Date- July 28, 2019
Location- Lima, Montana
Distance Traveled Today- 23.7 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 748.2 miles
Weather/Temp- Clear, windy, 70s
Injuries- sunburn, sore feet
Pain level- moderate
Spirits/Morale- relaxed, fulfilled
Wildlife encounters- cows
Days without shower- 0
Days without laundry- 4
The clock was already ticking too fast when I hit the trail at about 7:50 am. I only had around 24 miles to do, but I had to do them by or before 5 pm. The only catch was that these were some of the hardest miles in Montana.
I must confess however, the 5 miles in-between the base of the climb I descended last night, and the base of the climb I was about to begin ascending this morning – is the absolute worst section of trail in all of Montana and Idaho (in my opinion). It’s all free range cattle land. The trail is crisscrossed with confusing cow trails. Muddy cow wallows abound everywhere. Cow shit covers everything. The unreliable water sources are all overrun by cows. And the cherry on top is that these nasty, unreliable water sources are the last on-trail water sources for 20 miles, so you have to use them. That 5 miles is nothing but a minefield of annoying obstacles and distractions… and the cows call all night.
The hardest part of this section is a 10-mile exposed ridge walk. It’s full of steep ups and downs, no shade, no water immediately on trail, and is a nightmare if you get caught there in a storm.
I made the blunder of not eating dinner last night. I just wanted to write my journal and go to bed, so that’s what I did – promising myself to make up for it with a big breakfast of mini chocolate donuts. Speaking of which, my hiking has improved with sugar. Of course my mood and energy levels are tightly tied to the sugar, but good grief do my legs move on those uphills now. It’s like going from diesel to Nitrous-Oxide. I was more efficient before, but going fast sure is fun.
I made it through the remaining 3ish miles from camp to the base of the climb, then up to the ridge easy enough. I almost missed the last water source and had to double back a couple hundred yards. There was supposed to be one more reliable one, but it was dry. Go figure.
After cameling up 3 liters, I hit the climb; not fast, but steady. I went topless again. There were no clouds for most of the day and a strong wind pushing a sustained 20mph at many times. This was a blessing and a curse because the sun was stronger than ever, but the windchill cancelled out the feeling of getting burned. Make no mistake, I knew I was getting burned. I just didn’t care because I didn’t have to feel it while it was happening. I’ll burn once or twice in the spring back home on the beach, but then I’m a deep brown through late fall. I never peel, and after a night or two of painfully hot skin, it evens out. I could use a nice tan on my arms and shoulders while I’m out here.
The clock ticked down as I huffed and puffed my way up and down the endless and insanely steep (but short) climbs of sagebrush, mild scree, and loose rock chunks. The views were unrivaled in their own right. If time hadn’t been of the essence, it would have been awesome to catch the sunset from up there.
As noon came and went, I barely had 10 miles. This meant I had around 14 more to do in 5 hours – a 3mph pace over terrain where I couldn’t manage that speed (at least today)
At 2:30 pm I had finished the worst of the ridge walk and still had a little over 9 miles, a very steep descent, and a gravel road walk to tend with. I tumbled down the descent as fast as I dared, feet screaming. When I hit the gravel road, I had a little under 2 hours to do slightly over 8 miles. I knew I couldn’t make it, but I was going to try.
Feet still screaming, I pounded those 8 miles over the gravel road as fast as I could muster my legs to go. I reckon I was just under 4mph. I didn’t stop, and sprinted up the slight rises in the road, as few as they were. At 5 pm I was still eight tenths of a mile from the pickup point on the side of the interstate. At just before 5:15, I was there standing with two other male hikers named Trey and Strep. The shuttle truck arrived at 5:25 and all was right in the world.
I ended up splitting a room with Tray and having dinner at a local diner in Lima with both of them. It was only after I’d eaten my massive meal of hamburger steak with gravy, cheese fries, chicken chili, corn, and a twice baked potato that I heard some troubling news. The bar/restaurant called “Peats” (where they let you cook your own steak), was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Today is Sunday, so today is my only chance to cook my own steak there. I’ve eaten at Peats and cooked a steak there every year for the past two years. I’ve been talking about it and looking forward to it for this entire hike, and now I’d gone and messed up the timing.
Just kidding! After I paid for my hamburger steak, I walked up the road and grilled a 16 oz ribeye with a Caesar salad, garlic bread, another baked potato, and a locally brewed Huckleberry Wheat Beer. I’ll be damned if I was going to let something as trivial as “being full” ruin the experience I was after.
It wasn’t lost on me that if I hadn’t chosen to hike my own mileage, I would have gotten here a day late and still missed out on Peats, even with a zero day. So I was feeling pretty lucky, and good, and full, and good. So when I stopped by the gas station to get some Gatorade on my way back to the room, I picked up a $20 scratch off. Fate has kept bringing me back to this tiny bump in the road town, 3 years in a row now. Perhaps it means something, perhaps it means nothing. I scratched the ticket and won $250,000! Just kidding – I didn’t win anything. Not even a free ticket. Might as well have wiped my ass with a twenty dollar bill earlier and buried it.
I got new shoes here, thank God. My other ones are toast and have over 900 miles on them between this trail, the Florida Trail, and the Appalachian Trail from the past 2.5 months. Three National Scenic Trails ain’t a bad run, but my feet have paid a price the last 300 miles or so. I’m going to zero tomorrow, but I can’t wait to hike out in those new shoes.
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