Each time I wake up I make a new, final decision.
(11pm) Eee! Argh. Oh Lord. Twenty four hours from now you’ll be wrapped in down and pine needles in Glacier National Park.
(2am) Ya know, you don’t have to hike tomorrow. Cut yourself some slack, wait for the 100% chance of rain to pass and get a walk-in permit on Sunday. What’s the rush?
(4am) You heard the ranger. You saw the slant eye. It’s too early!! Drive down to Helena in the morning and flip.
(5:30am) For Chrissakes, snap out of it! YOU ARE CAPABLE. Get dressed and get in the car.
We pull out of East Glacier and point the Prius towards the Canadian border thirty minutes later. Mom’s driving. Her presence buoys everything about this morning. We “Ooo” and “Ahh” at the empty space and snow patched cliffs. Today I start the CDT. The sky is mostly grey, but a few thin films of sunrise slip through the cracks. Waves of anxiety crash and recede. I remind myself to breath all the way to the very bottom bit of my lungs. Breathe. My Mom tells a story about the she went backpacking alone in the Alpine Wilderness — there was beauty and poetry writing.
The Chief Mountain approach to the CDT begins 100 yards south of the border station. It’s an understated starting point. Just a dirt path and a 4×4 inch marker. Well. I’m here now! I smash a boiled egg. I take a selfie with my mom. I begin. That’s all there is to it! No ceremony.
Surface level, it’s all nonchalant like, but inside I am **highly activated**. The first few miles are a blitz of singing, clapping and talking to myself, inspired in part by the bear safety video at the backcountry permit office yesterday, but mostly inspired by the fact that I’m FINALLY IN IT. Months on months of talking about the CDT but not actually hiking the CDT has wound me into a tight ball of nerves and moOods. Now mile by mile and nerve by nerve, I begin to unspool whatever this is.
The trail is gentle. Sun and rain tag team their forecasted appearances. I walk along a river, through meadows and over creeks. I stop every few minutes and stare at the walls of rock. I don’t know how to describe them yet. Himalayas, Cascades and Sierras I’ve got down. But Rockies? A new breed for me. When I stare at them I don’t have to remind myself to breath into the bottom bit of my lungs as much.
And before I know it (because I haven’t stopped to take a break) I’m at my registered campsite on Elizabeth Lake. I stake my tent and then re-stake it three times, in search of the perfect first night pitch. Lord knows I have time. It’s 1:30pm. Only 9 hours till dusk 😂 There was another reservation for this site, but they don’t show. Just me, myself and Grizzly country. What to do in a campsite all day? I invent tasks and practice being a thru hiker again with bonus rounds of water treatment, bear hangs and stretching of untaxed muscles. In the late afternoon the sky opens up blue in all directions. I sit in a nest of grass and sunshine, and for the first time in a long, long time — I do nothing more than that.