YELLOWSTONE – Last Day

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Map says about 7 miles, WP 36 to WP 44. Clearly we have steep, treed terrain to get to the meandering meadows below. I’m not psyched about the ski. I’m in lighter boots and skis than I want for this descent. Carrying a 50 lbs pack feels like skiing chonky powder with my camo slippers. It reminds me of skiing with an old friend, Thor Anderson, in the Grand Traverse. He was able to descend Aspen Highlands with edgeless cross country skis at full speed. Another friend, Lyosha, can ski through trees a foot apart at maximum speed with a pack. I have neither the nerve nor the skill to achieve these so I just get tense.

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In full survival ski mode I safely make it down the steeps. As the angle slackened the route became frustratingly up and down. I had envisioned a steep ski into beautiful meadows. What I got was a bunch of low angled ravines that required herringbone steps through dense undergrowth. I was ready to be back. The trip was good but there was underlying conclusion in the air. David’s illness was a thing he managed heroically but it took some of the fun out of it.

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I like my life. I have a great job, I’m reasonably heathy, and I live in Moab. I also have excellent friends, most remind me that I have lived a pretty lucky life. I’m not sure if that means I’ve had a great experiences or whether I’m just lucky to have lived through them. As I ski through the minorly frustrating undulating thickets I remind myself that my best memories are of times I am fully immersed in the moment. With a gentle personal scolding I am able to adjust my attitude to seeing the beauty in which I am skiing and push the anxiety attached to daily life down the trail. It may be the proximity to civilization. It may be the stream of work deadlines that seem to emerge in direct proportion to my proximity with normal life. It makes no sense to think of the outside world when I am skiing through paradise.

Properly oriented I was again awed skiing across the flats. We’ve been following the Fire Hole River. Its had developed into a serious ravine near our last camp then switched into a meandering maze with thermally heated feeder streams through the meadow. I’m guessing the snow pack up high was between 4-7’. Here it looks less than 3’ and had animal tracks criss-crossing everywhere.

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Thermals had huge patches of ground melted of snow. Buffalo dung was everywhere. This elevation had a much different feel. For the first time I sensed the habitat of bears and other large critters that had me questioning my position on the food chain. Clouds were low and a lovely light snow ushered us back into reality.

Near the end of the meadow the map indicated trails and bridges. David thought we would have skier tracks by now. Five miles to go my mind simply wanted the easiest skiing out of here, skied trails were much easier than breaking trail. Trail hashes and an indented, snowed over path lead us right into perfect buffalo habitat. Thermally warm, lots of water and some grass. The sense of bears edged into a primordial portion of my anxiety prone, evolved brain.

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My pack, boots, and gear had found their serviceable equilibrium. My body and psyche have fully adapted to semi truck purpose. My systems were dialed and I was fully in the flow. It took a few days to get here. A part of me is proud I can (still) do these trips. Some people are naturally agile (see paragraph above about skiing skills), others simply have a strong back and a weak mind. Through endless steps I can ponder that to death, as if it mattered.

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Though the day started slowly we were cruising now. David was still struggling but my compassion meter was dipping into the yellow. I wasn’t angry or disappointed, maybe impressed – but short of carrying him or his pack there wasn’t much I could do besides not be an ass.

As we skied across the first perfect NPS bridge I felt the tentacles of normal life grabbing at my heart. I reacted by getting lost and doing a mile loop around a lake. All this with trail markers everywhere. Turns out I missed a 6’ wide trail just after the bridge. David relieved me of my Daniel Boone position and plowed a 0.32 mile (now operating with GPS) short cut through the woods. About 50’ from the obvious trail we got fully tripped up in down-falled trees with 3’ unskiable clumps of snow on them. Eventually David wound up head first in a pit of snow, swearing. I offered to help but his taxed demeanor indicated he was to extract himself. I skied around and headed down the trail.

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I was skiing across snow and bare thermal areas without removing my skis at this point of the trip. I looked up and had my first encounter with humans that had showered recently. They looked so clean and put together. A fit family of four. ‘Did you come in on the Shoshone Trail?’ asked the father? ‘No, we skied in from Idaho’, I replied. As a pack designer I noticed the dad was wearing a modern-ish 30-liter pack and his semi-petulant teenage son carried only a water bottle. My pack is 65-liter storage container with Jethro Bodine style crap hanging all over it. I wondered about deductive thinking and where that question came from. Perhaps my rig looked like a day pack for the super prepared, perhaps I was socially starved and was incapable of rational thought…

Passing Lone Star Geyser more skiers appeared. Some looking like this ski thing was an unusual occurrence – which I took to mean we were really close to civilization and safety. The geyser marked the less-than-four-miles-from-done point. It also had a perfectly groomed ski trail leading 2 miles to the road. David was looking worked. I must have looked like a horse that senses the barn because he said ‘I can meet you at the lodge’. ‘Nah, let’s meet at the road then ski in together’. The groomer had put two perfect ski grooves at the side and they were perfect for the diagonal stride I used to spring to the road. My pack felt weightless as I zoomed down the trail past bewildered tourist-looking skiers and snowshoers. In my mind I had the fitness and skill of two decades ago racing in Montana. Fully motivated.

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The road brought me one step closer to modern mindset equilibrium. NPS signs indicating the obvious were everywhere. Years ago I rode a snow coach to Old Faithful for an overnight ski. The rig was patented in the 1940s and had all the charm of the park itself. Intimate, real, and socially encouraging. Looking left I was kind of floored to see a tracked Mercedes Sprinter van sitting 6’ off the snow packed road. Logo filled like a Tour de France support car, it was as impersonal and comfortable as business class air travel. A nostalgic part of my heart was broken.

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Interestingly enough David was about 1 minute behind me! We exchanged a few common thoughts on civilization and turned our skis down the perfectly groomed road to the lodge. Again I pushed – and so did David. It was easy and really kinda fun. Like dressed snow mobile tours passed by always with lots of room for us. My body persona was that of determination.

Skiing into the lodge area proper I re-constructed the walls needed to engage socially. No more farting or peeing with my skis on. David was in front now so I followed him into the architecturally clique log lodge. Time to turn down my senses and relax into the comfort of running water and warm spaces. My eyes felt like they represented the funny transition I was experiencing. I couldn’t focus on the check-in forms nor was I able to be attentive during our introductory speech. Everything was clean and crazy comfortable. There was an aura of wildness around us even larger than the periphery of our odor.

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Ultimately it took about 13 seconds for me to switch into the loveliness of meals served and hot showers. This was a short trip, without many objective dangers. More a beautiful scenic ski. I am lucky to be able to have had this unique experience and lucky to have a life worth wanting to return. Funny how such a short time away gives such license to comment on normalcy.

RJ

RJ and I at the conclusion of 17 hours of paddling across Lake Michigan. He handled all communication on that trip too.

PS: Thanks RJ for managing all the communications. Regardless of the risk it helps free my mind in the wild knowing such a competent person is handling things on the other end. Here’s to many more safe trips and a hope we do some together!

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PPS: And to my number on fan…

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2 Responses to YELLOWSTONE – Last Day

  1. Tania says:

    Congrats on an incredible job well done and returning home with all parts intact. Enjoy your bed!

  2. Sarah Morgan says:

    Hi Dave, Thanks for sharing your trip. It sounded wonderful. A trip I’d love to do, but probably never will… One never knows these things for sure. Glad you made it back safely and that you’ll be able to do more of these in the future. A fun read!!!! “Hi” from Escalante! 🙂

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