Augusta Public Library, Augusta, MT
NOTE: A post from April is coming soon…she’s got her piece of cardboard and a pen ready to go, but either falls asleep or gets distracted when she gets ready to write. April: “There’s A LOT coming. The Peek is too tiny to use. Everyone who knows me knows that my hand-eye coordination isn’t that good.” She’s at the computer now, folks, but is looking at wedding cake designs.
We were both initially pretty nervous about getting into Augusta. Our only options after hiking the 118 miles from East Glacier are a small ranch that possibly holds packages (the info seemed sketchy) and the town of Augusta, 30 miles away down a dirt road. The CDT dumps out at a horse/hiker trailhead named Benchmark at the terminus of this dirt road. If nobody was around…well…we might be walking for a while. We ultimately decided on hitching into Augusta as the ranch seemed too unreliable and nobody from there returned my phone call. Our fears about being stuck were somewhat alleviated over the last week as we bumped into a few hikers who said that Benchmark was actually a pretty busy place with a large parking lot (crossing fingers.) This is horsepacker country and for the last few days we had been seeing long horse trains carrying supplies (seemed like mostly horse feed) up the trail, many trips originating from Benchmark.
As is often the case on long trails, our ride into Augusta wasn’t from a complete stranger (who could a couple of city-slickers possibly know out here?) Lots of times on trails, when I’m on my last 5 miles or so to a road, I’ll bump into folks who are heading for their cars. We might say hello and when they see me with my thumb up down the road they’re usually happy to offer a ride. April and I were on our last three miles to Benchmark yesterday afternoon when we came across a very interesting scene. Two men and three horses. One man was dressed in what we’ve seen Montana horsemen wear up and down the trail: large cowboy hat, long sleeve checked shirt, denim, boots, belt. The other man was dressed a bit differently: styled boots, belt buckle with ammo and pistol, hat. His dress looked, well, very old-school western. One horse, smaller than the other two, white, and looking a bit grizzled, seemed to be giving the
men a hard time. As we walked by, the man with the ammo belt asked April for her prodder (her hiking pole). She obliged and the man proceeded to prod the old horse with it. This was sufficient to get the horse moving and the man led the horse off the trail and down a small hill, returning April her prodder in the process. We hiked on and after maybe two minutes heard a single gunshot. We concluded that perhaps one of the men fired to encourage the horse and we hiked on. We came across a bridge across the Sun River 10 minutes later with a choice to cross the bridge or turn right to follow a CDT sign on the same side of the River. As we were deciding which way would take us to Benchmark, we encountered the man without the ammo belt riding out. He pointed us across the bridge and confirmed that the old horse had been shot. It was most likely injured and had been struggling for quite a while.
We arrived at Benchmark after a few minutes and encountered a very full lot, but not too many people about. We started hiking down the dirt road toward Augusta, excited that the first sign we came to read “Augusta, 20 miles” and dismayed that the second sign we encountered read “Augusta, 30 miles.” Uh…forest service…which is it? nonetheless, with all the cars in the lot, we were confident. the first car that came by after about 15 minutes of walking was a very friendly-seeming woman driving a forest service truck. No can do, she said, government rig. The second car came from the opposite direction, a very nice lady who turned off her engine and chatted with us for a bit. She was coming back from Augusta and we had just missed her, but she was still interested in our trip so we chatted a bit. The third car we heard long before we saw, a white truck with a cab pulling a horse trailer. We put our thumbs out and the truck rolled to a stop. The driver was none other than the man with the ammo belt who had borrowed April’s prodder! plus a very sweet Queensland Healer named Rowdy. We squeezed our gear and ourselves into his cab and we were on our way. The man, it turns out, is a local architect who claims to have been born 150 years too late. He told us about his hobby, studying and participating in re-enactments of early 1800’s American northwest mountain culture. He taught us about the beaver traders and the great annual Rendezvous that took place between St. Louis traders, middle men, free trappers, etc. (please excuse me if I have this wrong!) We rolled down the dirt road for perhaps an hour, watching the spine of the continental divide transition into vast grassy plain with no sight of settlement for miles around. In fact, the road did not become paved until we arrived in Augusta.
We have now been in Augusta, a small, walkable, Main st town, for just under 24 hours and have enjoyed ourselves thoroughly! Our first stop yesterday was the Buck Horn Inn, fantastic (and huge) burgers and cold beer. It happened to be ladies night for Texas hold-em poker, but April felt bad about routing the table, so she declined. We spent the evening in the American Legion Park–free camping! This morning we had breakfast at Mel’s where for the first time in many years I enjoyed $0.50 coffee. We have now just resupplied at the local grocery and will shortly be on our way back to the road to hitch a ride back out to Benchmark. Hopefully we’ll find someone heading our way…next stop is Lincoln in just a few short days.