Date- July 2, 2019
Location- side of trail
Elevation- 5,741 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 21.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 218 miles
Weather/Temp- cloudy, rainy, 60s
Injuries- sore tendon on left foot
Pain level- low
Spirits/Morale- little frustrated
Wildlife encounters- whitetail deer
Days without shower- 6
Days without laundry- 6
Today didn’t quite go the way I planned… but it was still an alright day and I still got over 20 miles, despite wanting more.
I woke up early this morning – before 7 am, but just as I was getting ready to climb out of the nest, the pitter-patter of rain on my tarp changed my mind. It sounded light, so I decided to let it pass before breaking camp. Well, I fell right back to sleep. Whoops.
When I awoke it was just before 9 am and the rain had stopped. Man, was I annoyed. After breaking camp, packing up, shaking off my tarp, drinking my breakfast, and a quick emergency bathroom break… 10 am was more or less upon me. Cue more annoyed feelings.
I hit the trail fast and saw a few whitetail deer right off the bat. I think those were the first deer I’ve seen this entire hike. Being in-between the China Wall and a remote camping area with vehicle access about 20 miles away from it, this area gets a decent amount of foot and horse traffic from tourists and locals alike.
I think I lost close to two more hours of hiking time while talking with day-hikers within the first 15 miles. Most day-hikers on this trail don’t even know the CDT exists – therefore they don’t know that CDT thru-hikers exist. In the past you could walk by a day-hiker on this trail and they would just assume you were another *less hygienic* day-hiker. Welp, it would appear the cat is out of the bag.
Every group of day-hikers I met asked me if I was thru-hiking the CDT. After my answer, a conversation with a plethora of questions would ensue. Don’t get me wrong, I love these types of interactions and I do not rush them; I am in the business of sharing these types of adventures with people (on my own scale). Anyways, I had at least two interactions that lasted 20 to 30 minutes, and the rest added up to five minutes here, 10 minutes there, and 2 minutes here and there. Nobody was headed in my direction, so there was no talking and walking.
My final major interaction was with a party of 5 horses (2 riders, 3 pack horses), 6 hikers on foot, and 2 dogs. They stopped to talk near a bridge I’d just crossed, and where I got water from the Sun River flowing beneath it. As the conversation came to a close, the two riders and their two trailing pack horses began to cross the large bridge. The six hikers had already crossed some minutes earlier.
The first rider (a woman) and her trailing pack horse made it onto the bridge just fine. However, when the second rider (a man) with two trailing pack horses started to ride across, his horse and first pack horse boarded the bridge without issue. However, when the second pack horse got to the wooden gang plank, it froze. Then, it pulled back – snapping the thin twine that was being used to tether it to the first pack horse, which was in turn tethered to the man’s horse by another piece of twine.
The now untethered pack horse seemed confused… and if you know my history with horses, you can bet I wasn’t quite sure what to do either. “Hey, your lead snapped!” I called out. But, nobody heard me over the rushing of the water under the large wooden suspension bridge.
The now freed pack horse spun around to face me where I was sitting on a log about 15 feet from the bridge. “Shit…” I cursed under my breath. The horse then continued its turn all the way back around and I thought (with much relief) that it might go up onto the bridge of its own accord and follow the other horses. Mind you this bridge is probably over 100 feet long as it crosses the Sun River.
No such luck. The horse moved forward a few steps before taking a hard left turn underneath one of the suspension cables. It ducked its head, but some of its cargo scraped under the large cable making a noise that probably spooked it even more. The horse’s hard left turn then became a 180 degree loop as it was once again facing my direction and coming my way. “OH, SHIT…” I cursed a little louder under my breath.
There was only a narrow space between the larger log I was sitting on and the bridge cable that was anchored into the ground between my log and the bridge. The horse began to head for the narrow gap quite rapidly. I stood up and put my hands up and out in an effort to stop the panicked horse and maybe grab its lead if it calmed down. “Whooaa!” I cooed cautiously… as it hit a fast trot. This attempt at calming the horse was not successful as it picked up speed and I stepped aside to let it pass. It nearly trampled my pack, missing it by less than a foot as it broke into a canter and tore off back up the trail the way it came.
The horse disappeared around a curve and I looked back across the bridge eager to see what would happen next. The rest of the horses had already gotten across, and all the people were aware of the rogue horse. The next thing I knew, the man was galloping across the bridge as it swayed and flexed under the tremendous power of the horse, while the two dogs ran hot on its hooves. I must say, it was quite a sight to see.
When they hit earth on my side of the bridge, the man on the horse picked up even more speed as the dogs maneuvered in front of the horse (seemingly just under its front hooves) as if leading the horse – eager for the chase. All animals were around the turn and out of sight in moments.
It was more than 5 minutes before they returned, the man holding the pack horse’s lead in his hand. “I yelled when it broke loose,” I said. “Yeah, I’m a little deaf,” joked the man. “I didn’t hear the twine snap either. We use the thin twine as a lead in case one horse goes off a cliff or embankment, so it doesn’t drag all of us over with it.” It was as if the man had read my mind. I’d initially wondered the same thing when it broke… but during the interim of their absence had guessed it was for purposes related to horses falling off ledges and dragging everyone and everything with them. It was cool to hear him confirm this upon his return.
We both wished each other well and parted ways. Not half a mile later, I came across an old lever action Daisy BB Gun lying on the side of the trail. It was all metal (not cheap plastic), and full of BBs. I figured it had either fallen off the pack horse or the man’s horse during the chase. I cocked the lever forwards and back before taking a pop shot at a stump – it still shot smooth and accurate. I bet they were carrying it for ground squirrels or the odd grouse. It had more than enough power to take either of those creatures out with a well placed shot; and it was very quiet.
There was no way I could catch back up to them at this point without losing even more of my day. I decided to carry it until I ran into more day-hikers. Then, I could explain the situation and hopefully pass it on to them. The rationale and hope being that they would cross paths with the group at some point during their sojourn to and from the same place. After carrying it just over a mile, I did exactly that. I hope the gun finds its way back to the owner – it seemed old for a BB gun of that type – Red Ryder style. I can’t say I’ve seen a newer Red Ryder style BB gun made of all metal. However, I’m not that plugged into the BB Gun community, so I could be way off. I bought a Red Ryder for a friend’s son last year and could only find them in plastic. So, that’s what I’m basing my assumptions from.
For the most part it was a cloudy day, but it never seemed to go more than an hour without a light drizzle of rain. As I passed the Benchmark Wilderness Ranch side trail at about 4:15 pm and only 16 miles into the day… I just kept going. I had no idea if Jetpack would still be back there, had gone into town, or taken an alternate to reconnect with the CDT 11 miles further on.
Three miles later… thunder was rolling and the rain was falling. Funny, I got caught in a horrendous thunder storm in this exact spot back in 2017. As far as I know, it’s storming every single evening on this stretch of trail.
I didn’t see another soul after Benchmark, and the trail looked unused after a couple miles. Alone once again.
I had planned to do another 12 miles past Benchmark and go over a low pass, but the rain changed my mind. I stopped after a little more than 5 miles (in the now heavy rain) and made camp about 50 yards away from where I’d made camp in 2017- for the exact same reason. Too weird.
Now to be clear, there is no campsite or good camping in this spot. I’m literally just in some trees on the sloping side of a mountain. Due to the flexibility of having a hammock, I have more “camping” options open to me than people with tents… which is everyone out here.
This is my first night camping alone on this thru-hike thus far. Coincidentally, this is the exact same spot I camped alone in for the first time in 2017 as well. I’m telling ya, the coincidences keep stacking up. But what can they mean…?
To be honest, I was really nervous camping alone in Grizzly country for the first time back then, as well as many nights after that. However, I ended up spending more than a month camping alone in Grizzly country after that night. I got over it. Tonight I feel very comfortable and not the least bit anxious. Honestly, asleep in your shelter is probably the safest place you can be out here. It’s not the quietest place for our imagination – but it is safe from the myriad of other dangerous situations that involve a person walking up to… and surprising a bear or moose on the trail.
The only bear I’ll see from my shelter will be well aware of my presence, before I am aware of its presence. If it is so bold as to poke around for food, I have a nice canister of bear spray as an appetizer. A bear is simply not going to jump on my shelter and furiously attack me like it would if I was to walk up on one guarding a kill or its offspring – apples and oranges as far as encounters go. The curious nighttime bear is as easily spooked as we are, and even more easily kept at bay if stubborn about leaving.
I have no idea what the weather will be tomorrow, as I haven’t had service in 6 days. If the conditions are favorable, I plan to do a 26, 31, or 34 mile day. All of those will put me within a long day’s striking distance of the town of Lincoln. It’ll be interesting to see who I run into, if anyone.
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