Roaring all the way across the Snake River Plain into Wyoming doing seventy-five in my brother’s Toyota Matrix, it smelled like cow shit seeping in from ever crevasse of our car, loathing and smothering – too much fertilizer. We were on our way to the Wind River Range to do some hiking for a week and forget our troubles. We were to meet up with others in Pinedale, the site of one of the 1800’s mountain man rendezvous and historic museum, where men like Jim Bridger and Thomas Fitzpatrick struck out into the vast wilderness to seek their fortunes and new way of life trapping beaver and selling their skins for making fashionable felt hats. In our party were me, two of my brothers, Mike and Steve, two of my oldest brother’s friends, Frank and Tim, who were brothers around sixty, my father Darrel, my nephew Aaron, my friend Jeff and his son Drew and two of his friends, DJ and Matt, and one dog who loved to chase beavers and squirrels.
It was our chance to get away from the turbulent and nifty insanity of modern life and gain some semblance of all we’ve lost in America since the founding of this country: the great sprawling forests, empty plains, and the determination and possibility to go your own way. The big empty and bigger dreams. That was what I wanted a taste of.
The lumbering lot of us marched most of the day in single file, sometimes strung out over a mile a terrain, drifting along at our own pace, taking in views of light-colored peaks, and rocky outcrops on every side. We crossed passes over eleven thousand feet and rarely descended below ten thousand. At camp we bathed in lakes and rivers, fished for golden trout, bantered with each other about our frailties, and got plastered as hell on tequila and tobacco. Mike had this really potent shit from India that made Matt puke. But not Steve. He could chew like a son-of-a bitch. We were always teasing him about how many times a day he had to unpack his pack to get something. ‘Steve’s repacking his shit again,’ was a favorite line, but he took it in stride. And Mike got pestered for not taking nine shots of tequila one night instead of only eight. “You call yourself a bowler,” Frank said to him. And I got harassed by half the group for bringing lentils in a plastic bag instead of those goddamn expensive freeze-dried dinners.
We drank into the evenings under the bright stars and hazy matrix of the Milky Way. We didn’t talk about flowers or wallpapers or bird watching like our spouses or girlfriends back home would have subjected us to. No freaking way in hell. We talked about drinking, stars, dreams, hiking, goldens, mountain men, Indians, living off the land, the decimation of the West, having to go so far from camp in the morning to take a dump, and of course the way women get so upset when you don’t listen to them talking about their day. We wanted to forget all that life of fluff and fresh daisies for a little while and hike fast, drink hard, sleep on rough, raw dirt, and dream larger than our own lives.
In the infinite sky while scanning the stars, we wondered. Was there more boundless wilderness out there? “We’re way out here on an arm of the Milky Way. We can’t even see stars past our own galaxy,” Mike said. I could see the North Star, Arcturus, the Big Dipper, and a fuzzy array of white when the sky got really dark and the stars got their brightest. “We’re so small. We’re nothing.” And of course that was the way I liked it, so the world on earth and the world out there would seem a whole lot bigger.