Category Archives: Harpo’s CDT Journal

Harpo’s CDT Journal #9


August 9

15 miles
We sleep in. Delicious sleep. 
There is an active but 80% “contained” fire on the east side of this mountain, so our hike today is a reroute along dirt roads on the west side. 
We meet a Man from Texas on a wagon with his son and 4 horses. Two of the horses are carriage ponies from NYC pulling the wagon. He tells us story upon story of being lost, killing elk, and being attacked by a grizzly he and his buddies had to take down with 7 gunshots and then call fish and wildlife for a CSI style investigation. Grizzlies, like humans, are a protected species. 


On a long break under a bridge we rinse clothes and review maps, deciding which of the half dozen routes to do thru Northern Wind river range. There are many alternates and side trails to discover if we have enough food. 
The afternoon carries some challenging way-finding up to Sheridan pass. Exhausted, we decide to sleep here… it’s too beautiful to move along. 



August 10

30 miles
A day of reckoning. Are we brave enough to attempt the cdt wind river range high route? A little dotted line on our map indicating less than distinct trail. We’re told it’s like combining katahdin with mahoosic notch in some areas. Both the toughest parts of the Appalachian Trail. Hum. 
The morning moves fast but I feel lonely. And by 3:30 we’re at the turn off for the alternate, squinting at the sky. Are those fluffy playful clouds or storm clouds? Map notes say to ensure a clear forecast before attempting the high route. We’ve seen clouds the last few days but no rain. We don’t know the forecast but a cautious couple on an ATV say they think it’s supposed to be warmer this week. 
After dinner at Lake of the Woods we decide to go for it. The first 10 miles are along an ATV road but gains 3000 feet elevation. This will be the rest of our day. Then tomorrow we’ll have 14 miles up and along the high route before 4-5 miles descending and rejoining the CDT.
Feeling excited we set off and are making good time but the last few miles are killer on the jeep road and we get to the pass right at sunset. 
We look at the map. now we’re supposed to bushwhack off trail for 1.2 miles, toward some lakes and find another footpath that will connect us to the base of Shale Mountain. 
For this task we use a paper map and the compass on our phones and the Gaia app which will use the phone GPS to draw our route in case we want to go back. 
As we start down the last leg of the jeep road I realize we already missed the “turn” for the bushwhack section. We can either backtrack, or just start from here. I pull out my tools, okay let’s go. 
The bush whack would take us straight up and then down the other side of the mountain on our left. We decide on a round about course following a topo line for awhile and judging our way down the hill based on what we see. We avoid the super steep areas and head for wider spaced topo lines on the map. This works for awhile… until the sun sets. 
Around dark we reach a place where the alpine meadow transitions to a tallus field where we maneuver around huge boulders. We attempt to descend slowly and carefully toward the tree line we can barely see below. Eventually we begin to feel mossy dirt under our shoes and see sparse scraggly trees here and there. In the dark, with just Groucho’s night vision and my headlamp guiding us, we maneuver to soft tho slopey duft under the protection of several trees. We are adjacent to a glacier and sleeping close to 11,000 feet. 
We eat snacks and pack away all our food in our opsaks. Grateful for the odor barrier ziplocks since we have no trees tall enough for a bear hang. 

August 11

22 miles
At 4:44 I awake to rain?! Oh wait no… Actually it’s snow. What?!

We scramble and throw our tarp over us batwing style and are warm and dry but worried what for this mean for the high route?
We talk and hit snooze on the alarm, waiting until light to check the scene out. The popcorn snow stops, but as the light seeps grows we behold a persistent cloud cover blanketing the sky. Menacing dark clouds hang just beyond our beloved high route. Shale mountain shrouded in mist. 
We make a difficult choice to forego the adventurous high route and (ugh) retreat 11.8 miles back to the regular CDT and resume south from there. 
We encounter more light snow, hail and rain off and on all day. Also scattered sun and wind. By noon we are back on trail and though I feel relieved believing we made the right and safe choice, I dread the days ahead now we are squarely in the middle of this section and I have a sneaking suspicion we are low on food. We review the maps and look at our remaining food, realizing yes… we will have to ration food… having added approximately 24 miles to this already-long leg of the journey 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #8

August 5

13.5 miles

The morning goes like this: pack up, walk on paved road to bridge bay store, charge devices, drink coffee, get a camp permit for tonight on the thoroughfare trail, go to the bathroom a dozen times (town food? Too much coffee? the free beer yesterday? Too much bison poop in my water?) hitch to Fishing Bridge for resupply (mostly ramen, bars and oats), hitch to nine mile trailhead with a super great family from Wisconsin!) all these chores take about 5 hours. Generally speaking, 5 hours is enough time for basic resupply. Throw in Internet, correspondence and laundry – a good town day can last 8-24 hours. But none of these spots offer wifi. And we decided not to invest in laundry at this time. So we’re out pretty quickly. 
The amazing thoroughfare trail runs along the east side of majestic Yellowstone lake for about 20 miles. Today we knock out 13 miles finding wild strawberries, raspberries and huckleberries, bear scat. And huge dog prints? Or Wolf prints?
Groucho and I engage in good, challenging, invigorating conversation and hours pass quickly till we arrive at our spacious lakeshore site. It sleeps 12 but we now know that the Park’s policy is first come first served and they make no attempt to share sites among multiple parties. So we are wonderfully alone except for the chirping chipmunks. 


August 6

24 miles

The thorofare trail runs remarkably easily, breezily and beautifully along the east side of Yellowstone NP. Reportedly this area is the most remote in the lower 48, with no road access for 40 miles in any direction. 
We follow a long river valley, stopping for breaks and seeing huge Pelican claws in the sandy river shore. 
I’ve begun reading again on trail. I enjoy reading stories about women and make an effort to download books with the free library “overdrive” app. This week is finally “wild” by Cheryl stayed. Surprised but I love it. Don’t know why the patriarchy tries to smash her so hard. Brave and interesting writer. 
Reading makes me feel creative and enjoy my blogging more. Groucho and I discuss how we might be ready to process/communicate more outside our blog about the thru hiking experience. Today we discuss these possibilities at length. 


August 7

24 miles

A tragedy befalls us. I’ve lost my beloved Jean Luc aka Patrick Stewart. Tho he was just a .6 oz, golden, anodized aluminum poo trowel he was treasured by all in the Wrong Way Gang. I know Future Dad particularly will be sad to learn of his disappearance. 

*a moment of silence*

so yeah. It’s lonely out here. Groucho wakes on the wrong side of the bed. We indulged in a series of intimate conversations yesterday about families, relationships, friendships, personal histories and he is emotionally depleted. 
I walk alone all morning, looking for animal prints in the sand with the same expectation I used to attend to my email inbox. Hello squirrel, hello hawk, hello chipmunk and bear and dear buddies. The only human prints today are Groucho’s wavy vibram soles. I feel far away from everyone. 
No matter. Im in no shape to accept company. It’s been 12 days since we were in Ennis and indulged in soap. The musk under my arms has transformed from salty to sour. I have a weird scab between my eyes, and tiny ones up and down my calves like topo lines – caused by bush whacking thru the brushy sage. My Fingernails collect dirt and grime no matter how short I cut them. My feet look like a cracked desert landscape. 
 And today I accidentally stowed my spoon in my trash bag instead of my snack bag. It may have touched a packed out poo napkin so I spent most of my morning break hosing it down with hand sani and water. 
Groucho wants me to tell you that his poo is more regal than my plebeian poo. This is penance for accidentally spraying his Taboo-tees with the water while cleaning off my poo spoon. Groucho’s magnetic, majestic patriotic poo p. (This from a man hiking in socks and sandals. )
In the mid morning we rejoin the CDT and run into 8 consecutive northbounders and 3 consecutive thunderstorms. Our gear stays *mostly* dry but the trail alternates from slippy to squishy to shitty (literally from horse manure and figuratively as the horse shoes tear up the ground.)
We make camp at 8pm under two big trees, just as the clouds break and the sun spills over the plateau to dry our gear. 


Aug 8

19 miles
Crazy day. We fight hard, first thing in the morning, about style differences. It’s pretty trivial but dramatic. 
Groucho speeds off and I follow reluctantly wondering many things: does he want to hike alone? Do I? Can we? Do I want to bail and head to my high school reunion this weekend? Do I want to “finish” this hike? What does it even mean to “finish”? Isn’t this trail, this line thru the rocks, this process, this idea just another trap/job/shackle/competition if my whole validity is based on some narrow concept of finishing created by who knows… God?? Am I trapped in some patriarchical religion invented by an unknown leader? I thought I was supposed to be discovering neo-transcendental America. I thought I was supposed to be discovering myself. 
Or do I just really need a day off?  
As I huff up the hill my anger ebbs, then renews. We always stop after the first hour or two for breakfast and three hours later still no Groucho. “He must be really mad.” I eat oats sorrowfully alone and skip hot coffee cause he has the stove (I carry the fuel).  
I scan the ground looking for vibram soles but only see the Brooks and the Altras belonging to Dirt Wolf and Cheese Snake who are just ahead. Huh…
An hour later I see two weekenders and ask if they crossed paths with Groucho. They don’t think so. “Unless he is from Nebraska?!” One inquires. Uh… no. 
So now I wonder if I somehow am ahead. No tracks. No sightings. But it doesn’t make sense. where the heck is he!? Did he take the wrong route or step off trail to poo?  
We are lost all day from each other, but we both have maps. And we both know we are going to pick up resupply box at Brooks Lake Lodge.  
I now assume I am ahead but how far? Should I wait? What if he is ahead and waiting makes me fall behind? There’s no way to know for sure. So I keep myself found, and go to the lodge. At least if I don’t see him by nightfall there will be a phone and people there to help. 
I feel almost bad going inside the Lodge. It’s super beautiful and clean and smells good. All things I am and do not. They are so super sweet. It’s amazing they offer to hold boxes. I can’t afford to stay the night (it’s over $300 says my guidebook) but they let me use their phone to call my mom, and when my resupply arrives by UPS they let me unpack it on a picnic table. 
About an hour and a half later Groucho rolls up. I’m so relieved to see him. We discern that early in the morning he pulled just off trail for coffee as usual and I walked right by, we were both too quiet to notice the other. He waited and then retreated 2 miles to make sure I hadn’t hurt myself at the ford. Adding 4 miles to his day. We extend compassion and harmony to each other but it’s also tough. We are about to go into a 7 day section without going into town. Do we need a break first? Are we about to emotionally collapse?
We decide no and push on walking an easy 5 miles to a friendly Wyoming campsite in the foothills of the Winds where we enjoy a small campfire in a fire ring and sleep under a huge tree. 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #7

August 1

8 miles
Something about being in Yellowstone is making us very mad. Accessibility to nature is needed and desired to permit the masses to connect with wonders. But utter accessibility also means cars, roads, giftshops crammed with tchotchkes, and a wilderness experience designed primarily to keep everyone safely in line. In line to see the hot springs. In line on the popular 3 mile loop trails, in line buying hot dogs and ice cream. And within lined parking lot campsites that can host upwards of 600+ people. We sorrow at the disneyfication of the park that makes the natural world seem unnatural. Less wild. 


Simultaneously the park is remarkably inaccessible as soon as you step off the pavement. Even for weathered hikers like us. The back country rangers here seem green, unable to tell us first hand knowledge of our route or sites. 
Also no one will give us a hitch to our trail head. Tourists rarely feel comfortable, or their cars are filled. And there isn’t any public transportation in Yellowstone. How’s that for access?
It’s confusing because as much as I critique all of this, I am a part of it. I participate in the patriarchy. The raping of resources for processed food and manufactured goods. The consumption of synthetic fibers and plastic bottles and fleece and the stuffed animal bison I want to purchase for $9.99. 
 Despite being vegan (which research suggests saves 600-1100 gallons of water a day compared to a meat eater.) Despite giving up my apartment and house and living for 5 months a year outside, limiting my ability to purchase and consume excess. Despite rarely buying clothes or electronics. Despite finding ways to live more simply on less than 15 grand a year. I can’t escape my participation in the US hierarchical capitalist patriarchy. Mainstream media, wifi, social media, technology, packaged food and buereaucratic permitting systems pull me back into that life as often as I attempt to escape it. Despite my dislike of the system there are so many ways I accidentally and unthinkingly accept it. And isn’t acceptance the same as support?
So today is a major disappointment. We escape the bad wifi and relative lack of tasty town food around 2:30pm which should get us to our permitted campsite (in 10 or so miles) around 7pm. Perfect. One mile in I sit down while we treat water. It’s blazing in the heat of the day. I look at the map and add the mileage markers… We still have 18 miles to go. WHAT?!
We feel seriously bummed. We have no idea how the ranger so thoroughly misunderstood us. Not only is 19 miles NOT a rest day, but in this heat with full packs there’s no way can we arrive to camp before 10pm. Unacceptable. 
We decide to bail out. We walk 5 trail miles to a junction with the road and a beautiful creek with a roadside rest area. After swimming discretely in front of picnicking tourists – whose mouths hang wide as they openly stare – we try to get a hitch to a trail head 9 miles east. From there we can walk Just 3 more miles to get to our permitted site. Technically replacing trail miles with a ride is “yellow blazing” and frowned upon by purists. But technically we’re not on the CDT anyway, haters. My hike. My rules. 
We hitch for an hour and tho a stream of cars pass us no one even slows down. Discouraged we return to the comfort of the picnic area and attempt to eat our way out of the crisis. The plan works. We strike up a conversation with an adventurous couple from PA (WE ❤ PA!!!) and they offer us a ride!!! Saved! As they finish their picnic I look at our itinerary and attempt to calculate our mileage for tomorrow. Except I can’t because we don’t have the complete map. Thankfully our new friends do and we photo the 20 mile section we need. 
Sadly none of the maps list where the camp site is for tomorrow. We’ll just have to hope that it’s at 20-23 miles where it’s supposed to be. 


August 2

26.5 miles
Day of the Bison!! Also the day we begin to suspect the ranger is messing with us. Our route today is 3 miles more than we requested but also climbs over 5000 feet elevation. And has a long dry stretch. All things we wish we had known. 
No matter. We fall in love with Speciman ridge. The day is full of views, bison and prong horned antelope dancing across the fields. 
By late afternoon we descend off the ridge into the Lower Lamar valley. We ford the creek than eat dinner near a beautiful lone bison who followed us across the creek in a lumbering gentle giant fashion. They are magnificent animals. 
Our campsite isn’t at mile 20-23 like we expect. By mile 25 it’s dark and we have no idea how close but we might be several miles off still. We give up guiltily stealth camp near an occupied camp. 


August 3

14 miles
Today is a day off! Well kind of. We expect an easy 8-mile walk based On the itinerary. But of course, again, we should do our own math because we end up walking over 14 to get to our campsite. WHY CANT I JUST HAVE A REGULAR DAY OFF? 
We wake at 4:45 to rain and decide to pack up and walk on before light so as not to be found stealth camping. 1.5 miles later we come across our designated site and peacefully have breakfast. Then start the official hike to our next campsite. On the way Groucho trips and bends a toenail back, I meet an extremely friendly, bug-eating bird that follows me trying to land on my umbrella AND we meet 4 friendly STOGs (swaying towers of gear) from Pennsylvania here to play catch and release with the fish. 
Regardless we arrive at camp by 2pm, rinse our clothes and selves in the river, make first dinner, eat first dessert, take a nap, eat again, make a fire and roast vegan marshmallows courtesy of our friend Bug, and go to sleep early. It’s really cool to have time to relax on trail rather than waiting for town to chill out. 


August 4

17 miles
We sleep in because it is so cold at cold creek. There is frost in the grass. 
And we begin the day with two river fords right in a row. My feet are painfully cold before 8:30 am. Then a rather nice and super easy 16 miles to the road. Along the pelican creek we meet a couple from Netherlands and a parade of 16 animals, 4 tourists from Arkansas, and their chef, wrangler and guide. 
Sean- A young fellow from PA – gives us a hitch and a beer! our first booze in 34 days. Our rule for clarity, efficiency and budget is no booze unless it is offered spontaneously as a gift. 
Bridge Bay offers a ranger station, enormous campground, marina and modest camp store. All services seem staffed by retirees who have bought RVs and are touring the country. It’s pretty nice here but not gonna make it my forever home. 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #6


July 28

22 miles


Today’s scenery reminds me of the Sierra. Super tall granite rock faces and lakes and ALOT of climbing. Almost 6000 feet ascent. 
The day is pleasant though we have an unrealistic goal of making it to town for a free music show. Once we start climbing, and after some early morning bush whacking, we give up and take long food breaks to help the miles along. 
At a bridge before our last big climb of the day I reveal my secret to Groucho. I want to be having fun but I feel super bummed. I don’t know if this is a phase or what but I don’t care about being a thru hiker. Always pushing to the next town or trying to do 25-30 miles or whatever… It’s feeling like a job. 
Am I done thru hiking? 
I cry and Groucho waxes extremely supportive. Helping me the last few hours of the day with jokes and encouragement. Tho I’m still very whiny. My PERIOD is coming in soon … I just know it. 
At 7pm “we still haven’t seen any humans”, remarks Groucho. Cursing us, because at the lake in one mile we see at least 15… More than any other wilderness location our trip. We breeze past the crowd and camp by a charming alpine creek amidst wildflowers. 


July 29

20 hiked +4 on a bus 
We finish the climb around dawn and a prairie dog type animal chirps at us over breakfast at the pass. 
We make it into Big Sky by noon for resupply. It’s boasts a suburban-feeling town center with an excellent outfitter, and a good grocery store where we can eat and do wifi at picnic tables in the shade outside. 
We relax until 4:00 when we take the free hourly bus to the trailhead. And then we set off on the next 8 miles of mosquito-ridden trail before sleep. Tomorrow we enter Yellowstone!!


July 30

31 miles
Today the tread on my shoes fails. Either that or my PMS bloat has disrupted my inner ear balance. I fall no fewer than 4 times, always skidding out, landing on my back with one leg splayed in front and the other leg bent to back. It is not comfortable and nor does it hurt… Unlike my uterus which feels like it is turning itself inside out. I must be dehydrated. I have never experienced this intensity of cramps on trail. I feel like throwing up and pooping and crawling into a cat hole and dying. I request 4 breaks between 10-11am. Most of them to cry. I think the endorphins help a little. I also take a prescription strength dose of Naproxin. This doesn’t work so I take a little more. 
Sometime around 1pm my problems ease and we approach the boundary of Yellowstone on the sky rim trail. We are blown away by the sights on this 8 mile ridge walk along the NW boundary of the park. 
Around 4pm we descend and good thing because we encounter another afternoon thunder shower but are safely in the trees. Then around 7pm a burn area and sun thru rain and the coolest rainbow. I am exhausted by my morning ordeal but we see a herd of wild elk and I feel hyped to be in this beautiful place. 


Night falls and we hike hard to make it to our ranger-permitted campsite. We get there by 10pm – our first night hike of the CDT. 
It’s eeire. There is no one here (we can tell by lack of bear bags on the pole) but this campsite is supposed to support 12 humans and as many horses and the ranger made it sound like the park was pretty packed. Where is everyone?

July 31

16 miles
We get up at first light and immediately start a rigorous ascent toward electric pass. It is very difficult after yesterday’s 30+ miles and I listen to music to help me along. The first time I’ve employed music on the CDT. A couple miles in we officially cross into Wyoming!!! one state done! At the pass we see a small Elk posse on the ridge across the valley also climb 1000 feet. They are better at it. 
In a few miles we begin eagerly anticipating Mammoth Hot Springs. Our next resupply town. On our Map it looks like they have town food, a grocery, a ranger station and camp ground. 
As we get close we smell sulphuric fumes. At first I think it’s Groucho’s butt but then we see hot bubbling crevices in the powdery rocks and we realize this smell is the springs! The structures that evolve from these springs become more architectural, strange, smelly, artful and outrageous as we approach civilization. Finally, in town is a monumental hot spring structure with hundreds of tourists climbing up wooden ramps in polite and milling lines, in the heat of day, to get close to the natural wonder. It’s weirdly like Disneyland. Welcome to America!


We split up and I go to the campground to secure a spot at their site reserved for backpackers and cyclists -a “hike&bike”. Groucho goes to the ranger station to plan our itinerary thru Yellowstone. He success in locking down 3 sites for us. One in 10 miles, then 22 miles, then 8 miles and then a 17 out to the next ranger station/hike&bike. This is perfect because we want some easier “rest” days.
At dusk a knowledgable ranger gives an excellent talk about the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and the soap opera story of wolf “21”. We are hyped because our itinerary will take us thru some of the territories she mentions. 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #5

July 24

18 miles plus 6 hitch miles
We wake and continue walking on the railroad tracks. A beautiful morning and the approaching I90 corridor reminds us it’s a town day!
By 7:40 am we have crossed under I90 passing the ruins of pipestone hot springs. We climb thru the barbed wire to photo the buildings and stick out toes in the 118 degree water. 


Then back to the road with epic industrialized agricultural views of robotic irrigation systems for a mysterious green crop with purple flowers. Alfalfa? July sun in the valley makes us squint, glisten and flush. I drop my sunglasses in a rushing creek. 
At 9:30 we reach an “improved” road 3 miles from Whitehall. Traffic increases as the road shoulder decreases. Eventually we tire of near death experiences and hitch the remaining few miles into Town. 
Here the grocery has decent resupply – except no hiker bars. WHAT. the cafe “Legends” lets us use wifi and the convenience store offers a good hiker snacks, plus the biggest ammo selection I have ever seen. They also sell Disney Princess themed Fishing rods. Maybe next time. 


Around 3:30pm we jump the gun and hit the paved road walk too soon. It’s a HOT BOY. We hitch 2 miles ahead to the river crossing with Shane and Caroline… Delightfully kind and curious humans towing a horse trailer. They’ve been up in the mountains documenting a cattle carcass killed by Grizzlies for a rancher’s insurance claim. 
At the river we swim and cool off before a grueling walk on dusty country roads populated by many melancholy horses. Then we walk. and sweat. 
At 5pm we find the river again and dip with all our clothes on. I see little minnows nibbling and exfoliating my feet. People pay for this privilege in the big city! We dip our bottles in the water and it tastes soapy and grassy. Probably polluted by cattle and farm land. Blech. 
we begin to ascend into the foothills of the Tobacco Roots. The sun shines sideways as dusk comes and walking grows way more pleasant. At dark we climb a hill. Cattle low on the adjacent hill and coyotes yip in the valley below as we sleep under the stars. 


July 25

24 miles
The day goes on and on and on with concerns mostly of water. And elevation gain. Also walking down the wrong trail. Twice. 
Last night, the nice shirtless rancher on the ATV told us water would be tough on the “back side of the mountain.” So our commitment today is to drink at almost every source and carry an untouchable emergency half liter of water each. 
several climbs, and long breaks, and water fill ups Later – I am hot, tired, too full, and peeing every 20 minutes. 
After the steepest climb of the day we choose a slightly longer descent route charmed by the blue dot on the map supposed to be a lake! Alas it is now a marshy, grassy wetland. Not a lake. 
Dejected in the late afternoon sweat of a trail, we descend. I check the Gaia app and realize we missed a turn a half mile back. This area will hereforeto be called “disappointment plateau.”
We begin a long ascent to an unnamed pass. Cows wander these fields polluting the creek at every turn. Groucho wonders why we bother digging cat holes when cows are allowed to crap everywhere at will. 
At camp, a dozen cows watch as I Mary poppins all my fluffy gear out of my tiny bag. I’m not sure if they are impressed but they have a lot to say about it. 
July 26

27 miles walk

4 miles hitch on route (a paved road)

6 miles hitch off trail to resupply
We wake with a few miles left of ascent. The last section dives straight thru an old mining site with privys and cabins and cables and equipment decaying around every turn. It’s quite beautiful in its own way but a reminder of how many of these trails were built in the first place – as Americans stripped the land and Left Trace. 
I find Groucho at the top, and we have a snack at his newly named “poop joke” pass. 
The next section is all easy descent. And we meet day hikers who offer us a ride to Ennis when they are done in a few hours. We decide to hike on but hope they pass us on their way back in the hot part of the afternoon. 
Then immediately we start a steep climb. And it’s on a bumpy ATV road. And we realize there’s no way those guys are coming this way in their SUVs. They must be exiting another route. Our promise of an easy ride goes up in smoke. 
Okay. Only 14 miles left. Feels like forever. Sweating and huffing up the climb and finally reach a small flat spot where we take a mapped shortcut to the lake. After 20 minutes of climbing up, with Groucho trail blazing ahead, I realize we are on a loop trail which – after we climb 1000 feet – will take us back to where we started this climb an hour ago. 
And Groucho is out of shouting range. At this point I begin a private hysteric fit. Which Groucho soon witnesses on his own descent down having realized our mistake too. We are both furious and it’s – as they say – not good. 
Rather than lose the elevation we just climbed, we bush whack across the mountain for a half hour, thru pines and then scratchy sage brush. 
Then it’s all sunny road walk for 3 hours
Awesome day right!?  
Then we start to try to hitch because dirt road turns to paved but there is little traffic. Then the wind picks up and a thunderstorm threatens on the ridge and Finally finally at 4/30pm someone swoops us and drives us to the oasis of Ennis!!
Review of Ennis: charming historic downtown. decent grocery. Camping at RV park “camper corner” is affordable – $15 single or $22 for two in one tent. includes shower, wifi. Super clean facility and cheap laundry. The library offers Bathrooms, free wifi and cheap thrillers for $1. Lots of Restaurants. Outfitter mostly caters to hunting/fishing folks. 
July 27

10 miles
We need a little rest and take the morning off in Ennis. Well actually we walk 1.5 miles round trip to the post office along the highway. Then we take the morning off and snack, write postcards, etc. 
By 2pm we finish our hummus at a picnic table by the grocery. A Lady leaving store says “you boys having fun?” I am wearing a baseball hat, plaid shirt and men’s watch. But don’t know if it’s my attire or my pack or my willingness to smell like I do that strikes her as boyish. 
Back to our route and we immediately encounter Ennis lake’s private property problem. Besides the indignity of a broiling 3 mile road walk, we encounter no fewer than 20 private property signs, mostly situated by the only swimming spots. We finally find a public beach but of course there is no shade, it’s weirdly shallow there and the water is sort of stagnant and gross. We jump in, but leave feeling disappointed. A mile further we befriend locals who show us the good swimming spot a short jump from the low bridge. This restores faith in humanity for one hour, until we see the warning for swimmers itch posted at the trail head.


I feel relieved to leave civilization and capitalism and feudalism and Cercaria behind as we trek up into the wild. Indeed one of the first things we see is a pronghorn antelope. These buddies are the US’s fastest land mammals and evolved alongside a North American cheetah that is now extinct. 

A few hours later we crest to a high plateau and see bear prints in the dusty trail. a minute later we spy the owner ambling up the adjacent hillside. we camp here and hang our food high just as lighting fires up in the dusky sky. I fall asleep -cozy and dry – to the sound of thunder and rain beating on our tarp. 

Harpo’s CDT Journal #4

July 19

Zero!!

We weren’t planning on taking a full day off so soon but I Feel ok about it because “half mile”, the famous PCT data collector, is in the hotel and HE’S Taking a double zero. 
We focus on our Big Sky routing today. First at the Fire Tower Coffee shop where we upload online maps. Gaia is an awesome $20 phone app. it comes with a global topo map with common paved roads, dirt roads and trails. The map is viewable online and you can download any sections you want for offline use. There’s another app called PDF MAPS which is free, but you have to search their database for maps you want and sometimes pay for them if they are proprietary (i.e. National geographic Etc). Like Guthook, the apps can use the gps in our phone to show us within a few meters where we are on these maps. We decide to use Gaia for help on our side trip. 
At the Base Camp Outfitter with Tim’s help  we spread maps everywhere and choose the three pictured above.

Then we eat amazing pizza at Bridge Pizza. 

Finally at the Library we print more detailed maps that other hikers (the Onion and Brian) have published of their routes thru this area. Prints are 10 cents at the library and an hour of Internet is free.

We run into Eric and Olivia, bike packers who are on the Great Divide cycle route, which is very popular but mostly follows fire and jeep roads so we only see folks at resupply stops. Eric did the documentary “Do more with less” about the PCT. the next 2 years, he and Olivia will travel 18000 miles by bicycle! They leave for India in a few weeks and are documenting their trip at ridingwild.org

We head to Real Food which lives up to its promise with fruit, vegan snacks and a killer bulk section including powdered hummus (which I will literally start adding to every meal until I run out). 
Back at the hotel, we lay out our maps comparing routes, choose a trajectory that works best for us (highlighting it in pink) and trimming off the unnecessary sections.

As we are booze free (for now!), we enjoy a nightcap of sparkling water and coconut milk Ice cream. 
July 20

15 miles
Ron, who we met on trail a few days ago, arrives in Helena and offers us a ride to the trail head before he heads home to Portland. He’s paying back all all the hitches he’s got over the years. What a swell fellow. We hope to see him in Portland!

At the trailhead we eat some fresh food we packed out then hit the trail. it’s impeccably well maintained and we easily hike 15 miles before dark. However a longish section up a forest road sports “private property” signs on every turn. We look/walk for an hour, and finally find a flat patch at the crest of a hill. Obviously not within a private property boundary but maybe next to their driveway?! Not our finest moment but dusk is upon us and we must needs sleep. 

July 21 

27 miles
Today is tough. The trail, still impeccably maintained, continues but is slightly dull. Mostly tree tunnel and a lot of half dead forest due to pine beetle. My mood mimics the melancholy of the forest. Now that we’ve chosen to do the alternate I feel anxious to get there. Get somewhere. GET ANYWHERE. 
The afternoon sun blazes thru our dusty path. We meet hikers who tell of a lake but the marshy reality thwarts our dreams of a cool swim. 
Again, it takes us a half hour to find a campsite but when we do – we find a little cozy “hole” (as Huck calls them) nestled between trees with a breathtaking Montana sunset. 


July 22

24 miles
I’m bummed. Groucho is bummed. We’re all bummed. It’s another blazing, meh day with an 18 mile waterless stretch. 
Finding camomile in a dusty patch of trail brings a sweet relief to my nerves and hiker stench. I stash a sprig in my shirt pocket to dry out.


Around 6 we track down a campground on the map – they offer well water and PICNIC TABLES. we sit. Then I really want to stay. Groucho pushes me onward. Not harder than I want to be pushed -today- but I do often feel he wants to always go just a little further… a little faster… Than I. 
We find a high forestry knoll to bed down beside a country road. We can hear the occasional boozy drivers and a random gunshot (it’s Friday night in Montana!) but they can’t see us up on the hill. 

July 23

30 miles
Today Groucho summarizes “the scenery was unremarkable, but the drama was high.”
We start with a 7 mile road walk. A bummer because pavement can bruise/wear out the feet. But miles can go faster as well. 
Then up up up 3.5 miles to our junction. THE JUNCTION. our split from the CDT and on to the Harpo and Groucho edition of the Big Sky Route. 
Okay so if I’m honest I’ll say I am amped up. I’m worried. Worried the trail junction doesn’t show up on Guthook data -so maybe we’ll miss it. Worried the mile calculations will be off and we won’t have enough food to get to Whitehall. Worried the trail will all be Blowdowns and bush whacking. Worried there won’t be water. 
With all these worries, it’s obvious I’m not worried about any of these things but rather, I’m just anxious because we’re attempting something new. And I’m assigning that anxiety to anything I can get my hands on. 
So up up up the hill we go and I ask Groucho a navigation question about if we’re coming to the trail junction, which he doesn’t seem to acknowledge. And with that, my anxiety rushes out like a kettle just come to boil “hey GROUCHO. Are you going to answer my QUESTION OR NOT” 
Super bitch move. 
Then Groucho SHOUTS back (so I can hear him presumably) the answer to my question, explaining he answered before but I didn’t hear. 
So “GREAT,” I fume to myself as he marches away. “We’re already off to a great start with this new route thing where I can’t even ask questions.”
And I stop to pee and Groucho leaves my sight. And then I come upon a junction. No Groucho. Ugh! Not this again. I think this might be THE junction because it’s at the right mileage marker but it’s not matching the map topography. Ugh. So I make my best choice and fly up the hill. Tears in my eyes, intermittently furious and also thinking maybe I just need a snack. 
You see, besides the stress of new routes and maps and tools, we are also burning 3000-4000 calories a day but I stupidly only packed 1800 Cal/day for this leg. Hiker hunger kicks in around day 20 and today – on day 21 – my baby fat reserves are almost gone. This panic might just be legitimate hunger. 
Ok so it turns out there is an error in the data set and the REAL junction is another 1.5 miles up the hill. When I arrive Groucho seems happy enough. But I have FEELINGS. I try to repress them and focus on food but then some bad communication happens and for 30 minutes we stop to discuss impressions, assumptions, blame, communication, hunger, fear, routes, empathy, protocols and defensiveness. We both feel like real adult champions, tho completely emotionally depleted. 

we finally set off the beaten CDT path and onto the Nez Perce route. 
I needn’t have worried. this trail is easy and wide and follows a creek. After 5 miles we intersect with a dusty road populated both with ATVS and REAL COWBOYS!!!
We reach delmoe lake by 5pm and wash, do laundry, eat dinner and rest for a half hour. Then we hike onward, away from the lake. 


As evening approaches more and more ATVS drive by us, blowing dust in my face and hot air up my recently cleaned skirt. 
Here, the desert-like terrain reminds me of So Cal. Cactus and prickly seed pod plants and scrubby pines and sage brush galore. 


Finally, frustrated with the dust kicked up by by weekend warriors, we walk along some adjacent abandoned railroad tracks. The boards are rotting and sage brush is thigh high in places but the romance of it thrills me. We approach a humble railroad trestle over a stream. No problem. We got this. The 12 year olds in Stand By Me handled it and so can I. Though the boards are strong and true, they groan with my first few steps. A few minutes later I begin to notice how train ties are not always evenly spaced and also not spaced for a easy human stride. I adjust. My steps grow short and precise. No problem. But then in the spaces between the wooden ties I spy glimmers of the river below. VERY FAR BELOW . My heart starts to race. My body, I’ve found, is immensely intelligent. Give it a crazy challenge and it figures out what to do, where to step, how to balance, but that tricky MIND is so dumb and gets in the way. Half way across the trestle my mind becomes convinced I will step into one of the gaps between the boards. This is inprobable but even if I DID I would trip but almost certainly not fall thru the cracks to the gully below. I know this, my feelings know this. But my MIND is so dumb. Groucho passes me on the right. I am afraid to lookup and see how many boards are left so I tell him to tell me I’m close. He says Very Close. I repeat: very close. I discover if I look 3 boards ahead I feel safer than looking at the board just below because the vertigo or whatever I’m experiencing is heightened by the light and movement of the water below. I focus three boards ahead and each step say aloud “Very Close.” Very Close. Tears shine in my eye sockets and I hold my hands aloft like a toddler. I am in a middle of a crisis. I know if i stop to look around it will get worse so I just repeat “very close. Very close. very close.” Finally. finally. I make it. 
“I am never doing that again.”
2 hours later we camp next to the tracks away from the ATVS but the glow of I90 in sight. We hiked 30 miles today!! Tomorrow’s a town day and the Tobacco Root Mountains are in sight…

Harpo’s CDT Journal #3


July 16
14 miles 
Yes! A townfood Bfast of mixed baby greens, avocado, also peaches & bananas! 
Then, Free wifi outside library by the awesome town park where they allow free camping. And today there is a flea market (and tomorrow a fiddle-fest.) Lincoln is one cool little town. 
Near the park we start hitching and within minutes two charming locals swoop us up. Tammy and Craig recently retired to their cabin here, and give us a ride 15 miles up to the pass even though it is 30 miles out of their way round trip. What sweethearts!
We hike 13 miles with much discussion about route finding and the patriarchy of internet trolls judging what real thru hiking is. What is thru hiking about when it’s choose your own adventure? Duration? Miles? Pleasure? The destination? The militant satisfaction of following a particular government-ordained route without variation (no thanks).
I’m on a deadline for this hike because of a family obligation in mid-oct. realistically, I can’t finish the whole route in 3.5 months. To do so would mean hiking 30 miles every day and no days off. So I have 4 choices: 1) traditional CDT routing thru Idaho and Wyoming and end somewhere in Colorado. 2) make my own route thru southern Montana to Yellowstone skipping the Idaho section, thereby “saving” 250 miles and a few weeks so I can maybe finish closer to the CO/NM border; 3) screw the idea of a continuous footpath and hike select sections along the trail until early October; 4) try to fly back after the engagement and finish in the approaching cold winter breezes. Groucho wants to hike with me and I with him, but he’s still committed to a continuous foot path of some kind. We spend a long time weighing options until we develop bickering emotional headaches attempting to stare into an unknown future. 


These conversations also make me realize I am homesick… but in a new way. Not for particular friends or family… I’ve been connecting with people when I need to and the Interwebs and wifi make that a lot easier, (especially now that my network extends from Finland to Guatemala to Virginia to Washington to Spain to Colorado to Austria to Hungary to Alaska to California to New Jersey and Oregon.)
Instead I realize I’m homesick for a sense of steadiness. For a mooring of place in this space-time continuum. It might be time to settle down for a minute. A theme that will pervade my thoughts these coming days and weeks. 
At dusk, we descend to flesher pass where a trail angel – Marc -cached water earlier in the week. There’s more than a gallon left so we top off with 1/2 liter each. 1/4 mile from the pass we find a trail head with a privy, a PICNIC TABLE and a flat spot to sleep. 


July 17

28 miles
A difficult morning. Still coming down from townfood-induced sugar high – and needing to dig multiple cat holes because of bad greasy food invading my gut – my emotions and systems are all outta whack. Also we are trying out hiking with treking poles again because of the steep descents, weak ankles, slippery fords and handiness of an extra leverage point when setting up our tarp. But this morning Groucho takes a dramatic fall/face plant tripping with his pole and though he appears uninjured, he fumes all morning. 
Thankfully the terrain is smooth and flowing, and though it’s long distances between water sources, the hours and miles pass quickly. 
We meet two rad section hikers Mango and Ron whom we will leapfrog with most of the day. It’s sunny, but cool at high elevation and in the trees. 


We climb a big hill and run into an older gentleman from Marysville with his pup. I am disarmed by his sparkling grey eyes and clear desire to connect with us, however briefly. He carries a pistol in his belt, water on his back and bearspray in his hand. 
We crest the climb, faced with a route choice, take the new CDT route over the mountain and see views at the observation tower, or take an old ATV road to a water source and bypass the peak. We opt for water and find it 30 minutes later with jeeps and motorbikes blazing by us on the dusty descent. The water hides in a lush gulch and bursts from the hillside cold and clear. We fill up our bottles. Why is water so heavy?!
10 minutes later we hit the CDT again and continue winding ever-southward and now… Upward. Our big climb for the day up up up to 8400 feet – black mountain. I’m tired and my calves burn, even with my new treking pole assistant “tripod.” We haven’t had a day off hiking since we began two weeks ago. Our shortest day was a 13 miler and my body lets me know as I trudge up the hill. We reach a tick infested grassy meadow where the trail disappears but we know we must continue up the ridge ahead. As we do dark clouds blow in from the East hanging on the side of the mountain in front of us. Then wind, then low thunder in the distance. 
“so Groucho, what if we get to the top of this treeless ridge and it starts lightning on us?” 
“We can descend to those trees in the East and throw up the tarp”


As we reach the steepest part of the climb the cloud speeds overhead. suddenly the thunder increases. We look at maps and realize our route would continue another mile uphill to the crest that lies before us. We can’t do that in this weather. We cut into the nearest set of living trees, off trail, and as it starts raining we throw up the tarp and crawl underneath. It’s 6:30pm. We sit and eat our hydrated dinners, pick tics off each other like apes, and chat as the thunder grows closer. Then heavy rain and hail pelt the cubanfiber above us. And we hi five. We are dry and electrocution-free. 
30 minutes later, two dry hikers emerge with a folded tarp, full bellies, and 2 hours of light left. The sky even looks blue ahead of us.  


We climb the ridge, then descend into a living, green, tree-filled saddle. So nice and sheltered here but still 1.5 hours of light! We press on, the sky – to the south ahead of us- so blue and clear. 
A half hour later we begin an ascent and look at the deadfall around us. Half the trees rotted, cracked, fallen, and mossy, probably infested with Western pine beetles. They usually invade sick and weak trees but – word on the trail – climate change and extreme high/low temps here have weakened all the trees and the mass infestation transforms the landscape … green hills turning ever to grey. It’s sad and dead and dry out here, especially on this ascent. The lack of leaves and thinning forest gives me a view to the SW where, *oh crap* dark clouds blaze toward us. 
We start looking for another sheltered place to bear down, but as thunder rumbles ever closer we see only dead and dead and dead trees. We make a run for it. A mile up steep switchbacks as lighting begins to glimmer to the near horizon. As we crest the hill the wind whips and thunder threatens. We’re at 8400 feet but there are some tall living trees around us. We feel unsettled but hopeful as we descend and begin to see larger patches of green. Finally Groucho spies a grip of trees where all the dead comrades already lie on the ground or at least against sturdier companions. We pitch our tarp and while lighting continues in the distance the storm moves away and we enjoy a dry night. 


July 18

22 ish miles to MacDonald Pass/Helena
We wake with 26 miles to go until we reach the pass which leads to Helena. Town Day. It’s a bit soon since we just left Lincoln but my cheapie rain coat failed last week and with all these storms I need a new one. Also we’re 80% commited to try the super cutoff route and hope Base Camp Outfitter in Helena will have maps we need. 
Our only water this morning is a spring in the middle of a cow pasture pouring into a cow trough. Thankfully it looks pretty clean but we definitely treat this one. 


Then we take a Ley map alternate that roams dirt forest roads. It cuts 4 miles off our day and meanders thru pretty pastures filled with black cows. We run into a real life cowboy rounding up cattle with his beautiful young pup. One bull has a lame leg and the cowboy emerges from the truck with a shotgun. We recoil in horror until he pulls the trigger. A dart hits the cow in the flank. It’s an antibiotic shot that will cure the hoof rot. 


The path is wide and clear but sunny so we don our sunbrellas. Instant cooling shade. 
We intersect the CDT at Mullen Pass. I find a penny on the trail and slip it into my pocket with a wish for good vibes the rest of the day. Then 8 miles to town, half uphill. It’s blazing hot and my face sports a sunburn despite my hat. My recently laundered shirt drenches in salty sweat and my calves/ankles/feet begin to protest. My mind wills them along “bed, hummus, shower, bed, hummus, shower”. 
As we near the crest of the climb, clouds swoop once again, another thunderstorm with lighting as we reach a bald. The white and brown cows here seem unimpressed, so I try to be too. With a little rain and hail following us, we race the last 3 miles down to the road. We arrive at a behemoth 4-lane highway with no shoulder on the hitching side and cars traveling 60 mph. Just as I despair, a car pulls out of the building at the trailhead and a window rolls down. The amazingly timed dude is headed to Helena and will give us a ride. The lucky penny is working!
Helena’s residents are rightfully proud of their mountain bike trails, their breweries, the Base Camp Outfitter, the Fire Tower coffee shop, and most of all The Bridge Pizza Joint. 
We spend an hour at the outfitter talking to Tim about our desired route and figuring out which maps best serve us. The man spills a fountain of knowledge. 

Then good groceries from Real Food a legit natural grocery and sleep at Budget Inn for $60 including tax.