Howling Wolves, Huckleberries, and Bushwhacks

As we walked away from Eureka Montana, our pace was slowed by the lazy river inviting us to cool off. I got wet every chance I could to keep cool in the sweltering humid heat. I used my umbrella to shade me and with the wet clothes I was pleased with the air conditioning effect I created. We did a lot of road walking, some of it on a busy highway. We were rewarded with views of the massive Koocanusa lake. As we crossed the Koocanusa bridge I was mesmerized by the distance between us and the water, imagining what might happen to a person if they jumped from there. A boat floated under the bridge and all the people in it saw us and waved. The lake was still in view at our camp that night at the base of Webb mountain. The moon was almost full, making the lake glow through the night. In the morning we climbed up and up and lots more up until we must have summitted what felt like a dozen mountains before collapsing on the peak of Mount Henry for the night. Our first 20 mile day on the Pacific Northwest Trail. Before setting up camp, we watched the sun set over the mountains of Idaho, where we would be very soon.

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Before long we walked into Yaak Montana, our last Montana town stop. We made it by fourth of July and enjoyed watching the locals swim in the Yaak river while we ate and relaxed our bodies. We took another zero day because Ted needed to wait for a package to come in, which was delayed by the holiday. Temperatures were going down, as well as the biting bugs. We were having a lot more fun without them. We got a little cabin there for cheap, with no water or electricity but that was fine. Once the package arrived in the late afternoon, we hit the trail again.   As the afternoon faded into the night, we were startled by the sight of a big brown butt running away from us. After a good look we realized it was a young moose. Spooked by the encounter, knowing critters big and small were all around us, we kept walking along the old logging road until we found a small creek and a flat spot to sleep. It rained long and hard while we slept, clearing by morning as if to say, okay I’ve rained enough now it’s time for you to go on a nice dry walk. The clouds were refreshing, keeping us cool all day. We came along two hillbilly type guys logging along the road we were walking, in the middle of nowhere. The tall skinny man was standing with a beer in his hand. He called out to us as we passed, “where’s yer rig?”. Ted, pointing to his backpack, replied “right here”. Without a smile, the skinny man said “that’s straange…” a chubby man sitting on the ground next to his cut logs just watched quietly as we passed. Feeling vulnerable, we were relieved to be on a trail just a few minutes later. Most people don’t walk far so we feel pretty safe out in the roadless wilderness.

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We camped high on a ridge just before our first cross-country route began the following day. We loved navigating the ridgeline without a path. We had a 360 degree view of mountains for a hundred miles all around. We had a lovely day, giving ourselves a sponge bath when we finally found a flowing creek. We took a long break at the creek to say goodbye to Montana and hello to Idaho! We were on the state border. After another 20 mile day and a new state we got to our campsite just before a small town stop. Ted went to fetch water at the creek a few hundred yards away. It was dark and I could hear him calling to warn the bears, as we often do, “Hey bear!! Heeey bear!!!” We are always a little spooked when we get into camp late and have to do chores in the dark. Lions, wolves, and bears! Oh my! We felt sticky, soggy, and smelly the next day, so before going to pick up our resupply boxes at the Feist Creek Falls Resort, we washed up in the Moyie River. Smiling and waving at the locals who stopped on the bridge to stare at us. I guess we are a sight to see! We were treated like family when we arrived. The owner, Cliff, sat with us as we ate. He brought us homemade food for us to try and even gave us a free hotel room to stay in for the night. I called my Uncle Roger who lives in Idaho and invited him to come visit. He was glad I had called, jumped in his car and was sitting with Ted and I by a waterfall drinking a beer 3 hours later. It was nice to be in the presence of family. Seeing him made me see my dad, his brother, who share a lot of similar features. I never really noticed before. I had always seen my Uncle with family, never one on one as an adult. We hung out for a few hours before he headed back home. It was very sweet of him to drive all that way just to see me.

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When we finally got out of there the next day, it was three o clock in the afternoon and we had a big climb and a long dry stretch that we knew would be unreasonable to start so late in the day, so we camped at the base and started the climb after a night spent painting, listening to Ted’s ukulele, and sleeping next to a babbling brook in a green, moist forest. It was foggy all day and there were huge purple Huckleberries everywhere slowing us down as we climbed. We are finding it difficult to move quickly on this trail. It is nothing like the PCT which is a hard packed, continuous trail all the way to Canada from Mexico. The PNT is a collection of many trails joined together all the way to the ocean from Glacier National Park. It is more of a route with trails, roads, and cross country/bushwhacks connected together. We stop at almost every junction to be sure not to stray from the route, we hike slower because of rugged, extremely steep trail, there are so many berries that we can’t refrain from eating, and overall we just hang out too much! I am feeling the itch to start traveling more efficiently. I am also feeling strong and ready to make more miles. My mental state has evolved from an overwhelmed scatter brain in transition to the trail bliss I once knew while hiking the PCT two years ago. I am feeling good. Strong. Happy. Now let’s get some miles!!!!

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Wait no, how about another town stop? We got to the road that led into Bonners Ferry and decided it would be smart to go into town, the biggest town near the trail for about 600 miles. I had lost my bear spray and Ted had lost his compass and a few other important items. We rushed to and from town, hitchhiking and shopping took us 5 hours and we found ourselves back where we had left off, walking across the Kootenai river valley until evening. Clouds hanging over the Selkirks and miles of farm land in all directions. We slept near Parker Creek, then spent the day climbing about 7,000 feet. Once we reached the crest, we were surrounded by huge storms in the mountains all around us, but we stood under a clear sky. The sun shone gold on the hills and tree’s around, and black clouds marched through the sunshine. It was so dramatic I couldn’t believe my eyes! We camped that night at Long Mountain Lake where we watched the sky light up from the storms and listened to the song of thunder.

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We wandered out of the high country and down into the woods where we had our first bushwhack, that means no trail at all, through bushes, and down a steep embankment for a total of about 5 miles. It was really rough. When we got to a road we walked by a busy campground full of screaming people swimming, drinking, eating, and being merry. We stood out like a sore thumb when we stopped to use the bathroom. A few miles later we saw a family in the wilderness on a bike ride who recognized us from our short moment in the campground. They were excited to hear about our journey and shared their food with us. It was our first on trail trail magic, and it was wonderful. We hiked a few more miles that day on a great woodland trail that no one else was on because of a ton of blown down trees made it very difficult. We didn’t mind hopping over tree’s. It was easier than bushwhacking. We came upon a tiny campsite along this huge lake. We swam and watched the sunset. The next morning we saw a moose! Who politely moved off the trail for us to pass.

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After quite a bit of road walking, we were back on the trail again in an ancient grove of cedars. That night we heard wolves howling as we lay down in our sleeping bags to sleep. It sounded like a moan in the wind, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was until Ted said it. “Those are wolves…” My body was motionless. I even stopped breathing, trying to hear the sound with all of my being, and being afraid of the possibility of a confrontation. I knew my bear spray couldn’t deter a pack of wolves, but I comforted myself with the thought that there is plenty large game out here. They don’t want to eat me.

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After some more great berry picking, we realized that we crossed over the Idaho state border again, and into Washington, our third state. Very exciting! Again lots of road walking and people looking at us like we’re crazy. We arrived in Metaline Falls Wa and Ted’s Mom and husband Rich met us there on their way home to Texas from their long journey (by vehicle) across Alaska and Canada. They fed us and we hung out together for a couple of days before we parted ways again and headed back into the wilderness. Backpacks full of goodies! Our first day out was climbing up to the peak of the second highest in NE Washington, Abercrombie Mountain. The views were beautiful, and there was even a recliner built out of rocks!

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Now I am sitting in Northport a couple days later, writing this blog from the computer of a young man and woman who took us in for the night. We were sitting by the post office opening our packages when Jamie saw us and brought us home, giving us showers, laundry, food, and great company. We are well fed, clean and ready for the next stretch. Hopefully I will find more opportunities for blogging as this journey continues. Thanks for reading!

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Swimming With Moose and Blood Thirsty Insects

Frantic to finish our preparations for our 3-4 month trip, we were up until 3 am and then got about an hour of sleep before getting on the train. We had a very quiet and peaceful 2.5 day train ride to chill and relax until the walking began. We arrived in East Glacier just outside of Glacier National Park, and began our walk across the Pacific Northwest, starting at Chief Mountain border customs right next to the Canadian border.

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Our first day was exciting and had our feet moving quickly. We had plenty of water, never having to think about where we might find it next, just taking it when we needed it. We met several other hikers on our first day, which was refreshing on a trail we expected to be almost entirely alone on. The walking has been nice, the trails in Glacier are well made, and it was a nice way to ease into this very difficult trail. There were designated campsites with poles built into food prep areas for handing our food, which made life pretty easy.

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We were blessed to meet our first ever moose! He was busy eating grass at the bottom of the lake, and enjoying fully immersing himself and bobbing up and down in the weightlessness of the water. We kept our distance, remembering someone saying that moose are some of the most dangerous wildlife. Feeling safe down the trail, we came upon a perfect jumping rock directly into deep turquoise water. We jumped in reluctantly, and swam out as quickly as we had fallen in. Glacial lakes are not anywhere close to body temperature. The moose, still 200 yards away in the shallower part of the lake, still busy dunking his head and munching. Butterflies were flying around, and the mosquito’s couldn’t find us with all the cold water on us. What a refreshing swim with Mr. Moose! We have had no issues with bears but have found their tracks, scat, along with scarred tree’s and turned over rocks.

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After having a beautiful, but steep, descent out of the park (damn that went by too fast!), I was reluctant to leave the last campsite at Bowman Lake, afraid of being in a crowded place full of people, but I went anyway. I was pleasantly surprised when we walked into the tiny “town” of Polebridge, where we were treated kindly by the locals at the Polebridge Mercantile which had all kinds of deliciously made baked goods among other food treasures. We stayed two nights at the North Fork Hostel that was so pleasant and quaint. A kind man by the name of Oliver owned the hostel and it felt like we were staying in his home – a rustic old cabin tucked into the woods next to a mighty river. We hand washed our clothes and enjoyed conversation with Oliver’s helper, Amy. She was a humble cyclist who worked seasonally and used her bicycle to travel across the country to all of her odd jobs in beautiful places. I enjoyed her big smile and wished I had gotten to know her a little more. We spent hours by the river, I read books about grizzly bears from Oliver’s library, and Ted made some music. We sat there for so long that many animals passed by. We saw geese, osprey, hummingbirds, and even an otter! In the community kitchen we met other people staying in the hostel who gave Ted and I their fruit, and Oliver gave us some kale – making a fantastic breakfast that we are so grateful for. It’s not always easy to find fresh food in tiny towns like this one, so it was truly heaven sent. Our first trail magic on the Pacific Northwest Trail. Polebridge was probably the coolest trail town stop yet!

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We hiked out, doing some road walking, the trail is not complete, so there are lots of roads to walk on that connect to other roads and or trails along this journey. I personally don’t mind them, because they are level and easy to walk on, unlike what we experienced going into the foothills of Montana. Water became scarce, temperatures hovered in the 80 to 100 degree range, trails had no switchbacks and went straight up and down the mountains, not to mention hundreds of blood thirsty insects constantly berating us. Here in Montana, I have experienced some of the steepest, most difficult terrain I’ve ever walked on. It’s been two weeks now, and my legs are getting BUFF! They better be, after all this crazy climbing.

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We took another zero day in Eureka Montana, to rest our feet and let our bodies adjust to the intense hiking. We briefly hiked with a woman trail named BloodyMary who is really fast, and I think we got a little excited and pushed ourselves beyond what we are used to. She is fresh off of the PCT, finishing a southbound hike last December, we have been sitting on our butts for months, so we are reminded to listen to our bodies and take it easy until the bigger miles come more naturally to us. As of now, we are averaging 15 (hard) miles a day. Here we go, back into the hot hot hills of Montana. I’ll post another blog when I find another computer. Love and light from the trail.