Distance Traveled Today- 25.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 524.7 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 90s
Injuries- hyper extended left knee
Pain level- moderate
Wildlife encounters- Deer, bull moose, pine Martin?
Human Beings encountered on trail- zero
Thru hikers encountered on trail- zero
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 8
Again, I woke up later than I wanted. I was about to get up at 6 am, but decided to close my eyes for another minute and…BAM! It was 8 o’clock. So yet another slow start to the day.
I ate a huge breakfast first thing and set about the daily grind. My body felt slightly better, but I still had some major fatigue; the body just wasn’t moving as fast as the mind was willing it…and this annoyed me.
On top of not feeling quite 100%, the terrain and temperature were not being very gentle either. Probably close to 80% of today’s hike was through exposed burn zones. The temperature was in the 90s, and there was no wind and hardly any shade. It felt like the energy was being siphoned out of me.
Early in the day I hit a bad stretch of blowdowns. I classify “bad” as not being able to look down any stretch or curve in the trail without seeing several piles of felled trees laying across it. It was while hurdling a rather branchy blowdown in a large burn zone that I gave myself a slight injury. I uncharacteristically lead with my left leg, swinging it over the trunk and planting it in the overgrowth on the other side. Mind you, everything I’m about to describe happens fairly quickly, as I try to traverse blowdowns in the most efficient and fluid manner possible. So no sooner is my left foot planted, my right leg is swinging up right behind it; except my right foot snags on a branch, halting my momentum and jarring me off balance. So to keep from tipping forward, I try to hop my left foot forward to catch my balance. Unfortunately the left foot is snagged in some unseen branch too. Throwing the full weight of my body forward while thinking my left foot would jump ahead to balance the weight is what backfired. My body went forward, and the branch snagged on my right foot snapped; unfortunately my left foot didn’t move from the snag and caused me to hyperextend my knee when the leg locked without the foot moving forward and my full weight traveling awkwardly over it. Gimminy Cricket (that’s not what I really said) did that hurt! The shock of pain was fairly intense to anything I’ve recently experienced, but it was quick. I continued to move, and the pain became a tender “pull” just deep to the front of my left kneecap. It has continued to hurt and pull the entire day, but never anything more than a mild distraction. I only hope it doesn’t get worse.
Oh, the blowdowns weren’t done with me yet. While stepping over another one, a small but sharp protruding stick punctured the bottom of my shoe and drove up into my foot. Not enough to tear skin, but enough to feel like you were stepping barefoot onto a Lego laying on a marble floor. Yeah, a skin puncture might have been more pleasant.
That still wasn’t the end of it! The little stick broke off in the bottom of my shoe, and for the most part I couldn’t even tell it was there. However anytime I stepped onto a rock, log, or other hard surface, it would push up through my shoe and give me that puncture sensation again. I dealt with it for half a mile before taking off my shoe to try and pull it out. Sure enough, it was sunken into the rubber to where I couldn’t grasp it with my fingers. So I bent my shoe in half where the stick was stuck, and this exposed about a centimetre; still not enough to pinch onto and dislodg. I used the next best tool available to me and latched on with my front incisors, ripping it out on my third try. Basically I French kissed the bottom of a shoe that has trampled through more than 500 miles of dirt, mud, roads, and wild animal shit. I know that’s super attractive, but sorry ladies, I’m taken.
So the day was stop and go as I took shade where I could. Strangely there were hundreds of thousands of grasshoppers everywhere. I don’t know if there had been a mass hatching, or if it was mating time or what, but the trail was blanketed with them. Every step sent up dozens of grasshoppers fleeing in every direction…including clinging to/getting tangled in my leg hairs. It was a unique and funny experience, but it eventually grew very old as the day progressed.
While on the subject of creepy crawlies, there has been one aspect to hiking this 100 mile stretch I’ve forgotten to highlight the last few nights…the spiders. There are spider webs between every shrub and every tree stretching across the trail. Since there is quite literally nobody close enough in front of me to knock them down before I get there, I’m silk blazing all day, every day through the thicker parts of the forest. My legs, head, and torso are perpetually covered in spider silk, and often times the spiders themselves. They’re harmless, and I’ve pretty much learned to ignore all of it; however, when the webs stretch across my face and get tangled in my ears and eyelashes, I’m forced to scrape at my face to pull them off. I’m sure I look like I’m trying to snatch invisible demons from my body.
I also forgot to mention that the last 19 miles to the road were waterless. I only had the capacity to haul 4 liters this time, so that’s what I had to make due with. It didn’t help that the last water source before the dry stretch was a very slow flowing creek through a burn zone meadow. The water had a very stale taste, and was not the least bit thirst quenching…especially once it reached the ambient temperature of the breezeless 90 degree air around me. Alas, these are the trials and tribulations of long distance hiking; you make due with what the trail gives you, good or bad.
It was a rough day for me, and I found myself losing my grip on positivity. I was still bummed about my shorter day yesterday, and even more bummed with my late start today. Once I realized I wasn’t going to make it to the road in any decent amount of time, I really let the negative thoughts get to me. I began looking for other negative things to focus on; the terrain, the temperatures, my fatigue, my nasty water, and anything else I could think of to add to my list of discontent. It was a downward spiral, and it was only making a rough day worse. Causing me to go slower and miss out on the prettier things surrounding me.
Around ten miles out from the road I caught myself in the middle of these self destructive thoughts and ordered myself to take a step back. I felt selfish for having such negative thoughts about the trail and my journey; like I was taking it for granted. When I find myself despairing and wishing I was somewhere else, it makes me feel silly and guilty. I think of the countless people who would switch places with me in a heart beat, who would kill for the opportunity just to be out here testing themselves. When I’ve cleared my mind enough to have this realization, my day usually turns around. It may not cause me to begin enjoying the day again, but it shuts off the negative thoughts and leaves in their place a sort of numb indifference. “It is what it is, I’m just going to get through this stretch, and tomorrow will be a new day.” This too shall pass. The negative and frustrated thoughts only serve to attract more negativity in its endless forms. Best just to flow with the circumstances instead of brooding over them…trust me.
I pushed hard through the last 7 miles without so much as feeling sorry for myself, or my rough couple of days that hadn’t unfolded how I’d planned them to. I brought myself back into the present moment, instead of wallowing over what had already past, and fretting over the affected future, due to the unfortunate past. One no longer mattered, and the other didn’t exist yet; there was no place to live in either of them, so why pay them any mind? Anyways, enough philosophy…
So as I remained in the present, I was rewarded with a new sight I’d had yet to see on trail. I spotted a Pine Marten hanging on the branches of a tree, watching enraptured as I passed by. He almost seemed curious enough to come down and visit, but it was not to be. I got a really cool picture of him before he scampered down and bounded away into the forest. This one interaction made up for the entire day. But the day wasn’t over yet…not by a long shot.
When I finally reached the highway that lay directly on the border of Idaho and Montana, it was almost 9pm. This was terrible hitchhiking time. I’d been having a hard enough time hitching as a lone male in broad daylight, forget about dusk, or nighttime hitchhiking. Not gonna happen. Still, I wasnt going to reserve myself to camping on the side of the road and waiting for morning until it was pitch black.
Standing there on the side of the road…I wasn’t alone. There was a huge bull moose wandering about, grazing and drinking from puddles. He became my hitchhiking partner. The moose paid me very little mind for close to an hour as car after car went by without stopping or even noticing the moose. Two cars saw him at separate times and stopped to take pictures; I used the opportunity ask for a ride…they declined, instead leaving me standing beside the most dangerous animal in north America in the middle of nowhere. Thanks.
It was after this that things got very interesting. A two vehicle convoy of wilderness firefighters pulled up to the pass and pulled over at the turnout across the highway from me. There was a pickup truck, and a huge wilderness firetruck tanker and three firefighters between the two vehicles. One man was probably in his mid fifties, while the other two men were closer to my age, give or take. “Firefighters are selfless heroes who live to protect and help people,” I thought to myself; “They’ll surely be happy to give me a boost if they’re headed in the direction of Darby already.” Think again Kyle!
When I hitchhike, I tend to adhere to my own code of ethics/guidelines. I don’t like to put people on the spot unless they talk to me first, and even then I try to be tactful rather than blunt. I just stick to keeping my thumb out, and hope someone will stop. In this case, I knew the thumb was basically useless this late at night. So what did I have to lose by putting someone on the spot and physically asking them for a ride? The answer is nothing. They could just say “No,” and I’d be no better or worse off than I was. And there is nothing wrong with that. The only issue with it is getting over my own personal hangup of coming across desperate by asking for a ride. Well, I got over it and decided to ask…
“Are y’all headed past Darby?” I called across the highway. “Yeah we are,” shouted back one of the younger guys. “I’m hiking the CDT, do you think I could get a ride down with y’all so I could get some food? I hiked almost 30 miles to get here today, but nobody has stopped and I’m going to be stuck up here.” The old man called back and said, “There’s a moose right there, why don’t you eat that, or ride it down into town.” This sort of sarcastic humor was right up my alley, so I saw it as an opening to talk more and possibly get a ride. I honestly thought the remark had been in good humor.
So I walked across the road towards the trio, and as I got closer the old man said, “Are you going to beat me with that stick now?” (Referring to my staff). “No,” I chuckled, taking this as another joke. Now that I was next to them and able to speak without calling across the road, I explained my situation very clearly. What I was doing, what I was hiking on, where I was coming from and going, how I needed to resupply in towns, all of it. “Bullshit, you’re a Fucking liar!” The old man snapped at me. “You don’t have a gun, and look at your gut, you really expect me to believe you’ve hiked 500 miles in 40 days and still look like that?” This statement was about the only thing that came close to offending me out of the plethora of insults, curses, and putdowns this asshole threw at me over the next 20 minutes. I’ve already lost 30 pounds out here, and I have nowhere near close to a gut, anymore.
Turns out these were privatized fire fighters; independent contractors. They didn’t belong to any region, state, or agency. Totally freelance, traveling from fire to fire and making a hell of a lot of money in the process. The old man was the owner, and the two young guys his only employees.
Now had he just said “No, I’m not giving you a ride,” I would have left it alone and gone back across the street. Unfortunately, the man wanted to make it personal by calling me a liar and further insulting me after I’d just truthfully spilled my guts about the journey I was on, as well as the different aspects it entailed to acquire food, etc.; total transparency on everything. I explained what a thru hike was in excruciating detail, hoping he would understand that I wasn’t some homeless bum trying to swindle a ride. I gave him the entire outline of my hike, even katana having lyme disease and having to take her home. I literally told this man EVERYTHING in an effort to make him understand. The old man continued to cuss and insult me, calling me a liar and “out of shape.” Calling me a “pussy” for not hiking into town and “cheating” by hitchhiking in to get food. He just wasn’t getting it. He said I was unprepared and an idiot for not having a gun, and that my pack wasn’t big enough to do what I was claiming to be doing. More insults, more accusations. To be honest, I wasn’t even angry. I knew I’d told the old man everything (more than I needed to, or he deserved to know) with complete honesty. His epic overreactions and hostility to my every word only served to bloat his ignorance and shrink his presence in my eyes and opinion. “Here is a scared fool,” I thought. “A fool incapable of grasping, let alone dreaming of doing the things I do.” It’s a funny thing to watch a person who is convinced of their correctness when you know beyond contestation they are dead wrong; even though they continue to contest. In this case it was so ludicrous it was comical. Like debating a petulant child who thinks they know everything, when in reality what they actually know doesn’t amount to Jack, or shit. You can’t get upset, because after all, it’s just a child hardly aware of the difference between its ass and its elbow. I was holding back my laughter, because this guy truly could not fathom that I was doing exactly what I told him I was doing. I was just a persistent liar and possibly a thief in his eyes, and he didn’t take kindly to either. I get it. This was just how he was responding to the perceived situation; by being a ham fisted moron.
I didn’t want to have to do it, but I had to prove to him that I wasn’t lying about any of this; that I wasn’t homeless, I wasn’t broke, and I wasnt a swindler/thief. I told him my name, offered to show my drivers license, told him about my other hikes, my books, and even let them look me and my “works” up on Amazon, Facebook, my blog, and Google. This pretty much corroborated everything I’d told them, plus more.
So now the old man realizes his instincts are pretty much non existent, and that he’s been being an asshole for no reason. What does he do when proved wrong? He continues his charade. More cussing, more insults; except he’s changed gears a bit. “Oh, you’re a big shot author, why don’t you just call in a helicopter with all those millions you got, huh?” I never said anything more than I’d written a couple books that would prove who I am and telling the truth. Now that statement was being used against me and twisted to insult me further. Then he began trying to extort money from me, saying he’d only give me a ride for so much money, or for drinks, dinner, and a room in town for him and his employees. When I told him I’d be more than happy to buy them dinner or a room in exchange for a ride, he just stayed nasty. “So you just come out here and play mountain man so all your girlfriends will swoon for you back home?” He mocked. “No, I only have one girlfriend” I said. “Oh yeah, where is she?” “She’s hiking a different long trail that I’ve already done,” I replied. “Yeah, I don’t blame her for wanting to be as far away from you as possible,” he retorted. This was beginning to get absolutely ridiculous. Never in my entire life have I experienced such an interaction with another human being; not even with my worst enemies. These sort of experiences make me absolutely despise the sheltered, uninformed, and ignorant side of society…which encompasses a pretty good chunk. There was so much this guy said, I can’t possibly put it all down. It was so over the top and nasty, it wouldn’t translate into my writing in any way that made sense. I truly believe he wanted to goad me into a physical confrontation. I continued to shrug off his remarks and continued to hit him with the truth without being condescending or flat out telling him that his character and attitude made him come across as an incredibly small and insecure man. Insults are a tool of the weak.
I don’t have a dial when it comes to fighting fire with fire. I can do one of three things… One, I can ignore it; two, I can be polite and meet the anger/negativity with kindness; or three, I can go 100% on the offensive. If I go on the offensive, I don’t know anything other than over the top; there is no build up or in between. If I’m going to come for you, then I’m going to leave nothing when I’m finished. This is why I almost exclusively choose to ignore or be polite (which is my first nature because I enjoy peace far greater than any form of confrontation). When I decide to turn someone’s bad attitude back on them, it’s nothing short of pure mind melting venom (which is why I never do it, and certainly not to anyone I know or love). I will reach into your soul and find what touches you, then rip it out and beat the holy shit out of you with it. The impulse to do that here was getting stronger, and make no mistake, had I turned this man’s words and attitude back on him, it would have ended in physical confrontation. So I chose subtleness…
“You guys are fire fighters right?” I asked. “Yeah,” was the reply. “You like to help people? It’s in the job description, is it not?” “Yeah.” “You know who I am now, so why not show a little solidarity for your fellow man?” Perhaps this stimulated some self reflection. In all honesty, I believe the two younger guys would have given me a ride when I first asked for it. They seemed embarrassed at their boss’s behavior. “If Chris wants to ride with you, then you can ride with him in the tanker,” the old man replied. “I don’t have a problem with it,” was Chris’s reply. And so that was that.
Patience, perseverance, honesty, and kindness prevailed. I was seeing red more than once, but I couldn’t allow this interaction to end with the old man believing his accusations, or allowing him to get a rise out of me. Perhaps history would dictate that I should have simply walked away, but something in my gut wouldn’t allow it. In the end, I got my ride and simultaneously got to hitchhike in a wilderness firefighting tanker truck. This ranks up there with the best of hitches I’ve ever heard of. This interaction/exchange was a victory by all accounts, for both parties, I think.
Riding the 30 miles to Darby with Chris in the tanker was immeasurably more pleasant than dealing with “the boss.” He apologized multiple times for the old man’s behavior, citing him to be a “hardass.” Chris was an MP in the Marine Corps reserves and was doing this as his spring/summer job. We spoke a lot about the military, firefighting, as well as his future aspirations and goals for his own life. He was a very kind young man who spoke very passionately about his interests. I told him about my life and how I ended up where I was, doing what I was doing, etc. I tried to share some insights about happiness, as well as finding/doing what you love. The bottom line was this…we’re all human and we all have a story. Take the time to listen to others; try to relate and empathize with them or help them if/when you can. A little solidarity goes a long way. You may be surprised by who you meet and what sort of an impact they can have on your life even with the briefest of interactions/crossing of paths; and if you don’t have anything nice to say to them… then kindly shut the fuck up.
Pardon my French. Sorry, not sorry.
Anywho, today marks a 100+ mile stretch in four days. I plan to relax tomorrow, replenish my calories, rehydrate, and relax. I have more brutal terrain ahead of me, so I don’t mind taking extra rest of it means I can get through it a day or two faster than average. The goal of going fast is not to finish fast, but to give myself more time in the places I wish to give my time to.