September 5, 2015
I'm back in Bozeman now, and my Baptiste hitch is officially over for the year. My last day was a long one and a wet one, with a bit of misadventure at the end.
Because of the way the fire season had transpired, I'd told the Forest Service that I'd stay at Baptiste until lunchtime, to minimize the time the tower was vacant before the next lookouts showed up. It proved to be a mostly unnecessary gesture, though, because it rained lightly nearly the entire day ... the last weather report I prepared for Dispatch recorded a temperature of 37 degrees, with 88% relative humidity and .28" of precip. I put a couple of big plastic tubs under the tower eaves to catch rainwater for the next lookout, and spent the morning cleaning the cab and restocking firewood.
When Charlie and I finally did head out, we made good time down the soggy trail. I was a little wistful about leaving, but Charlie seemed eager to get back to our low-elevation life. He was a little surprised to meet another dog on the trail near the lower end of Silver Basin; it was accompanied, of course, by the two humans who were struggling up the trail to take the next lookout shift. They were the first people I'd seen in over 10 days. We talked for a few minutes, and all headed on to our respective adventures.
The rain finally let up just before I made it to the road, and the instant I saw my little Subaru waiting for me I pushed the key fob button to unlock the doors. But ... nothing happened. It took me a minute to accept the realization that my car's battery was completely dead, and that I was stranded on a remote logging road that wasn't likely to see another car until the next lookout shift change in 10 days. Crap.
Luckily, I had a Forest Service transit radio with me, and I was able to reach my friend Kjell, who'd taken over the post at Firefighter Lookout a couple of days before. he relayed my distress call to the ranger district, and eventually it was decided that the guy in charge of the lookout program would come down to jumpstart me. I waited in my silent, humid car with a wet dog until the noble Leif got to me about an hour and a half later, and I was saved.
It felt a little weird to finally made it to a paved road and the little town of Hungry Horse, were I found other people to talk to, a convenience store to visit, and indoor plumbing to enjoy. I wasn't sure if I approved, or not ... but that's the way it was, and I still had five hours of driving ahead of me to get home.