Saturday, June 18th, 2011
“Watch out for the grizzly bear”, they warn me at the lodge “We have had a late winter the bear was roaming around the cabins early this morning. She must be hungry” I know I have a steep climb to 8900 feet. I secure my bear spray, water bottle and camera while unabashedly plodding up the steep mountain. In an hour I am there. This time big sign, suitable for framing, provides a good photo opportunity; only my camera is out of digital storage space.
My trek completed, at least for this month, I walk back down from the summit to my support vehicle. I search out a marker so I can make a sign denoting that I have walked 3350 mile from Alaska to this wonderful spot north of Old Faithful. As I carefully craft the numbers I get into a pleasant conversation with a couple from Cody, Wyoming. David Koch is a distinguished Wyoming radio commentator. “I listen to your show every day”, the store clerk proudly tells him. David on hearing about my quest, on the spot conducts a thoughtful interview. I am appreciative. As he drives away he casually remarks “We are on our way to a Wyoming radio announcer’s award ceremony”.Â I know then our fortuitous meeting was meant to be.
Friday, June 17th, 2011
Throngs of endearing tourists chugging along in slow moving caravans keep me company as they snap thousands of photographs of the silent wildlife as it clogs the road as if to announce “Hey, this is my home!”.
The signs signal I am getting close. The drizzle reminds me it is still not pleasant. And billowing smoke, steaming in wiggly clouds from the surface of the earth, let me know I am closest to arrival. Then, after a turn off designed to usher thousands of viewers to one of the true wonders of the world, she appears. Old Faithful in all of her glory, demonstrating all of her might, and reminding me soon it will be time to head home. I have arrived!
Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Finally, a walk through Yellowstone National park. I have waited a lifetime to get here. I am sure I have seen every Yellowstone National Geographic film series. As the years went by who would have ever thought that I would have to walk here [From Alaska no less]?
As I wobble through the west entrance gate I am honored when the ranger tells me that for 10 dollars I can purchase a lifetime pass, not only to Yellowstone, but also to every U.S. National park, as a benefit of my age. [This had to be disclosed only since I was required to resent a photo I.D.]
Wednesday, June 15th, 2011
Most of today’s adventure has been good. Brisk and clear weather in the early morning hours, sunny with a light breeze throughout the afternoon, and a chilly but clear evening make for a pleasing atmosphere. The terrain east of Ennis was flat to rolling. Huge ranches sporting hundreds of cattle, and big black bulls sniffing their weary prey, keep me occupied helping to whittle away the hours. Snow capped peaks accentuated by a few noisy truck stuffed high with 1000 pound bales of hay accentuate the beauty.
Then, ug! In West Yellowstone, in addition to the annoying neon signs and glitter, there is the disaster of people overload. Tourists, tourists and more tourists, clog the narrow streets lined with not so cheap curio shops, and pack the local restaurants generating long waiting lines even for the simplest of meals. Suddenly I relish those lonely nights tucked away in heatless hunter cabins, creaky beds above bars, the noisy but friendly band members reminiscing at 2 AM, and even snowy Butte where hotel owners were simply trying to hold on to a tiny share of the tourist dollar. Well what can I do? I am here and now know I must pass through quickly.
Tuesday, June 14th, 2011
It’s time to pass over the Divide again. This is my fifth crossing as the Divide winds its way north to south across Western North America. Like the others, however, this crossing is special. This pass has historical significance and adventitious romance. In the 1860’s, just as the west is really being settled, a cowboy, trapper and scout is the first white man to lead an expedition of scientists and naturalist through the pass. The good Army Engineer captain in charge remarks, “The pass is so narrow, it is difficult to determine at exactly which point the rivers change direction”.
Not far from the summit, great sadness. It is the “Refuge Point”. It is a tearful few minutes as I read of the great modern era earthquake that rumbled through here in the summer of 1959. As the earth shook uncontrollably, mountains crumbled. The roaring Madison River clogged and dams formed where they were never anticipated. People drowned. The refuge point is where the few lucky river bed campers were able to escape to high ground near the Divide. Panicked, they worked together. Heroes emerged and after some time smoke jumpers risked their own lives jumping to rescue the terrified refuge seekers. The landscape has been forever modified. It is now history, sad but true.
Monday, June 13th, 2011
Yes, the cell phone always seems to work in the larger Montana towns. No satellite telephone required as when I was walking through northern Alaska. The convenience allows me to call home virtually every day.After a full day of walking I am generally ready for a hotel between 4:30 and 6:30 PM. Then I shower, shave [I still don’t like a white beard], and call home. Knowing the home fires are kindling well can instantly put me to sleep. I know, however, that with a long day always ahead that I must eat, and pleasingly, also drink, a little. After the call off I go, drinking, eating but alas I am too weary to be merry. Good night Montana!
P.S. – This P.M. I got caught in a heavy rainstorm on the east side of Ennis, Montana. I did not have my water proof suit on. It was cold. The only good thing, the return trip was all downhill.
Sunday, June 12th, 2011
As I climb a steep pass overlooking the once renowned Bozeman Wagon Trail a real cowgirl driving a pick-up and pulling a large horse trailer steps out in to the cool afternoon air. “Just got back from the rodeo”, she tells me. “I do barrel racing, started a year ago.” â€˜I’m 58 but those 12 year olds bet me all the time” Her name is Nancy Griffith, a proud Montanan, and President of a lumber company. Good for you Nancy!!!!
Saturday, June 11th, 2011
I am up again at 5 AM. Over breakfast at the weary local restaurant male town resident’s pontificate over sports as discussed the previous night on ESPN, about politics echoing CNN commentators, or occasionally they express the views of the local newspaper. I inappropriately listen in while studding my day’s route on a detailed map.
The men folk come in all sizes [There are no women, except the waitress]. There are one or two who seem really fit, guys with a distinguishable beer belly, and a few shorties, also with big bellies. A few things are common. They all wear blue jeans [gone are the farmers overalls common in Washington], they make a distinctive sound as they shuffle along in well worn cowboy boots, Stetson hats soiled by real work on the range mysteriously all droop over their right eye, and everyone has something to say about the local Wal-Mart.
Throughout the long day I have the great opportunity to walk alongside the rural ranches which provide a livelihood for this important cadre of western Americans. Occasionally, I think I recognize a member of the breakfast group and wave a greeting. The polite ranchers always wave back although without my map I am sure they do not recognize me.
Friday, June 10th, 2011
Sun, finally. In the brightly lit morning as the sun struggles with its commitment to peek over the snow capped Rocky Mountains, I start my climb out of Butte headed for the Divide.
Unfortunately, there is no other way up the steep mountain. I am forced to walk along Highway 90. As I bend forward and vigorously pump my arms to give me leverage and confidence I am comforted by the wide shoulder and the newly paved roadway. Big, speeding trucks, rushing down the mountain, and unable to stop instantly, are now more likely to see and avoid me, I hope. The view of the broad Butte valley far below, and sheer granite out cropping close enough to touch, are motivating. The scent of small pine trees intoxicates me just enough to pick up the pace. Then, anticlimactically, on a small bridge crossing over the highway a tiny sign proclaims, “Continental Divide 6393”. It is downhill from here and so a good day begins.
Thursday, June 9th, 2011
Yes, a steady snow blanketed Butte and the surrounding hills. The temperature in the high twenties didn’t seem to bother the Montana natives. And me? I wished for sun which never arrived. Cold rain trailed the snow making walking just uncomfortable.
“Cows are selling for $600 more a head now than they were last year the head man at the famous Pork Chop John’s relates. I was thinking about this windfall for ranches as I moved along the deserted road. Two pick-up trucks, each hauling a cow trailer, pulled up to a gate in a multi mile long barbed wire fence and began discharging pack of steers on to the open range. Then a huge truck pulling a long trailer backed up along the gravel surface. When the trailer doors were opened 30 more cows obediently marched through the slim gate opening and on to the lonely pasture. I was annoyed that in the time it took me to walk a mile, the big animals, moving faster than me, had lined up in orderly flanks of two and had already hustled off to a ragged barn in the far corner of the field. I concluded that this heard either was very hungry, had a knowledgeable leader cow, or perhaps, they were just spooked by this lonely figure wobblingÂ along in the middle of nowhere and like them, ignoring the heavy rain.