“I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected
enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired, to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral
of our divinity and still be a human.” -Maynard Keenan
This last week of trekking began with an air of uncertainty. Steady and I decided to attack the venerable Wind River Range with separate routes. This has been the longest we have been solo on this trail. I took a high mountain route that started at Gunsight Pass at the northern entrance of The Wind River Mountains. Unfortunately, on the yonder side of the pass there is an active forest fire that has closed the trail. I know the smoke is horrible for my breathing but the strong scent of burning evergreens and aspens painted some pleasant memories of Christmas Tree hunting when I was young. I bushwhacked through hundreds of blown down trees with a trekking pole in one hand and my GPS in the other. I crossed the paludal Roaring Fork Creek depression and eventually emerged 3 miles later on the closed trail descending onto the banks of the beautiful Green River. I probably saw 30 hikers on that stretch of trail and felt like a bad ass powering past them on my strong trail hardened legs.
I have to preface this next paragraph by saying that along with Evolution Basin in the High Sierras and my summit of Katahdin in Maine at the conclusion of my Appalachian thru hike; the Wind River Mountain Range ranks in the top three of the most awe inspiring places that I have backpacked. It’s one of those places you have to experience it to believe it. However, by day two the trouble began early. I was rudely awakened by a deluge of rain at 6:30 am. I was cowboy camping (sans tarp) and started the day already behind the 8 ball with a soaking wet sleeping bag, socks, shoes, and backpack. It was extremely difficult walking after that. I found myself constantly being rattled and hurried by reverberating thunder and lightening strikes. Often times the trail would inexplicably disappear or seemingly false cairns placed that misdirected my orientation. On top of these constant colluding factors was my consistent fatigue and speeding heart rate from the ultra steep gradients, boulder scrambles and thunder inspired adrenaline flow. I fell down four times in two days narrowly missing a particularly nasty, upright and protruding tree limb mere inches from impaling my gaunt abdomen. I also rolled my left ankle severely and hobbled to camp on day three where I set up my tarp in marble sized hail and granite resonating thunder boomers. I endured two electrical storms throughout my days above tree line and never slept as peacefully as I would have liked. I compare this section of trail to a mixed martial arts fight. I was lucky to watch one of my best friends training partner fight on national TV in Dubois last week. His name is Matt Manzares and he represents the Black Dragon Mixed Martial Arts Gym in Cheyenne, WY. Coming off a severe knee injury, he was fighting the younger brother of a UfC fighter. He eventually won the fight with an unexpected and devastating arm bar but he took a number of hard strikes in the previous round. That was like me in the Winds. After a few days of being constantly battered something goes off inside and it becomes personal. Context is everything. I remember seeing an episode of Northern Exposure the TV series back when I owned a TV. The town radio DJ and local philosopher, Chris wrote a paper about striking out in baseball. His English teacher called it cliché and simplistic. The details are a bit blurry to me but somehow Chris had his teacher take his place at home plate. Every pitch that sailed past his teacher made him exponentially more frustrated and increased his desire to simply connect with the spiraling sphere until the final pitch. After striking out and completely dejected and humiliated it became more than a mere English paper. Like a lump of visceral failure hitting him in the gut amidst the smell of dirt and the taunts of Chris he finally understood the context. It’s one thing to write and read about hiking solo in the Winds over 7 days, famished, blistered, bruised, drenched, and frightened over steep mountainous terrain but entirely different in that moment.
It was at the base of the Cirque of the Towers I had a paroxysm of ecstatic reverence and epiphany. Staring up at the towering granite, jagged spires eating my lunch by the aptly named Lonesome Lake and observing the ominous gathering storm clouds, I decided to stop hurrying and embrace the chaos. Strangely, once I resigned myself to the fact I was going to get bombarded by lightening; it never came.
I am currently in the lively and outdoorsy city of Lander, WY camping for free at the city park. It’s awesome to chill out with fellow SOBO hikers, soak my swollen ankles in the river, sink some pints of beer and share our Winds horror stories;
summer life is great! -Skeeter