After 20 Million Steps: First Sight of the Rocky Mountains

I stood before them crying in the wind. Memories of kissing my wife Julia good bye, riding mules Brick and Cracker out our front gate and now we stood before them. We had arrived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

My first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains, specifically the Wind River Range between Lander and Pinedale, Wyoming.

I sat in my saddle facing the snowy peaks and rewound the mule journey of 1,600 miles. I thought back on the 147 days and 20,000,000 – 20 million – steps by man and mule it had taken us to get here.

I thought of the roaring North Carolina logging trucks we dodged on roads meant for 18 wheelers not mountain men. Of toe numbing Tennessee frost. Dozens of Kentucky tick bites that festered in to puss-tipped zits. Then came the storms that swelled the placid rivers the Army Corps of Engineers, thought they’d tamed to lie quietly in their beds- the Ohio, Illinois, Mississippi and Missouri.

I thought of the all the eyes I’d peered in to between North Carolina and Wyoming: kind and quizzical and open and broke. Darting eyes behind steering wheels that raced past me at 70 miles an hour as I rode up the side of the road. Surprised home owners’ eyes when I knocked on front doors seeking lodgings. Bleary bar room eyes peering through smoke to ask me, “can I buy you a drink?” when I knew it should be the other way around.

I thought of my long suffering mules Brick and Cracker. Little, deer like Brick, wide-eyed to the world, still afraid of trucks after 5 months on the road. Stoic Cracker, who faced the roaring Kentucky coal trucks and had his shadow run over for weeks on end and just kept trudging.

I thought of all the nights they stood patiently at the end of their pickets. Standing alone in the night dreaming of grain, no doubt, when all I could offer them was cheat grass and the occasional Mormon Tootsie Roll.

And I especially thought of my wife Julia back home. Of how she’d loved to have come along and how we’d just got married but then I took off with my wedding top hat strapped to my pack mule and how hard it was for her to see me go. How each night, drifting off to sleep under the stars, I imagined I was lying next to her, holding her hand. Then we drifted off to the Land of Nod 9 states apart.

And there, after all these thoughts, stood the Rocky Mountain covered in September’s first snow.

And now it was time to move forward. I thought of the hundreds of miles of desert ahead of the mules and me. Of how winter was coming and I needed to get over the mountains if I was to get to Hailey, Idaho before the snow locked us out

I hugged Brick and Cracker and headed off toward the distant white peaks.

A Few Photos

At the moment I have limited internet access. Still, here are some photos to give you a sense of the land I’m in.

First frost on my bivy bag (Sweet Water Station, Wyoming)
Clobbered together desert fashion: I’ve woken to frost the last 2 out of 3 nights. Lacking winter clothes, I pressed a handkerchief in to service as a hat. The headlamp helps me see on those pre-dawn starts. Behind me, Cracker gets in a few last bites as the sun rises.
Cattle guard crossing between Sweet Water Station and Atlantic City, Wyoming
Browse is running short. Here, Cracker nibbling at some weeds she found in the middle of the 2-track road we followed 30 miles across the desert. Luckily…
…the next day she and Cracker feasted on alfalfa in Atlantic City. Thanks Fred, Lucy, Tom, Beullah and Connie!

Which Brings us to Now

As of this writing (Sunday, September 15) the mules and I are in Atlantic City, Wyoming. The mules are enjoying a much deserved day off. For their generosity I’d like to thank:

  • Fred and Lucy: for finding the mules and me a place to pitch camp
  • Tom and Beullah: for letting us overnight in the pasture below their house
  • The Miner’s Grub Stake and Dredge Saloon: the peaches and gallon pickle jar to replace the one that Brick destroyed
  • Connie: the alfalfa hay. Brick is especially thankful. She was getting tired of nibbling on sage which she considers good only for “antelope food”. Or occasional snacking.
  • Elder Foster and all the other brothers and sisters at the 6th Crossing Mormon Handcart Crossing Site: the soup, ice cream, Mormon history lesson, place to camp and Tootsie Rolls

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