Section B - Day 7: Out of the Wilderness
KM Hiked: 22. Territory: Blackfoot/NiitsItapi, Stoney, Tsuu T'ina, Ktunaxa.
It rains all night, and when I wake it is clear and bright, with the sun refracting through millions of raindrops on every leaf and twig as though the world were decorated with millions of fairy lights overnight. I awake on my own at 5:30, excited. Today is the day I will hit the road and have a chance of ending this section a day early and resting my poor heel. If only I can hitch a ride out.
My trail friends Jillian and Simone (who are a few days ahead of me) messaged me on my inReach to say that there was lots of traffic on this road. You should have no trouble, they said.
My mind is filled with all the pleasures and relief I will feel if I can just get out today. I am crazed with the thought of food, hot water, a bed, human faces. I pack up in record time and strike off for the road (only 11k away), while the sun is still rising.
What seemed like beautiful refractory fairy lights in my early mornings enthusiasm, turned out to be more like a carwash as the light rises higher. The trail is thick and brushy, and every branch or leaf I touch showers me with water. I am soon soaked to the skin, no dryer than if I had been wading up to my waist. It is early, and I'm freezing.
It seems that my left heel has sent delegates to other parts of my body to join in the protest. My right Achilles is beginning to feel a familiar pain now, and my back is seizing up in spasm. I am shivering, cold, aching, limping as fast as I can to the road. If I can just get to waypoint B33, my friends said. I should have no trouble.
I reach the road and pass the waypoint almost without noticing. The road is silent, devoid of traffic. The surface is hard and jarring on my feet, my heels scream, I am starving, soaking. I strain for the sound of a motor. Is that it? No, just a far-away bush plane.
I walk for another hour. There is no traffic. I realize that my friends were on this road on a weekend. It is a Thursday. My heart drops. Something desperate wells up inside of me. I have enough food to stay another night out here, but I just can't do it. I am so filled with desire to get to town. I am walking in a limping lurch. In a hopeful move, I take my phone off airplane mode and find that I have 3 bars of reception!! HOLY CRAP!
I call up the campground that sits far at the end of the road and ask if they know of anyone I could pay to pick me up. She says that, no she doesn't know of anyone who could do that, but gives me the number of the local park rangers. I call them next, explaining about my messed up heel(s) and basically trying to bribe them to pick me up. To my dismay, what happens instead is the launch of a rescue operatioin. I keep telling them that I'm OK, really, it's not an emergency, I can walk out if I have to. But the wheels have begun turning now and I can't seem to stop them. They get my GPS coordinates and tell me to stay put and wait for an update.
I don't feel very good about this. I consider calling them back. I don't want them to use their resources on me. I'm fine really, just with a bad case of tendinitis, mild malnutrition and bush fever. I sit on the side of the road, attempting to dry off my shoes and socks, feeling very uneasy, when...
Could it be?
I hear the distinct sound of a motor and wheels crackling over the gravel road!
I jump out onto the road in my bare feet, hobbling and waving my arms like a fool! Humans! With a car!
A bewildered young couple stop their car, and I explain my situation, talking a little too fast. They take pity on me and load me into their car. I apologize for my smell. I call the park ranger back and tell her not to worry, that I've been picked up. She says, "Ok, I'll tell my team to stand down the operation".
Jesus. What did I almost start there?
The couple take me to a campsite 10 k up the road. Then a park ranger takes me another 5 k from there. I hobble for another few hours, and eventually hit a busy road where a Quebecois couple in a Vanagon pick me up and bring me to the campsite. From there I get a ride with two friendly stoner dudes who get me all the way to Canmore, and before I know it, a mom taking her daughter to nature camp drops me off at the main drag of Banff, Alberta.
I check into my hotel and moan with gratitude in the shower as I watch the grey water swirl down the drain. As I ascend the steps of the burger and beer joint, the anticipation and desire come to a head and I literally begin to hyperventilate.
I grip the banister for a moment, breathe deeply, and calm myself, and then proceed to eat nearly 5000 calories over the next 3 hours.