FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: Lost in Yellowstone (chapter 17)
“Cliffhanger” (Part 2)
The roughly scribbled note also gives us a solid timeline for the events of this Thursday, as this day was one of the most eventful days of the entire journey. After spending time alone with the Lord in the early-morning hour – a time that I will always remember and long tell with a sigh, I know – Todd and I set out headed north. The note you just read was written about three hours into that morning’s hike that started by 8:30 a.m.; so, I expect that within an hour or two of our setting out Todd and I made another key decision: We decided for Todd to go ahead of me again, leaving me to make my way slowly from further back on the trail.
I remember thinking – and the note confirms this – that, while the Wednesday rest was helpful, my legs were not going to recover with half a day and a night’s rest. I do think, however, that the rest from Wednesday was a blessing from the Lord that may have saved us. It didn’t restore the strength fully (that would take a month to do), but it, perhaps, delayed a potential injury.
I still cringe to think of the great possibility of a calf or hamstring muscle giving way, rendering Todd and me unable to walk out of that remote place together. In the previous two years, I had seen many of those same weary leg muscles give way, snap almost, from overwork, leaving you with a month or more of rehabilitation. So, I knew that the possibility was there. And I had never pushed my body and my legs this hard before, not even close. Why they popped on me in the previous months and did not do so under much greater pressure, I do not know.
Or, perhaps we do.
The thought of being stranded in the middle of nowhere while poor Todd scrambled for help – that thought was not a good one. That process could have taken days, as deep into the wilderness as we were. Looking back, you and I realize even the more what the greatest dangers were – those things that ‘could have been,’ and most likely would have been, had it not been for that Unseen Hand. We still marvel at it.
There was another real danger that we experienced that Thursday morning before we separated. It would have been around 10 a.m. – a couple of hours before I wrote the note – when we had to hike on the side of the mountain. We were heading north, but with a mountain barricading our way, the trail led us back to the east to get around it. The hike around the mountain was as much as a mile, maybe more. For several hundred yards of it, and then at other points along the way, we were on the very edge of the mountain with nothing below us except an eighty-foot drop leading down to the river. The drop was not straight down – if you fell, it would not be quite like falling off of a cliff – but the side of the mountain was at more of a seventy-degree angle. If you did slip and fall, you would hit the ground ten or so feet down and basically roll and tumble the eighty feet to the bottom. It would likely kill you or leave you near death. But I really do not know how a person could survive it.
The trail we walked at that steep precipice was dusty – almost black dust – and it was somewhat rocky, with the dirt very loose and dry. That trail was no place to stumble. As you walked, you kept your eyes completely on your feet. It was only when you paused to catch your breath that you had the luxury of looking down below at the rolling river rumbling in the distance. As we hiked the side of that mountain, I remember thinking that I would not let my wife or grandkids hike at this dangerous spot, not by a long shot.
Todd and I, again, felt that we needed him to go ahead and try to find a campsite. We were not ‘out of the woods’ yet as far as finding our direction. In fact, we were still in a far more remote spot than we were forty-eight hours prior when we met the Hogans on the trail. We know how far off track the two days after the Hogans took us. It could easily happen again, we knew.
Perhaps we were both having the same thoughts, because we paused for a longer break than usual to talk once we got around the mountain and were heading north again. By this time, we had come to as deep and as a remote part of the wilderness we would see from the trail, the only sign of humans being the narrow dirt trail that we were following. I knew I needed to be the one to suggest that Todd go on ahead. He would need the assurance that it was the right thing to do and that I did not mind his doing that. So, as we paused to rest, I told him what I wanted him to do.
“Todd,” I said, after I had found a place on the edge of the path to sit, “I think you need to go on ahead. We need you to make sure we are on the right track. I’ll stay on this trail and not get off of it. Trust me, I’m not gettin’ off of it. I will be right behind you.”
I knew Todd agreed, so, as we finished our rest, he offered some advice to me, including on what to do if I encountered a bear. I remember it was something to the effect of not to run when you see him, and just talk calmly to him. I laugh at that now because I am sure I thought, “Yeah, right, Todd, I’ll jus’ stand there when a big ol’ grizzly comes out at me, and I’ll ask if he’s had supper yet, that I’ve got a protein bar he can have.”
But Todd’s little talk would prove more prophetic, and helpful, than we could have guessed.
Todd said something else, something that stuck with me, before we had a little prayer and he went on ahead of me. He said, “Steve, you’ve been a ‘calm’ to me” – I think that’s how he said it. It surprised me a little, but I appreciated that more than Todd would know – I still do – and especially since it seemed a little out of character for Todd to say something such as that. He is not one to toss out compliments haphazardly. I smiled inside a bit because, when he said it, I immediately thought of my little outbursts two days prior.
But mostly I felt a degree of satisfaction. I knew that for the last couple of days I had decided to put all of this in the Lord’s hands, while the two of us would fight as hard as we could to do all that we could do on our own. You can’t stop and not work, but as you work, you can put the rest in His hands. Somehow, Todd had felt that calm from me, something I think he needed. I am glad that I was able to give something back to that good man.
There comes a point where you realize that if the Lord has more work for you to do, He will guide you through your wilderness. And if not …
In this case, we knew that if He were finished with us, and this wilderness was to be where it was all to end, my friend Todd and I would just get the chance to hike down a better river, one that’s as clear as crystal, as we await our loved ones and friends.
And that would be all right, too, I knew.