Heidenreich & Gass: CDT Thru-Hikers

Week 14: Wildfire

August 22, 2000—Day 120—Leadore, Idaho —Sitting by the side of the road experiencing quite possibly the worst hitch of our trip. Listening to the roosters of the small town of Grant, Montana, while passing trucks pick up the dust from the road and spit it in our faces. The sky is all haze, the sun just a red spot lost behind it. It feels like we're back in the Dust Bowl.

Due to the fires in Montana, half the state has been closed. After a series of phone calls from Macks Inn, Idaho, we had decided to begin a road walk north from Bannock Pass and hopefully rejoin the trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. But every time we hit town, the news gets worse. Now many of the backroads we had planned to walk are also closed, with the bigger highway also closing sporadically. As it currently stands, the Beaverhead, the Deerlodge, the Helena, the Lolo, and the Flathead National Forests are all closed, along with all lands west of the Divide except Glacier National Park. All the lands that remain open are under Class 4 restrictions, which means no backpacking stoves.

So, with great sadness, Team Shag has decided to abandon the road walk and hike the only open section left, Glacier National Park. Perhaps in the time it takes us to do that, the fire situation will improve, and we will be able to continue south to complete the skipped section. We're keeping our fingers crossed, but it doesn't seem a likely possibility.

Almost every day since the Wind Rivers, it has been hazy out here. Once in a while it clears to reveal the amazing lines of the landscape against the blue sky. Almost everything is blurred in a gray mist. In the mornings, we dust the ashes off our packs. Some days it seems almost like a war zone as fires spring up where we had come from and where we are going. The low snow year that enabled us to get through southern Colorado so early is now our curse, drying out the land to the point of combustion.

The trail is a teacher as much as anything else. It is constantly showing us how our expectations get in the way of dealing with situations as they arise. When things don't turn out as planned, it's important to remain flexible. As usual, we had thought of plenty of other things that might have stopped us from completing the trail, and we were mentally prepared to deal with them. It was only recently that we began to actually think we would be able to walk the whole way. But Mother Nature had a surprise for us. At this point, we are feeling pretty bummed, to say the least.

Still, all this has not stopped trail angels from coming into our lives: a blues-guitar cowboy who gave us a concert in the church basement and a place to stay; a buffalo-ranching couple who picked us up by the side of the road and fed us a big breakfast; and here in Grant, Montana, a family who has been exceptionally wonderful and helpful to us in figuring out a plan of action. Our trip has left the Divide, but road-walking has been a blessing in disguise, with all the wonderful people we've had a chance to talk to. Now, as we abandon the road, we try to keep a positive attitude and be open to whatever adventure still awaits us.

Read Adrianne's account of how it feels to be green in the Wild West.


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