Left Behind

Many people on their 15th wedding anniversary go on a cruise, buy some fancy something, or travel to an exotic country.  Not Jeff and I.  We decided for our 15th wedding anniversary we would go to a little lake in the wilderness on the other side of Union Pass from where we usually camped.  It was up a mountain road a jaunt from the Pinedale area to arrive at the trail head.  Jeff had been there hunting a few years prior and assured me it would be an easy ride in.  Yes, I said ride.  On a horse that is.

For those of you who know me well, know that this was certainly an act of love on my part.  Despite my childhood dream of getting on a horse and riding bareback into the sunset, it never seemed to work that way for me.  I got on a horse and discovered it had its own free will and more often than not chose its way over mine.  But Jeff assured me that in the mountains “it is different”.  The horse doesn’t know what lies ahead, is more challenged with the terrain, doesn’t know which direction to go to get back to food… 

It was an act of love on Jeff’s part, too.  He had been so overcome with the beauty of the place, he wanted nothing more than to share it with me and recount the adventures he had had hunting there.

So, we packed up our things.  It’s amazing how many things it takes for a weekend of simple relaxation in the middle of nowhere.  We put on the extended hitch, slid the pick-up camper in the box, filled water and propane tanks, hooked up to the horse trailer, coaxed the horses into the trailer, took our “first child” Shelby who was about a 12 year old dog by then, and headed out.  It was a good 3- hour drive from home to get to the gravel road, then another 45 minutes or so down wash-board gravel to get to the campgrounds with horse corral at the trail head.

Jeff always made sure he was well out-fitted for whatever task he was up to.  So, for going into the mountains on foot, horseback or in a vehicle, you ALWAYS took your survival pack- which pretty much filled his back pack.  Then, you needed to take the food and water you PLAN on using- because the survival pack was only for the unexpected.  Gun- required for bears.  Survival pack for the horses- in case one of them got injured.  Dog food- we couldn’t expect her to go hungry all day.  Fishing gear- the whole point of going.  Something to cook the fish with after you caught it- or why catch it?  So, you end up with packs on you AND the horses to have all your stuff for a good day in the mountains.  Plus you’ve still got the camper with more stuff in there for overnight.

Then comes sauntering along the trail some #$@&*!%  backpacker!  You’ve got everything you need in that backpack for a 14-day hike in the mountains??!!  Sure ya’ do!  Bet you’re out of TP!  And I’m not sharin’!  Jeff called them “Greenies”.  He thought they were nuts.  Why do things so hard when you can get to the same place on a horse?  And, after they went by he’d comment, “They didn’t even have a gun!  No wonder so many of them die from bear attacks.  They’re as quiet as a mouse and don’t bring protection.  CRAZY!” 

The trail- well, not so much a beginner’s style after all.  “Oh, yeah, I forgot about this part,” Jeff commented as we rode our horses up boulders through steep switchbacks with shale on either side.  Then came the water crossing.  Leo- the horse I was riding- is not fond of water. But there was no other way around.  Then came the surprise- evidently there had been some type of natural disaster that caused many of the trees to fall since Jeff had been there.  Maneuvering around and over those trees took a lot of effort for the horses.  And my horse had been known to tire easily and “go down”.  Even a non-horse person knows that when a horse “goes down”- it’s not good.  But we arrived safely at the lake.  What a beautiful spot!  Unfortunately the wind was at its typical Wyoming wattage and made it quite difficult to get the fly line out very far.  We saw lots of nice fish jump out of the water.  But no matter what side of the lake we hiked to, the fish were jumping on the OTHER side.  Evidently we weren’t offering what they happened to be eating.  And we should have packed the float tube in with us.  But, as any fisherman knows, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”  So, it was a good day.  We saw some grizzly bear tracks- and they never appear small when you see them- but we felt safe since there were backpackers near-by to attract the bears.  We hung out by the lake for a while enjoying each other’s company and the scenery. 

We stayed as long as we dared, knowing it was going to be a long way back through all that downed timber.  Jeff decided we should head out a slightly different direction to try and avoid the trees as much as possible and hopefully cut down on some time.  My memory gets a little sketchy here, but I know it didn’t turn out as anticipated.  We evidently went the “scenic route”.  It was not a quick trip.  So, playing Dora the Explorer here, we went over the timber, through the water crossing and down the boulders on the steep switchbacks with shale on either side.  Only one problem.  By the time we got to the boulders, Leo was DONE.  I could feel his muscles quivering beneath me.  He had not “gone down”- but he did not want to go.  Well, he would have liked to have gone around one particular boulder.  There was no way to go around.  Going around would have meant going straight up or straight down on the shale.  Not possible.  So, experienced rider that I am, took hold of both reigns -one in each hand- to keep him from going up or down.  He HAD to go straight.  I considered getting off the horse, but the terrain was too treacherous to allow for it.  About that time I realized, “Hey, that green pack used to be BEHIND me!  It’s IN FRONT of me!”  Leo had gone forward alright.  He had decided  to JUMP rather than WALK down the boulder, leaving me behind, suspended in mid air just long enough to recognize the green pack. A split second later, my body made firm contact with a sage brush and a boulder.  Jeff had been ahead of me on the trail and was off his horse trying to figure out how to help when “the incident” occured.  In the split second I thought, “Hey- that green pack…”  Jeff thought, “How am I going to get her out of here?  What if she hurt her neck?  What if her head is cracked open?  How do we get down that wash-board road?  Where is the nearest hospital anyway?  There’s no cell phone coverage to call for help!”  And guys think women have a lot on their mind!  Huh!  He was SHAKING with all he had on his mind.  But other than a few scrapes and bumps, I was completely unharmed.

 The next day- and every day since then, actually- I decided that the horse really needed a rest.  We walked down the river instead.

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1 Comment

  1. Lori Harvey

     /  February 27, 2011

    Gotta love backpacking stories. They are always adventurous and never turn out EXACTLY like you planned them.


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