Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Alone in the Dark

The sun wins.
For a closet introvert who can fake the opposite on command, time alone is like being plugged into a battery charger.

If only I had a USB port at the back of my neck. Then I wouldn't need to disappear for hours at a time to replenish what the real world drains (on second thought, when that port is invented, please pass me by--I'm not interested).

While "alone time" is necessary for a guy like me, there are times when a friendly voice is appreciated. As I hiked on blistered feet out of the Yellowstone backcountry, racing the sunset and losing miserably, I would have loved a reassuring voice, if for nothing else than to have a little conversation to discourage the park's grizzlies from getting the wrong idea.

A casualty of the 1988 Yellowstone fires.
I stayed and fished at my destination too long. I took an inexplicable wrong turn down a spur trail that likely cost me two miles. And, despite my belief to the contrary, I didn't pack a headlamp. As the sun set over the skeletal lodgepole trunks left over from the fires of 1988, I knew I was going to have to hump it to make the trailhead before the light gave out entirely. In the distance, the bugle of a rutting bull elk was countered by the mournful howl of a wolf. Soon, other big canines joined in and the elk, wisely, ceased his call. Off in the trees in the half-light of deep dusk, something big stepped on crunchy ground and moved away from the sound of my footsteps on the trail.

As I walked the last mile and a half while holding the LCD screen of my digital camera out in front of me for just an inkling of light, I knew that being alone--while therapeutic and ultimately healthful--was pretty risky. Thankfully, I'd managed to navigate the "moderate" portion of the hike in the failing light of day. The home stretch is pretty flat and unremarkable, although I still stumbled a few times before I made it to the truck.

After a sans socks summer of sandals, my feet rebelled at the notion of my hiking boots. Six miles into a 12-mile round-tripper, I knew I might be in trouble. By the the time the hike mercifully ended, I was sporting ripe blisters on both pinky toes and my feet were ... hot.

After I dumped my pack and my rod case in the back, I climbed thankfully into the driver's seat of the FJ Cruiser. I'd stashed a turkey sandwich, a liter of water and a couple of apples in a brown paper bag under the passenger seat, and all were gone within minutes.

Lake trout in the shallows. Worth the risk.
The chill that comes with sunset in Yellowstone started to set in over the last half of the hike out, but I was prepared for it with layers and, of course, a cardiovascular counterweight to autumn's chill--six miles up and over a ridge or two at about 7,000 feet will keep anyone's blood pumping. As I sat in the car, relieved and a little regretful that I couldn't fish a bit longer in this amazing place, I began to feel the night settle in around me. It was a cavalier move--hiking all that way and staying too long... alone.

Not my best work.

But a tight fly line and the rare chance to connect with fish that only visit the shallows at certain times of the year inspired this adventure, and this was the day I'd set aside for it. Lake trout on the fly. Beefy, fish-eating char with appetites so voracious, they can wipe out indigenous fish and then turn on each other for sustenance.

No regrets. None.

And the battery is replenished. No USB required.


  1. Not your best work, and yet...

    I know those last few miles. Painful and scary and miserable. In the moment you wonder what the hell you do it for. Why put yourself through this? You question your continuation of the sport and think how nice living like normal people would be. Nothing is worth this misery.

    Then you sit on the tailgate and eat that sandwich. Drink that warm beer. Dangle your feet, liberated from the heavy leather.

    And you reconsider.

    Not your best work, and yet...

    Good stuff, my friend.

  2. And allow me to add that's it's not our best work that defines us. It's what we do all them other times.

    1. Thanks buddy... you're absolutely right. It's like that poster on the wall in grade school... "Character is what you do when nobody else is watching."

  3. All I can say is....great post. It reminds me of several trips I have made to the Adirondacks here in upstate NY.

  4. best blog entry ive read in a long time, thanks for easing a long hump day

  5. I had a similar experience a few years ago. The difference is my trip took place in broad daylight and upon returning to the car, I dropped the bottle of beer and it broke. See? It sounds much better your way.

    1. Sadly... the "diet" I'm working on discourages the beer ... I've pretty much given it up, at least for now. But I would have KILLED for an ice-cold PBR when I got back to the car. Seriously... I would have taken a life.

  6. WHAT!? Given it up!? Are you freakin' kidding me?

    1. Temporarily... I have to drop some of my Yeti sexiness so I can be more nimble and spry... the beer... that just weighs me down.