With such little time left on trail and an increase in motivation to reach the Canadian border, it is likely that Dubois was one of our last zero days. Daylight Donuts and the Cowboy Cafe made it very difficult to drag ourselves to the edge of town to begin hitching (hitching is illegal within the town limits of Dubois). However, the highly anticipated Yellowstone National Park was dead in our sights and we were all eager to visit the first national park in the world (The park was signed into law in 1872 by then president, Ulysses S. Grant). The park is known for its variety of creatures inhabiting the 3468.4 square mile area including wolves, bison and grizzly bears. Not to mention the geysers and the largest supervolcano on the continent. Needless to say, there were plenty of reasons for us to be excited.
I would be lying if I did not tell you the beginning of the park along the CDT was rather disappointing. We had to hike quite a ways into the Yellowstone before seeing any sort of acidic hot pool. I will admit that the small stretches of trail containing volcanic activity were mesmerizing. The waters were crystal clear and the acidity of some of the pools were dangerous enough to completely disintegrate a human being (which sadly has happened before). Old Faithful lived up to all the hype when it erupted timely as it does every 90-110 minutes. The power of the geyser caused the ground to shake which was comparable to a train passing by. Simultaneously, the cone geyser shot boiling water over one hundred feet in the air, as hundreds of us watched with our jaws on the ground. Sadly, these moments were quite brief and the rest of our time spent in the park was in lush pine forest. Don't get me wrong, I could happily spend the rest of my days in the forest, but I suppose I was expecting a bit more.
The aesthetics may have fell short of what my imagination had built up, but the feeling of being in grizzly country was unlike any I had ever experienced. For the first time since the hiking Appalachian Trail, I was walking with my head on a swivel. Whenever I found myself alone, I was far too paranoid to listen to my music and the bear tracks consuming the trail left me on edge. It did not take long before the paranoia subsided and I decided I really wanted to encounter the monstrosity that is a grizzly bear. I have not been fortunate enough to see any yet, but there is still plenty of trail left.
The most exciting part for me in Yellowstone occurred two and a half miles before the park boundary in Idaho. The guys and I were able to complete all 510 miles of Wyoming in 23 days, averaging over 22 miles a day. The soggy trails through the pine forest left my feet vulnerable and with nearly 1,000 miles under my Salomons, they were very susceptible to blisters. I crossed the border with bloody feet, but nothing could shake my happiness with Canada on the horizon. A couple of planned alternate routes through Idaho and Montana leave us with roughly 900 miles of walking left. That may sound like a lot, but when you have hiked nearly 2,000 miles, that really does not sound all that bad.
I really never know what to expect when it comes to town on this trail. Truthfully, they have exceeded my expectations tenfold and Island Park (a town along our first alternate) is no exception. The goal was to get to town for noon, so we could enjoy the Chinese restaurant the town was rumored to contain. Not only were the rumors true, it turns out that one of the motels is owned and operated by the Chinese restaurant and they are attached to one another. When you are sans vehicle, it is really nice to have everything located as close to you as possible (I.e. Resupply, accommodations and restaurants). Unfortunately, with our schedule, we do not really have time to take anymore days off. Luckily for us, we have heard rave reviews of the entire rest of the trail.
Idaho and Montana have been stunning as of yet. The best way to describe it is a combination of everything we have experienced on this trail. There have been beautiful rolling hills comparable to Wyoming, as well as long stretches with no trees leaving you completely exposed. The divide has taken us back up over 10,000 feet leaving us above tree line and has offered breathtaking views reminiscent of Colorado. Once again there are cows everywhere, leaving manure all along the trail and occasionally making it hard to find a camp spot without cow dung in the way. Much like New Mexico, our sources have recently become cow troughs. I will say that the water being fed into the troughs has been very clean, cold and refreshing. Many of the sources I opted to not filter at all and never found myself becoming sick. Though it would not take long for the difficulty of the trail to really start to take a toll on me physically.
The best way to describe the section from Lima to Leadore is a roller coaster. There was a section of the Appalachian Trail with that very name and the ups and downs in this particular stretch are very similar. We were rewarded with a beautiful meteor shower our first evening, but extreme fatigue had already set in and from here on out I would find myself struggling mentally more than ever. The trail that had once lit my fire, was now beginning to become a burden. The larger than life experience that had motivated me so passionately was now beginning to beat me down and my willingness to write or really put any effort toward anything but hiking had vanished. Positivity was hard to find within, but the trail magic was just about to begin.
On our third evening en route to Leadore we met one of the liveliest, most caring and most giving people I have had the pleasure of meeting and her name is One More. She was working on the conquering the CDT herself, but her job at the hospital only allowed her to take short periods of time off, so she was knocking off sections a couple weeks at a time. Regardless, her and her partner were camping at the same lake as us and decided to make a trip back into Lima to spoil the eight of us. The back country roads did not permit fast travel, so the 55 mile round trip would took them at least three hours. Upon their return, Party Saver, Kyle, Bones, Prophet, Lunchbox, Acorn, Jeremy and myself were all gifted burger baskets with delicious fries and a plethora of soda. With moral running low, this act of kindness could not have come at a better time. We fell asleep to the sound thunder surrounding us, but eventually the calamity would subside and we all fell asleep with full stomachs and an eagerness to reach our next destination.
We woke up the next morning knowing that much more of the same stood between us and Leadore. However, a full tank of fuel and the rumored Fried French Toast that was supposedly waiting for us in town propelled us out of our tents and we booked it to Bannock Pass where we would find our ride into town. I believe this was the last day we would reach elevations above 10,000 feet, but the trail difficulty would remain the same for quite some time afterward. I was able to find some reception on Elk Mountain and arrange a pickup for us at the pass. It was here in Leadore I would learn that I was not the only one struggling with the hardships of the trail and the guys devised a plan / route that I like to call the "CDT Deli Walk."