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Trip Report Travels Across America

Hello all! My name is Chris, I just recently completed a 1,300 mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail with my lab/siberan husky, Sierra. From there we picked up my car in Washington and have hit the road, headed across the country exploring. I am going to start posting my blog here as well as on my blog site at http://athike2011.wordpress.com I hope everyone enjoys reading about my adventures and if there are any suggestions of places to go and things to see, Sierra and I would greatly appreciate it!

Here are the last 5 days out on the road:

Day 1:

The smell of stale beer has barely faded after a big reunion weekend. It just happened to time out that I was back in Olympia for a 5 year reunion party for a house where I used to live. Friends from across the state and country came back for what will probably be the last time we are all in the same place at the same time. It was great to meet up with old friends and catch up on what everyone had been doing since we were last together.

Somewhere in-between the festivities and reunions I managed to get everything I needed out of my very overstuffed five by ten storage unit. I also picked up a new roof box, four gallon water jug and make shift dresser. It took a little bit of playing around and modifications but I finally have the back of the Subaru exactly how I want it so it’s good and comfortable, decently organized and easy to live in.

My friend Eli, who’s wedding I am driving to, was also in Olympia this weekend for his cousin’s wedding, so I was able to see him again out here before heading back to Framingham. He too left today, we we went out for a breakfast before his flight and my drive. I hit the road around 11am taking my time, enjoying the scenery, made a stop at a Starbucks for a bit to borrow some WIFI.

About halfway through my drive today I smelled what I thought was burning plastic. I ignored it until I realized it was too strong to be coming from another car. I pulled over on the freeway and noticed my auxiliary power splitter for my cellphone charger and GPS was sitting funny. I pulled it out and found it had completely melted!

I took the opportunity to look at a map and decide where I was going to stay the night. I realized I was going the be around lake Coeur D’Alene around the time I wanted to call it an evening. This is a lake I have driven passed many times on I-90 trips and always wanted to check out. I set up the GPS and headed out. Coming off the freeway I realized I had timed it perfectly for the sunset. I took the opportunity to pull over and take some pictures before I found the spot I would stay tonight.

Found a good place to park, nice and dark, right off the water and there is a bathroom just down the road. It’s a warm night and I can hear the rumble of thunder in the distance, may be interesting with the windows rolled most of the way up. I am going to have to figure out the mosquito net thing soon.

I noticed a bike trail that goes a good way around the lake, I’m going to get up early and go for a ride in the morning.

Day 2:

Good nights sleep last night, though a little warm due to the windows being almost all the way up with the rain. This also put a bit of a damper on my bike ride… Riding in the rain and then driving a few hundred miles didn’t seem like the most enjoyable idea to me, so I put my rain coat on and took sierra for a little morning stroll next to the lake.

After our walk we set out towards Montana, again with no real location or goal in mind. We made it to Missoula and I decided to stop in at REI to pick up some mosquito netting to figure out how to take care of that problem quickly. From there it was back to trusty Walmart to grab a few forgotten essentials such as a toothbrush case, some magnets for the mosquito netting, some baby wipes for “zip-loc showers”, and a few powdered drink mixes. I did a little research about good places to hike near Big Sky, as I lived there in the winter (not exactly hiking conditions) and have wanted to do some hiking in the area since.

On the way I pulled off at a parking area to have some lunch. I walked off towards a river I saw from the road and came onto a group of kids rock climbing. I jealously sat and ate my bagel with Sierra before hitting the road.

Finding good trails with accurate information on how to get there, what it’s like, degree of difficulty, etc can be a very frustrating and difficult task if you don’t know the area. There is a website, trails.com, which I have used in the free from previously to find hikes in WA, then look on my maps to find them. However, this is slightly harder out here, so I decided to get a subscription so I can find everything I need across the country in one easy package. They even have an iPhone app. After some browsing it looked like a 6 mile trail to Lava Lake would be a lot of fun. I figured I would stay in Bozeman tonight and head there to the trail head in the morning.

We got to Bozeman around seven and settled into the Wal-mart parking lot for the night. I have had a few people who wanted to see how my car was set up, so I made this video:
Car Tour

I took a short 6 mile bike ride around Bozeman before dark, came back and made a little dinner. My front drivers side brakes have been making noise since Canada, I had a problem before with rust build up and this sounded similar, so I didn’t think much of it. Today the sound go much worse, so I took a look. Apparently I’m a dummy as my brake pad is basically non-existent. Now I may be spending my morning calling shops to see who can do my front brakes and resurface my rotor ASAP for as little as possible. Oh joy.

Day 3:

What a day. I guess there is no better place to start than the beginning. I mentioned last night that I planned on going for a hike in the morning. I also mentioned my brake problems. First thing this morning I called all around town to get quotes and see who could do the job. First place I called was Firestone, who had the best price, but couldn’t do it until 4pm on Friday. The idea of hanging around Bozeman until then and then spending my birthday waiting for a brake job was unappealing to say the least. The frustrating part is that I am quite capable when it comes to cars, but all of my tools are in WA, not to mention the lack of a garage, or even driveway of my own to work in, and if I screw something up it leaves me in a bad place. Everywhere else I called had an outrageous price tag of around $250, which was not happening. I decided to head to the parts shop and get a price on the pad and a rotor and just do it myself. At $80 after tax combine, and only another $10 for the socket set I needed, I decided this was the way to go.

After pulling the wheel off the cheap socket wrench popped apart while trying to get the very tight bolts off. I swapped it out for a new one and was in the process of jumping on it to try and get the bolt to move when a guy drove by and asked what I was doing. He kindly stopped and pulled out his full tool box and let me use all his stuff to get the pads and rotor swapped out in 25 minutes. Who knows how long I would have been there without his kindness. I thanked him and said I would offer to buy him a beer, but as it was 10:30 in the morning, it was probably a little early. He laughed, got in his car and drove off.

I made it to the trailhead by noon, and was pleasantly surprised, as I was getting a late start, that the trail was only 3 miles, so 6 round trip, apparently I need practice reading guides. Sierra ran back and forth through the woods the entire way up, stopping to say hi to many new friends along the way. We arrived at the lake and sat to eat lunch while watching a father teach his son to fly fish. A girl I passed on the way up who looked a bit younger than me came over to where we were sitting. Having noticed my hat earlier she asked if I was a Sharks fan. Turns out her family is from the south bay and they have a cabin out this way. We chatted for a bit and she offered to take a picture of Sierra and me before we headed back down.

About halfway down the trail Sierra made another group of friends. Two middle aged couples greeted me as I caught up, having already become acquainted with Sierra, they introduced themselves. They asked about my tattoos, and what I was doing out in Montana, the Appalachian Trail also came up, as it turns out they are from the south. Northern Alabama to be exact. I mentioned that being one of the places I wanted to check out in my travels. They immediately told me to take their phone number as they have two 26 year olds who are really into caving and would love to show me around. They also stressed the point that I would have to stay with them so they could feed me at least one hot meal. Sounds to me like Alabama just became “on the way” to Massachusetts.

From the trail I headed to Yellowstone. Highway 191, which would take me to West Yellowstone, happens to pass right by Big Sky, MT. Big Sky is where I blew my knee out a few winters ago while working and riding there. Never having seen it in summer, I decided a detour was in order.

These are the two places I lived. The first is the townhouse Sean and I ended up renting, and the second is the MISERABLE employee housing.

The first picture is the bar next to employee housing where Sean and I spent many nights. Next is the mountain that took my knee.

Beyond Big Sky was Yellowstone. I have been before, and though it is beautiful, it is so over run with tourists (myself included) it loses something. The way I’ve found to overcome that while on a short visit is to simply hop over retaining walls, or fences, etc to find a cooler, better picture from an angle no one else got.

There is a place in Jackson I camped out before, and my hope is to find that again tonight. It’s 11:30 and I’m borrowing McDonalds WIFI, so if I’m not successful, I’ll likely just come back to a parking lot in the area and call it an evening.

Day 4:

Last night I made it 30 minutes behind the Elk Reserve to a camping area I visited last year when I was in the area with Dan. I found a spot which was mostly flat and called it a night. When I woke up this morning, this is the view I was greeted with.

I managed to sleep in until around 9am before slowly getting ready to head into town. The morning was amazing, perfect temperature, light breeze and clouds disappearing quickly. I drove to the Albertsons where I left my car while I went for a bike ride on one of the local trails that leads out of town. It was a short 15 miles total, but very nice to get out and about in this weather, and I couldn’t think of a better way to start my birthday.

After I got back to the car, Sierra and I too a walk to what used to be known as Teton Thai for lunch. I didn’t realize until part way through the meal that it was no longer the same place. None the less, the food was delicious and the atmosphere was just what I wanted. Thai is one of the foods I found myself craving the most on the Appalachian Trail, and one of the foods I haven’t eaten as I would have liked to since.

After lunch there was laundry to do while waiting for Dan to finish up with work for the day, so Sierra and I went to the laundromat and took care of the responsible part of the day. Just before finishing up I got a call from Dan. I met with him and his girlfriend Emily at a bar just down the road for a quick pitcher. The very overly necessary shower which followed was everything I hoped it would be. Though baby wipes are a fantastic in-between when a shower isn’t exactly an option, there is nothing better than a shower after a few days away.

Dan took Emily and me out to a restaurant down the street from his house for my birthday. 43 North was the name, and the only reason I mention it is so if anyone reading this ends up in Jackson, WY while this place is still around, I would like to save you the money and time. It was agreed by everyone, even our server, that this had to be one of the worst most overpriced meals any of us had experienced.

The rest of the night blurs into a haze of whiskey shots and various bars thanks to my good buddy Dan, who made sure I had a good time on my birthday. Glad to have been here with good friends.

Day 5:

I can feel my heart beating as the sun burns my eyes through the slightly cracked window shade, but for some reason, the thumping is in my head instead of my chest. It takes me a moment to recall the reasoning for this terribly unpleasant awakening. Dan and Emily happened to wake up around the same time. We all sat silently taking our punishment for the night before. Emily, motivated by god knows what, hopped up and declared we were going to get iced coffee and head to the farmers market.

A “dirty chai” is what I ended up with, which was a first for me but quite delicious. It is simply an unsweetened chai with a shot of espresso. We slowly progressed towards the farmers market, nursing our hangover with cold caffeinated beverages. The market was nice, mostly as expected, non-local, overpriced produce, however, there were significantly more samples than I would have expected, which proved to be the perfect amount of little tastes to make me start feeling a bit better.

Dan and Emily, in need of something a little more substantial, headed us to a small café type place for a light lunch, as it was already noon at this point. I enjoyed a fruit smoothie and a relaxing break on their patio. Dan and I discussed our plans for camping that weekend, as we planned to leave today, but nothing was packed and we had no idea where we were going. After reviewing the map, we decided South Teton Fork trail towards Alaska Basin in the Teton National Forest sounded like the right way to go. We planned to camp out at the trail head and hike in the morning.

With everything finally packed at Dan’s place we left for Teton Canyon Campground, which was just shy of the South Teton trail head. We got there around 4 and drove around a few times trying to figure out which site looked like it would have a couple good flat spots and not be too much in the high mountain sun. With tents and hammocks set up, firewood piled by the fire pit, we spent most of the evening playing cards.

It wasn’t until around 8-o-clock that I noticed we had parked in a reserved camp spot. Some how none of us had seen the sign on the payment pole. We debated what to do for a bit as the site was reserved from the 15th till noon on the 17th and as it was late evening on the 16th, they probably weren’t going to show up, but it would be very awkward if they did. So we packed up and moved to a spot just through the woods from where we were. After a big fire and some more cards we called it a night.

Day 6:

We were on the trail by around 11 this morning, not quite the early start we were hoping for, but I think there was a bit of lingering sleep deprivation from Friday. The hike was fantastic, we made it above snow line and enjoyed some shoe skiing on the way down.

The trail was pretty hard to find at times due to the snow, so part of it was made up as we went along. I managed to track most of it, but I forgot to start the GPS for the first 1/4 mile or so.

We got back to the house around 6ish, showered up and went to dinner at a Trio, a local fine dining American Bistro. It only took the house made bread to completely crush the dinner at 43 North. After a very delicious meal, we spend the rest of the evening relaxing to some Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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