‘Lincoln to Benchmark’
Ok, we’re tired. People ask us about the trail and our minds turn into a complete fog. All that comes out of my mouth are contradictions: awesome, horrible, beautiful, boring, amazing, long… I really can’t think of any suitable answer. Right now it’s all about the moment: my ankle hurts; my fingers are cold; ooh, pretty flower; check out that cool ridge; I’m hungry; how many miles to town… Ask me again in six months and I’m sure I’ll have a better answer. But for now, let me just say that it is amazing, but our bodies are tired. And to that I say, “vitamin J”.
We left Lincoln with three liters of Jaegermeister, yes three full liters. Neon packed two and I packed one. It was going to be a long stretch, and cold, from Lincoln to East Glacier, ~200 miles. Luckily we didn’t have to carry food for that distance—we sent a box of food to Benchmark Wilderness Ranch, located south of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, ~135 miles from East Glacier. Vitamin J, that’s what we call Jäger. Lots of hikers take ibruprofen, which is lovingly referred to as vitamin I. Perhaps necessary in an emergency, but I think of all NSAID’s as poison. So we like our vitamin J—it’s a great muscle relaxant at the end of the day, it will settle an uneasy tummy, and the sweetness at the end of the day seems to help my muscles with a little bonus glycogen production.
We headed out from Roger’s Pass in good weather. This section of trail is often referred as a roller coaster: beautiful ridge walking with A LOT of up and down. Our packs were weighted down with ballasts of jäger and a little extra food for fear we didn’t send enough to Benchmark. But the miles passed quickly enough that first day. We found a beautiful ridge to camp on and watched an amazing sunset while happily sipping on jäger.
The next morning was cold with a steady, forceful wind. More up and down and up and down. And then, of course, rain. Somehow the hours started slipping away much more quickly than the miles. Our trail went what seemed like straight downhill with our tread slipping on the rocks here and there. At the bottom there was the sweetest little lake and the view opened up a bit. There was a break in the rain, we had only hiked twelve miles, but I said, “I want to camp here.”
We set up our tent, carried our food over to the lake, sat down, poured some jäger, and the rain started back up: raining harder, then hail, then more rain. Neon said, “let’s just wait it out.” “No,” I said, “it’s not going to stop this time.” We scampered back to the tent, wet and dripping. Now the inside of the tent was wet too. We got out our sleeping bags, getting everything all wet. We ate in the tent and sipped liberally on the jäger while Neon repeatedly voiced how much everything sucked. Just before dark we heard a voice, “hello?” “Hey, cool, it’s Snowplow,” I said. Neon’s mood lifted a bit and I proceeded to drink much too much jäger, perhaps because of the rain or perhaps because it just made my pack too heavy.
It was still raining the next morning. We climbed high to a ridge where the rain got harder and the wind got stronger. This was not going to help Neon’s mood one bit, especially as I walked singing, “It’s going to be a fine day today” followed by “Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies, do I see.” No wonder why he walks so far ahead sometimes. These were probably not fitting songs to the blasting pellets of ice smacking the sides of our faces as we traversed the ridge-top in thirty mile per hour winds.
We made it across the ridges and down to a creek valley where the sun finally came out out for a bit. Up another ridge, more cold rain, more wind, and down, down, down we went. A little more sun and we rested by a small creek. “Hey, look! It’s Strider,” I announced. Again, Neon’s mood lifted a bit as it is always good to have the company of another thru-hiker.
We hiked the rest of the day with Strider, him slowing down for us, and me in the back running occasionally to try to catch up. We got a little earlier start the next day and made it to Benchmark Ranch early enough to relax. We all shared a cabin. Strider started a fire in the wood stove, we sipped jäger over great conversation, and I fretted about whether I had enough food for the next big stretch to East Glacier.