“the bully comes in – kicks the newsboy you know where – & begins ripping away at the audio repairman’s shirt…the column of faces – all together know – a munching chorus “DONT GET KILLED NOW” – repeat – “dont get killed now”
-words from Dylan’s Tarantula
Mystery, the word now has new meaning. The night ended exhausted with rains spraying around in the moonlight. Darkness on the back country trails is quite interesting. Pitch black at time to conserve the emergency blue flashlight, climbing the switchbacks became increasingly difficult and reassurances to my companion were meant to curb fear as well as make enough noise to avoid surprising a bear. A few hours earlier, things seemed on a totally different course.
The precursor was a black bear. Visitors too close near the general store deluded themselves into believing that the Yellowstone bears are docile and approachable. After assisting the bear in its goal of crossing the bridge by yelling for amateur wildlife photographers to get back, I was forced to pursue and chase the bear away from the campground which became an hour long affair.
Anze from Slovenia was waiting at the picnic tables of the store after his shift to decide upon a day hike. We met the previous night at the Roosevelt bar where we talked of status quo and his desire to learn about America. The porch outside the restaurant and bar served as a good spot for jive and fine spirits which before being cut short inspired an idea for a great hike. “This is Teddy Roosevelt’s country and I’ll show you around soon.”
The morning came and the plan was to meet on the porch again for coffee and game face preparation. Anze in sneakers and one of his coworkers at the general store who was taking the summer off from Los Angeles were in for a good workout. The Garnet Hill loop is a little over eight miles and has small elevation changes along the way. Packed simple for the hike with an ounce of water for each mile. A light rain hit our backs as we made our way into the trail, passing elk carcasses in the sage brush and the raging Yellowstone River. Little ground squirrels and distant pronghorn were the primary wildlife sightings even though bears were reported on the trail and one according to a visitor bluff charged.
At break Anze mentioned three Americans who were on walkabout from San Francisco to New York City. “Met them yesterday. They carry all they need and started back in March. Said they were going to hike the loop.” With only a mile left, we had to carefully avoid a couple bison and hop across minor creeks and rabid marmots before making it back to the road and civilization on the porch of Roosevelt. Just as I took my boots off, Anze pointed out the walkabout Americans. Slightly exhausted, it did not seem prudent to approach them with conversation. A chug of some energy drink changed that and I jumped off the porch and walked on over to them.
The three of them were taking turns using the shower that is provided for the rental cabins of Xanterra resorts within the Park. Two from Hawaii and one from Napa, California had just finished their time serving their country in the Army. The website to learn about them is www.thegreatamericanwalkabout.com
“We served this country and now want to see what we were fighting for, so we will walk through it all.” The journey has not been easy according to the young former medic. His hair was long and had a chill quality that is common of those who serve in the segment of the military that does not require crew cuts. While walking through a town of pampered ignorants they took a shortcut through a country club, an older gentleman hit golf balls at them and struck the veteran. “What the heck man?” They approached their assailant cautiously and were met by an enraged golfer in typical costume who had his driver ready to swing and said, “you long-haired faggots better get out of this club before we fuck you up!” They quickly made their way out and spent the night in a shed as similar to Easy Rider were not welcomed by a town that flew American flags in hypocritical fashion.
I tried to change the subject to opportunities within the Park for them to enjoy. They were under the impression that camping in Yellowstone required a $20 permit and did not look forward to that prospect as they were limited in funds. I reassured them that whoever told them that was lying and after saying goodbye to my earlier hiking companions led them to the ranger station. At the back country office we gave them proper permits and direction on the trails to Mammoth Hot Springs which of course was free and welcoming news for three Americans looking to experience Yellowstone National Park which was established for the enjoyment of all people. I wanted to go with them. “Americans. Americans. Americans. I must join them immediately!”
Soon after the thought came to mind, I decided I would hike to the Hellroaring Patrol cabin to intercept them again and hear more about their adventure. I rushed the paperwork for the overnight patrol cabin visit and packed the necessities as well as a few amenities to give to the walkabouters for when I would rendezvous with them in the back country. I needed to find a ride to the trail head and asked the new SCA intern for her help. The rangers were busy with a wagon crash on the cookout trail so she seemed to be the only person available and I had to move quick if I was going to get to the cabin in time. I asked if she would like to accompany me and she readily agreed without much hesitation and we started for her car but instead found a ride with one of the off-duty rangers who pressed me to be cautious with the newly arrived intern.
The hike went well all five miles to the cabin with a detour around bison and conversation about many things. Soon after arriving to the cabin, the intern requested that we head back to the ranger station because she was not feeling well. It was not an ideal situation and just then the walkabouters showed up. I considered asking the medic to evaluate her, but did not want to take a chance with the new intern and possible admonishment from the rangers. After a quick talk with them and giving of the amenities I hiked in with, I said goodbye and wished the Americans well on their journey. It was an opportunity missed to entertain them at the cabin with Jack Daniels and laughter, but it was my fault for not ensuring that the intern was ready for an overnight stay in the back country. There was not much daylight left and I was certain we would have to hike through darkness which is quite dangerous due to possible encounters with bears and bison, not to mention mountain lions. The rangers were going to give me hell regardless.
We attempted to beat the darkness by hiking double quick but with over a mile to go, all we had was moonlight and an energizer flashlight. Upon a small hill there was just enough reception to call the ranger station to inform them of our predicament and request a pickup from the trailhead. Another forty minutes up switchbacks in the darkness was left before we’d get to the hopeful pickup. I reassured the intern that everything was fine even though I was just as uncertain and made as much noise as possible through loud talking to ward off and wildlife in the area while strobe light scanning dark shadows. The switchbacks were hell and gave the Hellroaring trail another memorable meaning for me with heavy breathing and lightheadedness. We finally reached the trail head where one of the rangers was waiting.
I could not tell if I was in trouble or was soon to be, but sitting in the back of the law enforcement vehicle did not provide any relief. The only thing I knew for certain was that I was exhausted. Too much hiking and not enough caloric nourishment. We were dropped off at the residential area and after I wished the intern goodnight and reassured her that everything was alright headed into my trailer to reflect on the outrageous day with some good drink and Pineapple Express on the iPod.
Lesson: do not rush adventure.