Helena, MT to East Glacier, MT
Where do I even begin to write about the last section? Montana has been, by far, the hardest state I have ever experienced. It was brutal physically and emotionally. I was so sick of having to fight everyday for miles.
I kept pushing, even when I didn’t want to push.
There was no other option. Everyday, you wake up and push north. Everyday, you need to close the gap between you and Canada.
Leaving Helena, I learned of a fire reroute that I would hit in 1 day. I ended up dropping down to walk on roads to get around the fire. Much of the trail in that section was smoke-filled and scary. I woke up to ash on my tent one morning, and the smoke gave me headaches. It was a horrible mess. I struggled and got hotel rooms in both Lincoln and Augusta to enjoy town luxuries like showers, food, wifi, phone calls, and Game of Thrones.
I tried to cheer myself up. I would dream of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park. There was amazing trail coming up! I started to say things like “I’m so ready to get Bob-ed.”
It wasn’t a dream come true.
The Bob Marshall Wilderness crushed me.
I had a great first day and camped below the Chinese Wall. It was perfect and calm. I had no idea what was coming for me. That night, a storm rolled in and the winds shook my tent for hours. I didn’t know, but it was silently spreading fire all through the woods while I slept. Overnight, small fires grew and grew, and covered mountains.
The next day, I set out on a popular alternate called Spotted Bear. It was supposed to be stunning, and I was looking forward to it. I hit the top of Switchback Pass, 18 miles into my alternate and saw fire destroying the valley below me.
My heart sank.
I checked my GPS and kept going when I realized that I was safe. The fire was scary, but it was still a mile or two from the trail. The trail would cross a ridge and descend into a fire-free valley on the other side.
The next day, when I made it back to the CDT, I met a ranger who was using ribbon to block off the trail. The Spotted Bear alternate and the CDT south of me were both closed. And then she said “Oh. There is another fire called the Crucifixation Fire 15 miles north on the CDT. That is getting closed today too.”
My heart sank again.
She pulled out her map, drew out an alternate for me, and told me that the trail I was taking would be hard to follow.
That was an understatement.
I ended up finding myself on a trail that wasn’t maintained. Frequently, I would lose it and end up wandering in circles, until I finally gave up and bushwhacked my way forward. I kept thinking: I am alone and lost in the middle of nowhere… What if I break my ankle or …?
I had to stop the negative thinking. I told myself: Acorn, You are 1/2 Amazon warrior princess and 1/2 batshit insane. You will make it through this.
I struggled my way forward. Sometimes, I literally just walked down a creek. Sometimes, I found trail, and sometimes, I bushwhacked and tried my best to follow my map. It was a mess.
I finally made it back to the CDT at 7pm. I looked around and could see flames engulfing the horizon. I glanced at my legs covered in scratches, mud, and blood and simply whispered “Thank you. We are safe.”
Seeing flames yet again scared me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I hiked past dark, until I made it to a ranger cabin staffed with firefighters. I camped there, and in the dark, I could see the orange flames lighting up the sky.
As I drifted off to sleep, I thought: I’m not scared of bears anymore. There are far more dangerous things that lurk in the woods.
By the time I made it to East Glacier, my thoughts were toxic. The last stretch had poisioned me.
I needed to clear my mind. All of this negativity was in the past. I was a CDT hiker in Glacier. Only about 100 miles stood between me and Canada. I waited until my mind and soul were pure.
And then, I was ready.
I did the same ritual I’ve done hundreds of times… I slid my arms into my shoulder straps and clipped my hip-belt.
And then I walked out.