The Dago Diaries

One Italian American's Journey Along America's Great Divide

What Have We Done?

Nothing says America more than riding a giant Jackalope in Dubois, WY

Nothing says America more than riding a giant Jackalope in Dubois, WY

I try not to be too political and I rarely if ever view my own personal political views publicly because I feel you will never change the opposite views mind, so why fight and argue?  This morning though I woke up and like many American’s asked myself, “what have we done?”  We just put in place a new President who could give a rat’s ass about the general public, the working class stiff, women, people of various races and the environment.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised really I mean GW won two elections, because you can never really underestimate how angry and racist many in the country are, whether openly or privately, there is still a lot of angst, fear, sexism, and racism that rules most people’s views.

What did surprise me though was the experiences I had politically this year while walking from one border of the US to the other.  While politics and religion are two things you try to never discuss on trail or in town, the long days with your hiking partners does a lot itself to having some deep philosophical discussions and with an election year like this it was inevitable it would come up at times.

From Left to Right Buttercup, Allgood, and Cheezy. I have never known two people who love America more than these Germans do.

From Left to Right Buttercup, Allgood, and Cheezy. I have never known two people who love America more than these Germans do.

I walked with two Germans and they were appalled at the fact that this country would consider electing Trump.  More than once a comparison was made to their old leader Hitler, and I think they could give more perspective than anyone.  You see they understood that someone could rise to power by preying on the fears of the masses, and use a mixture of racism and poor economic conditions to rise to the top as a logical choice for some.  While Hitler blamed the Jews, Trump simply used the Mexicans and other immigrants as his punching bag, he talked of lost jobs and rising health care, and how we had lost our way and embraced a platform of Xenophobia last seen in 1930’s Germany.  They gave cautionary warnings that all of our flags and banners, anthems and patriotic songs are exactly what led to an Austrian being able to rise to power in their countries history.

The three of us would talk of the holocaust, and they told me how the movie Schindler’s List was a great thing because it let their country heal and talk about its dark past.  They explained to me that their generation more than any is resolved to never repeat such atrocities and that as a nation they understand blind nationalism leads to bad things.  They warned me of a rise of Trump, but one thing they agreed is if he won the worse thing anyone could do is leave this country or just roll over.  You see they feel that if more of their people had stood up and called BS on what was going back in the 1930’s, maybe some of the atrocities could have been avoided or at least mitigated.  However many fled for safety in other countries leaving behind masses who would tow the party line.

Random folks making us dinner on the 4th of July Holiday, why? Because America is full of good people so don't lose sight of that

Random folks making us dinner on the 4th of July Holiday, why? Because America is full of good people so don’t lose sight of that

As I walked north through communities in NM, CO, WY, MT and ID that had populations smaller than my local grocery store before a snow storm, people in town and at trail heads would ask us about our thoughts on the election.  We would all shy away from saying much, but these folks in rural America all shocked me when they started bagging on Trump.  Not one of them supported him, even the Vietnam Vet with his ATV and .44 caliber on his hip, he really shocked me when he called Trump, “America’s Hitler”.  From town to town and community along the way the message was the same from these folks, “Why does anyone think that a billionaire form NYC gives a damn about who we are or our needs?”  Maybe I was lucky and just met a lot of enlightened people, or maybe these folks who work so hard each day to scrape out a living on the hard scrabble land they lived in got it, that no one that wealthy was putting their needs first. Just think how many stops did either candidate make in places like Lima, MT or Reserve, NM?

Here we are celebrating our vets at a Memorial Day Event in Chama, NM....no President ever held a rally here

Here we are celebrating our vets at a Memorial Day Event in Chama, NM….no President ever held a rally here

You see I set out on the CDT to not just walk through beautiful places and rugged terrain, I walked the length of the US to reconnect with America and the communities I passed through.  The whole purpose of the National Scenic Trails Act was to preserve wild places and provide a path for people to take that would connect them to the communities along it.  It’s a nice way to see parts of this country you never see, and I relished in visiting local museums, taking part in town events, and yucking it up with the locals whenever I had the chance.  The Divide connected me to a part of US I didn’t know, and restored my faith in humanity and the US.

Drinking with the local in Grand Lake, CO

Drinking with the local in Grand Lake, CO

Now the question each and every hiker, hunter, fisherman, skier, kayak-er, para glider, mountain biker, and outdoor enthusiast must ask themselves, “What does this mean for us and our wild places we love to use and roam?”  Well, it doesn’t look good for us.  In the past couple of years or so a few folks in DC mainly led by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT 1st Dist) have been waging a war on federal land.  They stoke the fire of Sage Brush Rebellion, thinking that federal lands controlled by the BLM, USFS and even NPS should be turned over to states to manage.  They have proposed revising the Wilderness Act of 1964 to allow Mountain Bikes, and other things like exploratory mining.  This to me is just the start of war soon to be waged against our public lands.

I think we will see less protection in place for wild places, sweeping sell-offs of our Natural Resources to the highest bidder.  Trump has already stated he thinks we should limit the reach of the EPA, invest more in domestic fossil fuels and that global warming is a myth.  Ask anyone in East Glacier if Global Warming is a myth, while we sit here arguing if it’s a real thing in this country glaciers are melting and the rest of the world is trying to figure out how to deal with the very scientific warming of our earth.

If we care for what type of landscape we leave the future we need to protect mountains from mining.

If we care for what type of landscape we leave the future we need to protect mountains from mining.

As a lifelong lover of the outdoors and wilderness this morning’s news only made my resolve to protect our nation’s public lands that much stronger.  I will continue to assist organizations with advocacy to protect public lands, preserve forest and keep the Wilderness Act of 1964 just the way it is.  I will stand up and fight for what is right, not shrink away to Canada or Mexico or where ever else people considering fleeing too.  I’ll stay right here and be heard, and be the change to protect our public places so that others after me will have the opportunity to go on a long walk in the wilderness and embrace the small communities along their way.  Don’t give up America!, be pissed and be the change, write to you Senators and Congress Members, tell them to protect our public lands as they were the greatest gift granted to us By folks like Teddy Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, and John Muir.

While many will you tell you now is the time for our country to heal, the realist in me says, “nawh never going to happen, we are way too divided.”  Now is the time more than ever to stand up and fight for what you believe and fight for the places and land you love to use.  If this was a boxing match the bell just tolled from round one and we are still standing, so get ready for a fight upon round two because whether you are from one party or the other, I bet you use public lands for recreation and you better start paying attention before there is a drill rig next to Old Faithful Lodge.

This pretty much sums up how our federal land will be gutted if you don't take a stand going forward.

This pretty much sums up how our federal land will be gutted if you don’t take a stand going forward.

 

CDT Gear MVP Katabatic Gear Alsek 22* Quilt

The winner and champion the Katabatic Alsek

The winner and champion the Katabatic Alsek

It’s time to start giving out my opinion and reviews of the gear that helped me hike the CDT, while I switched out gear depending on; the environment I was in, the conditions I would encounter, and the tradeoff of weight vs comfort, one piece of gear stayed with me all the way my Katabatic Gear Alsek 22 down quilt.  This bag kept me warm and comfortable every single night I slept out, from cowboy camping under the stars only to wake up with a healthy layer of frost on my bag, to the warmer summer nights in Wyoming, never did I find it overly warm or not warm enough.

Now being the MVP in your gear list is a big honor and why you may ask did the Katabatic win out over the other items, well I’m going to break it down for you.

Who is Katabatic Gear?
Many people in the hiking word both serial long distance hikers to the weekend warrior might not be familiar with this smaller cottage gear maker located in Lakewood, CO.  The company was founded by Aaron Martray who is a long distance hiker, mountaineer, and ice climber.  He wanted a quilt that’s was light, warm, and of the highest quality.  When Aaron couldn’t find a bag available to fit his needs he went ahead and made his own down quilt for a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail he was doing.  After having great success on trail with the quilt, he started to make a few quilts here and there and sold them online at places like Backpacking Light ‘s gear forum.

The beginnings were humble, Aaron made the bags in his two-room apartment in Colorado setting up his one room as the workshop, he stitched the bags himself, designed and built his own down stuffing equipment, which is still used today, and with a spark and a vision he started a viable business and named it Katabatic after the Katabatic effect we all experience in the outdoors where high density air from elevation rushes down a drainage or in the case of a chinook wind war air is carried upslope to the windward side of a mountain.

Now Katabatic is an established company with a physical shop in Lakewood, CO where Aaron and his Partner Kris work tirelessly to procure the most high quality items they can.  The shop has 8 sewers, a cutting room guy who also stuffs the bags, and Aaron who not only is the chief designer but also personally inspects each quilt, backpack and bivy sack before it is shipped out.  Aaron told me on a visit this past spring, “I would rather reject a bag for a bad stitch than have a sub-par product out on in the field.”  You see Aaron is a dirt bag like the rest of us and he knows that buying a high quality down product is a major investment for us adventures and when you are shelling out $400-$500 you want a piece of gear that is going to last you for many trips.

So there you have it an American Dream success story for humble beginnings to a viable business that is helping employee sewers in Colorado and produce the highest quality quilts out there.

The owners even hike, Kristen Driers and Aaron Martray on a hike with me in Colorado along the CDT

The owners even hike, Kristen Driers and Aaron Martray on a hike with me in Colorado along the CDT

Why a Quilt?
Many people ask me, “Why do you have quilt instead of a bag?”

The answers is not so simple, the main reason is that when you have traditional bag you lay on top of your insulation, this compressing it and taking away its R-value.  So you are basically carrying extra insulation and material that at the end of the day will be compressed and have no real insulating power.  The fact is that your sleeping pad whether a thin foam pad or a luxurious 3″thick air mattress is giving you the real insulation from the ground.  The Neo-air I used has a high R-value so it was more than enough to keep me warm when sleeping on the ground and even the snow in Colorado.

Zippers are heavy, you might not think of it when buying a bag, but that 5′ long zipper is more oz’s than you realize, by eliminating the zipper you not only save that weight you also have one less zipper to fail you or give you  headache on trail.  Let’s face it zippers get dirty, break teeth and if you are not careful can snag delicate lightweight fabrics on things like your precious down jacket.  There are a few “quilts” out there by others that have a zipper but I personally feel these bags are confused as to what they are, is it a quilt? No it’s basically a mummy bag without a hood, as useful as teats on a bull.

Now the other reason for me is I am a side sleeper even in the outdoors I lay on my side and tend to toss and trash around during the night.  The quilt allows the side sleeper to be comfortable without feeling constricted or rolling over to find your face planted squarely in your bags hood.  The quilt is frankly just more comfortable than a traditional sleeping bag, and more versatile as I often draped the quilt over me as I sat around in the evening cooking or taking a long snack break on a cold day, it’s wide top is like a blanket at home and you can even get two bodies under it to warm those chilly legs, like after crossing the Gila River 215 times.

Staying comfy while writing my blog in the evenings

Staying comfy while writing my blog in the evenings

Didn’t you get cold when you rollover?
Now the common issue that I hear from folks about not wanting to use a quilt is the loss of precious heat when they rollover at night.  Now I must be honest I hardly ever used the attachment system to secure my quilt to my pad, but on the nights I need to it completely eliminated this issue.  The Katabatic Quilt comes with two options, flat fabric straps to cinch up the back to make it tight to you like a traditional bag but even better the small cord attachment that goes under your sleeping pad makes the quilt and bag one tight and secure sleep system.  When I did use the attachments I was more than warm enough even when a stiff breeze would blow when cowboy camping under the night sky.

The second feature which I used all nights to keep my heat around me was the draft collar at the top of the quilt.  The draft collar is similar to a traditional bag except this one has two plastic snaps that you can use to make the top a secure round draft tube over your shoulders.  I would simply snap up, poke my head through and use the draw cord to close the gaps and keep my warmth in the bag.

Now not having a hood to bury into might scare some, but I always have a wool buff and a fleece beanie so I just put on my beanie, slip the buff over it slightly and down my neck and Wala, I have a hood.  If you are thinking you might need more than a fleece beanie Katabatic makes a down hood you can wear, it’s basically a balaclava made out of the same high quality materials as the quilts.

Breakfast in bed, the last task before walking and the hardest was leaving the comfort of my quilt

Breakfast in bed, the last task before walking and the hardest was leaving the comfort of my quilt

Earning MVP Status
Now when you are out busting your hump walking for 12-14 hours a day the one thing you really look forward to is eating dinner and getting a good night’s rest to recover and be ready for the next day.  No one likes sleeping cold or being uncomfortable so having a good sleep system is paramount. Knowing that each night I would be buried under 900fp down was one of the reasons I pushed until as late as I could, I knew that even if I only slept 6 hours or so those 6 hours would be comfortable.

The rating on my quilt was 22 degrees, but anyone who owns a Katabatic will tell you that their ratings are conservative.  I have had my bag in temperatures of 0 degrees in Oregon before I left and never felt cold, and most nights I just did up the draft collar and never once felt chilled even when rolling around.  The materials they use for the shell and lining are pertext and I think in over 2700 miles I maybe saw 12 feathers total escape from my bag.  The most amazing thing though is I never washed my bag on trail and it never lost its loft, and I dirt bagged in it every day, no sleep clothes, just jumped in with the clothes I had hiked in all day and still it never lost its loft, but it did stink like me to high heaven.

The quality though is probably the biggest thing, I have owned many bags since I was young Boy Scout at age 10, everything from major brands like Mountain Hardware, The North Face, Go Lite, and Sierra Designs and not one of them compares to the quality of this bag.  High ended fabrics, sustainably sourced down and hand made in the USA make this bag the only one to buy in my opinion.  The makers also gave me an option to get a bag that was cut just for me, with extra wide shoulders, and width yet short enough to sleep my 5’8″ frame without a bunch of extra bag at the bottom.

Often times I would pull my bag out and friends with other cottage bags by folks like Z-packs, Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends would take one look at the design, the loft and the ease of attachments and say, “damn I should of gotten that bag” or comment at their jealousy over my super lofty, yet only 24oz quilt.

This quilt is a 5 out of 5 star product and if you are looking to spend the money and buy a bag that will last you for years do yourself a favor and get a Katabatic I promise you will not be cold, you’ll be happy and your hiking friends will look enviously at you at night as you snuggle down in the warmth and comfort of your big down quilt.

Side note: My good friend Swami has over 17,000 miles on his Katabatic Quilt. My Friends AYCE and The Punisher each have 8,000+ mile on their Katabatic quilts and let’s not forget Snorkel who after years of using some other sleeping bags made the Katabatic switch and has never looked back since.

img_6099https://katabaticgear.com/shop/alsek-sleeping-bag/

Re-Entry The Hardest Part of the CDT

Sunset in the basin

Sunset in the basin

I finished the CDT on September 9th, it was a glorious day for sure as I had completed my goal of walking from Mexico to Canada in one shot, in one direction and with continuous foot steps the entire way.  After finishing the hike I was whisked back to East Glacier where I spent two and half days relaxing, hanging out with fellow thru-hikers who had finished or were on their way to finish their hikes.  I ate a lot of food, drank some beers, visited the Glacier Grand Lodge and then was treated to my friends giving me a ride back to Portland.
The mighty Columbia

The mighty Columbia

On our way back we stopped in Sand Point, ID to visit friends of mine No Where Mand and Walking carrot who I first met on the Appalachian Trail in 1997 when I was a Ridge Runner working for the ATC. It’s great to have friends who know what you are going through, they took us for beer and dinner and I slept on the back porch with Snorkel where we chatted like little kids at a slumber party until it was well past bedtime.  The next day we loaded up the 5 of us in the Suby Wagon and drove the remaining 8 hours to Portland.  The drive took us along the Columbia River, I was so glad to see my old friend the gorge and I felt like Lewis and Clark as I neared the end of my long journey by following the very river they took to the Pacific.

Celebrating our hikes in East Glacier

Celebrating our hikes in East Glacier

When I got home I didn’t recognize the neighborhood the crack house I have lived across from for 13 years was remodeled and new neighbors had moved in already.  In just five months my blue collar neighborhood has become Portland’s latest hot spot with condos going up where old dilapidated buildings once stood, and there is even a bike am yoga in our hood and Starbucks being built, man they sure move fast here.

Suzy and I hugged for a long time and after 5 months it was so nice to be back in her arms.  Karluk was over the moon to see me, he sprinted back and forth not sure how to contain his excitement.  I loved on him and schlepped my pack into the house.

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As the next few days progressed I felt lost and without direction.  Being back in the city is tough, the sounds of cars, police sirens and trains made me jump.  Driving was a new experience too and I fear my lack of awareness will cause a wreck, so I take my time driving, don’t speed and try to stay as aware as possible.

As the days have progressed each day I feel a little bit more grounded and focused, but without a daily goal of where to walk to, I often get lost and sidetracked, I swear I have a case of PTADD, Post Trail Attention Deficiency Disorder, and it’s a real problem.  One minute I am working on stuff for the ALDHA-West Gathering and the next I’m off in the yard wondering what the hell I was supposed to do out here.  My lack of efficiency surprises me and my loss of direction is something I have never experienced in my life.

Suzy and I are trying to get reacquainted, after 16 years together my return is like starting all over again in our relationship.  We both grew and changed while I was away, she is much more self-reliant and capable than she ever realized she was, I’m much more mellow and easy going than I have ever been. The process is a bit slow but we are doing well and we know our love for each other will guide us through this time.

After a few days of being in a funk, I decided part of it was my lack of exercise.  You see when you walk all day for 12-14 hours your body and brain get used to the endorphin and if you are not getting that daily fix you go nuts.  So I did something I had not done in years, I started running every day for 40 minutes in the morning, I mixed in some push-up, sit-ups and upper body stuff so my alligator arms from being on trail can be strong again.

I miss my trail pals and all of us are dealing with similar emotions and re-entry issues.  Cheesy and Johnny stopped in Portland for a few days before going back to Germany, we talked about what she might experience but she shrugged it off.  Two days later I get a text via What’s App it was cheesy and her own re-entry had hit her, we chatted back and forth and I reminded her that she is a bad ass who just walked from Mexico to Canada and every hard day we had only better prepared her for life back at home.  We helped each other through our struggles just like we had over 1000 miles together out on the CDT.   I miss my trail sister and I know over time she will be OK just like I will.

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Cheesy and I riding back to trail in a cramped camper

As hard as the transition has been, I know next week will help get things back on track.  the annual ALDHA-West gathering is in Nevada City, CA and I’ll be surrounded by my trail friends and they can give me the support and perspective I need.  With inspirational speakers plans for future trips will be hatched, or friends hugged, laughs at the fun and few beers to calm the old nerves.  As a bonus Buttercup, Maverick, 2-Ply and His wife, Popeye, Karate Kid and Tatu-Jo will all be there to represent the CDT class of 2016.

Suzy photobombing

Suzy photobombing

For now, I’ll keep on the two daily task Suzy gives me to get back on home life, wash my stinky gear, write some gear reviews and give plenty of love to Karluk.  The hike might be over but my journey is far from complete.  The re-entry is the hardest part, I’m not depressed but I’m slowly easing my way back into Portland life.  To my friends, I will see you all in good time but please respect my need for some space, peace and quite as I readjust to not sleeping outside, only thinking of my next water source, the next climb and what I can eat.

Now if I could just make money from walking life would be grand.

Day 146, Fin

Day 146, Fin

CDT mile 2632.6, miles hiked 8.5

a calm morning on the lake

I layed awake looking at the roof above us and the pitch black outside. My mind was racing about the big finish today, and the excitement made it hard to sleep like, I was like a child on Christmas morning. I finally fell back asleep and then woke at 7am, now that’s sleeping in. I put on my sopping wet cold socks, shoved them in my wet shoes and told myself that was the last time I had to do that for awhile. I went and got our food bags from the pole, came back to the shelter and made some coffee, and pitched from my pack what I could, packed up and hit the trail for our last day.

fresh snow on the mountains, finishing just in time

The sky was blue for the first time in days, and we could see the mountain tops all covered in fresh snow. It was a glorious day and we smiled knowing that the past few days of suffering in bad weather were over and we were being rewarded for our final miles. We stopped by the lake for a few pictures and then hit the CDT and the final 4.5 miles to the border.
The trail took us along the lake a massive beast of deep blue water surrounded by steep peaks. We pushed through wet brush, slogged through mud and talked for a few minutes about the next chapters of our lives. The conversation soon waned and we walked in silence each of us processing the end, wow it’s really ending and we walked as if the trail was carrying us. We saw the peninsula which is the border took a deep breath and approached the end.

the moment i finished, all i could do was hug the border

One last CDT marker was there on a trail sign and across from it the monument stood, an obilsque stating the US/Canada border. I walked over to the monument touched it with my hand and wrapped my body around it and gave it a big hug. At last my end was here, no tears, no screams of joy, just peace, happiness and the feeling of a job well done and hard earned.

tatu jo showing off his new double triple crown

 

I walked back to Tatu Jo, put his double triple crown upon his head and he walked over and ended his hike. Between the Appalachian Trail and the CDT he had just completed 5,000 miles in 6 months. He also is one of only 6 or 7 double triple crown hikers and the first person ever to walk the AT and CDT northbound in one season, a major accomplishment.

the end of the line

IPA’s I had packed down from Many Glacier were cracked in celebration. We took photos galore, then sat down to reflect on our journey. As we were getting ready to walk the 4 miles to the Canadian trailhead to meet our ride, Tatu Jo thanked me for hiking with him and told me it was a pleasure to be together the past 800 miles. We made a good team and had some great times along the way and I hope we share a piece of trail together sometime in the future.

We took off along the lake shore and quickly got some distance between us. It was nice for the last 4 miles to walk in silence each of us deep in our own thoughts. I contemplated all I had done, laughed aloud at the fun times with the boys in New Mexico and smiled about the times with Cheesy walking endless miles in the high country. I reflected on my solo stretch and how much I grew in such a short amount of time. I thought of going home, hugging Suzy, playing ball with Karluk and eating seafood on the beach. I dreamed of my future adventures, the trails I want to hike, somehow earning my triple crown and how I would make a living in this new chapter in life.

deep blue water on the lake gave reflection to mountains and my time out here

I hit the Bertha Falls trail head and there stood Steve Jones our ride back to East Glacier. We loaded up, called customs to declare ourselves in Canada and then started back to the border. I saw Smelly Jesus standing on the side of the road with his thumb out. I rolled down the window and yelled “smelly” we loaded him up and we all drove to Chief Mountain and the US crossing. A quick trip through customs and an hour later we were back at Brownie’s. Wow in just a few days from here I had covered 105 miles, finished the CDT and made my dreams a reality.

get a job hippies, me and smelly Jesus

The CDT is now a part of me for life. I will forever carry the scars of her on my butt cheek from my fall into Creede. I’ll be ravaged by dreams of waking up to the Milky Way, walking endless ridges and smiling at the gift of walking at human speed from one end of this country to the other. The CDT has made me stronger in both physical and mental strength and I plan to use it’s lessons going forward in life to make the world a better place.

Thank you CDT! I love you and always will….

To all of you who have followed along my journey thank you for taking the time to read about my daily grind. I appreciate you dealing with spelling errors and typos from blogging on my phone after long days of walking. Your encouragement and comments were a constant source of help to keep me going. I encourage all of you to help protect Americas wilderness and wild places. Please write to your congress and senate reps pushing them to support wilderness areas, the national scenic trail systems, the USFS and the National Parks. If you want to help future hikers please support CDTC with a donation and membership, their hard work makes the lives of us hikers easier with new tread and signage.

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing about my re-entry to society, gear reviews of the items I used, and musings about my thoughts on hiking culture, new dangled ways to navigate and life in general.

Until next time, may the wind be at your back and for gods sake try to keep the feet dry.

back in brownie’s i saw old friends on their way to finish like Thermometer from South Korea

all these cdt hikers helped us celebrate

Day 145, She Never Gives Up Her Miles Easily

CDT mile 2624.4, miles hike 33.8

the beginning of the last hard day

It poured all night, I woke up at 2:30 to the sound of rain but laid in my bag contemplating the end of this hike. I thought back to all the fun in New Mexico, the snow and challenging conditions of Colorado, Wyoming and its pleasant ways and Montana…wow Montana is one big bad ass state. I thought of the people I have met, the times I have woken to look at the Milky Way and how I’ll miss sleeping outside each night, well if I don’t play nice Suzy might make me sleep outside when I get home.

what an awesome beast

We had our morning coffee and went to the front porch to reassess ourselves, our heads and our gear to make sure we were ready to walk out in the dark in a driving rain to go the 33.8 miles to goat haunt. We gave each other the once over and then set off. The rain was cold and we trudged along knowing that today was our last hard day. We had to go over two high passes and then we were done with big climbs on the CDT.

looking back at many glacier

The climb up to swift current pass was a long one and we had everything from pouring cold rain at the bottom to hail, and eventually good old fashion snow. The clouds were low and obscuring the mountain peaks. We turned one switchback and there in front of us was a giant big horn sheep and 5 of his buddies. We stopped and took pictures before they moved what an incredible moment in time for me.

stopping to take it all in

We traversed the long walk up to swift current pass and there we met the high line trail our route for the day which follows as close to the physical continental divide as possible. The trail traverses high on the mountain and all day we walked through some wonderful mountains but crap weather. It snowed on and off most of the day, when not snowing it rained and now and again the sun would come out for 30 minutes before going away from a squall. Thoroughly soaked through all of our clothes we had to keep moving to stay warm. Thank the god we bought those fleece jackets because it was the only thing keeping me warm.

early season on the Highline

The trail was a good test, challenging us all along. Finally at about 2pm we stood atop the final high climb of the CDT. The pass really has no name but it comes over 50 mountain. We took a photo and then walked down across the low saddle up its other side and descend into the lush rainforest-like downslope. We soon found the trail that was thick wet brush, and we got even more soaked as we pushed through. Luckily as we got lower it got slightly warmer and no longer as exposed to the wind.

all smiles because this pass on 50 mountain was the last big climb in the cdt

We passed a guard station, a trail crew was inside eating dinner and we waved as we hiked by. We soon found the trail to be a sloppy, muddy mess from a pack train and then numerous people who had walked afterwards. We slipped and slided and got covered in mud. As we slipped we reminded ourselves that the CDT does not give up her miles easily. Today was one last goodbye slap in the face to remind us to be humble as walk through life after we leave her. We listened to some thunder and had a small flash or two of lightning as we got close the lake.

Tatu Jo was less than thrilled with the muddy conditions

We found the side trail and soon passed some buildings, a ranger station and then saw the lake a long wonderful body of water that tomorrow we walk along to reach Canada. It’s there just 4.5 miles more and I’ll have completed the CDT as a North Bound Thru-Hike. One long series of continuous steps from Mexico to Canada. It’s a journey that has changed me in so many ways for the better. It also challenged me to push harder than I ever have, but now I have learned new things about my endurance and I what I can actually put my body through.

Waterton lake

I love you CDT and I’m going to miss you very much, thanks for the laughs, the smiles, the cold days, the post holing hell, and making me a desert rat. I’ll be back for you again someday after I have walked a few other trails and then need you to remind me how wonderful the long spine of the USA can be.

so close I can smell the maple syrup and Molson beer

Day 144, The Poncho

CDT mile 2590.6, miles hiked 29.6

look I’m a tourist

It’s our next to last full day of hiking, and we needed to make 29.6 miles to make it to Many Glacier and the swift current hotel, campground and restaurant for a well needed hot meal, dry inside conditions and a dryer for our bags if possible.

Saint Mary’s falls

We left camp a bit later than we planned mostly because it rained all night and in the morning we woke up to our tents that were wet and sleeping bags damp with condensation. We had coffee and slowly packed up, nothing is more miserable than having to pack up a wet tent and gear, and go walk through the rain for the better part of 12-14 hours.
Tatu lead the way, his pace was quick and I could tell he wanted to make miles as fast as possible. We soon were at St Mary’s lake a long glacial lake that is stunning in beauty and size. The deep blue water was amazing but the stiff wind coming across made things cool. The rain had stopped and it felt nice so we layered down for a bit only an hour later to put back on more clothes.
We reached the end of the lake which seemed endless and soon we were in tourist central as we approached St Mary’s falls. We stopped for photos and a lady asked us if we were father and son, Tatu Jo is concerned his 5,000 miles has made him look old. I laughed and we carried on, soon it started to rain right as we headed to Piegan Pass a large 2500’ish climb. We opted for our ponchos….

bears rule glacier

Now seeing how we are at the end of the hike, running low on funds and in BFE we opted for the $3.99 jobs at the two medicine store. As we put them on and soon discovered they would cover our packs and us quite well. We walked slowly up hill in the rain and kept seeing snow on the steep faces in front of us. We trudged along and met some hikers on the way down who went to Virginia Tech, go Hokies. We chatted for a bit and they told us to look for two Grizzlies on our way up a sow and cub down below the trail. I never saw them but Tatu Jo’s pretty sure he caught a glimpse.

get us down low its cold

We soon stood atop the pass it was cloudy and windy. The rain and dampness cut like a knife and we hurried our way down the other side as fast as possible. Soon back in the forest we looked at out GPS and discovered we were two hours away.

hanging glacial waterfalls

The trail was great and the rain stopped. The last two miles were a mess a large horse group had ridden the trail during the downpour and it was a soupy muddy mess. Each step slid or squished and soon our shoes were a pound or two heavier with mud. We soon reached the road and many Glacier lodge. The lodge is really cool but expensive we considered eating dinner there but after seeing that a bowl of chili was $18.95 decided to go to the other hotel by the campground to eat.

just stunning

We so arrived at swift current and walked into the hotel, who shall be sitting there but Paul and Chantal. We said hello and got added to their name for a table. I ran and grabbed a snack and drink and then got the story to why they were there. The two of them missed a turn and went 5 miles off trail after that and the rain they said screw it and hitched to the hotel. they have their tent set up I the backcountry site in the campground where we will be tonight.

an awesome descent to Many Glacier

We got wifi and I received a message from Naomi “The Punisher” that her husband “AYCE” was with their car and could give us a ride back to Portland. I texted AYCE and arranged to ride back with them and snorkel on the 11th. Snorkel and The Punisher have been hiking the GDT and due to weather are finishing early this week. So all 5 of us will drive back home together what and amazing way the universe works to bring so many friends together in remote Montana.

You see AYCE just finished hiking the Pacific Northwest Trail or PNT, which starts in La Push, WA and ends at Glacier National Park at Watertown or Chief Mountain like the CDT. The Great Divide Trail is the Canadian extension of the GDT and runs all way north or Jasper. Since AYCE was done he went to Jasper to help his wife The Punisher and my friend Snorkle, who if you recall hiked in the San Juans with me, they two have had some bad weather so are getting off trial this week.

Anyway we enjoyed a great dinner and then hit the laundry for some dryer time for sleeping bags and shoes. We rolled up to the site at dark and set up shop. The folks already there had a fire going and despite the rain we hung out and had a beer before bed.

Tomorrow is a big bay our last full day on trail. We have 33.8 miles to goat haunt shelter, and only two high passes left to cross. Canada here I come and man are we going to party when it’s over.

Day 143, Tripe Divide Pass

CDT mile 2561, miles hiked 26.2

now that’s some cat scat!

We woke up and Immediately they had to run to the rest room, ever since our night in East Glacier my gut hasn’t been right but this morning it was all hell breaking loose. I came back from a very unpleasant experience at the rest room and told Tatu Jo I was not feeling so great. We both hoped it was just a case of town poops and not the terrible sickness he had in the bob.
We walked on the old man lake trail to start out, and according the signs and recent information in the news this is the spot where a park service employee was picking berries and got bit by a grizzly. There was fresh bear scat all over and we made sure to make a lot of noise as we pushed through the berries.

a momma and ew on the pass

The first challenge we faced today was Pitamakan pass a good butt kicker to get the heart going. We walked up at a steady pace and 3/4 of the way up saw a momma big horn sheep and a ew, so awesome. We reached the top of the pass and it was cold, gray and windy. I threw on my extra layers and we bombed down to the woods for a break. The trail meandered through a valley and up ahead I saw our destiny triple divide mountain.

making the most of our time in the park

Now seeing how it’s super cold and the clouds are low and dark gray, many of the highlights for views were obscured, however what I could see had an autumnal feel as it made me day dream to Halloween. Anyway I finally got my head back in the game and I sized up the climb. We started up and after about 3/4 of the way up Tatu Jo needed a snack. We stopped but not feeling well I forced some food down and some water and told Tatu Jo I needed to get going.
As we climbed we got separated I was in front and just wanted to get this climb over. I was however slowed down by amazing waterfalls, deep red cliff walls and shear mountain beauty, man this place Is the crown jewel of the CDT. Soon I stood atop triple divide pass I threw on my sweet new tourist fleece jacket and waited for Tatu Jo to get there. We snapped a few photos and bailed low to where it was warm and out of the wind.

red rocks and steep mountains

We dropped down to red eagle creek and when I went to pass gas I nearly pooped my pants. I dropped my pack and ran to the woods. When I saw Tatu Jo I asked if had any Imodium and he said he was out. We arrived at the first red eagle lake camps and saw Paul and Chantal. We chatted briefly and Paul had the pills I needed. We said our farewells as that is most likely the last time I’ll see them.

bridges make our lives better on wet days when we avoid fording rivers

We arrived at the far end of the lake and set up our tents. I was drained and feeling ill, but I made my camp and then walked over to the cooking area to get things going for dinner. 4 others were there a nice father and son from Roanoke Virgina and a couple from Minnesota. They had a campfire going and we sat around enjoying dinner and conversation.

As I crawled into my tent the first drops started to fall. As the rain hit the tent I laid down to sleep and hoped in the morning my stomach issues would be resolved.

a small cascade along the trail

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