I haven't hiked for over a week. And. I'm not remotely close to the Continental Divide. Actually, I'm about eight hundred and fifty miles via road from where Analog and I left the trail.*
After leaving the lovely and rugged Wind River Mountains Analog and I worked our way to Dubios, WY. From there, we were left with options. The first option was continue following the "official" CDT route through the south-western side of Yellowstone National Park, stop at Old Faithful, then follow the trail west along the Idaho / Montana border and then eventual work back eastward. We heard that much of this hiking was difficult, but without rewarding views. Our second option, was to take a route along the eastern edge of Yellowstone and continue directly north. This route was significantly shorter and brought with it promises of exception scenery in the more rugged and less well traveled portions of Yellowstone. Without much deliberation, we chose the second option, known as the "Big Sky Variant".
And. I highly recommend it to future thru-hikers because it is indeed beautiful.
However, that isn't to say it was easy hiking. We were well into grizzly country at this point and were forced to take the time consuming and sometimes frustrating precautions associated with that.
More so, it rained. It rained a lot.
And it was cold.
We hiked from Dubois north to the town of Cooke City, WY. Where we, again, did not hesitate to get a room, dry out, and then spend a second day drying out hoping for weather to improve.
It's one thing to be caught in a storm. It's another thing to deliberately hike into one.
We hitched back to the trail. Our ride, however, happened to be by some very generous folk who were slowly working their way to Nevada to attend the annual Burning Man festival. And so the seed was planted. We didn't have tickets. We didn't have transportation to Nevada. But, Analog and I did agree, that at least at this particular moment within our hike, the thought of an arts festival out in the Nevada desert was mighty enticing.
Analog emailed a friend and hiking buddy of his who has often attended and asked if he might know of any extra tickets floating around.
We continued to hike through more rain and ill weather. And, through herds of buffalo! In order to avoid more bad weather, and potentially scope some buffalo, we opted to walk a section of road through lower elevations within the park, thus avoiding a high ridge line, and potentially dangerous weather. Sure enough, we came across a lot of buffalo, and we found that while they have a healthy respect for large motor vehicles, they can be down-right aggressive towards us lonely bi-peds.
It was with the fear of being gored by buffalo that we may have performed a CDT first.
As we approached a herd, cars would slow to a crawl in order to navigate their way through the animals. We would then approach these cars, knock on their windows, and secure a quick ride hanging to the back of a tailgate or a jeep's side rails. It worked perfectly as we used the bulky vehicles to camouflage our pedestrian selves for a hundred yards until having passed the herd. Then a quick dismount, and on we would walk.
When we reached the in-park "town" of Mammoth Hot Springs we had to make a decision. We didn't have ticket confirmation or any firm details yet, because we didn't have phone service or internet access. But, we had judged that it had been a few days since we sent out the previous email and a response probably existed. We would have to spend an unplanned town day to find out, but again, it was rainy and cold, and we figured, "why not?"
We hitched north of the park to the town of Gardiner, MT. Made a few phone calls. Received a "yeah, I gotta check on a few things, but I think I can cover you two on tickets". And quickly arranged a work for lodging agreement with the local food pantry where we spent the day repackaging, labeling, and shelving food, as well as mulling over the pros and cons of leaving trail to attend a festival.
We both agreed, and for reasons I will further elaborate in the future, that we should take our chances, hitch to Reno, NV, and go to Burning Man. After which, we could then decide if we wanted to continue our hiking to Canada with the understanding that we had put ourselves behind schedule, or to transition, drop the CDT thru-hike, and explore the canyon lands of the southwest, or to call it a good summer and move on to the next adventure.
And so we set out to hitch from Gardiner, MT to Reno, NV, roughly 850 miles.
I've got a lot more for ya'll coming. Hitching, Burning Man, more hitching, and ultimately calling an end to the hike. It's been a lot to digest and so I'll leave the rest of the story for next time. Plus! I've got some general CDT thoughts I'd like to get out there for everyone on the world wide web, and possibly even some pointers (though I can't recommend you take any of them!)
* This post was originally started, but not completed, in Reno, Nevada on September 2nd, 2014.