Everything comes to an end. That's the way of the world.
Burning Man had come to a close. Analog and I were back in Reno for a day of re-grouping. The decision to hitch from the Wyoming / Montana border down to Reno, NV did not come easily. And, in making it we didn't know if finishing the Continental Divide Trail would be possible, or if we even wanted to attempt to finish it up. It was late in season and we were 900 miles of road from where we left off. We harbored no illusions that completing this trek would be an easy option.
Throughout the week we had ample time to discuss our options, and neither of us could deny that their was a magnetic pull to give this hike one last shot.
We had liberated ourselves from the Continental Divide Trail and we had all the options in the world open to us. We had time on our hands, equipment for back country or urban exploration, and our world famous can-do attitudes. We had talked about a leisurely "seat-of-our-pants" exploration of the Southwest, a trip out to San Francisco, and the always enticing prospect of Baja California or Central America. But still, after our time at Burning Man, we both agreed that we'd keep head back up to Montana and see what we could do.
Being behind schedule, we figured we would jump up to "the pack", or large majority of hikers, near Helena, MT, hike to Canada, and then with the great lightness of taking off on our owns again, hitch back to Helena and hike South back to Mammoth Hot Springs where we had left off. In essence, we'd get to see some people we haven't seen in a very long time and attempt to knock the northern most section of trail out before things get to nasty. Then we would do what we do best, slow cruise our way to our personal finish line. Which, as we thought about it, finishing in Canada is pretty neat, but finishing at Mammoth Hot Springs would leave us with, well, hot springs!
And here, once again, our hikes went sideways. We had done the 900 mile hitch down to Reno in about 26 hours straight. We spent the next five days, hitching at times for over 48 hours without sleep, and made it only into Southern Idaho.
Everything came to a screeching halt. Our trip, our plan, our intentions, our attitudes, everything.
I can't easily explain what went wrong. Analog and I came out of Burning Man with positive thoughts roaring to go. I've always thought that I was somewhat of a gifted, or skilled, hitcher. And I've always been positive that a ride is always out there, it's just a matter of time.
It took two days alone to leave Reno. Which was bad, but at least Reno offered cheap lodging when we did finally decide to throw in the towel. But, things got worse yet.
We made it to Salt Lake and then North of Salt Lake where we were dropped at what was described as "probably a pretty good place to hitch." In reality it was one of the worst places you could hitch from. A gas station, in a complicated round-about, which we eventually learned had such serious construction on the opposite side of the overpass that it was nearly impossible, save for the most dedicated drivers, to approach the gas station and continue North after having refueled. Without a relatively protected place to camp, we continued hitching through the night, fueled by coffee and burritos, without even a hint of success.
Finally, in an act of desperation, we crossed the overpass and entered the on-ramp. Yes. This is illegal. And, with the construction project at full tilt, we were well aware that cops were bound to be in and out checking on things. We had no alternatives. And this isn't to say that our gamble was a promising one. Typically, if someone is going to take a risk, the reward, and likely-hood of receiving it, is equal, if not higher, than the risk itself. This was not the case. This was a case of desperation. The on-ramp was still relatively difficult to access, and without room for someone to pull over completely, you'd have to be half mad to pick us up.
And then, eventually, we did get a ride.
We explained ourselves. Who we are, where we were going, and where we needed to be dropped in relation to where he was going. Then we explained how long we had been awake, and politely asked if it was okay for us to go to sleep. He said it wasn't a problem and that he'd be sure to pull over before our routes split.
We went to sleep.
When I awoke, we were absolutely headed in the wrong direction.
I pulled my phone out to confirm how far off track we were. And, as I expected, we were pretty far West of where we were supposed to be. I woke Analog and asked to be let off in the next town. And then, things got even worse.
We were left at a truck stop just to the East side of Heyburn/Burley, middle of nowhere, farmingsville, Idaho. Not only were we dealing with a difficult demographic, but if you were to pull out an atlas, you'd realize that there is almost no way drivers would be here if they were headed north. So, the ride scenario was difficult. But, worse yet, we were suddenly competing with legitimate homeless people for turf. I don't have anything against homeless people, my friends here in Vail, CO remind me regularly that I am in fact, often a homeless person, but these folks were exhibiting the sort of erratic behavior that calls methamphetamine and other serious drug use to mind. Now, I do my best not to label people or judge them unless I know for sure what's going on, but I'll say this much, they made us uncomfortable.
And it was in this scenario that we kept our eyes open for more than 48 hours straight. Which, in it's own way, was a sort of test of strength and resolve, not unlike a long distance hike, that's allowed me to further understand my physical and mental capabilities.
That being said, I will absolutely never recommend anyone spend over 48 hours awake attempting to hitch hike near this particular truck stop, or any particular truck stop.
Eventually, I began to fall into a sort of demotivated dream state. I don't doubt that had we pushed our caffeinated selves much further full on auditory and visual hallucinations were just around the bend. I'll admit it, my team ethic fell with it.
On our third night at the truck stop, still without sleep, I had decided that sleep was a necessity that overcame all other considerations. Was I confident that it was a "good idea"? No. Sleep was something that simply needed to happen. And so, at some point after midnight on our third night, Analog and I laid down behind the truck stop, gear consolidated and ready in the event that a quick evacuation was necessary, and bear spray within arm's reach. It wasn't bears we were worried about.
After our five hours of "respite" (I didn't sleep very much at all), the sun began to rise and we were forced to pack up, as our risk of being spotted was increasing quickly. I can't say I was rested, but I did regain my grip on certain mental facilities and sanities that I had lost the previous evening.
It was at this point that Analog and I sized up our scenario and decided, that since traffic was not headed where we needed to go, and since we hadn't been offered one ride in three days (in any direction), that we would take anything anywhere, which, more than likely, was back to Salt Lake City. In addition to our breakdown in motivation, each day we spent roadside trying to return to the trail pushed us further into the season and into a greater chance of cold and wet weather.
And then, miraculously, we convinced a young couple to give us a lift to Salt Lake. They were reluctant, initially, but I think when they came to realize how long we had been struggling here at the truck stop, and that we were far too fatigued to even think about murdering anyone, they conceded. And, again, we politely asked if it would be okay if we napped for a bit.
Analog and I had both come to the agreement, months ago, that we were operating as a team and that neither of us would abandon the other.
On trail, there simply weren't a lot of compatible or available options besides hiking alone for either of us. And, with our venture off-trail and down to Nevada, we had solidified this p. If either of us wanted to give the hike one last shot (again), then the other was going. And not just going along, but 100% going for it.
Once back in Salt Lake City, we had one last decision. We were South of where we had been in Idaho, but we were in a better location to get back on the road. Going back out to the road could mean days of hitching and then, if we ever made it to Helena, MT, we were left with the prospect of what was likely to be very difficult, cold, and wet conditions. Alternatively, we had a good friend, Maverick, who lived in Salt Lake and therefor a place to crash. And from there, I had a relatively easy trip on the Greyhound back to Denver and then over to Vail. Analog also had a great travel and lodging opportunity out in the Napa Valley region.
It was decided. It was time to call an end to our adventure. We officially decided that we were both done hiking for the season and that we would not be completing the Continental Divide Trail. And with that, for the first time since we met, Analog and I were now headed in different directions.
Thanks for hanging with me, folks!
That about wraps it up as far as this story goes! But, stay tuned for some finals thoughts on the Continental Divide Trail, gear reviews and recommendations, and more. HikerNation.net is nowhere near being considered a finished project.