BOWEN COLUMN: Lost in Yellowstone (Part 20)

Published 10:30 am Friday, October 29, 2021

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I stopped to rest on some logs on the right side of the trail somewhere between five and six p.m. that Thursday evening. I had traveled steadily all day, covering more miles on this Thursday than any singular day, traveling almost non-stop from early til late.

As evening came on, I began tossing over in my mind the more what I was going to do in a couple more hours when the sun went down, there in the wild without a tent or a sleeping bag. It had been several hours since Mr. Moffit had rounded the bend out of sight, and I had not seen a single soul since, and he was the first we had seen in over fifty hours. But I had one more meeting yet to go – with a Mr. Lyons and a Mr. DiMaggio – the last visitors I would have before the eight-hundred-pound one. That encounter was looming yonder, just over the horizon, over a hill less than a mile away. I cannot help but feel that that meeting had been scheduled my whole life, and now it was almost here. My heavy-set brown and blonde friend had made his way to the stream ahead of me, I suppose, awaiting my arrival within the hour. Our paths would soon cross. It really is funny how life works.

After my friend Mr. Moffit had finished his work, only two others stood between me and my up-close encounter with the special friend. Mr. Lyons and Mr. DiMaggio’s arrival was not inconspicuous. I heard them coming from quite a distance, because as they walked the trail Mr. Lyons called out, “Hey bear, hey bear, hey bear,” every ten seconds. They obviously were very ‘bear conscious,’ similar to my friend Todd who was by now two or three miles up ahead.

The two gentlemen stopped along the roadside, as did all the hikers we met along the

trail. I explained that I had sent Todd on ahead to find a campsite, if possible, but that I was preparing to sleep on the side of the trail if necessary.

Mr. DiMaggio – a shorter man than his friend and dark-headed – advised me, “If you’re caught out here alone and it gets dark, just hunker down on the trail. Somebody is always coming down the trail. It’ll be the safest place.”

I had to cringe at the thought, though – because I knew that more than humans frequented these trails; and at night it would not be ideal to have a bear run up on you. I asked my two friends if I should leave my flashlight on to discourage animals, but they advised to save my battery. I do not know if it is a good thing or bad, but I was preparing for the worse, although it would be some time before having to make a decision.

After about a five-minute visit, Mr. Lyons and DiMaggio were on their way, and as they did, they did so with the rapid speed and skill of experienced hikers. I watched them, as I had all the others, fade out of view, and the chant of ‘Hey bear’ also faded, along with the evening sun.

I paused one moment more before going on, reminding me once again of the horseman in Frost’s poetic winter-time scene, smiling a little as I took it all in. Another poignant irony was playing out in real time. I could not then – and still now – help but reflect on life’s array of dreams and disappointments, its successes and failures, its best of times and worst of times all, wrapped up curiously in a singular hike up and down mountains in a remote region of the world.

Pausing that evening, my mind went all the way back more than half a century, all because of Mr. DiMaggio.