On Trail Again! – The Crazies
Day 1: Travel day, work day, planning day, hiking day. 6.5 miles from Cottonwood TH to Camping spot near roaring stream.
4:50 am, Alarm. Not enough sleep.
5:20 am, Lyft to airport, slept in backseat. Arrived at the empty and chill South Terminal as I flew Allegiant airlines on a nonstop flight to Bozeman, Montana.
I worked on the airplane until my computer died, ate a banana and an apple, and was scooped up by Bean & her friend Kyle where they brought me back to their hotel so I could immediately hop on a work call. We had no route.
Some Background info:
My sister’s friend (and now my friend), Will, had invited me to do some backpacking in Montana or Wyoming a few months ago with some of his buddies. His friends ended up bailing so I was able to convince ‘Bean’ (Karlie) to join me (and she convinced her friend Kyle to join us too). I met Bean on day 3 of the AT 5 years ago! She was a flip flopping vegan as well and we hit it off immediately. We hiked together from PA to VT, where we ended up separating when she took a day off at the Yellow Deli and I continued on. We also coordinated about two weeks together of our Colorado Trail thru hikes a year later in 2019. We are super compatible hikers (which is a rare gem to find), and I’m so grateful she was going to be joining this hike after not being in touch for 4 years!
Bean and Kyle created a route on Gaia based off the Crazies 100-mile race route while I worked. I was amazed that they threw together a perfect 80ish mile loop and plotted it on Gaia so we could all export the .gpx file for live navigation. We planned 4 nights on trail as Will needed to be off at a certain time for a work call. Speaking of Will – we finally touched base with him right as I was hopping on a call. He had some work to finish up and said he would be ready at 2:00 pm that day.
We went to the co-op in Bozeman (OMG! I LOVE THIS PLACE!) and feasted. Then we headed to REI… where there was exactly ONE can of bear spray. I hemmed and hawed. I felt like this bear spray situation was a scam. $60 for a can of bear spray?! It all just seemed over-the-top ridiculous. I walked away and by the time I decided to just buy it, I went back and it was GONE!
Did I really need bear spray? Would I actually use it? I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I would encounter a bear and it would charge me. I’ve encountered so many bears and they always just get scared and run away. Plus, if others in my group had bear spray, and I wasn’t hiking solo, did I really need my own can of this stuff? Finally, I found another shelf with exactly ONE can left in the whole store. (Later, I realized Kyle had picked up the penultimate spray). We cleaned REI Bozeman out of bear spray! I still wasn’t entirely convinced I would take it out of the packaging and considered leaving it packaged in the bottom of my pack and only using it if we used someone’s spray in the group and needed a backup. This way I could return it at the end of the hike…
We were off to meet Will in Livingston (30 mins from Boz). Originally, he had said 2:00, but now pushed it back an hour to 3:00 pm. At 3:12 pm I called him and he told me he was having issues moving and would be a few more hours… WTH?! I had flown in to be there by 9:00 am to ideally maximize the travel day for hiking and was semi-annoyed he wasn’t being proactive with his communication and we had waited all day for him. Also, he and I were supposed to share his bear canister. We swung by his house to make sure my food could fit in his bear canister and review the route with him, but the new plan was that he would find us on trail that night at our camp spot (TBD…) and he would just leave a few hours later. Kyle was wondering if we should just help him with his “stuff” and all just start together. I felt that planning around Will was way too unreliable and we should just forge ahead with our plan and if he could join, great, but if not, we wouldn't be relying on him for anything. I was a tiny bit concerned because I relied on him for safety with the bear canister for that night. I figured by the second night I could probably fit my food in Bean and Kyle’s canisters. Also, Will doesn’t use his phone at all for maps (only paper maps), so with a screenshot of our Gaia route, would he really know where to go?
We met up with Will and my food barely fit in his canister, but we managed to squeeze a few of my bars into Bean and Kyle’s canisters. Will was miscalculating the abundance of food in his canister by about a day, so once he took out some food, we would be okay to share.
We drove 1.5 hours to the Cottonwood trailhead in the Crazies, and when I had service, I watched bear spray videos to become more comfortable with the idea of carrying it and using it. There were some videos where the humans were yelling gruffly at the bears and it made me a bit sad to see how we treat bears. The spray affects their lungs and nasal passages and I wondered what kind of damage it does to them. Kyle quickly realized I may not be the most ideal hiking partner in a bear encounter because I wouldn’t want to hurt the bear…
We drove and drove along a dirt road for what felt like eternity. The drive was so picturesque; layered mountains in the clouds bordering the large valley we were driving in. It rained on us for 30ish minutes and we worried it would be a wet hike. Luckily, it cleared up, but stayed cloudy.
We finally got on trail around 5:15 pm. The hike part of the day was perfect: No bugs, perfectly cool but not cold temperature, beautiful, wild and rugged scenery, mountains, pine trees, wildflowers, streams. We were in meadows with cloud coverage, which would have been less than ideal if the sun had been baking us. There was no wind, not too humid, not too dry, not too steep, not too technical. Everything was as ideal as one could imagine. We had decided earlier when Bozeman had the same effect of cute, picturesque, perfection that we were dropped on set of a RomCom movie.
We declared the theme of the hike was “RomCom” and manifested idyllic scenes throughout our time together.
I decided to cut off the packaging of my bear spray and just carry it like every other hiker in Montana.
I carried way too much water. I carried almost 2L. My pack was kind of heavy because of that. It was tough to know where water stops would be as the topo map on Gaia didn’t show blue lines for streams (only a few for larger rivers). Kyle taught us to look for the V-shape in the contour lines to recognize where a low point or drainage ditch would be and we began to figure out the puzzle of where water stops would be along the route.
Bean and I realized we were slightly impaired due to our over reliance on Guthook (app of all hiking apps) on previous hikes, so without tons of waypoints, an elevation profile, and mileage clearly displayed for us, we began learning how to read maps better. We also became more comfortable with the unknown. It felt a bit freeing to not have all the info of Guthook at our fingertips. It made me more present and just allowed my mind more space to think of other things.
We had decided we would hike until 8:00 pm at the latest. We found a stream and camping area around mile 6.5 and called it home.
Camp chores felt slow and didn’t feel like second nature. I was fumbling around getting water. Setting up my tent took twice as long as it used to. And omg FUEL! I was supposed to share fuel with Will but…. He wasn’t with us! So I shared with Bean and Kyle, but we had some issues with my stove causing it to leak… eeeek!
We boiled water and made dinner in the dark. I cooked Pesto Presto Outdoor Herbivore but it was so salty I couldn’t finish it. It was so hard to get down. Luckily, Bean finished it for me. I ate a mint-chocolate Larabar to clear out the taste and get in a few more calories.
I decided I would need to sleep with my food since we thought Will had a 50% chance of showing up. We strategized and decided to put my smoothie powder and beans and rice (anything not prepackaged) in the bear canisters as they were more fragrant. Bean and Kyle put their prepackaged food (bars) in my food bag since they would be less fragrant. We brushed our teeth on a nice post dinner stroll, stashed our minty toothpaste/toothbrushes in the canisters and called it a night. Still no sign of Will.
I went to sleep easily around 10:30 pm. I was worried I would be too cold, but that wasn’t the case. I wore enough clothes and everything was just right.
The hiking was wild. The only place I’ve been to that has felt this wild was Maine. There were no other humans at all. At night, I usually wear earplugs to drown out snoring and just help with sleep. Out there, I didn’t so I could be slightly more in tune with the environment — plus the sound of the stream nearby was soothing. I got one of the best night’s sleep that night, even on my slanted, less than perfect tent spot.