A freeze-dried meal around the morning campfire is one of life’s rare, and misunderstood pleasures. The real breakfast of champions comes in a pouch, its eaten in the woods, and its delicious.
As I was preparing this misunderstood delicacy, Kyle was trying to get some sleep. He was still wrapped in the dorm room blankets he had brought from his work. Now that the sun was out, he was just starting to look comfortable. With over eleven miles to go, I was going to have to wake him up soon.
Kyle was still wrapped like a burrito in his blankets. It looked like he had finally managed to make himself comfortable in the dorm room blankets he had brought as his sleeping bag. The fact that we were severely under prepared was only highlighted by only having brown rice left to eat.
I wrapped the shirt in my hand around my coffee sitting in an old can of chili. It had been one of the coldest nights of the trip, and I woke up with some frost on the outside of my sleeping bag, despite it being the middle of August.
The smell of coffee brought Kyle out of his dreaming. “How about getting out of these woods and into a coffee shop?” I asked him.
“How about into a bar.” He said in response. I have to agree that he chose the better of the two options.
As we packed up, I looked once again to the large peak at the end of the valley, which was hiding the Hoodoo Basin. There were blue skies all around.
This was the fated day when we were going to meet up with our friends. After two days in Grizzly country, I was a little concerned, and I had to imagine that they would be anxious to see that we survived our 60 mile trip. Hopefully we would meet up in enough time to get out of the woods and hit a bar in Cooke City.
As we walked out, we ran back into our friend from the basin. How he managed to beat us down the trail let me know how late we had woken up.
With more time to chat, we found out that he was a linen truck driver in the town of Canyon. He didn’t have to drive the truck very far, and spent most of his days fly fishing, or hiking in the Lamar Valley. He wasn’t making very much, but he was definitely living the life. We left him under the shade of a tree, where he was eating triscuts and smiling.
It wasn’t more than a hundred yards later when we surprised a mother moose standing in a field with her little baby. We were both surprised, but the moose was not nearly as pleased to see us as we were to see the moose. The distrust of animals is one of the consequences of being at the top of the food chain.
Continuing through the winding valley, and following the bends of the river, we eventually made it to the campsite where we had last left our friends by the river. Other than some charcoal drawings of fish and mountains, there was no sign that our friends were still around.
“Huh,” I told Kyle, “Well it doesn’t really fit Tanner’s character to stick around in one spot. They probably went further up river to get better fish.”
“How do you know the fish will be better upriver?” Kyle asked.
“Everything is better upriver Kyle. It just has to be.”
“I bet the bars are much worse upriver.” There are in fact no bars up the Lamar River. We both nodded our heads at the wise words.
With nothing better to do than lie down and wait, the lactic acid in our muscles had enough time to work their black magic. We soon found out exactly how sore our legs were. Kyle had been complaining about his knees earlier, and he said it was getting slowly worse.
The afternoon slowly crept by, and a sickening feeling was filling the bottom of my stomach.
Where were my friends? It wasn’t out of Tanner’s character to go off on his own thing and not return until the end of the day, but this was the backcountry of Yellowstone. People died out here. And they didn’t have a map.
All of this worry was ruining the tranquil moment I was trying to have next to the babble of the river. It wasn’t a reassuring babble, but the babble of anxiety, asking me all of the questions I didn’t want to hear. Where were they?
I get very restless when an issue presents itself, and I cannot immediately solve it. I got up and started half pacing, half limping around the campground, until I resolved to check the campsite further up the valley. It wasn’t more than a mile and a half up the trail, a distance which had become close to the equivalent of walking around the block. I ran into some fine looking prairie hens.
When they weren’t at that campsite, I began getting a little worried. We still had just barely enough sunlight to get us back into Lamar Valley, but leaving now would mean potentially abandoning our friends at the campsite.
I ran into a pair of through hikers on the way back. They were doing the continental divide trail, and said that throughout their trip from Mexico to our campsite, they had not seen our friends.
After asking Kyle what he thought, we both agreed to make a massive bonfire (our campsite was noted as being frequently visited by Grizzly Bears), and hunkered down for the night. If we didn’t find our friends by noon the next day, we would call them in as completely lost.