Friday July 22nd, 2022, 0640-1300
FR 7183 to Rexford, WEBO mm 141.5, Section 2 Purcell Mountains
19 miles, Gain 1980′, Loss 4915′, elevation 2550′
We had a much easier day lined up, but still a lot of miles to get to town. I was eager to get food and take a shower after another long and hard section. First we had a small climb to Thirsty and then Webb mountains. There was a rental lookout on top Webb, with a very nice privy that I was aiming for (2nd day in a row with TP and hand sanitizer!). A family in a truck was just leaving as I got there…yes of course there’s a road to the top… that’s how they’re able to rent it. Who would actually hike up there to stay? The inside was locked but I enjoyed 360 views of the surrounding area. I could see the remainder of the road walk into town, plus great views of the Whitefish range and a few tall peaks in GNP beyond. Our final mountain range was in sight! Final for the first half of the hike, that is.
A hiker friend named MEGAman, who I met through Picky over the winter when they came to hike the Florida Trail, was working nearby for the Montana Conservation Corps. I texted him about meeting up later in town but it was the weekend and he was out climbing a mountain. He hooked us up with his friend Will’s number, who quickly reached out, offering rides and a place to stay at their bunkhouse in Eureka. With these new plans in the works, we walked quickly down the hill, arriving at the Koocanusa bridge. It’s apparently the longest in Montana, spanning the lower end of the lake that’s formed by the Kootenai river. We’d crossed this same river back in Idaho, near Bonners Ferry. It does some crazy meandering about, coming down from Canada and then going back up. I felt inspired to paddle it someday but for now, our goal was to make it across the bridge without getting blown off. The day started out cool and overcast, with a stiff wind traveling up the lake. It made an eerie sound as it passed through the superstructure of the bridge. As big as the bridge was, I could feel it vibrating and moving somewhat.
Once across, we had an 8 mile road walk. This passed pretty quickly as I busied myself with stuff. The road was paved, a rather busy highway but with a very wide shoulder. It didn’t bother me but I know it’s one of the most common stretches that people hitch. At least the temperature was cool and there were some nice views of the lake. We made it to a marina store by noon, just in time to run into a WEBO named Bacchus, who I met hiking the AT southbound the year before. At this point, I’d met both PCT (Skunkbear and Sashay) and AT alumni on the PNT. We chatted only briefly since he wanted to hike the road before it got blazing hot. The sun was just starting to come out from behind the clouds.
I got a very delectable $5 pulled pork sandwich from the store. It was so good I considered a second. But there was a bar a mile further, where I figured I’d get a beer and appetizer. We walked some nice community hiking trails to find the bar, noticing how hot it was inside without AC. Perhaps a tactic to get you to drink more. We each had a drink and I ate an order of fried pickles. This stop took the wind out of our sails. It had gotten so hot outside, I just didn’t see the point of doing another 7 miles to town. I texted Will to see if we could get a ride, then come back the next day. A couple we’d talked to in the bar were just leaving and offered us a ride instead. Well, that was easy! They dropped us off the the Post Office in Eureka, where I had a package waiting.
I’d just received a new pair of Leki trekking poles to test for a gear review. They seemed really nice at first glance, so I mailed my Black Diamond poles home. I’ve only ever thru-hiked with the BD z-poles, so I was definitely stepping out of my zone of familiarity. But Leki has a great reputation when it comes to poles (I think it’s about all they do?). So I hoped I wouldn’t regret the change (spoiler alert, I would!).
We then went to the organic \ health food store to do some light resupply and wait for Will. He picked us up, delivering us to a remote Forest Service bunkhouse about 15 miles south of Eureka. I’d kind of assumed it was closer to town so I felt a little anxious about being stuck out there, having so little to eat. No worries though, we were shortly informed that everyone was headed back to town for the Rodeo. There would be food trucks and such there. What’s more, there were 3 WEBO PNT hikers also staying at the bunkhouse. Everyone was in their early 20s and in party mode for the weekend. Apparently one of the PNT hikers had matched with a forest service intern on Tinder. I’m so old, I had no clue this was even a thing that thru-hikers do. Here I’ve always been trying to link up with trail angels and this is one avenue by which to do so…but I’ve only ever wanted to link up, not hook up. Ha!
We all piled into the vehicles to go watch the show. I’d been on the fence about paying to go to a rodeo (something I tried to avoid growing up in Colorado, since it just wasn’t my scene). But that was where the food was, so I went along. They happened to be handing out free tickets at the gate, so we didn’t even have to pay to enter. And it actually turned out to be pretty fun. We socialized with our new friends and compared notes with the other PNT hikers. It was a nice break from the trail and a unique way to experience the town. Everyone was very excited about the activities… I gather there’s not a whole lot of entertainment normally in Eureka.
We stayed right up until the end, enjoying the late Montana sunset and warm summer night. It reminded me of being at a high school football game. Back at the bunkhouse, a game of beer pong ensued while I retreated to take a long overdue shower. Later, one of the hikers asked me how old I was and all I replied was “old enough to be your mom.” I wanted to also mention that I wasn’t so old that I couldn’t out-hike him, but I didn’t say anything more.
I pitched my tent in the dark, away from the fire and party, and tried to get some zzzs. It was past midnight…like real midnight, not the fake hiker one. 20 miles plus a night of living like a 20 something had taken its toll on me.
Saturday July 23rd, 2022, 1000-1800
Rexford to Caribou Trail Wagon Camp via Eureka, WEBO mm 134.4, Section 1 Rocky Mountains
15 miles, Gain 1600′, Loss 550′, elevation 3570′
We’d at last made it close to our origin point near Glacier National Park and the Rockies…section 1 of the PNT. This was where I’d originally planned to start going westbound. The high snowpack had other plans for us, so we’d done the smart thing to avoid it. Now we were bound for the Whitefish mountains…the range that had worried me the most in regards to snow. After talking to many of the WEBOs, it didn’t sound like we’d have any problem with snow by this point. So instead of being anxious, I was excited. The Whitefish are a pretty incredible range.
We got a ride back to Rexford mid-morning, finishing the remainder of miles into Eureka. The route was along a converted railway…a rail trail. It was flat, straight and an easy 7 miles. We walked straight through the spread-out town, making all the stops along the way. We had a delicious and hearty breakfast at Jax cafe, then went back to the organic store, where we’d coaxed them into letting us leave our packs for the morning (we also did most of our resupply here). We walked another mile to the outskirts, checking out a hiker box at the hotel and stopping to get Subway sandwiches. It was really hot outside, so we were dragging our feet.
As we were in Subway, another hiker rolled in, looking even more bedraggled than us. He looked too rough to be a WEBO and we soon learned he was hiking the Great Western Loop…a route that employs the PCT, PNT, CDT, GET, AZT and some other unnamed routes. This all creates a roughly 7000 mile loop. Only a few people have done it all in one season, all guys I think. Chezwick tried to do it the year before but broke his foot near the end in Colorado. He was back to repeat the saga this year. You can check out his blog here: https://chezwicktreks.com/
Along the way, he’d met a second GWR hiker, Sloppy Joe, who was lagging behind this day. They do 40 mile days nearly every day but the heat had gotten to him. I know the feeling from doing 30 mile days on this trail…it can be brutal. Meeting these guys and hearing some of their stories was humbling. I’ve often longed to be in such a class of thru-hikers but doubt I could make the commitment to being so ultralight and so long without town stops, showers, etc. In essence, it requires giving up on just about everything.
Sloppy Joe’s misfortune was our fortune. His parents had come up from Kalispell to meet him at the Caribou Wagon Trail Camp, which was also our planned destination for the night. I’d called earlier to inquire about getting a bed in the teepee but the manager told me it had already been rented…by Sloppy Joe’s parents, as we just found out. Since he was sick, they’d opted to get him a room in Eureka instead. We met them all at the Subway, where his mom told us we could have the teepee. I asked what we owed her and she insisted it was her treat! Thanks Jennifer and Tom!
First we had to walk another 7 miles outside of town to get to the camp. At least some thunderstorms had rolled in, cooling things down. Arriving the camp, we found a little oasis of adorable accommodations. There were several wagon cabins, a teepee and a walled tent. We also met 3 PNT hikers: Fire, Eric and Sweet Spot. Wolverine knew Fire from the CDT and I knew Eric from the PNT FB page. He’d started out in Glacier the same day as Captain Jack (June 15th) but had wisely decided he didn’t need to deal with all the snow and could delay his start a month.
The guys informed us that our Trail Angels had reserved the teepee for the guys and we 2 ladies would have our own place in the walled tent. I later reflected on this turn of events and wondered if Jennifer had called back to reserve the tent in addition to the teepee, just for us. Earlier the manager had told me that the tent was still available. I felt even more guilty when I realized this. How incredibly nice of them. We texted them a picture of all of us enjoying the wonderful luxury of a bed and hot shower, so I hope they know how much this was appreciated. It was the first bed I’d slept in since Republic, July 6th and it was heavenly!