Today’s miles: ~12
Miles to date: 279.3
The cows moo periodically in the night and again very early in the morning. The moos are much louder than I would have anticipated, and I wonder how close they are to us — but when I get up just at dawn, they’re nowhere to be seen. The sunrise is gorgeous against all the clouds. We’re all packed up except for Dad Jokes, who sits amongst his many belongings and cracks jokes. Finally, we’re off. Town day! We’re all in very good spirits, looking forward to showers and laundry and town food. It is acceptable to discuss food dreams on town day, because instead of being torturous conversation (“I wish I had…” when no such wish can be granted because you are three days from town), it is just delightful anticipation. We plan to eat Thai food for dinner and I dream aloud of spring rolls and Thai iced tea. Whiz and Snotfish are also tremendously excited about the latter.
The cool morning air makes our first several miles enjoyable, even though my blisters are making their presence known. We pass a whole lot of cows as we walk this road. Most are nervous and trot away from us, but a bold few stand their ground, and I’m glad to be in a group. Cows seem unpredictable.
As the sun comes out, we stop for a snack break. Somehow, after this, the walk is exponentially more difficult. The sun beats down on us, my blisters burn, and the roadwalk feels interminable. We reach a junction where we could get back on the CDT (and go up into the mountain) or continue on a fairly flat road. The road hurts our feet and joints, but no one really wants to do that climb. We stay on the road. The misery seeps through us as a group. Snotfish is limping, and we’re all hot and tired. We call a trail angel but get no answer. We break down and try Uber and Lyft, but unsurprisingly no one wants to come out to this country road. A few cars drive by. One person regrets not having room for us but offers us water. Only Snotfish needs some. When she goes to the passenger window, the driver hands her a can of orange La Croix! Now we all wish we had asked for water. Snotfish passes the can around generously.
We take lunch in a ditch on the side of the road. About four miles to the highway where we can more easily hitch into Helena. A Jeep approaches, going the wrong way, but Cowboy waves it down anyway, and miraculously the driver, Heather, agrees to turn around and take us all the way to town! We cannot believe our luck. We cram our packs in the back and cram five of us into the backseat (Dad Jokes rides shotgun). I sit half on Whiz’s lap, half on Sultry’s. My head is so high I can almost see over the Jeep’s crossbar, and I push the word “decapitation” out of my mind.
Heather says she’s never picked up a hitchhiker before, but she seems to know just what six hikers need. She gives us fried chicken, hot Cheetos, and a can of cold peach tea that she has in the car. We spend the ride eating, and also admiring her dog Bugs (who only has eyes for the fried chicken). She drives us to her house to drop off Bugs, and comes out with six bottles of beer! Best hitch ever! We cannot stop thanking her.
At the hotel I have a room with Whiz, Snotfish, and Cowboy. I take the first shower and am amazed by how much weight I’ve lost. My body feels unfamiliar to me. This last section was incredibly difficult with many long steep climbs. We trade off between changing laundry over and taking showers, and have just enough time for BBQ lunch at Bad Betty’s a few blocks away. This place is outstanding and just what we need. (I eat brisket and pulled pork, slaw, and excellent potato salad. I wish I’d also ordered a side of banana pudding.)
Bellies full, we return to the hotel and nap hard. I think all four of us are out cold for a few hours. The air conditioner barely works at all, so our room is quite warm. We wake and go to the Thai place for dinner. There is no working a/c here either, and we are sweltering. The fryer isn’t working so we can’t get spring rolls. They are out of Thai iced tea, which is a crushing disappointment. I order the special, pad thai with a bowl of red curry. I guess technically it has all of the ingredients of pad thai, but it is not pad thai. (Almost everyone we met in town recommended this place, so maybe it was just an off night. But it was a sad night after my town food dreams.) To make up for it, we wait in a long line for ice cream downtown. I have a chocolate malt shake, and we listen to Cowboy play the piano that’s in the square here. It feels like being in a movie. Everyone goes to the bar to play pool and drink; I go to the hotel room and sleep.
On our zero the next day, Cowboy, Whiz, and I take a Lyft a mile to a diner breakfast (amazing) and buy our resupplies at Safeway. I nap and read, take myself to an early solo dinner (note: use caution when ordering avocado in Montana, as it is often underripe), and meet Whiz and her friend (from home, but coincidentally in Helena right now!) at the awesome distillery downtown. My drink is truly delicious, and then the bartender gives Whiz and me free mini-shots of their special Pride vodka! We have noticed a LOT of rainbow/you-are-welcome-here stickers in the windows of Helena businesses. I return to the hotel to talk with Cyn until Whiz texts that she’s getting ice cream again. I have a two-scoop hot fudge sundae with Mexican chocolate and maple-walnut ice creams, and finish it all quite happily. A very lovely end to my zero day. Tomorrow morning we’ll leave for a slightly shorter section to Anaconda.