Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Great Divide: A tale of two oceans

Lightening intruded aggressively, breaking into the darkness in the most painful way.  Before our eyes could re-adapt to the dark, another blinding flash would tease some tiny detail out of the foreboding blackness of the forest.  Every tree looked like a bear and the thunder that followed added anxiety to the taughtness of Molly Mule's muscles.  She felt like a coiled spring between my legs.  It was late Saturday night... and we were headed for camp much later than we had planned.  Three blown trailer tires in the middle of the previous night as we traveled across central Utah, a return to the trail-head for a dog that stayed under my trailer after getting halfway to camp, and two runaway horses that had to be chased and re-caught, had put Nephew Adam and I several hours behind the rest of the already-late group.

As the staccato snap of rain hitting my hat gave rhythm to intermittent claps of thunder, the push and shove of the wind made pine trees groan, but filled our lungs with the sweet taste of rain-washed mountain air.  We hadn't slept now for two nights and fatigue didn't help us penetrate the thick WindRiver blackness.  If we could locate camp, we still had animals to unpack and care for before we could make shelter for ourselves.  What a rush!  Adam's fear was palpable as he queried, "Do you have a flashlight Uncle Paul?"   In my saddle bags there is one if we need it I replied.  "So how are we going to find camp?" he wanted to know.  It was a good question.  I was pretty sure we were on the trail, but we couldn't see it.  The Winds are big enough that a wrong turn in the dark could put you far from your goal.  We'll figure it out was my tired reply.  I had a hunch the mules knew where they were going.  After what seemed like an eternity, Molly took a sharp left turn into a small tree lined clearing.  We picked our way through the vacant darkness on what seemed like even less of a trail, down a steep hill, over some boulders.  Suddenly, we broke into camp on the edge of the meadow along the NorthWest corner of Raid Lake.  Everyone else was holed up against the storm, and their horses and mules nickered their welcome.

It was the beginning of a perfect week in the prettiest of mountain ranges.   While exploring about 70 miles of country that was new to us, we made a cowboy out of Adam, and schooled the very young Preston and Trevor.  Only the fishing was sub-par.  We made our trek this year with 12 animals and 7 people.

Getting your kid permission to have a week out of school takes an act of congress these days.  We applied for an "educational leave" this year and so a geography lesson was in order for our 2011 WindRiver's trip.  Hands on lessons being what they are, I don't think any one of us will forget the significance of standing on the Great Continental Divide.  Just pee a little to the left and you are leaking into the Pacific ocean...a little to the right and you will probably end up watering the Atlantic via the Gulf of Mexico.  It made a deep impression on 8 year old Preston's mind.   The strong wind on Washakie pass that day made watering both oceans a difficult task.

Like each year in the past, getting ready for the WindRivers is a big task.  Animals, equipment, gear, and food all have to be prepared.  These aren't relaxing vacations in the normal sense of the word.  There is a bit of stress involved, a few cuss words, and a lot of work--but they recharge life's batteries in a way that sitting on the beach can't touch.  Riding through Washakie Pass was elevating to the soul.  Seeing and peeing down both sides of the Great Divide is a mans prerogative and it allowed us to touch this country from sea to shining sea.  Two oceans--both falling from one lofty mountain pass.

Post Script:  A hearty thanks to Trent Harmon for getting up after midnight to open his store and sell us tires in Nephi (Harmon Tire).  Thanks to Jim Wallick, Brandon Larson, and my good Brother Mike as well for a fabulous trip.  And big thanks to Roy over at Jaxonbilt Hats for keeping our heads covered in every condition imaginable--and that is no paid endorsement.

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