Thursday, September 26
Thursday, September 26, 2002. Pine Valley Campground near Kamas, UT
Bullet holes riddle the cow silhouettes on Wyoming’s signs which advise motorists “Open Range. Watch for Cattle,” but similar signs in Utah are clear, at least in the Uinta Mountain region we passed through today. And what a beautiful region it is! We’ve crossed and re-crossed the Wyoming-Utah border during the moves of the past several days, and we were all impressed with the contrast between the arid sagebrush of southwest Wyoming and the cooler forested Uintas. Tuesday’s move was memorable because of the almost incredulous challenge of the narrow, rocky roadway and the wondrous beauty of the mountains, trees, and streams. Cheryl and I drove the trucks with trailers; we were separated from the rest of the team but communicated with each other on the portable phones. We repeatedly conveyed our awe and delight of the landscape; at one point we stopped to snap photos of the creek we forded to guarantee credibility for the stories we would tell.
Today’s move was equally spectacular. We convinced Charlie to abandon the interstate route he had planned and to travel by secondary road south from Evanston (WY) to Pine Valley. Even the short stretch of I-80 between Mountain View and Evanston felt uncomfortable, so alien to the backcountry “feel” to which we had grown accustomed. I immediately felt relieved when we escaped the traffic of multiple lanes—where speed and lane maneuvering are primary concerns—to the sparsely traveled secondary road, where the landscape assumed prominence. The most frequently encountered vehicles on these roads tend to be the distinctive pale green Forest Service pickups. The color is not an appropriate “forest green” color, but it is unmistakable, and I was mildly disappointed when I learned that new F.S. trucks will be white.
The night at Bridger Lake had been our coldest yet—ice on tents and frozen water tank valve!—but the bright sunshine warmed the day into the 80s. The sunlight also highlighted the spectacular fall color displays of the aspen groves, the colors of the quaking leaves ranging from mostly brilliant yellow to red-orange and contracting sharply with their white trunks and the dark green of pines and spruces. I’m reminded of the explanation that the multiple trees in aspen groves are really all the same organism as they are connected by their root systems. The Uintas were in view the whole way, at first in the distance as purple and blue and gray shapes topped with snow. Utah’s highest peak, Mt. King at about 13,500 feet, was visible, but it was snow-capped Mt. Gilbert –the second highest—that was the more spectacular sight.
Joe Hickey showed up in our Hoops Lake Campground on Tuesday evening, located at about 9,300’ elevation. He had been tracing our progress on the internet, he said, and he wanted to meet us. He shared the history of his family’s 150 years of ranching at Lonetree, WY, and described the geography of the area. We listened intently to him while gathered around the campfire, made possible by his work with his chainsaw. In a brief afternoon session, he had cut enough firewood to last us until the end of the week.
The immediacy of the trek’s impending conclusion gathered momentum Wednesday evening. At Charlotte’s suggestion, we selected persons by drawing names of other team members from a hat. Without revealing identities until the last moment, each person prepared a short description of his/her “secret person” and that person’ contribution to the trek. Most presentations were accompanied with gifts, some gag and some serious. More sobering was the session which followed. We each lit candles and described what the trek meant to us. It was an emotional ceremony, and there were not many dry eyes.
Thursday, September 26
Last night Lisa and Ken came for supper and brought boxes for us to pack our belongings to be sent home. This morning we move slowly not wanting to face the inevitable. I bring everything belonging to me to my tent and begin. I going to take one carry-on bag and one check-in, so I pack four boxes of “Trek stuff” to be sent home. I suddenly feel very tired.
Jan, Jake and I sit in the sun warming because it is very chilly and just talk. It is almost over. In typical Jan and Jake style, they think of a plan to sneak into the North Team camp and leave a bandana with a “Welcome, glad you made it” and all our signatures. They dress in black and plan the perfect plan not to be seen or see anyone, according to the rules. The mission is successful. They are able to get into the motor home while everyone is having supper at the other side of the campsite. We all roar with delight when we hear the results.
Thursday, September 26
Today we wake up at Mill Hollow campground and we spend the day sorting, cleaning, and packing in preparation for tomorrow's last day of the trek and joining celebration.
We four-wheel drove the rest of our route today to Pine Valley Campground but didn't enter, and returned to Mill Hollow Campground for dinner.
Thursday, September 26
Big Day of Sneak and Salvage
We nearly screwed up, royally. I'll tell you about it.
With the joining of the teams scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, our team is elated that we’ve made it to Mill Hollow Campground in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest entirely on public lands. We’ve done it, or so we thought all the way up to about 4 p.m. when I somehow slipped into my now non-essential routine of planning for tomorrow’s trek. My habit, however unnecessary, saved us from the embarrassment of screwing up the grand public lands’ plan.
Tomorrow, Friday, was to begin two days of hoopla, first with the team-joining event at Pine Valley Campground and then Saturday with the Public Lands celebration in Salt Lake City. All of that planning was out of my hands and in the hands of the event organizers. The way I understood the plan, tomorrow we’d travel to a place to get a much needed shower, have lunch, put up our tents in Pine Valley Campground while the North Team was taking a shower, and then we’d gather at a spot in the forest until it was time for both teams to walk to a stage and finally join. No brainer, right!
But what we had thus far overlooked was the final leg of the public lands journey, the section between Mill Hollow Campground and Pine Valley? According to the plan, tomorrow we’d travel to private lands to shower and then travel back into public lands directly to Pine Valley for the team-joining event – basically making an arc from public lands to private then back to public, circumventing the last leg of the public lands journey! Saying that is an oversight is a monumental understatement. Yikes!
So in a jiffy I gathered up the trekkers and loaded them into the Honda Pilot. Richard was missing because he was with his wife, but we couldn’t wait. We had no choice but to take an alternate in his place. The entire leg on public lands from Mill Hollow Campground to Pine Valley was little more than 20 miles on mostly gravel Forest roads, but it absolutely without hesitation had to be done.
Traveling the leg got us excited because of the potential of seeing the North Team, which was camped at Pine Valley Campground. We didn't want to see anybody from the North Team, not yet. That could be bad juju. Fortunately, the campground is a quarter of a mile or so from the turn-off into the campground from the main road so we were safe unless a team member was taking a walk or driving by when we arrived. The thrill was heightened, however, because we knew nothing of the campground lay out.
We arrived without event and safely turned around, completing the leg. We had really accomplished the public lands mission now, although in something of a Band-aid fashion. We were somewhat downtrodden, however, because Richard, like me, had completed every leg of the journey on public lands. He needed this. Both Cathy and Julie had had alternates step in for them on segments of the journey for very good reasons, like injuries.
But to our delight Richard was going to get something better. He was not only going to complete the leg but he was going to do it this night thanks to the devil in all of us. A devious plan was brewing, and he and his wife Marcia had arrived back in camp in time to be designated accomplices.
Some week prior to today someone had thought it a good idea to sneak into the North Team camp and do something sneaky. What, well, none of us really got that far. I’m into sneaky stuff and, when it comes to creating and employing a tactical maneuver in the field, I consider myself a sneaky little bastard. It's difficult to find somebody who will take exception with that. Because nobody had yet concocted the perfect plan of sneak, I decided to take matters into my own hands and start concocting one. We had run out of time. Because our jovial bunch is not as a package what I’d consider very sneaky, it occurred to me to elect just two sneaky people to the mission rather than one. Somebody would start laughing or some other attention-getting goofy thing had we decided to go together -- that's a given.
Jake and I were elected. Good choices, I thought.
I designed a banner with an American Frontiers bandana and attached it to two sticks. The plan was to sneak into camp and put the banner in the middle of everything, so the team would see it in the morning and be surprised. Oooh-aaaah!
It was decided that we’d sign the bandana with our signatures and on top in large bold letters write, “Glad You Could Make It!” It was supposed to be funny, as in the spirit of "Surprised You Made It".
So after dinner and after dark, we set out. The entire distance to Pine Valley was piqued with excitement for Jake and I. Following our Honda Pilot was Richard and Marcia in a rental car, who were probably equally excited. Here was Richard’s chance to complete the public lands journey “and” drive the rental car through the campground so Jake and I could case the joint.
The North Team was camped on a loop, and Richard slowly, very slowly, drove passed their vehicles and R.V. We saw nothing but the vehicles, which was okay by us (bad juju). Hiked down low in the back seat, we gathered enough information for our mission.
Near the campground entrance where Jake and I had parked our vehicle, Richard and Marcia dropped us off, and drove away into the darkness. It was dark, very dark, and every step Jake and I took back toward the North Team elevated our heart beat. Oooh, the excitement! It had been 60 days from the time we had last seen the North Team. Seeing them felt so taboo, so we hoped beyond hope that we would not see them, at least in a manner in which we could identify who we were seeing. If we saw forms in the dark that somehow qualified as okay, somehow.
Sitting on the pavement a hundred feet or so from the vehicles, Jake and I watched the camp. Then we made a discovery. The reason we had not seen anything but vehicles during the drive-by was because the team was camped east of the vehicles, hundreds of feet away. We heard them laughing. However, there was somebody in the R.V. And we also heard but did not see somebody near the R.V. taping up boxes, probably getting them ready to send home in two days.
Then it happened, like a sweet song from the east where the campers laughed. “Dinner!” Bang, bang! “Dinner!”
Dinner? Jake and I cast each other a quizzical glance. It was after 9 p.m.!
Yes, dinner – our plan began to cook. One by one we watched two(?) human forms materialize near the R.V., and then ghost toward the clanging of the pan. We heard a voice -- it was David Mensing’s voice, saying “Come on, guys, dinner!” Oh my, Dave Mensing, the trek team manager, the man who more than any other brought together this event. We hadn’t heard his voice in 60-some days. We’ve really done it, this thing called American Frontiers, and a journey across America entirely on public lands. Why else would Dave be here if it weren't for that, the success of our two teams? He had been with the North Team for most of the journey, helping out.
When the forms disappeared into the forest, Jake and I quickly surmised the situation. Where to place the banner? How about “inside” the R.V.? Oh, yeah, that’s it!
And that’s just what we did. While Jake stood watch, I was inside the R.V., trying to get the banner to stay stretched and secure in the stovetop burners. It didn’t work, and the clock was ticking. Imagine getting caught! We could imagine that, and were compelled to complete the mission and “Get the hell out of there!”
Rather than beating the dead stove horse, I propped the banner against the R.V. table, in such a manner that whoever entered the R.V. first could not miss seeing it. Done, out the door, and jogging through the night, Jake and I held our giggles until the vehicle. Inside, high fiving and Yessssing, we two sneaky little bastards had their story. We arrived back in our camp where everybody but Lorie McGraw was sleeping. Actually, she was trying to sleep in the cab of the red Honda CRV but awoke when we arrived. She announced us "heroes", and to bed we went in anticipation for the morning when we could tell our story to the team.
We later learned that the North Team missed the comic intention of the banner. They all interpreted it as thoughtful, even sweet. Our raison d' etre had not failed but it also was not a full success. We had hoped for a reaction something along the lines of "Very funny -- Ha Ha! -- You got us!" Oh well, they'll never know.
The next day, when we arrived at Pine Valley Campground to set up our camps while the North Team was taking showers in preparation for the team-joining event, there to greet us was a signed banner -- welcoming us -- and a bottle of champagne. We had been out-classed but the adventure was well worth it.
Thursday, September 26
Field Report, Day 58
We started the trek with a backpack and I’m glad we are ending it with one also. I have enjoyed all of the various modes of transportation, but backpacking is still my favorite.
After walk arounds that included compass use to maintain direction and 4x4 roads with a moose cow and calf sighting, we met Steve Hartnett, our Forest Service guide. He hiked with us on the first day’s eight miles. We overnighted and ate some freeze-dried food for dinner in our last camp alone. Our camp along the river was cold. My thermometer registered 24 degrees F in the morning. The four trekkers and Kimberly ate their last freeze-dried meal at breakfast as Ted Scroggin, our new and last Forest Service guide, met us to lead us on the last eight miles of our backpack.
Thursday, September 26
The End Is Near
We arrived at Mill Hollow Campground yesterday morning and began packing. That’s mostly what we’ve done today also. We have cleaned out cars, emptied trash, and tried to eat all the leftover food from the RV. Lisa Madsen, Tim Salt, and Ken Chapman arrived with our boxes that we had left at the beginning of the journey. Tim brought 75 new boxes and labels. PLIA is going to ship by UPS whatever we don’t want to take on the plane. Lisa also brought 100 more American Frontier handkerchiefs for us to sign. Ken went over the schedule for the next few days and it seems as if we won’t have a spare moment. Kevin and Wayne are here to finish up last minute interviews for NGS. Kevin said that we have been on the National Geographic news at least five times. The channel is shown in 35 million homes.
Jake, Jessica, and I found time to explore nearby trails. We walked up the mountain (10,000 ft) and found beautiful aspen groves. The forest floor was golden with aspen leaves. The fir trees were decorated with aspen leaves. It was so beautiful that I took a half a roll of film. Jake and Jessica just lay down in the leaves. But the nights are so cold here. I wore clothes, jacket, hat, mittens, and wrapped tightly in my sleeping bag, but to no avail. I was so cold all night. In the mornings we have kind of a coffee club that meets in the RV. Usually around eight people drink coffee (cappuccino for me), and laugh and joke together before breakfast. Another thing I will miss.
We sat around in the evening and tried to think of a prank to pull on the North Team. They are only 30 miles away. So we took an American Frontiers handkerchief and signed our names on it and wrote “Welcome North Team: Glad You Could Make It” (insinuating maybe the couldn’t make it). Jan and Jake plan to sneak into camp and plant the flag.
Thursday, September 26
Our Last Full Day
I woke up shivering on the morning of the 26th, or, more accurately, I finally decided it was late enough to get out of bed. As I lay in my long underwear, socks, shirt, fleece, hat AND gloves, I envied Jessica, a mere ten feet away inside her own tent, with her TWO sleeping bags! Ron had one of his own and loaned his issued bag to Jessica who gets cold (and stays cold) very easily. I kept telling myself that I was having fun between clenched and chattering teeth, all the while thinking two sleeping bags sounded mighty good . . .
The good news is that I was wearing almost all of my warm clothes, so all I had to do to get dressed was to put on my REI pants, shoes, and vest that I used as a pillow, and I was set! Although I wanted to run to the RV and start slurping hot chocolate, as we all were, I was very aware that this was our last whole day together as Team South. I took a few minutes to take in the alpine spendour. The forests out West are so beautiful, and the one in which we were staying was no exception. The morning was still dark. In the East the first rays of light could be seen in rosy hues. The West was still night and the brightest of stars and planets were still visible in the indigo-violet depths of space.
After saying our good mornings, Jessica and I headed off to the RV for our pre-breakfast coffee. Huddling in the RV was our morning tradition, how I dearly miss being with my team, struggling for room, swapping stories and jokes, ALWAYS waiting for a pot to be ready. All that is, except me! I usually had hot chocolate, so I never had to wait on anybody else, and I was given the most beautiful mug in the world by one of the wonderful people we met on the trip, so mine was the finest position to be in for these morning traditions. Perhaps that’s why they were so enjoyable, Ha! Not at all, those things are nice, but it was being with my beloved team that was so special. I enjoyed them when I had an issued enamel cup and was forced to drink coffee because that’s all we had.
After breakfast and after it warmed up a little, we started packing all our things away, trying to make the most of our last day together. After I was done with that, I started cleaning our poor mountain bikes. I found out on the trip that I was the only one who was really into biking. I had only started about a year before, when I got a good quality touring bike, and a subscription to Bicycling Magazine. I was really glad I paid attention to all the articles about mountain bikes and disc brakes, otherwise I don’t know what we would have done. We would have figured something out, we always did, but if felt really good to be needed by the team. I had cleaned and tuned them twice before, and set out to wash them for their final appearance. They had really taken a beating in the back of the truck, they all had scrapes and abrasions, but were still a joy to ride when I tuned them as best I could. By the end of the trip, they all needed the attention of a serious bike mechanic, which they got.
I was soon joined in washing by Jan and we had a good talk about the trip, and about what the future held for both of us. He’s a truly wonderful person, and I feel safe in saying that he inspired all of us in one way or another during the trip.
After lunch, Jessica and I were planning on taking a last hike together as we played chicken on a log, when Jan came over and informed us that they had forgotten part of the route and needed to go back and do that section while there was still daylight. Jessica, true to form, jumped at the opportunity and ran off to drive for them. I was determined to take a last hike in the crisp mountain air, so off I went along a trail a few miles long that lead to the Mill Hollow Ranger Station. I stopped a few times on the trail and just sat and listened and thought about anything and everything as “woods-loafers” are wont to do.
When I got back, the trekkers had returned and Jan was creating a banner to place in the Northern Team’s camp, “Welcome North Team, glad you could make it!” after dinner, Jan nominated me to go with him to count a friendly coup on our Northern half. Although some people thought it would ruin the purpose of the trip if we saw anybody from the other team, we went ahead. With the help of Richard and his wife, Marsha, we found their camp and scoped it out.
After they dropped us back off at the car, Jan and I trotted down the road to their camp and sat down, just out of sight, and plotted. Unlike our team, the Northerners were active quite late, but we waited until they had left the vehicles and, while I watched, Jan placed the banner in their RV!! Giggling with glee and patting each other on the back for living up to our reputations as “sneaky little bastards,” we ran back to the waiting Honda Pilot, and headed back home.
We had another good talk on the way back, I learned about how stressful his role had been as the trek team leader. My heart went out to the guy, for I never once saw him lose his temper, hint at despair, or fail to maintain an excellent attitude in any way, true ideals for all of us.
Back at camp, we were hailed by Lorie, and after telling the story to her, we went to our respective tents. I saw Jessica had used her last glow stick, which was hanging inside her tent. I took this as a welcoming sign, so I “knocked,” and told her the story. She seemed pleased with the outcome despite earlier misgivings.
You Are Here
Team North hikes out into the Uinta Mountains for one last, glorious night in the backcountry before they meet Team South tomorrow in Pine Valley campground. While the support teams enjoys the scenic delights of the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, the trekkers...
Team South is within spitting distance of their final stop-- Pine Valley campground in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest-- where they'll meet up again with Team North and then continue to Salt Lake City for the final National Public Lands Day celebration....