BOWEN COLUMN: Untold merit

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, August 9, 2022

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There’s merit in what you’re about to read, just not sure what it is

(Yellowstone 2022, Day 1, Sunday, July 10)

Note: This second annual Yellowstone journey lacks, fortunately, some of the drama of the 2021 one. But there are lessons, scenes, observations we need to chronicle, still. Thus, we travel together again, just as before, into the Yellowstone wilderness. Thanks for coming along.)

I suppose if a person knew what lay ahead when he starts a journey such as the one Todd Perrin and I started again this July, 10, he would likely never start it.

But that’s the beauty of stepping out on a limb and doing something you really don’t know if you’re able to do or not. And because the metaphor of embarking on a most difficult journey is so real to everyone, you and I can readily relate. We’ve all stepped out there not knowing what lay ahead. You won’t need long to take that thought and write a good portion of your own autobiography.

You understand.

I remember beginning telling the tale right here in this chronicle of last year’s journey, just about this exact time last year. And one of the points we shared right out of the gate were the transparent mistakes we made along the way. There were many mistakes last year, to be sure, things from which we learned this time around, which will be a discussion for a little later down the road.

But despite learning from previous mistakes, there was one we repeated again. While saying ‘repeated again’ is redundant, I know, sometimes redundancy is necessary to emphasize the severity of something. Starting too late Sunday afternoon was a mistake again, even though we beat last year’s schedule by an hour and a half.

But, as you know, there are unexpected things that alter the best-laid plans. Our starting late was only due to our obligation to be at church in Riverton, Wyoming that morning. But we did not dilly-dally, as I say, after church at all. We hit the Wyoming road soon after the ‘Amen’ and were at the entrance of Yellowstone by 3 p.m. But there was a little film we had to watch as we entered into the park; and by the time we were through listening to what not to do when you encounter a bear and such we hit the trail at 4:05 p.m.

The trail from the Trailhead to the Heart River is 7.4 miles. The first four miles is a slight incline; and the rest of the journey is down the mountain, sometimes very steep. There were spots where you could easily slip on the loose dirt and could tumble; so, you had to be careful, especially with a twenty-five-pound backpack bearing down on you. Excuse the use of another ‘bear’ thought, please, but whatever cringing the word ‘bear’ gives you only brings you closer to understanding the pain that was just beginning again this year.

But we made good time; and by 8:30 p.m. – still a good while before dark – we had made it to Heart Lake with the evening sun gleaming down on the still, glowing lake. But here’s where the difference between last year’s journey and this one comes in. Last year, we turned east to go counter-clockwise around the lake to get to our campsite. That little dog-leg in the hike was no more than a thirty-minute trip. We actually came to that very same campsite on the last night this year; so, our last night this year was the exact same trip as last year’s first day. The big difference is that our last day this year would be up the mountain, not down it.

But trying to get to our campsite that Sunday evening was a test of endurance, because we turned to go the other direction, which would take us much further to the campsite. Todd and I walked along the shore of Heart Lake, the tide coming in and swishing within a foot of your feet, for a good half an hour; and soon it became dark. It was about 9:30 p.m. when we veered up from the lake up into the mountain looking for the campsite. It would be almost a two-hour hike from the time we left the lake until we made it to the sign pointing to our campsite.

It was campsite 8J1, and – according to our map – was 9.4 miles from the Trailhead. That should have given us a clue that the hike from the lake to the campsite would be a difficult one. It is up the mountain headed west, or northwest, as best I could tell. But the hike to the actual campsite once we came to the marker was a good three-quarters of a mile. Again, at the risk of overstating the matter, I’ll just say that it is a case where you go as far as you can go, then you go some more, and some more, every bit of another two miles, with that heavy backpack ‘bearing’ down relentlessly on you. As I look back at it, it set the tone for the journey. Perhaps it is a good thing, that we put ourselves through the most difficult of situations, perhaps that is the point, I don’t know. But, just by way of introduction to this second annual Yellowstone Heart-Lake Trial hike, I will say that the lesson is that there is some merit, I suppose, in putting yourself into a situation where you have no choice but to persevere on, to plod along no matter the difficulty, never to consider for a moment pausing or giving up.

There is some merit in such a thing, as I said. It’s just that I’m not sure at the moment I can put my finger exactly on what it is. I’ll let you know when I do.