Yellowstone Hike - Day Three: PERSPECTIVE

DAY THIRTEEN – Sunday July 22

After hearing the alarm Jenn & Wes set go off at 4:30am, and then heard them talking quietly a while later, I wasn't sure if they had gone. But when I finally woke around 7am, I checked on them and they had gone. I read some of the book I had brought (C.J. Mahaney's "The Cross-Centered Life") and then fell back asleep (not because of the book, mind you.). Jenn's voice brought me up out of surface-level dreams as they approached camp. We made breakfast, the add-boiling-water version of biscuits and gravy, which actually wasn't bad!

While we were packing up our tents and gear, some guys showed up at the river ford right next to our camp and started fly-fishing. Well, they weren't fly-fishing, they were lure-fishing, but whatever. They were on a shuttle. I had learned there were three types of hikes: Loop, Shuttle, and...awwww I can't remember the name of the one WE were on. Doh! In-N-Out? No, that's a Southern California burger joint. Jenn will probably let me know when she reads this. Hey, cuz! Comment and let me know what our hike was called, k?

Anyway, we were going in on a trail to a certain point, and then retracing our trail back, so we would pass all the same stuff on the way out. A loop is when you take a trail (or series of trails) that makes a complete circle to get you in and out, but you see new stuff the whole way and never retrace your path. A shuttle is when you start at one place and start hiking on paths all the way through to another end location, where your car waits (you probably put it there and someone drove you around to your starting point, so you make your way back to your car and go); and you never retrace your path and see fresh stuff the whole way. These guys were on a shuttle, and had started at the Old Faithful trail (remember the sign from yesterday said it was about 15+ miles back) and were on the way out through Bechler Meadows (another 14+ miles from the sign). So they were on a 30 mile hike, straight through (not in one day, mind you), stopping at every ford or river access to throw in their lines for breaks. They only caught little ones and threw them back.

Before we left, I realized that part of the reason my little toe hurt so much was that days before I had clipped all my toenails, but had missed this one. So the nail was too long. I didn't have clippers with me, so I took Wes' folding knife and did a little surgery, very carefully and very slowly cutting away the top of the nail. I could tell when I did so that the nail was already damaged beyond healing, and that I would eventually lose it. I've lost toenails before (both my big toe nails twice) so it was no big deal.

I mention it not only for the perspective it brought me later in the day (which I'll get to) but because two days ago while writing the other blog, I paused to scratch the toe where the blister had healed and ws a little dry, and realized that the toe nail had long since died. So I pulled it off, no pain, no problem. [This blog was written and this picture taken in Nashville, further along on my trip.]

Toe pic!

I like to think it looks like a newborn baby...which as we all know, can vary from adorable to ugly, depending on the beholder. Since it's my toe, I think it's cute. If you think it's ugly, you can say so. But don't say, "Gross"...I don't want to hurt its feelings. Babies are sensitive.

We forded the river near our camp and when we stopped on the other side to dry our feet and switch from the wet sandals to our hiking boots, Wes asked Jenn how her feet felt. She said, "Fractured." I said, "You've been walking all this time on a broken foot?" "No, it just feels fractured. When I can feel it." She had lost feeling in her feet, and it had been going on for some time now...not just this weekend, but parts of her whole summer experience in Yellowstone. She thought with all the hiking she had been doing that she had just pushed herself too hard. I wasn't mad, I was perturbed and concerned. I said, "I didn't know that," which was obvious, and she said "You weren't supposed to know." She didn't want me to know because she didn't want me to treat her differently or worry about her all trip. She knew this was my first such backpacking excursion, and wanted the experience to be whatever it would be, without my being focused on her health issues. I love her.

Now, the discussions about whether to hike all 12 miles out today made much more sense. Wes said, "We just need to try to book it out of here."

I had decided that moment that we were going all the way out, unless Jenn decided she wanted to stay a night to rest her feet. They were not going to hear anymore updates from me about my toe, and I would push everything I had into getting out. I'd walked 9.7 miles the day before. I could do 12 in one day. See...perspective. Motivation. Yesterday, I would have said there was no way I could fathom walking 12 miles in one day with this backpack on.

"Well, the slow one better get going then," (I meant me) and I started walking with a purpose. I set the pace, a very fast one, and felt anti-social because I got so far ahead. They probably thought I was mad, but I was just determined and processing all the little hints and signs from the days before that I'd missed. Here I'd been being tender with my toe, wincing with each step, and she could hardly even feel her feet. And when she could, they felt fractured. (No they weren't really broken, but she says they felt that way, and I believed her. You don't know my cousin. She is tough and stubborn, and if she's in pain, she'll do her best to tough it out; but she knows what pain is, and when she describes it, it's at least an accurate representation of the feeling, if not the prognosis.)

We marched the .7 miles to the other ford, the very cold one from the other day. But since we learned the right path to take, we were better prepared. And, of course, it wasn't hardly as cold as before; thankfully. I crossed quickly, took off my pack, and then went back in. Jenn was having a hard time of it, and I told her I was going to come get her boots, which she was carrying...the rocks in the water were slippery and if she slipped, she might dunk them. (I almost did with mine.) She said no at first, but then a minute later, as the water got higher, she told me okay come get them. I went to her and took them, then offered my hand and she took it, Wes appeared as well, and we maneuvered our way across using each other for balance. I was glad to help, and that she was willing to let me. It was a nice little moment.

Wes said he was glad I was setting a strong pace, and I told them I felt bad that I was getting so far ahead. I didn't want to rush Jenn, but she said it was good and motivated her to try to keep up.

The rest of the walk was rather uneventful. We kept a good pace, stopping for breaks now and then. We most looked forward to getting back to the section of river we called the watering hole, knowing it would be a refreshing break before we ventured back across the hot meadows.

When we got there, it was so hot, I decided to walk around the edge and leap into the deeper part. Remember what I said about not liking to get in cold water with one quick splash? It was hot enough and I was feeling adventurous enough to go for it. I had to jump a few feet out to make sure I cleared some big rock shelves. Remember the map I showed you the other day, with the "Remember this spot" note? That's the place I'm jumping from in the picture.

Jenn took pictures of the big leap.

It was extremely cold. It was fun, but I got out immediately.

We ate lunch on the little island, forded the river, and swapped out our shoes to get moving again. We all lathered up with sunscreen and Wes put his chamois towel under his hat to help block the sun.

Wes of Arabia

While we were prepping, I took my time getting my shoes back on, trying to wrap up my toe, and I told them I'd catch up. They went ahead and I walked across the meadow about 5 minutes behind them, singing worships songs out loud. It was hot but it was a great time to be 'alone' with God.

We got back to the footbridge, and took another cool river break, knowing it would be our last. At least the meadows were behind us and we'd be getting back into the trees. Unfortunately, we were going to be getting back into bug territory, and it didn't take long for them to become a nuisance. Jenn was taking more frequent breaks, and Wes got pretty far ahead. When we all caught up and took another break, with about 2 miles left, we noticed this camouflaged stowaway on Jenn's sandals.

Finally, we made it back out to the car. It was a great relief to us all. We had really enjoyed ourselves, but we were DONE. I had just walked 12 miles. And Jenn and Wes had walked 17, because they had started their day by going back up to Mr. Bubble, a 5 mile round-trip. And we all had messed up feet, even though mine were the least so. But I reflected on the accomplishment. I had just walked almost 28 miles in 3 days. I was proud of Jenn for enduring what she had, and she was proud of me that I, on a whim, had less than a week before accepted her invitation to undertake that big a hike for my first try. She said I didn't complain as much as I thought I did, which was nice to hear. Now that I've hiked 12 miles in one day and almost 28 in 3 days, would I do it again? Yes. It was both of the words I expected it would be, brutal and amazing. An experience that was totally worth it.

We packed up the car, and drove into Ashton, a small town in Idaho. It was getting late, so we decided to eat there, and stopped at the only place that was still open. We were exhausted, but hungry, and knew that if we pushed ahead to West Yellowstone, there might not be much open by the time we arrived. My bacon-cheeseburger was good, and they served free soft-serve ice cream cones for desert.

Most of the trip, Wes was hoping to see a bear, and was disappointed that we hadn't. So I made him stand in front of this one that was adjacent to our table.

Wes was a fun guy to spend the weekend with. As well, it was great for he and Jenn to get to know each other better. Wes lives in Denver, and they already began planning more hiking trips together, because Jenn, who lives in Colorado Springs, doesn't have many friends who will go with her.

We got back so late at night, we just crashed on Jenn's dorm room floor, and zonked out. The next day, Wes would be going to the airport, and I would be leaving to head to Utah to see my buddy Mark and his family.