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FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: Lost in Yellowstone (chapter 26)


“The last river.” (Part 1)


About the time I was ‘sweet-talking’ our Grizzly, Todd found the campsite where the two cowboys were camping. Even though it was a camp for horse riders, they kindly agreed to share it with us, knowing, of course, that we had been in a bad way for several days. When Roxy and I and the cowboy Dale finally rode into the camp, I saw Todd standing there with pain on his face. That’s the best I know to describe it. I think back now and only imagine how much he had been beating himself up with worry. If I had gotten off the path and not been found, I sometimes wonder about what that would have done to him. I hate even to think about it. You read of some hikers who walk out of their journey alone, but Todd would have searched every bear cave in that wilderness before he would have done that. That’s what the extreme relief on his face as we rode up told me.

That night was the only normal night of the trip – I say ‘normal,’ I mean that it was the type of night you would expect to enjoy out on a camping trip: sitting around the camp sharing stories, fixing a little meal – it was the ‘last supper’ in a way in that it would be the last dehydrated meal I would eat or ever plan to eat again – and enjoying a quiet evening in the belly of Yellowstone.

We all had a great deal in common because both cowboys were coaches in Idaho. Cowboy Dale’s riding partner, Chase Sneiger, is the head track coach at Idaho Fall’s Skyline High School, and Mr. Dale coaches both track and football with him. Chase is a much younger man, probably in his thirties, but I noted that the older cowboy showed the type of respect an assistant shows to a head coach, despite the age difference. I can relate because of the immense respect I have for both Coach Foster and Coach Weisinger, the two head coaches with whom I worked, both younger than I am and with whom we still have close contact. Mr. Dale also knew one of the new coaches for the University of Texas football, so we had a great deal to rehearse that evening. As I said, it was about as normal as you could expect in a week where nothing was normal, not even for a moment.

Prior to the sitting ‘around the campfire,’ the cowboy and I even walked down to the river about a hundred feet down below us. We bathed in the cold, cold water and rehearsed life and literature a bit more. It was one of the most refreshing baths I had ever taken, and conversations, too. You forget after a week how you miss good affiliation with the outside world.

My cowboy friends still had more work to do to get the horses to grazing and set for the night. They have to handicap them by fastening their two front legs together with harnesses to keep them in the meadow where they grazed. I asked him if it would be all right for me to go out into that pasture and pet Roxy, and he said, “Sure.” I spent a good bit of time out there, although Roxy was a bit aloof and not as keen on fellowshipping as I. She was more concerned with her grainy supper and hanging out with the other horses than she was with getting petted by a newfound stranger. I smiled at that because it was as if she was good with doing her job and getting me off the trail and into camp, but she didn’t necessarily want to be Facebook friends or anything.

There was something curious about that evening that I don’t think I realized at the time. Every other night we had arrived at our evening destination with so little strength that we pitched our tent and went to bed immediately. But, looking back – and especially now as we recount all the events of that evening – I had an unusual amount of strength that evening, which was a marvel considering the long, long day of hiking that Thursday and all the adventures squeezed into a twelve-hour period. I do not necessarily have a physical explanation for the resurgence, except clearly my legs were gaining strength whereas earlier they were being worn down almost unmercifully. Mr. Hogan had it right, as he told us on Tuesday: Either you are building your body up, or you’re hurting it. Somehow, we seem to have turned the corner to the latter.

I think, too, that my condition surprised my cowboy friend, because I could tell he expected to find someone who was clinging to life almost. I guess, in a way, I had been; and I certainly would have been if my Grizzly had turned and run to me instead of away. And even if the Grizzly had come at me and decided just to threaten and not to attack, there still wouldn’t have been much left of me by the time the cowboy got there. I would have been just jello and mush.

You understand.

We can laugh about that now, only because we can thank the good Lord for sending the big fella the other way.

When I think of that renewed strength that seemed to fall on me, how appropriate is that great scripture my hiking friend Jake was carrying around with him in his pocket after our meeting: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.

Walking the trails those six devastating days, I could not ever have imagined coming home and describing any portion of that journey in terms such as ‘renewing my strength’ and ‘mounting up with wings.’ But as you already know, this journey was no ordinary journey. It was not led by an ordinary God and it was not overseen by ordinary angels. This journey was a picture the good Lord carved in our minds and on our hearts, and His only request seems to be, “When you are home safely, you write every detail of your miraculous journey, don’t leave a word unsaid, and you give the glory and praise where it belongs – and you do that for as long as you live.”

I really don’t know if I’ll ever find the words to put it all in, but that assignment is something I feel deep down. That’s the small still voice I hear as I look back. I have noticed that I can never look back without looking way up, too, way up in the heavens, looking up into that dark dome the way I did on so many cold, dark Yellowstone nights and seeing a million stars looking down on you, all of which declare the glory of God and all of which remind you that it is as if for every star there is an angel looking over you, to guard your step in that remote part of the world with hidden dangers as numerous as the stars. And there’s a Savior above Who specializes in giving you a calm peace – peace that flows in your heart as smoothly as that cool refreshing river – and there’s a God Who infused an indescribable glory in your heart so you could seek to make meaning of it for all the days you walk in the everyday wilderness. We will glorify Him for it all now, and we will not be finished when we stand before His majestic throne in eternity among those same heavenly guardians that oversaw our steps on that journey – and all our journeys.

Until then, I – you and I, for it is not my journey alone – will do what we’re doing here, as best we can.

Ellis County Press

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