Distance Traveled Today- 16.1 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 341.6 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, windy, 90s
Pain level- sharp pain on top of right foot
Wildlife encounters- grouse, 2 wild turkeys
Human Beings encountered on trail- 12+
Thru hikers encountered on trail- zero
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 11
I woke up feeling refreshed and was hiking by 7:15 am. I still had about 7 miles of gravel roads to walk on. More cows went by, and I had a light breakfast about 5 miles in. The terrain was very mild, and I actually took my time over it as I listened to my audio book.
There were lots of twists and turns in the trail today, especially with all the transitioning and crossing of various roads. Three times I found myself on the wrong path and having to double back. Many times the trail simply disappeared, and I was left walking towards what I could see of it in the distance, or searching the overgrowth and blowdowns for a beaten path. None of it slowed me down too bad.
Somewhere around the 10 mile mark, I came up over a thickly wooded hill and came face to face with two wild turkeys. I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough to get a picture before they’d ran off into the thicket. Still a very cool and potentially tasty encounter!
Not long after the turkeys I was walking through a decent stretch of what almost looked like overgrown reeds; they were about armpit high and thick on all sides. About halfway through, a mother grouse and her three babies spooked up out of the overgrowth on my left, almost hitting me as they flew to the right across the trail. One of the babies couldn’t make it over the wall of vegetation and got stuck fluttering down the trail. The mother thought I was attacking it as I kept hiking and mounted a very surprising “flogging” attack; lunging over and across the overgrowth very quickly and hitting me in the shoulder with her wings, almost getting my face. It was actually quite comical, but she didn’t give me anymore trouble after that.
At the 12.5 mile mark I hit the base of my final climb for the day; a relatively steep 1,500 ft ascent. I wanted to crush it. About a quarter mile up I ran into a group of several families with young children picking huckleberries. They were familiar with thru hikers, and stopped to talk to them about my adventure for probably a good 15 minutes or so. It was welcomed conversation. Before parting ways, one of the women named Erica gave me her number to call her if I needed help getting around Helena. I also asked for a “buffalo wing” recommendation, and they happily gave me one. A place called “Overland Express” that had something they called “Dragon Wings.” They sounded intense, and I was very much looking forward to trying them.
I completely eviscerated that final climb; even forcing myself to sprint up the shorter, steeper sections. The sprinting up steep terrain with a pack on is incredibly painful, but the extreme burn you get from those sprints makes the burn of regular hiking feel like child’s play. You essentially raise your pain tolerance, making what burned previously feel like flat land walking. If you can stomach the short burst of intense discomfort, and you’re healthy enough in the joints and lungs to do it… I highly recommend it for raising your hiking fitness.
I had one little hiccup almost exactly halfway up the climb. Keeping up a furious pace and breathing hard, I felt something stab me in the back of the throat so hard that it my breath caught and I instantly stopped and began to wretch and dry heave. I could only take half a breath before whatever was stuck in my throat stabbed me, keeping me from drawing in a full breath. And each time my breath caught, I would cough and dry heave uncontrollably, but also purposefully, desperate to dislodge whatever it was. Doubled over, I felt vomit come halfway up my esophagus three times. Three times I fought it back down. As I realized it wasn’t dislodging, I threw off my pack and collapsed on the side of the trail. I pounded a liter of water add violently as I could to try ava wash it away. It pushed whatever it was a little bit deeper, but did not free it. I had half a liter left now, and I wasn’t going to waste it. I leaned over and began hacking, spitting from the back of my throat ,and dry heaving as hard as I could. After several minutes of this, the feeling of being stabbed in the back of my throat with every breath went away. In its place, my nose began to run uncontrollably, and after a couple more minutes my left nostril was bleeding. I was having to blow my nose (blow a snot rocket) several times a minute to keep it all from running down over my mouth and chin. What a fiasco. With a severely leaky nose, I destroyed the rest of the climb, leaving a snail’s trail of snot in my wake. Good times.
I made it over and down the climb to the busy road by 2pm, I think a little before. Sadly, the interstate running into Helena was incredibly busy, and there was no where for eastbound traffic (the direction I wanted to go) to pull over. So I had to walk another mile uphill and in the opposite direction I wanted to go; in order to reach a turnout where the eastbound traffic could actually pull over (should someone wish to give me a ride).
Well, I’ve come to find that hitchhiking as a lone male is challenging to say the least. It was almost two hours before two men pulled over in their green Pontiac to give me a ride. Their name’s were Mike and Josh, and they were on their way to their 20 year high school reunion. This was an unreal coincidence, because today is also my 10 year high school reunion back in Florida. I’m not too sorry I’m missing it, because what I’m doing right now is way better. I’ll be interested to go to my 20 year reunion if I’m still alive. I think social media has pretty much destroyed the high school reunion. Because of Facebook, instagram, and Twitter, you can already see what everyone you went to high school with is doing alllll the time…not much.
So Mike and Josh dropped me off at a motel 6 and we parted ways. I got cleaned up, then set about figuring out how to get to this Overland Express. I was ready to call a cab or uber, but when I googled it, I found it was only a half mile away; perfect!
The Dragon Wings blew me away!(I had 25). A combination of teriyaki, garlic, sesame seeds, some other tangy ingredient, and scattered with chives…these are in my new top 3 all time favorite wings; and I do not say this lightly. Number one is in Dalton Massachusetts. Number two are some smoked wings at a remote lakeside resort in Oregon. Number three are these ones. They could be number one, but the flashy flavor (although good!) is not enough to take a top seed. I value the quality of as close to natural or traditional flavoring much more highly than sweet, tangy, and complex sauces. Simple is always better! I also ate a huge bowl of fried cauliflower, fried zucchini, fried mushrooms, and onion rings. Oh yeah, and the bowl was an edible tortilla shell. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
I don’t plan to zero tomorrow, but I also don’t plan to go back to trail until the afternoon. I need to get groceries, and I’d also like to find a gear shop. I need to get a new hat that isn’t a fedora…