Location- Anaconda, MT
Elevation- 5,230 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 42.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 422.6 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 90s, 100s
Injuries- sore feet
Pain level- high
Spirits/Morale- wrecking ball
Wildlife encounters- lots of Elk
Human Beings encountered on trail- many
Thru hikers encountered on trail- 2!
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 3
Holy Crap! What a day…
This was easily in my top 3 most painful days of hiking I’ve ever had. On the flip side, it’s also one of the highest feelings I’ve ever had at the end of a very long day of hiking.
I didn’t get packed up and moving until about 7:40am; much later than I’d want for a 40 mile day. Didn’t matter, I was still going for it.
Kicking things off with a nearly 4mph pace, I skipped breakfast. I wasn’t hungry in the slightest and I felt great. Why try and fix something if it’s not broken? So long as my energy stayed up and my hunger remained dormant…I was just gonna go with the flow. And flow I did!
Within the first few miles I came through a thick patch of trees and spooked a small herd of Elk; four females and one large bull. They were charging into the trees away from me before I even had time to get my phone off my chest strap to take a picture. I hate not getting pictures of wildlife, but most of the time that’s how it goes. Things happen too quickly.
Less than halfway to the beginning of the road walk I found myself in free grazing cattle country again. Hundreds upon hundreds of cows peppered the grassy hillsides and lurked within the cover of the forests. Once again, mostly in groups of 4 to 8, but in some cases there were more than a dozen to multiple dozens of cows in a free ranging group; it was fairly random. Several times I was startled by a stampeding cow trying to get away from me as I made my way through the thick forest, not noticing them taking shade just off the trail. Other times I spotted them before they spotted me and I was able to get the jump on them. To be honest, it was surreal and almost creepy to see and hear so many large creatures thundering through the woods making their fevered calls.
I had a light lunch at noon, the first meal I’d eaten in 22 hours; a bagel sandwich, jerky, and some fritos. It feels weird not to have the urge to snack yet. I simply eat a light meal, then I’m good to go for the rest of the better part of the day.
I rolled my bad ankle hard (right ankle) when coming across a grassy/rocky stretch of slanted hillside. Funny enough it was my left foot that accrued most of the pain. As my right ankle rolled, my still airborne left foot came down fast and automatically in an effort to stop my fall and get a second foot planted firmly on the ground (you know how it goes). Well my left foot came down incredibly hard and fast on an awkwardly shaped rock, sending an explosion of pain into the bottom of my foot. Breathing through gritted teeth, I kept moving without breaking stride (aside from the actual stumble), so as to keep the blood flowing, the ankle warm, and to stifle any swelling; it worked. My left foot on the other hand felt like the skin on the bottom had been torn in half. In fact, about ten minutes later I stopped and popped my left shoe off to make sure there wasn’t any blood in my sock; that’s how bad it hurt.
When only a few miles from the road, an enormous bull elk charged up onto the trail about a hundred feet ahead of me and took off following said trail up the mountain away from me. It all happened too quick to get a picture, but this was the largest elk I’ve seen to date on all my hikes. Good grief was he impressive! I have no clue how he made it through the thick forest with an antler rack the size of a “smart car.” Wow! I live for glimpses of magnificent wildlife such as that, and this encounter was a “day maker” for me.
It was about 2pm when I reached the junction of the road and the trail. The road itself was nothing but gravel…the worst kind of road to walk on. Various loose rocks of all sizes abounded all over the surface of the road, pin pointing pressure points all over your feet with nearly every step. These are annoying for even a short period of time, but for miles and miles on end!? Geeez!
So on I went down the road with more than 11 miles until I turned onto the next one. Yes that entire 11 miles was gravel. More cows, less trees, even more sun and blistering temperatures. I had planned to camel up 4 liters of water for the road walk, but the final stream water source before the road (which had been marked reliable on my map) ended up being nothing more than a cow shit filled wallow. Now I was stuck on a 26 mile road walk with 1.5 liters of water left and no official water sources marked for the entire 26 miles. Faaaan-tastic.
As I began the long, hot road grind, riddled with more cows; I noticed two familiar footprints. They were the same set of prints I was tracking before Lincoln! Prints wouldn’t last long in this loose dusty gravel, so they had to be close. I kept on…
It was about 5:45 pm when I finally reached the end of the gravel road, my feet throbbing and sore. I had maybe a half liter of water left that I was saving for an emergency. There had been some water on the gravel road, but it was saturated with cow. I’d rather dehydrate than drink cow shit water – filtered or not.
Turning left onto the next road I wasn’t the least bit surprised that it was also gravel. I’d have at least another 4 miles on this new gravel road. Several hundred yards from this first junction I spotted two figures sitting down on the side of the road. “Gotcha…” was all I could think.
I walked up to them and recognized the two men immediately from the beginning of the hike in Glacier National Park. They had started their thru hike on the day after I finished the national park. So they had essentially started their hike about 100 miles behind me. They had passed me during my 8 day hiatus from the trail while driving Katana home; now I’d caught them.
Their name’s are Stomper and Funny Bone. Stomper is a French Canadian in his mid forties, while Funny Bone is from Colorado and in his early fifties. They are both completing their triple crown this year, so the three of us have all done the AT and the PCT. They had begun their day 11 miles ahead of where I camped last night, and I’d closed the gap in about ten hours. I sat with them for a while, then resumed my road walk while they continued their break under a large roadside oak tree.
I was burning up hot and parched beyond belief at this point, but I held onto my water. My plan was to guzzle it once it cooled off, that way I wouldn’t get thirsty again for a while.
Down the gravel road I went; and down and down and down. Eventually I was walking between fields of some crop. At one point one of the fields had their giant mobile sprinkler system going. Glancing around I threw down my pack, leapt through a gap in the fence and went galloping down one of the corridors towards the sprinklers. I threw myself into one of them and soaked my hat; I didn’t dare drink.
I slogged back to the road feeling refreshed and a bit cooler. Not a minute later, an ATV came tearing ass up the gravel road towards me with two dogs sprinting behind it. “You gotta be kidding me,” was the only thought I could muster. The middle aged man pulled up and asked me if I was a CDT hiker. I replied “Yes.” One of the dogs was friendly, but the other was not. He asked me how the trip was going and we talked about it for a moment. When he asked if I needed anything, I simply replied… “Water, please.” The man whose name was “Hans” pointed me in the direction of where I could find a spigot on his land, then continued on down the road.
I turned down the dusty driveway he’d pointed out in the distance and was immediately hailed by an older man sitting on the front steps of his trailer. “What’ll it be!?” The old man called. “Water!” I called back. “We got water! Come on over!”
I pulled up a plastic chair in front of the trailer after meeting the old man whose name was “Boston.” His real name was Frank, but everyone called him Boston because that’s where he was originally from. Stomper and Funny Bone arrived about fifteen minutes later and we all hung out and drank ice water with Frank for about an hour. Turns out Hans let Frank live on his land for free in exchange for him working on machinery and equipment, as well as performing pest control. Frank described his job like this: “If something comes onto the farm that isn’t a farm animal…I kill it or scare it away; elk, bears, deer, coyote, prairie dogs, you name it.” He also guided hunts in the valley during the fall. Frank was living his dream and nobody could mess with him or tell him what to do way out there. As far as he was concerned, he was the luckiest man alive; guns, outdoors, hunting, and solitude.
It was after 8pm when the three of us left Frank with full water bottles. I still had over 12 miles to go. We walked another 2 miles on the gravel road, then 1 mile down a paved road, then another mile down another paved road before turning right down the final paved road that would take us into Anaconda in about another 9 miles. It was at the junction of this final road that Stomper and Funny Bone called it a day and faded into the overgrown field next to the road; wishing me luck on finishing my big day.
At this 9 mile junction my feet were absolutely screaming! They had been screaming since the end of the first gravel road, but this foot pain/tenderness was nearly beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve done 40 mile days before, and even a 55 mile day, but never with this many miles on an unforgiving road; this was a new level of discomfort.
Walking on a wide open road like that one is a total mind f#%k. You’re moving fast, but it doesn’t feel like it. Since the road is featureless and you have nothing immediately on your sides to give perspective to your speed, it gives you the illusion of getting nowhere. Also, your stride never varies on a flat road; it stays exactly the same without any obstacles or changes in incline. This also gives you the impression of being on a hamster wheel. Then there’s the brutal impact of your feet on an immovable object that absorbs zero impact. Your brain has to deal with the illusion of going nowhere, the boredom, and the pain (especially when you’re already 30+ miles into the day); that’s a trifecta of “quit while you’re ahead” impulses firing into your brain with nearly every step.
I kept going as the sun began to set, then disappeared behind the distant mountains; leaving me with a fiery orange, pink and yellow sky…and then darkness when I had just over 6 miles remaining. No headlamp and no moon once again on this pitch black road. I walked down the middle of oncoming traffic, switching to the right lane when cars would pop up, or staying where I was when they came up from behind. It was a late night road dance, and the only thing keeping me occupied.
My feet were beyond hurting. They were numb and tingling with shooting pains and a random tight pull in my right Achilles tendon. My body was yelling at me to stop; willing me to quit and lay down in the tall brush on the side of the road. I couldn’t. In all honesty, my mind felt great, my legs felt great, and my lungs felt great; only my feet were causing problems. This is exactly what I’d predicted, and one of the main weaknesses I wanted to overcome. If I could complete this endeavor tonight, I’d be able to complete it again even easier at any point after this. Push until you feel you can go no further…then push even farther than that; next time, that feeling will come later. That’s what today was all about…raising the bar for the future. Making every day after this hurt less. My ends justify my means.
With over 5 miles to go I began calling motels in Anaconda. They were all booked solid, further adding to my mental challenges. Finally one of them reported they had one room left, but that it was their “suite” room and it cost $100. “I’ll take it!” I responded. Now there was no way I couldn’t make it since I’d given my card info to the woman on the phone. Looking at the time, I told the woman I’d be there at 11:30pm sharp. I knew the distance, and I knew my pace; I could do over 5 miles in less than an hour and a half at my current rate.
I kept pushing as the miles slowly ticked away. When I was just over two miles out, I began to limp uncontrollably. I couldn’t put my full weight on my left foot anymore; the front pads were too sore and were now shocking me with an acute pain with every step. This made me push faster to minimize the length of contact it had with the ground. At 0.7 miles out from the motel I hit a gas station with 15 mins to spare until 11:30pm. I hobbled inside and bought a diet pepsi (for the sweet carbonation burn), as well as an umbrella. Then I was hobbling back into the night swigging from a pepsi and carrying an umbrella in a plastic bag. I snapped a shot of the illuminated “Welcome to Anaconda” sign, and limped the rest of the way to the motel. I walked through the office door with two minutes to spare. “Wow, you’re punctual” the woman said. “I know my pace,” was all I could reply.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this “suite” room, but I didn’t care. I’d made it, and a shower and a warm bed was my reward to myself. That’s all I wanted. When I let myself into the room, my jaw dropped. It was the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. I’m not even going to describe it in writing because I made a walk through video of it which I am posting below. Pardon my French
I threw down all my things, kicked off my shoes, tore off my socks, and stripped off all my clothes. I bee lined it to the shower and began to scrub all the dirt, dust, grime, sweat and blood away. I laid back in the tub letting the hot water pour over me. As the accomplishment, as well as the reward for having completed it sunk in…I began to laugh. I laughed and I laughed and I couldn’t stop. Tears even began to pour down my face as I realized the pain was over and that I’d beaten “it” before it had beaten me. Oh, what a moment. I could have levitated with the emotional as well as bodily high I was experiencing.
Tomorrow will be a zero day, no doubt. When you punish your body like this, you have to give it time to put itself back together stronger, or else your efforts are in vain and you’re doing damage instead of a favor for yourself. My final total mileage for today was 42.9 miles. Tomorrow is going to be the greatest zero in recent memory…