CDT Montana Day 20: Best Life Now

Today’s miles: 1.5?

Miles to date: 337.5

I wake early and take a slow walk to the grocery store, about a mile away. I’m disappointed to find that my shin still hurts. I buy my resupply, and go next door to the CVS for a stretchy ankle brace and a compression bandage. Hopefully one of these will mitigate the shin pain. I walk back (noting deer nibbling bushes in people’s front yards, noting the many signs of impoverishment in this town and thinking about how they contrast to the hip local brewery we were at last night), and meet my friends for enormous, delicious breakfast burritos.

I do my last town chores at the hotel (backflush my filter, wash my spoon and cold-soak jar, etc.) and begin my walk to the park where hikers stay for free. Happily, a few of my friends have gotten a hitch back from the grocery store and stop to pick me up as well. Anaconda just became an official gateway community for the CDT, and as part of that designation the town has set up a hub of hiker services in a corner of the park. In addition to free water and camping, there’s access to the public pool showers and bathrooms, plus a hiker hut (essentially a trailer) with tables and benches, a hiker box, information about town services, a list of local trail angels, a key to the port-a-potty outside, charging stations and wifi, and even a bicycle. It’s really impressive. In almost every town stop, local business owners have told me how many more hikers there are this year. A lot of them seem kind of overwhelmed or uncertain about the greater hiker presence, which is growing as the CDT gains popularity and which is also very seasonal. On the whole they’re very kind to us, but I find myself curious about the CDT’s economic and cultural effects on these spaces, many of which strike me as relatively insular and are also quite rural. So many questions to explore.

I prop my leg up on a bench, eat a bag of cookies that Sultry Bear’s mom sent in his resupply box (thank you, Sultry’s mom!!), and try to hydrate. A trail angel picks us up around 2pm and drives us out near Storm Lake — this skips a long roadwalk out of town. By the time we pile out of his truck, we’re at 8,000+ feet, and my lungs can tell immediately.

We walk slowly up a long dirt road toward Storm Lake. Dad Jokes is well behind, having hurt his foot badly in town last night. But none of us move very speedily — my leg hurts, and I think most others are feeling the effects of a late night and multiple drinks. The road takes us right to the edge of the lake, and it is spectacular. Some of the most scenic mountain landscape I’ve seen on this trip since Glacier. Whiz proclaims she’s camping here tonight, and between the hangovers, injuries, and clouds rolling in toward what would be our late afternoon climb, we’re all happy to agree with her.

We trek around to the back of the lake, finding a truly perfect campsite just before the CDT starts to go uphill. We’re all wide-eyed about the endless beauty of this place. Mindful of the clouds, I pitch my tent right away, and then we all just…relax and enjoy the scenery. It’s so rare on a long-distance hike, when you’re on a schedule, to just have a whole afternoon and evening to lounge in a gorgeous place. (I’m not on a schedule, but the rest of these folks intend to do the whole trail, and so they need to get to certain sections like Colorado before the snow gets bad, etc.) I feel deeply happy. We eat, chat, and doze — Cowboy and Dad Jokes even get in the lake for a few freezing seconds. Big clouds roll over the mountains but never produce rain. One by one we retreat to our tents for naps.

When I wake up, Whiz is nearby gathering downed branches for firewood. But now it’s really cold and windy out, so I say goodnight instead of hanging around the campfire. Part of me regrets not spending this time with the trail family, especially on the first night of my last section with them. But my body doesn’t feel rested enough from our brief town stop, and there’s a lot of climbing ahead tomorrow. I’m grateful for the extra sleep and for this beautiful place to sleep in.

Cowboy in the hiker hut, finding a way to re-roll his toilet paper so it’s more compact for this section.
First sight of Storm Lake.
The friends walking along the front side of Storm Lake.
Cowboy, the CDT, the mountains, the lake. Everything felt perfect.
Dad Jokes, Cowboy, Whiz (“oh were you taking a picture? I didn’t notice”), and Snotfish, near our campsite. We sat here for hours.

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