Total Miles: 176.5
The last few steps had my heart pounding from the effort. Around the late lingering patch of snow that clung stubbornly below the crest of the divide, before easing onto a saddle devoid of the wind that must typically whip across it. The complete lack of wind made it feel as if something was ever so slightly out of place, like house guests who'd arrived early before all of the planned preparations had been made.
The windless, warm morning on the divide might have been unusual but we certainly weren't complaining. Day nine without another soul to be found, but that didn't mean we were entirely without company. Under a cloudless sky and with such unlimited visibility, we strolled along scanning these distant hillsides for signs of animals grazing in the early morning hours. Pairs of mule deer would hear us from an incredible distance, as did the herd of elk that we surprised by climbing up onto the ridge where they'd made themselves comfortable. Craning their necks to stare at us, their ears were out at full attention presumably to take stock of these strange visitors that had appeared. 25 strong, including several small calves, they would slowly move themselves further upslope only to pause and re-examine us and have the process repeat itself as we continued up the trail. Unwittingly, we shepherded them along until at last they slipped over the ridge altogether.
The morning came and went and by the time lunch was on our minds, we'd descended well down off the divide and onto a dual-track dirt road that would be our companion for the remainder of the day. The pattern has become a familiar one—climbing up to the divide, descending off of it, and traversing large swaths of open country via dirt roads of varying condition before the road again gives way to trail that delivers us back to the high country.
Under the unadulterated intensity of the sun, ascending even this dirt track was a chore, following our own yellow brick road of sorts winding a seemingly impossible distance before us. With nearly 10 days of hiking in the books, I like to think we've transitioned from the “excitement period” to the “molting period.” In the excitement period of the first few days, the novelty of being back on trail supersedes almost everything else but as the novelty fades, in its place springs up a shedding of the pre-trail softness. Fresh skin that at first became blistered now becomes calloused, as does your resolve. Strength taking root where once there was weakness. Confidence growing to shade out the uncertainty. It's a transformation not to be missed.
The Oz at the end of this particular yellow brick road was an uninterrupted view in all directions that did not disappoint. Beyond the mountains we'd been nestled in for the past several days, there were ranges that seemed to have only come into existence in that very moment. It was like finally realizing that the expansive, wide open world you thought you knew was only a small fraction of a much larger world.
With shadows like sundials, their steady elongation signaled the fast approaching end of another day filled with beautiful scenery. Tomorrow, it's a short day into our next town stop for resupply: Leadore, Idaho.