The Slackpack Streak
Once outside the boundary of Yellowstone National Park, Dad took off, hiking nearly 22 miles in a single day. Though our 12th meetup was supposed to be 3 days after I left him in the park, he ended up hiking to a point where I could reach him after only 2. This set in motion the potential to slackpack every day for the following 5 days. And then on the 6th day he nero’d (with a full pack).
Last year, Dad treated slackpacking as a novel luxury. For the uninitiated, this meant he’d swap out his fully-loaded backpack for a small daypack with water, snacks, and his inReach, but only on the rare occasions when I could meet up him on the same day. It wasn’t until after we were stuck in the snow in the Jeep that I “weaponized” a series of high-mileage slackpack days to get him to the finish line. With this latter approach in mind, Dad hoped he could make up for the perceived miles he lost to the blowdowns in the Wind River Range (in terms of his daily average), since it appeared that I could safely reach him every 19–23 trail miles over the course of our next 5 meetups.
On his first slackpack day, Dad completed 20 miles before 1pm, so I brought him in to West Yellowstone for Firehole BBQ’s almost-as-good-as-Texas brisket. On the second day, he had 23 miles to do with a steep climb in the middle, so I hiked 3 miles south on the trail with 2 cans of Squirt in tow to help him rally. On the third day, he did 22 miles, and after dinner we watched a large plume of smoke rise and spread from a forest fire that was a little too close for comfort. With only 19 miles to do on the fourth day, Dad came in so early that we sat under the Jeep awning at the trailhead parking lot all afternoon, swatting at horseflies and watching the weekend dayhikers come and go.
As I remarked in my last post, “this year it seems that, out of necessity, we keep creating newer and stranger [types of meetups]” of which his fifth slackpack day was a perfect example. A little over a mile from the spot where we planned to meet, I reached a gate with a sign I’d never seen before, indicating that only vehicles 50″ wide or less could continue up the road, i.e., ATVs, dirtbikes, and small side-by-sides, as well as horses and hikers, but not Jeeps. Uh-oh. Having Dad hike that mile to the Jeep and back again after a 19-mile day seemed the least palatable workaround. Instead, I parked just off the road, gathered a full day of food for him (dinner for that night, breakfast, snacks, and lunch for the next day, and the obligatory 2 cans of Squirt for the moment he arrived), strapped on his backpack, and hiked up to the CDT. He could have continued farther if he wanted, but when he arrived an hour later, it was clear that he was cooked. So for the first time ever, we did an on-trail backpack swap—thus ending his 5-day slackpack streak. While he began to set up his tent, I hiked back to the Jeep with his empty daypack, and made my way to Lima, Montana for the night.
Dad was in desperate need of a shower (and a break), so we decided that our 18th meetup would be where the trail met the frontage road of Interstate 15, after an 11.6-mile nero (a contraction of “near zero [day]”, meaning more than zero miles but less than a full day of hiking—though often more than a civilian might consider for a dayhike). I picked him up just before 11 in the morning and made a beeline for Jan’s Cafe in Lima to fortify him with eggs, hashbrowns, country sausage, and toast. After brunching, we checked in to an Airbnb so that Dad could finally take his shower. After 28 days, Dad had hiked 406.2 miles.
Meanwhile, I took our dirty laundry to the laundromat at the motel next door. On the way, a woman, one of the guests, asked if I was a hiker. I explained that no, I was just supporting my father on the CDT. Turns out she was also hiking a section of the CDT, but southbound. She asked if Dad had a trail name, and I said, “Yep, it’s ‘Tartan’.” She gave me this wide-eyed look and said, “Tartan? Tartan! Your father is Tartan!!!” (Clearly his trail reputation precedes him!) She continued, “I met you last year, you’re ‘Son of Tartan’!” (That was a punny trail name I had joked about using last year.) “I met you in front of your Jeep while I was hiking with my daughter on the CDT in Wyoming.” My jaw dropped. Last year, on our very first day, after Dad had hiked 5 miles in the wrong direction and then 5 miles back, two hikers showed up heading northbound—a woman and her adult daughter—and I asked if they’d bumped into Dad. They hadn’t because they’d lost the trail, and ended up bushwhacking their way to WY-28. Unbelievable as it sounds, this woman in front of me, Grace, was that same woman from last year! She was super excited to finally meet “the famous Tartan”, so I got her number and suggested we meet up later. Post-laundry, I discovered that the only bar/restaurant in town was closed, so I texted Grace, who was hiking the section with her brother Mike and a friend, and offered to cook them burgers and brats. They accepted. All this time Dad was DEAD asleep and had no idea what I was cooking up until I mentioned at 5:30, almost off-hand, “By the way, we’re hosting a dinner party at 6,” to his utter befuddlement. Grace and Mike were super lovely, I played chef, and we all traded trail and life stories until 8:30 when they took their leave, sensitive to the fact that Dad (and I!) planned to wake at 4:30 in the morning so he could get a jump on the trail.
I love the serendipitous encounters! Small, small, small world!