Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Chapter 12: The End of the Vagabond

Idaho Centennial Trail 2022


I threw my thumb out as I was collapsing and packing away my trekking poles. A sedan suddenly stopped and within 30 seconds of throwing my thumb out I was whisked away to the resort 26 miles down the road. Joyce immediately emitted a refreshing presence, just an immense kindness oozing from her person. We careened down the meandering and curvy highway and connected pretty quickly. We spoke of worldly travels and the pleasure of being in nature. I felt content, fulfilled in the fortunate happenstance of a weary traveler, and letting the wave of randomness take control. I was in my image I have had ever since I was a boy -- an explorer tramping the world with a slate of full experiences. She took me to the resort, as I was hoping to find a cafe and a room, besides a small market to padden my food supply. Since I had decided to go to town to re-up for the next big stretch, I felt the need to take advantage of the opportunistic shortage of food. I was happy to adapt to my food shortage, just to freshen up and replenish any weight I had lost during my Frank Church Complex romp. I wanted to take advantage of this brief overnighter, just to rest and eat. But, unfortunately, the cafe had been closed for two years. Joyce offered a lift down the road further to the town of Kooskia. We had lunch at a cafe and just laughed with an ease unlike most strangers. I inquired about a motel from the waitress and I was told the town did not have any. I couldn't go any further down the road, as I would spend too much time hitching back to Wilderness Gateway. Joyce, my perfect stranger, offered a lift back to Three Rivers Resort, 20 miles in the opposite direction. I couldn't believe her kindness. So, I ran across the street to the grocery store and piled up on a night's worth of food, as well as an extra full day of resupply for the next long stretch. Joyce drove me back and dropped me off back at the resort. I said goodbye, both us feeling our time spent together had been too short. A brief yet connected encounter, somehow helping each other out -- if that doesn't bring your faith back in humanity up, then nothing will. 

I got a room, showered, and laid on the bed for a couple hours with the AC blasting in my direction, my distended belly full from the massive lunch I had eaten earlier. With everything moving so fast and having to constantly adapt, all this rambling, I fell into a blissful nap and drifted into a happy dream of a wanderer. Later that afternoon, Coyote and Dre showed up. I had another chance to hang out with friends, friends with the common bond of Idaho and feeling like near death had hit us in the Selway-Bitterroot. Only now, we were safe and relaxed and compared our shredded shins. We laid around and watched a movie and sunk into relaxation. Early the next morning, Coyote and Dre were swooped away with a ride they had lined out all the way to Kamiah, the nearest town some 25 miles away where they would take two days off.  As much as I craved to linger, I made a point to get out of the resort early, as well. Hugs were shared as we said our goodbyes, for real this time. I thumbed a lift back to the trailhead with Jeremy and Lisa, a couple who had thru-hiked the ICT in '20 and were now putting together a guide book for the trail. Jeremy had reached out to me on Instagram and had used some of my '15 ICT blog post quotes to give some sort of a sense to this rugged trail. Serendipitously, they were driving along highway 12 the same time I was hitching, a random encounter I could have never drummed up. The scenario I had rambling in had this magic about it, like the meta-trails were all syncing up. This type of magic is similar to deja vous, except the deja vous is in the moment and you forget that anything may be a recurring memory or a glitch in the mind. Life, in these instances, is incredibly harmonious. And, to listen and acknowledge this harmony, one is rolling with the flow, floating along a groove where a constant connection is felt. One is alive, like really fucking alive. And, alive as I was, I clambered out Jeremy's truck with my fully loaded backpack in hand and started eagerly up the trail.

Let's not get too peachy here. I cannot purport an image of myself that may not always be myself. I am not saying none of this shit exists, but the story needs to stop right here if I do not address these manic notions of thriving. Here it is, this is where I come from; this story, a different conclusion than what I had scribbled down in the beginning, I thought I knew the last sentence of this story. And, the story changed. Not because I control the narrative. It's not to say I don't have thoughts about the story being any different either. I long for the love I had. But, because that love had vanished I am left alone to face this idea that has plagued me, that which has not made me unique. This love made me open, even more vulnerable than being in a storm on a bald knob in the Selway-Bitterroot. I probably have been too infatuated with the idea of a wanderer. From all the stories and books I have read from Greek mythology to Knut Hamsun, from the Beatniks to Ruess, from Abbey to adventure novels, I am drawn to the image of a wanderer adventuring around various parts of the globe. I have also been tortured by that same wanderer notion but in a skewed way. That image is mangled by a vagabond father who abandoned his family, his dereliction to his wife and two boys a tragedy, and, ultimately, the image of his fate of abject homelessness. I am constantly on a tightrope constantly balancing these two images. The sad reality is that none of these images are actually true. It is all fantasy and trauma melded together. It is a struggle I find in life as I find tranquility and therapy out in the wilds, while in the 'real world' I struggle to connect with what the pace of society is. I am destined to be like him. 

Those meta-trails that seemingly felt connected were, in fact, actual encounters. Rather than shelve the idea of reality and slink back into the story I have always told myself, I decided right then and there on Liz Butte to commit to the act of living as the outward version of myself rather than the inward version of myself. Ooooh, I craved isolation at that instant, absolutely needing to go further into that palace of pain and shatter all the windows and walls I had created. I stomped atop the soil, I jumped and sprang over downed trees, and bashed my way through the overgrown paths. I had intention, a vitality of intention with boiling blood. I wasn't angry either, however, I was zeroed in. This image of a lonely wanderer I wanted dead. I knew I had to embark on this mission alone. I knew it would take a vaulted courage from deep within. I had to face the false reflection I had convinced myself was real. I needed to see the real me in the mirror and not the dogged and lonely wanderer that ultimately stemmed from the guilt of my father. I hiked on with wide shoulders as the trail weaved above a large meadow filled with beaver dams. The sun sunk and the air became redolent with the dampness of a dank and putrid beaver pond. The sun sank so much I became enveloped in darkness, all my lightness within matching the outer darkness. I knew this would get dark. I knew that externally I would be more afraid than internally, my body being a fleshy pod acting as the barrier between the war inside and my outer reality. 

Bear shit, huge piles, became omnipresent. I side-stepped and dodged steamy piles and old crusty heaps. I hollered out in the pitch black forest trying to signify my presence to any bear. I whistled and sang a repeated tune of 'finding a camp.' I bellowed and rang out in a cacophonous voice that surely would deter any monstrous bear. I got a little nervous as I went along into a black tunnel. I forgot about myself and navigated with my mind, the puppeteer of the body. I kept my headlamp off until I truly needed it, as my eyes still held the absorption of light and I could make out shapes and shadows. The canyon narrowed, too, and the roaring creek muffled my clangy voice. I elevated my tune and shifted to a stern warning that tried to outcompete the raucous creek. An hour went by at least, and I finally put on my headlamp. I was looking for the glow of yellow eyes besides the contouring trail corridor. I kept my yelling up, as the black and moist air swallowed me up. I saw a pair of yellow eyes staring at me from the hillside but I could tell by the narrowness and the height that a deer was figuring me out. My heart jumped a bit and I tried to scan the darkness with my piercing light beam for a decent camp spot. I found another pair of yellow eyes staring at me, transfixed by the glare of my light. I kept moving and moving and every 5 minutes or so, another set of yellow eyes popped up, all deer. I came to a creek crossing and waded in. I used my trekking poles to jab the bottom and rocks to read the current and a path across. The coolness of the water felt refreshing, as if I had finally relinquished the overcoat of moisture in the air and donned water as my outfit. I scurried up the other side of the creekway and immediately smelled the cedar grove I was now walking under. Cedar incense filled the air and I shook off the water as I shined my light above into the tall canopy. My light now became potent and shined a wide archway against the massive trunks of the cedar trees, no longer my light getting swallowed up by the black space of night. I could see a red mound beneath a tall cedar about 30ft up the hillside. The mound had soft red dirt, a spot where a tree at some point had fallen over and had backfilled with that soft dirt. The roots and tree had long since rotted, so I was left with a bed of some sort and scratched the surface with my shoes to make a flatter and wider camp spot to lay in. I pitched my tarp low to the ground because the slope angled steeply into my mound pit. I used my silk liner to dry off my legs and climbed into my quilt exhausted. I crashed hard, hard to sleep. No dreams but of an open backdropped darkness, the cedars absorbing the swoosh of the creek, my dreamscape surrounded with the roar whitewater, I sunk into the torpor of a hibernating bear. 

I rose early the next morning, the dusk barely penetrable into the tall cedar grove. I slowly moved along a damp trail with brush dripping in condensation. My skin and clothes sopped up all the moisture hanging from the brush and air. I entered a meadow with the brush reaching up to my chest. I saw a rust colored hump bobbing up and down in the brush ahead. I took out a yell from deep within in hopes of scaring away the black bear. The bear had his nose in the ground rooting and clawing at edible roots. He could not hear me, so I yelled louder, even let out a piercing whistle. That did the trick. He stopped bobbing and stood up on his hind legs and spun in a circle slowly, as if waltzing to the melody of the meadow. He then saw me waving my arms up high in the air and turned back up the trail and rumped onward. He sidled along slowly, almost hulking along, and I could tell he did not like my presence there. I could not go around so easily with all the thickets of brush and the rapid-filled creek nearby. I had to believe in his behavior as a black bear. He wanted nothing to do with me, I was not on his predatory list, and he was not protecting a territory, although I didn't quite feel that way. He looked grumpy and agitated probably because I was disrupting his breakfast of scrumptious roots. I stood my ground, however, and persistently kept yelling at him and waving my arms and looking big. He stood up again and rolled his neck in agitation almost exhaling a sigh of annoyance. After about 30 seconds he turned back around and leapt with his haunches, a sturdy burst of speed. I continued on up the pathway loudly. I exited the meadow and entered a tunnel within the forest. I saw the black bear about a hundred feet away through the pines and he jogged off reluctantly. I motored on ensuring a growing distance away from the bear. Soon enough, I felt safe enough away to get back to my usual morning gait. 

Atop Windy Ridge, I settled my thoughts on this wanderer, away and comfortable from the fear and uneasiness of the morning, this lonely and gloomy image of a vagabond I have been obsessed with for years upon years. I walk alone because I like to think. Walking and thinking are my nature. I like walking and thinking in nature. That is my zone. I know deep down inside this is something that is so inherently deep within me that I understand multiple lifespans of walking, of being nomadic, and of the primordial act in itself means just simply being. Time passes as an act more than just the passing of time. I feel it in my bones. This is why I must understand what has plagued me has also helped me flourish. I fell into a memory, a memory that is an amalgamation of old photos, of brief stories I had heard from my granny or my uncle, or of my own blurry childhood memory. Where did my image of a vagabond come from?

As much as I have been infatuated with a wanderer, I have been living an obsession based on my father. For most of the time in my life, that fatherly obsession has been beneath the surface and stored away in some faraway place inside of me. I am aware of it but I constantly ignore it. Although I have subliminally lived my life to atone for his action, I have tried to be just me. I have acted with him in heart. Of course, my first memory is of him. My first ever memory is me sitting in a bathtub full of water, dingy water, with lily pads of vomit floating atop the surface. I was alone in the bathroom, unsupervised. I am unsure if I wailed out. I just recall everything being so inward, so inward from the inner vision of my eyes, like looking out from a fishbowl rather than into a fishbowl. I clapped a hand on the surface of the water splashing little pellets of vomit. I do not recall feeling sick but clearly I was. I felt the tepid water cling around my belly. I was glancing around looking for something to do, looking at my surroundings. A man came in and spoke to me in a muffled voice. I was young enough to not understand words, only tone and feeling I could interpret. I was a baby. He was a familiar man with long brown hair that fell beneath his shoulders. He had a thick brown mustache that hung beneath his upper lip. He appeared calm and had friendly eyes. He reached down for me and picked me up out of the dirty tub and I felt the water dripping off of my pudgy little body, his warmth comforting me. The memory ends there. I never saw that man again until I was 28 years old.

Yet, I had no idea who this man even was for another 8 years. I understood that man to be my father when my first stepfather came charging at me, my mother blocking and impeding his path, him charging like a madman yelling at her, ‘TELL HIM, TELL HIM.’ I continued to scrub my teeth, continued to look at myself in the mirror, my mother yelling, ‘YOU CAN'T, STOP.’ Frothing at the mouth he yelled, ‘I AM NOT YOUR REAL DAD.’ I swallowed some spit, but didn’t break my stare or my manner. I couldn’t, in that moment, let anyone know that that statement had affected me. From that point in time, I had begun to relive the tragedy of my real father’s actions at 10 years old. 

Even with that yelled statement, I never knew who that man was in my first memory. I couldn’t connect with it. I just knew that I must have known him and that everyone around me had known him too. My mother and my first stepfather soon divorced. This is the event that spawned the questions of that first memory. My mother fell on tough times directly after the divorce. So, my granny and my grandpa took me and my brother to provide us a safe haven. The questions began from me and my granny never held back. Eventually, my granny showed me a picture of my real father. There he finally was, there was the connection to my memory. The mustache and long hair. Me as a baby. That man in the bathroom in my memory was my father. Only then, did he feel real. Then, the image came up, the image of a wanderer borne from a choice so long ago. Even if it wasn’t his choice and he succumbed to mental illness or a drug addiction, either way, the event happened. He left us, my mother, my brother, and me. He left us pushing a shopping cart, homeless, outside of a restaurant in Burbank, CA, right after begging for money from my uncle. He had fallen off the face of the earth. Who knows how long that ten bucks lasted that my uncle gave him. My uncle once told me that he did not recognize the man pushing that shopping cart as my father, let alone as the man he had known. He looked off to my uncle, afflicted. He just disappeared.

I spent that afternoon atop Windy Ridge prying into my own soul. I was determined to get to the root of it all. The battle of jumping over downed logs, deciding which trail to take, navigating, eluding a mama bear and two cubs, none of these obstacles steered me from my inner direction. I navigated outwardly innately while I walked down dark hallways in my head. I could see the world in front of me as I was reliving a life inside of me. I descended to Kelly Creek that evening. The days just last forever up here in the Idaho north, my aching memories as long as those summer days. I had since left from the trance and coasted to camp. An easy night’s rest after a long day and I was greeted with a soft pink glow in the foggy morning. The air felt pleasant and new. I just felt purged. I don’t understand how walking ties everything together even though it is the connection with everything around me through walking that I seek. My dreams had been fine the past week or so. I wasn’t ailing or conflicted. I just 'was' just with a different hue over my lens. Yet this... I started off the ICT dying on the inside from heartbreak, something that was the realest thing that had ever happened to me. With all that crap dying inside, however, I walked on because I wanted to live, I wanted to pursue a real life with a different version that the one I had been living in. I went through clear visions in the Frank Church that helped me see how grateful I was for that experience I went through. The visions in the Frank, as well, put me on a direct path where my wherewithal to live headbutted my wherewithal to die. I had to choose, but choosing what I chose meant I had to live a life differently than the one I have always lived. At the end of those visions I chose to live with love. The Selway-Bitterroot showed me the value of life. And now? What's left? I keep asking myself this. What the fuck is left? Me. Me? Yes, I am getting in my own way and if I choose to live with love and I choose to live this life with intention whether alone or with someone, I must face the issue that is plugging me up, the torture that is severing my pursuit of that love. The next couple days up on the Bitterroot Divide, I waged a battle against a self-fulfilling prophecy that only stemmed from me feeling so bad about what had happened.

I marched into the forest up Bear Creek drainage with the vigor of Dean Moriarty, I must start living with the nerve I so started with on this ICT. That is clearly true. I believe that because I wouldn't be here if I hadn't. I got to go from here on out with this death, the death of the vagabond. There will be absolutely no way for me to move forward if I do not kill off the vagabond. I cannot any longer be just a character in my own story. That is a character I do not love, or rather that is a character that stems from some distorted belief that comes from a dark place. I finally feel ready to love myself. I am ready to stop feeling guilty and just love myself. I am just sick and tired of feeling guilty for shit that was never my fault. I’m ready to act naturally. So, I fall back into my vision, into my rambles and wanderings. I fall back into a place I feel free from any emotional ails, free from hurting anyone around me, free from fucking guilt. I fall back into a life that tries to absolve the life my hobo father had lived. This cycle is the palace of pain I want so desperately to escape from. And, never has the moment felt so critical to change and grow from that palace of pain as now with a new found outlook on life. Plodding and trudging up the overgrown and indiscernible path, I felt real, that in that moment I was a real man, like tying a memory to a picture. I felt ready to kill off a part of myself. I felt ready to kill off these images, dreams, and fantasies. I felt ready to live wholly. I felt ready to rid the trauma and void left behind from my father some 40 years ago. It is not that these thoughts came out of nowhere. It all felt like a natural conclusion to an actuality of a gloomy life that had been acted out, a recreated scene to sum up the rest of everyone's life involved where I took the pain of everyone around me. I realized my freedom lies within my guilt, a guilt that is unfounded yet something that heavily weighs on me. Because of this guilt, my freedom has always lied within someone else. Therein lies the trap that circles me back to the palace of pain. What I mean by that is even though everything that happened was not my fault, I have always had an onus for everyone's well-being. Shit actually happened but I didn't cause it. I feel guilty for thriving, exploring, and wandering, even if my intention is not the same as my father's intention. This realization has engaged me to act alone with who I am, to answer those deep rooted questions within me without getting an answer or reaction from anyone else.

I had to trust the way of the trail, the direction of the trail, the pull of the trail, for I couldn't always find it at all times up Bear Creek. The dotted line on the map did not match where I was at on the high slopes. Grass slunk over the trail and I had to blindly trust where I put my feet. I could sense the horse prints through my shoes, the ball of my foot fitting into each horseshoed rib and centering on the frog of the hoof. I clopped along drenched in seat giving my navigation away to my instincts and trust. I had to trust in the pathway, I had to give in completely to the trail, to be led by the dirt wavelength. I must live life with an unknown beacon that moves forward away from the gravity of darkness and memories of events of the past. I grunted, digging my arms into my poles and into the ground. I wanted the crest. I wanted to stare into a wide vista and feel that hope we get as wanderers of that wide vista. I just had to believe and trust in everything. I could feel the meta-trail I was on connected and crossing other wavelengths, I could feel the journey I have been on. The time was now.

[I pulled into a convenience store parking space adjacent to the gas station. I had gotten there early to scope out my surroundings, to play it safe and see the person I was to be meeting first. I put a quarter in the pay phone against the wall and told the man on the other line I was here. The white wall spackled with stucco over cinder blocks was stained with a yellow grime and the exhaust of vehicles. A small red sedan, rusted and sun-bleached, pulled nose first into a spot right next to my pick-up. I looked over, looked back forward, and immediately looked back over. It was him, I mean it was me, I mean it was him. He had that same dimple on the chin, the high forehead, the long nose, just older, haggard even. We nodded silently at each other, rolled a window down, and he said follow him to a restaurant. We walked into the family diner, burgundy red plush booths and tacky blood red walls with old ranching photos, the vibe almost more of a dingy dive bar than a family diner. We sat away from the other patrons in a dimly lit corner. It must've been late morning because he still ordered a coffee as I ordered an iced tea. We were not there to eat. We were there to have our first meeting in a neutral place. He laid into the story, his story. I didn't know what to start with, so I let him ramble. His arms gestured similar to the way I tell a story. His brow furrowed with those same three lines I have on my brow right between my eyes. I could tell it was me, a reflection, a relation.]

Finally, after blindly rolling along the path, I attained the ridge. From my vantage point now I could read the contours of the terrain and get a scope of where the trail was headed, even though the route on my maps didn't line up. Regardless, I moved swiftly along. I found rivulets with tumbling cascades. I stopped at each one and splashed my face to wash the stickiness of the sweat I had accumulated. As my brow furrowed with thought and memory, I walked harder, harder into a state of rhythm, pure flow. I traveled back in time in memory on the meta-trails. And, finally, I was on the Stateline Trail, a beautiful singletrack running along the crest of the Bitterroot Divide. My senses piqued with the spectacular surroundings and the dreamweavy trail. I flowed in unison with my inner and the outer until I heard a grunt, a low grumble, even though the wind was blowing hard. I had just crossed a snowfield, descending the long field with a giddy trot as the purple twilight illuminated the rock faces above the Siamese Lakes, that perfect time of day. The low grumble came from about 30 feet away from me in the tall bear grass and the wind-sharpened pines. A young bull moose jumped up and sprang away from me and circled back once he felt far away enough to roll that lugubrious heavy head back at me. He clumsily galloped off and I climbed to the pinnacle of the crest that overlooked the lakes from an escarpment. I stood there and felt the warm rays of the sun on my back and fell into the shimmering and waning light on the wind ripples of the lakes. I scanned the direction I had come from and saw the gangly young bull moose trotting up the snowfield I had descended. I found a sheltered camp from the wind and sat on the leeward side of my shelter to observe the encroaching blackness of night. I peered into the hardened alpine dusk and into the darkening forest trying to pick out that moose. Like a resoluted memory that brings knowledge and understanding, I knew the moose was gone.

[The vestiges of his past did not remain clear. The remnants of his past felt distorted, almost present even as if reliving a current situation. I could envision from his wrinkles and manic mannerisms that he had lived a really hard life. The memory of us must have felt to him as real as in any way we tell our own selves whatever story we want to hear. He had to care at some point, nonetheless. He laid into his story wildly, barely even taking a breath. He had lived a rough life, a life that I am not sure he had wanted to choose. He told the stories in a bar-story fashion, a little bit of truth there, sprinkled in some exaggeration here -- this way you can trick your memory into being one grand adventure. From my perspective, he told his story without any excuses and any responsibility, just no accountability. It was what it was. He told his story as if it was in real time and there was nothing he should feel sorry for, let alone change anything. But there was a tick, something off, something even delirious, some crazed ego that was trapped in the mind, even though his demeanor was calm. I mean these stories were nothing to brag about. I almost didn't buy it.]

'I loved you two boys, I really did...but, I had to do what I needed to do. I had no choice. I always loved you boys though, always. I left Burbank pushing that cart north. I ended up in Reno and lived under a church there for 10 years. The churchgoing folks there used to call me Floating Jesus... I just hovered in and around the stairs, looked like Jesus with my long hair and beard. Then, a new mayor cme in and cleaned up the city...got kicked out of the church, so, I hitched out of Reno. I thought fuck it, I'll get outta town...I was hitching to Orem Utah because I heard they had a good soup kitchen...but, met this Indian on the on-ramp...he was hitching too...he convinced me to hitch the other direction and get to Chico where his mom lived...he said she would give me a pack of smokes, a six pack of beer, and a shower, get cleaned up. Anyways, when I got there (his arms flailing wildly, his eyes aflame), when I got there and knocked on the door I just said his name and that he sent me and sure enough she gave me a pack of smokes, a six pack, a place to stay for the night. I cut off my dreads there... I had these dreads hanging down my back to my knees...I cut 'em off with an electric razor almost electrocuting myself because I got the plug wet...there was hair everywhere, knots, dreads. I left the next day to Oroville and met some stranger who put me in charge of a pot farm...I lived in a corrugated pipe, what do you call 'em, a culvert, a huge culvert, for the next 20 years. For 20 years I got paid a little bit here and there, I would go to town and buy what food I could. Then, one day I came to town and passed out on the sidewalk, boom, just fell down...woke up in the hospital a ward of the state...somebody found me just lying there on the sidewalk, just passed out, and called the medics. That's why I am here...I have an apartment in a halfway complex...it is small but better than that damn pipe.]

I woke up to a chilly morning with a rosy sun rising through a ruby haze. I packed up slowly, then began an even slower walk along the divide. I wanted to soak up slowly the morning glow softly rising in the east. The ribbon of trail was perfect, just perfect, perfectly groomed not-enough so I could walk with my hands in my pocket. I crested a small rise, a small enough rise to not see the tiny meadow below me, the meadow lined white pine that buffeted the western side of the ridge, wind-torn and small. Long shadows infiltrated the deep canyon to the east and I could feel the changing morning, a soft orange light that began to pierce the darkness deep within the canyon. I pulled out my phone to snap a shot, barely turning my head for a split second as I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I quickly looked back down into the meadow. A large mountain lion held a frozen crouch. We must have seen each other around the same time. The lion raised its haunches and sprang over one of the shorter pines. The lion vanished instantaneously from when our eyes connected with each other. With a snap of two fingers the lion was out of sight. Alertly, I trundled on with my shoulders upright and broad. I figured the lion had scattered way off because the cat's cover had been blown, however, I continued yelling some grunts and hoots. I shoved every waking thought aside and hiked briskly with my eyes wide and my ears open. I had a rush of adrenaline pumping through my body and I moved swiftly along the meandering trail until I hit Grouse Lake. I was certain I was far enough away from that encounter that I could slow the roll down a bit. Suddenly, a white flash darted in front of me uphill and on trail. I wended a corner and saw the abstract face of a mountain goat staring right at me, a kid tucked right in the rear haunches protected. They both stood there a couple seconds as I neared the duo before they turned and sprinted on the trail uphill and out of sight. I pumped onward again, my blood rising to the surface on this busy and adventurously slow morning.

Eventually, things cooled off and I calmly lulled along the divide for the rest of the day. My mind wandered again to this puzzle I needed to solve. I knew I was different from an early age, all along just slightly off kilter. I felt inside of me a great need to roam and explore. I abhorred the notion of living like everyone else. I believed I was destined to leave everything behind like he did, just in a more dramatic and adventurous fashion. I thought that age would be 28. I thought by that point in time I would have everything in order to just go walk the world. Needless to say, life ain't that easy. At 28 I did, in fact, leave, however. I had flown to Mexico City to wander around Mexico. I recall my mom hugging me as if she was afraid I would never come back, the memory of her first love and the father of her boys pushing a shopping cart out of town too painful. My trip ended within a month...

I hiked the slopes of Volcano Iztaccihuatl. I reached a 3-sided hut at some 15,000ft, a shelter from the elements up on this voluptuous mountain. I hallucinated a dream, or maybe I was asphyxiated from the thinnest air. Everything felt so lucid and real, but on repeat. I was reliving situation. I woke up, or I came too, each time with a mouse running up my sleeping bag. The moon was cold and clear. I could see the thatched and spackled walls of the hut. Sometimes I ended up on the floor, sometimes I was on top of the table I was sleeping on. A bull with one long horn stood staring at me from the other side of a beam on the open side of the hut. At least the hallucinations started out that way. I fell into this loop, the one-horned bull flopping from one side of the beam to the other. Never, though, did the one-horned bull change its expression. Each time, no matter the placement, the one-horned bull faced towards the mountain, a stone face the bull held. Whenever I truly woke up, the bull had been at my side, table height and at a level that when I truly came to I dipped into the deep, dark eyes of the one-horned bull. The bull pointed the direction. I was awake and the fucking one-horned bull was still there, the beam still held its staunch reach from wall to wall. I shook my head, the frozen and thinnest air pierced with a frigid cold. I rolled off the table to the other side of the bull and I went to un-beam the beam. I lifted one side and the bull slowly lumbered out of the hut. He went down the direction from whence I came. I stayed up for the next couple hours waiting for dawn, waiting for light under a clear and cold moon. I mulled over my reality. This is where the guilt sunk to its deepest depths. I knew if I continued on at that point, the reality of that decision coupled with what my father did, I knew that if I just kept walking I would never see my family again, that I would fall into the same trap my father did, that I would be forever guilty. I decided, then, under an icy dawn, to go back to my family. To do so, though, I would need to find my origin of thought, the seed of my wandering visions. I would track down my real father to learn where I had come from. I landed in LAX and walked the 42 miles home, I swear my head down in shame the whole way. I was so dejected that I couldn't be my true self because of some ancient painful history. I was ashamed that I cared too much. I was ashamed because I thought in that moment I was reliving his abandoned deed. Yet, within a month I tracked him down to find out where I had come from. I needed to. I was unlike anyone in my family, shit, unlike anyone around me. And I had these thoughts, almost a fantasy, a vision of a wanderer, thoughts and visions that just put me in some weird and strange place amongst people around me in Los Angeles. Sure, my visions and dreams were of some fictitious explorer tramping the world on countless adventures, innocent and youthful, akin to 'what I want to be when I grow up' type stuff. Nonetheless, with him leaving and disrupting our whole family, my dreams and visions became toxic. She was so young when he left, just left alone with two baby boys when she was just barely an adult herself. Of course, I knew she saw him in me. So, when I wanted to venture out wandering the globe, the action was too similar and sore to his abandonment. 

And, when I met him I saw me in him. I understood, finally, what my mom had felt and why she acted that way towards me. She couldn't lose something she loved again. I stood there in his tiny smoke-stained apartment, his bed barely bigger than a cot. His life felt out of order, everything felt so temporary as if his whole life had been temporary. The scene scared me. I refused to end up like him, I thought. I couldn't be troubled the way he was. So, when I left him after meeting him for the first time in my life I had this intense, just a fucking immense pain of lonlieness. Yet, I made a decision to do things the right way and not how he had done things. I left him after hanging with him for some 3 hours or so. I thought I had gotten what I needed out of it. So, I left. I left with good intentions, with the intent of not living my life the way he had lived. I just had to deal with my family first.

And, I did. From '05 when I met my father for the first time to now, on the ICT in the Bitterroot Divide, I have lived my life with intention, lived my life the right way with my family and others, especially the love I lost recently. I had thought when I was younger that I would leave everything behind when I was 28, then I met my real father. I then concluded I would leave when I was 36, but I found thru-hiking and the Vagabond Loop. I finally set my target at the age of 44 to leave the whole world behind and just wander it. But, I found love and how to love. Now, with that love gone, I do not want to leave everything behind and detach myself from everyone and everything. During this whole time I had tried to do everything the right way. I couldn't shake the guilt of what my father did. It's like I was trying to live my life the right way and right side up while trying to atone for his actions, right side down. Fuck, we are all just little tiny chickadees flying and flittering within the tree of life -- fragile and vulnerable yet resilient and sweet, precious. This is hard for me to write about, incredibly so. I feel like I am essentially killing off something deep inside that I have embodied since I was a teenager, the notion of a lone vagabond navigating the world. While I have had an adventurous ting tied to that notion, I always fell into a gloomy bog, the sadness of my vagabond father. This is why I am out here. The ICT hike wasn't just to process a mega-heartbreak. This hike was to find love and rid myself of this general sadness and gloomy theme, the description of a lonely wanderer. I guess walking has provided me with those feelings and expressions most likely deep rooted from a lonely and lost soul that was my father. Maybe this is my own way of living up to my father, just better. Maybe this is why I don’t have a family of my own. Maybe this has bothered me more than I have realized, and all under the guise of a lonesome wanderer. Maybe this is why I have never known love until now, just afraid I would lose it or it would abandon me. None of this was my fault. He fucked up; I didn't. 

I left it all behind there at Graves Peak as I negotiated some remaining sketchy snow banks. I had processed enough, spent too much time mulling over this puzzle. Although it was necessary, I just wanted to move forward with everything. In between Graves and Illinois Peaks I found a rock bench and thought about our connection to time. Not just in a variable and numerical way to justify our human existence within our societal constructs. I thought of time as a deep connection with a place. I yearned to get better at telling time by the sun. This felt more necessary to me than any inner-reflections. I was just done with it and I wasn't going to feel bad about shit anymore. I studied my pace and the angle of the sun. I wanted to be in sync, to flow with the pace of our world turning. And, I had it. I was just hungover from all this processing and from all this wilderness. I could feel the pull of town coming soon. After the Frank Complex experience of stomping down the ego, seeking harmony with nature, seeking rhythm, abstaining from social conventions, finding a deeper self through exhaustion and movement, breaking the ego down to find the joy and love I have for myself, I tried to begin normalizing. I found a camp at a pass crisscrossed with dirt roads under some power lines. Down below, the interstate moaned boringly. Above me, the power lines sizzled. The monotonous noise of both the interstate and the power lines irked at me right as I laid down, just a couple sounds so unfamiliar after 16 days across some of the most remote wildernesses, where roaring and rushing water reverberated throughout the canyons, where gusty wind shook my inner being and shaped ridge lines, and where an impenetrable silence remained omnipresent. The next morning, I farted like a big rig blaring by on the highway that jolted me awake. You know the sound, a semi careening by -- Wait…was the horn fart coming from the highway below? I forgot where I was, startled. I packed up quickly knowing the town was close. Clearly, I was so excited for town I confused a semi’s horn for a fart. A few hours later, I shyly walked into town, feeling socially meek and rusty yet physically bestial. A creek rushed through a large culvert under the main drag. I scrambled down some rocks to wash up, to at least look somewhat respectable. Now, I could strut a little bit, like I have been to a town before. Suddenly, with my ego chipper, a black sprinkler popped up from the corner of a large lawn just as I was walking by on the sidewalk. Prrrrsssshhhh!!!! I leapt up and fell away into the street, my heart jumping out of my chest, almost twisting an ankle. It took me a couple of seconds to understand that the sprinkler was not a rattlesnake. I needed to turn down my instincts. I had been cloaked with the wild and dipped in the beyond. Hours later, laying on a nice hotel bed, the television on, my clothes hanging to dry, I realized I had left my ATM card at a restaurant. So unlike me. Then, a movie trailer came on, my eyes glued to the animation and the color. I marveled at my shiny new toy. Then, reality sunk in and I shook off my wild gaze for a more civilized one. My mouth fell to the floor as Beavis and Butthead 2 was coming to a theater near me. I wondered aloud, ‘What happened to the world while I was gone for two and a half weeks?’ I should be asking, however, 'What in the world happened to me while I was gone for two and a half weeks?'

A few days later, just laying it all out there and crushing easy miles, I found myself sitting at the general store in Naples. I leaned up against the building and an ice freezer in the shade near the gas pumps. I felt exhausted, not just physically but emotionally, drained. I wasn't completely dead though. I understood what was going to happen next. I have been here before, like in retrospect I had been at that same point when I started the ICT. The beginning of this hike was my Iztaccihuatl, the beginning of this hike was my terrible '15 year when I left Wells, Nevada and hiked into the desert scratched from a tiger; just the beginning of this hike was in an advanced stage. I soaked up the shade and relief from the blazing sun. I observed some crosscountry motorcyclists all dolled up in glamping gear. I felt proud to be where I was after having been through where I have been. I understood I was not like them. I understood I was not like anybody. I knew more than ever I was not like my father. I chuckled a bit when I thought of the irony of someone leaving me unexpectedly rather than me leaving everyone. I was amused by that now.  I left the tiny little town and walked along the shoulder of the road. I felt a well of emotions begin to erupt. I refrained from writing or jotting notes and just let the swell of emotion swoon over me. From the depths of some shitty latrine I stared up from to this point just on the brim of the shitter about to prop myself out of the muck, my arms and elbows on the rim and pushing myself up out of the paincave -- I smiled and I chuckled and muttered to myself, 'When the world takes a giant turd in your mouth, go on a thru hike…'

Two days later I followed the Priest River along a soft and spongy trail in a rainforest with giant cedars stemming into the blue sky above. I was geared to get to the end point. I was excited to live this newfound way of life with love. I had travel plans on my mind. I knew I was going to do what I had been destined to do. I felt it in my bones. In the end, and at the end at Upper Priest Falls, I could feel the change within me, constantly morphing like the tumbling waters of the ferocious waterfall. I was molting, shedding away these painful memories. The air hung heavy with mist, my skin cooling with beads of water. I washed up and splashed off my head, face, and arms. I gave this trail everything I had, everything. I clutched my knees and legs and thanked them for carrying me. At one point, sitting on the shoulder of Highway 20 a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure if I was going to finish because my knee had flared up so bad. I wasn't sure I was going to finish either because I felt so severed, so heartbroken. I knew, then, though, that I had to commit and dive fully into the paincave. I had to walk through it, walk into it, to seek the depths and find the roots of the pain. Feeling the rush of the falls, even soothed by the harmonious roar, it felt symbolic to sleep near the falls. Submerged in the depth and roar of sound, I know I am a different person than when I started. Surrounded by the beautiful sound of roaring water, immersed with the clamor of pounding water, I understood I went into the paincave and found love. 

The next morning, I woke up early and for the first time in months I dreamt of nothing, as if dreaming of nothing for the first time ever. I packed up and began walking down the trail, the clamor of the falls exiting my head. My body felt relaxed as if the barrage of sound had massaged my body, my head rang free of that same barrage as if the sun was rising unto a quiet dawn. I felt awake. Onward I hiked. I felt the hollowness that had been inside of me, that paincave, had been filled up. For the first time in my life I believed I had finally begun to love myself.

















Saturday, August 20, 2022

Chapter 11: Brutally Perfect

Idaho Centennial Trail 2022


Crossing the Campbell’s Ferry bridge spanning the Salmon River, I felt a sense of newness, just a new outlook on life that committed to acting, living, and believing in and with love. I nearly felt whole. My love of wilderness and, for the first time in my life, the love of myself felt not an act of atonement, not reliving another’s past, and, most importantly, not guilt-ridden. I felt free and rid of any guilt. I felt full of gratitude, forgiving anything that punctured my insecure person. The heat still sweltered in the river canyon and my hunger became increasingly ravaged. As soon as I crossed that bridge and stepped foot on the other side, I zeroed in on Yellowpine Bar where I had a resupply package waiting. Recollections of the flames across the river and the Mylar-wrapped structures from my previous isolation here in ‘15 shown in front of my eyes, although I was not suffering in desolation this time like I had been that last time. The wide Salmon River powered downstream crashing into massive boulders that eons ago fell into the river, or unimaginably got tossed downriver by an unbelievable force. I passed by the road that provided me with a safe exit back some 7 years ago. I tipped my cap to some will o'the wisp, an impossible made up phantasm. I know that is nonsense, but that intersection had proved to be a meaningful point from that point onward. Here I was a newer person with another meaningful intersection.

Suddenly, a rumbling metallic noise screamed from the river, the cacophony of slapping metal baffling my ears. From a couple hundred feet above the river in a boulderfield I stopped and scanned down on the river below. The roar came from downriver and through the ponderosa groves a long metal motorboat powered its way fiercely slapping and clapping through the rapids and waves. I couldn’t get a whole view at first as the enormous ponderosas blocked my view. But, once the motorboat came into clear sight, I saw two giant flags waving in the wind off the rear of the boat: ‘FUCK BIDEN’ and an USA stars and stripes flag. 


My wilderness and nostalgic stupor instantly retreated and left my mind vacant with a little anger. That social opinion and splinter was the last thing I expected coming out of a wilderness complex and into a wild and scenic river. I shook my head in disbelief and just felt bad for all the rafting parties along the beaches. Maybe some folks believed in his message, maybe some didn't. His message just felt 'all up in your face' and brought a divisive tension over the calming sense of the river. It wasn't that I cared or not for the man's opinion either -- I just wanted the wilderness space and feeling back. The trail careened into a drainage and the roar of the creek submerged the slapping of the metallic motorboat. I'm sure everyone on every beach read his message. Everyone saw the attention he was craving for. No matter, once the motor boat got further upriver the quiet of the canyon fell back into place. I walked behind and occasionally through beach camps with kids playing in the water, the grills smoking up with burgers and hot dogs, and the adults sitting around in comfortable chairs around a fire ring -- all just enjoying the open space. I fell back into tranquility just seeing folks smiling, relaxing, and having a good time. Soon enough, I turned a corner and the Yellowpine Bar airstrip splayed out in front of me in a straight and narrow swath. I spotted a cottage with folks mingling on the patio. I was surprised at how lively the canyon was with all the people I had been seeing in just a short couple hours. The Main Fork of the Salmon River canyon has a long history of residents dwelling and working in the canyon. The river canyon is so wide that in the bends huge sandbars have packed up over eons of time that large flat areas held ranches and tiny communities. In some places that had larger communities than others, as well as access and location to mines up in the Chamberlain Basin and the now Frank Church Wilderness areas, a ferry helped miners, residents, and travelers across the wide river. The Salmon River holds a rich history of wars, homesteading, and river life. Besides hardship or luck just plain running out, once the wilderness became enacted in 1984, many of the ranches either became ruined or have been upkept by historical societies, maintained by caretakers, or are still owned and managed by the same families. In some places, fruit orchards still line the river even though buildings may be dilapidated or have remnants of ruins. Some of the apple and pear trees still bear fruit that black bears gorge on. The history of the Salmon River is fascinating and is one history I would like to learn more of down the line.


Yellowpine Bar held three homes lining the airstrip and I took a stab at the cottage with a large garden, a large work-shed, and a huge expanse of lawn. This place looked more year-around than the previous cabin. I knocked on the screen door hesitantly of the cottage with a redwood deck overlooking the Salmon River. I made a nervous entrance, but I had made it at a somewhat reasonable early evening hour, as long shadows swallowed up the bottom of the canyon with the rays of sun rising on the opposite side of the canyon with its lowering in the horizon to the west. The circle of the day had completed and my hosts, Greg and Sue, hospitably and politely regaled me with conversation, a highball glass of whiskey, a slice of pizza, and, most importantly, my resupply package. Greg and Sue have lived in the canyon some 30 years, if I recall correctly. Their first 10 or so years were spent downriver where they caretaked a backcountry ranch where a visitor had to hike in. The last 20 years have been spent here at Yellowpine Bar, a large flat area above the river that once held 1500 river people. Now, 3 homes are spread out adjacent to the airfield amid a ponderosa forest and stone fence ruins that have been weathered over the years. They live a simple life as caretakers: gardening, knife making and farriering, colorful creations of art, tending to pets, among a slew of other ranch duties of a simple life set in the backcountry. A neighbor came to visit as the long shadows engulfed the canyon. I slowly sipped my whiskey as a warmth washed over me, my eyes getting groggy. The trio spoke of river gossip. Even out here in the backcountry people are still people. Visitors to Yellowpine Bar -- the family reunions and former lives of the families out here; the history of the Salmon River -- the living museum in the cottage of Yellowpine Bar; the river etiquette -- the upriver neighbor who zooms on by with his motorboat that causes a wake and lifts unsuspecting boats and river rafter's vessels up onto huge boulders or beaches; the wildlife -- the bears picking at old apple groves, the deer and elk migrating across a ice floe across the river in the winter,  and the lack of elk because of the reintroduction of wolves; and finally, the seasons -- the short winter days where the opportunity for solar power is scant available save for only about 3 hours for a very, very short day, the seldom trips to town, and the incredible wildfires of yesteryore that have scarred the landscape here -- all of these sentimental topics represented the real history and real lives of the people of the Salmon River. Sure enough, as they spoke of the neighbor upstream, I knew instantly they were speaking of the 'FUCK BIDEN' flag man. No matter where you live, in every neighborhood, even out here where neighbors are there to help each other out, there's always an asshole.

Greg led me to a cherry tree on a beautiful vibrantly green lawn to sleep under. The damp grass felt so soothing to lay down upon. The whiskey set in and I drifted quickly into a deep slumber, the chickens in the chicken coup quietly cooing and clucking, as if they were snoring like a tiny child. I woke up to the river churning below and I gazed above me at the twinkling stars above. I got up to take a piss in the bushes lining the bluff above the river and could see the reflection of the moon shimmering in the small rapids. I felt relaxed and tranquil yet vanquished by this tiny bit of paradise. And, now I wanted to slide away like the moonlight downriver to be swallowed up by the darkness of the canyon, back to a restful slumber where I would succumb to the nature that surrounds me, to simply let go and be sucked in by the blackness both of the night and the river. I stumbled back to my bedroll and dove in and nestled into my silk liner. The light switch to the moon turned off and I slept in dreamlessness. Sure enough, however, as soon as I felt my eyes had closed, a rooster began crowing. Then, another screamed into the early dusky morning and pierced the silence. I was up, but I rolled over feeling the condensation beaded up on my quilt. I lowered my buff over my eyes and I thought, 'I love this place.'

I heard the screen door shut and I rolled out of my quilt and began packing up. I floundered over to the deck in my bare feet that sifted through the damp grass. Songbirds began to chirp, the chickens really began to cluck, and the house cat began rubbing up against and weaving through my legs, as Sue brought me out a cup of coffee. I was in no hurry, but I also did not want to overstay my welcome. I chatted with Sue, a mild-mannered and free spirit of a soul. I didn't want to pry too much on 'how did they make it work out here,' nevertheless I tried just a tiny bit. I was fascinated by the life they had created here. I was not envious -- I was inspired. Greg came out from the cabin with a cup of coffee in hand. He asked if I wanted a tour of his furrier shop and the museum room. I eagerly jumped up and followed him into the side cottage that substitutes as his workshop. Being as they live off the grid, Greg showed me the solar panels and battery storage system, all of which helped power his machines, such as a grinder, to fine tune his craft. We toured his masonry oven room, the brick ovens all handmade. He showed me the slag and metal scrap used to craft a blade. He walked me through the process from scrap to finished product. I could tell from this patient craftsman that to complete one knife took a fair amount of time. Slowly and methodically, he pounded out the molten metal to shape out a blade. He grinded and sharpened the beautiful and glistening metal to its perfection. In his shop, I could envision him in his process. Next up, he opened a door within the masonry oven room. We entered the room. Spackled, tacked, nailed and hung on the walls displayed the history of Yellowpine Bar and the surrounding Salmon River canyon. Old faded photos showed the canyon dwellers living life in the canyon or having leisure in the canyon along the river. On a large shelf stuffed wildlife heads were mounted in a stoic position. Skulls were positioned on another shelf above. I ogled at the black bear skull with the skeletal and vacant eyes. I peered into the mouth of the stuffed wolverine trying to envision the birth of their growl and ferocity. In the mix was an old picture from the 70's. A young man, mustached, wearing an animal hide hat, with peaceful and kind eyes with yet a vacant visage, stared ahead from the photograph. Greg let me know that the photograph of that rugged individual was of him right before they had moved west from Minnesota to Idaho. I could see that this room was more than the living history of the canyon. It was also the history of an idea and vision this kind man had so many years ago. His purpose along with Sue's appeared to be one of living intently. We closed the door and went back out to the deck. I was full of pep inside and eager to get hiking again with a sense of inspired purpose, while outwardly I maintained a calm demeanor. This visit to Yellowpine Bar at the hamlet of Greg and Sue had replenished me more than just with my resupply box. I had met two people who lived life together in unison, individually yet together, with a kind and peaceful disposition, with a purpose to thrive without the distractions of the crazy society we are all a part of, and lived a life with love.


I ambled upriver as the sun peered over the ridges high above. I passed the cove where the metal motorboat was beached. Not one flag hung from the rear of the boat. 'Just for show,' I thought. Soon enough though, I had rid the thought of that boat, never to bring it forth in the mind again. Rather, I focused on the welled up goodness and inspiration I felt from Yellowpine Bar. And, soon enough, five miles passed and I was at the junction to Bargamin Creek. I decided on this lower alternative route rather than the original Rattlesnake Ridge route of the ICT. Greg and Sue had told me the trail up Rattlesnake Ridge had been obliterated for some years. Coupled with my sense that most ICT hikers had been taking Bargamin Creek, the decision seemed like a no brainer. About a mile into the canyon, I felt happy to be back in the true wild. The canyon just had that feel about it. The canyon started off as narrow and the trail wedged in between the steep slopes above and the roaring and cascading creek. The trail was in rough shape, but nothing too difficult or annoying. Other than merely moving at a slower pace than I had been accustomed to, the first 5 miles or so the trail led upstream without too much obstruction. I dodged huge piles of bear scat, some fresh, some hard and crusty. My awareness piqued realizing I was in an even truer wild place than I had initially thought. See, I truly love wilderness. A place free from major human impact, a place truly wild in nature, a place where I can gaze into a horizon and feel the isolation and the emptiness of man, a place where I can be where I can face myself without any distraction, where I am truly me. Some places are more wild than others, some places have a sense of wilderness in bits while some places exude an immensity of wildness that one feels utterly immersed in this wilderness state. The latter is where I thrive, where I have to be aware of every single second of a moment, where every decision matters, where I am acting in pure nature within a pure nature. There is no other feeling like it -- this is the love I have always sought and will continue to seek.


I hit a rock slide, a big one that had destroyed the trail. I had to climb over a couple huge trees that had fallen atop the rock slide. I looked up the steep slope and could see a fire scarring on the slopes above me. I knew that the trail would get worse from there. After I negotiated the rock slide, the trail became incredibly overgrown to where I couldn't see the ground below my feet. I began to understand that hardly a person let alone a rider on horseback had traveled this far in the depths of the canyon. I could tell that only bears used this corridor. I would go from an overgrown path to a trail full of carnage from smaller rockslides to large sections of downed trees. I looked at the map and thought that once the canyon widened, possibly the trail would get better. I slowed from a 2.5mph pace to a measly 1.5mph pace. I worked incessantly to get over the countless downed trees until I hit the widening of the canyon. To my surprise, the condition of the trail got even worse. Really, the trail was no longer. I negotiated my way through a meadow that once held a tall grove of ponderosa. My shins took on the beginnings of the constant thrashing I would encounter the next 4 days. I poked my way across this ravaged meadow climbing over humongous dead, burnt, or fallen ponderosa and in between each tree I fought my way through hard brush that lashed at my shins and forearms and snagged at my clothing. I could barely see the ground and fought my way through trying not to trip or fall. The temperature swooned and became hot as hell. Sweat poured down my whole body and stung my fresh new cuts and scratches on my shins. Suddenly, the sky turned dark. A strong wind came roaring down the canyon. I looked above and could see the formation of a thundercloud moving swiftly in overhead. Rain began to patter and I paid no mind to the water as I was already drenched in sweat. The rain fell harder and harder as I continued to climb over fallen ponderosa that had now become slicker with the pouring rain. The wind would careen down the side canyons and raged through the standing burnt totems of snags, as thunder boomed above. All of a sudden, the heaviest of gusts came roaring in and I moved with a speedy intent trying to get out of this ravaged meadow and out from under the totem trees that now creaked with the proposition of crashing down. In an instant, standing dead trees began snapping and the green trees whipped and yawned over almost to a 90 degree angle. Every time the wind howled through I would look up at the trees in case of one snapping or falling over. I tried to run but I had to keep climbing over the trees that laid across my pathway ahead of me. I was utterly vulnerable. The thundercell lasted about 30 minutes and I finally made it to safe forested confines of Porcupine Creek. I sat and leaned up against a giant fir tree and closed my eyes and slowed my heart rate down. The spectacle and escape from the roving thundercell had my adrenaline way up. I needed to calm down. I washed my face off in the cold creek and again leaned against the fir. I fell into a nap and out of the crazy excitement of the past couple hours. I fell into the last long break of the day and hoped for clearer paths ahead.


And, the trail did get better, for about a 5 mile stretch. But, situationally, the weather had calmed too and I just had to walk. Beargrass blossomed in vast hillsides as I gradually climbed higher. The forest became aromatic with the scent of the massive fields of beargrass. Atop the tall stalks and a cluster of white flowers bunch together to form a bulbous flowering pod that is topped with a white or green nipple. The creamy white flowers splash pollen onto the hiker's clothes as one walks along a trail that is lined with beargrass. Beargrass reminds me of the yuccas in Southern California I grew up around. Not nearly in numbers, but if you look at some beargrass across a drainage and up on a hillside, the swaying in the breeze reminds me of the yucca on the chaparral slopes of Southern California. As I hiked up Bargarmin Creek, the beargrass fields became epic in numbers. I could not hike without getting the pollen in me and my clothes. The pollen and the scent of the beargrass soothed my senses. The pollen awas soft to the touch that caressed my and cooled my sweaty skin while the aroma of the flowers brought pleasant imagery to my imaginations. This splashing of the pollen from the beargrass continued on the duration of the Bargamin Creek trail until I finally popped out at the Magruder Corridor, the remote and backcountry dirt road that bisected the Frank Church and the Selway-Bitterroot Wildernesses. I arrived at the Poet Creek trailhead and rested my weary body sitting atop a log stump. The temperature had cooled down quite a bit since that sweltering oven in the canyon, however, the skies had remained dark since then. Giant cells roamed in the sky surrounding me, but, as usual with these large cells, a vacuum in the sky behind the passing cell kept the tail end storm free. After all these years of tracking storms on foot out here in the West, one thing you notice is the vacuum created by these massive storm systems and the space needed above for them to roam in. Another thing you also notice, is that they can still be very unpredictable and may circle back. So, as I was sitting on my lumpy stump I could see the tumbling of the system that had passed over me. I knew I had time, at least enough time to hike a bit more and set up campe before the cell came back around. So, I slunked into my lumpy stump and ate my dinner. A couple of moths landed on me as I was completely covered, really decorated, in beargrass. The moths paid no mind to my movements, albeit as slow as they were. I leaned in to inspect the moths, to investigate their movements with great scrutiny. I was fascinated by their arrival on my body. I marveled at my new disguise that had me blending in with the surrounding blooms and forest. I felt an animal within me finally becoming the animal on the outside. I watched the moths with their tiny proboscis peck at the splotches of beargrass pollen on my shirt and forearms. As small as they were, I could feel their softness, their gentle touch and kisses. I fixated on their tinyness, their dainty wings and hairy body. I lost track of time being absorbed in their microscopic world. Even though their world was my body, I had become detached from my own skin. I felt so high above the scene, soaring as an observer on the world below. Out of body and out of mind, I had misplaced my awareness in a wild forest as thunder boomed above me, a dramatic ending to the movie I had been watching. I packed up, stood up, and scooted down the trail trying to find camp in a burnt landscape. Indeed, after some time, I found a flat piece of ground on a saddle without any standing dead or burnt trees. I calmly set up my shelter as the wind strongly blew in. As soon as I got onto my sleeping pad, a light sprinkling began that within five minutes had turned into a steady downpour. Lightning flashed around me and thunder crashed within seconds after each flash. I tucked my head into my quilt and slowed my breathing down. I fell asleep dreaming of the moths pecking the pollen off of my skin. I dreamt of being a tall stalk of beargrass swaying lightly in the wind, as around me the storm raged. 

Wilderness has different states. To me, true wilderness is as such: absolute in nature, the essence of a brutally perfect chaos, radically harmonious under the laws of nature. I woke up early to the storm rattling above me, like the last shakings of a tremor. I waited a few minutes for the raindrops to stop and poked my head out from under my tarp. I had a window, so I packed up swiftly and started uphill on an exposed and burnt broad ridge. This was my first full day in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. Immediately I encountered a terrible trail right off the bat. I jumped, climbed, scaled, crawled under, scooched over, and scooted on over hundreds of blowdowns. I moved slowly, at a snail's pace, in the early soggy morning. Things weren't off to a good foot like I had had in the Frank Church. Then, I hit the Lynx Meadows Trail and encountered another burn area and obliterated trail, worse than before. Each burn area has a unique character to it. Depending on the terrain, whether meadow, ridgeline, ridge tops, valleys, or canyons, each have a different scarring. The wildfire that had moved through an area had behaved differently depending on conditions. Weather would influence the tenacity of a fire, the winds shaping a scarring design in the trees that gives a wildfire a personality like a living and thriving being. Different types of trees influence the difficulty of hiking through a burn area afterwards. A forest of a certain type of tree determines the struggle. Whatever burn area you are traversing one must climb over each downed tree obstacle, must constantly scan ahead in pursuit of the corridor of least resistance, and must apply utmost concentration to avoid injury. For example, in lodgepole pine forests the carnage is the worst. Tall and thin trees with shallow roots topple over quite easily, and without much thick bark for fire protection and the stands growing all closely together, make for a denuding of the landscape which perfectly creates a horrendous wildfire aftermath with countless hazards to hikers and wildlife, not to mention completely obliterated trail. This is the place I was in. 

And, the storms did not stop. While climbing continuously over downed trees and dodging the roving thunderstorms at the same time, it is a necessity to remain persistent and concentrated. You absolutely cannot fuck up, especially in this wilderness complex being so far away from any town and help. Hours after creeping along, I finally got to an access road of reprieve before entering back into the wilderness. Luckily for me, a huge dumping of rain occurred right around that time. I found a large Douglas Fir for rain protection and hunkered down under the canopy to remain dry. The storm dropped hail that bashed the leaves of the smaller plants around me. I hardly got wet. Ascending up the Patrol Ridge Trail, the next cell hit as soon as I crested the rounded ridge top. This one was a big one, huge in scope and smothered the whole sky as far as I could see. Huge curtains of rain had finally caught up with me. The supercell moved in so fast, so alarmingly, I couldn’t take the breather I had wanted after the 4,000ft climb over 4 miles. The top was bare and had been burnt before, but had huge piles of huge boulders, outcrops large enough to possibly find coverage. I got to the first outcrop and sat under a partial overhang for 5 minutes before the storm and the rain curtains arrived. I was too exposed, so I bolted out from under the boulder. I needed to get lower somehow. I decided to get to the saddle below that had larger trees for protection. I ran as thunder clapped above me, my adrenaline at full tilt. Using my trekking poles for stability I meandered and jumped along a rutted out channel of trail. Moving swiftly, at a trot, I finally found a large grove of large trees slightly off the downhill side of the saddle. With a widespread and thick canopy, with all the excitement passing above me, I huddled under the perfect tree to keep warm and dry. I waited for the storm to pass and I fell asleep in a crouched position. The wind picked up and I opened my eyes, feeling the tail end of the cell. I looked up and could see the directional tail of the curtains of rain. The worst was in front of me. I got up and left and began the next climb up the ridge. Luckily I couldn't move too fast with such a steep trail because I did not want to catch the tail end of that storm. However, as I neared the top, a smaller cell crashed in from the west. Crashing and booming, the profound clack deafened me and brought a ringing to my ears. The storm was directly overhead; I was in it. I found another large jumble of boulders with a better overhang than the previous outcrop. I slid under and stashed my poles away from me and jabbed the metal tips into the damp dirt just beneath the boulder. Lightning flashed and the drops got fatter and began pounding the ground. All the fat drops turned to dime sized hail that indented the dirt. I sat dryly under my overhang and watched the pieces of hail bounce once the ice ball hit the dirt. Soon enough, balls of hail rolled down and into my hovel. I grabbed a couple and sucked on the ice that almost instantly melted in my mouth. While picking up the hail that had accumulated around me, just as alarmingly as the storm had come the storm had vanished and pushed north. Now, a deafening silence ensued, ensued like an action of silence, like a river of silence. The silence was palpable, almost as threatening as the storm.


I hiked onward, still seeing the storm ahead of me zooming into the northern skies. I left the ridge at a saddle on a somewhat good trail. That's how it goes in these wild parts. Wildfires burn and burn widespread areas and leave a destroyed and barren landscape. Wildlife survives and finds a way, new plant life emerges and changes the looks of the land, water melts and flows unimpeded without a viable root system of the trees and lack of topsoil -- the landscape changes so drastically after a devastating wildfire. Then, a hiker encounters a lush forest at the burn scar boundary and instantly follows a good trail. I made up some time on this decent trail that wiggled through dense forest and lush meadows. I had lost some time dodging and taking cover from the storms throughout the day. I had to make up for some time somewhere. I knew losing a few hours here and there would affect my food rationing, so I hiked on into the evening under foreboding skies. Cumulus clouds circled back and I began to look for cover in a forested area. Raindrops pelted my tarp tumultuously, as I laid down nervously in a hollowed out swale not too suitable for a camp. I had no choice, nonetheless, and I slunk into my quilt as flashes of lightning upticked the pounding of rain onto my tarp.

At some point in the night, the rain ceased and I woke up to everything being damp from the moist air and the dripping trees. I got up a little antsy not knowing what the day would bring. Would I continue to dodge storms amidst destroyed trails? How many trees would I have to climb over today? Both thoughts gave me an unending feeling of anxiety. I brushed away the greenery soaked from the previous night's rain that lined the trail. A carwash is what us thru-hikers call it. And, I was in the midst of a thorough drenching. Of course, I encountered a burn area. I hiked, scrambled, and picked my way through the burn area over hundreds of downed deadfall. The trail was gone and I followed only the contours of my map and of the terrain. While hopscotching over treacherous downed trees, I gouged my shin on a stob. I let out a yelp in the cool morning air and a young bull elk leapt from some thick brush about a 100ft away from me. He sprinted away, but then began to act strangely. He kept flanking back by me as if some territorial behavior of a perceived threat, or out of just plain curiosity. Maybe I was the first human this young bull elk had encountered. His odd behavior continued for about two miles up the drainage all within the burn area. These two miles went by slowly and I felt to really gather an experience with this young bull. I could see his ratty fur and short and stubby tines. I was amazed at how easily he traversed through the ravaged terrain simply hopping and jumping over piles and piles of logs. I excruciatingly kept on trying to keep pace. He would stop and wait for me to get within that 100ft barrier and then leap away. After those slow two miles, he crossed the creek and disappeared from me forever. A mile or so later, I stumbled out of the burn scar with my shin welting up with a bloody contusion. Then, with the snap of a finger, I was back on a better trail, the memory of the young bull elk supplanted with a knotty contusion..


Later in the day spiraling down Moose Ridge, I was close on the heels of something. I couldn't pick out what I was following but I guessed by the overturned leaves around shin level that I was within an hour or so of a bear or Coyote and Dre. My tracking sense turned on and I spied out the ground in front of me looking for footprints, even the tiniest bit of evidence. The long descent dropped 5,000ft to the Selway River below. I scurried on trying to catch what was ahead of me, as my ears popped and my knees swelled up from the pounding of a steep downhill. I had a feeling it would be Coyote and Dre, though I couldn't be sure. From a bald point I could see the giant X of an airfield situated a couple thousand feet below me. I heard a slight hum in the air and saw a prop plane zigzag around the vast empty space above the airfield and coast in for a smooth landing. I enjoyed observing the landing, like a kid watching a model train go along the model tracks. Soon, I crossed the Selway on a long suspension bridge and hastened my pace. I was excited to reach the Moose Creek Ranger Station situated on the broad bar of the confluence of the Selway River and wide Moose Creek. I had arranged a package to be flown in along with a Montana Conservation Corps' backcountry immersion crew's resupply. So, my thoughts were trained on food, besides meeting the MCC crew that held the package. As I neared the Ranger Station within a hundred yards or so, I saw two figures standing in front of the main building. I deduced from their stature and their outerwear that I had caught up to Coyote and Dre. I smiled and waved and they waved back. I trotted on to the cabin.

In '06 I moved from Los Angeles to Billings, MT to serve a 10 month term in the MCC. I loved my experience so much I stayed for another 3 years. The program changed my life and proved to me that I could commit to something and follow through with it. I saw the value of the program in a young adult's life and how the program was a launching pad for the rest of their life. My experience in the MCC was like that: a launching pad. One of my favorite aspects of the MCC was the immersion crews, where 6-8 young adults went into a backcountry setting for 5 months on end. No cell service, no television, no city visits, just immersion in a vast wilderness with 6-8 strangers all working on a trail crew busting their asses in every type of condition. This experience was gnarly and one I had been most fond of when I was at the MCC. It just seemed the crews came out as such different and stronger people afterwards. The growth appeared profound. All these years later, too, I have remained in close contact with a friend I worked with in the MCC. Cliff has been a sturdy friend in my life the past 10 years. So, when I put the ICT trip together I reached out to him about any MMC immersion crews that were in the Frank Church Complex, in particular based out of Moose Creek Ranger Station. He then put me in contact with another MCC office that had a crew set to embark on their backcountry stint. After I shipped my package to the Missoula MCC office, my package then hitched a ride on a backcountry prop plane, similar to the one I had observed flying in way above on Moose Ridge. As I strutted up to the cabin Coyote and Dre hailed me in and out of the cabin came a couple of crew members with my box. Turns out I had, indeed, been following Coyote and Dre and they had only arrived about 30 minutes before me here at the cabin. We circled up on the lawn and chatted feverish away, our jaws flapping over the social encounter with so much to talk about. Coyote, Dre, and I yapped about our Frank Church and Selway-Bitterroot experience. We compared scraped shins and tattered gear. We created huge yarns of wildlife sightings and fierce lightning storms. I overlapped that conversation with getting to know the friendly crew members. I gutted my food box and divided up the goodies and treats I had had for the crew. Rice Krispie treats, chocolate bars, coffee, licorice, and a big plastic baggie of organic chili mac. I was so pleased over their excitement, and I could tell they had a wild glare after a month in the backcountry with the same food, the same tough work, and the same people. They were just about hardened and still glowing in that honeymoon phase. A rain cloud hovered over us and a few drops fell. We hurried inside to avoid a soaking. A buzz of activity came about as other crew members arrived and introduced themselves, as well as a University of Montana fire ecology crew. We were the stars amongst the stars there at Moose Creek Ranger Station, while I looked at the crew as the stars knowing their experience was just beginning. The MCC crew offered us up a huge pieced together meal of hot leftovers, some pasta and rice, while the fire ecology crew dashed us over a couple of beers. Our obsequious hosts just regaled us with our immediate needs. We scarfed down the dinner and soaked up the beers, and as the storm passed by us, we knew it was time to beat feet and go on and find ourselves a camp further up the trail. We said our goodbyes and wished everyone a great season, so grateful for their work out there and their help to us. We bade them farewell and a great summer.


We woke up the next morning tucked away in the trees adjacent to a soggy meadow. Coyote spotted a moose on the other side of the creek, a young one that galloped away from him. We packed up and hiked away from camp through the damp and tall grass, the mackerel clouds hanging low in the valley. We had heard a Forest Service trail crew was currently up the North Fork of Moose Creek clearing trail and retreading the neglected pathway. The corridor started off that way, just saying. We were having early morning conversations, quiet yet giddy, for we were happy to be around one another. Really, this was the first company each of us had had on trail so far. We reminisced about our time in Stanley together, the conditions of the trail when they first started, my knee injury...all that shit. I mean, we basically got to know each other in a half day more than most people get to know each other over a span of years. Our mood was high. That's how it is with trail life. Everything matters so much because you are living in the moment. Every minute decision has a consequence. You have an intense purpose in every action. You have no time not to be committed fully or not to be acting in full. One cannot afford to be lazy with intention; one must act in earnest. We plowed on through tall undergrowth that drenched our bottom halves. Literally, we were plowing ahead. Sometimes we hopped a giant log, most times we fought through tall and thick brush, and yet we forged away even when more often than not we couldn't even see the path we were walking on. We kept going and going, following each other with cheerful conversation through worse and worse trail. Even with our outset from Moose Creek expecting better trails, we were resilient, almost immune to the rigor of the overgrowth. Nonetheless, after four consecutive days of tremdous effort, four consecutive days of hopping, crawling, climbing, straddling, scaling, scooching, poking, snapping, clawing -- over and under or around or atop or through thousands of downed trees, our shins turned to leather stropped and willowed like animal hide, our fortitude weakened and exacerbated with electric thunderstorms atop isolated knobs, dodging the downpours, non-existent trails just hairy with brush and wreak-havoced by a fire scarred landscape, throw in a couple sketchy creek crossings -- the fucking Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness became a matter of survival. And now, as much as the trail ahead of us in the North Fork drainage got worse, we laughed harder. I believed we all knew in that moment that nature doesn’t care -- thrashed shins, countless downed trees, high water, our determination through the chaos --  whatever it was, nature simply does not give a fuck. This is why I love nature truly and wholly. It does not love me back and, only then, do I understand fully the definition and philosophy of love. Everything in that moment, everything felt so damn perfect, simply brutally perfect. 


We intercepted the crossing of the North Fork of Moose Creek around mid morning. Coyote was a few minutes behind me and Dre a few more minutes behind Coyote. I plunged right in eyeing the line across the wide creek. I could see the line break across the undulating waves where the creek funneled in and pushed through a deeper zone. The sun had crested the ridge behind us and the trees casted a shadow right on that fast channel that divided the river in two, the sunny side and the shady side. I got to the channel and felt the power of the water from underneath trying to sweep my feet out from under me. At this point the water was up to my mid thigh, yet I felt under control. I was reading the creek like a book, page by page, ripple by ripple. I propped and jammed my trekking poles into some secure pockets beneath some tire-sized boulders. I looked back to the crossing point from where I came some 20 feet away. Coyote trotted to the gravelly shore where the trail terminated into the water. 

I yelled over the roaring water, 'THIS SPOT RIGHT HERE, THIS IS THE CRUX. THE CURRENT IS STRONG.'

Coyote nodded in understanding, his brow furrowed in concentration. I could see in his eyes he craved this exact situation. I continued picking my way across the tumbling creek, the rest of the way as wide as a city street. I reached the other shore where the trail picked back up. I took off my pack and propped myself up on a rock to film with my phone Coyote and Dre crossing the creek, my trekking poles close at hand just in case I needed to spring into action. In Stanley, the three of us had had breakfast together. The duo had appeared a little shell-shocked from the trail conditions they had experienced in the Sawtooths (amazingly high snow levels and water content and runoff) and in the Frank Church (incredibly high flood waters blocking their way in). From that conversation in Stanley to our camp conversation the night before, I had a feeling they may have felt a little repercussion from those hairy events they had experienced. On many, many trails over thousands and thousands of miles, I have seen some hairy shit. I have been in their shoes once and I knew what to expect and what I was capable of. They absolutely had the capability and just needed confidence especially through experience. And, now directly in front of them raged a deep creek with strong currents and many strong rapids. Coyote had waited for Dre and they entered the water together after devising a plan. I had wanted Coyote to see the line that I took. I wanted them to take the same line, too, because I could see it was the safest line. Coyote led her out into the knee deep water where one could see the width of the creek in full view where the roar of the creek became deafening. Dre's trekking poles began to tremble in the swift current, as she leaned in upriver. Coyote shadowed her from behind with only one trekking pole, as his other one had lost the tension in the clip that tightened and held the rod into place within the extended length of the pole and now lived in his water bottle pocket on his backpack. They side-stepped over slowly facing upriver and leaned in with the weight of the backpack on their backs. Slowly and methodically they sidled over. A long minute had lapsed on the video mode of my phone. And... then they both came to a halt, just about 10 feet shy of the area that I had called the crux and had yelled at Coyote to be aware of. They both remained in the deep shadows of the other side. Coyote turned his head and looked at me nervously. His glare had changed and I could see he was at a somewhat impasse, like he was unsure of his stature and balance in the creek while sensing the tightness of Dre at his immediate arm's reach. I put down my phone in a dry spot. He continued to turn his head in every direction looking for foot placement in the creek, his left and poleless arm calmly flailing. I could tell he was trying to keep the calm out there, so as to not stir up any panic. I trudged into the creek at an angle slightly behind the two and set a vector to walk up stream while angling over. Dre remained focused on the water directly and below her. I thought she looked like she was stuck in tunnel vision. Coyote spotted me out of the corner of his eye and gave me a nervous grin. I thought he looked like he had no place else to go. He looked stuck. I had a feeling they needed some support, some encouragement. I started trudging across and reached a spot more than passed midway and right before the crux. 

Dre yelled out: YOU'RE COMING BACK

I got behind a decent sized boulder where the water rushed around the swole hump of the boulder. The water came up to my waist, but I had control. I locked my left foot in place, my shoe braced and wedged between some smooth rocks. 

'YOTE, TAKE MY POLE.' 

'I CAN'T MOVE. I CAN'T REACH.' I maneuvered to him just a few feet more and extended my arm out with the tip of my pole in hand. Coyote reached out as far as he could, as his neck strained. I inched a tad closer and he squeezed the pole in his hand. As he grabbed the pole his other hand came out of the water with a shortened pole. He had been stranded in that high water without a pole to brace himself. He had been stuck. Dre looked back at the maneuver. 

'YOU NEED A POLE. HERE, TAKE MINE.' With an act of love she was willing to sacrifice her safety for the safety of her partner. I, then, noticed that Coyote wasn't just stuck, rather he was protecting his partner. These seconds slowed down to me, time oozed to a slo-mo clip of an action scene in a movie that conjures up deep emotion. I could see each movement slowly, their love for each other passing unto each other within their own river of love. 

'NO, DRE, KEEP THE POLE.' She turned back around. 'LEAN! LEAN! FOCUS DRE! FOCUS!' 

Coyote looked at me, 'WHAT ABOUT YOU?' 

'LOOK AT ME,' waving my arms showing my stability in where I stood in the middle of the creek. 'I'M GOOD, JUST GET TO ME,' as I handed him my other pole.

They began to move slowly and steadily, carefully. I continued sternly yelling with encouragement. 

'LEAN FORWARD, YOUR ALMOST THERE, FOCUS, LEAN FORWARD, LEAN, FOCUS.'

They got to my area. Coyote looked at me with relief. He gave me back one of the poles and we trundled on to the other side. On the soft sand, we all looked at each other. Dre looked incredibly pumped. Coyote looked like a concerned partner, and I felt ecstatic. I could see their eyes wide and white, their legs pink and red from the cold, their cheeks flushed with excitement.

'Let it out, if you have to.'

'I feel like that time I was a vet tech and a dog bit me violently,' Dre blurted. 'Well, shit, scream!' She let out the exhaust of adrenaline. 

'Let's walk for an hour, then let's talk about it.' We sauntered on with soggy shoes and feet, back into the overgrowth and the log-hopping.

Life is an act in progress with constant change. Characters change, you change, the stage changes, curtains close and open again and again. Within, one must stay flexible and rid the mind of rigidity. One must not confuse that rigidity for discipline or belief. With that, one must not be lazy about this act of life. Sure, it’s fine to lower expectations. In fact, I think it’s a sign of humility, even malleability. But, to be lazy only reinforces incredulity. If you cannot believe in what you are doing, then why do it at all. Life in the act of progress should not be hastened. Life is not of progress, however; life is growth and change. Age is only the tag under the collar that signifies the size of the shirt. Time is a concept that should only be looked at through the prism of gratitude. We cannot change things. We can only forgive. We can only be grateful. We can only leave it all behind. We can only love. We should only be supple. We should only kill off laziness and the rigid mind. To get stuck in trying to change things, to change time, one diminishes, one diminishes the act of life. We should only love truthfully, and live with love wholly. Whose time and life is one trying to waste anyways? Why waste the act of life? Has time passed you by? Or have you passed time?

Where had I been all these months drowning in my sorrow? Where did I go? Being around Dre and Coyote reminded me of how naturally positive I am, how indefatigably resistant to negativity I could be, how resilient and determined I am, almost overwhelmingly so. They provided me with the reminder of how much enthusiasm and energy I have for life, that pure and simple joy and love of nature and adventure. Seeing them look at me and I wanted to teach, to help, to inspire, just to anyone who would listen. Those moments I had with Dre and Coyote provided me with joy and purpose.

After our lunch debriefing, we parted ways. We hugged and said farewell not knowing what would happen on the rest of the trail and if we would all see each other again or not. I camped that night on Fish Creek Pass that held expansive views of the surrounding Bitterroot Range. I soaked up a sunset and sunrise, just smothered in pinks and oranges and purples. I looked down towards Fish Creek Lake and the airfield and scanned for Coyote and Dre. I could see no sign of the two. I recounted my food rations and I lost hope in thinking I could make it another 6 days with the appropriate amount of food. The recent trail conditions had me playing it safe. I could not afford to pull up short into town a full day short of food. I packed up my shelter and stuff and headed down the Boulder Creek Trail knowing I had to hitchhike into a resort 20m to the west along a weaving and quiet highway. I was cool with it, too. This is where life has led me. I will follow the path of life and acknowledge the harmony of randomness. I will follow the sign and heed the call of my pumping blood. I ain't dead yet. I trotted on excited for a meal, excited for a shower and a bed. At the highway, I scribbled a note on a kiosk to Coyote and Dre: SHORT ON FOOD, WENT TO 3 RIVERS. SEE YOU THERE. (: