The next day started slowly. Nothing ever happened too fast when walking was the central activity. A few people drifted out, no luck… they either had full cars, or made up excuses. We finally took a ride with Tom and Andy, a couple of guys from the east coast. They’d walked the AT 20 years ago, and had been ruined ever since. They had managed to string together somewhat normal lives, but every year, it was a trip to the mountains… somewhere… remembering. The 5 of us just about bottomed out the car as we drove mile after mile of dirt roads through rolling sagebrush. We got to a fork in the road where there were only cryptic markings on faded signs. The signs pointed the way to things not on our map. Driving the road was almost more confusing than hiking the trail. After a couple hours, we spotted traffic in the distance – a highway. A few more minutes and we were in Farson, WY, a town which few people’s lives ever intersected. Farson was a crossroads and not much more. They had a post office. We tried tracking down our package, which had apparently travelled slower across Wyoming than we had on foot… or maybe gotten lost or forgotten, who knew? Nobody knew. Farson’s other attraction was an ice cream parlor – the biggest scoops in Wyoming – there was even a line. But, gracious helpings of ice cream couldn’t keep us in Farson, we needed to get out of the place. We stood by the side of the road and took turns holding a sign, “Lander”. An hour later, we climbed into the bed of a pickup truck.
The truck raced across the desert highway as a thunderstorm brewed all around. Black clouds picked out random points in the sage, BLAMO! some poor bush met its end. We managed to stay one step ahead of the rain, glad we weren’t out there walking in it.
We were missing a 3-day section of the trail, the end of the Winds. The Wind River Range ended abruptly, and gave way to the great divide basin – the desert of southern Wyoming. The divide split around the desert. In the center, water drained inward, into what would have been a small inland sea… if it weren’t so dry. The trail was routed just north of center, across the basin. We knew what that meant – it would be hot, no water, no shade. We’d prepared ourselves for it. Still, seeing all that emptiness so suddenly, seeing something so vastly different than the area we’d been hiking through just the day before, it was intimidating.
Our ride dropped us off in Lander, Wyoming, where we split a room. A few beers, pizza, TV, hot tub… we indulged in some of the finest amenities humankind has ever invented.
Lander was a nice sized town, big enough to have everything we needed, but small enough that we weren’t lost in it. We spent the morning doing our usual errands – post office, groceries… John and I passed a sign on a sidewalk, “exploding cheese bread”, and of course, we had to stop. We got a ride to the trail from the owner of the hotel, “you know”, he stated calmly, “I might just stay out there all afternoon… sit under a tree”. I could tell he was alive out in the desert, simply functional in town.click to enlarge
The trail started in South Pass City – right through the center of town. South Pass city was built on trails; the Oregon trail, the Mormon trail, the California trail, 8 in all I was told… they’d all passed through there. The town had been re-constructed as an historical monument to those times. There was a jail, an old store, a schoolhouse, stables… We heard stories about how Butch Cassidy once threw nickels in the dirt for fast little kids, “right over there”, they pointed. We heard other stories, about a local boarding house owner who’d poisoned her guests and stolen their gold. She’d then fed the bodies to her pigs. Her nice gig didn’t last long though, the brother of one of her victims shot her while she sat in jail.
South Pass City was still creating stories. They were stories of spiritual awakenings, and of vortices powered by the wind and sun. They were stories of love in the daytime and aliens at night… stories of lives yet to be lived, told in a secret language, written in stones and read by shamans. In the morning, we found ourselves walking through sagebrush and sand, heading south. It was tomorrow, wasn’t it? A shaggy white dog brushed the desert ahead, leading us, trying to show us something. But it was something we had to discover ourselves, and if we never did, well, then that was our fate. The big dog got in his truck and stared back like a sullen old indian chief. He drove off without a word or gesture. The line of normality was permanently blurred. So what if I only remembered my dreams, what was the difference?