Sunday, April 24, 2011

My First Boat

My First Boat

By John Tuma

My cousin Jeff and I were always in trouble. We didn’t try to get in trouble, it just sort of happened that way. Two incidents stand out. One was when we got arrested, but that isn’t what this story is about. This story is about the time we went boating without permission.

The boat in question was my first boat, or rather, our first boat, since it was a jointly held asset. We were in for equal shares, which was probably good, since that meant there were no clear lines of responsibility. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to bear the full wrath of our parents; a half share was more than enough.

My Uncle Mort and Aunt June lived about 50 miles from us, and I only saw Jeff when we all got together for big family parties, which, as everyone knows, are trouble waiting to happen. The adults would start talking, and sometimes they’d play cards or games, and usually there was a bit of drinking, so the kids were left largely unsupervised. In the long boring time between when everyone would arrive and we would all sit down to dinner, us cousins were left to figure out how to entertain ourselves.

I was 11 years old at the time, and Jeff was 10. My family had just moved into a new house out at the edge of town, a place where immature suburban landscapes rubbed shoulders with lots of open farmland. It was a glorious place to be a kid, and there were always adventures to be found, most of which involved trouble of one sort or another.

I remember telling Jeff that all we had to do was walk to the end of the street, turn right, and go down a couple of blocks, and we’d be out in the fields. So, of course, he had to see for himself.

It was February, and it was probably cold, but what I most remember is that there had been a lot of rain, and there was a lot of water pooling on the ground. The grasses in the fields were tall, the fields were really muddy, and at first we didn’t dare venture out there, for fear of getting dirty or sinking in quicksand. I don’t know much about the geology of modern youth, but I know that when I was growing up, there was a lot of quicksand and we were always worrying about sinking into it and disappearing forever. To the best of my recollection, we never did lose anyone, but at the time there seemed to be a lot of close calls.

So at first Jeff and I just stayed on the path that ran through a greenbelt on the edge of the housing development. We threw rocks for a bit, which landed with a most satisfying, “thwup”, as they got swallowed up in the gooey mud, but you can only throw rocks for so long, and I had already proved my point that the fields were right around the corner.

Throughout the time that we had been throwing rocks, we had continued walking, and pretty soon we came to the place where the pavement ended and it was all open fields from there to Woodland, about 10 miles away. This was further than I had ever ventured, and it was all pretty exciting, but we had seen the fields and it was time to get back home. At this point, neither of us was particularly dirty, and we had learned long before that there was a tolerable level of mud and staining that we could attain without garnering undue attention. Since we hadn’t crossed that threshold, and since we wouldn’t be late, returning now would make a lot of sense.

Generally speaking, though, I wouldn’t wager a lot of money on the sensibilities of a 10-year old and an 11-year old, especially when they are working on a vexing problem together. This time was no different.

“You ever been around that corner?” Jeff asked, pointing to a bend in the dirt road that continued on from the end of the pavement.

“No. This is the farthest I’ve ever gone.” I considered the situation. Since I was older than Jeff, I was expected to be wiser. It was a dreadfully heavy burden. “What time do you think it is? Think it’s dinnertime? Maybe we should be getting back.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” said Jeff. “But I sure would like to see where that dirt road goes.” He paused for a moment. “Think there’s any quicksand out there?”

“Pretty sure there is. But my friend Kenny said you can tell where the quicksand is by looking at the animal tracks. You can see where the tracks go in, and then they disappear, and don’t come out the other side.”

Jeff nodded. The argument made intuitive sense.

“Paul from next door said he heard the same thing.” (Probably from Kenny.) Since just about everybody I knew was telling me that you could identify quicksand from disappearing animal tracks, I felt pretty confident that I could keep us out of trouble, at least with respect to quicksand.

As we debated the merits of going on, we had continued walking along the dirt road, so by now going around the bend in the road was a foregone conclusion. We rounded the corner, and discovered, to our amazement, that there really wasn’t much to see. The road branched off in two directions, there were some old, gnarled trees in the corner of the field between the two roads that had once been part of a windbreak, and other than that there was just a lot of weeds and mud.

I stopped to survey the fields for any sign of something interesting, but Jeff continued on down the road to the right. My survey revealed nothing, though not for lack of effort, so I picked up some rocks and stood there, idly tossing them into the mud waiting for Jeff to come back.  When he didn’t come back after what seemed like a long time, I began to get worried. I know I had explained to him the finer points of identifying quicksand, but maybe he hadn’t been listening. I ran up the road, fearing the worst, calling Jeff’s name.

“What are you hollerin’ about?“ Jeff asked. “I’m just right here.”

Jeff was off the side of the road, crouched by the edge of a large pond. He had a long tree branch with which he was trying to discern the depth of the water, but without much success since it kept floating to the top. One thing was clear, though. The water was pretty deep.

“Look out there!” Jeff pointed out into the middle of the pond, which was really just a low spot at the corner of the field that had filled with water. “It’s some kind of tractor.” Jeff paused for a moment. “What do you think happened to the driver? Think he’s still stuck out there?”

I looked to where Jeff was pointing. There was an old broken-down combine squatting in the muddy water, slowly sinking into the muck. Both the pond and the tractor had been hidden from view because the weeds were tall and we were short.

“No, I don’t think he’s still out there. Sure hope he didn’t get caught in some quicksand.” I scanned up the road. “I don’t see any footprints.”

“Maybe we should find out. I’d hate to leave him if he’s still our there.” Jeff had point. There was no one better qualified than us to make sure the driver was safe, at least no one nearby. Besides, we needed a reason to undertake the dangerous task of exploring the combine, and that was as good a reason as any. “How do you think we should get out there?” Jeff continued.

“Well, we’re gonna need a boat,” I said. “There’s probably quicksand at the bottom of that pond, and there might be some alligators or even some piranhas in the water.” Jeff looked up at me alarmed. “Kenny said that Paul told him that there were alligators in the fields when he first moved out here. I believe him, ‘cause Paul’s house was one of the first ones built.”

So it was decided then. We would have to explore the tractor to make sure that the driver was okay, but we’d have to have a boat or almost certainly we’d be eaten by alligators before we even had a chance to sink into the quicksand. This was turning out to the best adventure ever, and all thoughts of returning home for dinner clean enough and on time enough were completely forgotten.

About the only sensible thing we did that day was our decision to stay together while we scouted the perimeter of the pond for a boat. This had more to do with fears about being eaten by alligators than any overriding good sense, but it was a good decision for all that.

Scouting the perimeter of the lake proved to be a lot harder than it first appeared. The ground was very soft and muddy, even though we tried to stay up where the weeds were growing, and we were both covered in mud before we got ten steps off the road. We were committed now, and there was no sense going back home this dirty without at least making our best effort to get out to the combine. But it was 30 feet from the shore even at its closest point. About half way around the pond, we came across an irrigation pump. Debris was littered around this spot, and amongst the debris was a rusty, old, steel tank, about six feet long, cut in half. The tank was probably an old water tank, but it could just as easily have been used for carrying pesticides or fertilizer. We didn’t care about any of that. The tank was half floating in the pond with maybe three inches of water sloshing around the bottom. This was our boat!

Since the tank was half floating, we figured that it would be no problem to push it into the water the rest of the way, hop in, and pole our way across. Jeff still had his tree branch, which he had carried along in case of alligators, so he was set. All we needed was another long stick, and we’d be ready to go. I rooted around for a bit in the debris around the pump, but all I could find was a piece of 2 x 4 about three feet long. It would have to do.

While I was searching for my stick, Jeff had been trying to push the tank off the mud and into the water. But the tank was stuck, and even using his stick to pry it off didn’t work.

“How about if I get in, and try to paddle while you push,” I suggested. Jeff nodded. I carefully clambered over the sharp edge of the tank, and with my feet splayed against the sides a few inches above the water in the bottom, I slowly worked my way out to the end. With each alternating step, the tank would rock first one way and then the other. The combination of me inadvertently rocking the boat, along with my weight at the floating end of the tank, was just enough to break the tank free from the suction of the mud. But with the tank no longer level, the water came rushing down to my end of the boat, causing it to tip even more sharply in my direction.

By now I was pretty scared. The round bottom was not very stable, and every time I moved the boat would rock back and forth, the motion amplified by the water that was swirling around my feet.

But Jeff was elated. “Okay. Hold on. I’m gonna to get in.” Jeff tossed his stick into the boat and gave it a little nudge as he climbed in over the end. The boat slowly eased off the shore, and I was sincerely hoping that Jeff wouldn’t tip us into the alligator and piranha-infested waters. All thoughts of paddling were secondary. The boat rocked wildly once or twice, but with Jeff’s weight now on the shore-side end, the water that had been lapping at my feet flowed back the other way, and the bottom of the tank settled once again into the thick, clay mud. With that, the boat stopped rocking and we stopped moving. 

“Well,” I thought, “that’s no fun.” My momentary terror was replaced with supreme disappointment. How were we ever going to rescue the driver if we couldn’t even get our boat off the muddy bank? Jeff tried to push us off with his stick, but the stick just sunk ever deeper into the mud and the boat just sat there. It was quicksand for sure. I leaned over the end of the boat and started paddling with my 2 x 4, and Jeff kept pushing with his stick, but nothing worked. Finally, I suggested that Jeff slowly shift his weight toward me. Maybe we could float off.

Jeff took a couple of steps in my direction, and that was all we needed. The boat floated free. I paddled hard to get us off the bank, and then Jeff moved back to his end of the boat and started poling us toward the combine while I continued to paddle.

The combine was listing to one side, which was perfect since it meant that we could tuck the boat up behind one of the wheels and climb onto a long board that ran from where the driver sat all the way back along the side. “Hello?” I squeaked, not at all sure I wanted to find anyone to rescue. Nothing. “Hello!” I said, louder this time, a little more confident we had the tractor to ourselves. Still nothing. It was clear that the driver either had jumped to safety before the tractor crashed into the pond, or else he’d been eaten by alligators. I climbed onto the running board, and started working my way forward to the driver’s seat. Jeff climbed up after me.

The driver’s seat was a wooden bench, about three feet long. There were three or four long levers with grip handles that had been used for controlling the combine, but they were rusted up, and we couldn’t move them at all. Even so, we had a grand time pretending that we were driving, and when that got boring, we left the driver’s seat and explored the rest of the tractor, clambering all over the outside, and even poking our noses into the inside. But eventually, we realized that the sun was going down, and it was time to go.

“You know,” I said, “it’s getting dark.”

“Yeah,” answered Jeff. “It’s probably time to go.”

The boat was where we left it, which was good, since we had not thought to tie it to anything. Getting back into the boat was a bit tricky. It sure looked like there was more water in the thing than there had been, but it was hard to say since we had never checked for leaks. After studying the situation for a moment, Jeff turned backwards so that he could lower himself into the boat while still holding onto the running board. The boat was pretty tender, especially with the water in it, but he managed to plant his feet firmly on both sides of the boat above the water. From there he retreated to the back of the boat and picked up his stick so that he could hold the boat steady while I got in.

I lowered myself into the boat, and gave us a firm push to get us moving.

“You, know,” I said, “since we have the boat, we should circle the entire pond and check for tracks.” Jeff nodded in agreement.

So he poled and I paddled, and we circled the tractor and explored every inch of the shore, but we didn’t see a single track, either from the driver or from an animal that had gotten caught in the quicksand. This whole operation didn’t take more than ten minutes, but by then it was clear that we were taking on water. As much fun as it was, we needed to park the boat and get back for dinner. We pole-paddled back over to the spot by the irrigation pump where we first found the boat, and beached it the same way we had gotten it off the bank.

Jeff climbed out and I followed. We said goodbye to our trusty (rusty) vessel, picked out way among the weeds back over to the road, and headed for home. We caught hell when we got there, too. Dinner was done, we’d missed the birthdays and the cake. My Aunt June, who was never shy with her opinions, let us have it. All of our other parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles glared silently in the background as Jeff and I slumped lower and lower in our chairs.

“. . .and we’re really disappointed in you. What were you thinking?”

Both of us sat there, a bit shocked. We expected to get in trouble, but not like this. We’d already been home for 15 minutes, and no one had offered us dinner. The situation was increasingly grim.

“Well?!” Aunt June demanded.

“I, uh. . ., wanted to show Jeff the fields,” I started, haltingly. “And we found this tractor. . .” I stopped under Aunt June’s withering stare. My own parents seemed disinclined to help me.

“The tractor was stuck in the mud,” blurted out Jeff, coming to my rescue, “and it was surrounded by a big pond, so we had to find a boat to see if the driver was okay after crashing into the pond.”

“Yeah, we had to have a boat, because there was all this quicksand, and Kenny said we could know it was quicksand by the animal tracks.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Jeff.

I was watching my father as Jeff was talking about rescuing the driver, and I knew then we were going to be okay. Uncle Mort and Uncle Cliff were nodding slowly in the background. The argument made intuitive sense. We couldn’t just leave the driver there—they’d all have made the same decision if presented with the same facts and the same opportunity. However, none of them were likely to intervene, either, and so far Aunt June, Aunt JoAnne, and my mom were not persuaded by our compelling argument. The grilling went on for another ten minutes or so, but we did eventually get dinner and even some dessert.

That old tank was as good a boat as any I’ve ever had. It was rusty, and sharp, and it leaked, but it got us there and it got us back. As ugly and dangerous as it was, the boat was a magic carpet to a great adventure. And the best part was that all the kids in the neighborhood knew that we had braved the alligators and piranhas and quicksand to explore the pond and the combine, because they could see where our tracks went in, and where they came back out.

Friday, April 1, 2011

High Uintas, Days 6 and 7

Day 6: Brook Lake to Lodgepole Island (Kabell Meadows) (8 miles)

Order was restored this morning. Once again I was the first one up, though not by much and not particularly early. While I went to get water for coffee, Kevin spent time rearranging the fire pit to take the water pot. I got the first round of coffee water going on the stove, and Kevin started a fire to heat more water in the big pot.

As he had done at Kidney Lakes, Oliver decreed that this would be an oatmeal-free morning. Blueberry pancakes would be on the menu. The first round of pancakes were frying-pan sized, cooked one at a time, each one to perfection. It was a slow business, but rewarding for the one MountainGuy whose pancake-turn had arrived. Served with a bit of butter and some honey or jam, the pancakes were both delicious and satisfying. The second round of pancakes was cooked three to the pan. They did not cook as well, but the wait was less, and more folk could get in on the action at one time. In between rounds, guys would disappear to take care of morning business, like putting away tents, packing bags and packs, and taking care of morning business. The morning had a nice slow rhythm to it, with plenty of time for a second cup of coffee or a chance to stretch sore legs and tired backs. 

Despite the slow pace, the MountainGuys were on the trail by 9:45 a.m., which the discerning reader will notice is no different from the mornings when the pace was seemingly less subdued. From the first, the trail eluded us, even though it theoretically passed within 150 feet of our camp. But by now, there was no panic, just a generalized feeling of annoyance that finding the trail should be so difficult. Overall, we had a pretty good idea of the direction we wanted to go, and while a trail would have been a convenience, the lack of trail had not stopped us so far.

The morning hike was really quite pleasant. The weather was cool, and clouds were streaming across the sky. The winds were brisk from the very first, and it looked as though we might once again see some nasty weather. After hiking for about half an hour through fairly dense forest, we found ourselves crossing open meadows about half a mile above Fox Lake, which was now clearly visible to the west. The meadows were a bit soggy, and no doubt would have been a really messy affair had we been hiking earlier in the season. We climbed up a small rise on the far side of the meadow, and there, finally, was a trail.

Knowing that we wanted to hike away from Fox Lake, we turned to the right and started up the trail. Something, however, was not right. We could see the pass we wanted to climb to the north, and this trail was taking us east, back up toward Brook Lake and North Pole Pass. Eureka! We had found the trail. Too late to be of any use, but we had found it nonetheless. After a brief discussion, utilizing our unerring MountainGuy sense of direction, we turned around and started back toward Fox Lake. Dan, Kevin, and Rick decided that this was a waste of time, and quickly decided to go cross-country up to the trail leading to the pass. Oliver and I, anxious to complete the full “butterfly wing” loop trail, opted to continue down to Fox Lake and pick up the trail to the pass from there. 

 Fox Lake.

Oliver and I met up with the free-wheeling contingent about 30 minutes later and about a mile up the trail from Fox Lake. Setting out cross country, they had found the trail in about 15 minutes, and so had time to take off their packs, eat a few snacks, break out the easy chairs, and generally rest up for the final push to the pass.

The hike up to Divide Pass went pretty quickly, or at least it went pretty quickly for most of us. Kevin had established early in the trip that he liked hiking at the back of the line, as it allowed him the opportunity to stop frequently and study the flora, fauna, and geology of the land we were hiking through. By the time Oliver and I reached the pass, Rick and Dan were right behind us, but Kevin was about five minutes behind. We could see him, but he looked really small. Now, normally, a pass is an invitation to stop, take off the packs and wait for everyone to catch up, but the wind was howling over the pass and it was really cold. So we continued on with the intention of stopping once we found a good place to rest out of the wind.

We were easily half way down from the pass to Island Lake before we found a stopping place. Rick and Dan were right behind us when they alerted us to the presence of a moose cow only 100 yards down the trail. Fortunately, she ran off when confronted by the four of us in the full bloom of manly odors, but this seemed as good a spot as any to stop and wait for Kevin. Kevin was bitterly disappointed to learn that he had missed the moose, and he immediately deployed his camera for instantaneous action. But while Kevin might have been happy to sneak up on the moose, the rest of us were happy to alert the moose to our presence and give her the chance to run off. We never did see that moose again, as the sneak-up sect was simply overwhelmed by the loud, manly odor sect.

Just about the time that we reached Island Lake, we looked backed and noticed two hunters on horses were right behind us. In retrospect, this raised some interesting questions. All of the hunters we met kept coming up from behind us, and were aware of us before we were aware of them. Could it be because they were on horses and so traveled faster than we? Or could it be something more sinister—like we would be dead meat if it had been MountainGuy hunting season? In any case, one of the guys was the one we had met at Kidney Lake a couple of days before, and the other one had seen us crossing the meadow on our way down to Kidney Lakes from Davis Lake. They were friendly, and told us about the big bull moose that patrolled the forest between Island Lake and the pass, and also wanted to know if we were the ones they had heard up at Brook Lake the night before. We told them that we had seen the bull on the way in, and that yes, it was us they heard up at Brook Lake. Like I said, it’s a good thing that it wasn’t MountainGuy hunting season. They bid us goodbye as they set off for Round Lake in search of their still-elusive elk. We never did see them again, though they may have seen us.

Island Lake was a couple feet down from its high water mark, and as a result, there was a fine little beach on the east end of the lake where the creek flowed into the lake from the pass. We reached the lake about noon, and since we had been hiking for almost two hours, it was clearly time for lunch. This was the sixth day of our seven-day trip, provisions were getting a bit light; we were down to our last 25 pounds of food. In fact, there was barely enough cheese and sausage for each of us to have two large tortilla sandwiches, dried fruit, trail mix, peanut butter, cookies, and chocolate. Despite the short rations, we were in such good humor that Kevin dubbed the event a beach party, making it the Second Annual MountainGuy Big Beach Bash. Sadly, our itinerary required that we pack up and move on before the party really got into full swing, but it was still a welcome respite from the unrelenting rigors of the trail.

Our plan for the day was to hike to Kabell Lake, which was about four miles from the Hoop Lake trailhead. That way, we get one more night in the backcountry, and then a short hike back to the cars. This was a good plan, but one that required a climb up to the lake. In the event, we took a short break at Kabell Meadows, decided that we didn’t want to hike uphill to Kabell Lake, and then continued down the trail for about half a mile before finding a good camping spot.

The trail skirted the edge of a series of meadows for about a mile or so below Kabell Meadows proper. Though there were many flat spots along the trail, none of them offered anything magical enough for a last-night campsite. We didn’t want to go too far, because the trail eventually veered up and over a small ridge, away from the meadows and water, and we didn’t want to end up back at Hoop Lake. Nice as it was, one night was enough. But just as we were nearing the end of the meadow trail, we found an island of trees out in the middle of the meadow near where the stream flowed through. Lodgepole Island proved the perfect spot. There was a well-developed fire ring, good seating, and lots of flat spots covered with comfy forest duff. The stream was just crying out to be fished, and the meadow was large enough to accommodate an 18-hole Frisbee golf course. The perfect last-night spot.

 Lodgepole Island.

Throughout the afternoon the weather had deteriorated, and while we hadn’t seen any rain, it was looking increasingly likely. The wind was still very brisk, and the clouds were building in the south and west. We arrived at Lodgepole Island about 4:00 p.m. Camp was quickly arranged, firewood was collected, the hanging tree was set up, and the rain tarp was fully deployed. On the menu for the night was our famous Mountain Jambalaya, and fresh trout was an ingredient I was hoping to add.

With camp set up, I went down to the stream to fish. Dan and Kevin joined me for a time, which was especially welcome since they showed up right about the time I pulled out my first fish. I caught three, all small cutthroats ineligible for jambalaya status, but even so, it’s good to have observers around when you are catching fish so that your credibility is higher when you are not and have to lie. Oliver and Rick set about making the Frisbee golf course that Oliver had been hoping for from the beginning of the trip. The course took them all over the meadow, and every once in a while, we would hear the telltale vocalizing that accompanies both successful and unsuccessful moments in golf.

With the exception of the beef stew, Oliver had done all of the cooking on this trip. I was itching to cook—though I refrained from scratching while cooking—so I begged Oliver for the opportunity to make the jambalaya. He pondered for a moment, and then graciously agreed. As the shopper-in-chief for the trip, I know it was difficult for Oliver to let go—I am sure he had a fine recipe already planned. But I had been shamelessly begging for the chance to make this from the end of the Flat Tops trip, and the weight of a full year of pathetic pandering finally wore him down. Though the weather may also have had something to do with it.

 Fine kitchen facilities.

Just about the time the onions and chicken and sausage hit the olive oil to be lightly browned, the first wave of rain blew through. I huddled in my rain gear, trying to protect the flame from the wind and rain, while the rest of the MountainGuys lounged comfortably under the tarp and out of the rain, snacking on snacks. The rain did not last long, however, and by the time I was adding the salmon to the pot, the rain was already gone. Kevin took the opportunity to start a fire. The flames quickly drew everyone out from under the tarp, at least until the next little squall went through. And so it was throughout the night. The wind would suddenly pick up, rain would fall for five to ten minutes, and then both the rain and the wind would subside. One or more of us would emerge from under the tarp, stoke the fire, and like moths, the other guys would emerge. The wind and rain would return, and we would scurry back under the tarp.

With the chicken and onions lightly browned and the salmon heated through, I added spices (curry, mesquite seasoning, oregano, thyme, hot mustard, pepper, and salt) and tomato paste, and fried on high heat for about three minutes. When the tomato paste started sticking to the bottom of the pan, I added the reconstituted freeze-dried vegetables, including the water, and a dash of soy sauce. This was simmered for as long as we could stand it (maybe ten minutes, max), and then added the sauce to the five cups of cooked rice. Altogether the mixture filled our one-gallon pot to within half an inch of the top. It was all gone in no more than ten minutes.

One nice thing about cooking the jambalaya on the last night was that we could add pretty much all of the remaining dinner-type food to the mix—a true jambalaya. Dinner done, Dan offered to clean the pots, pans, dishes, and utensils, a role he had taken on from about day three. On this particular night, he deserved combat pay, as he ended up doing the dishes in the rain while the rest of us threw a bunch of wood on the fire and then retreated under the tarp to stay dry.

Dessert was a fine blend of scotch and dark chocolates. Cookies would have been nice, or a fine, fresh fruit compote, or perhaps tortillas fried in butter and dusted with sugar and cinnamon. We did have sugar and cinnamon. We had butter. We had plenty of isobutane to do the cooking. But fruit, tortillas, and cookies. . .all gone. Alas. Time for bed. One by one we retired to the snug warmth of our tents and sleeping bags. Rick and Kevin stayed up late around the fire—till maybe 9:30 p.m.—but then they too called it a night.

Day 7: Kabell Meadows to Hoop Lake (3 miles), and Hoop Lake to Sills Café, Mountain View, WY (22 miles)

The wind continued throughout the night, and squalls passed through periodically, but by morning the weather had settled down a bit. With our routine now firmly established, I was up first to get the coffee water started and to retrieve the food, while Kevin was up shortly thereafter to start the fire.

With rations down to the barest of minimums, breakfast was a barren affair of fresh coffee, hot chocolate, oatmeal, cold out bran (okay, that part was barren), and bacon and eggs. Dan offered to make the eggs, and though the project started out well enough, once past the fried bacon part, the egg part turned out to be less than stellar. Lest the sensitive reader feel these comments too harsh, be advised that this correspondent did not eat any of the eggs and confined his efforts to oatmeal—the assessment came from none other than Dan, who concluded that they were “the worst eggs ever.” Oliver tried to be diplomatic, but he too eventually agreed that the eggs were not “wholly tantalizing.” Nonetheless, there were none left to feed the fire.

Even though we were not in a big hurry, camp was packed and packs were hoisted by 9:45 a.m. By 11:30 a.m., we were at Hoop Lake, mugging for the end of trip picture. 

 End of trip picture.

It was a quick trip out, but a great hike. There were a few ups and downs, but the trail was mostly gently graded, winding through thick pine forests and occasional groves of aspens. The aspens had been green just the week before as we were hiking in, but many had started to turn yellow, and there were even a few shaded red. As Kevin noted, “We hiked in during summer, we hiked out in the fall.”

It is always with a mixture of relief and sadness that the cars are unlocked, the packs tucked inside, and the backcountry clothes exchanged for clean clothes not imbued with the scent of the mighty MountainGuy (or should I say the mighty scent of the MountainGuy). However, the sadness was brief. It felt good to put on clean clothes, and the cold beer (or in Kevin’s case, the cold root beer) in the coolers did a lot to lighten the moment. There was but one thing left to do: the end of trip luncheon.

While driving in, Rick had the presence of mind to notice that a small café we passed was jammed with cars, and took this to mean that it was popular, and perhaps, popular because it had good food. A leap of faith to be sure, as this was Mountain View, WY, but in this case faith was rewarded. Not instantly, or even in short order, but eventually. After driving for 40 minutes and sitting in traffic for fifteen minutes while a bunch of guys in hardhats drove heavy machinery back and forth along a recently paved stretch of road, we had the good fortune to arrive at Sills Café. This local icon did indeed have good food. The cheeseburger was great. The chicken sandwich was excellent. The fritters were homemade and amazing. Although each of the three fritters we ordered was the size of a dinner plate, there was none left at the end. The cherry fritter was great. The apple fritter was excellent. The raspberry fritter was amazing. [Menu idea: fritters would make a great dessert in the backcountry, and wouldn’t be hard to make.]

The fritters gone, it was time to go. The Ninth Annual MountainGuy Rendezvous and Gasfest was officially over outside Sills Café. It was another great trip, perhaps one of the best. The hiking was great, the campsites fine, and the variable weather both challenging and fun. The food was excellent. Even the fishing had been pretty good. With a last round of handshakes the California contingent headed west, and the Colorado contingent headed east. It was a bittersweet moment, but the planning has already started for next year. On the agenda: the Grand Tetons!  The Weminuche Wilderness! The Marble Mountains! Bring out the maps—let the full-contact planning begin!