreed to take me to where there was cell service, then drop me off to figure out my own way. Honestly, I was appalled he wouldn’t just take me all the way to Augusta, but to get in the truck, I agreed.
He brought me 20 miles down the road and pulled over ten miles from Augusta. “Well, here’s where the service starts. You can call a ride from here.” We were literally still in the middle of nowhere. I asked him if I could pay him to take me into Augusta if it was out of his way. He replied that they were already on their way there as it was. This got me pretty angry on the inside, but I remained outwardly calm and polite. “How do you just not want to help a fellow human being in need when it’s not even out of your way?” I wondered. “Well I appreciate the boost. I guess I’ll try and find something” I said. “Eh, just hang on. Let me call my boss” he replied. He then got on his radio and relayed my situation to his superior. Whoever they were, they were perfectly fine with him giving me a ride in.
So he dropped me off in Augusta, a town that looked like nothing more than a simple trailer park. It resembled more of a refugee camp than a town. I’m sorry for that description, but that’s how it came across to me. Barren.
He left me at the only motel in town; bunkhouse inn. It was more of a bar than a motel. I pleaded my case to the bartender who doubled as the receptionist. “No dogs, no exceptions” was her answer. This put me shit out of luck in this town. I told her I needed to get to the nearest town that I could rent a car in. She told me that would be “Great Falls,” over 50 miles away.
There were no shuttle services, no taxis, and no uber who would come out that far to pick someone up. I offered everyone in the bar $60 (all the cash I had) to drop me off as close as they could; no takers. Instead I got directions to where I could hitchhike. So I decided to do that.
This would be my first time hitchhiking in a capacity that wasn’t related to the trail. Nobody would know I was a hiker way out here, hiking a trail that hardly anyone hiked. I was nervous.
I went out to the road and began walking in the direction they’d pointed me with Katana on my shoulders. I didn’t get a quarter mile before a van pulled over with a lone woman at the wheel. She looked to be in her forties, and she looked rough. Honestly, my first impression was that she was a junkie. Sorry again, but not sorry. When you first see someone, a first impression comes to your mind; that was the one that instantly came to me. I was sure that she was about to try and get something from me, or get something to me…
“Where are you trying to go?” She asked. “Great Falls.” I said. “I can take you about ten miles closer to a spot where you can get a ride more easily. It’ll be a straight shot into Great Falls from there.” This seemed better than nothing, so I agreed.
We began driving and she told me her name, but I forgot it. She was actually incredibly kind, and I was sure my first impression was completely wrong. I told her my story, hoping she would decide to take me all or most of the way, but she didn’t offer. As we got closer to the end of the ride, I offered to give her sixty bucks to take me the rest of the way if it wasn’t too inconvenient. She said she had to be up at 4am, and wouldn’t be able too. “Definitely not a junkie” I thought to myself. It wasnt even the the middle of the afternoon, so I knew it was just a convenient excuse because she didn’t want to drive that far. It wouldn’t have taken more than an hour and a half round trip on that 70 mph empty highway. I’m sure she was tired from a long day at work, so I understood. I was just having a really tough day too, so I guess I was relying on people to see that and want to help. Not to mention the limp dog I was carrying around. Not a lot of empathy or sympathy in small town Montana. I’m not surprised, nor upset by that.
When the woman dropped me off, it was in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road. She said she was usually afraid to go any further because cell phone service disappeared and she would never want to break down out there. (Perhaps that’s why she really didn’t want to drive me the whole way). Great. So that’s the perfect place to leave someone else.
I almost asked for a ride back into town where I could actually get food and water, but decided I’d just try this instead. Maybe I’d get a ride faster than I thought… Nope.
There wasn’t a tree for miles and the temperature was in the mid 90s. It was scorching hot on the side of the road, and there was nothing in either direction. Hardly any vehicles came by in the direction I wanted, and the ones that did were “work trucks.” I sat on the ground and positioned katana in my shadow to keep her as cool as possible. She did not look well, and I only had maybe a cup of water left. Her fur was scorching hot. I began to feel desperate as an hour passed and no one stopped. I spent another hour calling every taxi service and car rental place in Great Falls; no one came out that far…for any reason. I was striking out and burning up. I started looking around to see where I could camp if worse came to worse; the options were slim to none. I’d be very exposed, and there was no water. No, I had to get somewhere today, not tomorrow.
I finally decided on the last thing I could think of besides physically blocking a car to a stop, or just walking; I reached out on social media. I made a post on Facebook explaining my predicament and asking if anyone knew someone in Great Falls who would be willing to come rescue us. The response was overwhelming and heart warming. The outpour of support completely blew my mind, as people began networking with friends and through other online groups. Within half an hour, a woman named Angi managed to reach out to enough people in a “hiking with dogs” Facebook group and find a man named Jake who lived in Great Falls and was willing to come pick us up. When I spoke to Jake on the phone to describe where I was, I felt the weight of the world lift off my chest. After another 40 mins, Jake rolled up in his Toyota Tacoma and we were saved.
It felt weird, and I almost felt silly now that life was back in my control. Almost like a form of Stockholm syndrome. During the height of the ordeal I’d felt desperate and incredibly anxious to get Katana somewhere cool and quiet where she could rest and recover. Every minute that passed felt like a crisis. Now that everything was going to be ok, I just felt silly and embarrassed. I couldn’t believe I’d let myself feel so helpless. At the time I felt like I was doing everything I could do to make the things that needed to happen, happen. Now that they had happened, I felt dumb. I don’t know why, and I can’t explain it, but I just wished everything had happened differently. In the end, I had to rely on others instead of myself, and that gave me a pretty useless feeling. I suppose I used what was available to me to set everything in motion, but I still felt as though I’d failed katana in some way. Failed myself. I don’t know.
Jake was an incredibly kind guy. We had an awesome drive into Great Falls and he was a wealth of information on the surrounding area. He’d even come out to get me with his arm in a sling. He’d broken his collarbone only a week earlier, and was still waiting to possibly have surgery. He should have been home resting, but instead he was out rescuing barbarian looking hikers and their tiny fox dogs. Whatta guy!
After refusing any kind of compensation, he dropped me off at a motel 6 that I’d called and made a reservation to. The plan is simple now; rent a car and get Katana home. Period. Then get back to the trail and finish it. Period.
My parents have agreed to watch her for the remainder of the hike, so that’s another weight off my chest. They love Katana like a grandchild, and treat her like an extension of my kid self. That means lots of spankings, huge bowls of broccoli for dinner, and being sent to bed early without dessert. I grew up just fine! Kidding about all of that. However, Katana will be loved and spoiled as if she were my real kid.
She’s doing better, but she’s definitely out of it. I don’t know what’s got her like this, but I hope it’s nothing serious. As long as she continues to improve, I’ll hold off on the vet until I get her home. Getting a rental car tomorrow should hopefully be headache free…