The day started auspiciously enough, my WarmShowers host, John, in Butte prepared pancakes, bacon, and eggs to send me on my way. The night before we’d roasted coffee beans, those also made an appearance in my never empty morning mug.
What I had initially mistook for clouds out the window turned out to be smoke from the wildfires. The haze had finally outrun me. On the one hand, breathing felt more difficult. The sun became an orange sphere that could never quite burst through the thick layer of gray. As such, it never got all that warm, and the sun only rarely hit my skin in a meaningfully uncomfortable way.
A steep climb on pavement right outside of Butte made way to gravel, as it always does, and some forested vistas formed off of the roadway. The more interesting part of the day, however, was after punching through the forest. Dry, slightly desert-like pasture with cows everywhere. With little tree cover, and fewer trees, the terrain felt more like a high elevation tundra than anything else, even though the elevation was not severe. The road consisted of a for the most part hard-packed sand with some rutting, perhaps evidence of the sloppy conditions when wet.
The day turned out not to be all that long, about 36 miles, but with about 3,200 feet of elevation gain. I met up with two other riders today as well, Zach and Josh. I had made contact with the both of them earlier in the summer, and we are finally united. 36 miles made for an earlier day into camp, for which I was grateful. Rolling in to the Beaver Dam USFS campground at a little after 3:00, my mind was immediately on making some ramen. The smog was thick in the valley of the campground, clinging eerily to the trees at 6,500 feet of elevation, the sun creating a dry haze behind the curtain of smoke.
The nightly fee here is $5 and well worth it. My campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring, adjacent to what I can just make out to be a small stream tucked behind thick brush. Also proximal: pit toilet, water pump, garbage, and bear storage bins, which are quite the luxury!
I made good on the potential that an early arrival brings. After lunch I “bathed” under the water pump, just trying to get the greasy, dusty accumulation off of my calves and the sunscreen off my face. I took plenty of time airing out my tent and sleeping bag, enjoying freeze dried sweet and sour chicken, and organizing the picnic table for the morning.
Now, the light is fading and I can only just make out my keyboard while savoring a hot chocolate. Looking around, the smoke seems permanent, the horizon murky with the shadow of pine trees interspersed with a sea of gray. The lazy rush of the stream will be my white noise for the night. I’m camping with just my ground tarp, forgoing the rest of the tent since it’s relatively warm. I’ll have a great view of the sky. Unfortunately, there will be no stars.