Total Miles: 897.7
It’s the dirtiest of words out here: PUDs. Pointless Ups and Downs. It behooves you not to complain too much when you’ve signed up of your own volition to walk from one side of the country to the other, but PUDs are like the proverbial thorn in your side, the pebble in your shoe, the tiny thorn entangled deep in the fibers of your sock that you just can’t shake as it slowly works its friction until you notice it. Frustration ensues, and its mission is fulfilled.
Making an already difficult task that much more difficult, all while providing no additional scenic value, is kind of what PUDs are all about. Expecting that killer view at the top? Yeah, that won’t be happening. Maybe it was to avoid some forbidding topography that the trail couldn’t possibly cling to? Nope. When you find yourself shuffling up a surprisingly steep—and in the case of Montana/Idaho, often dusty, dirt-bike-rutted mess of a trail—only to find momentarily level ground among a thicket of forest before starting the knee-buckling mirror image descent, that’s when you know the PUD has struck. Sweat for sweat’s sake, and nothing more.
Every long trail has it share. Among the Triple Crown trails, the Pacific Crest Trail—perhaps the most thoughtfully conceived and constructed of the bunch—has precious few. The Appalachian Trail, on the other hand, is positively infected with them owing largely to its age of construction, when a good hiking path was merely one that traveled from one point to another in the shortest distance possible.
Thus far, the CDT has for the most part managed to keep them to a minimum. Except, it seems, along the Idaho/Montana border where you’d also be forgiven for thinking that what we now walk would more appropriately be named the Continental Divide Dirt Road Walk.
Up and over the early morning PUDs, a gentle dirt road would carry us the remainder of the distance to Chief Joseph Pass. From the pass, it was back down into the Big Hole Valley one last time for a resupply stop in the town of Wisdom, not far up the road from Jackson. With a population of 98, it’s the booming metropolis to the suburbia of Jackson and its 36 denizens.
Hardly big enough to notice if you were to bat your eyelids at just the wrong moment, there’s a kind of charm to Wisdom, the kind of place where the locals seem far less easily distracted by the outside world, their interest in the lives of one another far exceeding anything else. In a small way, watching their interaction is like watching a kind of interaction that the rest of us have simply forgotten. It’s towns like this that form some of my favorite memories of trail life.
The sad news of the day was hearing that the hazy sunrise of two days ago, painted in shades of orange, coral, and crimson was no normal occurrence. To the south, a forest fire had ignited hours earlier right along the Divide on trail we’d crossed back in June. Far more than a safe distance away from where we now are, it has already closed the CDT for miles in that area and spread to more than 4,000 acres.
Latitude/Longitude: 45.68594, -113.93335