A lot has happened since we hiked into Pinedale. Dakota flew home to Alabama to heal his injured Achilles (he is now back to full health). And I met up with my friend Garrett later that morning.
So as not to impede Jessica’s pace, Garrett and I drove his van north to Green River Lake… one of my favorite places in all of North America.
The plan was to hike for 4 days and see what we could see. No mileage goals. No destination goals. Just good ol’ fashion hiking for the sake of hiking.
We spent our first and last nights camped out on the raised bank of the green river, in the shadow of Square Top. Exactly where I camped around a year ago with my CDT thru hiking family.
We swam, fished, and cooked steaks, bacon, and bratwurst sausages every night. All in all, we hiked maybe 35 miles total over the course of our 4 day out and back adventure, and even got to have lunch with Jessica when we crossed paths on the second day.
Garrett held up really well, despite carrying insanely heavy, military grade gear. His pack reminded me a lot of the pack I used on the AT. Wholly inadequate, but it got the job done. Luckily he had zero fert issues, and only suffered from sore shoulders due to his less than adequate pack.
We didn’t see any bears, despite cooking meat over an open fire every night, but we did see a cow moose on our third day – Garrett’s first moose ever.
After all was said and done, Garrett proclaimed this area to hold the most beautiful sights he’d ever seen. I couldn’t agree more. He’s looking forward to bringing his wife and young son out there when his son gets a little bit older. Hopefully he’ll invite me too!
Halfway through the fourth day, we made it back to the van and drove 3 hours north and east to meet Jessica in Duboise, WY.
This is where plans changed up quite a bit. Initially I was going to hike with Jessica for the rest of the trail. Although she would have gladly had me accompany her the rest of the way (no matter how much I slowed her down in the beginning), I could not help but notice that I was a major drag on her pace. It would take me a while to build up the stamina needed to begin averaging 25+ mile days, every day. Jessica already had that stamina after nearly 2,000 miles of hiking already, and now was the time to really utilize it. Being that fall was already in the air, she needs to be doing as many miles per day as possible, if she’s going to beat the snow to Canada.
I didn’t want to leave her, but my staying was going to be counterproductive to her goal. I still wanted to help, but there was no way I could be helpful on foot. So, I decided to fly home, get my Toyota 4Runner, drive back up to Montana (where she would be when I returned), and support her in a vehicle.
Basically, my job would be to help her get in and out of towns as quickly as possible, as well as eliminate her need to use the post office to bounce gear ahead. With the weather soon to begin deteriorating, this was the best way to help her on her hike.
Garrett and I left out of Duboise at 3:30am to catch our early morning flights out of Jackson Hole, WY. He flew out to Salt Lake City, and eventually to Los Angeles – where his current job has him working. And I flew out to Denver, and then eventually Atlanta – where Dakota picked me up and brought me back to Opelika, AL to get my truck at Jessica’s parent’s house.
From there I drove back home to Florida for a little bit. My parents had just sold their house and were moving to Australia in less than 2 weeks for a new position my father had taken within his company. Im pretty jealous of their future adventures! Plus, I had a lot of other family in town visiting.
Anyways, I spent the next week helping them pack up and get ready for the move, as well as getting my 1997 Toyota ready for a 2,500 mile drive. With nearly 300k miles on it already… to call this drive a gamble would be an understatement. Either way, it was a gamble I was willing to take.
I hit the highway on August 23rd, a day before my birthday. And oh yeah, I brought Katana with me. I figure if I’m going to be hanging out around remote trail heads for the next month, I might as well keep some good company. 😉
Plus, it’ll give me the opportunity to work with her some more on shorter day hikes – now that she’s 100% blind.
Katana is an absolute joy to travel with, and I love taking her on long road trips. She loves them too, because she knows at the very least, she’s going to get spoiled with treats, as well as all day attention from me.
On the first day out we drove 10 hours north to stay with Schweppes and his family in Southwest Virginia, near Damascus and the AT. I stayed the entire next day for my birthday, and we spent it wading up the North Fork River pitching live baits at Rock Bass and Small Mouth Bass with our friend Chase (the one we stayed with in Houston on our way out to the PCT in 2016) – it was a blast, and we caught around 19 bass total (all released) before wading back to the truck in pitch black darkness over slippery river rocks.
Katana and I hit the road early the next morning, determined to make the drive to Lima, Montana in 3 days. We made it across Kentucky, Indiana, and half of Wisconsin before sleeping in the truck in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express.
The next day we made it across the rest of Wisconsin, all of Minnesota, and most of North Dakota. Unfortunately, I began to overheat not too far out of Fargo, and realized I was leaking coolant. Due to my skid plate, I couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from, but hoped it was just a small hole in my radiator or a hose. Some stop leak slowed the drip, but by nightfall on the far west side of North Dakota, I was having to refill my radiator every 100 miles or so. I stopped for the night in Dickinson, ND and slept in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn. I planned to properly diagnose and try to fix the problem in the morning. I still had almost 700 miles to go, and was not enjoying staring at the temperature gauge every 5 seconds.
I dropped the skid plate in the rain the next morning to see if I could spot the leak. As my luck would have it, it was coming from the timing belt housing, meaning it was most likely a bad water pump. Unfortunately, I would have to take out the radiator, the fan, the drive belts, the pulleys, the timing belt, those pulleys, the AC compressor, and the alternator… JUST to see the water pump and replace it.
Although I have the basic know-how to do that job… I did not have the tools, nor the confidence necessary to do said job correctly or efficiently. So I decided I would troubleshoot the issue and continue to limp into Montana, refilling as I went. I figured I would just pay a mechanic to do the work once I got there.
After a very long day of stop and go, I finished the long drive into Lima around 9pm. It was raining, and Jessica was still about 30 miles south of the town, on a service road in the middle of nowhere. She messaged me on her “in reach” satellite device, and I was able to trace the neccessary roads to find her. So I again set out into the wilderness back roads of Montana, and after more than an hour, found her huddled in her tent in a freezing rain, just off the side of the dirt road – a little over 7000 feet up. I took her back to Lima to get warm, then drove her back to where she had camped the next morning, where she then completed those last 30 miles into Lima that evening.
We met our friend “Perk” in Lima, who Jessica had began the trail with back in April. They got separated around northern New Mexico on this trail, but plan to finish Montana together.
So, for the last severaldays I’ve been running support for the two of them as they hike every day – camping out in the truck and playing with Katana every day and night. I’m really enjoying myself, as well as the time I’m getting to spend with Jessica and little dog.
Speaking of the truck, the water pump issue has gotten much worse. I can’t even drive 20 miles before overheating. I can’t keep this up without risking the timing belt breaking or warping some metal, so I’ve been waiting out the three day weekend to try and find a mechanic in Butte. I’ve already purchased all the parts I need at a Napa Auto Parts, so I just need to find a mechanic. My plan tomorrow is to limp into Butte from Wise River and see if any are immediately available. Jessica and Perk will be on their own for a couple days until I can get it sorted out.
Phew! So that’s the last couple weeks in a nutshell! I doubt that my vehicle support of Jessica will be very interesting, so I plan to use my free time sitting around at trail heads to continue writing informational articles for the blog/website, as well as working on some other writing projects I have.
I hope those of you who checked out my newest PCT book have been enjoying it, and that it was worth the wait!
As always, thank you all for the continued love and support!