Part 32: Lost in Yellowstone

Published 10:30 am Friday, December 17, 2021

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We slept well that night, Todd and I sleeping in Ethan’s bed and Ethan taking the couch in the living room. The next morning we left early, wanting to visit some hot springs that we would pass on the way. We first made a quick stop at a beautiful waterfall that was on the way, just off of the road, then proceeded on to the hot springs. I think that was the extent of our true ‘sight-seeing’ the entire trip. Once at the entrance where you walk to the hot springs, we had to walk a good quarter of a mile or more to get to them; but it was a walk well worth it. Within fifteen minutes, the three of us were soaking our tired bodies in the steaming water, talking about the Lord and even humming a hymn. There were several hot springs there, but the one we chose was about the size of one of the geysers we passed on the hike. And it was the closest, giving us more time to absorb yet another wonder in that Yellowstone.

To get to the hot springs, we again had to cross a river, which was fairly deep and swift. As we exited to get back to the car, I finally decided to take a plunge all the way under into that cold, cold water. I am sure my body, with every muscle taxed to the limit, appreciated both the hot and the cold as it began that long process of recovery from forty miles of testing and challenge.

We met Roy and Randy at a gift shop at about eleven a.m. Roy grabbed me when he saw me – that’s Roy’s way with all his personality – and he just said, “I am sure glad you’re alive.”

“Yeah, me, too,” I said, with a smile.

We met Randy a moment later and introduced both of them to our hero Ethan. We stood in the parking lot and talked a while (the parking lot seemed a million miles away from where we had stood just a few short hours before), and Randy – who had been the spokesman behind the scenes for several days – gave us and Ethan a nutshell version of what they had learned from the Hogans on that Wednesday. He told us he had prepared to go out looking for us this morning, had we not come out. He likely would not have been alone. When my son Mal called me from California when I was at the Denver airport the next day, he told me he was ready to come, too. And Ethan and the other rangers would have set out, too.

Had we not come out that Saturday morning, there would have been a reason. I cannot imagine that it would have been a good one. There is really no telling in what remote part of that wilderness we would have been. Had we not come out, I expect it would have been because Todd and I had been separated. That scene is almost the unthinkable because I would have been lost somewhere that probably few humans had traveled. And Todd would have been looking, frantically, with hardly an idea where I could be.

No one knew just how close we came.

While we all talked, I learned then that Randy’s concerns were elevated because Ms. Hogan gave a somber report of things, especially her view of my condition. At meeting the Hogans on that Tuesday afternoon, I did not feel things were as dire as they seemed to think; but I was seeing it from a different viewpoint. If things were dire on that Tuesday, then I am not sure what word we would use when you fast-forward another twenty-four hours, as the situation worsened and the dangers increased every hour that passed from the time we left them.

We soon bid our great friend Ethan a blessed farewell, leaving just the four hikers together again, just as we had started. We made that eight-hour ride back to Denver, and Roy played a number of songs for us along the way. I don’t remember how he knew I was a Statler Brother fan, but he put on the Statlers as we headed toward the Wyoming line. The first Statlers’ song was as ironic as all the other amazing things seemed to be the past week, as he played ‘I’ll go to my grave lovin’ you.’

“You do know that I’m havin’ Marilyn play that song at my memorial,” I said, not thinking that had things turned out a little differently with our blonde Grizzly that memorial service would have been coming up in just a couple of days from then.

Songs were such an important part of the journey, from the beginning, and so much irony and wonder seemed attached to every song that came to mind. There would be one last song from the trip, and as I think of it, it still makes me shake my head and smile. It came when we all met for church in Denver the next morning, just a few hours before Todd and I would fly back home to Texas.

Meeting with a good group of Christians in Westminister, Colorado – some of whom we knew but most we did not – we had a good service. Naturally, we were more thankful, felt more blessed, than perhaps ever before. As the service came to an end and a brother stepped up to lead the last song, it was that song that fit the moment perfectly as it filled the air. It was as if the gentleman knew our entire story as he led the classic, ‘Abide with me.’

‘Abide with me, fast falls the evening tide …”

I will admit I did not sing many of the words of that song. Instead, with eyes bit misty, I absorbed the song, similarly, I guess, to how I had absorbed the soothing feel of the hot springs the morning before. ‘Lord, thank you for abiding with Todd and me,” I thought. ‘Thank you for that.’

Deep in the wilderness of Yellowstone, with dangers all around, seen and unseen, thank you Lord, for ever abiding.

During those cold, dark Wyoming nights, the stars looking down on us as nothing but small specks far down below, Lord, you were abiding there, too. ‘The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide” – how fitting!

When a Grizzly came out from nowhere, fifty feet away – a scene a man would never think he would see were he to live a dozen lifetimes – the Lord was abiding.

For our worried families away from us, those who needed it the most, the Lord abode. Thank you, Lord, for that.

Our prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers for the Lord’s presence will not stop with our exit of Yellowstone, either – no, not at all.

Our prayer will continue for our friends we met along the way:

For our great friend Ethan who led us home, for the Hogans, and Mr. Moffit – Will you abide, please, Lord?

For Jake Griffin, Lord abide step by step with the young man. His mother wrote me a few weeks after our return home; and she alerted us that Jake will not be home until Christmas, which will end a six-month hiking adventure. Ah, Lord, help him make it through December, too.

For Jason and Autumn Kamm, my Facetime friends who shared that special ‘eight miles to Louisville’ moment: We pray, Lord, that you will abide with them, and their family. They occupy a small part in a great epoch of our lives. How could they have known the value of that meeting on the side of a high mountain in Wyoming, next to a boiling geyser?

And, Lord, for the other three hikers – for Roy, for Randy, and for Todd – Lord,

I’ll ask a special blessing: Smile down on these traveling warriors, and abide, always, with them, and with theirs.

We crossed many rivers together – we four – and Roy had said all along that we would. In the end, he was right, I guess we knew it from the start.

But we never knew the truth in this: A man never crosses the same river twice. The river is different. And so are we.

Ah, Lord, so are we.