Date- August 1, 2019
Location- Idaho/Wyoming border
Elevation- 8,442 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 32.3 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 842.7 miles
Weather/Temp- cloudy, overcast, lightning storm
Pain level- zero
Spirits/Morale- High as a kite!
Wildlife encounters- big cow moose
Days without shower- 4
Days without laundry- 8
Hunger/craving- Subway sandwich
It started off pretty mundane. I began hiking a little before 8 am and walked a little over 8 miles down a gravel road before arriving at a Subway in Island Park, Idaho.
I stopped there and had a large double meat steak, egg, and pepperjack cheese flatbread sandwich with red onions, guacamole, mayo, and sweet onion sauce. Then I downed about half a gallon of Dr. Pepper and ordered a large double meat roast beef, provolone, onions, and mayo sub. This one I packed away for later.
Then I walked a mile and a half down a highway to a Mexican restaurant called, “Cafe Sabor.” Here I had a basket of chips and salsa, a plate of carne asada fries, and a carne asada burrito. It took me almost an hour to get it all down. To say I was full is an understatement, but damned it wasn’t the best miserable feeling I know.
I wandered off the back porch of the restaurant and collapsed in a reclining lawn chair on the banks of the Snake River for more than an hour and a half. Here I watched the fishermen, rafters, kayakers, waders and swimmers. I was so content and comfortable, it wouldn’t have taken much to keep me there the rest of the day. Alas… I still had over 22 miles to hike. I still had a promise to keep to myself… be in Wyoming by the 1st of August.
I don’t know about you… but to me, being a determined and disciplined adult is pulling yourself out of a reclined lawn chair on the bank of a sunny river at 2:15 PM to go hike another 22 miles. It’s psychological torture that will test your resolve, as well as your commitment to your own self-determination to accomplish something. I don’t owe this self imposed time/goal-line to anybody but myself. I could easily just change it or call it off. However… if you do this too many times – break promises to yourself – your word will eventually mean nothing to you, let alone anyone else. If you can’t rely on yourself to do the things you say you’re going to do… then who can you rely on? Think about that.
I hit the road and said goodbye to Island Park at 2:15 pm sharp. It was sunny and the road was hot. After several miles I turned onto a dusty gravel road. Within half a mile I spotted an enormous cow moose wading in a creek that was ironically named “Moose Creek.” She was a couple hundred feet in the distance, and moving away from me; but I managed to get a few zoomed in shots. These big animal sightings really put wind in my sails.
With 12 miles still left to reach the border, I heard the familiar daily rumble of thunder. It had been so warm on the road, I halfway welcomed a quick shower to cool things down. Well, I jinxed myself with that passing thought… and the hot road was gone with slightly less than 10 miles to go anyways.
What proceeded was a lightning, rain, hail, and wind storm that dragged on for 11 of the next 12 miles. I already knew I’d be making the border later than I wanted, and in the dark. To top things off, I’d have to cross into Yellowstone National Park before I could reach Wyoming. My personal preference was to be hiking in the dark for as little as possible through this stretch – especially Yellowstone. As a result, I pushed through the storms as the lightning cracked deafeningly around me; the rain and hail whipping under my umbrella (when the wind wasn’t too strong to use it); and the cold air chilling me to the bone. On the bright side, there was a slight break in the clouds and a triple rainbow of some sort appeared for nearly 20 minutes. Then it was gone and the gloom was back.
After the rainbows disappeared and the sun went hell-bound, I was left with a dull gray aura hanging about the forest… while a fiery orange blazed only on the furthest reaches of the western horizon. As the light quickly faded, the visible lightning seized, the thunder rolled distantly, and the rain fell steady, hard, and straight down.
I’ll be the first to tell you, I wanted nothing more than to call it a day and climb into my warm, dry, sleeping bag and hammock. With the sun gone, the clouds heavy overhead, and the thick forest towering around me… it was a lot darker than it should have been.
I kicked up the pace as fast as I could while holding an umbrella over my head. As 9 pm came and went, I ran smack into the boundary sign for Yellowstone with slivers of daylight to spare. Opposite of what usually happens when crossing into National Parks, the trail actually got exponentially worse as I crossed the boundary! Blow-downs abounded, rocks were strewn everywhere, the trail corridor was narrow and overgrown, and there were no markers to let you know you were even on the right path. Throw in some darkness, some rain, and the fact that you’re in the animal deathtrap known as Yellowstone, and you’ve got a recipe for an exciting hike.
Boy, did I want to stop… but I couldn’t. I only had a little less than 3 miles and I could sleep – literally and metaphorically.
I took off climbing up the muddy, tree strewn slopes as fast as I could – my umbrella brushing and scraping the foliage and branches while doing nothing for the freezing cold and wet vegetation that raked against my arms and torso, almost nonstop .
I strained my eyes through the dark until almost 9:30 before donning my headlamp. I waited so long because part of me didn’t want to see any eyes shining back at me through the darkness. Ignorance was preferable to knowing… in this situation.
Tripping, stubbing, slogging, and hurtling my way through the dark forest at more than 8,000 feet, I practically counted the tenths of miles in my head as they should have been ticking away every 2 minutes. Of course they never do as fast as they should, in the dark.
With a mile left, the rain finally ceased and I collapsed my umbrella. It didn’t matter, my clothes were soaked. The umbrella was just too keep my head and cell phone dry while providing a dry place for me to work with my hands if need be.
At a little past 10PM I ran over a thin line of sticks and rocks in the trail. I almost thought nothing of them, but they had been lying far too unnaturally. I did a double take and shined my light across the line of sticks and rocks spanning more than the trail. “A makeshift border!” Off to the left of the trail, lying on the ground was a metal sign that read, “Northbounders! Welcome to Idaho!” In a show of fake disgust, I kicked the sign over to reveal the other side. “South-bounders! Welcome to Wyoming!” I’d made it. I could sleep now and wake up proud and unashamed. A promise made is a debt unpaid, but the debt was paid in-full tonight; 94+ miles in three days; 181.5 miles in a week, including the zero day in Lima.
I have 16 miles to hike tomorrow to reach Old Faithful Village. From there I’ll take 2 to 4 days off. It pains me to do so, but I’ve put in the work to earn this reprieve. My only hope is that the weather is nice tomorrow…
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