Another day that turned out quite unlike how I expected. I woke about an hour earlier than I have been getting up, that might have something to do with me pondering setting an alarm to get a jump start on the day…I wanted to camp as close to the highway as possible to get an early hitch into Darby…but ultimately I decided to let my body be the judge. And low and behold I woke up early!
I was in thick smoke again; the rocks and meadows appeared slowly as I moved forward, but once I began a long descent into the forest I couldn’t see the mountains for the trees anyway.
I scared a bunch of elk to start off the day, and little did I know that would portend some more wildlife encounters!
The afternoon contained some rIdiculously steep sections of trail…right after some brand new trail so fresh it wasn’t on my maps or app, I think the juxtaposition of the two made the difference even more stark. It was so steep I had to climb on my toes, frequently stopping to yell in frustration. The downhills were just as bad. Embrace the brutalIty!
WhIle I was on a flatter ridged section I spotted something carmel colored in the bushes on the side of the trail. I made a noise and watched as a cat, about 2-3 feet long, dart up the hill to my right. Startled myself, I started to talk loud and in a deep voice while waving my hiking poles over my head to appear bigger. I saw a little feline head poke up and watch me go before darting off again, a cougar! A young one at that! Wow! I nervously kept hiking trying to bellow as loud as I could, and snuck looks over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being stalked.
The next few miles passed without incident, and I was able to relax into the pace of the day. More steep climbs, more cursing, but finally I made it to the last 5 or so miles before the highway, and instead of taking a break and thinking about making camp, I realized I could make it to the highway during daylight hours, and then…should I try and go to town?
No…I would just spend money I don’t need to, and besides, I still have a ramen to eat for dinner, and maybe enough fuel to heat it up? I could cold soak it if not. Hmmmm, cold ramen, or a hot delicious pizza? Hmmm, what if I just hiked as far as I could, if I get to the highway while it’s still light and happen to get a hitch maybe I’ll go into town, if not I’ll just camp by the road and go in the morning.
As I was walking down the road I was noticing very very large paw prints. Did someone go walking on the road with their dog? Surely it isn’t a wolf or something. Hmmmm, so many prints going back and forth, this must be this animal’s territory. I just put the thought out of my mind and started playing a podcast outloud just in case something needed to be scared away.
And what do you know, I made it to the road by about 7:30, still light! I stood on the shoulder with my thumb out and just down the road noticed a big something crossing the road. A freaking wolf! Dude it was huge! That had to be the animal I was following! Wow, now I really didn’t want to camp there if I didn’t have to…and as luck would have it the first car that passed me stopped and gave me a ride the 30 miles to Darby. Yes!
I hopped out at the sign of an open restaurant, and a large supreme pizza later, was completely elated that I choose gooey cheese over cold ramen. When Mike, the owner, offered to see if there was an open hotel room at the place down the street, I said OK. I didn’t tell him I had been planning to camp at the RV park, I just went with the flow…Guess I’m spending some money in town tonight!
I got a room, took a shower and collapsed in bed. This was my first 34 mile day since I was with Lint in the Great Divide Basin, and was in much more difficult terrain. I think I’ve earned a day off.