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(A story of walking, and not fainting)


“Miles to go before I sleep.”


On July 11, 2021, our four hikers arrived at the southern entrance of Yellowstone’s Thoroughfare and South Boundary Trail.

The trail is 67.5 miles long and designed to be traveled in seven days. One site reports that it is “recommended for very experienced adventurers.” I think my good friend Roy Deering and I felt we met that criterion to a tee. I am on the precipice of being 65, and he, himself, is nearly the completion of his own sixth decade. To say we are experienced might even be an understatement; and no one can doubt we are “adventurers.”

We just did not happen to be conditioned hikers who had done anything remotely like tackling Yellowstone’s wilderness before.

The days leading up to this July 11th evening are almost a blur, even as the entire trip is at time.

On Wednesday the amazin’ blonde and I made the decision for me to go on the hike (Ms. Marilyn, I’m sure, just knew I had decided it was something I needed to do so she did not stand in the way).

On Friday, she and I bought out a good portion of Academy, and by four a.m. Saturday morning she was driving me to the DFW airport to fly to Denver. Roy and Randy Butler picked me up there in Roy’s 2007 blue Ford 150, and a few minutes later we picked up Todd Perrin who had flown in from Houston. By 9:30 a.m., we were on our way.

We set off first on a three-hour drive to Riverton, Wyoming and there we roomed for the night – Todd and I together, and Roy and Randy in a room – and on Sunday morning we all made our way to worship with a small congregation there, very blessed to gather around the Lord’s table for worship for the first time ever in the state of Wyoming. (Wyoming, by the way, holds a special place in my and my grandson Connor Osburn’s heart, as we will note a bit further along.)

Appropriately, the bookends for our nine-day trip were four friends, as different as we are, worshipping together. The next Lord’s Day we would be in Westminister, Colorado, near Denver. But it is what takes place between the bookends that would change us most of us.

We quickly made out way to the truck to begin the rest of our journey. I laugh as I think of this, because I remembered that on both Sundays the fellas had to come get me to get us to the truck. You understand, I’m sure. It was three, maybe four hours before we would reach Yellowstone, and we arrived there around 4:30 p.m.

Four-thirty p.m., July 11.

Life was about to change.

I’ve always thought I’d, somehow, change the world. The world has different ideas.

We can debate as to the first mistake, and I’m sure some of you – all of our wives in the front of that particular class – will say that even thinking about taking such a hike even for a fleeting instant was the first mistake we made. I think Roy and I will readily agree with that. Randy and Todd might not, as their ages and conditioning level trumped ours significantly. I feel confident I can speak for Roy on this front.

But that slight possible mistake aside, the first true mistake we made – and there will be many, many more – is starting the first leg of this 67.5 mile hike in the heat of the day at 4:30 p.m., and that after two full days of traveling. Roy and Randy had driven from the Oklahoma City area, which covers a full twelve-hundred miles by the time we pulled into the Heart Lake Trailhead.

But at 4:30 p.m., four ambitious hikers arrived at the southern entrance in Roy’s 2006 Ford 150, the back covered with a gray tarp to keep the bags all intact. I remember on the first Saturday Roy commenting about the “rogue” nature of that gray tarp, tied down by bungy cords attached to the bottom of the truck. I expect we would all get a good taste of what “rogue” really was by the time we all emerged from the wilderness that was staring us in the face.

Our goal for that first evening was the Sheridan Trail campsite, about eight-and-a-half miles away, two-and-a-half miles of that trail being down the steep side of the mountain. (I should note, just to jar your memory, that on Day Six we would have to make that two and one-half-mile trek, that time back up that steep rugged mountainside).

It was hot – Texas hot – as we grabbed our backpacks, weighing between thirty and fifty pounds (I believe Randy’s was nearer to the fifty). Our hiking poles in hand, we quickly had some nearby hikers take a picture of the four of us at the entrance of the long, hot trail, and we started out in single file. The first three miles, though hot, were mainly flat terrain. I scarcely remember any other flat terrain the rest of the way, although there was some, I know, but most of the trail I experienced over the next six days was up-hill – going and coming. I say that with a smile, but you understand.

After three miles of making our entrance into these Yellowstone Red Mountains, heading due east, we come upon the majestic Sheridan Mountain, looming 10,308 feet tall to the south.

I suppose Sheridan in her glory was the one landmark that remained anchored, unmoved during the next six days. She looked down upon us every step of the way. Every morning, and evening, you would not have to go far before she would emerge from behind the forest of trees, a great symbol of strength and stability.

More than once I thought of that great old Mount Zion the biblical prophets speak so much about, the great apostle’s memorable declaration coming to mind most of all, when he reminds us, “But you have to come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God…”

Mount Zion is no ordinary mount – symbolizing the church of the Lord – and, on the days that lay ahead, neither was Mount Sheridan, as it served as a tower of strength for me, perhaps for us all, as we faced the coming dangers.

At the first view of the mount as we emerged from the wooded three-mile hike, we began that treacherous three-mile hike down the slope of the Red Mountains – walking carefully, keeping a steady eye on each step. But when we would pause to rest for a moment, we could look out upon those towering mountains and down into the foothills, and we could see God’s handiwork stretched out like a curtain. I suppose we could see as far into the distance as we ever had seen before.

I noticed, for the first time, that we were beginning to be surrounded by mountains on every side. It would be when we came to the bottom of this steep decline that the circling of the mountains would be complete. I cannot help but think of the Psalmist’s beautiful prayer in the one-hundred and thirty-ninth psalm, as he looks over his life and observes that all along the way the Lord had hemmed in, before him and behind him, with His great Providence.

Those mountain ranges, at first just more of the beautiful scenes of nature, would later remind us that we would need the Lord to hem us from every side in the days and miles ahead.

My memory of that first two or three hours are sketchy, I suppose. I remember our talking and joking as much as we were able, thinking it might serve as a distraction. My last text to the amazin’ blonde on that first Sunday morning was a description of this four-hiker crew. Two, I said, “whizzes,” (smart men, that is) and two were “characters.” I will leave it to you, dear friends, to determine how all that falls, only to say that two in the bunch were particular big talkers and possibly could talk a bear out of eating us. Or, as we laughed one day, could talk the bear into eating one of the others.

I doubt I need remind you of the irony of that.

It must have been around 7 p.m. when we finally made it to the bottom of the mountain. It is there that we began to see a rare and amazing sight, as some of the only geysers in the world began to appear. The gorgeous geysers began to spring up, on both sides of the trail, north and south. I think the last time I remember us all being together that evening was when we came to the first of the geysers.

We stopped for a moment, and this, it seems, was our first extended rest, and it less than ten minutes. The other rests were the short, ‘three-breath’ rests types – as I call them – as you pause to catch your breath long enough to give your aching legs some much-needed oxygen.

When we came to the geysers, I do not remember if the other hikers took off their backpacks (which was always more of an ordeal than you can imagine), but I took mine off and told the fellas I was going down for a closer look. One of the friends cautioned to be careful as I eased down a fairly steep slope.

Ah, the geysers are just something to see. Mini-volcanos, I suppose, would be the best way to describe them, and their two-hundred-degree waters could snap the life out of a body instantly – and they have. A sulphury smoke seeps from its crystal-clear waters, kind of like your breath on a cold winter morning, and you can look down into its green-tinted depths and see limbs that have fallen into them, now a powdery-looking gray.

I say “limbs” – I mean tree limbs and branches. We’re glad it’s not the other.

I only had a couple of minutes to admire these boiling pools, one of the great phenomena of nature, because soon one of my friends said, “Come on, Steve, we’d better get going.”

Reluctantly, I took one or two final close-up looks at God’s great creation and made my way back up to the group to continue our trek, moving deeper into this wilderness with every step.

But, as I made my way up, I remember thinking of Robert Frost at that moment, of his classic poem, “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” –

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

How true, how true, that would prove to be.


Lost in Yellowstone continues next week

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