I had signed up for a hiking trip along the Bechler River in Yellowstone. I had chosen exactly this particular trail for the opportunity to swim in hot springs, to photograph wildlife and really nothing else.
Unfortunately, the park authority had closed down the trail due to flooding. Instead another less exciting back-and-forth trail along Yellowstone Lake had been assigned.
Thus the trip started out on a bit of a sour note for most of us. No hot springs, but lots of mosquitoes – our guides warned us – and wildlife photography would be better from the roadside. Doh!
Nevertheless, as soon as we got out on the trail it quickly turned into a fantastic social experience that none of us had expected.
It was like someone had type cast us for a play, and everyone played the roles as themselves perfectly. Rarely, if ever, have I been in a random group of such great characters and shared such a great social experience with people I just met.
The first couple of characters I noticed were Bob and his son Joe from Spokane, Washington. Bob reminded my of the lyrics to a song penned by Kris Kristofferson (who I, by the way, had the pleasure of meeting some years ago): “If I look like your uncle Bob, that’s who I am…”
Yes, Bob was the kind of uncle who with a soft spoken voice, a twinkle in his eye and a shy smile would tell you stories of the “terrible” pranks he played as a high school kid. Yet he was quick to warn his son not to get into the same kind of trouble; “don’t do it Joey,” he instantly warned, when I for instance dared Joe to do a fire walk…
Bob had a degree in horticulture and had worked most of his life bringing new plants to life in nurseries. But recently he had set up his own business at other end of the spectrum: as a logger and supplier of firewood. Thus it came natural for him to forage for firewood and lit some nice campfires for the rest of us. He would showcase how a piece of wood almost looked like art. And the next thing you know, he threw it on the fire and his eyes sparkled even more as it would buuuurrrrn…
I really appreciated Bob as a very thoughtful person with a lot of knowledge and balanced opinions on a range of subjects.
Bob’s son, Joe, was the youngest person in the group, only 18. But that certainly did not hold him back. The apple had indeed not fallen far from the tree. Joe was full of stories and jokes that he would crack – not least around his father’s campfire.
Then there was this petite girl with a big smile and sparkling eyes, who introduced herself as Tania from Texas. She had deliberately chosen not to have a southern accent. But whatever the accent was, the intonation and the tone of her voice sounded almost like music to my ears.
If you based on the term petite get the impression that Tania is cute, you are right. But if you for some reason think that petite equals a pushover, you are terribly wrong. This girl is tougher than the rest.
First of all, Tania displayed a great deal of mental strength and stamina, which I guess is useful, as she is a triathlon athlete. She does not complain about anything. Secondly, she is obviously very fit and carried as big a backpack as the rest of us. In fact, I think she carried more stuff than most of us, because she brought an abundance of snacks and other handy items that she generously shared – including her 98,1 percent Deet to keep the skeeters off.
Like Bob and Joe, Tom and his son, Cameron, were on a father-son-bonding-trip. Tom mentioned at one point that he was the least young in the group at the age of 48. It turned out later that he was not. But in any case he was probably the most handsome man in the group and in great shape. I wish I will look that fit when I get there. Well, I am wrecked already…
Anyway, Tom is the president of a big chemical company in the automotive industry. I got a pretty good idea about how he had accomplished the climb up the ladder, because he had a very likeable personality and obviously great people skills. He is the sort of person who does not have to raise his voice to accomplish something, in fact when he lowers it and asks for something, you just feel compelled to oblige.
This was the first hiking trip for Tom and Cameron. Tom told me that Cameron was used to family vacations on 4 or 5 star hotels. So this was something else for Cam only in his last teenage year. But he quickly got into it, found a great wandering stick and often remarked in an understated way that this or that was “not too shabby”.
If Vivian and Stan had been a comic duo, Vivian would be the comic and Stan the straight man, who would only chuckle at her antics. And so he did. But I had to laugh pretty hard, when Vivian (involuntarily) got into her thing.
The first time was right after we crossed a stream and the pool of mud around it. If the mosquito attacks had not already been bad enough, we were swarmed when we changed from boots to water shoes and back again with our naked legs exposed to the vicious bugs.
Vivian was not happy at this stage to say the least and clearly expressed, whether this was supposed to be a vacation? She would rather be in a budget meeting having her numbers audited! Take that Stan, it is your fault; don’t you understand?
Vivian really hated those mosquitoes – and she was ready to fight them – not just for herself but also looking out for Stan. So, when one of these flying bloodsuckers landed on Stan’s face – BAM – Vivian whacked it good and got it. OK, Stan got it too, but hey you have to expect some collateral damage, don’t you?
All kidding aside, Vivian is a very smart lady working in finance. She got into the merits of the trip like the rest of us and offered some great career advice around the campfire to the youngsters. Did you listen, guys? This lady knows what she is talking about!
By the way, even if Stan was the straight man, he definitely had a sense of humor as well. With a straight face he quipped that I should take my talents to Hollywood. Stan, you are the man!
Erin and Jon from New Hampshire played the parts of the fairly newlywed young couple. Erin was initially quite disgruntled about the cancellation of the Bechler trail and let it be known. But she quickly came into the phase not only of acceptance but involvement of the whole experience and would time and again let out a great “woohoo” in excitement. I appreciated her sense of irony and old-fashioned expressions like, “thank you, kind Sir”.
Jon relieved me of the role I thought I would play as the photographer. As I realized how talented he was, I took a (needed) break from my photography to rely on Jon’s artistic photos that I hope will be coming up on this post shortly. So far you will have to do with my photos.
Last but not least, I have to mention our guides, Chris and Stewart. Chris was the totally calm and professional leader of the pack on the trail. In fact he seemed to be able to keep calm as a rock in any situation. His laid back Tennessee accent only underlined that impression. Stewart was just as calm but more of a walking encyclopedia with a very intellectual atmosphere around him. He would time and again amaze us with his vast knowledge.
Chris and Stewart were not only great guides. They also played the parts of outdoor master chefs, who would cater for us with food one could not have imagined on a hiking trip. They even whipped up a delicious chocolate dessert with berries and nuts in it for Tania’s 28th birthday on the trail. Yummie!
I guess that this whole experience was a classic example of how people from different walks of life can come together and bond when faced with a common challenge. Yes, a hiking vacation is sort of a challenge. But the common challenge is not the only explanation.
As mentioned above the casting was perfect. The personalities just blew me away and besides all the fun and antics there were a lot of serious exchanges of views on a wide range of topics and a stunning display of intellect across the board.
I do not miss the sweet smell of Deet that much or the taste of bleached water for that matter. But I miss you guys already. Thanks to everyone for enduring this weird foreigner and for your excellent company that made this hike memorable indeed.
Special thanks to Tom for his generosity and not least to Chris and Stewart for an outstanding job.
If you are going on a REI Travel hiking trip, ask for Chris and Stewart and mind the trail less. It is all about the people!
Sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns. Photo courtesy of Jon Fay. I look forward to updating this post with more of Jon’s great photos when I get the time. In the meantime you will have to do with my own shots below.
Jon, Erin, Tania and Joe in high spirits before an outstanding outdoor dinner cooked by our “outdoor chefs”: Chris and Stewart.