We’ve Really Been All Over the Place

Mountain View Motel and RV Park, Lima, MT

So it’s been a while…When this blog was last updated, April and I were looking for pie and pondering our itinerary in Darby, MT.   Pie was had–so so pie I’m afraid.  April decided to return to New York ahead of time to get some extra rest and catch up with friends as well as getting a jump start on Joe and Meredith’s wedding cake.  Thus began the most complex portion of this trip, logistically speaking.  To sum up:

-As we were in Darby, we switched our flights to Missoula, MT instead of Idaho Falls, ID.  April would hitch north to Missoula the morning of her flight.  I would hitch south to the CDT to hike the next 96 miles solo to Lemhi Pass.  Once reaching Lemhi Pass, I would hitch back up through Idaho and to Missoula to fly out and meet April in New York.  We both would fly back together back to Missoula after the wedding and hitch down to Lemhi Pass.

The plan went off without a hitch.  OK, not quite.  In fact, the plan went off with a whole ton of hitches..perhaps 15 or so total.  After getting out to the road in Darby around 7AM, April got to her 12:30 flight with about 45 minutes to spare, but not after almost being stranded in Hamilton, MT.  Her eventual ride from Hamilton to Missoula dropped her off about seven miles from the airport, but told her it was only three.   She realized this after walking the road for two hours and seeing no airport.  She had to pull off the road at a veterinarian’s office and call a taxi to get her the rest of the way.

My hike south went just fine, although after camping with April for a month and a half, sleeping solo at night kinda gave me the jitters.  This especially since my lift to the CDT told 20 minutes worth of fatal grizzly-encounter stories.  But other than some elks stomping around and a bit of unidentified huffing and snorting my nights were calm.  I got off the trail at Lemhi Pass, where, if you’re up on your Lewis and Clark history, you know that this is the place where the expedition first crossed the continental divide.  The pass is named for the Mormon settlers that came after L&C.  In the book of Mormon, so I’m told, Limhi was the third king of the second Nephite habitation of the land of Lehi-Nephi.

Lemhi Pass
Lemhi Pass

Lemhi Pass is the low elevation point in a large landscape of bald, grassy hills with unlimited visibility towards Idaho’s Salmon River Valley to the west and some dry Montana mountains to the east.  A steep, winding dirt road leads 14 miles down to Tendoy, ID, where I needed to hitch some 160 miles to Missoula to catch my flight.   I had given myself a cushion of a day and a half to travel the distance.  After a few miles on the dirt road, I was fortunate enough to encounter a Swiss couple on a rodeo tour through the states coming down the pass in a large blue van.  The couple, an optometrist and a pilot, had quit their jobs in Switzerland, flown to the states, bought the van, outfitted it with a fridge, shelves, and a bed, and were cruising around the West checking out rodeos.  That they were picking their way down Lemhi Pass and going my way was exceptional good luck.  They drove me out to Salmon, ID, where it turns out everyone was headed for the rodeo that night.  Getting any further towards Missoula would thus be next to impossible.  I spent that evening taking in the rodeo.

Just as a side note, Idaho folks take their rodeos SERIOUSLY and they start ’em young.  The first event was steer riding.  This involves kids ranging in age from maybe 7 to 9 years old sitting atop steers with just a rope to hold onto.  The steers buck, toss the kids, and so on.  The very first kid out of the chute was promptly throw, stomped on by the steer, and rendered temporarily immobile.  Medics with a backboard and an ambulance were soon to follow, but the kid eventually picked himself up and walked out of the ring with what seemed like an injured arm.

After the rodeo, I got lucky again and found a lift straight to Missoula with a couple of rodeo cowboys who had to be in Coeur D’Alene, ID the next morning for another rodeo.  We drove through the night and reached Missoula at 2AM.  I got dropped off at a KOA campground and dozed the rest of the evening in my tent.  What a day….

A side note about the KOA.  These little campground franchises are all over the US.  I had never been to a KOA before my night in Missoula , but they’ve always seemed a little cultish to me.  The Missoula KOA is decked out with a pool, store, showers, bikes, dining hall, etc. etc.  KOA has all of the comforts covered except a roof over the head.  Even here you can rent a cabin.  It’s pricey, though.  My little patch of ground with picnic table and fire pit was around $25.  I’ve never seen tentsites go for more than $10.  Now, if I was a real KOA-er, and this is where I suspect cult leanings, I’d be writing all of my c-words with the letter k.  For instance, at the KOA it’s not camping, it’s “kamping.”  There’s only one other organization I know that uses the letter “k” where a “c” should be.  Can you guess?  Kreepy.

With some time to kill, I spent the next day checking out Missoula.  The library looked a little old as far as Montana libraries go, but I was fortunate enough to catch the River City Roots festival and spent the afternoon eating good food and talking with some local photographers.  I played a little poker that night and then walked out to the airport for my flight to Newark, NJ.

April and I made it back out on the trail after the wedding without too much trouble.  We did end up camping off the side of the road in Hamilton, but eventually pieced together a series of 8 or so hitches to get ourselves back to Lemhi Pass.  Our most interesting hitch was with a couple from Couer D’Alene, ID who had been dating for one week and had driven a few hundred miles to camp at a remote hot springs.  We stopped with them for lunch in Salmon, ID and they invited us along to camp with them.  We declined.  Wouldn’t want to kill the romance!

We’ve been trudging along the divide since joining the trail at Lemhi.  Here in extreme southwest Montana, the divide doubles as the Idaho/Montana border and we’ve camped/gone

Dreary day on the Divide
Dreary day on the Divide

into town on both sides of the border.  Our trail has been bald, exposed high elevation grassy hills and a few tall summits.  The landscape is quite fascinating and very large.  Montana is all about wide open space.  A few days ago we got caught in our first snowstorm and hiked close to 13 miles in sideways rain, sleet, hail, and snow up on a tree-less divide.  We landed at Morrison Lake and tucked ourselves under a cluster of evergreens near the lake.  We were frozen, but warmed up quickly in our tents and had maybe one of the coziest nights on the trail listening to the wind and snow fall around us at the lake.  That night and the next morning a few elk hunters came by in their ATVs to check on us.  They were camped across the lake in large tents with all the comforts of home.

The next morning we woke to see that all of the high peaks around us had a frosted mini-

Fresh snow dusting near Morrison Lake
Fresh snow dusting near Morrison Lake

wheat-like dusting of snow.   A beautiful sight.  With the weather still looking iffy, we got off the trail and got a lift into Lima with a couple of drywall tapers from Helena, MT who had driven out to the mountains to fish while their work dried.  We stopped to help a few girls from Chicago along the way.  They had locked their keys in their minivan and were looking pretty distraught in the middle of a canyon with no cell reception.

Our camping spot in Lima
Our camping spot in Lima

Tomorrow morning we head back up to Morrison Lake, courtesy of the folks at the Mountain View Motel and RV Park here in Lima (pronounced like the bean).  We’ve had a nice little stay in Lima, tenting out behind the motel and hitting the grill-your-own-steak place up the street.  We hitched to and from Dillon, MT today as April needed another knee brace.  We’ll land back here in four days, then it’s on to Yellowstone and Wyoming…weather permitting.

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