Today’s miles: ~6
Miles to date: 336
It’s one of the warmer nights we’ve had, and I sleep well until early morning when nearby cows begin their loud mooing. I pack up and sit around smacking the morning mosquitos until everyone’s ready. We have a long roadwalk ahead of us today, into the town of Anaconda. Looking at the maps, we think that around the 10-mile mark we can take another road to the highway and cut off some miles.
My shin hurts like fire today. It feels as persistently painful as the day I walked the aqueduct — probably no coincidence that both walks are on flat hard ground. We have good conversation along the way, but most of the time I’m walking a little apart from the group on my own, gritting my teeth and just trying to get through. I am in the pain cave for sure. (One of the discussions this morning is about foot pronation and gait, with my friends assessing their foot placement and the resulting wear on their shoes. “Look at Apple Juice,” someone says, observing my feet as I walk — “perfectly straight.” Whiz cracks up: “I bet that’s the first time that’s ever been said!” Despite my leg pain, I have to laugh too.)
About six miles in, we climb up into the grass on the side of the road for a snack break. We still have about 4.5 miles to our cutoff. I’ve decided I’ll have to put on an audiobook for mental distraction to get through it. A Forest Service truck comes down the road, going in our direction, and Snotfish leaps up to flag it down and ask for a hitch. I’m not hopeful, since working people on the clock don’t usually give rides. But miraculously, the driver says he’ll give us a lift “to the bottom of the road.” We’re not sure whether this means the 4.5 miles to our cutoff, the full stretch to the highway, or something else. But we’re all thrilled to hop in the back of the truck for any relief from this roadwalk.
It soon becomes clear that he means to take us all the way to the highway. I cannot stop smiling. Cowboy laughs at my dramatic mood shift, but man, my shin is killing. I’m hugely grateful for this ride, and shake the driver’s hand warmly at the end of it. He’s dropped us at the big intersection that goes to Anaconda, which is also where the state mental institution is located. I’m too dazed and tired to process the thoughts that fly through my head here about the convergence of hiking culture with disability and institutionalization and medicalization, though some of those thoughts are sparked by jokes that we’ll never get a hitch in front of the state hospital sign because drivers will think we just escaped.
We do eventually get a hitch from another pickup truck, which drops us at the edge of town. We walk the roadside, moving over periodically for cyclists (unclear to me what kind of event they are riding). When McDonalds comes into view, we very quickly decide to stop for lunch. I consume, in a very short period of time: a sausage and egg McMuffin, hashbrowns, some fries, a large Sprite, and an Oreo ice cream thing. Bellies full, we resume our walk to downtown, spreading out a bit. A car pulls over ahead of me, and when I pass by, the driver leans over. “You a hiker? Need a ride?” I didn’t even have my thumb out! She picks up Dad Jokes and Sultry as well, and drops me at a hotel before taking them to the free camping at the park.
The hotel is booked. Outside, as I look up other nearby hotels on my phone, I hear the owner tell an employee, “When you see these backpackers? They are hiking the Continental Divide. They are very professional.” This is a funny description, but I’m glad it’s a positive one, because I have definitely witnessed hikers being entitled jerks in towns before. I call another hotel, a cheap place above the Irish pub, and book a room that won’t be ready for a few hours. This leaves me to sit on a stoop texting Cyn and friends from home for a while — I’m too tired and my leg hurts too much to wander around looking for a coffeeshop.
In the room, I immediately enjoy the bliss of a shower. I’m relieved to have a bathtub, because it means I can handwash my clothes instead of walking a mile roundtrip to the nearest coin-op. The hotel provides only anti-bacterial hand soap in the bathroom, so I use my tiny dropper bottle of Dr Bronners for myself and use their hand soap for my clothes. I set up the standing fan to be a makeshift clothes dryer. Most of my blisters have healed, except for one on my big toe which I now see is slightly infected, so I clean it out and douse it in Neosporin.
I meet the friends at a small pizza joint nearby, which is complete overwhelmed by our huge appetites — we have 60-90 minutes to wait for our pies. We kill time at a bar (Whiz and I stop for milkshakes first), where I have a huckleberry mule made with vodka from a local distillery. It’s delicious. We pick up our pizzas and take them around the corner to the local brewery (where, I will note, the design of the men’s bathroom makes it very exposed and it is an act of serious courage for me to pee there). I don’t have a beer because I’m already feeling sleepy, and I begin to feel a bit overwhelmed by people and noise and general town-ness. Whiz invites me back to the other bar, where I drink another huckleberry mule and then say goodnight. (Dad Jokes: “You going to bed?” Me: “Yes, so I can continue hiking with you guys tomorrow.” It’s a joke, and he laughs, but it’s also true. I feel more keenly aware than ever of how much rest and recovery my 42-year-old body needs in order to put up these miles day after day.)
In my hotel room I talk to Cyn with my left leg propped up on three pillows, a bag of ice on my shin. Before bed I also have to mend the hole in my hiking shorts, which started very small just below the zipper a few days ago but is now about two inches long. I sew it closed with dental floss, and feel very satisfied with my work.