Day 126: ~1.5 miles north of Pipestone Pass to I-15 North Exit 138, Butte, MT, ~35 miles, ~2,300+ miles total
The CDT is not a trail of precision. With so many route variations and data sources, it’s not a trail to measure by tenths of miles or kilometers. Most of the time knowing the approximate distance between towns works just fine. Sometimes one will hike a few hours more or less than anticipated; mileage variations absorbed by the rhythms of the day.
There are occasions on trail where the variations in miles and routes cause uncertainty. Particularly about food. Having enough food that is. Our sources of info for the section of trail from I-15 South to MacDonald Pass varied by about 15-25 miles. The Ley maps, Beacon’s databook, and our Starman GPS track are in alignment about the route a lot of the time, but this section seems to have above average variances. Or at least it was the first time we really experienced the ramifications.
15-25 miles isn’t much on the scale of a 2,700+ mile hike (less than one percent of the total miles). But on an incremental basis of day-to-day trail life it matters. On our planning spreadsheet back in January, we’d low-balled this section’s mileage.
Which is why we found ourselves sitting on the side of Nez Perce Road, just inside the Forest Service boundaries, assessing our remaining food at 7:20 this evening. Our conclusion: enough for 1.5 days of satisfactory eating. Could stretch it to two days and stumble into Helena ravenous. If only we knew the mileage! One data source said 63 miles. No problem. The other source indicated 82 miles. Not sure we can fake that.
On the PCT, we’d hiked what we called “Sierra’s style” for 100 miles on rationed food for a complex set of logistical goals. It had worked out beautifully, but we knew the mileage we needed to cover. This situation was a little different and as fun as it would be to succeed in doing it (Type II fun); it wasn’t prudent. Not when there was an interstate highway and abundant food 10 miles south.
Decision made. Going into Butte. As soon as we knew our plan we stuffed a 1000 calories in our pockets and began to half hiker hobble half sprint down the asphalt. Inhaling bars, cookie crumbs and the last vestiges of nuts along the way. We’d been holding back on eating all day. Yep, a very good idea to go to town and get more food.
It was a gorgeous late summer evening to walk into a valley with golden fields aglow and the purpling mountains of the Divide rising to the West.
Hitching at 8:00 on an interstate isn’t the best. Especially when you are tired and hungry. We ended up calling a cab for a ride into Butte. Crossing south of the Divide, the valley opened up and we could see the grid of coppery lights aglow. 34,000+ people. Stop lights. The largest city we’ve been to for four months. Gabriel commented that it felt like flying into Las Vegas.
Now we have enough food to keep going north. It feels good to be in Butte.