Total Miles: 1022.7
If you feel like you haven’t seen anything good, than you just haven’t been paying attention. You also might think that even while paying close attention walking 25 miles of nothing but roads might be the time when that wisdom falls apart. Not today.
Upon leaving the motel and shoving off to pound the pavement on our journey back to the main route of the CDT, we first met a group of local men having coffee outside the McDonald’s who we chatted with briefly before one of them asked if we’d like some strawberries. The obvious answer being, of course, yes, he walked to his truck and returned handing us an entire container. Surprised and very thankful, down the road we went with fresh strawberries for breakfast.
The eastern edge of Anaconda is a shell of its former self. Far from the bustling industry portrayed in the historical photos throughout town, it’s now a set of tranquil hills covered in golden grass with only the old smelter stack remaining to harken back to the town’s glory days. Nearby hills of jet black soil border the highway, presumably as part of what must’ve been a substantial environmental cleanup—penance for its industrial past.
A retired schoolteacher we’d spoken to the day before—a local of 50 years—had mentioned that the smelter stack was the largest diameter stack of its kind in the world, for years consuming the raw copper ore that had been mined in nearby Butte, MT. Seen for miles, the stack now serves as a lighthouse of sorts for locals, letting them know that they’re finally home when it comes into view.
Leaving behind the worst of the traffic, we turned onto a county highway that would bring us past a corrections facility, a state psychiatric hospital, and eventually to a crossing of Interstate 90. How’s that for a different kind of hiking scenery? Littered along the way periodically were something we’d smell long before we’d see—rotting carcasses of mule deer, casualties of vehicle collisions. Not pretty, no description required.
Knowing that we’d be in for a long slog on pavement then on dirt and gravel for the entirety of the day—combining for over 40 consecutive road miles if you add in the miles from yesterday and the evening before—we laughed at how our pre-trail urban hikes wandering through the city of Seattle had prepared us for this very moment. Well, they certainly didn’t hurt anyway.
Within minutes of making our first turn, we’d crossed the magical 1,000-mile mark of the hike, a distance that seems impossible to comprehend. There were no celebrations, no high fives, just Ace striking a pose to commemorate the moment.
Passing beneath the rhythmic sound of cars crossing the concrete seams of the interstate overpass, the pavement evaporated in exchange for dirt roads that passed by a series of farms along the eastern edge of a broad valley. Looking up from our feet, we were surprised to see a southbound thru-hiker coming toward us, only the 10th we’ve seen since setting foot on the trail in mid-June.
His name was Rambler, an older man on his way into Anaconda for the night to nurse a troublesome foot. Given how much of a rarity it has been, it was wonderful to chat with another thru-hiker for a few minutes while standing directly in the middle of the road, as normal as if we’d just sat down at a table together.
After wishing Rambler well, we had only a mile or so to our final turn onto a new dirt road that would take us the final 10 miles up into the mountains and to the trail. With each step, scores of crickets—cicadas, perhaps?—would spring into action, leaping out of harms way. Upon closer inspection, it seemed that right until the moment we rudely interrupted them, many of them had been perched atop dead carcasses of their brethren. Were they being cannibalistic? Paging an entomologist…
As the sun parted the clouds and began to exact its toll, the road delivered us into the trees that would be our companions the rest of the way. Only an hour later, the sun had been replaced by an angsty dark grey cloud and the crackle of thunder. Riding out a brief and almost pleasant rainstorm in a stand of pines and under my sleeping pad, we emerged to see a juvenile moose standing not 25 feet away, calmly munching on grass. We stared at each other for a few moments before going our separate ways.
And like that, it was over. The road we’d come to know continued without us as we turned left onto our old familiar friend. Home, sweet trail.
Latitude/Longitude: 46.21232, -112.57556