Lightning streaked across the sky and was followed instantly by an explosion of thunder, telling me that the thunderstorm was somewhere right above. It was unsettling, but there wasn’t time to worry about it. I didn’t see a lightning flash hit the ground but wondered if there was one up there that had one of our names written on it. The wind kept blowing relentlessly, and the constant gusting made the whole situation seem all the more chaotic. But, where’s the rain, I thought? The Tarryall Mountains needed it. A real downpour might put an end to both the Hayman Fire (Colorado’s largest wildfire ever, up to that point), and the smaller thing that was visibly burning on the nearby mountainside.
Since I outweighed Quentin by 60 or so pounds, I was confident I could hold him if he were to break through the ice and fall into a crevasse.
We were backpacking on the Big Island of Hawaii along the Mulawai Trail. The first night out, we camped in Waipio Canyon. Then, the next day we headed toward Waimanu Canyon and stopped for the night to camp on a rustic camping platform provided by the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife. The shelter was conveniently located on a mountaintop within a day’s walking distance of the trailhead and was a welcome sight after our long and hot climb through the jungle and up the Z Switchbacks. We reached the elevated platform in the middle of the afternoon, and since there was still plenty of daylight left and we were all physically drained, everyone picked a spot and stretched out on the shaded and relatively clean plywood for a quick nap. As I dozed off, I thought contentedly of gentle breezes, juicy Lilikoi fruit, and thick clouds. Josh and I were the guides for the group of 8 teenage boys, a fact that would eventually come into play. But for the moment, we all just slept.
Thankfully, we only got a few miles up the Wind River Range’s Middle Fork Trail, before we stopped and set up our first night’s camp. As it turned out, the whole treble hook situation would’ve been way more complicated had we gone further into the backcountry on that first day.
“It were a good adventure,”
He said as he sat,
Then he straightened the snakeskin,
That banded his hat.
He guzzled a jar of whiskey,
But spilled some on his coat.
His manner was sure,
Though he drank like a goat.
The outside was gray,
And the tavern was cold.
Except near the stove,
Where the story was told.
There was a moment of silence,
As he stared into the gloom.
Then, he started the story,
His words filling the room.
“These days, most of us is livin’ here in Kentucky.
We knowed each other from Big Bone Lick,
Where we wandered and hunted by day,
Then come here in the evenin’,
To drink and have a say.
We weren’t none of us borned here.
We ain’t the settling down type.
But’d just ended up here in the East Bend,
After decidin’ our days of roamin’
Might finally’a seen their end.
After years a trappin’ Beaver,
Livin’ rough, and scoutin’ new.
We’d done trapped out the Bone Lick,
So, the coop we thought to flew.
So, we decided to spend our days what’s left
Roamin’ wild with those we knowed.
To head out west and to a place
Where none of us had ever goed.
And since we was so inclined, that’s what we did.
It were true we had our beaver dreams,
And thoughts of riches colored gold.
But it were mostly cause we wanted free,
And to forget that we was old.
They was 20 of us,
Trappers and hunters all.
Some was Indeans, some was Frenchmen,
Some was short, and others tall.
Some was black, some was white,
Some was big, and others small.
But all was hardened by the land,
And I did trust ‘em, one and all.
So, we cross’t the river at Rabbit Hash, and the journey then commenced.
It were the fall of 1821,
When we struck out on our own.
Headin’ west toward old Santa Fe,
Crossin’ country still unknown.
They was times we rode our horses,
On beaten trails of dirt and rock.
But they was times we walked for miles afoot.
And got too tired to talk.
We follered cricks and rivers,
The Verdigris, the Arkansaw, and others with no name.
And after weeks of hills and meadows,
To the mountains we done came.
Our days was filt with movin’,
Huntin’ game, and lookin’ west.
Then we stopped beneath the Spanish Peaks,
To set a camp and rest.
I’d never seen such.
We’d heard tales of lotsa mountains,
Full of beaver, elk, and deer.
Way out yonder ‘crosst the prairie,
Many miles away from here.
From far away the mountains seemed
To be a wall of rock and ice.
But once up close we was pleased to see.
It were country mighty nice.
They was glades and hollers
Cricks, and trees.
Elk and bear,
And lotsa honey bees.
Eventially, we cross’t the mountains
And come to Taos then Sante Fe.
Up to then, they wasn’t many folks,
As we moved along our way.
Except we run’t acrosst some Spaniards
Traded with Ietans, Cheyennes, and Arapahos.
Was guarded by the Kioways,
And had to worry with some Crows.
They was a fandango for us in Santa Fe,
We drank our fill and had a feast.
Then we turned around and headed back
To all awaitin’ in the east.
We headed back with a good bit of meat,
Not many pelts, but lots of tales.
Of scary faces, unfound places,
And all manner of travails.
After 18 months of livin’ wild,
We cross’t the river and was home.
Brim full of life, despite the strife,
And with no more mind to roam.
Yessir, it were a good adventure.”
The story finished, he sat back in his chair,
And silence filled the room.
He took a deep breath, then let out a laugh,
As sunshine broke the gloom.
I stutter-stepped, planted my left foot, and exploded past the 9-year-old defender to his right, and took the open shot. I hooked it hard and missed– at least the goal part. The ball did hit one of the dining room windows in the small combination Isla del Sol house and hotel and shattered it into more pieces than I wanted to count. The game stopped, and we all stood, frozen in place as we tried to determine the next move. Our goalkeeper’s mother had been outside earlier, scolding the kids about being careful to not break anything. And so, I was prepared for her wrath, although not clear about whether or not I’d be lumped in with the other soccer players since I was probably older than her.
Rico, or “Tarzan” as he preferred to be called, hadn’t felt very strong since lunch. His backpack seemed exceedingly heavy, and the big uphill into Pinto Park was yet to come. He’d never been a complainer before and was intent on not becoming one right then. The feeling was new to him, and he wanted to figure out what was going on, so he could keep moving ahead in his accustomed dominant and carefree fashion. Perhaps, he reasoned, his weakness problem had something to do with the creek water he drank at lunch.
He recalled the Strep he had back during the winter and began to wonder if maybe this wasn’t that. But since there was no sore throat, he was pretty sure it wasn’t. “No, this is something different,” he decided.
The kid walked up while I was down in the creek fiddling around with a big rock, to tell me he’d lost his last fly. I was the fishing guide and supposedly the person who’d take care of that sort of thing and thus, knew I needed to act quickly. Of course, the most obvious solution would’ve been for me just to give him one. Usually, that’d be a simple thing to do– but since, in this case, I didn’t have any, it wasn’t even an option.
Lightning was striking everywhere, and each time it did, there was a bright flash that was immediately followed by a deafening crash of thunder. When it first started, I figured it would be wise to do something about it, although I didn’t act. But once the bolts started lighting up individual trees, I sprang into action.
I headed to the creek to get a pot full of water.
And tripped on a root on my way back to camp.
I staggered and stumbled but didn’t fall,
Then dropped the pot and spilled it all.