4:45 AM brought the sweetest alarm ring I'd ever heard in my life. Time to get back to civilization! As yesterday resembled Christmas Eve, this day felt like Christmas morning, with everyone operating in hushed tones until getting to our big present: The Bus. We packed up quickly and set off on the 4WD road next to camp at 5:30. The hike was, as yesterday's, very fast. It started in the dead of night, with a group-wide silent moment to think about the fact that this was the last day in which we would all wake up in the wilderness together. Our footsteps brought us into the newly born morning, the dull blues of a sky lightly piqued by sunlight above as we chatted on the trail one final time. The pace quickened even more once we crested the road's mile long hill and began the final descent, more or less.
Out of nowhere, with the sun getting its first taste of morning air above the mountaintops, we saw a wooden signpost that said "Leaving the Shoshone National Forest". Soon after, a large dirt roundabout appeared in our view. Sure enough, we could see two lights twinkling in the distance. It was the bus! It was really here! We were going back!! A rush of calm joy spread through my bones, the excitement of it overloaded my circuits; I reveled in the delighted contentment.
The bus parked. Noah and I climbed up immediately to start tying backpacks to the top. We all got in line for breakfast. I can barely write about it now, it was so damn good. A raspberry scone, strawberries, a hard boiled egg, honey chex, half of a bagel with cream cheese, and a banana crashed into my stomach with wanton disregard. Goodbye wilderness! I took my seat on the bus...and then it departed. We were sitting and riding on a motorized vehicle, the first time we'd used anything other than our own two legs for transportation in a month.
I sat and stared out the bus window as it rolled across the dirt road, merging up with US-287 to continue our drive home. This contented peace washed over me...that something had been done on this trip. Something had actually been undertaken and completed. A goal had been reached, to spend 30 days in the wilderness and learn whatever there was to learn. I felt a sense of accomplishment I'd not felt in a very long time. Maybe that's what life's about, those fleeting moments where you know that you've done something good, something important, and that makes all of it worthwhile. I just kept staring for awhile, the mountains flying past at the extraordinary speed of 65 mph. It felt really good to just stare. To just be happy in the moment known as now
A stop at a rest area broke my trance. It was quite a lovely rest area for being in the desert in the middle of Wyoming. At 8:36 AM on August 17, I got to use a restroom for the first time in one month. A fact worth noting. It was weird. Much talk was made of people liking wilderness bathrooms more than civilized bathrooms. I was 50/50 on the idea. Both were good. But getting to use a urinal after 30 days without was just fine with me.
At 9:16 AM, the bus pulled into the NOLS Rocky Mountain Branch (RM) with 18 dirty smelly occupants. A bus carrying those same occupants, albeit of a clean, showered variety, left the same place 30 days prior. Everyone departed the bus with a sense of urgency to begin the group de-issue process, during which we would clean our dishes with soap
, put away our maps, cleaned tents, and return every item that we used as a group to its proper place. This urgency to clean, not normally found in young folk of today, including myself, appears in force when the reward is a shower after not having done so for 30 days. Just getting into a stream of hot water was, for lack of a more appropriate word, glorious. I washed my hair 3 times and it still felt as greasy as a Big Mac. Awesome as it was, I found that my previous need to shower every day was gone from my mind. Lucky for those of you I hang out with whenever this whole saga comes to a close :).
Post-shower, the personal de-issue process was the only thing separating us from our valuables and bags. I quickly turned in my backpack and sleeping bag (I feel sorry for the the poor soul who has to use that next. It didn't smell like the Febreeze flavor of your choice, THAT'S for sure. Washing will surely do no real good), and just like that, I was a functioning human being in society again, with a wallet, phone, a car, not to mention 7 shirts, each of which you're supposed to wear once before washing again. Ha.
The whole morning was surreal. I woke up in the wilderness as "normal". 6 hours later, I'm talking on a phone, wearing khaki shorts, and diving headfirst into a tub of animal crackers. I may have been back in society, but the hunger of the past 30 days remained. The animal crackers, having sat in the car for a month, tasted way better than ever possibly should. I ate roughly 67 of them in 2 minutes. Yum yum.
I wandered around for a couple hours still wondering what in the hell was going on before meeting up with everyone at noon for a cookout. A COOKOUT! WHAT?!?! It was odd to see everyone dressed differently as I strolled up to the lawn of the RM; we all wore virtually the same clothes for 30 days. It was kind of like seeing an athlete out of uniform.
The nice lady that served us breakfast at the beginning of the trip was at the helm of the cookout. She said two simple words that just lit up my little heart: "It's ready". Speaking was virtually forbidden as food consumption commenced. Two huge
cheeseburgers, a hot dog, two pieces of cake, and a hearty helping of beans later, I was partially full :).
The rest of the day, as the last few had, went by in a blur. One minute we were debriefing with a NOLS Program Manager, discussing our trip with an impartial observer, then the next I'm walking around Lander with a Chocolate Cherry Milkshake. Ice Cream, dear God, you glorious dairy concoction, I shall never ever take you for granted again.
We all met up again at 6 for a short graduation ceremony, then went to the Gannett Grill for a final meal together. And, I got to enjoy an adult beverage. It was as I sat there, digging into another burger and enjoying a local beer, that I began to truly reflect on what the last month had been and just what in the heck was next. I'm not sure I'll have those answers for some time, if I ever really will. This whole trip made it clear that life is best lived when participating in now
, not in yesterday's memories or tomorrow's wishes. So I went back to that, enjoying a beer and a burger and company of friends, leaving tomorrow...to tomorrow.