Total Miles: 1462.1
Hanging from trees a few steps off a dirt road, the sound coming toward us as we packed up was not surprising. Growing louder, an ATV and a 4-wheeler came around the bend and the two hunters aboard stopped to chat with us about whether we’d seen any other hunters or any big game recently. Despite having followed bear, elk, mountain lion, and deer prints nearly without interruption for several days, we’d only actually seen a few elk since the day before.
As we learned the night before, bow hunting season had opened early in this particular part of Wyoming and today marked the opening of rifle season. Good thing the sleeping pads atop our bright white backpacks are blaze orange color. We wished the two friendly hunters well and finished packing up before heading down the road that snaked along the top of the Divide.
Views to the west of the Teton Range and to the south of the Wind River Range were beautiful, at least what we could see of them. For the third day in a row, the smoky haze from wildfires in California hung thick in the air, simultaneously softening the light while obstructing the more distant views.
Coming towards us from a nearby stand of trees, the same two hunters we’d spoken to earlier approached. Having only spotted a bull moose while on the hunt for deer, we stopped for another chat where they were kind enough to offer us food, water and ultimately a concoction of whiskey and Pepsi. The first two we had plenty of, but who could say no to the third one, especially at 8:00 in the morning? Certainly not me. It’s just good manners. I was shocked at how enjoyable it was—the hour be damned—and immediately it brought back memories of finding cold Coors Light while walking along the LA aqueduct on the Pacific Crest Trail. It may have been 7am then, but that didn’t stop my buddy Gazelle and I from calling it an early happy hour.
Before things got too out of hand, we finally said our goodbyes again but not before one final word from one of the hunters who’d been so pleasant. His message? To wish us luck and to thank us for not being judgmental on account of us being hikers and they being hunters. It was at once, both a very kind thing to say while also being an incredibly sad statement about the divide that often exists between groups who enjoy the outdoors differently.
Each of the hunters we’ve met along this hike have been nothing but kind, always offering anything we might need, and for our part we’ve peppered them with questions about an endeavor we know next to nothing about. The entire exchange was uplifting in the sense that it felt as though a divide had been bridged in some small way by doing nothing more than treating each other as, well, humans. A truly revolutionary concept. Perhaps whiskey and Pepsi is the way forward in even more complex matters…
The irony of leaving the hunters behind was that the rest of the day we saw nothing but the prey they sought—mule deer and pronghorn that would move to a safe distance before looking back at us curiously, and herds of elk bugling wildly at one another. There were even coyotes yelping at dusk as if to celebrate the sinking of the sun behind the horizon, a sun that through the fog of smoke looked like a red fireball melting into a sea of grey.
By day’s end, we’d navigated through stretches of very recent blowdown and violently uprooted trees, weaving around as much of the damage as we could to avoid clambering over it like a jungle gym. Cresting over Gunsight Pass, the heart of the Wind River Range was now closer than ever, and even through the haze we could see the increasingly taller peaks stacked one beyond the other beginning to pile up before us. The anticipation builds…