June 25th – With a shriek I jumped into the Sun River and was out again before the bone-chilling water turned me into a Popsicle. We were on our way to Benchmark, a small guest ranch where we’d be picking up food we’d mailed from Virginia. Poor Yas was feeling sick and so after dropping off our packs at a campsite I stayed with him while the others walked down the road to pick up the supplies. After waiting ages for the other to return, Tim & Dan finally arrived – in a huge pick-up truck.
Apparently they’d gotten 2 different hitches to & from Benchmark from men who turned out to be friends and now we’d been invited to their cabin. Tom Dooley, an octogenarian who referred to his 60 year old neighbors as “girls,” looked like a cross between a truck driver and Santa Claus. His log cabin was epic – covered with gigantic moose, elk and deer head, boasting a roaring campfire and plenty of beer and candy to go around. Dooley’s friend Barry (with dog Yogi) was also a gracious host. The other group of thru-hikers we’d be hop-scotching with (Rolling Thunder, Mike with a Y, Don’t Panic & Wing It) had also found their way to Dooley’s, thinking it was Benchmark.
This was trail magic at its best – spontaneous, unexpected, generous and filled with amazing conversations. The “girls” next door joined us around the campfire with their grandkids for s’mores and told us of their Scandinavian ancestors who had started homesteads in the Montana backcountry. Dooley was a wheat farmer from Great Falls who had done well but retained his working class roots. He was a true legend, the so-called “Mayor of Benchmark” and a first-rate CDT Trail Angel as well.