Our re-entry to the US has us dragging our feet in a lot of regards. Although we are excited about some things; such as seeing our friends and family, the weight of returning to our responsibilities in Hailey is also a bit heavy after the freedoms of the road. Updating the blog has been one of those responsibilities we’ve been avoiding so now that we’ve been back in the US for over a month now I guess it’s time to catch up with everyone. Some people still think we are in Mexico!
Canyon hiking in New Mexico
Upon leaving Oaxaca we headed north pretty directly for us. We covered over 5000 miles in June which was a quarter of the total 20,000 mile we drove during the course of the trip. Our camping consisted mostly of staying in gas stations and rest stops along the highway at the end of the days drive, some of which were surprisingly nice. Some highlights we did take in while still in Mexico were the towns of Zacateca, another beautiful colonial city in the North reminiscent of Guanajuato, and Tepotzlan, a town south of Mexico city where we hiked up a mountain side to visit some ruins that were unfortunately closed.
We had thought we would spend more time in the Northwest of Mexico exploring the Copper Canyon region but a unique opportunity came up which is what had us hustling north. Friends of ours, Matt and Mary Gervase, were planning a week long backpacking trip into the Wind River mountain range and had invited us to join them. One of the things I missed most in our travels through Central America was the ability to access mountain wilderness and the recreation that goes with that. This offer was sweetened by two things: the fact that we would be using llamas to haul most of our gear into a high camp (9 months of driving is not a great fitness program for backpacking) and I would have a chance to climb Gannett Peak, the highest in Wyoming. Quite the attractive package!
The requisite cute Alli shot. That’s Gannett Peak in the background, left of center
After much deliberation we committed to the trip and started churning out the miles. Because of recent drug violence in the border towns near New Mexico we chose to cross the border in Texas and then cut across the western part of the state. Being in the desert the roads were much more direct than any we’d been on so far so it was easy to cover big distances. Finally, in New Mexico, we took a break from the heat and the long days of by spending a few days in the mountains around Silver City, New Mexico. We enjoyed a visit to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and day hiking and camping amongst the high pines and sandstone cliffs.
Living in a cliff dwelling seems quite appealing to Tod
After New Mexico we had a hiccup, with Betty on our way into to Phoenix to visit my parents. I won’t call it a breakdown because it wasn’t her fault and she is sensitive about that sort of thing. On our way into the city we stopped for an oil change at one of those quick lube type places which always make me nervous. The mechanic seemed competent, or at least he was older than 17 however, shortly after the oil change, Betty stalled dead in an intersection and we were only able to limp her across the street to another oil change place. The short version of the story is that after one ride behind a tow truck, four different mechanics looking at her, and a full day wasted, someone finally figured out that a rag had been left in the engine compartment and had been sucked into the air intake. Pull the rag out and no more problems. Unfortunately this simple fix cost us about $200 to figure that out. We were really wishing we had broken down in Mexico instead where they probably would have figured it out in an hour and charged us nothing!
Trailside Columbine in the Gila National Forest
Frustrated by this and the 105 degree heat we pushed on to my parents and their new location, an assisted living center west of Phoenix. From there Lisa took Allie and Betty north to rendezvous with her family while I had a few days to catch up with my parents. Afterwards, I flew to the Bay Area to visit my new nephew, Trevor. I spent the weekend getting acquainted with the cute little guy …oh, and visiting my sisters. Then flew into Spokane, WA where Lisa and her mom picked me up. We spent the 4th of July with Lisa’s family and then, with family visits taken care of, moved on to Wyoming where our departure date for the Winds trip was fast approaching. Are you keeping up?
It’s amazing how out of practice we were at simply backpacking. We realized, as we prepared , that it had been five years since the two of us had done an extended pack trip together, mostly because Taku had not been able to hike very far those last five years. This was to be Allie’s first overnighter and we were excited to be in the Western mountains again. After buying enough food for a month and packing gear warm enough for an arctic winter we felt ready to go. First though I joined Mary and Matt in Lander, WY for a two hour crash course in Llama maintenance and upkeep. They are wonderful animals and of such a an easy going nature that they’ll rent them out to a group of novices like us for a week without hesitation. Or at least they didn’t show any. Llamas don’t spook the way horses can and are like goats in that they can eat almost anything so bringing extra food for them isn’t necessary. They are native to the mountains of Peru so are sure-footed, calm and confident. Apparently bears and mountain lions tend to stay away from them as well. Another bonus was that their soft-two toed feet didn’t hurt too bad if they accidentally stepped on you like they did Matt once.
On the trail near Double Lake
Once we learned how to properly load the llamas we were off to the trailhead to meet up with the others of our group. The first day was the hardest, even with the llama support: nine miles up hill with 3000 feet of elevation gain. The end of the trail for us, and basecamp for the climb, was 23 miles from the trailhead at the head of Dinwoody creek. We took three days to get in and were glad we took our time as we saw several folks struggling in under huge loads and tight time schedules. The camping was relaxed in spite of the voracious mosquitoes. We had been warned and were adequately prepared although it was my first time wearing a head net. I quickly learned it’s easier to eat with out the net on as I kept forgetting it was there and would stick sporks full of food into it.
Lisa and Malone talk over dinner
The group consisted of a couple from Seattle, Anne and Greg; our friends Matt and Mary and John, a ski patrol buddy of Matt’s from Hailey. Our three support llamas were Malone, Big Sandy and Pylon, who was a big talker. Everyone was pretty worldly in terms of travel and outdoor adventures so we spent many hours sharing stories around the fire. The trip up Gannett Peak went flawlessly with John, Matt and I being the climbing team. Timing and routefinding went well and the snow was perfect: plenty enough to cover the crevasses and firm with just enough for easy travel. We made the summit by 8 AM after a 2 AM start, a much faster time than we had anticipated as our camp was in the valley and not up in the moraines where most folks camp. We made the hike out in two days with lighter packs and llamas. Our last night at Double Lake was the most beautiful campsite yet with classic Winds scenery: grey granite cliffs climbing up out of clear pools of water.
From Dubois, we said goodbye to our new and old friends and headed over the mountains to visit my college buddy Dave Monroe near Driggs, Idaho. They were having a music festival at Targhee (the local ski hill) that weekend and we caught the last day and danced the evening away to Lyle Lovett and his Large Band. The time with Dave, Allison and the kids was the true highlight however. Caroline, my goddaughter, and Henry were little people now after not having seen them for a year.
Delone and his daughters: Lisa, Michelle and Kim. Notice the resemblance?
One last highlight awaited us before our travels ended for now so we cruised back across Idaho to meet up with Lisa’s family in Eastern Oregon. Delone, Lisa’s dad, had turned 70 this year and his three daughters treated him to a weekend horsepack trip into a lodge in the Wallowa Mountains. The good news is we all got to come along! Horsepacking and riding is a lot more work and expense than llama packing, I learned. I volunteered to hike in with Allie which saved me the pain in the ass (literally) of the time in a saddle. We certainly weren’t roughing it on this trip. The lodge was great with lot’s of good food and a wood fired hot tub as an evening treat. We had rented tepees which was a novel experience but I think I prefer tents overall. Lisa’s family is a fun bunch and the weekend was filled with much laughter and mirth.
The Krueger-Cregger Range Riders
So now Lisa and I are dragging our feet one more time as “move-in day” ominously approaches this weekend. Kicking around eastern Oregon these last few days looking for campsites and wifi has kept us from facing the reality of our imminent return. While seeing friends again will be great there is an essence of our experience that we know will be hard for us to maintain in face of the responsibilities of work and home. Spontaneity and the freedom from time both will suffer in the face of schedules and routines. What will we be able to hold onto? Stay tuned to find out how the transition goes…
Clean up day on Togwotee Pass after our Winds trip. Lisa heads for a much needed shower.