Looking back: the best of 2014

The end of the year draws nigh. On the one hand, I am finding it difficult to imagine how an entire year got away from me. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago I was struggling to sign my checks 2014 instead of 2013?

During this holiday week I have been going back through my files from this year to pull together my best of collection from images for the Daily Inter Lake. I’ll use this same set of photos to decide what entries I want to submit for our annual newspaper competition. The great thing about this is, that even though I feel the days fled far too swiftly, I look back at all that was accomplished and I’m suddenly ok with the changing of the calendar. 2014 was good. So now, before I jump into 2015, I want to take this moment to post my favorite photos from this year.

Most of these are going to be chronological. Most. One exception. This first image is a combination of work. The moon and star is an image I captured from Big Mountain, in Whitefish Montana on April 15th. The “Blood Moon.” My fellow Daily Inter Lake photographer, Patrick Cote, was south of Kalispell photographing the same thing. He created the sequence of shots.

Blood Moon over Whitefish

Some of these photos are going to have notes or short stories. But many times, I am going to simply let the image speak for itself. After all, photojournalism is supposed to be about story-telling images, I’m going to them tell their own stories. At least, that is my plan at this point…

Washing Windows

Sunset Peaks

Flathead Girls vs CMR

Boys Basketball: Flathead vs Missoula Hellgate

Class AA State Speech and Debate Award Ceremony

Newspaper work involves an unbelievable amount of driving around, randomly searching for subject matter. You drive the speed limit, even a bit bellow, carefully scanning for signs of some human out living their life. It’s called wild art and most photographers that I have met, hate it. It’s hard. Sometimes you are looking for hours and there are just no people. That’s when you get desperate and start looking for pretty leaves, crazy squirrels, interesting bugs, anything!… Winter is particularly hard. In the summer everyone is outside, in the cold…not so much. That’s when finding a kid out playing street hockey in the middle of the road feels like a prayer has been answered! Yeah! A person! A person outside! A person outside doing something! A person outside doing something that I can photograph for the front page! Thank God my job is saved….

Snowy Street Hockey

Scene from a homicide in Hungry Horse on Valentine’s Day.

Fatal Shooting in Hungry Horse

Profile: Travis Davison

Trumpeter Swans on Flathead Lake

Pond Hockey Tournament

2014_Best_of_12

Crosstown

Hope for Noah

All Saints' Episcopal Church Annual Chili Open and Golf Tournament

My friend Jake Bramante has not only hiked all 734 miles of trail in Glacier National Park, he created a map and hiking guide based on his personal experience. This guy is fantastic. If you are day dreaming of a trip to Montana to see the famous park check out www.hike734.com

New Map of Day Hikes from Jake Bramante and Hike 734

Zachary Klundt in Court

Wrestling: Glacier vs Helena High

Little Guy Wrestling

This photo is a sunrise over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. I like this first version. But I keep getting out voted. Most people like the second version. Including USA Today. Montana was voted the state with the most pride and they used on of my photos to illustrate the story. 🙂

http://archive.courier-journal.com/usatoday/article/8140879

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Stocking the pond at Dry Bridge Park

Hiking the Highline

Lunch at Logan Pass

Easter at Fresh Life Church. Followed by Pastor Levi Lusko preaching.

Fresh Life Easter

Fresh Life Easter

Swing dancing is one of the great loves of my life. This is my instructor Peter Flahiff, dancing with my friend Miss Caitlin Hills.Dancing the night away

 

Drop Everything and Move at Hedges

Montana SunsetSunset view of Big Mountain

Montana Spartan Sprint Race 2014Florence Nightingale's Birthday

 

This Week in the Flathead: Bibler Gardens

Just another day of driving down the road in Montana…

Bear in Glacier

Memorial Day Ceremony in Columbia Falls

Sunset StrollMontana High School Rodeo State Finals

 

Montana High School Rodeo State Finals

Harlow

Not all the stories are fun. There was a fire at a local mill. In the initial reports 60 people were unaccounted for. This is the group of guys who got in my face and tried to physically intimidate me in an attempt to keep me from taking photographs. I understand the high emotions of the day, but I have a job to do, even when some people don’t like me doing my job.

Fire at Plum Creek

 

 

Mary Lloyd Retires

Father's Day

Montana Life: The Lens Hub

This Week in the Flathead: Swing Dancing Style

This Week in the Flathead: Swing Dancing Style

Deer at Dawn

Deer at Dawn

Sunrise Meadow

Driving up to North Glacier

Every year, when Going-to-the-Sun Road is finally plowed and opened to the public, the first vehicle in is one of the famed red buses. Rhonda Hendricks, always wanted to be on one of those first buses. This year, with months to live, Hendricks got her wish. Here is the caption:

Rhonda Hendricks takes in the view of the Logan Pass Visitor Center from the famous red bus that carried her and her family up Going-to-the-Sun Road, officially opening the road for the season, on Tuesday, July 2, in Glacier National Park. Hendricks’ family managed to keep the surprise bus tour a secret until the day of. Doug Hendricks, her husband commented that is was wonderful to see her so grateful that she became tearful. The ride was a highly emotional one. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Opening the Road

Fourth of July Golf Tournament

Moonset

Photographing fly fishing is kind always special to me. I loved the book A River Runs Through It, and although this isn’t that river, there is just something about fly fishing in Montana. Later this year, I got to go on float trip/fly fishing expedition. I caught my first fish! It was spectacular. Cold. But worth it.

Montana Life: Cork Coffee Mug

2014_Best_of_54

National Dance Day

Double Rainbow over Flathead Lake

The home coming of pilot of No. 6  Major Jason Curtis, a graduate of Flathead High School, and the United States Air Force Thunderbirds was one of the biggest stories of the year. The Tunderbirds performed for two days at the air show which was attended by 25,000 people.

Major Jason Curtis returns to Flathead High School

Thunderbirds Practice

Mountain Madness Air ShowMountain Madness Air Show

Mountain Madness Air Show

North End Swing's annual Smooth Sailing event

Acknowledging Veterans of the Korean War

Cabo Survivor Returns to Montana

Glacier Starscape

2nda Annual Pink Me Up Run

Creston Sunrise

Fire Prevention Week

Black Swan Cygnets

Fall Football Fun

Profile: Halladay Quist

Veteran Profile: James Edmiston

Veterans Day at Whitefish High School

Glacier vs C.M. Russell: State Championships

Glacier vs C.M. Russell: State Championships

 

 

Profile: Micah Groschupf

Hockaday figurines at the KM Building

Montana Life: Freeman Leather

Montana Life: Freeman Leather

This final portrait is of my favorite story of the year. Mr. Wayne Bolton is a former Untied States Marine who survived the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. I got to tell his story in both words and images. https://brendaahearn.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/remembering-chosin/

Remembering Chosin

 

 

 

 

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Sunrise is always worth the risk.

Heaven's Peak at Dawn

It’s only mid-afternoon, but already it feels as if today has been a very long day. I know that this is to be expected when I go to sleep at 10 p.m. and set my first alarm for 2 a.m. in the morning. Why the strange hours? Why else? Sunrise.

Sunrise is always worth the effort. Sunrise is always worth the risk. Set the alarms. Drag myself out of bed. Shower and make ready. I am up well before dawn chasing a dream in my waking hours.  To capture the spectacular moment when the light, all golden and glowing, first touches the earth. It is a dream worth waking up early for, but as I make my preparations I do so knowing there are no guarantees with sunrise.

Maybe all that magical light I’ve been dreaming of will stay locked away and hidden behind a dense and deeply frustrating cloud bank. Maybe the colors in my imagination are too vivid and the reality will end up softer, more muted. And we’re talking about sunrise in the mountains. Mountains tend to draw in their very own weather patterns which are impossible to predict even from so short a distance away as 60 miles. Logan Pass really isn’t that far away from Kalispell. But the mountains make all the difference. You can have bright blue skies here in Kalipsell and snow storms over in Coram. And vice versa. There is just no telling.

So I get up. Always take a shower, otherwise I’d be considerably more likely to fall asleep while driving in the wee small hours. Gather my gear. And go. I go hoping. My very version of the leap of faith.

This morning I did not get what I wanted at all. I wanted an East-side sunrise. This is important to me because I know Logan Pass will be closing even before coming snow forces the road closed. They are doing a lot of construction up there and the tourist traffic slows that down. I want a sunrise looking out over Saint Mary’s Lake.

Turns out, Logan Pass is open. Except at night. At night the road is closed from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. and from 2:15 a.m. until 7 a.m. I’m up at the park pretty early, but I not early enough to meet that short window. I got to The Loop at 4:30 on the nose just in time to greet a guard telling me I could go no further. He was as kind as he could be, but I was highly disappointed.

Hours later the sun starts to come up. I wasn’t going to get the sunrise I had so wanted. This particular sunrise was shall we saw less than awe-inspiring. Light clouds washed everything out leaving the mountains and vistas flat, boring compared to how it could be.

But there was one moment. One moment to redeem the day. One moment to make the effort worthwhile. I had parked at the top of The Loop facing Heaven’s Peak (elevation 8,987). And that snow-capped mountain caught the very first rays of light. Just enough to light up the very top. One brilliant spot of gold against a vibrant blue sky and a mostly silhouetted base. Black and blue and flaming gold. Definitely worth the drive. Definitely worth the effort. Always worth the risk.

And hey, it’s not as if I turned around and left at this point. No-no. I went up to Logan. And I saw my first big horn sheep. Four of them. Very large. And not the least bit afraid of me. They let me get close.

I still want that East-side sunrise. And I know I have to go soon. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to drag myself out of bed again that early on Saturday. Even if I don’t get exactly the photos I want I know I will leave the park with a deep sense of satisfaction. You see, even when I don’t get what I am dreaming of, I can be happy, even proud, knowing that I did not simply let the moments and opportunities pass me by. I would rather risk a sunrise that doesn’t quite thrill the photographer in me, than sleep in and wake up after the sun, wishing I had risen earlier.

That's my jeep that this guy just strolled alongside of...I'm going to have my jeep in the newspaper. : )

Eavesdropping and its consequences…

For those of you who know me even a little, you know I hate to be late. I literally can’t stand it. I will go way out of my way and even arrive half an hour or more early rather than being even one minute late. In part this behavior is based on the fact that I think being late is rude. Another part of it is that while the subjects of my photos can keep me waiting indefinitely sometimes, I must not be late because once the moment has passed there is no calling it back. Staged photos are not only abhorrent they are an absolute ethical no-no. And part of it is that being early gives me the opportunity to calm down. To settle into my environment. To look around. Take deep breaths. And start thinking like a photographer. I like having time in advance of an assignment to really get my mind into gear.

Or all of those could be excuses and I am simply OCD when it comes to clocks.

Either way, this being early habit of mine has served me well over the years. I like to sneak in. Find my spot. And the quietly watch before I break out the camera and start making my presence known. One such day, when I was again obsessively early, was last year at the Veterans Day Ceremony in Whitefish. The event was held inside the school gym and I arrived, made my way into the bleachers and sat to watch and wait.

Soon enough the crowd filled in around me and I was joined by a woman who I later learned was named Leslie. She sat right beside me and was telling her neighbor about a project she was helping a friend with. Her friend, Joan, the widow of a man named Alf Binnie, was preparing to send Alf’s guitar to the War Museum in Ottawa. It was impossible for me not to hear this story. As I said they were right beside me. And of course, I am a journalist. And to my ears this sounded like a cool story.
So, I gathered up my courage (it ways takes a bit of courage to make oneself look like a complete idiot) and introduced myself. Here I am. Photographer from the Daily Inter Lake. So sorry to rudely eavesdrop on your story, but really, I couldn’t help myself. Anyway… Would you mind telling me that again and possibly let me do a story on this for the newspaper?

I really love and hate this part of being a journalist. Usually when I do something like this it works wonderfully. People say yes. They would love to have their story told. The are delighted to help me with whatever I need for the photos. And sometimes people even are grateful that someone thinks what they are doing is worth that kind of attention. Some people take my interest as a compliment. But not everybody feels that way. Some people can be quite mean. That doesn’t happen often. I smile a lot and most people are kind, but I never really know what I am going to get when I strike up these conversations. And when they don’t want to tell me their story, or when they are mean, that’s when I really feel like an idiot.
But Leslie was delighted.

Leslie wanted the story told and was happy to help me make that happen.
So, Leslie is helping Joan. They are boxing up papers and bits of historical whatnot to send north. You see, Joan’s late husband, Alf, was a World War II veteran. A man who had been shot down. Survived. And then survived more than four years as a prisoner of war. This story could have easily died with him, but he left behind a tangible piece of his story. A piece that he carried with him from camp to camp all through the war. A guitar. That is what they were sending to Ottawa. Alf Binnie’s guitar. Of course, by this time I am completely hooked on the story and I asked if I could come and take pictures as they pull all this stuff together. And they said yes.
The photos came out really quite well. Considering that Alf couldn’t be part of it, there were plenty of items to document. He didn’t smoke so he saved up his cigarets and traded them with a guard for a guitar. He still had the original receipt. There is a photo of Alf and some of the other prisoners who formed a band and did concerts for their fellow captives. The guards even let them print flyers, and Alf had saved one of those. He still had his log book with the penciled-in entry: March 12, 1941 — Shot down over Holland.
And of course there was the guitar itself. A beautiful old thing made even more precious because of how far it had come. As a prisoner Alf was forced to moved to various prisons through the years. Long marches. Horrific conditions. And still he held onto that guitar.

I didn’t want to write this story, just photograph it. So I spoke to Lynette, one of the editors I work with. Lynette wrote the story. I did the photos. And we published it in our Montana Life section. That could have been the end of this story but I uploaded the photos to the AP many months later I was contacted by a writer doing a piece for Premier Guitar who wanted to use my photos to go with his story.

Today I got to see what they did with my photos. I requested a few copies of the magazine for myself and for Leslie and Joan. They arrived just this morning. There is only one thing I am disappointed in. The story reads: “The story of Binnie’s POW guitar came to light earlier this year in the tiny Daily Inter Lake newspaper in Kalispell, Montana. An editor there became aware of…” It should say, a photographer, not an editor. This was my story. But such is life.

The original guitar receipt dated February 5, 1942.

This is the first time I have had my photos have appeared in a magazine like this. And the magazine used a lot more of the stills I did of the guitar than we were able to use in the Inter Lake. This story came to mean quite a lot to me as I did the photos. Partly because I really enjoyed meeting Leslie and Joan. Partly because I am the daughter of a veteran and love doing stories about the people who serve. And partly because I found this story. I claim it as mine, even though I didn’t write it, and it grew far beyond my “tiny” newspaper. In the end it comes back to listening, to eavesdropping and paying attention to what is going on around me. I always keep a special place in my heart for stories like this one. The stories I find, the stories I tell, they become part of my story. And as it turns out, sometimes, eavesdropping has some wonderful consequences.

To find the hard copy of the story check out the August edition of Premier Guitar. The story is titled: Inseparable and was written by Craig Havighurst and is on page 135. The story is also online at:
http://www.premierguitar.com/Magazine/Issue/2011/Aug/Inseparable_Alf_Binnie_And_His_Archtop.aspx

Connections and the very cool things that come my way…

Connections. That’s how I got my latest story. And it’s a good story…

Last week a friend of mine from choir, Miss Nancy, emailed me that she had two guests staying with her. A former student of hers and a friend of a friend. This friend of a friend turned out to be a guy catching a ride from the Portland area to Glacier. His name is Kevin DeGraw and he was headed this way because he was about to begin hiking the Continental Divide Trail from Canada to Mexico. Nancy is pretty cool and she knew this is exactly the kind of thing that would interest me, so she gave me the heads up and got us connected.

I got to speak with Kevin a little, enough to tell him I work for the local paper and would love to do some photos of him. We traded numbers and made plans to meet at sunrise at Two Medicine in East Glacier. For me to get to Two Medicine at sunrise I have to leave my house at 2 a.m. I both love and hate sunrise for this reason. Anyhow…

Friday arrives. My first alarm goes off at midnight. I do this because I always ignore the first alarm and end up actually waking up about an hour later. At 1 a.m. it’s time to get out of bed, shower, get ready and get on the road. I’m always a little trepidatious traveling at this time day (or night). Pitch Black. Plus fog. Plus the ever present possibility of large wildlife wandering out onto the road I am speeding down.

I got to Two Medicine without incident. The thick fog did slow me down in sections, but I still got there well before first light. The wind was unbelievable. Violent. Enough that when I parked the Jeep the vehicle continued to rock and sway a bit. Enough that when I got out I was nearly blown over. Enough that I had serious issues keeping my tripod from tipping over. The only good out of all this wind was there was more than enough wind to make bug spray unnecessary. If I can barely walk, there is no way the mosquitoes can fly. Ha!

I love the blue hours before sunrise and after sunset. I had the whole place to myself and so I decided to play with long exposures and flash. This was my favorite picture from Two Medicine and we ran it in the next day’s paper.

Once the sun was up I headed for the camp ground to look for Kevin and the group he was with. This plan was far from perfect. Neither of us had cell service in Two Med. So basically I am going to drive/walk around the camp grounds looking for a guy without a car packing up at about 730 and preparing to hike to East Glacier. In retrospect this plan definitely could have used some more work.

I drove around the various lots. I’m sure the people sleeping in really loved me for that. Very few people were up and about at that time, but I knew to disregard anyone with a car. He’s walking the CDT. He won’t have a car parked near his tent. Finally I spotted a man slowly packing up and starting his day. No vehicle. So, I decided to stop and see if he knew the person I was looking for.

If you are going to dream of becoming a professional photographer keep in mind that one of the things you MUST possess is a willingness to look and sound like a complete idiot. Sometimes there really is nothing else you can do but walk up to a stranger and say “Hi. My name is Brenda Ahearn. I am the photographer from the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. I am looking for a group of guys who are hiking the Continental Divide Trail. One of them is named Kevin. I don’t suppose you have any idea where I might find these individuals do you?” It just sounds dumb. I also think that when I say things like this what ever I am suggesting sounds unreasonable and/or so unlikely as to be impossible to believe. I always expect the person I am saying this stuff to to look at me as if I have lost my marbles.

That wasn’t the what happened on Friday. “That’s us,” he says. “But Kevin isn’t with us.”

What?

What do you mean he’s not here?

I convinced my boss to let me drive all the way out here to photograph this guy! Where else could he possibly be?!

Flop, the trail name of the guy I am speaking with tells me that Kevin had decided to hike on last night to East Glacier. Apparently Flop, Irish and Free Radical were going to be going a different route than Kevin so they had parted company the night before.

My irritation level at this point is pretty high. Fortunately, I also thought the whole incident was rather humorous so I was able to chuckle as I drove back from Two Med to East Glacier where hopefully I would have cell service and hopefully Kevin would have cell service and with any luck at all, I’d still manage to find him and do the story and photos. Ok. Here we go. Round Two.

East Glacier. It’s now 6:45 a.m. I have no idea where to look for this guy so in spite of the unforgivable hour of the morning I decide to call. Kevin answers. He wasn’t fully awake yet, but he also wasn’t completely asleep so I don’t feel too bad about rousing him before 7 in the morning. He needs to get ready so I tell him where I am parked and he joins me not too long after.

Kevin was absolutely fascinating to talk to. He’s living a life I can’t even wrap my brain around. That morning out on the lake, I had started to psych myself out wondering about the possible locations of grizzly bears, wondering if that day might be the day that I accidentally stumble upon one of the giant predators and end up dying rather than coming home with lovely shots of the park. Kevin was soon telling me that just the other day they had seen a mother grizzly with two cubs. She charged at them. A grizzly bear charged at them. That isn’t a life experience that I want. That’s the kind of life experience I prefer to avoid. But it’s also the kind of story that I love to hear.

Kevin and the story of his hike are going to be this week’s Montana Life. Since I was leaving at O dark thirty in the morning and since Kevin wasn’t going to have much cell service the only logical thing to do was for me to write the story. I don’t do this very often for the paper, but when the right story comes along I genuinely enjoy doing both the photos and quotes.

We talked as Kevin made his plans, checked his maps, gathered supplies, and packed his bag. I can’t remember now, but I think it was after noon or after 1 p.m. that we parted company. There is so much to tell, but rather than going into all of that I have decided to publish the story I wrote for the paper here.

So here it is: Going for the Triple Crown. Story and photos by Brenda Ahearn.

: )

First photos: Kevin making his plan for six days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

It’s a lazy Friday morning in the lobby of the Glacier Park Lodge in East Glacier.
Guests are starting to wander, getting breakfast, packing their cars, checking out the hotel gift shops and finally checking out. The pace of the morning is leisurely.
That is not the case for Kevin DeGraw.
DeGraw is a 31-year-old thru-hiker from Vancouver, Wash. He has taken over a table in the lobby which he fills with maps. He is making notations and plans for the days to come. This summer DeGraw is making an attempt to complete the “Triple Crown” of thru-hiking as he walks from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail.
DeGraw began his hike Saturday, July 2. As of July 8 he had covered roughly 94 miles. If his estimates are correct that leaves just over 2,600 miles to go.
Now he’s facing a long stretch through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Six days straight. Maybe eight depending on conditions.
No hotels. No showers. No grocery stores. And probably no cell phone service.
A woman stops as she watches DeGraw concentrating on his maps. She kindly and curiously asks, “Do you know where you are?”
DeGraw smiles.
“I know where we are, but I don’t know where I should be,” he says.
“Well, that’s two different things altogether, isn’t it?” the woman said smiling, and tells him to have a good time.
This random encounter is nothing unusual for DeGraw.
“People are attracted to the trip,” he says. “It can be really helpful, the way people come up to you. You can meet people, make connections, sometimes vital connections with someone who can help you on your way.”
“Actually, my trail name is ‘Freebie.’ I got that name partly because I’ve been pretty good at making those kind of connections.”

Maps by fellow thru-hiker Jonathan Ley.

DeGraw is using a variety of maps for his trek. But the ones he seemed to study the most intently were created by fellow thru-hiker Jonathan Ley of Portland, Ore., who completed the Continental Divide Trail in 2001. The Continental Divide Trail is one of the U.S. National Scenic Trails, following close to the Continental Divide through the Rocky Mountains.
DeGraw became interested in long-distance hikes in 2002.
“My first real trail was the Wonderland Trail,” DeGraw said, referring to a trail 93 miles long encircling Mount Rainier. “I did all the wrong things. I had a 60-pound pack, I wore jeans, I was not prepared. After that I realized if I wanted to do this I needed a different approach.”
“My base weight for this hike is 14 pounds, but that will drop to around 11 once I am out of the winter conditions which I’m hoping will happen near southern Montana.”
His basic setup includes: shorts and a T-shirt for hiking, shorts and a T-shirt for camp, a wool shirt, rain gear, insulated jacket, three pairs of socks, one pair of shoes, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, miscellaneous electronics including an iPod, cell phone, and camera. He also carries an ice ax, crampons and bear spray.
DeGraw has learned a lot as he’s taken on other major thru-hikes. He completed the Appalachian Trail in 2008 and the Pacific Crest Trail in 2009. The Appalachian, the Pacific Crest and the Continental Divide trails are considered the Triple Crown.
“These trails are all about camping, being in the wilderness,” DeGraw said. “They fall into one category because of their length and the nature of the hike.”
DeGraw plans to leave East Glacier and make his way south through the Bob Marshall Wilderness to Benchmark Wilderness Guest Ranch in Fairfield. The ranch serves as a mail-drop location for hikers on the Continental Divide.
“If you go to a town along a major trail and want to see thru-hikers you go to the post office, the library or the cheapest grocery store,” said DeGraw. Thru-hikers will frequently mail themselves supplies. DeGraw could mail a package to his next stop, but that is not part of his plan. “My style is much less structured than some other thru-hikers, which may prove to be a strength on this hike, or completely disastrous.”

At the Glacier Park Trading Company DeGraw picks up a basket and begins to hunt through the aisles. He tends to eat about two pounds of food per day. “I have a horrendous diet out on the trail, but I justify it with how many calories I’m burning.”
As he makes his selections he says “This isn’t how I eat, this is how Freebie eats.”
Decisions are made based on the weight of the food and the price. Health is not a factor.
Two loaves honey whole grain bread. Two boxes of doughnuts. Two bags of corn chips which he ruthlessly crushes — when you are trying to pack 8 days worth of food there is no room for bags full of air. Grape jelly. Creamy peanut butter. Two blocks of Monterey Jack cheese. Two cans of peanuts. Snack backs of sunflower seeds, roasted peanuts and crackers and cheese. Two Snickers bars. One large bag of peanut M&Ms. Four bags of dehydrated potatoes and a couple packs of Raman noodles.
Once he picks up the basics he heads to a table at the back of the store. He spreads out his items and then begins to more closely comparison shop. When all is said and done he types the weight into his phone and comes up with 263 ounces. That’s 16.4 pounds and just where he wanted to be for the eight day hike. Grand total: $71.54. Now for the hard part, making it all fit into his backpack.
“My favorite saying on the trail is from Ray Jardine’s book ‘Beyond Backpacking.’ ‘If I need it, and I don’t have it, then I don’t need it.’”
“I like that saying a lot and I use it in my own life off the trail as well as on,” said DeGraw. “I think it’s a great motto. It fits with my whole simplicity goal.”

Kevin's Trip Journal

“After you’ve hiked for a while you know what you like and what you don’t,” said DeGraw. “Everything with you must have a purpose. The longer the hike the less a person brings. It’s kind of counter-intuitive, but you’ve thought about every single item you bring with you knowing you’ll have to carry it.”
“I tend to be a bit of a minimalist. I don’t like to plan too far ahead because I don’t know exactly where I’ll be or what I’ll want when I’m there.”
One of the unique challenges of this hike is isolation. DeGraw expects the Continental Divide Trail to be more of a solo hike.
“I think this is going to be a trail that offers me the chance for more personal growth. I’m going to see how I handle being alone,” said DeGraw. “There is a chance I won’t see any other thru-hikers for most of the four months. With this trail the challenge isn’t how to get time to yourself, the challenge is connecting with other thru-hikers.”

Thru-hikers Money Shot, E-Blanket, Trainwreck, Abear and Freebie check their map one last time as they prepare to leave East Glacier for Marias Pass on Friday, July 8.

He found that in East Glacier.
As he began organizing his food supplies a fellow thru-hiker comes in, takes one look at DeGraw and his gear and says “Are you Freebie?” And just like that he has met up with “Money Shot” Mark Dupray of Denver, Colo,. and “Abear” Drew Herbert of Shreveport, La.
“I knew Money Shot and Abear were in the area. They were the ones I was hoping to catch. In thru-hiking you always have at least a vague sense of who is around you. Thru-hiking is a pretty close community,” said DeGraw. “I didn’t personally know these guys, but I knew of them. Abear and Trainwreck hiked the Pacific Crest Trail the same year I did. We know a lot of the same people.”
DeGraw has to finish packing, but he asks if he can join them today as they head for Marias Pass. They are on their way to breakfast and they make plans to meet up when everyone is ready to go.

DeGraw finishes packing his food, and finds Abear outside talking with “Free Radical,” Wade Koech of East Berlin, Pa., one of the hikers with whom DeGraw came down from Canada. Free Radical is also heading to Marias Pass, but he is catching a ride. DeGraw asks if he can take his food for him and Free Radical agrees. They’ll meet up at Marias that night. For DeGraw, Friday becomes a day of “slack-packing.” He’s still hiking, but it’s at least one day where he’ll walk lighter without his food.
The group is joined by “E-Blanket” and “Trainwreck,” Emily Aston of San Diego, Calf., and Stephanie White of Crested Butte, Colo. With that the five set off back into Glacier.
“In thru-hiking, part of the appeal is usually to get away from everyone,” DeGraw said. “On the other trails you have to work to find a way to be alone. On this trail you have to find a way to be with other people. Even though I’ll be hiking ‘with them’ we may not see each other more than an hour or so per day.”
The five hikers take one last look at their map. The day is going to be clear and bright. They head into the park looking forward to the day of travel and the shared life experience.
“Thru-hiking fits in with the simplicity I seek in life. I enjoy it,” said DeGraw. “There is nothing else to think about when you are in a river up to your waist, you are only thinking of how to cross that river. It’s very in the present moment. And even when you do start to make plans for the future, they are close plans. You are looking for the next meal, the next place to get water, the next camp site, the next store.” All of life gets simplified. And the simplicity is my favorite thing.”
“This life is uncomplicated. I find myself in a better place when I’m out here, I’m better as a whole, when I’m living this way” said DeGraw. “Out here, I find, it all comes together.”

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