Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Welcome to the S***show!

The last week has been a whirlwind. One that very accurately sums up my hiking experience as a whole. In the last week, we have been hailed on, rained on, climbed up mountains, climbed down mountains. We have loved the trail, we have hated the trail. We have loved the towns, we have hated the towns. And we have met some really incredible people.

It's hard to really sum up the experience or even begin, but it starts in Helena at a bus stop. The bus stop happened to be located next to an Eagles Club bar. We had 30 minutes before the next bus and decided to get a drink. From here the story gets a little more confusing.

We made friends with two awesome people at the bar and ended up going to get a bite to eat with them and invited to stay at their place. The next morning, feeling a little worse for wear, we decided to go see a movie. Once it started hailing after the movie, we took up a trailangel's offer to stay at her place. Her boyfriend had just finished an AT thru hike AND they were barbecuing that night. They also lived in a totally badass old church. They gave us a ride back to the pass the next morning as they were headed to a disc golf tournament.

From there the trail was trail, with lots of ups and downs. We got hit with some huge hail and massive raindrops. But we still had climbs that made us fantasize about meeting hunters with coolers of cold sodas. The weather is definitely changing though, with the mornings getting colder and the Sun setting earlier.

Even though the section was short, we were still excited for the next town, Lincoln MT. Breeze and I had a near insta-hitch, with only two cars passing before one picked us up. We had a reunion with hikers we hadn't seen in awhile and found a place to stay. I befriended a great local while at the laundromat that came and hung out with us later at night.

We are about 300 miles to the end, with a big section coming up between here and East Glacier. Roughly two weeks remaining. We might be dragging our feet to the finish, but we're enjoying every minute!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The things I've carried.

Helena MT!  350 miles left!

Getting closer...

So in the world of thru-hiking, less is better. Forget the catchy AT&T commercials about cute kindergartners and "more is better!" For a thru-hiker, streamlined efficiency is key. If I had a dollar for each time a weekend warrior commented about the relatively small size of our packs, I could do some serious damage to the Wendy's value menu. We want our packs light and small; the endless baggage as downsized as possible. This means lighter down sleeping bags, tighter tent space, and frameless packs with a 30 lb limit.

It also should mean that you trim the excess. Get rid of anything extra that is being carried around. Didn't use you're puffy coat for the last few sections? Send it home! Carrying too many batteries? Give them away! Extra articles of clothing? Send them, and when you need to change into clothes to do laundry, adopt an abandoned outfit from the laundromat's "lost and thank you" pile! The more space and weight I can free, the lighter my pack will be, and in return, I can put more food I there! I love food. With less fluff in my pack, I can find more room for those ever desired calories. Brie, fresh fruit, vegetables, candy, meat, marshmallows, fast food, and a pie have all managed to stowaway in the free space.

But now, here's the dirty secret...

I carry a ton of extra stuff, tons, even a few rocks. For someone as financially invested as myself in regards to lightening my gear, carrying around free rocks without much purpose, or really any at all, is ludicrous! But it happens.

Here's an updated list of my "inventory":

Rocks- tucked in my hip belt pocket are two stones, roughly the size of a nickel and a half dollar. There have been others, but these are the two most meaningful. The former, a smaller quartz-like rock was given to me by Breeze right around when we started hiking together. He jokingly called it a beautiful diamond, but it was just a dirty piece of quartz. He was excited to find it, and I got suckered into carrying it. He's pulled this trick on me a few times now. The larger rock looks to be a piece of petrified wood that we found in the middle of the long hot basin. While hiking through that area, we would come across gorgeous piles of rock, seemingly left behind from a forest many, many years ago. We would walk along picking up rocks with cool patterns and textures, and after a while I realized that he kept passing the rocks to me. He'd joke about how beautiful the rock was and how it reminded him of me and other cheesy lines, but what it boiled down to was that he got a giggle from giving me bigger and heavier rocks to carry! And I got suckered. But I kept one, a smooth rust brown stone with striations that look like the inner layers of a tree. And at this point I've carried that rock for over 1000 miles. Touché Breeze, touché.

Canadian Dime- now this is a cool one. And lucky! I found a Canadian dime at the first monument of the trail, next to the Mexican border. I'm not sure how it got there, maybe it was another prospective hiker's. Or a Canadian hiker lost it. Or a southbound hiker left it there after finishing their hike last year. Who knows! It's mine now, and it's going back to Canada!

Red Balloon String- tied to the outside of my pack, the 8 inch strip of ribbon is all that remains from my perfect red balloon that Breeze chased down in the Wind River Range. Somehow, in the middle of nowhere, we stumbled across a floating red balloon. A classic balloon, no Mylar, tethered to the ground by the baggage of a deflated twin balloon. Once untangled and freed, the red balloon had just enough helium to hang suspended in the air. Breeze tied of the end of the balloon to my backpack, and onward we hiked! Sadly my little red balloon met it's fate when I walked into tree, but it was fun while it lasted! And for once, something made my pack lighter, if just for half a day!

Lithium Battery Pack- okay okay, yes this is "gear" and has multiple uses. But I'd be lost without it! This helps keep my phone charged, my speakers charged, and even has a backup LED light! I can play music and podcasts, take pictures, stalk on Facebook (cell service varies) and never have to worry about running out of battery! Anyone that travels or is dependent on a smart phone should look into one, well worth the weight and cost!

Diabetic socks- I owe this one to SweetAs, but his legacy lives on through me! (side note: he completed his thru hike a few days ago! Congrats!) I was introduced to diabetic compression socks as a way to fight swelling and muscle ache in my legs and feet, and they are phenomenal! I sleep in them every night, so they have the added benefit of warming toesies and trapping the dirt, but mostly they help soothe my throbbing cankles. I still look forward to that moment every night when I get to shed my sweat and dust caked chemical warfare socks and slide into my miracle socks. I dread the reverse moment every morning. The legend of the miracle socks continues, with both Green Flash and Breeze getting their own pairs in the last town.

The Girly Things- yes, I carry deodorant. No, I will not stop. Deal with it. I also carry tweezers, nail clippers, lotion, q-tips, and the occasional bottle of nail polish. I ship myself razors to de-fuzz on a weekly basis. And I like taking showers. Ooh well, I guess I'm bad at being a wilderness girl.

I've also got a seashell found from a time when this land was covered with water many years ago. A redundant and useless fuel bottle that is the only item I have that will have completed 3 thru hikes. A thrift store purchased, flat brimmed, snap back horsey hat, affectionately known as "Chestnut." A flattened souvenir penny from Old Faithful.

So I might not be the most ultralight hiker...

Three more stops. Lincoln MT. Benchmark Ranch. East Glacier. I can't possibly pick up too much more. Except some champagne for the finish... :)