Date- July 4, 2019
Location- Lincoln, MT
Distance Traveled Today- 25.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 270.5 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, cloudy 50s,60s
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- rodents
Days without shower- 8
Days without laundry- 8
Awoke to a beautiful independence day, as well as what would be my last day in the Bob. My only regret… that I didn’t wake up earlier. It did get very cold last night and it was still freezing this morning. Despite my 6 am alarm, I wasn’t on trail until slightly after 8:30 am – after trying to gulp/choke down my breakfast smoothie concoction. I always end up wearing most of it down my beard.
Even though it was only a 26-mile day that should have been completed in reasonable time, especially with the extra motivation of getting into town… the day seemed to drag and seriously kicked my ass. Within those 26 miles lay over 6,000 feet of elevation gain through non-stop, non-graded, super steep roller-coaster climbs. A couple big ones over a thousand feet, but mostly little ones in the 200 to 600 ft range. On the Appalachian Trail, this would be a normal day if you were doing bigger miles relative to that trail. Out here, it’s a rougher day.
All day long I powered, slogged, walked, high stepped, cursed into the wind, and sometimes sprinted up the climbs. Regardless of how I felt moment by moment… and climb by climb… the miles just didn’t feel like they were coming fast enough. Slightly before 1 pm, I still had 18 miles to go.
Usually this would be a major gut punch, as well as a major reason to perhaps move the goal posts a little closer and cut my losses. But, this is northern Montana in the middle of summer… I still had over 10 hours of daylight and all night to knock down those 18 miles. I decided to keep at it.
I hiked alone all day and didn’t eat anything besides my breakfast shake. I knew this would hurt me a bit, but I was holding out for the town meal I had convinced myself I was going to have, no matter what. This was part of my “manifestation process,” and I’ll be damned if hunger doesn’t amplify the feeling, thought, and emotion that goes into it. It wasn’t a matter of “if” I get to town and have the meal envisioned in my head, but “when.” I couldn’t let the seed of doubt creep in and begin to grow.
As I rounded up over a particularly brutal thousand-foot climb at a little after 7 pm, I still had over 6 miles to go to the road. Half a mile of quick shuffling down the climb brought me suddenly upon a canvas tent erected in the middle of the trail – with coolers and a small table beneath it. “Trail magic HERE?” I thought to myself … rather perplexed.
There were close to a dozen people in the general area, but no hikers. Four men hanging out beneath the canvas greeted me as I approached. As it turned out, it wasn’t trail magic, but a trail maintenance crew doing work on the trail. Nevertheless, my timing was fatefully impeccable.
They offered me mashed potatoes with gravy, as well as bratwurst sausages with sauerkraut and mustard on a bun. I graciously accepted while also thanking them for their service to the trail. This wasn’t the fateful timing though. As it were, everyone had already eaten and couldn’t handle another bite. Wilderness protocol demanded they securely store the leftovers or pack them out. They weren’t thrilled with either of those options and practically begged me to eat all the leftovers they had. This was like a dream come true – a trail magic type situation where I didn’t have to restrain myself from asking for seconds. The food was more or less forced on me! I agreed to take whatever bratwurst was leftover, and they filled up a ziploc bag with FIVE of the giant sausages drowned in sauerkraut! Somebody pinch me!
I was dancing on a cloud as I hiked out of there with my sausages. This was the trail – NAY, the universe speaking to me. It was saying… “It’s okay not to make it into town tonight, Kyle. Here’s some tasty town food on trail for your efforts. Just take it easy now.” Or something like that… Either way, the entire situation felt very synchronous.
In the end, I decided the universe was actually telling me: “Eat something you damn fool! You’ve got 5.7 miles to the road, three more climbs, and less than three hours of daylight to do all of that…AND also get a hitch 18 miles west into town!”
I ate bratwurst and sauerkraut as I hiked, feeling stronger with every step. I dragged myself over the last few climbs and shuffled the last mile down to Roger’s Pass and Hwy 200. I got there at 2 minutes past 9 pm. “Okay, now to hitch…”
After 45 minutes and around a dozen westbound vehicles passing me by, I began to despair. It was already getting dark in the pass and I was beginning to entertain the thought of finding somewhere to camp and try again early in the morning. “One more vehicle,” I told myself.
Several minutes later, the sound of a westbound vehicle could be heard below the pass to the east. “This is it…” As the silver pickup approached I smiled and mouthed the word, “Pleeeze…” with as much feeling as I could muster. The pickup sped by and I turned to watch it as it passed. Two seconds later the brake lights flared and it pulled over – already beyond the west end of the massive turnout that made up the top of the pass, and into the gravel that lay beyond. I took off running, lest they change their mind!
The two men (whose names escape me at the moment) got me into Lincoln promptly – but it was not the quiet little town I remembered. There must have been 3,000 people there celebrating Independence Day and letting off fireworks. It was absolute pandemonium! It was also one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, and probably the most memorable July 4th I’ve ever had. All of the fireworks were done by amateurs, and they were being displayed all over town; the action was literally nonstop for hours. It was so cool, I can’t even convey how surreal it was. If it wasn’t for all the recent rain, I’m positive the entire town and surrounding wilderness would have burned down – but miraculously neither of them did.
As I began heading towards the heart of town to try and figure out the nonexistent sleeping arrangements, I ran into Dale. He was making his way towards the heart of the firework action near the ball fields (on the east edge of town) where I’d been dropped off.
Dale had got in early that morning and secured a room with 5 other hikers I hadn’t met yet. He invited me to stay with them. I accepted and we went back to the room quickly. I dropped my pack, and then we headed back towards the action.
Dale was drunk, like half the people in Lincoln already. But that’s not all. He’d gotten hold of an armful of fireworks and was dead set on lighting them off. “I’ve never been in America for the 4th,” he declared. “You’re in for a treat,” I replied.
Little did I know… but America was in for a treat from Dale. He didn’t have the cheap fireworks – he had mortars. Mortars of the quality you might find at a fair or carnival. Same as the rest of the people there, but I didn’t know they were selling them in-town.
There’s really too much to type right now about what transpired… but drunk Dale from London, UK is lucky to have his hands, fingers, and freedom right now! Long story short, he didn’t use the mortar tubes for blasting off the mortars. Instead, he became some sort of pyromaniac-suicide-firework bomber (seems fitting for the former hometown of Ted Kaczynski). He proceeded running through the streets and crowds of people waving his red velvet cowboy hat while throwing mortars directly onto the streets. He was also letting them blow up in his hat or hands, which he was waving around or holding up. He blew his hat to smithereens and severely burned and blasted open one of his hands – which was now bleeding quite profusely. I remember thinking at the time, “This is one wild unit!” I’ve never seen anything like it. Never seen somebody celebrate so fervently and recklessly. America certainly was not ready, and I’m certain if there hadn’t been so many people, the police would have scooped him up.
After Dale blew up his hand and hat (while dancing through a crowd of very stunned and surprised people), I grabbed him before anyone else could. We then made our way back to the west side of town. We ended up in the only bar still serving food on the far west outskirts of town, and hung out there with a couple other hikers until a little before 1 am. I got my burger, fries, tater tots, and a beer before all was said and done. This was victory after everything I’d gone through, as well as a great way to cap off the night. Everybody survived, and Dale won’t soon top his first Fourth of July in America anytime soon.
It’s after 2 am as I’m writing this on the floor of the motel room right now. Not really sure what’s going to happen tomorrow (I mean today). Going to play it by ear.
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