Date- July 14, 2019
Location- Storm Lake
Elevation- 8,173 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 23.1 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 443 miles
Weather/Temp- overcast, rainy, clear, 60s/70s
Injuries- scraped shin
Pain level- zero
Wildlife encounters- mule deer, whitetail deer
Days without shower- 1
Days without laundry- 5
I said goodbye to the shed around 7:30 am this morning and hiked out in a pouring rain, safe beneath my umbrella. I had about 17 miles of pavement and gravel roads before reconnecting with good ol’ dirt trail.
I passed a diner on the outskirts of town, and while it didn’t look like much, I decided to pop in and check it out. A very simple, modest menu greeted me with very modest prices. I played it safe and ordered the breakfast burrito for 8 bucks, not expecting anything special. Fast forward 15 minutes and the waitress put the biggest breakfast burrito I’ve ever seen down in front of me. I wish I had taken a picture before I started eating it.
It must have weighed a pound or better and was loaded with breakfast potatoes, eggs, bacon, cheese, and onions. It was divine, and I’m embarrassed to admit… but, I couldn’t finish it! I couldn’t finish an $8 delicious burrito. That’s never happened.
Another thru-hiker was in there and he couldn’t finish the omelette he ordered. This place was unreal, and there wasn’t a thing on the menu over 12 bucks. A true value of a restaurant all the way around – quality, price, and quantity. A trifecta of winning that propelled this little diner to my top 3 restaurants on the CDT… for now.
I set back out from the diner in a series of intermittent rainstorms that left the warm air feeling slightly muggy. Reminded me of home a bit – I liked it. For the most part, the road walking was very mundane and uneventful… except for one instance.
I was going down a straightaway on a dirt road that led to a popular camping/ hiking location for locals. Every now and then a vehicle would pass me going one way or the other, but they were few and far between. As I was chugging along in my own little world, a huge black dog came charging full speed right by me, brushing against my right leg as it passed by. I didn’t even hear it or know of its presence until it had already made contact with me and kept going at full speed. I can’t convey to you how close I came to having a heart attack. It happened so fast I didn’t know what was going on.
The fact that it only charged by and didn’t jump on me was a blessing. By the time my brain even registered what happened, the dog was already past me and didn’t pose an immediate danger in my already startled mind. Less than a minute later, a pickup truck came up from behind and passed me. There was another black dog in the back bed which obviously had better self control than the other one. I’m not sure where exactly they were headed, but that first dog obviously did, because it was in a tremendously excited hurry to get there.
After the road walking was complete, the trail decided it was going to be a pain in the ass as well. I remembered that the trail was obscure through this section, but back in 2017 I’d made my way through it without too much trouble. Well, not this year.
At one point the trail disappeared, as it’s quite prone to doing out here, and I thought I’d picked it back up. I checked it against my GPS to make sure, and found that I was a little off trail – but close enough for the margin of error. I decided to commit to this path since there wasn’t another trail marked on the map. It seemed like a sure bet.
As I followed the very obscure path, I lost it for a few minutes, but then found some small cairns after a while, reinforcing my thoughts that I was on the right track. I continued to follow them until they literally dead ended into a beautiful pond. A pond I did not recall ever seeing before. I checked the GPS. To my immense displeasure, I was over half a mile off the trail.
As I began doubling back, I somehow ended up off that initial wrong path and onto another one – which I’m fairly certain was just an animal path. Very soon that path faded and I found myself simply standing in the middle of the woods… pathless. “Time to bushwhack it,” I said out loud, mildly annoyed.
I looked at my topographical map and checked my GPS location against it. I was just below a heavily wooded ridge-line pass that sat between two large mountains. The trail went over the pass, but skirted the edge of the mountain I was furthest from. So I decided to bushwhack straight up to the top of the pass, then shoot straight east across its spine in the direction of the other mountain, until I ran into the trail again. It was a foolproof plan.
The worst part was the time lost and the effort spent. The woods aren’t the easiest place to walk when there isn’t a trail. Trail hiking is very nearly mindless. Route finding where there is no trail requires an abundance of awareness and calculation. Even doing something as simple as going straight to the top of a ridge becomes a chore when there is no trail. You can’t make a straight line because every obstacle you can think of lays before you. Your route ends up being a crazy zigzag as you navigate around thick clusters of trees, rocks, blow-downs, and whatever else; all the while trying to maintain the most efficient forward trajectory.
As it were, going up was far easier than cutting across. I must have got side tracked on close to a dozen animal trails that I could have sworn were man made. It was mind-blowing seeing the network of trails that lay just beyond perception through the thicker parts of the forest. They were even worn down into depressed channels like a person had taken a backhoe or shovel to them. Good job, animals!
All in all, this little side foray cost me over an hour. As exciting and spider web filled as it was, I probably would have preferred not to lose the trail for that long. As I lay in my hammock right now on the shores of Storm Lake, I keep feeling little insects crawl all over me like mites. I wouldn’t be surprised if I picked something up while pushing through all that overgrowth and tree clusters. I need to bug bomb myself….
It’s looking like rain again tomorrow, but there’s only one way to know… stand by.
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