CDT Montana: Pre-Hiking

Town Day 1

On the flight into Kalispell all I can see for the longest time is a thick layer of clouds. When we finally descend below them, everything is green and lush, aquamarine water and mountains in the background. Sultry Bear arrives soon after — we discover that we overlapped a lot in the PCT desert two years ago, but somehow never met — and we wait for Whiz Kid. When she strides up it’s like I just hiked with her yesterday. The three of us are walking to the highway to hitch when Dad Jokes arrives. Now four, we stand on the road’s shoulder with our thumbs out, hopeful. It’s not as long as I expected before someone agrees to take two of us partway, and Whiz and I hop in.

The driver tells us about her job doing forestry conservation work, gives us a few tips on hiking in grizzly country, and drops us off at a random spot on the highway, where we are soon picked up by another kind woman. She only takes us half a mile more, but it’s near a junction, so we’ve got twice as many cars to smile at. In no time a generous pair scoops us up and takes us all the way to East Glacier.

Cowboy and DJ are already here — our group has three teeny tiny cabins that sleep two each (room for a bed and not much else), and a shared bathroom for us all. We hang around until Sultry Bear shows up, wait in an interminable line for burritos, reconnect with Dad Jokes, and chat among the cabins. It rains on and off, and the mountains around us look both exciting and a bit miserable in the wet grey clouds. Whiz and I both turn in early (I’m exhausted but don’t have her I-flew-a-redeye-from-Hawai’i excuse) and just before I fall asleep I realize how much this scenario reminds me of the night we spent in Hikertown. Though our current accommodations are several levels up.

Town Day 2

We’re all on the roadside with our thumbs out around 6:30am, but the road is closed until 11 for today’s marathon in the park. Dejected, we grab breakfast, walk around town, and I read until the guys yell that the road’s open early. We score a series of hitches in different groups to travel ~12 miles to the permit office. An extremely kind and patient ranger helps us map out an itinerary. Unfortunately, the best option is to delay our start date another day, which also means coming back here tomorrow to get our permit. I’m not psyched about an extra town day before I’ve even started hiking, but this is just how long-distance hiking goes.

On our way home, a ranger tells us it’s illegal to hitch in the park (oops) and we’re escorted to the park boundary in a tiny vehicle (I’m on Cowboy’s lap, Dad Jokes curls up in the trunk). Then it’s a long while before a pickup truck finally lets us climb in the back. We spend the afternoon in the sun by our cabins, then go “into town” for dinner. There are tons of town dogs here that just roam the streets, stopping for anyone who’ll give them an ear scratch or belly rub. There are two — Maebe and Sharpie — that regularly visit us at the cabins, and two others we find while waiting on the restaurant porch. We wait for over an hour, and it grows very cold and then rains heavily. Freezing and hungry, we tell the restaurant staff we’ll squeeze into a booth for four, and finally get to eat, the rain ending just as we pay our bill.

Town Day 3

Whiz and I start hitching at 5:30am, but there are almost no cars at all. The permit office opens at 7 and we need to be first in line so our campsites aren’t snatched up. 7am arrives and we still haven’t gotten a ride. “We’re screwed,” I text Cyn, despairing.

But here comes the ranger from yesterday, who told us not to hitch in the park, and she takes pity on us. Whiz, Cowboy, and I hop in her truck after being patted down for weapons. She says she learned yesterday that it’s not illegal to hitch in Glacier after all! It’s hard not be nerdy on the ride since I just finished writing an article about park rangers and policing, and she keeps saying things about her job that are exactly what I wrote about, but I keep my cool.

The ranger at the permit office has already been plotting out itinerary options for us. I don’t know what kind of magic she uses, but she’s somehow able to string together campsites that allow us all to be on the same schedule. We have to go northbound up to the border, then hitch back down to East Glacier and continue south out of the park. And we start off with two pretty big-mile days. But it’s amazing, like a miracle, to hold the permits in our hands, and we thank her profusely.

We three catch a hitch in a pickup bed, but the driver gets nervous about rangers (?) and makes us get out just a few minutes later. We have to walk on the winding road until we find a safe shoulder to hitch from. A cattle rancher from Iowa takes us all the way back to town, and drops us off with the parting advice, “Eat beef and don’t listen to the b.s.!” I nap for a few hours, talk to Cyn, and take what will be my last shower for a while. Everyone is packing up, looking at our mileage, filled with anticipation. Tomorrow we begin.

With Sharpie. We’re pretty sure she’s the mayor here.
Views from town.
Walking out of Glacier with Whiz and Cowboy, totally psyched that we got a permit.
Cowboy and Whiz at the cabins on our last night.


Follow the link to help me raise funds for the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance. The GTMA was founded by both Blackfeet and non-Native organizers and has worked for more than three decades to protect and defend this land. Currently, their primary focus points include securing permanent protection for the region, restoring the Blackfeet Nation’s rightful stewardship of the land, and blocking oil and gas leases on the land.

2 thoughts on “CDT Montana: Pre-Hiking

  1. The link is where it says “Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance” in that last paragraph. The color is not super different so it’s not easy to see. But I will message it to you as well. Thank you! -Cyn


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