Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mountain Man Rendezvous in the Wind River Range

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.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One Man, One Dog, In Alaska

So without Jimmy, Will (my Airedale terrier) and I went on to finish our trek across the Brooks Range, ending my seven month journey to cross the entire state on foot. Will might be the only dog who has traversed the entire range in Alaska.

Dog With Lymphoma

Dogs who come down with lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes, are almost certain to die within two years of the diagnosis. My dog Jimmy did. But he lasted eight months with injections of a drug called Doxorubicin. Without it he would have been dead in two weeks. I was reluctant to do any chemo on him at first, but now looking back, I’m glad I did. Given your dog is in decent shape, he or she can take the drug without batting an eye. Jimmy who was in superb physical condition - which was key - before the onset of his disease and knocking on death’s door with stage four cancer, bounced back within days of the first injection. Veterinarians recommend five injections, spaced three weeks apart. Jimmy and I enjoyed eight months together, including an entire summer. They were some of the best months of my life, and Jimmy’s too I think. I never saw him looking stronger and happier. But the disease came back with a vengeance, like this kind of cancer always does. The cancer cells were now far more resistant, an unstoppable monster at this point, and even a dog like Jimmy, strong and in the prime of his life, was up against a fight he had no chance of winning. Sadly, he died in my arms, struggling until his last breath in January of 2012.
Jimmy(right) still walking with his brother Will, a week before his death