Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Deep Creek Basin: Wind River Range

In keeping with weird weather patterns of 2008/2009, Wyoming has ended its “moderate to severe drought” (link) with a super wet summer. Apparently, snow at 8-10K feet
in the Wind River Range melted only several weeks ago. This means that millions of tiny mosquitoes died during the late freeze, their stabby buzzy little bodies cold and brittle in those frozen snow drifts: less proboscal intrusions into my legs, arms, face, neck, back, ass, even through my socks. I still have to wear lots of DEET though. Several times per day I rub it into my skin, letting it combine with 8 days of sweat and campfire and dust. I taste it when I lick my lips and it tastes like I think bleach would taste. When the sun comes out (which is from 8am to noon, then thunderheads, then sun again from 4pm to 7pm) I can feel the DEET burning my skin, but that usually goes away after the third day.

For as many memories as I have of backpac
king—the different mountain ranges, family trips, fish stories, bear stories, storm stories—I rarely dwell on perhaps the biggest stimuli of any summer trip: bugs. You can’t see them in photos. You choose to forget them as soon as possible, because—except for birds—there is nothing redeeming about them. Fall and Winter, you guys kill them. And Spring, you are about eggs and wind and baby bugs. But Summer, you bring spiders up from their cooler ground holes, ticks out of the trees, and mosquitoes in thick grey clouds. My mom and sister used to wear nets over their heads and long sleeves in the middle of summer. This year, I will make a special effort to remember how minimally I focused on keeping my skin poke-free.

The late spring also carpeted the mountains with grass, hundreds of flowers, and a few blossoming deciduous trees (but not many). The Wind River Range is always breathtaking, but this year was especially beautiful. For seven days I spent time with my folks and our long-time friends, Dan and Sue. As a 29-year-old, half their age, I am exceedingly proud of them all for continuing a 30-year friendship and, in spending a 2 week vacation at 12K feet rather than Shilo Inns, kicking the asses of most adults my age.

I hiked out 12 miles early last Saturday, leaving my parents in Deep Creek Basin (barely a basin) for another 5 days. As I stuffed my tent at 6am it was sleeting, the wind was blowing, the fog was thick enough to knock out vision after 50 feet, and there was lightning. The night previous, over a meal of fish and powdered potatoes and bluebell leaves (a new, edible discovery, thanks to Karen Free), I said, “To be honest, I’m sorta sad it didn’t rain. I always like at least one brutal rainstorm per trip. There is nothing like holing up in your tent while the rain is pounding down on it. I only don’t like rain on the last day of a trip.” And this is because you have to pack and hike in it. The gods of Popo Agie heard me and must have laughed. Cold, miserable rain was replaced with cold, scary snow, thunder, and fog. After an hour the sleet had soaked and smeared my topo map with the remains of what used to be trails. I slogged out of the basin at little over 1 mph, completely drenched and muddied.

Next morning I hitched a ride from Lander, WY, to Salt Lake City (5 hours) with Shanny (aka Laughing Medicine Woman), her son JohnPaul, and her grandson Jesse. They were going to Shiners’ to see a doctor about Jesse’s frequent strokes, due largely to all the drugs Jesse’s mother abused during pregnancy. Jesse was one of the cutest 2-year-old boys I’ve met. JohnPaul is exactly my age. He has never been to the west or east coasts, and isn’t used to driving or seeing multi-lane freeways. He has a son with what appears to be a severe disability, which he refuses to call a handicap. His mother attends healings and makes medicine from Sage and Ferns and other traditional Shoshone ingredients. She doesn’t accept money for her tinctures and teas. There is no lighted path for Shanny, JohnPaul, or Jesse, just a bunch of scratch deer trails with not even a soggy map. We talked about Lander—the single road that bisects the town of 7,000, the scarce jobs, the local Indian-owned grocery store
soon to be overtaken by a new multilevel Safeway, the trailer parks, the rich hikers that move there to fund and participate in NOLS, the amount of black people we knew, the amount of gay people we knew, the amount of violence that takes place in our respective hometowns, the amount of drugs we take and have taken, the number of times we’ve been in prison, times we’ve been married, fights we’ve lost, cars we’ve wrecked, relatives in the military, friends in the military, friends that have died in the military, friends that have died, and friends we have—in general.

I’m happy to call JohnPaul, his mother and his son, my friend, after that ride. It was an interesting ride halfway home, after a week in another world.