The Dago Diaries

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

Day 137, Big Daddy D and the Chinese Wall

CDT mile 2433.3, miles hiked 25.2

Wolf tracks were all about along the trail

It sprinkled a bit last night and I woke from it to move in under the covered porch so my quilt would stay dry. As I was laying there to go back to sleep I heard wolves howling through the dark. What an amazing experience it was to hear wild wolves in their native range crying to each other through the night. The next time I woke up was about 4 am and I heard two owls calling back and forth to each other. I am only on the edge of the Bob Marshall wilderness and already I feel like I am in a scene from a Jack London book.

Finally, we both woke to our alarms, we made coffee and enjoyed a big breakfast from the hiker box. We loaded up our packs with what we knew would be our last big food carry for the CDT. We walked out to the road and in a minute flagged down a car. Roger was on his way to go fly fishing, he moved stuff around in his rig and drove us back to the end of the road where we had walked to benchmark. We touched our spot and headed north keeping our continuous footsteps.

wilderness as far as the eye can see

The trail meandered through a nice forest and down along a river valley. My feet are still killing me so we had to stop every hour or two for me to give them a rest. At 9:30 we see a guy with a Snow White beard heading south towards us. His name we soon learned was Big Daddy D and he was 4.3 miles away from completing his triple crown at age 61. He was looking for us in particular because he had met cheesy yesterday and she told him I was a day behind. He was so excited to meet the president of ALDHA-West and even told me he is coming to the gathering.
We dropped our packs and got to know him. Even though we had just had a break his enthusiasm at meeting us and his joy of meeting us on his way to complete his triple crown was too much to ignore. For the next half hour or so we joked and chatted, and then Big Daddy D gave us the hook up of hookups. After learning how my box was stolen at bench make he gave us all of his food that was left, then a piece of foam to make insoles out of for my shoes and best of all an extra pair of insoles to try. He gave Tatu-Jo duct tape for his feet, snacks and bit of a hard time for good measure.

The Chinese Wall’sbeginning

Finally, we parted ways and we all agreed to meet at the gathering in Nevada city next month. Man it’s going to be so great to see Tatu-Jo get his double triple crown and then see Big Daddy D get his triple crown. My friends She-ra and Delightful are also getting their triple crowns which means my desire to complete mine will grow even more. Who knows maybe I’ll find my way to the PCT in the next couple of years but for 2017 I have my sights set on a few trips that will not have me gone from home for so long.

We started up the trail and saw giant wolf prints, actually we had been seeing them all day so clearly they are active in this area. A few miles later and wolf tracks turned to giant grizzly tracks. We starts making noises yelling “coming down, down town Charlie Brown” and “Hey Bear” also a few whoops and then whatever other crazy thing comes to mind. Luckily Tatu-Jo and I are both short, stocky and loud so we probably sound like ten people coming through the forest which so far has kept the bears at bay.

oh how my fro has grown

We called off our heads and feet in some creeks and then started the 2000′ climb up to the Chinese Wall. Now the Chinese wall is a famous rock formation found in the bob, and it is an amazing sight to be hold. I first learned of this rock formation 20 years ago when I read Eric Ryback’s CDT book while in college. It was amazing to sit under its giant walls taking in the views and think of sitting in my dorm room back at VA Tech reading about someone else’s adventures along the divide and know I had finally achieved a life dream to do the same myself.

welcome to the other chinese wall

We hiked on and now besides following a mother bear and cub prints had a 3rd set we were following on trail a really big bear, male? We talked about bears and decided to cook before it got to late. We found a spot by a spring and cooked up some chili and rice. A young black tail deer came to visit us and we enjoyed its company while we ate. Finally we packed back up and walked a couple more miles to make camp.

a black tail deer taking a cleaning break

We are sleeping below the Chinese wall on a bed of bear grass so lumpy it’s hard to lay flat. In the morning we are heading to the spotted bear pass alternate the final alternate for us on the CDT. It should be exciting earlier this season researchers were using barbed wire and cow blood along the route to do a grizzly DNA study so chances are good we’ll see a couple big bears along the way.

It’s really winding down quick tomorrow is September 1st and my permit to reach Canada is for September 9th. Just a little over 1 more week of having to blow up my Neo-Air at night, sleep on lumpy ground and hear natures wonder at night, well that is when not hearing Tatu-Jo snore. I will miss trail life for sure mostly I’ll miss not having to shower or worry about how I look all day. Oh well maybe I can keep that going at home…..well until next time enjoy your wild America.

Day 136, Benchmark

CDT mile 2408.1, miles hiked 33

Benchmark Ranch

When I got up I listened to see if it was still raining, nope. I crawled out and went to retrieve my food bag. I sat in my tent making hot water and packing up, man this routine will soon end and I’ll be able to walk down to my kitchen and get a hot cup of coffee from the coffee pot. One thing you learn to cherish from hiking is the convenience of hot water, out here something as simple as hot water is a chore in itself.

this little guy didn’t make it

We started hiking at first light, after the grizzly last night neither of us was too excited to walk through the woods while it was dark. We made plenty of noise as we descended the trail into the Dearborn River valley. The valley was a deep forest, we made quick time to the river and along its shores. We had to go 33 miles to make benchmark ranch for our resupply so we made sure to stay on track.

We had one climb up over Straight Creek Pass. The sun was out and it was a hot and humid day. My feet have been killing me the past few days. I bought new shoes and insoles in Helena but the insoles I bought were not super feet and suck! I have tons of pain so we have to stop every few miles to give them a rest.

the first glimpse of the Bob

We chatted in the way about hiking and life afterward. Tatu-Jo was telling me the story of the last time he came here. His hiking partner arrived and their box was not at benchmark. Most likely because another hiker had taken it, bad karma but there are some hikers out there that are not the most organized or honest characters. We talked about the remote ranch we were headed to and wondered if there would be a hiker box we could eat extra food from.

We got on the connector trail that followed up Straight Creek and soon stood at the end of a runway. Ye, that is right out here in BFE there is a 6000′ runway for national forest users. Man 6000′ is a really long runway I wonder what kind of rich people fly in here to shoot animals in the fall. We walked up the road to the ranch a good 2-mile affair and when we arrived met the owner who was up working for the evening.

We went to where they keep the hiker boxes on the front porch in a bear box and started looking for our packages. Tatu-Jo found his quickly and I looked high and low, no box. I ran after the owner and told him about my missing box, he came over and looked too but my box was nowhere to be found. He remembered my name but didn’t have his log book with him, I sent Suzy a note and she confirmed speaking with them a week ago and that my box was at the ranch. So that only means one thing, some other hiker went ahead and stole my box of food.

da bob

Now there is many things I can forgive but stealing someone’s food in this remote of a spot is not one of them. I hope whoever stole it got food poison and had a bear nearly eat them in camp. Needless to say it really crapped me out the nearest place for resupply is 30 miles down a gravel road and going there would cost me a day of time.

The owner came out of the building with a box, “this person sent this to us in June and never came for it so go ahead and have it”. It was my friend Wldernessie from New Mexico she has been flipping around and if she hasn’t come yet she isn’t so I cracked it open. In it was a wide array of food between that and the hiker box I scrounged up enough food to get me 135 miles up trail to East Glacier.

Today I was thrown a curve ball but I didn’t have a melt down, instead I stayed calm and sorted out a solution of sorts. The owner was nice enough to fire up the generator for an hour for us to charge our devices, we are sleeping on the front porch of the lodge and even brought us each a beer before leaving.

history of the biggest fire in the region

Well tomorrow starts the Bob Marshall wilderness leg and our 4 1/2 day walk into East Glacier. The trip is winding down but that’s ok after a day like today sitting at home with the family sounds really good.

Day 135, Lewis and Clark Pass, lightning and bears

CDT mile 2375.1, miles hiked 24.5

The famous Lewis and Clark pass

Our spot last night was a rock outcropping high above Rogers Pass, it provided some wonderful views of the stars and for a few moments I would wake and stare into the heavens. I do love cowboy camping and despite the extreme wind last night I really enjoyed another night under the stars. We awoke a bit drowsy and immediately fired up the stove for some coffee.

walking a ridge and knowing that storms will soon appear

We started out with a climb and for the rest of the day that is what we would do, climb for what always seemed like uphill and never an equal amount of downhill. The miles came slow and we were well off our mark of making a 30, so instead of worrying about it we just did our thing am figured wherever we wound up would have to be it for the day.

We walked along the divide we came to a spring which was our only water supposedly for the next 25 miles. On our way to it we jumped 3 bucks still in velvet they took off us and left the little spring to us. We drank until our stomachs were full and then filled all of our bottles and then set of up another mountain. We finally got on a ridge and walked it until we dived down to a high mountain pass.

The pass was Lewis and Clark pass and Meriwether Lewis used the pass on July 7, 1806, on his return from Oregon. We learned that this pass and the road it has are over 6,000 years old and was used by natives to travel to the plains to hunt buffalo and also to access the PNW for trading. It’s pretty awesome to think of how many places I have trekked by foot like Lewis and Clark in the same area as them, maybe I was born a few hundred years too late because I for sure would have loved to have been on that expedition of discovery.

From there we wound our way up to the divide and went up and down and up and down. For the most part, the ridges were grassy with endless views of the surrounding mountains and I must say Montana has a lot of mountains. We finally came to A dry lake late in the afternoon but Tatu-Jo remembered a spring that was up a canyon from his hike in 2013. We walked up the dry wash and as we hit 3/10 of a mile I was beginning to lose faith and then whala water. The spring water was cool and clean we sat by it eating snacks and cameling up.

We left the spring late in the afternoon and began our next climb a good 1100′ feet but since the temperature was getting cooler it was a pleasant climb. We descended into a canyon and since it was 7:30 decided to cook dinner and then hike a mile or two on.

We sat eating dinner talking about life, talking about the hike so far and the fun times I had in New Mexico. After dinner, we packed up and started up out the last climb until we reach benchmark ranch tomorrow for a resupply. As we were walking I looked over about 150 yards and thought man that stump looks like a bear, right when I said, “is that a bear” the silvery grizzly turned and ran up the hill across from us, good response it ran away, bad news for us it ran over the top of the hill we were climbing.

We made lots of noise as we went up the hill and when we reached the top no sign of the bear. Tatu-Jo looked at the cloudy sky and said, “maybe we need to put up our shelters tonight” right then on a distant ridge we saw a big bolt of lightning. The mountains to the east had lightning and no rain, the ones to the west had rain and tons of lightning that was heading our way.

The gossamer gear “the one” is green and Tatu-Jo is using an old gossamer gear tarp

We found a small grove of trees and immediately started getting our shelters up. I have my new gossamer gear the one and it sets up in a flash. I threw all my gear in it, sorted out my smellable items to go into my ursack and went and found a dead tree to tie it too away from my tent. I crawled into my tent right as the storm was coming onto the ridge a 1/4 mile away.

For the next 45 minutes, Tatu-Jo and I laid in our shelters as the sky opened up with spectacular lightning, thunder, rain and huge winds. I must say my new tent did great and I am very impressed by it. Not only did it hold up to the wind and rain but besides some driving rain coming under the vestibule it kept me dry and warm. I sure am glad I have this shelter for this last push it has way more room than my mld duomid and is easier to set up. This might not seem like much to you at home but when you have about a minute to deploy your home for safety a tent that is easy to set up and has full coverage is a true luxury.

Well that’s about it for tonight. The countdown is really starting to get to us. benchmark tomorrow signifies the next to last resupply and the fact we finally saw a bear means that our entrance to the grizzly gauntlet has started.

Day 134, it’s really going to end soon

CDT mile 2350.5, miles hiked 31

enjoying a Salazon chocolate bar along the divide

Today I had the realization that all this fun and hard work is really coming to an end soon. It happened when I sat atop Green Mountain and checked to see if I had a cell signal, I did and I checked my email. My good friend Sasquatch who hiked the AT in ’96 and happens to also live in Portland sent me a, we are moving, going away invitation. The date for the celebration was September 11 two weeks from today and potentially the day I return to Portland.

Suzy and Karluk await my return and I look forward to it more than anything

Wow in two weeks I’ll be back home, don’t get me wrong I’m stoked to see Suzy and Karluk, eat some awesome seafood, enjoy a craft beer and all….but that also means I am leaving the wilderness for urban life, a transition I dread.

It got me thinking about the past few months of my life. The sunny days of New Mexico hiking with the boys in our lord of the fly’s wild abandon. The hard work and cold snow of Colorado, the welcoming terrain and stunning views of Wyoming, fires, time alone and the Beaverhead Mountains of just a few weeks ago. I thought of my time with the Germans, how I miss both Buttercup and Cheezy and all the others I hiked with.

just cool moss on an old tree

I also thought about all that has happened at home while I have been out here walking around. In the time since I left my friend Sasquatch had announced that he and his wife are expecting a baby girl, he has graduated from grad school, accepted a new job in Seattle and is relocating. So much in his life and I’m struggling with the decision of how long to grow my Afro and if I should keep the beard through Christmas at its current bushy size. Oh well, life at home will sort itself out when I return until then I will keep enjoying the hike and the great state of Montana.

So let’s talk about today’s hike and the journey along the physical divide, guess what just like yesterday no water for endless miles. We woke up and got going at dark, after 3.5 miles we came to Semple Pass where a kind soul has been caching water for CDT hikers, there was a full gallon and about 1 liter more, we filled some bottles and chugged 1 liter each and then hiked on.

Hiking in Montana means sticking to the physical divide

The morning half was pleasant up and down the divide through forest and trees. We made great time and at noon we were at Flecher Pass which had a picnic table and the nicest smelling outhouse ever. We enjoyed lunch, pooped and relaxed with our feet elevated for a bit. Two cars came by and between them, we got 1 more liter of water. Just enough for the next stretch to Rogers Pass and the creek before it.

The sun was out today and the climb from Flecher Pass was a butt kicker. We were both sweating and trying to ration water as best we could. We finally attained the ridge and for the next 8 miles, we walked along grassy ridge tops towards Rogers Pass. We found a tree and sat in the shade for a bit. The sun and lack of water had me feeling a bit dizzy and so a rest in the shade, some food and water were needed. After the rest, I was well enough To carry on.

I finally made the creek and chugged water until my body said enough. We loaded up all we could and walked a half mile to the highway to see if there was a picnic table for us to cook on. Nope so as true hobos we sat beside the highway, cooked our dinner and talked about the grizzly signs we had seen in the ridge which included week old poop, holes from digging, and overturned rocks. We ate our dinner and crossed the highway to go up the hill a mile to camp. At the edge of the road was a dead deer, or a basic grizzly meal so we were glad to be going up on a knoll away from the trees and the highway for the night.

Rogers Pass is the road to Lincoln which I skipped

Oh, one more funny story. The guy came to clean the outhouse at Flecher Pass when we were leaving, we chatted with him about Lincoln. He said he used to wave hello to the Unabomber when he was in town. After a few minutes, he asked Tatu-Jo and I if we were a father-son team hiking the trail. Apparently thru-hiking is my fountain of youth but Tatu-Jo is looking older than he is. Anyway, we had a good laugh at it before taking off.

sunset from our camp

Day 133, “Who the hell designed this trail”

CDT 2319.6, miles hiked 33

A dry Dana Springs

Who the hell designed this trail and put the route up here? It was a question we asked ourselves over and over as we walked the divide desperately needing water. We had a couple liters each to start the day and it was cool so that helped but we still needed to hydrate so we rationed best we could.

We were on a road walk and heard a few ATV’s, being Saturday we were not surprised so when the first one showed up we yogied a liter each. 5 minutes later a couple in a side by side came rolling up on a drive with their 3 pit bulls. They gave each of us a liter so we each had what we thought would be enough. We arrived at Dana Springs and Slap Shots comment in the app was correct both troughs were dry and the well box had standing water with two dead chipmunks at the bottom, I figured I had 2 1/2 liters so I didn’t need the death water.

Tatu-Jo walks a ridge towards what we hope will be water

We looked at our data and discovered the next spring laid 15 miles away (we had already hiked 17) and it was reported dry a month ago….now what? We pulled out my J Ley maps and discovered a spring/creek at s fork Poorman Creek road. We tried to figure out the distance on Guthook but couldn’t make sense. Hours later we figured out why.

You see I believe there is this guy somewhere in Washington, D.C. Who works of the forest service and he never gets a chance to hike. So when he lays out the trail he decides to punish the thru-hiker by putting it up on the ridge with no consideration of water. All day we questioned why the new trail goes over Granite Butte to see a fire tower when the old trail followed the dirt road to water.

Well, long story short at 8 pm we rolled up to the spring along the dirt road and filled our bellies with its delicious water and then all of our bottles. We are back in grizzly bear territory so we trudged another 1/2 mile up the road away from the water and tucked into the trees for the night. Tatu-Jo decided since I have a stove he wanted hot food for the end of the trip so he carries extra fuel and I heat him up water. Not sure what he likes more, the Backpacker’s Pantry beef pho I give him of the warm cup of coffee when we wake up. For dinner, I had a new Backpackers Pantry dinner chicken Picatta and it was the bomb. Man, they even have capers in the meal so it’s one of the best things I have eaten after a long day.

The Unabomber lived here

Besides questioning trail design and longing for water we had a pretty cool day. The sky was overcast and the temps were cool so we enjoyed some nice early fall hiking. We wound up and down along the divide and had sweeping views of the surrounding mountains. We met some great people along our hike and had to run off two different Bulls along our route.

On a historical note, I am camping above the valley where Ted Kandinsky, aka the Unabomber, lived. In fact, if I was to walk down the road a few miles I could see where his cabin was. The town of Lincoln is where he mailed his deadly packages and is also a stop along the CDT. Tatu-Jo and I are bypassing Lincoln and heading all the way to East Glacier with only 1 resupply at a remote ranch in the Bob Marshall Wilderness where we sent boxes weeks ago.

Tomorrow begins a new routine of sleeping in a bit longer, since we are entering grizzly territory we decided hiking the couple of hours each morning in the dark might not be our wisest plan so we are going to start a bit later and make a hell of a lot of noise, if you know me and Tatu-Jo you know that is pretty standard for us.

Alright time to get some rest and get ready for another day of northbound travel.

Day 132, the start of the final northward push 

Dear readers here is a live update I have arrived in East glacier and will be heading into the park on Sept 5th and will push the last 105 miles to Canada.  I will be updating the blog when I finish as of now I have very bad internet and short on time to get up to the border before the snow gets deep.  It’s been a great journey and stay tuned for all theatrics about the Scapegoat Wilderness, the Bob and, Glacier.

Thank you for your support and comments along my journey it has been helpful to keep me going and my spirits up.  All my best and happy trails.
CDT mile 2,286.6, miles hiked 7.8

A welcome sign at the budget express inn

We started the day with breakfast at the no sweat cafe, a Helena staple.  My friend Christy at CDTC is from Helena and had recommended it to us.  Man, she was spot on, the breakfast was amazing and I had a huge pancake with real maple syrup.

We did laundry, got our food organized, yogied a ride to the post office to get my box from Space Girl, and then went shoe shopping.  On this trail I have gone through 7 pairs of Altra shoes, generally, I get about 300-400 miles out of a pair and since we have 366 miles and the inside of mine were coming apart I figured it was time for a new pair.

My giant afro is too legit to quit

The nice thing about Helena being the last big town and the state capital is that they have running stores.  Tread Lightly is one of the shops and only a block from the hotel so we rolled in there and walked out with a new pair of Olympus and was on my way.

We strolled through town, Tatu-Jo stopped by the barber to have his neck trimmed and then we hit a burger spot for lunch.  We charged our devices, ate some huge burgers and then went to the grocery store for the final supplies.  As we stood hitching back to trail and guy came over and asked if we were thru-hiking?  His name is Good 2 Go and he hiked the PCT in 2005 the same year as Tatu-Jo and a bunch of my friends in Portland.

Trail angels descend upon us for safe travels, thank you Good 2 Go

He ran home to drop off ice cream and came back a few minutes later with his daughter in his truck.  Then loaded us up to drive us to trail.  Besides him hiking with my friends rabbit and phantom on the PCT in 2005, he also ran into Cheezy and Johnny the other week and had them stay at his brothers house.  Such a small world is hikers live in.

We loaded on our packs and stated our hike at the crack of 5.  Our packs are wicked heavy we have 4 1/2 days of food plus a ton of water for this stretch. We moved slow and had to stop to make adjustments to our shoes and get our feet in order.  Finally at about 7:45 we said lets camp, found a spot in the woods and Cowboyed up.

An old railroad trestle in the woods

Day 131, on the way to Helena

CDT mile 2278.8, miles hiked 30

Spooky trees and cold air make it feel like Halloween

It was damp and cold when we woke, even though we are cowboy camping 10′ apart neither of us wanted to get out of bed.  I hit the snooze button on my watch a few times, yes you read that right my watch us a snooze bar, and then rolled over, lit the stove and made us coffee.  We enjoyed our hot beverage as we packed up, both of us wore all of our clothes and in a flash, we started up the path.  We had 30 miles to get to town and we agreed if we couldn’t make the road by 7 we would wait to go in the next day.

We made good time, one benefit of the cold is we hike faster to stay warm.  The trail took us up a decent climb so by the time the sun was starting to change night into day we were stripping off the heavy layers and just wore our thermals and light wind shirts for the first part of the early morning.

A unique rocky top mountain

The sun came up and light up the forest so at 8 AM we laid in the sun’s rays basking in the warmth.  By the time we got moving the clouds were back and we had to get moving to get warm.  The trail was nice, the terrain stuck to the divide and we never had any major climbs.

We had plenty of cell signal once we hit the road so we had some fun online posting pictures on Instagram and the like.  Tatu-Jo had a field day with me being a sponsored hiker and our humor was probably lost on some but the comments we got from friends helped the miles go by quick.  At one point we were joking around so much we missed our turn to the trail.

Trail signage

Tatu-Jo and I decided we would bushwhack back up to the trail instead of backtracking.  Soon I found myself walking uphill through blowdown hell.  I swear the state of the forest in this country is really sad.  We worked our way up, over, under and around the various blowdowns until we rejoined the trail.

Finally, at 10 til 6 we passed through a gate that was 1 mile from McDonald Pass.  We sat down for a final snack and slug of water and then powered out the last mile to make the highway and get to town.  After about 15 minutes a guy in a Highlander picked us up and gave us a ride to town.  He even took the time to drop us at our hotel.

As the tired hikers we were, we dropped out packs in the room and went for food.  We passed a Thai restaurant and the smell of fresh curry drew us in.  We sat down to a great meal of soup, satay, and curry.  Then walked up the street to get some ice cream.

When I got back to our hotel I finally got to talk to home.  Unfortunately, it was not a great call.  Suzy informed me that tomorrow is her last day at work, the company is not doing well so they are laying people off and she was in this round.  After calming her down and assuring her things would be alright, we talked about the nuts and bolts of the next few weeks and my return.  I told her to take a few weeks and enjoy the end of summer, do her artwork and enjoy some rest.

I know that things will work out in the end, one thing the tail teaches you is that no matter how hard, how bad or how what the heck moment you are dealing with is, at the end of the day it all works out.  Now I just need to avoid getting eaten by a Grizzly Bear between here and the border and life will be good in the end.


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