"So, how's it looking out there in the forest?" I asked a woman working for the Forest Service, just south of Chief Joseph Pass in Southern Montana.
"It's a lot drier than I expected," she replied. 15 minutes earlier, she and her co worker, warned me of a small forest fire they were monitoring a few miles to the east.
"What really worries me is all of this dead timber," she continued. "The bark beetle has really devastated these forests around here." She pointed out many of the dead pines surrounding us.
"It's mostly killing the lodge pole pines, isn't it?" I asked.
"No, it's also beginning to kill the Ponderosa's," her co worker chimed in. "We used to get a period of a few weeks each winter where the temperature would drop to about zero degrees. The cold air would kill off that particular season's bark beetle brood. Now we aren't getting that temperature drop and we are seeing two broods of bark beetle each season which is amplifying the problem."
"Man, that's terrible," I replied.
"Well, Mother Nature does what she wants on Her own particular time frame," the coworker continued. "We just happen to go along for the ride."
Ain't that the truth.
It's been a great couple of weeks on the CDT. It's taken about a month, but my mind, body, and spirit all seem to be working in unison now. My hiking legs have returned and I can basically walk all day with a few breaks in between without any problem. My feet are still sore, bruised, and blistered at times, but I have finally been able to hike without medical tape for the first time since Glacier. I've also caught up with a few hikers. In particular, I am grateful for meeting a dread locked couple named Baboon and Spinns, and another couple from Mississippi named Manparty and Lush. Although our encounters and conversations were often brief, they have had a restorative effect on my spirit and I am thankful to both couples for that.
Northbound and Southbound hikers have finally begun to meet. I met the first Northbounder named Ross, on the 27th. While talking to another Northbounder later in the day, I began describing the trail, as it lay ahead:
"You've got several miles of bullshit to get through before you get to the good stuff," I explained.
"It's all good," the hiker replied. "We're just out here enjoying walking."
Very true, wise words.
The trail has taken us through some majestic areas. Rugged peaks, passes, and alpine lakes have been a common sight. One of my favorite spots was a place called Lemhi Pass. It was here that Lewis and Clarke and their team first reached the Continental Divide with the assistance of Sacajawea. It was one of the climatic moments of their journey when they reached the furthermost spring, the spot where they believed the source of Missouri River began flowing out of the earth. They had spent months battling the river's currents, portaging their gear at times, as they journeyed west. It was a magical moment for me to also see this exact spring. To drink it's ice cold water. Holy water in my opinion. Lemhi Pass is also where Lewis and Clarke realized their journey may have just begun, as their were many jagged peaks to the west to travel through. Sacajawea gave birth to her son not too far from the pass. I am reminded once again, of a small portion of our country's rich history. It's my hope and prayer that we will remind ourselves of the consequences of this particular meeting of cultures. That we will commit ourselves to meeting in a spirit of peace and understanding rather than fear and domination. That words and promises will be honored and kept, that compromise can ultimately be found. I hope we never allow what happened to the Native People happen again.
Another special moment occurred on the 28th, just before a spot called Bannock Pass, along the Montana/Idaho border. It was getting late and I pitched my tarp off the barbed wire fence that separates the two states. I was camped amongst a sea of sage. I fell asleep with the sweet fragrance of the sage filling my nostrils. (a pleasant reprieve, I might add, from the rank smell protruding from my body at this point!) A strong wind was blowing from the west. Later that night, I awoke to a calm, still air. A half moon had risen and was shining down on the vast open expanses of mountain and sage. There were dark clouds in the sky as well. Bolts of heat lightning leaped from cloud to cloud, creating a fantastic light show. Suddenly a chorus of coyotes (or was it wolves?) began yelping and howling in unison, breaking the silence of the desert like night air. I felt like I had gone back in time. Is this what Lewis and Clarke experienced on their journey west? Is this what the natives heard each night in their summer camps? Moments later, an airplane flew overhead, reminding me of my current place in world history.
I am somewhat amazed at the skittishness of animals out here on the Divide. I saw another brown bear on the 28th, with a beautiful, shaggy, brown coat. He was in a clearing and I was no more than 20 yards away when I entered that clearing. I have never seen an animal turn and run away faster than that bear did. In fact, he left a dust cloud in his wake. I guess it's better they still have that fear of humans unlike "Yosemite" bears. As one friend once said, "Yosemite bears will sit down at the picnic table and have lunch with you."
Overall, it's been a great couple of weeks. I'm beginning to really enjoy the solo nature of this hike. Things have calmed down quite a bit, the emotional roller coaster has subsided for now. Hiking is what I do for the time being. "We're just out here enjoying walking," and I am grateful for the opportunity. Thanks for reading and happy trails to all!