4 out of 5 hot mess tinis
The Highline Trail to Swiftcurrent Summit
I knew my plan was perhaps imperfect when everyone I told called it a “death wish” but my mom says that to me all the time so I figured they were all just being dramatic; I was still planning to go to Glacier National Park to hike by myself.
At least waking up went according to plan. The alarm banged on at 3:30 a.m. in Coeur D’Alene and I got out of bed with a sleepy grin.
I was ready to start foiling half-baked plans.
I dragged my luggage to the rental truck while it was still dark and Google Maps told me it’d be six and a half hours to drive to Logan Pass (the trailhead for my hike). Last week when I mapped it out it had said four hours. An immediate delay was a GREAT start to my day. Le sigh. I briefly wondered if this was a sign that I shouldn’t go, but I was too excited and foolish to let it deter me.
Then I drove the long way
Four hours later, signs told me that I’d entered Glacier NPS, but then like ten minutes after that signs informed me that I’d exited it again.
GPS? You OK, bro?
The GPS then brought me all the way around the Glacier to the east (though I was coming from the west) and I drove 20 miles back into the park heading the way I'd come. It was obviously not right.
Still, I was only a few miles from Logan Pass.
Then I had to pee
I was about to arrive but I really had to pee. I had been POUNDING coffee (because I always feel bad going into gas stations to pee and not buying anything, so I buy a coffee, but then I drink the coffee, and then I have to pee. It's a vicious cycle…).
My new plan was to pee on the side of the road (where there is no coffee for sale, thus breaking the cycle forever.)
I pulled over, jumped out, and ran around the truck - flinging open the passenger side door for privacy as to not scar any passing children. I was preparing to pop a squat in this lovely, private gravel area.
BUT! Before I could even pull my pants down the car started ROLLING downhill toward a DITCH.
I’d forgotten to put the rental truck in park! I’d left it on purposefully but I’d stupidly left it in drive.
I threw myself onto the passenger seat as my butt and legs dangled out and my weak upper body tried unsuccessfully to pull itself into the truck. I was able to turn the wheel still dangling trying to steer back to the road, avoiding the ditch. I avoided it probably in the nick of time but nobody else was there so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic.
That was a big adrenaline rush at the beginning of the day and I hoped there would be no more avoidable issues. How could there be when I was so well prepared?
I was thankful when I eventually was able to hoist myself back into the truck by imagining Doritos in the driver’s seat.
Finally, I jumped over to the driver’s side to stop the car.
My heart was POUNDING.
It was at this time I realized I could have just pulled the emergency break.
Then it was raining
The sweet rainbow faded as my truck headed onward toward the dark clouds in my red truck. Finally, I had arrived.
I was disappointed that though last week weather.com said it would be partly cloudy, the rain was coming down in buckets (must stop doing weather research so far in advance). I had to decide soon whether to commit to the hike because I needed to finish before dark.
As I’m standing, waiting for a decision to appear in my brain, I heard a girl chatting with her boyfriend from afar. She said “it’s crazy to come all this way and not do it.” I vehemently agreed (though I don't know she was talking about) and I pulled up my rain jacket hood and walked to the trailhead.
At the trailhead I saw a bunch of super terrifying signs warning of grizzly bears. I bought bear spray, then started again.
I schlepped along, sopping wet in the cold wind, terrified that my hands would be too numb to use the spray should I see a bear. Still, when the rain cleared, the landscape in front of me was utterly stunning. There were bubbling brooks, red-orange valleys, and high peaks in the distance.
It was so gorgeous, but humans evolved and built shelters for a reason...
Then I almost got got
Around mile five, I decided to pop a squat.
There was really nowhere to go because there was a steep incline off of the trail to the right and a steep decline to the left so I was basically, right off of the trail facing it, using the incline to prop myself up.
I pulled my leggings to my ankles and peed for about thirty to fifty million years.
Midstream, I realized that the blind turn immediately behind me meant nobody would be able to see me as they approached, but if someone did approach, that person would get a close-up of my crotch before they even knew what hit 'em.
I figured it was a nonissue.
But as I'm finishing up, I lock eyes with an old lady about five feet away who’d rounded the corner with bear spray locked, loaded, pointed right at me.
She had crazy eyes. She was READY.
This is what I put together: She could hear me rustling and thought I was a BEAR. So rather than wait two seconds and give the bear (aka me) some space, her decision was to APPROACH and PEPPER SPRAY AN ACTUAL BEAR (except I am the bear!).
I am no Mr. Grylls, but I do know this: HUMAS ATTACKING BEARS IS NOT ADVISED.
Well, I was super glad she didn’t bear spray me because 1. bear spray is just like regular pepper spray but one thousand times scarier and 2. she very well could have sprayed it right up right up in my VAGINA if she’d only gone ahead with her horribly misguided instincts.
Amazingly, she was not at all apologetic. SHE gave ME a look of disappointment, bordering anger. Was she bummed she didn't get to pepper spray a bear? Was she mad she caught a glimpse of the goods? Did she secretly want to get mauled "for the story"? I wish I knew.
Somebody go collect your grandma - she's out of control.
Then I went the wrong way
After moving quickly to put some distance between me and hot hands, I made it to the chalet, a landmark on my directions. I was 7.6 miles into the hike.
These directions that I'd printed (after I summarized them to keep it all on one page) told me I needed to find a junction by the chalet that would bring me to an overlook. The non-summarized directions - however - had explained that the path to this overlook was almost a full mile before the chalet.
As you might expect, I couldn't find the overlook that wasn't there. One thing I did remember reading was that the path to the overlook was straight uphill. I figured, I’d just take the path that went uphill and that must be the overlook.
Well, the uphill trail I took was labeled “Swiftcurrent Trail” so that’s obviously not “Garden Wall Trail.” At the time, I literally told myself “they probably just changed the name!”
Now, in hindsight, it seems obvious that they'd literally never do that.
The Swiftcurrent Trail, on which you summit an actual mountain, is 2.1 miles from the chalet with an elevation gain of 1,742 feet. At the top you are at an elevation of 8,436 feet.
The intended overlook was three-quarters of a mile and did not involve summiting a mountain so it's safe to say I went the more difficult route.
I did not see a single other person the entire 4.2-mile hike on the Swiftcurrent Trail. What I did see were dozens of huge animal poops that had me wondering if I was about to be mountain lion food.
Since it was so isolated and I’d veered off course, I wondered how many months until rescuers would find my dead ass on this mountain. (I was also hoping forensics people would misidentify the holes in my underwear as coming from a large predator.)
Still, I Little-Engine-That-Coulded it up to the top. It was stunning! But it took SO MUCH LONGER than the time I’d budgeted to get to the top. Now I needed to hurry back.
It was all literally and figuratively all downhill from there.
Then poor planning caught up with me
I made it back to the chalet but I didn’t realize there was another option other than walking back the way I’d come – 7.6 miles along the Garden Wall back to my truck at Logan Pass. So I began walking.
I walked over a mile (and passed the overlook I was supposed to go to!). At one point I walked by a young couple. The girl said “Hey! Where are you going?” I was like “back to Logan Pass of course.” She was like… “do you want to walk the shorter way back and we can drop you at Logan Pass?”
I was stunned and exhausted so it took a second to process.
“Shorter?” I grunted, caveman style. Words are hard.
She explained the loop and said that it was probably two miles less hiking to go with them vs. the way I was headed.
In this mindset, I would have gone with her even if she had been a tiny, green martian in a UFO asking for blood samples.
We hiked passed the chalet (yet again!) and onward (this time going the downhill way!).
This couple was delightful. They were also, however, keeping a quick pace, which was a bit of a struggle. Then, three miles later (with about two miles left to go), I started to feel a bit… bad.
I'd only really eaten some figs that morning, some nuts on the trail, and an apple at the summit. It was about 6:30 p.m. and I’d walked about 14 miles and roughly 3000 feet of elevation.
I didn’t say anything ...even as I got to a point where I was fairly certain I was going to faint.
Then I didn't faint
I tried to just focus on not passing out – which was successful.
… because I vomited instead.
There were apple chunks in the center of the hiking path. Sorry Russian people behind us.
You wouldn’t think vomming a small apple would take that long, but my body sucker punched me in the gut over and over again until it was satisfied there was nothing left. Luckily, I was the caboose of this train and my new friends got about 100 feet ahead before they turned around and noticed my retching. I was happy because it was embarrassing enough without giving them front row seats to that fiasco.
At this point, I concluded that I'd eaten enough but there must have been something wrong with the apple.
This couple was SO NICE. They gave me their last chocolate bar and it helped! I started feeling way better and could keep up for the last two miles.
As agreed, we all piled into their car to head back to Logan Pass. By this time the sky was pitch black. I was so relieved to be in a place where I had a better chance of getting hit by a car than attacked by a bear. My runner's knee hurt like a sonofabitch. (In case there's confusion, this is what other people call this type of knee pain - however - my knee is decidedly not attached to a human that is a runner).
Then I didn’t vomit (until I did)
On the 15 minute drive back to Logan Pass, there were a number of sharp turns. My stomach woke back up. It took a lot of focus to get back without vomiting in this lovely couple’s car but I made it.
And then there I was... back at my red rental truck after eight hours of hiking during which I’d aged fifty-six years.
We agreed I'd follow them out. I told them not to worry in case my car disappeared behind theirs … it just meant I had to vomit real quick.
They gave each other a very concerned look as they handed me the rest of the banana they were splitting and demanded that I “EAT!”
As my truck pulled out behind them, I was utterly exhausted. Everything hurt. My knee throbbed. I’d been wet and shivering for the better part of the day, I’d probably eaten and kept down something like 500 calories, though I’d burned in the ballpark of 4000, and I’d walked over 46,000 steps in eight hours - more exercise than I do in a week. Another factor was that I’d been up since 3:30 a.m. after flying in from the East Coast the previous day and had not yet adjusted to the elevation.
The road turned left, then right, then sharp left, and continued turning sharply in every direction until I could actually hear my abdomen yell “Hey you! Gofukyaself!”
At that point, I stopped the truck and vomited out of the window. Trigger warning on this next detail: despite it being in vomit, chocolate banana is still a solid combo. (Anyone? No? OK.)
Then, I casually continued driving and the couple stopped to help once again.
THANK YOU GUYS WHEREVER YOU ARE!!
Then I was too cheap to sleep
Once we parted ways, I had no distractions from my aching body. My knees ached like your grandma's (may she rest in peace), my leg muscles kept cramping into painful charlie horses, and I knew that if I were to so much as take a sip of water, I’d be throwing it up before I could get the window down.
It wasn't a good look.
With my newfound cell phone reception, I pulled into a Hilton Garden Inn that Google said was $99 that night. But, after hoisting my legs out of the car with my arms, the lady behind the counter informed me that the price would be $199.
“Well in that case,” I thought, “it’s time to finish what I started.” I began driving back to Spokane.
After an hour or so into my journey, I knew that if I tried to make the entire five hour drive that evening that I would fall asleep at the wheel. I decided to pull to the side of the road and pee while I considered this.
Then I peed on my glasses
Turning the car OFF (because I’d learned my lesson about rolling trucks that morning), I walked to the passenger side to pop a squat. As nature’s apple juice began to pour out of my personal downstairs sippy straw (too much with this analogy?), my glasses, which were hooked onto my shirt collar, slow-motion tumbled right into my stream of pee.
NooooOOO pee glasses ewwww.
And since I couldn’t just stop midstream, I just continued. I just let it happen. I straight up urinated all over my glasses for the duration of the pee, which felt like an exceptionally long time.
I had no napkins and used the sweatshirt sitting on my passengers seat to dry them.
Why could I not go to the bathroom in peace this day.
Even after everything that day, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and finally, after 19 hours of exhausting myself and doing shit wrong, I felt totally and completely defeated.
Then I slept
What I would have looked like if I'd been abducted while sleeping in my car (because I'm not in the photo - get it?).Without much in the way of options, I pulled into pretty sketchy parking lot, reclined, and passed out – ready to dart awake in case a murderer came to the window in the night to slash me.
I slept for about an hour and a half. It was a bit after midnight when the coldness woke me up. I turned the car on, guessing that now that I’d napped I could make it home. I still wanted nothing to do with food and I couldn’t find my water bottle in my hot mess of a backpack. After another 40 minutes, I realized how heavy my eyelids still were and pulled over onto a shoulder off of the highway, and slept again.
When I snapped awake the next time, I immediately started driving within seconds. (It’s easy to do when you sleep with your seatbelt and glasses on and you literally just recline your seat.)
But my eyelids were still heavy, so I pulled over again, this time sleeping until the morning.
At 5:45 AM I began driving the final leg of the journey. I got a Mickey-D's coffee and breakfast sandwich, which I ate in about two seconds, and finally pulled into Spokane around 7 AM. This was ten FULL hours after I’d departed Glacier and twelve after I’d intended to be back the previous evening.
Then everything was fine in the end
Me in Spokane, once I could walk again.When I got out of the truck for the final time, my legs were so tight, it took forever to get myself and my stuff into the BnB. I was so rigid and disheveled, I looked like the walking dead. Finally, I took a hot shower, cancelled every single one of my plans, and passed out until 3:30 p.m.
I did not do one single thing that day.
And I went to bed at 9 PM.
Hot Mess Tips
Don't dangle your glasses over your pee stream.
Audiobooks are amazing company for hiking alone. Since you’re supposed to make noise to keep bears away, it might even be good to get a small Bluetooth speaker to get that volume going and to make sure you’re making enough noise. (Listen to something without scattered homoerotic scenes for when you inevitably end up hiking beside Christian missionaries like I didn't.)
Chocolate > apples in every way.
Never leave home without napkins. You never know.
Bear spray is expensive. Buy it on amazon and not at the park.
Don’t bring unnecessary shit on the hike. It turns out I didn’t even need my computer charger in the wilderness where there was no cell reception and also since I had no computer. Who would have guessed.
Carry bear spray in case you need it for attacking bears or revenge against old ladies that bear spray you in your lady or man bits.
If you have to vomit, consider doing it at least slightly off of the trail.
If you’re getting sleepy on the road, sleep in your car. Along those lines, sorry Mom.