July 26th, 2019
Mm 902 to mm 17 of Mac’s Inn alternate, Island Park, ID
Distance in miles: 18.5
Another town day but this one is special. I get to meet up with a group of hiking friends that have come all the way from Florida to see me! Not really, they already had a trip to Idaho planned and just so happen to be in the neighborhood. Still, they’re driving a few hours to meet up and it will be great to see them. But first we have to get to town. I call my saved route “Day Off” with the hopes that it will be pretty easy…and it is, save for all the miles we still have to walk.
It’s warm when we wake up and I strip down to my shirt and skirt by 0630, the earliest that has ever happened on this journey. Then we descend into a valley with lakes and streams and I am cold again. We go 3 miles on the CDT to arrive at the junction with the Mac’s Inn alternate route. This alternate cuts off about 37 miles from the main route, going straight through Island Park, ID instead of following the mountains around. I had planned to take it because it goes right past a grocery store and Post Office for resupply. But also it’s the perfect place to arrange a meet-up with my Florida friends.
We see two NOBOs, Grouch and Monster, camping at Lillian Lake and ask them how the “bushwhack” is. This alternate is notorious for having a long stretch up the watershed where there is little to no trail. The app even has junction markers noting this “bushwhack”. In reality, there is as much of a trail as that which we have been following for over a hundred miles.
We stay high to the north of Hell Roaring Creek (actual name) and only have to get our feet wet a few times, with minimal route finding. The cold water does make my feet painfully numb for a bit and the un-banked 4 mile traverse isn’t good on my left hip. But we smash it at our regular fast pace and are soon at the top of a saddle where the route joins an actual trail and then a gravel road.
We have to walk about 10 miles down the road, which at first is very quiet. We are happy for some easy miles downhill and are probably moving at a 4-5 mph pace. The road leads to the top of Sawtell Peak, which by 10 am becomes a very popular destination. A stream of trucks, atvs, 4 wheelers, motorcycles, and even a bicycle pass us going up. Some slow down, many don’t, and there is just tons of dust. Even if we were into hitching these stretches that are part of the route, we couldn’t because there is not a single vehicle going down.
After a few hours of breathing dirt and exhaust, we make it to the paved section, where it then just becomes unbearably hot. No problem, I have an umbrella and there is a Subway at the end of the road. Cold coke and a footlong await me. Island Park, it turns out, is one giant tourist suburb of Yellowstone.
We decide to camp at the nearby resort, take showers, and make phone calls. My friends arrive in the evening and we immediately get down to the business of doling out food. They have been hiking for 5 days in the Sawtooth range and have a ton of leftover backpacking fare. I start drooling when I see the Mountain House and similar dehydrated meals coming out. My hiking buddies all the way from Florida are trail magic-ing us here in Idaho. It’s so awesome. Much thanks to Ryan “Risk-taker”, Wayne, Thad, Phil, and Laurent.
We all go out to dinner at a place called the Trout Hunter and I have a real steak for the first time in weeks. Also wings and a salad. The food is the best I’ve had since before the previous 3 towns. On top of that, Wayne and Ryan insist on buying our meals. I am so grateful for their generosity. It’s a very relaxing evening sitting outside on the porch next to the Snake River, with good friends, conversation, food, and drinks. Wait, did I just find myself on vacation?
We go back to the RV park and say goodby to my FL friends. They have to get somewhere down the road to a hotsprings and only have a day left before they fly back to the gators. It’s a return to regular old trail life for me and Relentless. The RV park is still bustling after the 10 pm ‘quiet hours’ and I have a hard time sleeping because of all the lights and noises. I have gotten so used to it being dead silent in the wilderness.