Marias Pass – Badger Ranger Station (15 miles- July 19)
What does the steeple chase, parkour, Jenga and pick up sticks have in common? It’s the trail out of Marias Pass into the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
We were lulled into pacification with initially soft tread, overgrown shrubbery and freshly cut downed trees that make it a point to fall directly in or across the trail. And then? Well it changed dramatically.
Over two miles of tightly stacked and intertwined blowdowns reduced our pace from almost 3 mph to less than 1mph. It was highly frustrating, exhausting and left our legs looking like we got into a knife fight with a gnome.
Thank goodness we got ourselves into better shape than we were last year, otherwise today would have been even more challenging. We aren’t spring chickens anymore, and gymnastics was never one of mine, let alone Paul’s strong suit.
The degree of difficulty was enhanced by the fact we were dogged relentlessly by rabid flies, AND we were still in grizzly country. We couldn’t help but notice the rather large fresh piles of bear shit that punctuated the trail with unsettling regularity. Seeing “fresh”, and equally massive bear prints atop Speedgoat’s and Hobbit’s shoe prints, who were an hour or so ahead of us, ensured we spent several hours hollering “Hey, Bear!” as we trudged forward.
I kept repeating to myself, “you chose to do this”, while Paul was chanting to himself, “I’m having fun”.
Eventually the required acrobatics ceased to be necessary, and a simple hopscotch game became the norm. As the blood from the assorted deep scratches scattered across our legs congeeled, ever swarming biting flies took advantage of the open flesh wounds. For most, it became their “last meal”.
The trail opened up even more, and allowed for more of a rhythm to our travel. The viciousness of the flies kept us going. No rest for the weary…unless you want to be driven mad. We didn’t even bother to find a “dry” route during stream crossings. We walked right through, often standing mid stream to cool our ever aching feet.
At the first campsite, nearly 7miles into the day’s hike, the boys left us a message. Change of plans. We would be stretching our intended 13 miles to 15 miles. The Badger Ranger Station would be the day’s destination.
Ironically, when we arrived at the Badger Ranger Station, the flies ceased to follow. We were met by our friends, a picnic table, icy fresh water from a hand pump, and two other local hikers on a 9 day backpacking trip.
The rest of the late afternoon and early evening was spent in pleasant conversation and laughter.
“Rhonda” and “Leslie” were friends that had met while doing trail work for Americorps, and had good information on what we had to look forward to for the next few days.
It appears that we’ve experienced the “worst” of what the Lewis and Clark National Forest had to offer…for now, and should expect smoother travel.