FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: Lost in Yellowstone (chapter 14)
“The River, the Lord, and me.” (Part 1)
I have stood out on the rim of the Grand Canyon looking out over that broad expanse in amazement and wonder. I have stood looking out over the emerald-green sea waters of Alaska, those glassy and mysterious waters hemmed in by majestic, snow-capped mountains. I have admired the changing mosaic leaves of fall from the midst of the regal Smoky mountains, to which we’ve gone to absorb beauty for decades now – but I have never been more inspired, more touched deeply in the soul, than the morning of looking out over Yellowstone’s cool flowing Snake River on Thursday morning, the fifteenth day of July, 2021. I never will forget this day.
Wednesday provided the turning point we needed, almost desperately, and we were able to rest from the time we came to the campsite on that Wednesday afternoon until the dawning of the fifth day. That elusive campsite to which we had come, with much thanksgiving, had two sections, perhaps twenty feet apart. The section nearest the river had two long logs across from each other, about ten feet apart, with the dirt floor in between. You could sit on or against the logs to rest or sit to put your shoes on or off. After Todd and I had gotten settled, I sat on the ground against the log looking northward to rest, then decided to lean my head against my new small backpack and try to take a nap. The sun was shining through the trees occasionally, and the tiny mosquitos were overly friendly, as usual, so I put my hat over my face and tried to sleep. Todd did the same on the other side ten or twelve feet away. We both slept for a time.
After a while, we got a chance to talk (I think it may have been the first time we really had talked since we put on our backpacks), and I asked about his family. He told me of his wife Staci, whom I had known for years from our Houston days, and his two girls – Kayla and Kelsey – whom I would be blessed to meet a few weeks later and tell of all of our adventures. I talked of my family, too – the amazin’ blonde, of course, my son Malachi making his way so well out in California, our fourth-grade teaching Rachel with husband Michael, along with the two other lights of our lives, Connorman, my hiking and reading partner, and Audrey Lyn, the one who lets me coach her some in basketball. For a time, sitting there in that wilderness, life seemed almost normal.
Evening came, and we made our way to the other section of the campsite that contained a pit where you could build a campfire, had there not been a ban this summer due to fire danger. That section had the long pole high above across two trees where you hung your bags during the night. It was there that Todd and I communed together with our first hot meal of the journey. Todd boiled water on a burner that Randy Butler had left us for fixing our packaged meals, and he served me first. That night I had chicken alfredo, and it was the best meal I had had in a while. It was the only meal I had had in a while, for that matter. I could not finish the entire package, but I ate most of it, and Todd ate all of his. The only thing either of us had eaten since Sunday was a few bites at a time of the protein bars we packed. I did have a Payday bar that I nibbled on Sunday and Monday, and it was more of a blessing than I could have known when I packed it at the bottom of my backpack. In that altitude, and with the fatigue, food had little appeal. But I knew the sodium and potassium in that Wednesday evening hot meal was good for our bodies and muscles, so I was glad to have it.
After the meal, we soon made our way back to the tent at the other section, nearer the river, and there we would spend our fourth night in the wild; but this was a campsite, so it was different from how we spent our previous two eerie nights. Thinking back, I think the time we had to rest that afternoon and night must have been another life-saver for us. We still were almost twenty miles from walking out of our wilderness; so, the next three days would be long, long days; and there still was plenty of uncertainty regarding the paths we would take up ahead, as the correct trails sometimes are hidden; and animal trails often appear deceptively to increase the danger of a wrong turn. There were other dangers that we still would face, but we were thankful to have made it safe thus far.
My hope was that, barring getting lost once more, my legs had restored enough that perhaps we would be able to make those eighteen or so miles without injury. Turning in early that night, and sleeping in a place where we felt much safer, we were able to refresh ourselves significantly. The previous two nights had not provided that luxury. I was up with the sun almost every morning, and this Thursday morning I was up and dressed before Todd got up. He was not far behind me, and you could feel a much more peaceful and optimistic state of mind. But my mind was filled with something else, too.