Gear

Appalacian Trail, AT, Continental Divide Trail

Complete Gear List

Z Packs Arc Haul (Girl Pack!)

Z packs ten degree bag

Hyperlite Mountain Gear flat tarp with mini groundhog stakes

Bugnet- Mountain Laurel Designs bug bivvy

Z-lite (small)

Frogg Toggs ultralight rain suit (jacket only)

Montbell Ultralight Down anorak

Dress

Cheap leggings

Smart wool hat

Smartwool midweight wool sweater

Darn tough socks

Ex-Officio underwear

Moving comfort sports bra

Fleece gloves

Sunglasses

Altra Lone Peak

Dirty Girl gaiters

Ursack

Jetboil

Titanium spork

Swiss army knife

Rag

Steripen Ultra

Petzl Tikka Plus

external battery

 smartphone

Headphones

Wall charger

REI Traverse trekking poles

First aid (ibuprofen, paracetamol, band aids, leuko tape, lighter, needle, floss, neosporin, band aids, and not much else)

Tooth brush and tooth paste

Hand sanitizer

Sunscreen

Duece of spades trowel

Various cuben fiber stuff sacks

CDT/ AT Baseweight: Roughly 10 pounds

(PCT baseweight: 13.5 pounds)

What I’m keeping

Zpacks Arc Haul

My pack is without a doubt my favorite piece of gear. So comfortable, durable enough to hold up to an entire thru hike and have enough life left for another, and zpacks customer service has been awesome to me. I love that it is waterproof, even in torrential thunderstorm rain. I wish it was a little smaller, but it is still awesome! Once Girl Pack is ready to retire, I’ll probably try the Zpacks Scout out.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear flat tarp (8.6 x 8.6)

Kept me warm and dry despite torrential rain, hail and snow! I only had problems finding trees to tie off to a few nights. Totally durable enough for a second thru hike too! I’ll be picking up a bug net to add to this for the AT. I’m going with the Mountain Laurel designs bug bivvy. I used their bug mid on the PCT and was impressed. This will also mean I can sleep outside my sleeping bag when the trail warms up.

Zpacks 10 degree bag

I did not freeze to death, despite some chilly nights! This bag also held up really well and I love how light it is. I’m starting the AT very early, so I’ll pair it with some down booties to sleep in for the first little while to add some extra warmth.


Montbell Ultralight Jacket

6.4 oz of awesome! The material is not very durable, so Im rocking some awesome patches, but I think this jacket will make it! The warmth to weight ratio is unbeatable. I picked up a cheapo fleece for the AT start for a whole $2.

Steripen Ultra

This thing is still going! Despite being glass and electronic, it just won’t die! I did get sick twice on the CDT, but I’m pretty sure once was poor hand washing (my hand sanitizer exploded!) And the other was probably norovirus. So! Long trails 0, Steripen 2.

Frogg Toggs

These things are not durable! But in fairness, army crawling under barbed wire fences would probably wreck any jacket. I love the price point on these and they don’t perform any worse than fancy jackets (at least until they are full of holes!) I may supliment with an umbrella on the AT.


Altra lone peaks and dirty girl gaiters

I am way too scared to change this winning combo! I had so few foot problems on the CDT- one blister, minimal plantar fasciitis. This is what works for me and I’m sticking with it. Even if I do keep needing to size up!

For a comparison of my PCT vs CDT gear, go here: https://eloiserobbins.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/before/

Summing up the CDT

Continental Divide Trail

I didn’t realize how spoiled I was on the PCT. Beautiful trail the entire way. Little roadwalking. No cows. And I didn’t camp alone a single night. A bad day on the PCT is a good day on the CDT. The CDT is not a nice trail. And while several people have congratulated me on conquering it, I didn’t. I survived it.

All of my stories from the PCT are cute and funny. The time we fought raccoons! The bowhunters that scared us! My stories from the CDT are about being alone with big animals that could easily eat me. Almost being struck by lightning. And the things which barely even register any more- rivers so huge I have to back out and find another place to cross, forest fires right by the trail, tens of miles of travel over snow. And the complete loneliness of not seeing another human being for days.

It’s not all terror though. There is the mind numbing boredom of yet another roadwalk, yet another cow field, yet another brown lump to walk over. The awesome sections of the CDT are incredible. But between them? There is nothing.

This all sounds very negative, and like maybe I should have chosen a different trail. But now it’s over, I’m so glad I hiked. I learned a lot about myself. Hiking through boring scenery? I’ll just push bigger and bigger miles. Think I’m about to die? Turns out my feelings go numb and I can still make smart decisions. And I love solitude, at least for the first few days. And I came to embrace the challenge. I never thought I’d be a fast hiker. But the CDT gave me little choice (What else are you going to do when you have 4 litres of water for 40 miles, or a massive thunderstorm is brewing and there’s no shelter for 60 miles in any direction?) I didn’t think I could be this strong, or this independent. The PCT never tested me or challenged me the way the CDT did. And it turns out I need that challenge to grow.

And while I would have been quite happy to skip 60% of the CDT, the other 40% is mind blowing. The Gila, some of Colorado, the Winds and Glacier were all more scenic and unique than anywhere on the PCT. Everyone who likes the outdoors should go hike the Winds. But please don’t. Because the high lonely places up there are the most amazing places I’ve ever been and I don’t want to share them.

I know I have several PCT friends who have the CDT on their list. Here’s what I wish I’d known before I hiked.

If you don’t want to hike alone, start with someone else. It took over half the trail for me to find other people to hike with, and that’s a common story. If you are hiking alone, expect to not see a single other human being between towns, with the exception of the CT, the popular sections of the Winds and Glacier.

Embrace the corridor approach. No one hikes the actual CDT the whole way- snow, fires and sheer stupid sections (56 miles with no water, I’m talking about you!) will make you love alternates. Figure out what is important to you in terms of defining your hike. For me, it was continuous northbound footprints. For others, it’s as much on the official CDT as possible, but flips and skips are ok. There’s not a right way to hike this trail. In the end, choosing my own routes and making my own alternates was one of my favourite things about this trail.

Don’t believe the water report. It’s not updated. Guthook comments are slightly more reliable, but it still sucks. Be prepared to find sources you were relying on dry.

Expect to get lost! I didn’t get lost once on the PCT, and I used my GPS twice to find water and a campsite. I misplaced the trail at least once a day this summer, more at the start. GPS is essential and I used it multiple times a day.

Also, the trail itself? It often sucks. Blow downs, marsh, no tread, tread so faint you can barely follow it, roads, and snow covered for miles. Don’t think it’s going to be the perfectly groomed PCT.


Take an umbrella. There is so much less shade on this trail. I think there were maybe 3 trees in the first 100 miles. I picked up an umbrella for the basin and loved it.


If you live somewhere that thunderstorms are common, you probably don’t need this warning. But we don’t have them in Scotland or Alaska, so the CDT storms were terrifying for me. They are every. Single. Day. And they can hit at any time- that whole get low before noon thing does not help. Never mind that often on the CDT, you can’t get low, or into treeline. 

I don’t mean to be discouraging. The CDT is not the fun hike the PCT is. But if you go into it willing to embrace the brutality (a phrase I thought was exaggerated before I hiked), you might enjoy the challenge.

Learning to quit.

Continental Divide Trail


On the CDT, I often wondered what it would take to get me to quit. Snow, mountain lions, almost being struck by lightning… They all made me consider it, but somehow I kept going. They say never quit on a bad day, but Wild Land has a theory that it’s better to eat wild game that’s had just one bad day. And so I wondered on the CDT, would it be that one bad day that would take me off trail? Luckily, it’s nothing so dramatic.


We hitch from Calgary to Crows Nest Pass. It’s supposed to be hard to hitch out of major cities, so we take the bus to Black Diamond and head out from there. We get a ride within a half hour and show up in Crows Nest as it’s getting dark.

We head out in the morning. All dirt roads are closed, which scuppers our planned fire detour, so we walk the highway to Pincher Creek. It’s fun and interesting at first, as we walk through the mountains past the Frank Slide, a massive rockfall that buried an entire town. But after lunch we are spat out on the prairie, and I am bored. The wind buffets me, so hard I can barely walk. I stop and take a break on the side of the road. A Mountie pulls over and I think I’m about to get in trouble for looking homeless, but he just offers me a ride. I forget I’m not on the CDT and I don’t care about continuous footprints so I turn him down and kick myself for hours afterwards.


Wild Land wants to slackpack from Waterton to Pincher Creek, but my heart isn’t in it. He heads out and I lay in bed watching Netflix. I’ve had enough of highways and smoke. In the morning, we hitch back to Crows Nest and head out to Sparwood. The wind howls in my face. I’m back in the mountains, on a highway yes, but this is better right? We pass hundreds of signs telling us the backcountry in Alberta is closed, but we can’t find any information about the BC backcountry. A fish and wildlife officer stops to make sure we’re not hiking on trails and even he can’t give us a straight answer.


In the morning, we hike through Sparwood, still on roads, and I’m still struggling with my motivation. There’s another day of roadwalking before we can even connect with the GDT, and the weather is supposed to turn. Cold, snow, rain… 


And then, the final straw. We’re a mile outside of Elkford when a man pulls over and tells us the town is being evacuated. We take his offer of a ride into town, where we find out he’s overreacted a little. It’s an alert to be prepared to evacuate, but not an evacuation order yet. We also find out that the backcountry is closed here too, and we face steep fines (and, you know, burning to death) on our planned alternate. Wild Land makes plans to sit and wait for the bad weather that will reopen the backcountry, but I’m done. I start making plans to go back to Calgary.


So what does it take to make me quit? Being unable to set foot on the actual trail, a wall of fire, and the threat of snow. Don’t worry though, GDT! I’ll hike you some day!

The great Sandwich Van adventure

Continental Divide Trail


We call border patrol in Waterton, to declare ourselves inside the country. He gives us all a little phone interview and then we are legally in Canada. We celebrate with poutine. And then it is time to go. Waterton is expensive, so Glimmer books us a cheap motel in Cardston and we hitch there, getting a ride instantly.


Except Cardston turns out to be a crappy little town in the middle of nowhere. The only thing open is the pizza place. We get pizza and watch Indianna Jones. In the morning, breakfast and then we say goodbye to Glimmer, who is hitching back to the states.

Lake Louise, not Lake Eloise, silly!


Anywhere is better than Cardston, so Thatch, Wild Land and I all start hitching too, towards Calgary. Except there’s a reservation right outside of town and it turns out Southern Albertans are really racist. We get a million weird looks before an older man picks us up because “he could tell we weren’t Indians.” I’m horrified, but no one has stopped in over an hour. He drives us to his even more racist friend’s house and then on to Fort Lewis.


This starts a chain of three other hitches, including a guy who stayed at our campsite in Glacier. Finally, we are in Calgary, where we train and bus to the airport to pick up a car. I feel dizzy and faint and realize all I’ve eaten since breakfast is Timbits. Guess my hiker hunger is gone.


We stop for sandwich fixings. Can’t have a sandwich van without sandwiches! I make us all sandwiches as Wild Land drives us out of town. The praries give way to mountains, washed white in moonlight. A shooting star, big enough to be a fireball, whizzes overhead, orange and green. We find a place to pull over just by Kananaskas. The boys set up their tents, but there’s a perfect Fun Size spot in the back of the car where I set out my sleeping bag.


I wake to towering granite peaks overhead. These mountains are spectacular. We go to Kananaskas lodge for coffee, then Wild Land drives us towards Canmore. Smoke obscures everything, the worst we’ve seen, but the peaks drifting in and out are massive.


We drive straight past Banff, bored of mountain towns, but we do stop at Lake Louise. For about five minutes. Its pretty, but there’s a massive hotel, $100 an hour canoe rentals flooding the lake, and a horde of tourists. Seeing places that should be wilderness flooded with people like this is far more jarring for me than finding myself in a massive city 24 hours after getting off trail.


Wild Land, who is playing tour guide, finds us another lake for lunch. This one is much quieter and just as pretty. We drive the Ice Fields parkway up to Jasper, stopping at all the spots we don’t have to walk far to get to. This is a day off, after all.


We camp off a little dirt road. I sleep late- Wild Land wakes me up by bursting into the car singing happy birthday. Today is another day of driving- through Edmonton, where we get the whirlwind tour, then South through Calgary. Then, across the border, to drop Thatch off in the morning. The further south we get, the more the smoke rolls in. We hear on the radio that Waterton is being evacuated. 

We run into East Glacier in the morning. We get breakfast, and say goodbye to Thatch. Spindrift comes in, on his way to the border, and let’s us know that they are no longer issuing new permits for Glacier. It’s headache after headache for the hikers behind us. We roll off back to Calgary, drop of the car, and try to figure out a section of trail to hike that is not on fire.

The End. (East Glacier to Waterton )

Continental Divide Trail

In the middle of the night, a bear crashes into the campsite. At least, that’s what I think, until I reach for my bear spray and find my phone instead. I can’t figure out what it’s plugged into, until I come to enough to realize I’m in a hostel, the bear is Wild Land, who can’t sleep in the boys room and I’m inside. This does not bode well for reintroduction into society if I can barely handle being inside for one night. 

We’re all groggy in the morning, and get coffee and breakfast. Glimmer has seamlessly been folded into our trail family. And then we head out, climbing up to a high ridge. The smoke rolls in, but the view is still the best I’ve seen since the winds. I feel like so much of the CDT has been unspectacular- brown lumps, rolling grassland, cow fields. But the fantastic bits? They are some of the best hiking I’ve ever done.

There are a million day hikers and they are all grumpy- it’s too hot, too Smokey etc. But I find a quiet switchback and sit alone, eating an apple, watching the mountains ghost in and out of the smoke, and I am wildly happy. This is where I belong.

We make the 10 miles to Twin Medicine easily. Wild Land has sorted out our permits with the ranger there. We have a few shorter days than we wanted, but oh well. We will still finish three days before my birthday, our target end date. Our miles for the day done, we raid the store for soda and ice cream, then sit by the lake, alternating between watching the people and the landscape.

In the morning, we have 25 miles and 5,000ft elevation gain. At some point, what would have been impossibly difficult on the PCT became an easy day for me. It rains a little as I climb Pitikan Pass, but I take a long break on the top, watching bighorn sheep and the stunning scenery. We drop down to the valley floor before the equally stunning triple divide pass.

We’re lounging at the top when Wild Land comes up. He’s been behind us all day, but he looks a little shaken and pulls out his phone. He proceeds to show us a terrifying video of a grizzly walking down the trail towards him, obviously agitated. He tells us this was a mile back, just ten minutes after we walked through and saw nothing.

We form a little hiker train after that, through the brush and burn, to our campsite by red eagle lake. We’re lazy in the morning. Glimmer makes coffee and we pass it around. It’s almost nine when we leave, hiking 15 miles along a lake to the road, where we take a shuttle to a restaurant.

We sit and consume burgers and beer, then goof off in a photo booth. By the time we go outside again, the smoke has rolled in thick enough that we can barely see the mountains above us. The sun burns red. We take a shuttle a few more miles to the visitor center, for wifi and to make sure we’re not about to burn to death. I learn online that we’ve just skated through another closure- the CDT through the Bob is about to be closed by one of the fires we walked past. Despite feeling conflicted about finishing, I am suddenly so glad to be at the end this early. The Bob wasn’t the stunning place I was promised, but I’m still glad I got to see it. I brush the ash that’s fallen on my phone off, before we take the last shuttle and hike a final mile to our campspot.

We climb up and up over a pass in the morning. The smoke clears as we climb- finally I can breathe again. The wind buffets me, but it’s so beautiful and I’m so happy to finally be able to see. Then it’s down to Many Glacier, where the hordes of tourists give me a panic attack, but there’s a little restaurant, where we traumatize the waiter by asking for a can of whipped cream and demolishing the entire thing.

We climb Swiftcurrent pass, easy in the cool evening air. Near the top, I have a standoff with a mountain goat. I wait patiently until he gets bored and heads up hill, but the trail switchbacks and this plays out three times before he finally wanders off. I crest the pass, then it’s down to our crowded campsite. I like meeting other hikers, but I resent the way Glacier cramps so many people into such a small space. Thatch and Glimmer haven’t shown up quite yet, but Wild Land and I join the other hikers for dinner. I look around and realize I am surrounded by 8 men and not a single other woman. Guess the gender disparity is not just for thru hikers. Then Glimmer shows up and I feel slightly less out of place.

I don’t sleep well. Some animal crashes t through our campground, which reminds me about the granola bar I forgot about in my pack. Every time someone turns over, it convinces me I’m about the be eaten. In the morning, we’re high on the high line trail, contouring ridges. I find bear poop so fresh it’s practically steaming, and bear prints over the tracks in front of me. I wait for Glimmer, who is closest behind, and we hike together until lunch.

We stop at a campsite for lunch, chatting to a group of guys. They are all heading out the next day and have too much food. We’re leaving too, but we take their food, always happy to eat more. The trail throws us down to the valley floor by a lake, for an easy 20 mile day. 

We’re all up early in the morning, antsy, ready to go. Glimmer makes coffee and we share it. It hits me hard and I practically run down the trail. 7 miles to the border and 11 to Waterton. Let’s do this!

Canada that way!

We regroup at the lake, then it’s 4 miles to the border. I get there just after Wild Land. As always, there’s a mix of emotion. Relieved and happy to be done. Excited and proud. And so sad that it’s over. Glimmer pulls out home made crowns, we take our photos, drink our celebratory wine. Then it’s another 4 miles to Waterton and we are done.

Or are we? There’s another trail, starting where the CDT ends. Everything is closed for fires, but still. I’m ready for a new adventure.

Augusta to East Glacier

Continental Divide Trail

Our hitch into Augusta told us he gave a solo woman a ride out to the trailhead just before we showed up. We are confused: there are so few woman on trail that I tend to follow them closely and I haven’t seen another female hiker since Leadore. In Augusta, we learn the hiker is Glimmer, and I suddenly want to catch her so badly. She’ll have an 8 hour head start on us though- hard miles to make up even in a 140 mile section.


Thatch chats up a guy at breakfast and we’ve soon scored a ride back to the trail. We’re at the parking lot by 1, but I feel awful. I throw out my z lite and lie down. Wild Land heads out while Thatch and I linger. I use the outhouse and then follow him, as it starts to rain. There are day hikers everywhere, at least by CDT standards. My stomach gurgles ominously, and I worry I’ll embarrass myself in front of them. I stop a few times and chug some pepto. 
Thatch catches me taking a break, but we don’t find Wild Land anywhere. Tour Guide comes past sobo, giving me a massive hug, but with the bad news that Wild Land is half an hour ahead. It’s getting dark. We push on, but fall a mile short of where he is. 


I’m up early in the morning, as always, and head up towards the pass before the Chinese wall. Turning a switchback, I look back and see Wild Land behind me. Huh. Guess I passed him in the morning. We walk along the wall, stopping for photo breaks. In the afternoon, we cross spotted bear pass and the trail becomes rougher. Rocks, slippy on the river crossings and overgrown, I hurt my toe on something. Every time I bend it is agony and I start to wonder if I’ve broken it. Finally, I have a hiker hobble.
It’s a little better in the morning, as I climb aptly named Switchback pass. I crest the pass and see smoke. Great. It’s on the other side of the valley though, no big deal, right? Wild Land confirms and then we’re running down the valley, following rivers. By afternoon, we’ve circled the ridge the fire was on and can see it blowing up. A column of smoke rises, dark and billowing. I see more trail closures coming and I’m so glad we’ve skated through.

We pass more fires- I stop counting after three. All are distant enough that I’m not scared, but trying to figure out if the trail is open becomes a hassle. Still, we are running for town, trying to catch Glimmer on this last stretch. Bear prints soon appear, on top of the prints of the hikers in front. I chatter pointlessly, bear noise necessary. Wild Land and I reach the highway before Thatch. There’s an overpriced restaurant a half mile down the road and we decide to wait for him there. I stuff my face with pasta, appetite finally back, but Thatch doesn’t show.

The two of us camp by the highway, and following the recent trend, I’m out of camp before Wild Land is even stirring. I find Thatch just inside the park. “Excuse me sir, do you have a permit?” I wake him up with my best ranger impression. Then I’m flying down the trail in the morning sunshine. By 11, I’m sick of talking to myself, so I blast my music out my speaker and sing along. I immediately see day hikers for the first time in a long time, but I have no shame. And right behind them is Glimmer! She is slackpacking South and warns me of bears up ahead, though I won’t see any. We’ll meet up in town. Finally, another woman hiker!

Lincoln to Augusta

Continental Divide Trail

The first person we bump into in Lincoln is Wild Land, who has roadwalked to beat us there. We eat… or at least I try to. I manage half a bowl of soup and a few bites of salad before calling it quits. We find a spot at the RV park. I’m asleep at 6:30 – early even by hiker standards.

I eat a little more at breakfast, although Wild Land makes fun of my dead appetite. After, we move to the library for wifi and eclipse watching. There’s a woman’s sewing circle going on and they all instantly fall in love with Wild Land. Thatch benefits too as they throw food at us. I choke down some soup and lie down on a pile of thermarests in the shade.

Thatch and I stand on the side of the road trying to hitch while Wild Land roadwalks to meet us further down trail. Our prospects for a ride don’t look good and I am gloomy. “The trail provides.” Thatch reminds me. It takes us an hour to hitch out and we only manage three miles before dark. I’m up before Thatch in the morning. He tells me he’ll catch me up. I don’t mind- I’m slow from being sick and I feel like being alone. I climb up, drop down and climb back up all day. 

Before lunch, I pass a trailhead sign for Alice Creek. I know there’s a wildfire burning with that name, and as I crest a ridge I see smoke, and then flame. There are signs posted in the area- the trail is open, but there’s no camping allowed. A little further down, two firefighters watch their team fight the fire. They are just as curious about me as I am about them. I leave a message for Thatch with them and continue on.

I climb up and then I’m on a ridge, the wind whipping my dirty hair, completely alone. I look out over the blue trees on one side and the brown peaks on the other and it hits me. I’m walking from Mexico to Canada on the CDT. And I’m almost done. I start to laugh, giddy with joy.

I meet Wild Land at the agreed spot, but there’s barely any water and I haven’t seen Thatch since camp. We lounge, waiting, but it’s getting late and it’s 5 miles to the next good camping with water. Feeling guilty, I leave a note for Thatch and off we go. The trail drops down and down, to the valley floor. We find a camp spot and ten minutes later, in rolls Thatch. The firefighters had told him he was three hours behind me, and he’s run to catch up.


The boys are lazy in the morning, and I pack up and eat breakfast. I like being a little ahead of then, but not too far. Finally, there is movement and I head out. We leapfrog down the trail all morning, until I see Wild Land standing in the middle of the trail, pack off, not saying anything. I think he’s just taking a break until I see the bear spray in his hand. “What’s up?” I ask. He saw something biggish and brown crashing through the bushes. “Probably a deer.” I tell him, but I keep my spray out. He asks if me holding my spray means I’m going first. I roll my eyes, but I don’t mind.

We run down river valley’s towards benchmark and our hitch to Augusta. I hike fast for the fun of it and when we reach the parking lot, Wild Land tells me we’ve done 10.5 miles in 2 hours 50 minutes. There’s no cars though, and the boys sit dejected. “We probably won’t get into town tonight.” Thatch says. “Not with that attitude!” I tell him. I want a cheeseburger, damnit! I rouse the boys and we hike over to the main road, where there is soon a smiling man holding a beer who happily stops for us. He hands Thatch and I beers of our own, and after three days of barely eating, I am nicely drunk by town.

  Helena to Lincoln

Continental Divide Trail

Wild Land’s parents drive us into Helena. The first stop is a Chinese buffet, where I match Wild Lands dad plate for plate, except my plates have twice as much food. I can barely move on the way back to the hotel. I feel ok, but by 9pm, I’m nauseated, dizzy, and I go puke my guts up in the bathroom.

I feel better in the morning, but I’m still light headed and sick. Wild Land was already planning on zeroing, but I’d hoped to head out. Oh well. Wild Lands parents take us to the wildlife center, where they have a scale. It reads 110lbs for me. Great. Time to eat more, even if I don’t feel fantastic. We bum around town and meet back up with Thatch, who had been off having his own town adventures.

In the morning, Wild Land tells us he wants to double zero. I can’t stay, so his parents drive me and Thatch to the pass. We hug goodbye. “Hike fast and catch up, you jerk.” I tell him. We’ve said goodbye so many times but this one feels more final.

Thatch and I climb the golden hills so typical of this part of the trail. The smoke has lifted a little, so we get some views for a while. It rolls back in in the afternoon. The sun turns bloody and the blue hills fade out like watercolors. We stop to tank up for this dry section at Dana Spring and watch as the sun is completely obscured by smoke. “Sure would be nice to be hiking with a Wild Land firefighter right now.” Thatch quips. We stop a little early, right before a massive climb, since it’s getting dark early from the smoke.

I leave before Thatch in the morning, expecting him to catch me quickly. Someone has squished our gently rolling hills together, turning what were soft slopes before into steep climbs. I climb a hill just to be thrown back down again and immediately start the whole process over.

I stop and wait for Thatch a few times, but I get cold before he catches up. Then, before lunch, I take a wrong turn and have to cut cross country for a hundred feet. Sitting under a scrubby tree is the biggest pile of bear poop I’ve ever seen. I make it a little further down the ridge and eat lunch, when Thatch finally catches me.

We take a break at a fire tower, looking out over Smokey hills. Then we turn a corner and see plumes rising from an adjacent hill. We’ll learn later it’s a mostly contained fire, but it’s still a little worrying.

I fall asleep just fine, but I wake up at midnight sick to my stomach. I roll over and immediately throw up with no warning. Thank goodness my tarp doesn’t have a floor. This continues every half hour or so until it’s finally light enough to get up. I throw up one last time as I pack up my tarp. If I had a job, I’d call in sick, but you can’t call in sick to hiking. It’s 2 miles to a trailhead, where Thatch tentatively suggests hitching to town. It’s only another 13 to a busier highway though and I don’t feel too bad unless I’m going up hill.

Of course, there’s a lot of uphill. I take frequent breaks to try and quell my nausea. But soon the views are breathtaking and that takes me mind off every thing else. I can’t bring myself to eat, but I’m keeping down water, and when I find a huckleberry patch, I cram a few in my mouth. You’re never too sick for berries.

 Anaconda to Helena

Continental Divide Trail

We leave Anaconda later than we mean to. I’m antsy, sitting in the motel room bouncing my legs, waiting for everyone to do their last minute stuff. The closer I get to the border, the more I want to just fly.

We’re on dirt roads, and, like so much of Montana has been, we’re walking up and down rolling golden hills, the distant peaks obscured by smoke. I’m a little bored by anything not spectacular at this point in my hike, and I’m wondering if I’ll even have any thing to blog about this time

The trail leads us in and out of forest, and on the second day out of town, I’m ahead of the guys. I think about how much this reminds me of the PCT and how safe and comforted I feel under these pines. No sooner have I finished thinking this and I round the corner and see it.


Brown fur flies down the hillside towards the trail. It’s moving fast, but I can still make out the hump and the shorter, square face. Grizzly bear! It reaches the trail, turns and takes a few fast steps towards me. For half a second, I think I’m being charged. HEY! I yell. It stops, maybe 50 ft away and stands up on its hind legs, looking at me. Before, I would have said it was a small bear, but on its back legs, it is taller than me. Suddenly, I remember that I have bear spray and pull it out. I yell again and it drops to all fours, turns and runs, before turning back and hopping back onto two legs to check me out again, curious about this strange, dirty, smelly woman.


I retreat back down the trail to wait for a friend. My legs are shaking from adrenaline, but I am strangely calm and unafraid. It takes almost five minutes for Wild Land to catch up and I almost start back up the trail without him I’m so impatient, although my common sense gets the better of me.

The rest of the day is uneventful. We lose  Thatch, and we lose the trail, but find both again before it gets dark. In the morning, we hike fast. It’s only 20 miles to the pass, for a total of 75 miles hiked in just over 48 hours. Wild Lands parents meet us at the pass, enveloping me in huge hugs and handing me Tupperware full of blueberries.

Lima to Anaconda

Continental Divide Trail


We lounge around Lima, eating healthy food for a change. Wild Land has come up with a roadwalk out of town that will make the upcoming fire detours easier and put him back on schedule. I dream of finishing on my 30th birthday (which is logistically very difficult!) Thatch books a train ticket for after the hike. We plan on hiking together, at least for a while. Finally, I have a little trail family.


Thatch and I head out and slackpack the 20 miles back to Lima along a dirt road by the interstate. It’s easy walking and we crush 20 miles in 5 hours, no breaks. We stop in Lima for a burger, and then it’s another 10, despite starting at 10am, past a tiny gas station where we buy coffee for the morning. We sleep in a field by the train tracks. At 11:30pm, a freight train comes through, blasting it’s horn. I’m completely disorientated, and can’t remember where I’ve camped. I have to peek under my tarp to remind myself it’s a few hundred feet away.


It’s more of the same in the morning, leapfrogging each other and stringing out along the road as we adjust our paces for time of day and energy/caffeine levels. I start to think about finishing. The whole trail, I’ve just wanted to be done, to have the CDT be something I did, rather than something I’m doing. But now I’m not so sure. Wild Land mentions I’m welcome to keep hiking with him after the border, and I’m tempted. But then, once we reach the turn off we’re allowed to hitch from, the clouds build and thunder rolls and I realize, I’m ready for this adventure to be over. I’m tired, physically and emotionally, I hurt, and I’m ready for a change of pace.


We get a ride to Leadore just before the heavens open. Our ride is a little scary- 90mph down a dirt road, dodging cows. But I’m excited for town. Both Thatch and I should have new shoes there, and thanks to a failure to do math, my shoes are approaching 900 miles and I can feel every rock through them. We double dinner at the little restaurant in town, then camp for free across from the motel, thanks to the nicest motel owner I have met so far.


In the morning, I pass the closed restaurant, hit the post office for my shoes, then get breakfast at the gas station. The restaurant is open by the time I walk back, so I get second breakfast. I hang out on the motel porch, drinking soda and messing around on the internet when Thatch comes up. He’s been sick all morning and isn’t feeling better. He tells Wild Land and I that he can catch up. I tell them we can wait a little longer and go to get him a Gatorade and me a sandwich. By the time I get back, the guys have come up with a plan. Sam the motel owner will give us a ride first thing in the morning, saving us a hard hitch. Thatch can recover today and we can crush miles tomorrow. Wild Land and I hang out on the porch with the locals, watching the thunderstorms roll past. 


We get a late start- 8am back on trail. We immediately walk past a ranch with signs warning about guard dogs. The first vicious guard dogs sits fat and happy surrounded by his sheep buddies, wagging his tail and not even bothering to get up to greet us. The second comes over and walks with us for a while, demanding pets. Thatch and I stop for breakfast and when Wild Land comes up, he has a new puppy friend too. 


The two dogs identify me as the softest touch and attach themselves to me. I hike on, stopping to pet them often. About six miles past the ranch and Wild Lands friend has wandered off, but the other dog is still with me. Much as I’d like to take him to Canada, he’s visibly tiring and there’s been no shade or water. I try and chase him off, yelling and throwing rocks towards him. He drops back, further and further, but still follows me. I feel bad, but it’s for his own good. Finally I can’t see him anymore. Thatch will later tell me that a car came and picked him up.


We’re accidentally on the GDMBR again, which makes me feel better about our detour. An Irish biker stops to talk to me and I visibly blow his mind when he figures out I’m walking a version of what he’s biking. He can’t believe I have everything I need in my backpack, looking down at his fully loaded bike. He loses interest when Thatch wanders up and we keep hiking. A guy from New Zealand stops to talk to us later. Turns out he knows the New Zealand racer I met earlier this summer. He tells me he finished in 10th place and I am so happy for him.

We eat up the miles on the road, with 33 miles taking us to the tiny town of Polaris. There’s a restaurant there, and though the kitchen is closed, the bar tender loads us up with beer and snacks. A couple at the bar chats to us, asking how we all met. The woman can’t believe I was hiking alone and I’m a little short with her, telling her the guys were hiking alone too. Wild Land makes a joke about my height to diffuse the tension. I’m still a little miffed though. I liked surprising people at the start of this trail, but now I am so tired of the off hand sexist comments. We camp on the grass outside the restaurant, and in the morning, there is breakfast.


We head out late. Wild Land is slow, stopping at every outhouse. It’s his turn for gastro distress. There’s a hot springs just down the road and we stop there for lunch. I eat my burger and feel nauseated too. I lie down on a bench, but that doesn’t help, so I get up and start hiking. By the top of the hill, I’m feeling better, although Wild Land passes me like I’m standing still, despite his feeling crappy.

It’s more of the same in the morning. We crush 15 miles to Wise River, where there is a bar. We spend an hour and a half eating pizza and Thatch and I split a pitcher of beer. Somehow I am still able to do another 20 miles after this. My new shoes are too small and I take Ibuprofen and limp along. Wild Land tells me stories to distract me. We camp in national forest across the road from a ranch and their dog barks all night. Groggy, we hurry to Anaconda in the morning, reaching town before the rain starts.