Today was the first time I had tried to put in my contacts in 3 days. I'd decided to wear glasses for a couple days because it's extremely hard in the wilderness to get your hands clean enough to a point where your eyeballs don't scream bloody murder when a foreign object goes into them. Took 15 minutes and 3 hand washes to finish the job...another thing to appreciate in the frontcountry: Contacts!
For breakfast, Andy and Max made cheesy hash browns, this time by simply hydrating the hash browns and frying them (or, trying to fry them. We still hadn't quite mastered this one yet.) before putting the cheese in our respective bowls, NOT in the frybake. Quite tasty. The memory of the dreaded Hash Brown Massacre from a couple days earlier was still fresh in our minds. I nor anyone else was willing to sacrifice anymore cheese to the Frybake Monster.
The hike for the day consisted of roughly 4.5 - 5 miles on relatively flat terrain. Had a great group. I also carried the bear fence for the first time on this day. Adds about 3 pounds to your pack....nothing terrible at all.
About halfway through the hike, someone spotted movement in the distance. A closer examination revealed what appeared to be a horse and...PEOPLE! We actually spotted another person; we hadn't seen one for 7 whole days. It turned out that there were about 12 horses and 4 men, probably out hunting or just enjoying some R&R. They rode past us and were quite cordial. Very cool to randomly see a ton of horses and dudes with guns carrying a ton of stuff to do something fun.
Our X was across the creek from the trail we were on, so when we got roughly parallel with it, Jamie, Eric, and I crossed it to scout for camp. This involved a steep 50-60 foot decline that we had to maneuver down just to get to the river. Once we got there, we had to assess the river crossing as it looked a bit tricky, with lots of large rocks and some weird looking currents. My vantage point of the river also happened to provide quite a spectacular view in my very humble but totally accurate opinion. When you can observe a clean, cool river coming into view from a long distance through scattered trees and underbrush only to meet you directly at your feet with a steady, beating trickly, it's pretty damn cool.
We used the tripod method (you use one trekking pole to keep balance while moving side to side) to cross, went up through some willows, and found two pristine meadows the perfect distance away from each other and the water. The only thing we had to be sure of was that camp was far enough away from widowmakers, or dead trees that aren't terribly stable. You find out if it's stable by ramming the sole of your boot as hard as possible against the tree. If it wobbles, you don't camp under it unless getting impaled by trees is your kind of thing. It wasn't my kind of thing, nor Eric's, nor Jamie's even, believe it or not. Thankfully, we saw no wobbles, and camp was established! We went back across the river to lead the other groups over to our beautiful and spacious camp/kitchen.
Before dinner, we had a class on Leave No Trace (LNT), which is the philosophy that you should leave a place in the same condition as when you left it. This means ensuring that all trash and extra food is packed away in bags and not left on the ground, that you impact plants and animals as little as possible, and that you be aware of what's going on around you. To demonstrate this, we were formed into 5 groups of 3 and given a particular LNT practice with which to do a skit. I hadn't done a skit since drama in senior year of high school, so I was stoked to break out the ol' dramatic flair.
Our LNT principal was "Respect Wildlife". If you're interested in what this or all 7 principles specifically mean, check out this website
. Ours basically meant that you shouldn't get close to wildlife, feed wildlife, or in any way interfere with their normal practices. We decided to demonstrate what an uneducated person would do in our skit. Emma and Andy played 2 people that did not clean their pot, and I played a deer who got lucky and found a yummy pot full of rice and bean scraps. Emma and Andy then coaxed Ben the Deer to come eat a tasty Riesen out of Emma's hand. Naturally, Ben the Deer walked on all fours over to enjoy the tasty treat. It was silly and funny, which I think we all hope as many moments as possible in life can be :).
Then, dinner came! We ate rice and beans with summer sausage and cheese packed in a tortilla for the second night this ration. And once again, the meal hit the spot in terms of taste and how filling it was. However, I was not satiated. Those of you who know me well know that I have a sweet tooth the size of the Washington Monument. It had not been satisfied except a couple nights before when I had a Coconut Chocolate bar. I usually hate coconut, and I'm not sure if it was actually the bar or the fact that I was in the wilderness without means to acquire candy at will, but it was AMAZING. Alas, it was about to be topped.
I took it upon myself to get creative with the frybake again to make a dessert. What came of this was a goopy mixture consisting of large amounts of brown sugar, cocoa, butter, and perkys (little crunchy spherical cereal). It tasted like heaven, the viscous brown sugar getting stuck in my beard as I gulped down bite after bite of delectable dessert. Max dubbed it "The Absaroka Mudslide". Perfect. A bit of humor came as the group met for evening meeting and mentioned how much they enjoyed the bites we'd given them of our tasty treak. Annemarie asked why the instructors didn't get any, and I said it was because it was a "Kid's Dessert...not for adults". She immediately picked up on the sarcasm and said "Look who's talking". Yes.
The night ended on a high note with some great storytelling and bonding as 7 other people and I huddled into a tent to tell stories about life, our backgrounds, and our reasons for coming to this place, so far from family, friends, and home. It was an important moment. We were all starting to bond, to get to know one another, to actually feel like we were friends camping solely for the reason of being together and enjoying the wilderness. Life is beautiful.
Unlike the night before last, I slept like a rock, waking up at 7:15 feeling fresh and chipper. This feeling remained even as I remembered that I had slept with wet clothes in my sleeping bag. Yes, you read that right. In the wilderness, when you really need to dry something, you sleep with it in your sleeping bag. Yesterday I had washed my long sleeve shirt (which used to be completely white, bless its little heart, but was still a shade of gray even after intense washing), my short sleeve shirt, and my underwear by dipping them in a river, walking 200 feet away, putting them in a bag with some soap, and by massaging the bag like you would a bag of pizza dough. Then, you dump the dirty water out and rinse. Can't have the soap getting into the water system in such concentrated amounts! Since I did this too late in the day, causing the sun to scoff at my desire to dry clothes, I had to attempt the Sleeping Bag Dry. It worked OK, but I put them in the sun again in the morning to finish the job. Fact of the day: The sun's UV rays actually kill the bacteria that makes clothing stink. Double win. So the moral of the story was that stinky clothes go in the sun (and sleeping bags too, but that's for later...)