CDT Day 77: East Glacier Park to Anaconda

(0 miles – 0 km)

Tuesday July 2, 2019

I woke early keen to get the new day started. Hammer did our laundry while I finished off making notes for the past day and researching options for our transport south to Butte. It was grey and overcast day with drizzly rain. One thing I was happy about is that we did not have to head out on trail today. But all the same it was not a good day to be hitching.

I rang several car rental agencies in Kalispell, which is the nearest gateway town to Glacier National Park. The same answer came back from almost all – it’s the July 4th week and its their busiest week of the year. Hertz, bless their cotton socks, did have a car available but it would have cost $275 plus petrol for a one day hire. And we still needed to hitch to Kalispell to pick it up. We did find that there was a Greyhound bus from Kalispell to Butte which would get us to Butte at 1.30am the next day. So our decision was to try to hitch the 400 or so miles from East Glacier Park to Butte, via Kalispell, Polson and Missoula. And if we get stuck, we can always wait for the Greyhound.

On the way out we visited the Rock and Roll Bakery one more time to sample some more of their delicious treats before leaving East Glacier. It was 10am and it did not take long to get ride with John who was going to Whitefish, near Kalispell. He lives in East Glacier Park and is a teacher at a high school in Browning.

He was going to Whitefish to pick up his dog who was being looked after while he was out on a rafting trip. We shared our brief glimpses and observations of East Glacier Park. And it was good to hear his perspectives. He dropped us off and said if we are still there in half an hour he’ll be back and can take us into Kalispell. And so it was, plus we got to meet the friendliest dog ever. He sat on my lap with his head stuck out the window. It is always a bit sad to say goodbye. John dropped us off on the highway out of town.

We were just across the road from the Montana Club Casino which was a bit like a very small scale Returned Servicemens Club we have in Australia. Here we had an excellent lunch there as we did not know what was ahead. John advised us to try to get to Polson first, which was at the southern end of Flathead Lake.

Just after lunch we got a short ride with a gentlemen who lived on the east side of the lake at Big Fork. The car trip was over before we got his name. He said it’s not often he sees hitchhiker’s these days and we looked friendly. He dropped us off at the top end of the lake. It had started to rain. We were getting a little bit concerned that we may look like drowned rats.

But two very lovely ladies, Liv and her friend Pat, picked us up in a luxury SUV for a ride half way down the lake to Lakeside. Liv had just done a hike in Glacier NP and Pat’s daughter had hiked the Gila River in New Mexico. Liv had Norweigian heritage hence the name she told us. They dropped us off and turned for home. It was threatening to rain again. Less then 10 minutes later Liv came back and gave me her contact details. She offered us their guest house to stay in if we could not get a ride out. Such unexpected generosity from a complete stranger was so humbling. As it was starting to rain I didn’t get a photo of these lovely ladies.

We were at a very busy intersection and it took us a while to find a safe spot to hitch from. We stood in the drizzling rain for about half an hour when a pick up pulled into a parking space not far from us. We weren’t sure if the car stopped for us or something else. Well it was for us, we couldn’t believe our luck. A young man who was on his way to visit friends in Idaho and just happened to be passing through Missoula. What absolute luck. His name was Lyson and he was a semi-pro footballer who worked as a cook in Kalispell. Having just left school he is still trying to work out what he wants to do.

The rain was coming down hard and his car did not have a working passenger side window. Hammer put up a plastic bag to stop the rain from coming into the car. In the two hours we spent in the car with Lyson we learnt a little bit more about his family life and his footballing career through high school and after. He hopes to study to become a fitness trainer in Kalispell or maybe go to University. The rain had stopped some time ago and he dropped us off at a service station at the north end of Missoula where he turned west to go towards Idaho. It was 5pm by this stage.

We were at this spot for over an hour and half with no indication it was a good spot from which to hitch a ride to Butte. There was motel across the road which we contemplated going to as a back up plan. A couple stopped – they rearranged a cat menagerie in the back seat to give us a ride. They were Native American brother and sister Pete and Sally. I asked if they were going to Butte, they said no but they’ll get us as close as they can. True to their word, they drove us about 10 miles south to the other end of Missoula where we had a better chance of passing cars going in our direction. The cats were trying to climb over us and into the front seat. Hammer was wrangling cats while I tried to hold a conversation.

They dropped us off as the dark clouds started to descend again. We stood at the on ramp to Highway 90 till almost 8.30pm. There were no motels anywhere within walking distance and we were preparing to maybe have to stealth camp near the highway and trying again in the morning. It was almost dark and just as we were about to give up a car stopped. We couldn’t believe it, they were going to a town about 17 miles short of Butte. We didn’t care, that was close enough.

In the 100 mile trip we got to know Lynelle and Beau. Lynelle was in the Montana National Guard and was on the way home from a training camp. Beau was her boyfriend. They were not long out of high school. We learnt so much about the role of the National Guard and the training requirements. Beau was knowledgeable about local trails and the town history. They were both from families with long ties to the military.

As we got closer we were talking about where we were hiking next and it was an absolute stroke of good timing and good luck that we were passing the Anaconda turnoff where we planned to pick up the trail to head south. Lynelle grew up in Anaconda and Beau was from Butte.

So they drove us to the front door of a motel in Anaconda a block away from the Anaconda trail junction. I almost cried for the umpteenth time on this trail…this time from shear gratitude to these two absolute trail angels.

It was 10pm, a 12 hour marathon hitch and we made it with so much help along the way. We got a clean, warm and comfortable room. We hugged, relief and joy all mixed, not believing our good fortune.