BOWEN COLUMN: Part 6: Lost in Yellowstone

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, August 25, 2021

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With Randy Butler and Roy Deering turning back unexpectedly, Todd Perrin and I set out on our own for the remainder of the trip.

As I look back, Monday may have been the most grueling day of the adventure. We, again, had gotten a late start, and the sun was well high in the sky and hot by the time we took to the trail. The number of miles we traveled that day is uncertain. Todd seemed to compute in the neighborhood of five miles; but we traveled solid, without hardly a stop, from 11 a.m. until well into the evening. I feel if we did even one mile an hour, we traveled at least eight miles. Since we would end up never made the campsite, we may never know exactly the distance. But it was a hot trail, uphill a big part of the way, mosquitos attacking us in droves, and whatever energy into my legs I had gained in the night’s rest was soon gone.

At one point as we talked, Todd said, “As long as we’re having fun, we’re okay.” And I said, “Fun? This is not fun, Todd. It is a quest, it is something I want to do, but fun? No, it isn’t that.” Todd had a strange look on his face, and I’m sure he tossed that thought around in his head a good while, but he never said anything. Not ‘til later.

As the sun began to get low in the sky, we came up into a green, grassy meadow. I am not sure how exactly we got there or how many creeks or rivers we crossed on the way. There were many. We were not able to find the campsite that we were scheduled to be in – the first sign that we were lost – so Todd asked me to go around the bend and check out the terrain and to see if there was a trail. I walked through more of the tall grass, tall grass being something of which we would never have a shortage. I came to a meadow that included a tall hill with grass as high as two feet. I began calling that the ‘bear meadow’ and have always said that we spent the night in a bear meadow on Monday night, July 12. It would not be the only night we would spend in such a desolate, dangerous place.

So you’ll understand, the camp sites weren’t much, either. They had a couple of dirt spots for you to get out of the grass, some had a makeshift hole in the ground for cooking, and they all had a telephone-type pole across two trees so you could hang your backpacks or anything that had food in it to deter the bears. But at least a campsite was a place animals knew humans frequented, and they were not nearly as likely to trespass because of that. Wild animals, generally, do not want to encounter humans any more than we do them. That’s a good thing. It would prove to be a really good thing very soon, too, in about twenty-four hours. But to camp in the middle of a tall grassy area that appears to have had no human traffic in a very long time – that would be one of the scariest situations we would find ourselves, perhaps even more than being lost, if that’s possible.

Todd and I both scouted the area and decided to camp at the top of the hill. Todd hung the sleeping bags up fifty or so yards away at the bottom of the hill; and then we set up the green tent – which blended in perfectly with the tall vegetation around us – and, after a while we were trying to sleep. I am not sure we slept much at all, but we closed our eyes for a while.

There is something about those dark, lonely nights. Twice a night I would have to get up in the middle of the night and walk out into that darkness. As I looked about, the dark sky, sprinkled with millions of stars, reminded me just how infinite and great God is. At the same time, as I stood looking all about – standing that night in a foot of grass in a bear meadow where anything could be crawling – I could not help but feel the peril of all that was out there, unseen so far, for which I was thankful. There was danger there, whether close to you, or far away. It was not that I feared for my life, necessarily, standing out in the cold, cold night air, it was that you fully respected that if there were any wrong turn your life would be in danger. Even standing there in the quiet darkness in that remote wilderness could be an ending – and has been for many.

There’s a realization that comes to you when you leave home to go out to challenge a remote wilderness: You know that there is chance that you will not come home. Anything can happen, and many such things did happen. Perhaps the greatest blessing of all were those unseen things of danger that were just a step away, a moment away, of which we never knew.

It was under those circumstances that I wrote the letter you are about to read. It may even have been on Day Three, for I would have written it along the trail, leaning against a tree or more likely a rock, while Todd was off scouting ahead a bit. But for the first time, I took time to write.

Leaning against a tree or rock, I scribbled this note – just in case …

“To my amazin’ blonde,

I want you to know how much I miss you tonight, and that I love you even more. We are deep in this wilderness, and it’s hot in the day and cold and damp at night. I feel further away from you out here than ever before. My legs tonight are so tired, hon, I can’t explain to you just how tired they are. They are spent, and I don’t know how much I have left in them. But it will be all right. We will make it through. Worse than the deep tiredness is a deep, indescribable loneliness in the wilderness. We are now fifteen, maybe twenty miles, from any civilization, as far as I can tell. But regardless of how far we are away, I want you to know you are very close. I want to thank you for all you have been, all you have done, and all you are. I love you more than ever. Say your prayers.

Love, Steven R.

P.S. See you soon.

I wrote the note, folded it and put it in my backpack, and carried it with me through the lost days that were ahead. With her near, perhaps I would not feel quite as lost, because we were about to get deeper into the wilderness; and we were about to be more lost than even then.