CDT Montana Day 23: Persistence

Today’s miles: 23.6

Miles to date: 407.3

Though I’d fallen asleep to the sound of constant wind, when I wake briefly around 1am I’m struck by the complete and total silence enveloping me. I listen to the stillness for a moment, but can’t stay awake. In the morning, I feel remarkably well-rested and am packing up by 6am. It’s another cold morning, and I find a small patch of sun to stand in while I eat breakfast, then set out to tackle the remainder of last night’s climb. There are still a few blowdowns to deal with on the way up, but I feel refreshed, and just take them one by one. Near the top, I put the Sufjan Stevens album on again, and feel again the songs’ emotions merge with the landscape around me. I know that this album will forever remind me of the Montana portion of the CDT.

I take the first downhill slowly, paying attention to my shin, and pass Surprise Lake — my pals camped here, but they’re long gone by now. Five miles into my day and just before the next climb, I filter water and eat a snack, then switch my music to Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. This takes me steadily to the top, where I try to find shade and check for cell service. There’s just enough to deliver a text from Whiz that gives me mileage for her planned lunch break and camp spot, but I have no illusions that I’ll be able to catch up.

There’s something a little bit like a short ridge walk at the top, with wildflowers waving in the breeze. I try to soak it up as if it’s a real ridge walk, aware that today is my penultimate day on the CDT and that I only have a few chances left to enjoy the feeling of wind sweeping over me above treeline. On the other side, I descend into the hot mid-day sun, relieved when I finally reach Schultz Creek for a lunch break. There’s very little shade, but I fit myself into a sliver of it under a big pine tree. The creek (which I’ve internally renamed Schitt’s Creek — yay, David!) is narrower and lower than I’d anticipated, but running well. I filter enough water for lunchtime hydration and study my maps while I eat. What a luxury to take an hour for lunch!

This is the last reliable water source until I reach the road tomorrow, unless I want to go off-trail to search for a couple of sources mentioned in my trail notes. I drink a lot while I’m here, then filter nearly four liters to carry out into the afternoon sun. The trail rolls along, and I hike at a speedy but sustainable pace until quite suddenly I trip and fall face first on the ground. I’m not really injured, just a bit scraped up from the brush and rocks, but my heart races from the surprise of it. Across the trail I now see a thin tree root, attached into the ground on both ends, but just loose enough for my foot to have caught on it.

I hike through many burn sections, wilting in the heat and wishing for shade. With every step, scores of tiny grasshoppers spring out of the dust and off to the sides of the trail. They’re more enjoyable than the non-biting blackflies that buzz around my head in endless circles, and all of these insects are preferable to the two giant horseflies that seem desperate to bite me. I can’t outpace them, but if I focus I can hike fast enough that they can’t land on me. I enter a forested section and find two mountain bikers on the side of the trail, looking at their map. It’s mid-afternoon, and they’re the first people I’ve seen all day. I chat with them briefly, but the bugs are too relentless to stay. I hike out of the trees and begin another shadeless climb.

Near the top, as the forest returns, I hear what sounds like a buzzsaw in the distance, and wonder if someone is cutting trees. I’m tired and thirsty after that climb, but the horseflies have followed me all these many miles, and they won’t give up. I try to drink water while swatting them simultaneously, but the coordination eludes me. I drop my pack and walk quickly away from it, which confuses them long enough for me to guzzle half a liter before they find me again. Just as I’ve clipped my pack back on, the buzzsaw noise returns, and grows louder. A motocross bike zooms down the trail. I step into the grass as it passes me. The cloud of dust has barely settled when a second one comes roaring past, the rider holding up one finger to me. I peer down the trail and see the third one. The noise is more jarring than I would have expected, and I’m relieved when it fades into the distance.

There’s one last uphill, then down a long, hot, rocky couple of miles. The scenery begins to blend together, and my body is tired. At last, around 7pm, I emerge at a dirt road and find the privy that my trail notes mentioned. This is a trailhead, and I typically wouldn’t camp near the road, but there’s a nice little tentsite for one, and no sign of other people anywhere. There are many non-biting flies here, and a few mosquitos, but I guess the horseflies finally gave up. I eat quickly and then escape into my tent to study maps for tomorrow, deciding on the roadwalk cutoff to the highway. I can tell how worn out my body is, and how much I need a town day to recuperate, but I still feel sad as I close my eyes: last night on the CDT.

Surprise Lake in the morning.
Top of a morning climb, with bonus cell service.
One side of my quasi-ridgewalk.
And wildflowers on the other side.
Friend at my lunch break.
Afternoon trees (horseflies not pictured).

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