CDT Day 11: Elbow Creek to Strawberry Creek – Cold Soak Date Camp to Strawberry Field Camp
Miles hiked: 15.5
Total miles: 166.9
Wow. Here I am, lying in the tent typing away on my phone keyboard. It’s 9:45pm and the sun has just set, though a touch of pink still hangs in the sky. A few puffy clouds languish as well, remnants of the powerful thunderstorm that soaked the land a few hours ago. SpiceRack is curled next to me, buried in her quilt, breathing in deeply the aroma of dreams. What has gone right in my life to get me here, right now? I wonder, but not seriously. A lot of things. A lot of things have gone right.
I’m lying in a tent, at some random point along a general route, in a wilderness named after some guy that I’ve never heard of. I’m lying in a tent, and it isn’t even my tent. It feels like home, though. I’m lying in not-my-tent in some lonely part of a lonely state and it feels like home. Montana. Feels like home. Two phrases that I still won’t put in the same sentence yet they define each other, at least for the next month or so.
What’s blowing my mind right now is the randomness of my current state of being. I could be anywhere else, doing anything else, next to anyone else or no one else, but here I am, lying in not-my-tent next to SpiceRack in the middle of Montana as the sun sets on a day that ended with a gnarly thunderstorm. What went right? Everything went right. I am happy with where I am, so how can anything that has helped me get here be wrong? How can I live with regret when I also live with so much contentment? Life, it takes you to some interesting places.
Man, that’s what too many wasabi peas for dinner will do to you! Bring it back to earth, dude.
Keeping with tradition, we slept through the alarm. I didn’t even hear it this time, my brain just blocked it out choosing to default to snooze instead. The sun was up when I did finally switch to ‘awake’ mode. A light rain came and went, but the bright sky looked promising. Unsurprisingly, we were the last ones out of camp at 8:30am.
We strolled on level single track through the woods, continuing the easy going from yesterday. My legs and body felt great. A little tightness in my right hip and general soreness in my feet, but that was it. Just normal thru-hike stuff. The sky was totally clear now, though it remained cool in the shade. Perfect walking conditions. My mind wandered to nothing.
We had a quick break overlooking Blue Lake (I’ve seen bluer), then kept up with the forest walking. Views opened up when we traveled through a brief corner of burn area. A humped ridgeline of gray stone crumbles climbed to the south as far as I could see, which wasn’t saying much. These gentle hills couldn’t match the sharp cliffs of Glacier, but I like gentle hills too. At the next stop, I took my shirt off for a rinse and ended up with 30 or so mosquito bites on my back. It was beyond what I thought possible. That’s what I get for trying to stay clean out here!
The trail again lifted us out of the trees and into yet another burn area. The sun was full-on now, so it was hot and strangely humid climbing. We crested Muscrat Pass, which wasn’t much of anything, then started the descent down the most gradual of gradients.
It was hot walking under the midday sun with no shade, but the looking was good despite the fire devastation. Because of the fire devastation, in fact. The actual ground was scorched black in many places, matching the tall snags. Dense fields of yellow flowers spread over and among this carbonized detritus, splashing bold color flamboyantly across an otherwise bleak scene. The contrast was magnificent and I couldn’t get over how cool the black-on-yellow looked.
We took a break in a crappy spot after unsuccessfully trying to find shade. I dug my first of many catholes in the soft earth. I ate way too much candy for lunch, mostly off-brand sweedish fish, then got super thirsty while sitting in the unfiltered sun. Water has been everywhere along the CDT so far, so I wasn’t concerned with finding more. Seriously, I haven’t carried more than a liter of water at a time the entire hike except if we’re going to dry camp. I gotta say, it’s really nice being able to take water for granted.
Thunderstorms began to blow across our path ahead. They were menacing, but the shade looked too good to pass up. We cruised that way on descending trail, ever gradual, back into some living forest. After an hour or so of enjoying green things again, we found ourselves on the border of a burn area. Thunder began to sizzle, crack, and boom just in time to turn us around to find shelter below the living trees. We could see the rain coming our way, blotting out the hills off yonder behind a gray veil. A burn area ain’t a smart place to be in a storm so Spice and I covered ourselves and stuff, then hung on.
For 15 solid minutes we were bombarded by rain, hail, thunder, and wind. It was a lot of fun. There is so much power and energy in nature and I occasionally enjoy being reminded of this. The sky lightened, the rain slackened, and the wind abated as the storm blew north. We continued the other way, splashing through the newly formed puddles on the trail.
If you’ve ever wondered what we talk about while hiking all day, everyday, here is an example of profound thru-hiker conversations:
Spice: Man, I really want a chocolate [non-dairy] milk right now.
Me: Have you ever had warmed chocolate milk?
Spice: Yeah, it’s called hot chocolate.
Me: Oh yeah.
And there you have it! Riveting. Deep.
After a mile of puddle splashing we found a safe spot to pitch camp, far enough from any dead trees that might decide to topple in the night. The sky is clearing up a bit, even allowing the sun to cast a shadow or two. Cold ramen and a lot of wasabi peas for dinner. It’s alright, but the hot beans Spice is making smell great. And she found a teeney weeny wild strawberry too. First of the season.