800 and something miles down and I’ve finally made it to Wyoming! Centennial Mountains. A sheep experiment. Mack’s Inn. Yellowstone National Park.
Left town at 6 p.m., walked a few miles, camped in cow paddock. That’s about it.
Woke up, hiked, ate, hiked, ate, hiked, ate, slept. That’s about it.
Today was one of the most rewarding I’ve had so far on the trail. I’ve been kind of blah about the trail the last couple hundred miles, it’s been really hot and dry and kind of a slog, and increasingly I’ve just wanted to be done with Montanaho and move on to Wyoming.
I spent the morning walking through a ‘Sheep Experiment Station’ run by the US Department of Agriculture, a little odd, but a nice change of scenery from the cows.
The trail then climbed up onto a ridge where I experienced maybe the strongest wind I’ve ever encountered while walking, it was seriously hard to walk and very frustrating because it went on for miles. I put in my earphones and listed to my new audio book, Watership Down. Apparently when I was a kid I really like watching that movie, so much so that my nickname to this day from my Dad is Rabbit. Rabbi for short, but Rabbit when he’s being formal. Thanks Dad. Anyway, I don’t really remember the story so I thought it’d be a good book for me to listen to. ‘Book to listen to’, still sounds so odd to me, books are for reading, real bound paper that can be held and each page turned, but then i’ve grown quite fond of these audiobooks on this hike, so maybe i’m modernizing my viewpoint in this regard a little.
Around lunch time I was finishing a long ascent, I rounded a corner and right there in front of me were the Teton Mountains! The Tetons! I wasn’t expecting it at all. If you aren’t familiar with this impressive looking mountain range, you should visit them at some point. I’ve grown familiar with the Tetons as Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is on the southern end and I usually get up there to ski once a season, it’s a pretty short drive from home in Salt Lake City. So there they were, way off in the distance, but their distinctive shape gave them away at once.
The trail hasn’t to this point made me cry, not the constant foot pain, the blisters, the bears, the lightening storms, the heat, losing the trail or anything else. I’ve been close, many many times, but have always stopped short of actually having a cry. Well, the sight of the Tetons finally did it. So many emotions hit me at once: surprise, delight, relief, achievement and a closeness to home and the familiar. I sat down, stared at them and cried with happiness. I called my buddy Trover and all I could get out on the phone was “the Tetons, I can see the fucking Tetons, the Tetons, Trover, the Tetons. I can see Wyoming. The Tetons…”. Trover is the one that first planted the seed about long distance hiking and the CDT, he mentioned it to me hiking down from Catherine’s Pass at Alta a couple of years ago, and it’s been my goal and focus ever since to hike the darn thing.
The rest of the day was a long but gradual descent. I was on cloud 9. I put on Quicksilver Messenger Service’s album ‘Happy Trails’ and sang and danced my way all the way to camp that night. I’m coming Wyoming, i’m coming! This is such a totally ridiculous but awesome adventure. Days like today are why i’m still out here.
Today involved a route choice, the official CDT follows the route around Henry’s Lake and involves a long water carry, the alternate is the Mack’s Inn route, is about 40 miles shorter, has town food and lodging, but involved a LOT of road walking, like 25 or so miles of it. I don’t know anyone that has actually hiked the official route through here, the draw of getting to Wyoming sooner got me and I decided to hike the alternate through Mack’s Inn.
My feet really hate road walking, it just tears them up after 5 or so miles. To top it off, in the war my feet are waging against me, i’d acquired a new blister the second day into this stretch and it was killing me. I got to town around 2 p.m., i was SO relieved to rest my feet. It was an odd experience though, Mack’s Inn/Island Park is just outside Yellowstone’s west entrance and so there were people EVERYWHERE. Hordes of people floating the Snake River, a big line of people at the ice cream shop, cars and RVs and big trucks filled the parking lot, kids were running around in swim suits making way too much noise… I haven’t seen this many people for a long long time. I must have stood on the bridge crossing the Snake River for 10 minutes looking at this scene, it was sensory overload, I think I was a little confused for a few minutes. Ha.
Anyway, I checked into a cabin, took a nice shower, took care of my feet and grabbed a margarita and some tacos on the deck at the Mexican restaurant next to the river. I like my town time, and this isn’t really town time as i’m leaving early in the morning, more like temporary town time.
At least 15 of today’s 20 miles were on roads. Pavement turned to gravel and eventually turned to abandoned and overgrown. Oddly for a couple of miles there were giant berms on one of the abandoned roads, like giant ones, one after the other. ??? Why??? Aside from watching the devolution of the road system as it transitioned from town to forest, today was just long and hot. I had to finish at the Yellowstone National Park boundary as I don’t yet have a permit and they require a backcountry permit to camp overnight in the park.
I got to the boundary around 3 p.m. I don’t think I’ve had a day the whole trail where I’ve been in camp long enough to just hang out and relax, normally i’m pulling in right on sunset and rushing to get all my chores done before the night sets in. I was pretty dehydrated so it was hard to really kick back and enjoy this forced down time; i’d left town with 3 liters of water and the next water source was still 8 miles ahead of me inside the park boundary. I was so tempted to hike on in and camp at that lake, but decided that I shouldn’t break the rules. So, I lay in the dirt next to my tent, in a small patch of shade but still in the oppressive heat, and stared up at the sky and the trees trying to think about anything other than how thirsty i was… until the light finally softened and the evening cool set in. I was in my tent and asleep well before the sun set.
WYOMING! WYOMING! WYOMING!
I woke up at 5 a.m. keen to get to the Wyoming state line in 2 miles and that lake in 8 miles. I was excited.
I arrived at the state line and celebrated by drinking the last bit of water in my bottle. It was the best gulp of water I’ve ever had. Getting to Wyoming mentally is a huge deal for me. I honestly didn’t know if I could hike this trail when I started out, especially in light of my failed attempt last year and the series of injuries I battled right up until I left for the trail back in June, and to some extent am still dealing with (the ankle). But by some kindness of the universe, one by one my mental milestones have been toppled. My first big milestone was getting through Glacier National Park, then it was surviving 30 days on the trail, and the last big one for me was getting through Montana. So now you understand why I cried when I saw the Tetons yesterday.
Montana is nearly a third of the trail, its strict mileage is about 1000 miles, but taking alternates here and there, like everyone does, my mileage is actually somewhere in the mid 800’s, I think. If anyone cares to add up the mileage from my posts i’d be very curious to know where i’m at. The whole CDT is between 2500 and 3200 miles, depending on route choice. I know that seems like a huge variance, but this isn’t ‘a trail’, it’s a series of trails and roads and you very often have options for how to navigate your way from point A to B. It seems like everyone takes the alternates if they’re shorter or easier, so I think for most the trail mileage at this point is between 850-900.
16 of the 18 miles to town were in pine forests, or burned sections of pine forest. Blah. But then 2 miles out the trail dumped down right into Biscuit Basin, tourist boardwalk and all. It was pretty funny actually, I was cruising down a hill of tight pines, banging my poles together and yelling out ‘hey bear’ and all of a sudden I came around a corner to see a group of camera clicking tourists wondering what all the commotion was. Ha. Hadn’t realized I was so close to the day hiker crowd yet.
This area of the park is jam-pack filled with geo thermal hot springs, some with pools of stunning colors, others in geyser cones with pressure building up and up until they shoot a stream of steam into the air. It was a very neat 2 mile walk into the Old Faithful Village. I got there a little after lunch and met up with Dora and Dirt for a burger, apparently they’d been just ahead of me this last stretch.
Rest at Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park
Oh, it’s fun being a tourist! Shops and nice restaurants and comfortable lobby couches, and in this town, geyser eruptions to watch! I really feel like the National Park Service manages its parks really well from a tourist perspective, and Xanterra, the management company running most of the hotels and concessions i’m pretty impressed with too. Old Faithful is home to Old Faithful Lodge, constructed at the turn of the 19th century, it was the first grand national park hotel to be constructed in the west and is the largest log hotel in the world. Beautiful building.
Old Faithful is named after the geyser at the center of the village. The geyser is named Old Faithful because they can predict its next eruption within a 10 minute window, and it goes off all day long about every 35-120 minutes. I’ve sat out on the bench like a well behaved tourist and watched it go off 6 times already, it’s really pretty cool. The steam shoots up and reaches heights of nearly 180 feet. Wow, nature, wow. I face-timed with Mum and Dad for one of the eruptions, so they got to see it in action too. A bizarre site to digest from subtropical Australia, i’m sure.
So, I’ve also had some time to reflect on things. I have no mental milestones after this (yet), as I mentioned it was Glacier, then 30 days in, then finishing Montana. Although my overarching goal has always been to stay out here for 5 months and not get injured. Now that i’m 2 months in and a third of the trail is under my belt, perhaps i’ll reevaluate that goal? I can stay on the trajectory i’m on, taking my time and listening to my body, or I can decide I want to hike the whole trail before the snow falls in Colorado and take it up a notch in daily mileage and shorten my town stays. Or maybe i’ll just hop a plane to Australia and go sailing with my parents in the Whitsunday Islands next week? Kidding, but it did enter my mind as I was tending to my sore feet this morning.
Whatever happens from here, this is probably the biggest achievement of my life-to-date and I’m extremely grateful for every second this trail has blessed me with. Thanks to everyone that is supporting me in this adventure, I will always appreciate it!
Onward to cowboy country….
Thanks for reading.