Slide Rule drove me out the road from Polebridge so I started the PNT at about Mile 60.5. As we were driving, we stopped and met Backtrack. He hiked by again as I was packing up for the first stretch of my 6 weeks stint on the PNT.
It was wet, soggy and cloudy all day. Who cares? I’m hiking! I was all set to fly to Atlanta and start the Appalachian Trail on April 15. Completing the AT would give me the hiking Triple Crown of the 3 big National Scenic Trails, the PCT, CDT and AT. Instead I’ve spent the last few months like everybody else, socially isolated, masked, weirding out, and chubbing up. At last I formulated a plan to hike responsibly in a pandemic. Dan can give me 6 weeks in our ‘97 Ford Sportsmobile carrying my resupply so I don’t have to hitch or otherwise rely on the kindness of strangers. So I won’t be thru hiking this 1200 mile trail but as I texted Tarcey:
I’m going hiking! I want to hate rain, wind, uphills, being freezing, shitty campsites, bushwhacking, and wandering around hoping my GPS points me in the right direction. I want to yell at the wilderness and listen to audiobooks when it’s boring, not read any news, have every piece of me hurt then fall down and have bloody knees too, surprise deer, elk and moose in the morning, drink Starbucks Via with instant oatmeal mixed in and get swarmed by mosquitoes and biting flies. I want to walk dirt roads and uncleared trails and crawl over blowdowns, kick up ash through burn areas, and find wildflowers suddenly yellow and pink in eroding hillsides. I’m going hiking!
I camped off trail at a campground chock full of people. I could see what looked like a hiker campsite, full, and kept walking around the lake on the road till I found a tent site. It was perfect and quiet. First night on the trail since last September, wahoo!
A hard, slow day but sunny. Lots of consolidated snow covering the trail, but at least there was a single set of tracks ahead of me. A few hours into the day, Backtrack caught me, and we chatted and walked together. He stopped ahead of me to dry his tent out, then caught me again. I was stoked to have him set tracks for me. There was an insane amount of uphill and I camped 4 miles early, exhausted. About 1 1/2 hours later, Petra and Retune walked by, I am so glad there’s other hikers out here. I knew from FB there were, but who knows this year, this trail.
Well that was a good choice, those 4 miles took me 4 hours in the morning. I got lost on Mt Lowe looking for the trail after 2 miles uphill. The next 2 were downhill through blowdown which was OK till I got to the mother of all blowdowns, massive trees stacked over each other, green growing trees with branches and root wads. I knew the trail headed down a creek more or less but there was no way through and no way to know how long I’d have to keep going over, under, through, around. I got lacerated to bits, fell, stepped in holes, yelled at nothingness, and was pretty sure I’d get stuck and have to activate my SOS for help. After an hour, I emerged, about 0.2 miles later. And then the trail became another wonderful old double track road bed, gently graded about 4 miles downhill to a wide, gravel road uphill another 4 miles to trail again. I camped early, a lovely quiet spot after 16 miles, sore, bleeding, exhausted.
A lot of walking in snow on side slopes. Not particularly treacherous, low consequences if I slid, it’s just really, really slow. Uphill, downhill, flat hill, it went on forever. I went up to Mt Kam to an old lookout with a hiker register in it, I saw Backtrack and Mosey had been there the day before!
Finally I made it to Bluebird Lake and thought I saw black bear mama and cub tracks. I went looking for the bear hang and more tracks, freshish. Too tired to walk on so I camped away from the fire ring and pole—paranoid—and ate a cold bagel and cheese, tomorrow’s lunch, rather than cook and send food smells to the bears. 2 hours later, a family of 4 walked in. Yay, do t think they know I’m here and they’re making so much joyous kid noise. Plus they get the good campsite and bears! Then I sprang a leak in my NeoAir because I pitched on a sharp rock in my paranoia. I think I’ve patched it for the night with the repair tape I pack for my dyneema tent, I’ll need to patch the tent floor, but manana. I’ve spent a miserable night before using my pack and spare clothes for insulation from the ground in a similar situation and survived, but yuck. At least I only have to worry about my pad tonight, not bears with the family nearby. I love you guys. Life is weird. 10 miles tomorrow, I can go backwards if the snow ahead is too scary but I’d rather get to the road, Dan and a motel
Did it! Easy 2 miles up from the lake, beautiful alpine flowers and views, then a long easy 10 miles to old road and dirt road. Dinner, shower, motel in Eureka, resting my slightly strained right quad and swollen, ridiculously normal-for-me sprained left ankle, rolled on the easy downhill about 3 miles from the end of my day. Damn.
We decided to zero in Eureka since the weather report looked bad. We drive the 50 miles to Kalispell REI where I got the last Xtherm on the shelf and I thanked the REI employee outside the store passing out face masks and the REI checkout employee for the requirement. The restaurants and motels in Eureka believe Covid is a hoax and do not mask up. After taking the plunge and flying from Alaska on Alaska Air where masks were required, but not enforced, and watching cases explode in my State, I’m sick of morons and find a happy little nod of solidarity with fellow mask wearers in stores or wherever makes my day in civilization.
As we drove into our motel parking lot, we talked with 4 more hikers who just walked in! Then met Petra and Retune who also zeroed here. They say Backtrack took the Alternate and is here too. Life is good. Dan and I intend to slackpack tomorrow, from opposite ends, the Rail to Trail few miles, exchange car key and camp.