Saturday I flew to Salt Lake City with t0m to meet the Raging Madness crew for our Yellowstone expedition. RM had its first lost baggage experience (Matt) but have officially stepped up to four rooms at the SLC Sheraton in place of staying at Michael’s grandmother’s Los Alamos house then driving 12 hours in a minivan. We hung out at the hotel, ordered American pizza (yum for me), and decided that the official unit of measurement for the trip should be the candlepower. Sunday we drove six hours via Idaho (“free taters for out of staters”) and Grand Teton National Park, across the continental divide to a tent village in YNP. Audrey bought a pocket magnifying glass in one of our truck stops and spent a good fraction of the trip focussing sunbeams on bits of paper in the back seat (“Is there something burning back there?” “Sorry….”). By evening we met up with the early crew, got permits, learned how to deal with bears (DON’T PANIC), discovered Geoff’s missing tent, and tried to see the International Space Station flyover.
Day 1: The madness begins. The phrase of the day is “Bleep you you bleeping bleeper” in reference to the swarms of attack mosquitoes, but we made good distance and encountered bison on the trail. No bears yet, although there are fresh claw marks in a lot of the trees, and our most Yellowstoney experience of the day was a mud volcano in the thermal fields not too far from the campsite. My Primus stove busted a gasket which we field repaired with ballet dancer’s jelly toe sleeves and a rubber band.
Day 2: Six miles plus bushwhacking to 4B3 on the marshes of Broad Creek. There were Minnesotans on the trail near us, six teenagers in a single tent but with the wisdom in their collective to warn us against visiting Boundary Waters NP if the mosquitos here were already too much for us. Our campsite is near some shallow rapids and a red sand cliff wall and is for the rest of the the 360 degree surroundings is ringed by summits burn scarred from the 1988 fire. My ankles are bitten to pieces, although bathing in our rapids soothes (numbs) the itch. We had a dinner “on the go”, walking briskly around in random circles in the field near the cooking fire so as to prevent being landed on by the little proboscis-wielding gnats of doom.
The Men of the group went for firewood and returned with entire trees and empirical proof that if a tree falls in the forest it not only makes a sound, but almost flattens t0m in the process. It hailed for like three minutes, which was enough to inspire us to put up our complicated tarp structure, and Ethan saw a frog, but the highlight of the late evening was stargazing for all your favorite constellations: Square, Swoosh, Diode, Ground, and the Southern Cross.
Day 3 (Teva day): We put the magnifying glass to work starting the morning fire, on which we eventually got to cook wonderful glorious bacon on sticks, but Lindsay’s and my morning Pilates session was delayed due to bugs. Everyone splashed, waded, and scrambled up Broad Creek to 4B2, and Geoff and Audrey carried on to the thermal fields near 4B1. To amplify my perception of myself as living in my own personal time zone, my watch also took the opportunity to have its battery die so I spent the day at 7:05. For lunch Elisa’s new cool thing is ramen noodles with peanut butter and shiracha instead of ramen flavoring. Still no bears, but a spectacular yellow moonrise with the burned tree skeletons silhouetted over the hills. Very cold overnight.
Day 4 (Madness day): Day hike to Wapiti (and beyond!). We herded ourselves the few miles over to the peninsula in Wapiti Lake for a relaxing lunch and tree bombing session. A few miles on, we found another thermal field with colored bubblers and sulfur fountains, and a mossy bog where you can get stuck all the way up to your knees. Animal fun for the day, Michael stepped on a duck and we all spent half an hour observing a pika dig its burrow in the exact center of the field where all our tents were pitched. Four hikers came wandering by our fire at dusk hoping we were 4W3, which we weren’t, so they got discouraged at their map reading ability and the fact that it was getting dark and set up their tents in the marsh kind of near us then dropped by to cook hot dogs on our fire and hang out for a few hours. They gave us extra bug spray, which was awesome, and we gave them one of our extra cans of bear mace for protection.
Question of the day: What three fruits would you have with you on an island where you were otherwise completely provided for? You get exemptions for avocados, tomatoes, and olives because those aren’t fruit, they’re food. The assumption is also that you get the perfect specimen of each kind you choose, but you don’t automatically get family fruits (eg, bananas and plantains would be two separate entries). You can learn a lot about a man by his fruit choices, and I think my three are figs, blackberries, and white peaches. I had limes on there for a while on the grounds that they are essential to a gin and tonic, but this is my current final answer.
Today I want a pedicure, a cheeseburger, and a cold beer more than usual.
Day 5: We bid our camp neighbors goodbye and started off back towards 4M2, losing Geoff and Audrey in the process and having to go back to retrieve them. Because we dithered for an entire hour about an alternate route home, we started an hour later than we wanted and I was sulky so I skipped lunch and me and my iPod walked the six miles alone, singing loudly so as not to round a corner and surprise a bear. By the time we had reassembled there was a ranger coming down the trail, so we set up camp and invited him over for dinner in exchange for him telling us stories and recommending places for us to go for next year (float the Missouri near Fort Benton, the Tetons, the geothermals on Kamchatka peninsula). The wood had been so excellent here, dry cured and summer aged to impeccable dryness, so we have had endless campfires and unlimited after dinner quesadillas and coffeemate flames.
Day 6: Today we enforced a strict 10am departure and retraced our route back to base. Hardened from a week in the woods, our perception was that the mosquitoes had all metamorphosed to butterflies and the 95 degree beating sun was somewhat shadowed by the leafy green trees. We ate lunch by a lily pond near Ribbon Lake and made radio contact with our ground crew (Jenny Jen!) then walked back past the overlook to Yellowstone River through the Grand Canyon, which was stunning and had waterfalls and rock formations and amazingness.
There were showers in the visitors center (laundry machines!) and we bought a USA Today to learn about the Obama visit to Germany and the progress in the Tour de France. Everyone groomed for half an hour, preening their freshly washed hair and nail colored nails and smelling perfume instead of DEET. We drove back as far as Idaho Falls, fighting with the vegan about where to stop for dinner (it always happens), and eventually stopping in the Best Western and sending half our number to the 24 hour hot tub and Dennys while the other half crashed in glorious wonderful queen size beds with soft sheets and thick blankets. We are all now smarter about geysers and the life cycle of mosquitoes thanks to Wikipedia on the Blackberry, although Ranger Jen could kick any of the rest of our butts about random geotrivia due to her entire week of ranger talks and guided tours.
Day 7: My toe is toe shaped again, healed and healthyish. For final group lunch we went for margaritas and mole at the Red Iguana in Salt Lake, which was fabulous and had sopapillas and jalapeno shrimp and buttered garlic mushrooms. I was about an hour delayed due to fog in SFO but Aurelio picked me up so it didn’t hurt my bedtime too much. Summary of the trip: total mileage around 45. field repairs required: a pair of pants, a trekking pole, a stove, a glove. Once again a giant win for everyone involved, and I’m on tenterhooks to find out where we go next year.