FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 2019 – NEAR SC3, SALT CREEK TRAIL
Friday morning dawned clear with the promise of another hot one. Verg and I had coffee, tortillas, and bacon. John again ate very little and then again began throwing up. Not good.
We watered up at the spring. We were on the trail by 8:00 AM as we needed to go 7-8 miles today. Camping was not permitted between CS3 and the spur trail to Angel Arch. North of the spur trail, we could camp anywhere we liked. I set the GPS on my Suunto Ambit watch to track out route and pace to see how we were doing. Not long into the day’s hike, we found the sign for CS3 which was even further north than we expected or the map showed.
We next passed the Upper Jump, a small set of falls and the last running water we would see although we didn’t know that at the time. We stopped after an hour; we had made a little over two miles. We would be alright if we could keep up that pace. Unfortunately, we could not.
As usual, Vergil was moving well. I was doing fine, but as usual was walking slower than Vergil. That has always been the case. John continued to set out at a brisk pace but quickly ran out of steam and needed to rest. That was not surprising as he was taking in very few calories and probably burning close to 400 calories an hour. The strain was evident on his face, but there was no going back. There was no vehicle at the Cathedral Butte trailhead and no cellphone service. The only way out was through.
Walk, rest in the shade, drink water, and repeat pretty much constituted the pattern for the rest of that day. Breaks became more frequent. By now, John was consuming reserves to keep going, and we were really beginning to worry. How long could he keep that up? I also worried that I might be pushing too hard by suggesting we get moving sooner than he was ready. Nevertheless, john kept hoisting his pack and walking with no complaint.
We reached the spur trail to Angel Arch at 5:00 PM and were now in the area of unrestricted camping. There was a nice site right by the trail junction. It must have been nicer at one time, but the three massive cottonwoods that overhung the smooth, flat area had each been heavily burned. We pushed on as we needed water. A quarter mile on we found it, a long, shallow, slightly silty pool.
No SteriPen now. We all had to filter all our water. We considered pushing on to shorten the next days’ walk, but a good campsite and known water supply won out over the unknown. With enough water for dinner and breakfast, we returned to the campsite by the trail spur. No one had any interest in the mile-and-a-half round trip to Angel Arch. We were all beat.
Wearing long pants had saved my socks from the cheatgrass seeds, but as I unzipped my long pants, I realized that my pants’ legs were full of them. Some had even worked their way through my pants and pierced my skin. They were clustered on the outside of my lower right leg. I plucked out all I could reach, and John tended to those I couldn’t get to. Eventually he had to resort to the tweezers from his Swiss Army knife to get some of them.
Vergil at campsite near Angel Arch
John at campsite near Angel Arch
That accomplished, we lazed about before pulling out something for dinner. We were so dehydrated that I for one had to wash each bite down with a swallow of water. John still could not keep anything down.
As Vergil and I ate, we bemoaned the fact that our pack weight was not dropping much because we were not consuming as much food as expected, at least by me. If we could get through tomorrow, we could certainly make that last 3 ½ miles the next day, but we needed to lighten John’s load. I suggested that we leave his BearVault with as much food as it would hold, especially the heavier items. When we got out, we would tell the rangers what we had done and why, then deal with any consequences. We all agreed and turned in early.
The sky was clear, and Vergil and I decided not to pitch the fly and just sleep under mesh again. That worked well until a shower came up in the night. We rolled out and scurried around in the dark attaching the tarp and pulling our gear into the vestibules. We told John to stay where he was and grabbed his gear for him, stashing it under his vestibule.
SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 2019 – DAY 3, NEAR ANGEL ARCH, SALT CREEK TRAIL
We rose early again. For a second night I had not slept well. I was increasingly worried about John, as Vergil was, and had a growing sense that this trip might not end well. It had plagued my mind and gnawed at my gut all night. If John couldn’t walk, how would we get him out? Obviously, one of us could stay with him while the other went for help. But still, how could anyone get to him other than walking or with a helicopter?
I have been blessed in my 50-plus years in the backcountry. Both with my friends like Vergil and Stu and as a Scout leader, I have spent those years backpacking, rock climbing, caving, and whitewater rafting, logging thousands of trail miles and untold nights in the backcountry, and in all that time, only twice has a serious medical situation arisen regarding one of our party. Once when I took a fall while rock climbing, the second involved my buddy Ralph.
It was 2009, and our friend Myles had dropped Ralph, Vergil, and me off at the Lava Point trailhead in Zion National Park. Ralph had not been feeling well the day before, with periodic spells of nausea, but seemed better and felt well enough to proceed. That night he began throwing up. By the next morning he was dry heaving and coughing up bright red blood. This in itself was bad enough but was compounded by the fact that our car was in a parking lot at Zion’s South Entrance, 16 miles of trail and 10 miles of shuttle bus away.
Fortunately, even though we were at a remote, seldom used trailhead, we found a wildlife biologist who had a truck stashed nearby. He graciously drove us to a small hospital in Hurricane, pulling over several times for Ralph to heave. At this point, Ralph started losing consciousness from time to time. Vergil is a medical doctor, and this was one of the many times that I was glad we had his knowledge and expertise.
In Hurricane, they took Ralph’s vitals and started an IV for fluids, then sent him by ambulance to the Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George. Our new friend even drove Verg and me to Zion to pick up our rental car.
By the time the two of us had made it to St. George, Ralph had been admitted and doctors had scoped Ralph’s upper gastrointestinal system. They discovered that his esophagus had multiple lacerations, probably from taking lots of heavy-duty pain meds for years. After a couple of days of treatment in the hospital, he was released.
The events of that trip and the fact that it was such a near thing, have haunted me ever since. What would have happened if we had been further into the backcountry? Or if there had been no transportation from the trailhead? The outcome could have been very different, possibly fatal.
With those memories flooding back and my ability to obsess over all sorts of things, like the availability of water, I had done a lot of tossing and turning.
Well, we had to walk as long as we could. We would defer any other decision until when and if John could go no further. Vergil and I shared another cold breakfast. I think Vergil ate at least ten slices of bacon wrapped in a tortilla. We were on the trail by 8:00 AM.
We stopped at the first pool to water up for the day. As usual, Vergil as usual was going strong and I was strolling along. John was moving better with a lighter load but soon began needing more frequent and longer stops. I was amazed that he could keep going at all. He had to be digging deep into his will and into his reserves.
The canyon continued to narrow as it twisted and turned. Sandy stretches alternated with hard-packed trail. Pools of water were frequent, as were shady spots under the cottonwoods.
We knew we were getting close to Peekaboo Springs when we decided to take and an early afternoon break under the shade a several cottonwood trees. Vergil decided to push on to Peekaboo Springs, drop his pack, and come back. We had hopes that there might be some campers in a 4-wheeler at Peekaboo, in which case, we would bum a ride to the trailhead and get out early. I would stay with John, and we would continue to move on when he was ready.
We watched Vergil disappear down the trail as we rested. John dozed and I relaxed. We were about to saddle up and start walking, when Vergil returned carrying water only. We were very close, closer than we had thought. Vergil shared the disappointing news that there was no one camping at Peekaboo, in fact, no evidence that anyone had been there in a while.
Over my protest, Vergil grabbed my pack, so I took John’s pack leaving him to carry just some water. Soon the canyon began to open up again and we began winding our way through scattered scrub pine amid large formations of red and ochre rock.
Soon the soaring rock wall and notch at Peekeboo Springs loomed above us. We climbed the tiered stone slabs up to the gap. The walls on both sides of the gap were rich with pictographs. On the north side, a dusty trail led down into a large, circular basin surrounded by high rock walls pierced by a single opening on the far side where the road from Cave Springs entered. There was a series of campsites scattered along a sandy road that wound through the basin. From our elevated perch, we selected the campsite that looked the shadiest.
Pictographs at Peekaboo
After taking pictures, we descended the leisurely switchbacks, dropped our packs on the picnic table in our selected site, and pulled out our camp chairs. It was naptime.
Exhausted Backpackers at Peekaboo
John had purchased and was carrying a Personal Locator Beacon, and earlier he had lamented not purchasing the Rescue Insurance option. After a short nap, we sat there bemoaning the fact that there were no 4-wheelers to give us a ride, when John remembered that he could pair his cellphone to the PLB and send text messages. He tested it out by texting his wife Meg. In a few minutes, he had her reply. It was successful.
Hope began to flicker.
“I have Mike Ballard’s cellphone number,” I said.
Everyone’s eyes lit up.
John texted Mike and asked if he could pick us up at Peekaboo.
It took a while but soon we had a reply: Sure. When?
John: As soon as you can get here.
Mike: I have a sunset tour. I can be there by 11.
We all three let out a contented sigh of relief.
Moonrise Over Peekaboo
With no camp to set up, we loafed about as time crept by. Vergil and I had a bite to eat. I was really enjoying Mountain House’s Freeze Dried Granola with Milk & Blueberries. I added a little extra water for hydration and nourishment both at the same time.
We talked. We napped. We relaxed in our camp chairs. We stretched out on the picnic table. Mostly we willed time to pass more quickly, but it continued to crawl.
The moon rose and the sun sank. Eventually it was full dark under a star-spattered sky. And finally, it was 11:00 PM. We strained our ears listening for the roar of Lt. Dan’s engine and strained our eyes watching the far canyon wall for the splash of headlights. Nothing.
At 11:30, still nothing. We began listing all of the reasons Mike could be running late: tour ran long, the road was rougher than expected, car trouble.
At midnight, we put down the footprints for our tents and our sleeping pads and bags, still hoping Mike would soon arrive. Finally, we all three climbed into our bags and drifted off to sleep under the stars. A couple of hours later, we awoke, not to Mike’s arrival but to a cloudy sky and spitting rain. Disheartened and now disgusted, we pulled out our tents, set them up, and tried to get back to sleep. We needed it. It looked like we would be walking as soon as the sun came up.
SUNDAY, JUNE 16, 2019 – DAY 5, PEEKABOO & OUT
I awoke shortly before sunrise to an otherwise empty tent. Vergil was nowhere in sight. Knowing him, I figured he had gone back through the Peekaboo notch to get water. I climbed out of the tent as he walked up with full water bags. We began boiling water for coffee and had a cold breakfast, letting John sleep as long as possible.
Soon John too rolled out.
“Think you can make three-and-a-half?” we asked.
“Have to,” John sighed.
He looked haggard, but the end was in sight.
John pulled out his PLB and cellphone and paired them up. He had a text from Mike. Maybe there had been a change in plans. Maybe he was coming out this morning. At least that’s what we hoped. John scrolled anxiously through the text.
Afraid not. Mike had indeed come out last night, but what neither he nor we knew was that the Park Service had closed and gated the 4-wheel drive road out to Peekaboo Springs. He had walked in on foot but eventually gave up and turned back. He had come close but with no cell service, he could not get in touch with us.
Well, we had another walk ahead of us, but a short one. John was moving slowly, so Vergil offered to boogie out as hard as he could and bring the car down as close as possible. We had seen the turnoff to Peekaboo Springs on our way to the Cave Springs parking lot, and we knew that the gate was further down the road than we could see.
John and I would follow as we had yesterday. I was soon packed up and ready to walk. John was moving slowly, obviously near the ragged edge. When he was ready, we moved out. John started at his usual brisk pace. I followed at my usual stroll, expecting to catch up with him at his first rest stop.
The morning was cloudless and warm. It would be another hot one. The canyon began to open up again, and it soon became apparent why the road had been closed. It was deeply rutted, in some cases one rut two to three feet deeper than the other. Nearly every rut was filled with pooled rainwater awash with tadpoles and mosquito larvae.
The valley was wide, but in some places the undergrowth came right up to the edge of the road and was nearly impenetrable. In many cases the only option was wading through the pools. In other spots it was more open with the undergrowth was well back of the road and a footpath that skirted the ruts and ditches.
As the sun rose higher so did the temperature. The pools might have been silty, but I still soaked my keffiyeh in them and wrapped it around my head and neck. The gnats were out but not too bad. The keffiyeh seemed to keep them off my face. But soon the air began to fill with the relentless buzzing of horseflies. I had started the day in shorts again, and the horseflies found my bare legs to delectable to resist and assaulted them with an insistent, blood-sucking vengeance. I tried to ignore their voracious bites but eventually resigned, stopped, and zipped my pants legs back on.
I had kept tabs on John as we walked, catching glimpses of him just ahead of me at turns in the trail. With my pants legs back on, I started out again, but John was nowhere in sight. Oh well, I was sure I would catch him soon.
Where the road wasn’t rutted, there were long, wide swathes of deep sand. It was like walking through the soft sand on a beach, only with boots and a backpack. The dry sand caked up on my wet boots. The only shade was the occasional cottonwood.
When there was evidence that the foot trail diverged from the road, I followed it, all the while keeping an eye out for John, picking out his tracks in the sand and mud, and checking under every cottonwood in case he was taking a break.
Either he was moving really well today, or I was slower than usual because he was still nowhere in sight. I was convinced that I was on my usual pace with a backpack, about two miles an hour, and hoping I hadn’t somehow passed him. I was becoming a little concerned.
Proceeding further down-canyon, the trail consisted more and more of the soft sand. The morning was turning into a seemingly interminable, strength-sapping sand slog. My wet boots were caked with sand which I periodically paused to knock it off. Who needs the extra weight? But after a few minutes, they were caked up again. I was feeling the heat of the day and knew I was getting close when I decided to stop under a convenient cottonwood right by the road. I dropped my pack in the shade for a water and snack break.
I hadn’t been there two minutes when I heard the sound of an approaching engine, and there ploughing down the road was a white Park Service jeep. The driver, a young man with a scant beard and long, dark braided hair, pulled up right beside and rolled down his window.
“Are you John?” he asked.
“No, I’m Greg,” I replied. “You didn’t see John on the way in?”
“No, we didn’t.”
Oh, crap, I thought as I climbed to my feet. Had I somehow passed him on the trail? Was he back there resting under a cottonwood expecting me to show up?
I walked up to the window, and Adam introduced himself.
“Your friend Rick came to the ranger station and said y’all needed help,” he said.
“I’m doing OK,” I replied. “Just taking my time this morning, trying to make sure that John doesn’t get behind me.”
A young female ranger named Mallory, petite an efficient, climbed out of the passenger side and walked around. “Do you think he’s back down the trail?” she asked.
“I hope not,” I replied. “The last couple of days, he’s had to stop and rest every 45 minutes or hour, but I haven’t seen him since I stopped to zip on my pants legs. And I’ve been going slow and checking both sides of the road and all the shady spots.”
The was another ranger out patrolling the road between Cave Springs and the ranger station. Adam radioed him, but he hadn’t seen John either.
The three of us began calling John’s name. Adam and Mallory were discussing going in further when their radio crackled to life. “I found him,” a scratchy voice announced. “He was at the Cave Springs parking lot.”
John had made good time and apparently, he had cleared the road to Peekaboo and turned right toward where we had left the car at the Cave Springs parking lot. Adam and Mallory coming from the other direction must have just missed him.
I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. John was safe and in good hands.
“Want a ride back to the ranger station?” Mallory asked.
Of course, I did. I tossed my pack in the back of the jeep. Mallory asked me if I was carrying a knife. I pulled my little Victorinox Classic out of my pocket.
“Do you mind storing it in the back? Procedure, you know.”
“Not at all,” I said. “And I’ll put this one with it.” I unclipped my Victorinox Pioneer Alox from my beltloop and laid both in the back beside my backpack.
Soon we were turned around and headed for the ranger station. Five minutes later, we were there.
John and Vergil were sitting in the shade in front of the stone and stucco building drinking water. The ranger who had brought John in was with them.
Man, it was good to see them.
Mallory asked John if he needed transport to a hospital which he declined. Then she asked him if she could check his vitals, to which he agreed.
Vergil pulled me aside. “I wanted to come back and look for y’all, but the rangers wouldn’t let me leave after I told them about our situation.
I nodded. “Makes sense, I guess. They’d rather be looking for two than three.”
“Yeah,” Vergil replied. “And there’s the other thing. I locked the keys in the car.”
After all that we had been through, I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I opened the back and laid them down to get something out and closed them up in there. I’ve already called AAA,” Vergil added.
I looked at my old friend, my friend with whom I had camped and hiked with for over 50 years, my friend who had walked his fanny off and made extra trips to get water, and who, to paraphrase the old Western song, never uttered a discouraging word. He had a completely unnecessary sheepish expression on his face.
“It’s no big deal. Honestly, that doesn’t bother me one bit right now.” I smiled.
The two of us sat in the shade and watched the very efficient Mallory check John out. Every tourist walking up to the Visitor Center paused and stared, no doubt wondering what was going on.
Mallory went through her procedures all the while explaining to Adam on what she was doing and why. She took John’s temperature, blood pressure, oxygen level, respiration, and seemingly half a dozen other tests, recording everything in duplicate so John would have a copy in case he wanted to seek medical attention later.
The head ranger Mark brought the three of us some Gatorade. It felt great going down. At some point one of us must have said something about when AAA would show up.
Mark looked at us. “Lock your keys in your car?” he asked.
“That’s one of my specialties,” Mark said. “Let me get my carjacking tools.”
Vergil trotted to the pay phone to cancel the AAA call while Mark and I headed to the car. He was indeed good. In a few minutes, he was in.
Mallory had finished with John by this point, and Vergil and I had the car loaded. I figured that surely the park service charged for these kinds of search and rescue operations and said so to Mark.
“No,” he replied. “These are your tax dollars at work. We’re glad to do it and glad everything turned out all right.”
With profuse thanks to all, we piled into the car, Vergil driving, John stretched out in the back, and me riding shotgun. Our first stop was Needles Outpost for more Gatorade. Vergil thought some ice cream might be good for John and that he might be able to hold it down. He was right.
In all the hubbub I completely forgot to mention John’s bear cannister that we had dropped two days earlier.
John slept most of the way back to Moab. We hadn’t had lunch, so we swung by the local Burger King. Vergil and I downed some burgers and fries. John dozed in the car while Verg and I ate. We brought him a milkshake which he managed to get down.
Our next stop was the Expedition Lodge. We checked in and fortunately got a ground floor room. Vergil backed the Kia right up to the door, and we dumped our gear. John crashed on the bed. He needed it. I ran a hot tub of water, stripped, and hopped in. While I was in the tub, the ever-fastidious Vergil, as is his want, grabbed up all our dirty clothes and headed for the motel laundromat. By the time he returned, I had washed and then showered. I turned the bathroom over to him and started some repacking.
John continued to sleep.
When Vergil was finished with his ablutions, we decided to head across the street to the convenience store for snacks and something to drink, including more ice cream for John. Upon return, Verg moved our washed clothes into the dryer, and then we simply vegged until our clothes were dry.
Soon we had a large pile of clean, dry clothes on the bed. Vergil and I folded everything, then began to consider dinner plans. We rousted John up long enough for him to tell us that he wasn’t ready to eat yet. He just wanted to rest. Vergil and I decided to hit the Moab Brewery again.
While waiting to be seated, we talked over the trip. It had been physically challenging and the insects had been worrisome, but the terrain and the articfacts we had seen had been fantastic. Water had even been plentiful. The only real issue had been John’s ongoing nausea, something we hoped that he could get worked out with the help of specialists when he got home.
Our pager vibrated and we headed into the clatter and chatter of the bustling eatery. After a burger for lunch, I opted for the fish and chips with an ice-cold ale. We discovered to our surprise that in a state with a heavily Mormon population that drank neither coffee, tea, nor spirits, the Moab Brewery included a micro distillery that sold liquor on Sunday, of all things. We purchased a half-liter of vodka, and on the way back to the motel, picked up some orange juice and more ice cream for John.
Upon our return, John ate a little and went back to sleep. Vergil and I mixed our drinks, put our feet up, and toasted making it through one more adventure. Soon we slipped between clean sheets in beds that we didn’t have to get down on our knees and crawl into. Sleep came easily and effortlessly.
At the Trailhead
The only picture of the three of us – pre-departure, still fresh
MONDAY, JUNE 17 – LEAVING MOAB
John looked appreciably better Monday morning. Plenty of sleep and some food had worked wonders. In his condition, the carbohydrate-rich breakfast was a good thing. We headed back to Gearheads, and I returned my unused, unopened sleeping pad. We picked up a few other goodies while we were there, then rolled out of Moab on our way to the Arches National Park Visitor Center. We had all three visited the park before but wanted to check out the gift shop for souvenirs. I especially still wanted something for my grandsons.
We soon joined the two long lines of vehicles snaking towards the gate under the baking desert sun. Occasionally we would change lanes to give the people in the lane we had been in a chance to go a little faster.
Eventually we made it in, made a few purchases, and departed. The incoming lanes now reached almost out to the highway. We turned north on Highway 191 headed to Salt Lake City.
Again, John stretched out as much as possible in the back seat while Vergil drove and I navigated. While John snoozed, Verg and I listened to music and talked about the kind of stuff really old friends talk about: family, kids, other trips, books, you name it.
Around lunchtime we began looking for place to eat. We were nearing Price, UT, and since we had cell and data service now, I began checking online. Among the usual fast-food options was Sherald’s Drive-In, an honest to goodness drive-in with curb service. This was too good to pass up, so we took the Price exit and soon located Sherald’s in all its pastel and neon glory.
Sherald’s, Main Street, Price, UT
In addition to the usual burgers and fries, they had something like 40 flavors of milkshakes from Almond Joy to vanilla, coconut cream to peanut butter. The service was great, and the burgers were outstanding. John even ate a little, and I managed to dump my fry sauce in my lap, making a huge mess.
After washing up as best I could, we headed back to the highway, and late that afternoon, we rolled into Salt Lake City and checked into the Best Western Motel near the airport.
I had made plans for us to have dinner with one of my Eagle Scouts from my Troop 6 days in Atlanta. Alex had joined the troop in 1990, but I already knew his parents from Sunday School and church. He was an outstanding Scout and leader. Both he and his younger brother Matt had earned their Eagle rank.
In August of 1998, Sherrie and I relocated to Greensboro, NC, for my work. One month later, Alex and another Troop 6 Scout, Daniel, enrolled in Guilford College located only four miles from our house. We hiked and climbed some through their college years. Sherrie and I got together with both boys’ parents when they came up to visit. We attended recitals and graduation.
But I had not seen Root since his graduation in 2002. I forgot to mention that Alex’s initials are AW, and I began calling him A&W when he joined the troop. That soon morphed into Root Beer for obvious reasons. Then when I learned how tenaciously he approached everything he did, his nickname got shortened to Root, like that root that hangs on no matter how hard you try to get it out. It just fit.
Now Root was married with one daughter and another child on the way. He had parlayed his studies in music composition and theory and ethnomusicology and his love of fine craftmanship into a career as a luthier specializing in custom-made violins. I had had lunch with his father Bob and a few other Troop 6 Scouts and leaders on a trip down to Atlanta back in the spring. I was really looking forward to catching up with Root.
The three of us cleaned up and headed to The Bayou, a spacious, wood-paneled spot specializing in Cajun and creole fare. It was early and the crowd was light. Soon a tall, thin, balding young man with a full beard and a big grin strolled in. I would have known him anywhere. We laughed, embraced, and slapped each other on the back. Our waitress thought we were father and son who hadn’t seen each other in a while.
Root & the author
It was a fine old reunion catching up on family and old friends, how life was treating us, pulling up and sharing pictures, telling old stories. The food and drink were good too. Vergil’s younger daughter is an accomplished violinist, so he and Root had plenty to discuss.
Finally, inevitably, the hour grew late and we had to part. It is hard to describe the way an old Scoutmaster feels about his Scouts, even after they are grown and married with children of their own. In my nearly 40 years of Scouting, there have been so many, hundreds at least, each of whom has a special place in my heart and memories.
But I suppose like any teacher, coach, or youth leader, there are some that stand out more than others, ones with whom you created a closer relationship. Root was one of those. What he had made of his life; the man, husband, and father he had become, these things filled me with an unimaginably deep sense of fulfillment and thanksgiving for the opportunity I had had to spend so many years surrounded by fine young men and other adult leaders.
We parted on the sidewalk with one last embrace. Root hopped on his bike to pedal home to Denny and the baby. Vergil, John, and I headed back to the Great Western. Tomorrow was getaway day for John and me.
TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 2019 – SALT LAKE CITY & DEPARTURE
When we woke up Tuesday morning, John looked and felt much better. We showered, breakfasted, and checked out.
John was considering an inflatable fishing boat and wanted to check out a local manufacturer, Flycraft. Since his flight out wasn’t until 3:43 PM, followed by mine at 5:04, we had plenty of time. Vergil was staying over for a couple of days.
We visited the office/factory of Flycraft, heard the sales pitch, and came away impressed. John was convinced that Flycraft was just the ticket for flyfishing but decided to wait a while before ordering.
We tooled around Salt Lake, ran some errands, had lunch, and eventually returned the rental car and took the shuttle to the airport. There we checked our bags and sat down at Starbuck’s to chill out and bounce around ideas for next year’s trip. Glacier National Park kept coming up.
Soon, with fond farewells all around John left to catch his plane. Vergil and I sat there just talking, about everything and nothing. Finally, it was time for me to head out. Vergil and I embraced, and I headed up the escalator and my plane.
The flight home was four mostly bumpy hours long as the flight crew attempted to avoid weather over the Rockies and the Midwest. We touched down in Charlotte a little before 11:00 PM. I deboarded and headed to the carousel to grab my bags, then walked out in to the moist, thick North Carolina air so different from southern Utah. In a few minutes, my Uber rolled up and I hopped in.
Traffic was light and 20 minutes later we were driving down our dark street. As expected, Sherrie had left a welcoming light burning. I climbed out, thanked my driver and grabbed my gear. I dropped my duffel bag on the screen porch, unlocked the backdoor, and called out, “Honey. I’m home.” I heard Sherrie’s faint reply from the den. I walked into the den and was greeted by her smiling face, a hug, and a kiss. It was 11:55 PM, June 18, five minutes before my 66th birthday.
FRIDAY, JUNE 28, 2019 – MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA, MA
After my return from Utah, I had a scant few days to clean up gear and pack to leave for New England. Sherrie and I were driving up to Massachusetts to keep our teen-aged granddaughters while their parents were in England. Among other things, they were attending opening day at Wimbledon.
I had waked up Friday morning around 3:30, and as I had often done over the last week or so, always at an inconvenient or inopportune time, I thought about how I needed to call the ranger station about John’s bear cannister. By the time I had risen for the day, that thought had fled again amid all the other things to be done.
Finally, things settled down. The girls were off with friends, Sherrie was reading, and I was working on my latest novel, which was nearing completion. My cellphone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and was about to let it go to voicemail when I noticed that it was from Moab, UT. I hit Accept and heard the voice of Ranger Mallory.
She was trying to find out who had left a BearVault full of food near Angel Arch. Some backpackers had reported it, and another ranger had hiked in and retrieved it.
I admitted that it was ours and that we had left it there to lighten John’s load. I apologized for forgetting to tell them about it that day amid the swirl of activity as well as my continuing forgetfulness. She said she understood, but there was a $130 fee for retrieving the cannister. I said she should send it to me; it was my decision and my forgetfulness. I would gladly pay it.
Mallory then asked if she should ship the cannister to John. I offered to call John and see what he wanted to do. Five minutes later, I had John on the line. He was well-recovered now but had little interest in recovering his BearVault.
“Donate it to the park service,” he suggested.
“Sounds good,” I replied.
I called and left a message for Mallory who soon called back.
“John wants to donate his BearVault to the park service,” I said.
“Great,” said Mallory. “And I talked to Mark. He decided to waive the retrieval fee.”
“That’s great too,” I said. “Thanks a lot. And thank all of you for the great job you did.”
“Your welcome,” Mallory replied. “Come back and see us soon.” She sounded like she actually meant it.
“I’m sure we will,” I replied. And I actually did mean it. There are too many trails out there that we haven’t walked yet.