"A lot of you guys out there are loners aren't ya?" asked Kevin, owner of the Three Bears Motel in Lincoln, Montana. Kevin is a big burly man, originally from West Virginia. He's pure businessman when it comes to his motel, and to the town of Lincoln. He's also super entertaining, just as comfortable talking about Montana history, to his former career as cattle breeder, to the latest government conspiracy. I told him I didn't need Youtube, I'd be just as satisfied listening to his yarns. He's got a lot of advise to give as well. I think he has a soft spot in his heart for us hikers. Although I didn't know how to answer his original question, I think he meant well.
"Yeah, I guess," I replied. Although I often feel like I am a loner by consequence rather than by choice. Although I definitely have loner tendencies.
It has been another quiet week on the trail. I can probably count on one hand the number of conversations I had with folks, all of them leaning towards the freakish. I'm worried I am beginning to attract that kind of element. Once again, the trail itself seems to have mellowed out again. There was a lot of time to just walk and daydream, and of course make sure I was walking the right way.
I've noticed something that comes with hiking solo. I first noticed it while hiking through Glacier when Grizzly encounters seemed to be more expected. When I was preparing for this trip, a Grizzly encounter truly terrified me. I would have been just as content not seeing one, if it meant that I would come home in one piece. After a few days of trail life, a transformation began taking place. Although I still believe it's probably much safer to hike with others in Grizzly country, I noticed that the possibility of an encounter was not as frightening as it once seemed. Instead of sitting behind my computer in my room reading about encounters and working myself into a frenzy, I was now interacting in the natural world around me. I was no longer an observer, but a participant. If an encounter took place, I would simply have to figure out what to do, just as I had to figure out how to cross that stream safely, or cross that snowfield, or get over that mountain pass. Hopefully, these won't be may famous last words, but being a participant in the wilderness around me has not only felt comforting, but empowering. I had another encounter with a Grizzly, or a very large brown (black)bear a couple days ago. It felt surreal because I was lost in a daydream when it occurred. The bear was walking the trail in front of me. I stopped when I saw it, it stopped when it heard me stop. I called out to it as respectfully as I could to let it know I was in the area. As soon as it heard my voice, it jogged off into the woods. It's attitude almost seemed like, "I don't want to be bothered, I'm out of here..."
Yesterday, a similar event occurred. I was about a half mile outside of the town of Anaconda when another big thunderstorm rolled through. I could see the storm over the town, but instead of waiting for the storm to pass, I decided to see if I could make it before all hell broke loose. I could see a gas station about a half mile ahead. If I could make it in time, not only would I find shelter temporarily, but I could buy a Dr. Pepper to quench my thirst. Well, as it turned out, I was about 15 minutes too late. The clouds unleashed their full fury, and I found myself, head lowered, getting pounded by rain, a fierce, fierce headwind, and getting destroyed by hail. It was like someone throwing rocks all over me. I was hiking along the highway just getting drenched. Lightning and thunder was surrounding the area. It probably would have been very easy to pity my situation. There were a couple of times when I found myself in a state of self pity, but I also realized that it seemed, once again, that I was actually participating in the storm, rather than observing it from a comfortable location. It was an intense situation, but also just another hurdle to get through. Eventually, I sought refuge under an overhang in front of an abandoned dry cleaning store. Now, don't get me wrong, I would not want to go through this on a regular basis. It was just a realization that it wasn't as bad as it could be. Part of me would have liked it if at least someone would have stopped and asked if I was OK. No one did. A homeless man I met in East Glacier had a similar experience. I met him cold and shivering, only wearing short sleeves and a tattered and torn dollar store poncho. He had just walked through an intense, intense storm, and it was probably 20 or 30 degrees colder. No one stopped for him either. It puts things in perspective a bit. How many times have I driven past someone who may have needed help, or could have at least used a word or two of encouragement?
Well, my time is up at the Anaconda library. Next stop, Sula Country Store. Until then, be safe and safe travels. Thanks for reading!