Section D, Day 1: Bushwacking, Boletes and a Bear
Updated: Aug 7, 2019
I leave for D late at night the day before day 1, just walking a few K out of town to avoid paying for a motel again. I've noticed that my mood really has started to shift on my town days. I begin feeling happy and grateful for all the nice things: Food, bed, hot water. But by the end I start to get unbelievably lonely and homesick. Something about being around so many people, but connecting with no-one, makes me feel more lonely than days without seeing anyone at all. I'm feeling lethargic and grumpy about hiking at night, but I know that by the next day I'll start to feel at home in the wild again.
I end up camping next to the parking lot of a tourist attraction, the "natural bridge" rock formation over the Kicking Horse River. It's a good spot, empty, and there are toilets and garbage cans and picnic tables. I wake up early the next morning and eat my breakfast overlooking the river. I'm just finishing my coffee when the first tour bus arrives and within seconds, the formerly peaceful area is thronging with tourists and selfie sticks. My gear is spread out over the table, and I feel at once hyper visible, and totally invisible to the people around me. I'm lonely again and quickly pack up all my things and head back to the trail.
Though it's had some work in the past year, Section D is notorious in its difficulty, with bushwacking, unmaintained trails, tricky route-finding, river crossings and hundreds of blow-downs. For this reason, it's pretty much only GDT hikers who do it. For the most part, day 1 is easy though, on mostly flat trails. Despite some seriously frustrating bushwacking through willows and aspen taller than me, I'm making great time. My back is hurting a bit, but my heel seems all but totally healed.
There are gigantic bolete mushrooms everywhere I look. Red, brown, and creamy canary yellow. Some as large as a dinner plate. I desperately wish that I knew my mushrooms better and could cook some up with my dinner. But I content myself to marvel at the thousands of them as I pass.
I plan to camp just before an easy ford of the Amiskwi river, but as I'm looking around for a flat spot there to pitch my tent, I get a prickling feeling like I'm not alone and turn to see the very large fleeing rump of a grizzly bear! My heart jumps into my throat and I pull our my bear spray and yell my hey bear woah bear's at it in a calm voice just like I'm supposed to. But rather than continuing to run off in the direction it went, it runs back, away from the river again. It rears up on its hind legs for just a moment to get a look better look at me, startles visibly, and continues to run off away from the river. I'm a bit shaken and freaked out, but I'm also laughing because the bear was clearly so much more freaked out than me, and kinda flailed around in it's fear.
I decide to cross the Amiskwi and put a few more kilometers between me and the bear. I find a nice spot and am eating my dinner when I'm passed by another GDT hiker, her trail name is Fireball. She says she is going to try to go further tonight. I'm a bit puzzled by why you would want to keep going so late, especially when you can only go another 20k tomorrow. This is because there's a glacial fed river crossing in 20k and you need to cross it in the morning when the flow is at its lowest. But she's a person on a mission and she is off and gone before I can totally form my thoughts about the river crossing. I worry about this for the rest of the night, but tell myself she must have a plan because warnings about the crossing are all over the trail notes.
I watch the last of the sun creep up the eastern mountain faces through the bug netting of my tent, snug in my down cocoon, until it is only a glimmer of orange alpenglow on the highest peak. It flickers, and goes out, and the walls around me are grey, greyer, dark, I try to stay awake to watch the stars come out, but my last memory is seeing the first one flicker into being. And I'm out.