A hunting knife hung from his belt as he stood midstream, helping his barefoot girlfriend cross the slippery rocks; clear water wetted the bottom of his rolled-up jeans. Marcia and I were next to cross the creek, and we sat on the bank to remove our boots. Watching the couple climb the far bank, I couldn’t fathom why he needed to carry such a big knife.
This was the first stream crossing on our day-hike to Mistymoon Lake in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. We had selected this trail because it promised panoramic vistas, alpine meadows, wildflowers, and solitude. I had brought a pocketknife while “Buck,” here, was packing a 10-inch blade. “Did they have Grizzlies in the Big Horns?” Now I was wondering if I was woefully under-armed.
“Buck” and his girlfriend were gone by the time we got across to the other side, and we never saw them again. Our hike to Mistymoon continued.
Coming down the trail, an hour or so later, the Boy Scout looked like a horse headed to a barn. His head hung low, arms dangled at his side, and his backpack dragged behind him as he passed. “Scout” made no eye contact or salutation. We could see that all he could think about was getting out of these mountains to a shower and a bed. The rest of the bedraggled troop followed a few minutes behind, stirring up dust as they shuffled by. We continued on to Mistymoon.
“Howdy Partner?” the chipper father bellowed as he and his family of six were about to overtake us on an especially steep section of the trail. Mom, dad, and the four stair-step blond children were much too perfect. All had matching khaki shorts with button-up safari shirts. I was sure their little knapsacks, perched high on their backs, held all the articles necessary for a safe and joyful day-trip to the mountains. As “Captain von Trapp” and his brood marched on, we could almost hear them singing.
We stopped at Mistymoon Lake for lunch and to soak up the beauty of the serene deep blue water surrounded by dark grey granite cliffs and 12,000-foot snowy peaks. A cool breeze announced heavy clouds coming over the mountains, the mosquitos were relentless, and we had six more miles to hike back to the car; we cut our lunch short and headed back down the trail.
In a light-green meadow, with yellow and purple wildflowers splashed between morainic hills, the trail opened. An elderly man could be seen in the distance, slowly hiking our way. His tanned, muscular arms and legs, walking stick, and tidy backpack suggested that he was a veteran of these mountains. He stopped to talk. He was a semi-retired pediatrician from Sheridan, who came to the mountains often and was going to be out for a week. Though he appeared experienced and knowledgeable, it seemed to us a little foolish to be backpacking alone at his age. “No worries, my friends,” he said, “I have a GPS tracker. My wife is at home, monitoring my every step.” He showed us a small device clipped to the top of his pack, no larger than a cigarette lighter, which beamed his coordinates into the sky and back down to his living room.
“The Doctor” was a very delightful and interesting man with whom we could have continued to talk. But he interrupted, saying, “I’ve got to get going, you see, my wife is watching my progress on her laptop, and if I stop here on the trail too long, she will worry that I am injured.” We parted ways in opposite directions.
Back down at the creek, we again took our boots off to cross, holding on to each other in the rushing water. Halfway across the freezing stream, I handed Marcia a stick for support and left her there to retrieve my camera. I wanted to capture this moment with a photo, a maneuver I would at once regret as she protested the abandonment. Later that evening, after she eventually forgave me for the stream photo event, we had a good chuckle over “Buck,” “Scout,” “Captain,” “The Doctor,” and “The Photographer” – characters along the trail to Mistymoon.