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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: North
Bob Van Deven
Saturday, August 17
August 17 or Thereabouts
Iíve spent the last twenty minutes trying to decide how to begin this entry. They say the cure for writerís block is to simply begin typing about what you see. SoÖ

Iím in the RV parked above Mullan Pass on a hill bristling with short, golden grass. Ahead is our camp, a loosely organized constellation of Hondaís, pick-up trucks, white trailers, and Coleman tents set in a copse of white pine. Paul and Sidnaís kitchen spills from the back of one of the trailers, its borders marked by green folding tables, a Camp Chef stove, and plastic bins. Paul and I arrived here around noon after driving the trekkers to a trailhead--really an old logging road--in the Honda Pilots.

When we reached the top of the hill we found an altar flanked by wooden benches and joined to a low pillar by a path of crudely cut and mortared stones. A plaque on the pillar explained that the Masons had met in Montana for the first time on that spot in 1866, the altar having been constructed to mark the hundredth anniversary in 1966. I would have expected more elaborate stonework from a group that calls themselves masons, but then again I am wholly ignorant of their traditions.

With nothing to do but wait for the arrival of the trekkers and the support team Paul decided to go for a drive. I took a walk to stretch my legs. A strong wind blew ribbons of high cirrus clouds over the hill, spreading them into fernlike shapes. Behind the altar I discovered some raspberry bushes and picked a handful of the ripe ones. Few things are more delicious than berries found by accident on a windswept hill.

Some of you may be curious about what Iím doing on this trip. Believe me, I am too. My official title is Media and Special Events Coordinator. Anyone familiar with my work history knows that Iím not particularly qualified to do this job; Iíve worked in human resources and property management, been a stand-up comedian, a bag boy, and a waiter, and currently I make my living as a hiking guide and naturalist, but my contact with the media has been limited to waving when a TV camera panned over the crowd at a Cubs game. I was the white guy with no shirt. Because weíre in rural Montana there havenít been many media opportunities but two days ago Debbie Payton, our media consultant, called to tell me that a reporter from the Great Falls Tribune was interested in our story. Thus began one of the craziest days yet on this mad trek across the public domain.

After talking to Debbie I called the reporter, Jared Miller, who asked me to call back after 2:00 when he would know whether or not he could drive from Great Falls to our camp for an interview. After talking to him I decided to join the support team at the ranger station in Lincoln for a sorely needed shower. I was just drying off when Ravi, our doctor, said one of the women on the forest service fire crew had told him his car was on fire. We walked outside but both of the American Frontiers Hondas were fine. We shrugged, assuming it was a joke, and drove around the front of the station to let Dave know we were leaving. There in front of the station was a yellow fire truck and Daveís rented Cherokee, hood raised, engine smoldering and water still dripping from the underside. For no apparent reason Daveís car had burst into flame while he was inside talking to one of the rangers. The damage was utterly irreparable--wiring melted, air cleaner charred, hoses and belts slagged and over it all the stench of burning plastic. Fortunately there is always a fire crew at the ranger station and the fire had been doused before the car could explode. Dave called the rental company in Salt Lake and was assured that a new car would arrive before noon the next day. Because I had to accompany Steven to the Alice Creek trailhead to meet the team Ravi and I drove back to camp, leaving Dave with the rangers and fire crew.

It took Steven and I about half an hour to reach the Alice Creek trailhead, named after Meriwether Lewisí sweetheart. The road wound through private ranch land between groves of aspen and ponderosa. Our job was to take the teamís gear when they arrived on horseback so they could continue the last leg of their journey to Rogers Pass on foot. At the trailhead I called the reporter on the satellite phone and arranged to meet him at Rogers Pass where we would hike in a short distance, allowing him to take some pictures of the trekkers on the trail. The trekkers arrived on schedule, as did a crew of wranglers from the Rich Ranch to take the horses. Then a forest service guide, Marty, took the team back up the ridge for the descent to Rogers Pass.

As I drove to the pass I noticed clouds settling over the valley. A fine mist spattered the windshield and a wind rocked the truck as I sped along Route 200. At the pass I met Ravi again who had taken advantage of a few hours of free time by hiking in a couple miles and back out. When I told him a reporter would be stopping by he decided to wait with me but a freezing fog was whipping over the pass so we sat in our vehicles.

Jared arrived on time and sat in the Honda with Ravi and I to ask us a few questions about the trek. Around 5:30 we started up the trail and within half an hour had broken through the trees onto a ridgeline marked by towering stone cairns. The cairns are essential since the route is part of the continental divide trail and the rocky ground wonít hold a path. We hiked for at least another hour, the mist curling over the hills and clinging to our jackets, but the trekkers never appeared. Finally Jared took some shots of Ravi and I and we returned to our vehicles. The team was supposed to meet at the District Rangerís house for a historical program on Lewis and Clarke, but since the trekkers were nearly two hours late I handed the phone to Ravi and drove Jared to the rangerís house. The entire support staff was there and had made contact with the trekkers who were having difficulty finding their route. We might have worried if they didnít have a guide but Marty was sure she could find the way and told us not to send anyone out.

By 11:00 the team had still not returned and Charlie went out to wait for them. Half an hour later he called and asked someone to bring an extra light and some warm clothes; heíd decided to go looking for the team. I volunteered to help.

It was shortly before midnight when we started up the trail, our LED headlamps throwing a silvery light over the asters and forget-me-nots along the trail. When we topped the ridge Charlie pointed to the moon. Hanging in second quarter between the horizon and a band of clouds it glowed a deep, dull orange like the mouth of a jack-o-lantern turned on its side. The wind had died and the air felt warmer than it had a few hours before. Marty had made radio contact with the District Ranger before we left and we knew the team was close by, but no one responded to our shouts on the trail. Finally, just beyond the third cairn, we saw two headlamps bobbing in the distance. The trekkers had found the trail and we had found them, just before 1:00 am.

Back at camp Paul heated elk burgers and we sat in the RV with the heater on. We were all exhausted. Jared, the reporter, had returned to camp with the support team and pitched a small tent near the kitchen. Heíd been able to interview Dave and some of the other support staff; the next morning he interviewed the trekkers after breakfast. What had seemed a disastrous day looked pretty good in the morning light--the team was safe, Jared enjoyed his day away from the office, and a the whole incident made for a good story.

Itís dark now and the team is huddled around the tech trailer typing their own journal entries on laptops. I can see the lights of Helena on the eastern horizon. Earlier today I saw a kestrel perched on a snag and a rock ptarmigan poking through the brush. Nearly every evening the nighthawks come out and weave through the sky over our camp, catching insects. Tomorrow we move camp to Macdonald pass but Iíll be hiking with the team. Check out www.greatfallstribune.com if you want to read the article about us; it was printed on 8/16. Till next time.

--Bob
for Saturday, August 17
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: North
Bob Van Deven
Bob Van Deven

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List of All Journal Entries
•
Monday, January 6
Bob Van Deven
Sunny Weather
   >> more...

•
Sunday, December 1
Bob Van Deven
   >> more...

•
Wednesday, October 9
Bob Van Deven
The End of the Journey
   >> more...

•
Friday, September 20
Bob Van Deven
A Little News
   >> more...

•
Monday, September 2
Bob Van Deven
Middle Ground
   >> more...

•
Wednesday, August 28
Bob Van Deven
Disasters and other fun
   >> more...

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Wednesday, August 21
Bob Van Deven
People
   >> more...

•
Saturday, August 17
Bob Van Deven
August 17 or Thereabouts
   >> more...

•
Saturday, August 10
Bob Van Deven
AAAAAAHHHHHHHH!
   >> more...

•
Thursday, August 1
Bob Van Deven
   >> more...








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