Chapter 7: Simple
West Yellowstone to Vivian Park
I set off from Columbus, New Mexico not knowing what was ahead of me. I had a loose plan of a long distance hike, but nothing cemented in particular. Overwhelmingly, I had a sense, actually a need, for things to be different, just in a way that I would not want to rely upon. I had myriad of questions inside, emotions that had been stirring up over events from last winter, things I shelved and ignored, shit I simply didn’t acknowledge or deal with. I set out for simplicity as a necessity to strengthen my unknowing. I drifted within my careless wanderings within an urge to wonder about what else is there, what other options do I have. I struggled with footsteps because of my credulousness with my future in my work life, my social and family life, and my hiking life. Like how does it all interweave together. I thought to myself, ‘keep it simple and it’ll all work itself out.’ But it’s not that easy, and things did not seem to work itself out. It is just as easy to let the heart run rampant without any control over what one may feel. Reel it in, I say; reel it in I could not.
I thought this year would be more physical on me, more mentally taxing, however, emotionally proved to be the tidal wave. Really, what a roller coaster ride this trek has been. I vacillated between emotional highs and lows, of pain and loss, of self-indulgence and the struggle for compassion, and the self-contained guilt and my freedom.
The delicate beauty of a lupine leaf, spiraled and oblanceolated, in a rainstorm, bedazzled with the droplets of water along the leaflets, the crown jewel right in the middle, a diamond sparkling, would freeze me in my tracks. I didn’t care if I was soggy or uncomfortable. It was simple, an austere beauty held within nature that I yearned to reflect how I wanted to feel inside. This peace, this solitude of calm, is simplicity. All of this, in particular, did not show a time worn meaning. The droplet held an ephemeral scant of imperfection, for as soon as the summer sun would come blaring back out the droplet would disappear, evaporate back into the cycle of newness. Everything about these intangibles laws of nature felt so less rigid than the hardwood inside of me resisting the malleability of human fallibility. I am deeply flawed, as unsimply flawed as the droplet is simply beautiful in the center of a lupine leaf.
I trekked through the Teton Crest, an undulating mountain range savage in its appearance of serrated craftiness. The hillsides has begun to dry out with the crunchy arrowleaf basalm root, yet a touch of greenery held onto the hillside with other smaller wildflowers highlighting the array of plant life. I ran into a weather-worn woman in her skivvies saying to me, ‘I didn’t expect to see anyone out here,’ her angry mutts rushing towards me, her nervous horses fidgeting under a canopy of trees. I felt far away from her and company, like 50ft, but the energy pushed me further away. I wondered if she thought if she owned the forest, stamped out the land and trails for her own personal enjoyment. I moved quickly on, laughed to myself and shrugged it off, then continued on up another brutal climb.
After my fourth pass of the day I spotted a large bull moose grazing in the meadow below, his lumbering head mowing the meadow like a vacuum. The scene felt empty and immersed in solitude, as evening began to settle in. A few moments later I plopped down exhausted in a drainage after a monstrous day of ascents on a rocky knoll with a small patch of somewhat a flat spot and pitched my shelter. I did not like being so close to trail but night fell so quick in the North Fork Teton drainage, the high basin walled in succumbing to a rapid darkness, so I felt I couldn’t be a beggar. Surely enough though, sunset peepers and peak baggers rolled into one came tumbling down trail from Table Mountain, their headlamps bouncing to and fro, their voices booming in the otherwise quiet and still basin, the rushing creek the white noise in a blank canvas. I felt embarrassed for assuming no one would be out here and felt we all must think we own our own little treasure of feelings and thoughts. It is so simple to be a hypocrite, to contradict my assumed openness. It is simple to be a dopey human, it sure is simple to get wrapped up in your own self in your own head and trip over your clumsy thoughts.
After the scramble down Table Mountain I began to crank out the miles along the Teton Crest amidst a beauty unparalleled, the shelves of limestone veiled in a late summer’s greenery, the hordes of backpackers keeping it simple by being ‘close by’ and reigned in by a park system seemingly herding cattle within the highlights of a man-forced theme park, both sides perpetuating an over-loved problem.
There is more out here, I tell you. We give up our time and time is all we have. This complicates things and reasonates in the buffoonery of ideals we hold dearly, both for me and the common backpacker. In my own buffoonery, I trampled along worn paths streaming along gentle grades amidst an incredible area feeling thankful for the hard work of trail crews while feeling annoyed for the controlled corralling of keeping the common backpackers in one area so I could have the hidden jewels to myself. I got caught up in my selfishness even though a world surrounded me in selfishness. Jackson and the giant worm of tourism laid below in a beautiful valley, the local folks reaping the benefits of the herded cats, very much the same as I do in the winter. It is all a game, all of it, and it is so simple to be a part of no matter the complicated issues and feelings. As a society we strive for conveniences, which is the opposite of simple even though conveniences may be conceived of as simple. I think about this crap, for I have the time out here. I think about how selfish I am is just as equal as someone driving a luxurious motor home towing a $75,000 vehicle. There seems to be no difference in egos save for the value we place on experiences. Sigh, I breathed in and focused on my machinations of movement, my rhythm in a world of physicality.
In Jackson I met up with Stephan, a close friend of mine who travelled and hiked with me last year in Peru. He is a sound board for me, challenging me on contrary thoughts which enables me to widen my scope. I appreciate him very much for his friendship, as well as the chatting. I freely expressed to him the hold-ups I have held on to that inhibit me from moving on, hashing it out, and the need expression. An obstacle’s timing is ruthless but only I can train my mode of thoughts in a direction that will be most beneficial to me. I do not like when someone else steals my time. You can borrow it, but I wrestle with someone stealing it. Alas, I need to let go of my time in a way, to play the game a bit more compromisingly, unguarded and more forgiving. A valuable friendship is as worthy, if not more worthy, as my time in the wilderness, for both I would have trouble giving up on.
One hour with Stephan, however, feels like a week in the wilderness. So, as he worked I hitched a short way back up to Teton Pass. I accessed the undulating crest of the Snake River Range from there, this range and the Wyoming Range, the next encounter, I held in my aspirations since I once lived in Montana some 12 years ago. Here I was, looking back over the valley and I could see the mighty Grand Teton haloed in a purple haze spangled by granite rock above the shimmering and meandering Snake River. A mighty observation held so dearly in me with I feeling much better about myself. At this point, with what I knew laid ahead, I began to strive for ridgline or hill top camp spots, for I began a deep longing for a simple home every night with glamorous views of the world around me. A quaint plot in a cover of trees or on a grassy ridge, or in a patchy thicket, all of the homes for the night are simple, so simple I sweat with dreams of a freeing thought unclenched of any fears of not being comforted. I chose to be here, and I have chosen to move on.
I stumbled upon fresh, wet track in the trail, and based on the water heighth and amount of water layered in the willows, I suspected a black bear. Every creek crossing the fresher the droplets of mud spackled on the dusty trail, the actual foot print hard to distinguish within the soft dust. Along with every creek crossing, I would get wetter and wetter from the willows, my proximity signified by cleaner knees. Certainly enough, as I filled up at a spring, I saw the bear wallowing along trail slowly reveling in the side-trail berries. The bear did not act like I had been had, at least I thought. Nevertheless, he tumbled off the trail and into the sagebrush and crossed the creek again. He stopped to munch on willows and rose hips at creekside as I observed the bear from the trail above, still the bear giving no sign he knew of me. I trembled inside with closeness of this bear, like I had been touching the bear. The feeling of the presence of wild was extremely palpable, like a taste bud or a quench of thirst.
I encountered with a bow hunter fresh off his first overnight trip in the backcountry. We talked briefly of being alone, of the contradicting pain of being alone and the necessity of being alone, of missing his family and the general need for being social. I countered mostly, being that I spend as much time alone as I do. I spoke of the reward and replenishment of being alone, of the gift of isolation. Although I envied him in a way, I dreamed of a family to provide for with meat, with sustenance provided by nature and by the toil of one’s own bare hands. A simple yet valuable life, one that I long for, yet I play this stupid game from afar, really a consumer in a wanderer’s clothing, selfishly only doing for me. I have a complication with commitment, of trusting a system that values conveniences and money. It’s not the commitment to a family or a person that prohibits me from integrating in this life more, rather I hold deference to the commitment to a society that has an unrealistic way of living, a way that I all to often relish in myself. In the end, I have a complication of committing to myself to be a part of everything else.
I digress again, sinking back down into the underwater of negativity. I find the congruence in my extremes with the rugged terrain I am tramping in. I tend to waver like the trail, like the contours of the landscape. Yet I know this feels somber, of a depression when I am actually happy, honestly so. Maybe I am sobering up. Mountains will do that. They’ll sober you straight up. The Grayback Ridge felt unforgiving, wringing me dry of any intoxification of ego that poisoned my well. I floated back to the top, overwater, floating towards the crest of waves. I plodded along similar to trudging of water. Toiling, working hard till exhaustion is simple when a task holds value, when a task holds the air you need to keep from drowning.
The Wyoming Range continued in the perseverance of punishment reinforcing the value of hard work. I reveled in every second of this range, of my tool, of the simplicity of existence in the form of a worker, of flowing in harmony with my marching. Then, under Mt. McDougal the evening pulled a purple curtain over the screen of the face of the mountain, the pink alpenglow smothered by the purple radiance of dusk. Above the temple a bit fingernail clung to the purple air, a crescent moon that within minutes dropped behind the peak. I set up my shelter on a grassy shoulder. I looked back up to gaze at the skinny Luna, and to my dismay the sickle had sunk behind the rocky universe, hidden from my dreams. I felt disappointed, less hopeful, for I longed for her. A pensive mood hung in the air, a refreshing one of justified thoughts. Directly south, a long escarpment angled from a triple crowned peak, bending with ancient waves funneling down the gap between those triple peaks and Mt. McDougal. In the distance, to the southeast, the tablelands of the Red Rock Desert faded into darkness as the twinkling lights of sparse civilization became indiscernible from the now twinkling stars above, my horizon a globe of darkness. After all this hard work I was nearing the desert again. After all this emotional toil, I thought, under the purple sky, that life is so spectacularly simple that it just isn’t so simple.
A lone coyote lamented in the predawn light, a wail of sorrow, an ululation of lonesomeness. This email interrupted my sleep and I felt the end of a journey near, like the end of a night’s sleep. That morning I walked along with creeping thoughts of integration, of laughter, of a new start. I also swam with ponderings of rest and sleep. I have slept great on this hike with more hours of sleep accumulated each night. I think it is related to wanting more sleep rather than what I have thought before, that I did not need as much sleep as what was told to me was normal. Finally, I acknowledged the need for test and sleep on this trek, to reenergize like riding sun, to replenish like a new moon. I didn’t want to miss anything, I thought. I had to recap every waking moment and figure out what I missed. I am sure part of this belief was a simple youthful exuberance. My acceptance of needing more sleep is an embracing of age and time. Nonetheless, I find when I am most tired I am more willing to give in and settle up. I fantasize about that 9 month job, making good money, and getting a truck, possibly even a home one day. But when I am exhilarated, the adventure pumping through my veins, I want nothing more in this life than to live this life I am living. The latter boils more than the former, however, the former feels incredibly more comfortable and more convenient.
I push out a side note, that my dreaming is not as active too because of the depthness of rest. Does this mean I am subconsciously choosing the former? Dusk swooned over the cone of Wyoming Peak. I yearned for sleep after 35m of rugged terrain, my legs and spirit jello. A restful night of sleep up on a saddle, my home at 10,400ft, I sprung awake, snapped from my slumber and tried to jump into the sunrise. Nah, it is not my subconsciousness choosing the corner opting for a life of convenience. Nah, my spirit simply needs rest, for I will never stop dreaming.
The best things in life are simple. Agreed. But I hold value in the simplicity of complication, of being a human. Because that simplicity is simply not sustainable. Change inherently complicates things, our vicissitudes force us to adapt and grow unless we sink with indulgence. Sometimes I change my mind because I understand things clearer or feel things differently. It is not easy to be stamped out in simplicity when we ourselves are not simple. I roamed into cattle country. The summer season sank with the cool air of autumn setting in. The aspen groves shimmered in a cool wind as the meadows and draws chilled as the sun set. A mooing cow rang across the draw and echoed a lullaby. Another cow sang back in a deep tone, the base burrowing deep into the draws from the cold air. Then, a bugle squealed. I could hear elk scrambling through the brush on the hillsides. Under my tarp I sat in darkness simply listening, patiently letting myself fall asleep to the soughing of the aspen leaves and the rustle of the ungulates. I fathomed the range of cattle and elk, as well as the behavior and communication of the bovid and the herd.
The next day, up before dawn, I started the 32 miles towards town. While at first I went through remote draws I followed the driveways for cattle that cowboys used to deposit the herd where the food was. Eventually, after these pushed-out areas receded I hit the dirt road aiming straight for town. I gunned it. Before long I passed a ranch. Two ranchers waved hello after their shepherd work dogs ran to me to investigate. Throughout the afternoon I ended up hopscotching with these two ranchers and their pups, each rancher towing a trailer. I spoke in length with the first one, Kim Nate. The brothers were out working the cattle and roaming the land horseback trying to find the cattle. I asked about my musings from last night, the range, communication and behaviors of cattle, and how they related to elk. I don’t know, I really admired their wide open occupation in a wide open land. Anyways, they gave me local information on Montpelier, so I zipped ahead hungry and tired.
After a restful night in a room I wondered if I would see those cowboys again. I wondered slowly on down to the market to food shop on my way out of town. Who comes walking up to me is Kim Nate. We chatted. We compared tan lines out there in front of the market, as I sat up on the curb repackaging my food and hidden from the entrance behind a pallet of firewood so as not to scare the patrons. He showed his wrist line and I showed my ankle line. We both worked all the fucking day. Cowboy Kim Nate told me after I told him that it would be nice one day to settle up and work the land like himself, he told me, ‘But this is what you do, who you are.’ I felt respected, worthy of a gander by another person, non-scum, unworthy of disdain in my disheveled appearance. I felt proud of who I am, even though I still hid behind the large stack of firewood, held in my own obscurity.
He is to travel to Hawaii with his wife come Winter, opposite of my schedule. We understood each other, we both held a curiosity about the world and life. He grew up 7 miles from here in the Dingle Valley, worlds apart from me, and told me he is baffled by people, that most of the folks around these parts hardly ever leave the valley. I could see him pondering about this, this stunting of growth through a non-curiosity of the world, of non-travel. Here in Montpelier in front of a market we shook hands, his hands as calloused as my feet, and formed a brief yet impactful bond. Being a human can be this simple, relationships, differences, the whole shit, all of it, can be this easy.
This is why I love walking very long distances. The lighting, the opening and closing curtains, the colors and costumes, the theatrics and emotions, the stars and the actors, the stage; I witness the world as a play, as a movie, as a book, and most importantly as real damn life. I would die to be a character within this play, over and over again. And every damn morning I don the costume, and every damn evening I shelve the mask. Then, during the night, while I slumber I dream and sink into my subconscious, waiting so eagerly to perform again.
Would I give all this up, what I endeavor on each year that is so fulfilling and so simple, for possessions, materials, an important role in a job, an esteemed social status? This begs the ultimate answer, the crux of all that I am doing. There is a fight in life, a gall in action that only can define who you are and what you stand for. I do not want to muddy myself with conveniences and pitfalls that are so alluring to everybody else. That is too simple. I need to be who I am, stand up for who I am, and fight for who I am. Now, that too is too simple. There’s a difference in those two simple’s: one is stupid, the other is what is natural.
However, there is a compromise that should be sought out to smooth that rough edge of carpet decorating and comforting a space. All those potential cravings are what may happen to you, and not really what may be who you are or be a sum of who you are. Out wandering I react, flowing in movement, in an instinctual compromise of survival and of need. I flex and bend, fulfill my needs that sustain life. What if I apply to what I know is simple to a life that is not so simple? This has me thinking, has given me a glimmer of hope.
I walked in the foothills above Ogden and in the evening strolled into Uintah Junction. Camping seemed scarce with the suburbs encroaching the hillsides, public land looked too far away with the energy I had left. After all these miles I definitely had been feeling tired. More emotionally and mentally than physically. But the push just had me tired, the ending being near had me contemplating my next move and how I want to approach the life outside of hiking this next Winter season, for I couldn’t stomach another Winter like last season. I think now, standing in a smother of city, how I have grown, how I have understood some really deep and traumatic emotions, all since I started walking back in April with nothing too far planned and cemented. Back then, I felt more intent on exhausting the pain I lingered in rather than simply walking to sate my curiosity and urge to walk. I am thinking how I have set my life to endure. Yes, I kid and toy with extremes—from complete isolation and pushing myself in challenging conditions to having a challenging job trying to lead and manage people in a short amount of time. Really, within all those confines I set myself up to constantly outlast. My endurance extends to my family. My endurance extends to everything around me. I will put the world on my shoulders for you. But my endurance and my will will only induce suffering to me.
So, not only do I need to compromise with others, a job, or a real life, I need to compromise and be forgiving to myself. I phoned a cab to take me to a cheap motel. I was not to fight for a campsite any longer. The driver pulled up. Ernie is from Peru. I spoke in Spanish to him and we talked about Peru, the Cordillera Blanca, Huaraz, Lima and all the constant honking of drivers. We laughed at the differences. He worked hard, very hard. I bade him farewell as he dropped me off at the Motel 6. He went on to his next pick up. I went on to lounge and be lazy. I deserved it. I deserved to soak it all up. I had 5 days left.
I ended up taking a rest day the next day as a wicked storm rolled through the area. My mind drifted to assimilation back into society. Trimming my beard, organizing a room, managing a work life, a leisure life with healthy hobbies; oh I desperately thought of a ‘home.’ Has this been what I have been in pain for, I thought. Regardless, I still had miles left.
Above the vast valley below me, the eastern shoreline of the Great Basin, the city below that stretched for miles in a north-south direction under the Wasatch Front, the yawn of civilization within an empty spaces tantalized my senses. The arms of the Great Salt Lake slunk in a pitch black so black I was reminded of the ocean. A moan bellowed from 4000ft below, the spirit of emptiness melded with nature and humanity. And, I walked along a ridge in the chilly air buffeted by a plump moonglow. In meditation, the drone from below and my footstep crunch, I traipsed under the moonlight into the deep night feeling the nip of the air.
Two days later I continued on another stroll into the night, this time under a full moon that shimmered under the Timpanogos massif. I passed a hilltop campsite and a couple reclining in camp chairs glowing under a campfire facing Timp asked me where I was headed. I pointed towards Timp.
‘That way into the night.’ I couldn’t answer with a location. This whole season has been that way—-no place in particular, letting my spirit dictate my movement through a landscape. Of course, the next day going up the major trailhead of Timp, I navigated my way around the hordes of day hikers. I felt aggravated, choked out. But in actuality I had no idea how to wrangle my feelings in. I could not connect with these people. I uncompromisingly walked passed them trying to be polite with a scowl on my face. Selfishly, I wanted this to be my day. I succumbed to my ego. I felt ashamed in this.
Down the other side of Timp I continued to pass uphill hikers. I stepped aside for everyone of them, sharing a space and acknowledging effort. At one point I stepped aside and stared blankly up at the rock faces above me. A couple stopped and the woman said something to me I couldn’t quite hear, for I wasn’t listening.
‘You’re the guy from last night.’
I smiled, ‘I am, oh it’s you!’
I apologized about my flippant directional answer last night and opened up about what I was doing here and the why of what I was doing here. The man congratulated me with a fist bump. She said I looked happy, and I realized without a mirror what I looked like. As much as I have been submerged in pain on this hike and have forgotten my identity, I knew exactly what face she was seeing, my ignoring of an outward me vanquished by a mere friendly comment. She may not know it, nor may he know it, but their acceptance of me enabled me to get out of my own muck and acknowledge the good in me. A simple bond from a simple moment, a simple encounter.
My connection neared, my sought out goal of something so ambiguous. Connection, my place in the world, so, I walked into Vivian Park, a seemingly inconsequential place teeming with people on a family fun Saturday. I stood out in appearance but I sought isolation by the river. I soaked my feet, cleaned my feet, then went to a shady spot and closed my eyes. I felt connected but alone, alone but connected; I felt happy, proud that I achieved something I was not sure I was to achieve. I connected my footsteps which only continue my story, a forward tale of connection, of isolation, of contradiction, of acceptance, of the ever search of a home. From Columbus, New Mexico to Mt. Robson in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, some 3400 to 3500 miles, this has been a tumultuous hike, one of loss and gain. I thought of my granny and how much I missed her. I thought of me giving in to happiness. I thought of connection in a very simple way: by foot.