Last Tuesday I woke up to another cold gray morning alongside the Belly River in northern Glacier National Park, only 6 miles from the northern terminus of the Continental Divide Trail. I pried myself from the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag, slipped on my shoes, and undid my bear hang. After chucking everything into my pack I started off down the mushy, muddy trail along the Belly River.
Soon I came across some fresh Griz tracks, which got me singing some made up songs, loud enough to scare any bears with any remote musical taste far, far away. As I hiked, the mountains turned burnt pink with an early alpine glow. Thimble berries lined the trail all the way to the border.
Before I knew it I was standing on the Chief Mountain Highway hugging the border monument. (Road walks aren’t really my favorite).
A mere half hour later I found myself in a friend’s van on the way to Park Cafe, a local favorite whose slogan is “pie for strength.” We ate an entire peach pie and they were kind enough to give me tokens for a 12 minute shower. That left me heading up the Going to the Sun Road (by car) satisfied; full, clean, and in good company.
I’m now a week out from that day, and my sense of satisfaction is slipping away. Indulgence in frontcountry activities — things like watching movies, drinking beer, checking my email 20 times a day, eating fresh fruit, taking a friend’s dog for a walk on pavement around the block, sleeping under a roof — has me happy, but recovery from the trail has its own challenges.
I want to eat like I did out on trail, but instead wind up with a stomach ache if I consume even half of the calories I’ve been used to pounding over the last few months. I want to run for a workout, but my body feels stiff & clunky, my lungs burn, unaccustomed to the quick cardio.
My daily mileage has decreased from about 25 to 5. I feel slow and sluggish, sore and tired. The weight of the distance I covered this summer seems to be slamming into my body, but not really sinking in to my mind. All of my expectations about fitness and enlightenment seem unmet when I look through this lens of post-trail recovery. All I can say about the past 4 months of my life is that I experienced true wilderness, kindness, adventure, and solitude; stepping away from the constant feed of direct experience hurts.
Eventually I will readjust, but for now I have decided to continue adventuring instead of committing to this challenge of recovery from trail life. I’m currently headed out to Maine to see what the East Coast is all about. Soon my feet will be back on a trail and the comforts that are currently reality will transition to the stuff of dreams.
CDT, you were a wonderful dream and a spectacular reality. I miss you.