CDT 20: Starting the Ups & Downs of the Montana Idaho Border

‘Mack’s Inn Route to I-15’

After several days in town waiting for Neon to recover we finally headed back to the trail. We have pretty good luck hitching and got a ride within seconds. By the time we arrived at the trailhead it had gone from rain to hail. Our ride said, “No way, we’re not letting you out in this weather.” So we sat there for a few minutes waiting for a break in the weather. I put my camera in a dry bag, got out my rain gear, and prepared for a wet afternoon. The hail calmed to rain and we thanked our ride and hopped out into a cool, wet, drizzle.

Within minutes the rain turned back into hail: wet, icy, hand-numbing, hail. We stopped under a tree to break from the cold pellets of ice. A little further and we stopped under another tree. “Perhaps we should just set up the tent,” I suggested. But we kept going.

It was cold, wet, and then the lightening started as we climbed to higher elevations. Neon was getting cold, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt under his rain gear. After a few more miles there was a slight lull in the storm, Neon stopped to put on his gloves, warm tights, and thermal shirt. He later described this as his worst day on the trail: standing in the rain in his underwear trying to put on warm clothes with freezing, numb, hands.

After Yellowstone the trail stays very close to the Divide, which also means it runs along the Montana Idaho border, and has a lot of elevation gains and losses. The rain made a muddy mess out of the situation, but the days slowly got easier with mild weather, beautiful views, and surprisingly, zero bugs. The farther we hiked the better it got. As we got closer to I-15 we re-entered cattle country, which we decided would be less likely to have grizzly bears. And this, for us, meant cowboy camping and lazy nights of not hanging our food. This, Neon later described as his best days on the trail: beautiful ridge-top views, beautiful sunsets, beautiful weather, zero bugs, and no bears.

Some days there are “ups” and some days there are “downs.” They are physical, they are mental, and sometimes I don’t know what they are, but it is all very real.

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