Total Miles: 863.5
We're missing something. Well, two somethings. Two someones, to be precise, and it hasn't felt the same without them.
Nearly two weeks ago, the four of us sat down at a break and listened to Sweet Pea as she outlined her concerns about completing an entire thru-hike of the CDT this year. Given our early setback of being repelled by the snows in Montana and the precious time we've since lost in bending over backwards to reposition ourselves in various places to try and piece the entire trail together, the demands of the next few months would be significant.
Listening with sadness as it became clearer where this conversation would lead, the conclusion was what I had feared: she and Beardoh had decided that the best plan for them under the circumstances would be not to return to Montana, and to leave the miles we've yet to hike there for another season. Instead, they would return to where we started and hike south through Wyoming and then ultimately New Mexico.
It was a lot to digest, though the simplified logistics were perfectly sensible. All it required was a willingness to turn a thru-hike into a section hike, waiting to be completed at a future date. Ace and I had a decision to make—follow the original plan back to Montana in the hope of completing a full thru-hike this year, or accept the logic of our friends’ plan and join them to continue our shared adventure.
Convinced it would be challenging but still possible to compete the entire trail, we ultimately decided to wish them well on their plan as we continued to forge ahead, returning to the spot in Montana that we'd left behind in June. I'd be lying if I said it hadn't kept me up at night, doubt over whether we'd made the right decision gnawing at me like the telltale heart. In the end, I believed we could still hike this trail and we were ready to find out if that was more than just a belief.
And so with a fairly heavy heart, we loaded ourselves into a rental car in New Mexico for one last road trip together, on our way to points north—Beardoh and Sweet Pea to West Yellowstone, and Ace and I to Jackson, Montana a few hours farther north.
It was a wonderfully relaxing way to spend our last few days together, the transit time serving as our much needed rest time, but saying goodbye brought it all home—we wouldn't be finishing this hike together, and that's very far from what I'd envisioned when this adventure had begun. The only solace is in knowing that although we may be going our separate ways on this hike, there will hopefully be many more shared miles together in the future.
If you're wiping away tears, join the club. And maybe after they're dry this is a good time to explain some of the voodoo we've had to employ to keep breathing life into this adventure. If you’re confused about where we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going you're most certainly not alone. I have to remind myself what state we’re hiking in on any given day.
The map above is my attempt to clarify some of the flip-flopping madness we've resorted to. Divided into the 5 colored sections with arrows showing the direction of travel, i.e. northbound or southbound, we've so far completed sections 1 and 2. Ace and I will move to section 3 while Beardoh and Sweet Pea will begin section 4. And now, on with the show....
The twisted travel hoops were many, but after coming full circle and delivering Beardoh and Sweet Pea to the very place where we took our first steps on the CDT, Ace and I settled in for a few more hours to Butte, MT where we would return our rental car. Rick, our friendly host at the Jackson Bunkhouse, where we'd rode out the snowstorm back in June, would arrive shortly thereafter to get us the final 90 miles back to Jackson.
After a night in the town of 36 that now feels like a home away from home, it was one final ride back up into the foothills before we could at last point our steps in the direction of the CDT we'd left behind over 6 weeks ago.
Climbing north into uncharted territory, it was like we'd stumbled into a time warp, trapped in perpetual peak bloom as thickets of bright yellow, purple, and red wildflowers painted the high alpine meadows.
Like so many others, the day passed under idyllic blue skies but without the Colorado twist—never did they fill with clouds seemingly poised on the verge of a bar brawl. It was simply blue and nothing more.
In spite of the absence of our dear friends, being back in Montana just felt, well, right. Traveling over trail that had been buried in snow when we'd last seen it, the miles ticked away as Ace and I settled into the familiar rhythms of hiking together, the landscape and temperature transporting me to memories of the North Cascades in late summer.
Pitching our hammocks in a stand of trees rising above a small tarn, I only hope that Beardoh and Sweet Pea have found their first days back on the trail as satisfying as this one.
Latitude/Longitude: 45.39478, -113.73328