The CDT through hikers didn't know what to make of the sight in front of them. Which happened to be me, running up a dirt road 15 miles from the nearest paved road – at dusk – with no gear, no water, and asking them how much further the trailhead was. "I don't know, man. Maybe another mile, but there's no one up there, just a few cars." Their faces were equally shocked when I returned a few minutes later with one of those cars and offered up a ride. After loading their gear, the 3 of us drove down the road a few miles to where Erin was hanging out, drinking one of the beers I had stashed in my pack for just this moment - the one signifying that the shit-show of the past 48 hours had run it's course.
Erin introduced herself and chatted with the hikers, while I loaded our gear into the car. Noticing our paddles, pfds, and huge packs, they were inquisitive and excited to hear what we had been up to. Erin let them have it. She told them how yesterday we had hiked down Lodgepole Creek and put-in on the Middle Fork of the Flathead. She told them how the only thing tinier than our packrafts were the cfs pumping through the river.
She told how she had struggled with her paddle from the start. This had not been the same casual big river float she had been use to. It was work. By the time our party had pulled into camp for the night she was soaked and shivering, her legs were sore from the 11 mile hike in, and her forearm was sore from fighting with the river for 3 miles.
In the morning, the soreness had only increased in her wrist and forearm. Every stroke equaled pain. She told of how herself and I abandoned the river and left Dave and Meredith to run the rest on their own. And, after bushwhacking "up a mountain", she had staggered along 13 miles of trail to reach this moment, and this beer.
One of the CDT hikers laughed, shook her head and said "Well, were you doing what you wanted to be doing?"
Up until that moment, Erin hadn't really thought about it, but when presented with that question she naturally thought about what else she would be doing had she not been right there, right now. She probably thought about taking care of her 3 children, and how draining they can be. She probably thought about her 2 jobs, and how draining they can be. She probably thought briefly about every other stressful situation in her life, and realized that she had not thought about them at all - for an entire weekend. On top of that she entered into a trip which she viewed as way above her head, and she pulled it off. Sure, plans changed. Sure, we didn't run the whole Middle Fork, but there we were driving down a dirt road off the edge of Glacier National Park, toasting to an adventure in the bag.
So, Erin thought about all that for a moment, and responded that yes—surprisingly, yes—she was doing exactly what she wanted to be doing. And then, she smiled.