Stoke Factor: 1
Miserableness Factor: 9
Snot Rockets Blown: 1
Miles: 18 + 27
Avg Speed: 5.1
I spent the night tossing and turning in my tent. I slept butt naked- every inch of my clothes was soaked in sweat after setting my tent up, and I had no alternatives. My tent was up before dark, and I was nervous. Signs about bear activity were everywhere, and my campground was in a prime location. Although I was merely yards away from the highway, the river was directly behind me. My tent was set up defensively, by placing a picnic table on one side of me and the river to my back. The campground was fully closed: the water was turned off, the signs were covered in trash bags, and a barrier was put in place so cars couldn’t enter. Though I was at peace to be the only one there, it terrified me to know that if a predator attacked, I was the sole target. I was pleased to find that the bear boxes were unlocked, but when I woke in the morning I found that I missed a few nut bars in my pack still.
Every few hours I woke up to either a horrifying sound outside of the tent or a chilling in my spine. My watch read that it was 25 degrees in my tent and 17 outside. Inside my sleeping bag, it was 91 degrees. However, a brief movement from me let that cool air into my sleeping bag and there was no way to stop shivering. I knew there were a few critters in the area- my campsite was a crucial spot to lower down to the river. My heart pounded as my being fought against sleep and slipped into a paranoia. I had to keep telling myself, “I’m not a threat, no animal wants to hurt me.” It’s likely true that the only reason I would be attacked was if I had food or if it was a moose. Since I didn’t know I still had nut bars in my bag, I wasn’t worried.
Morning traffic zoomed by around 5am and woke me up. I wondered how popular that campsite truly was- the roaring of cars simply ruined any serenity of the great outdoors. Often the sound of the Hoback river, though right next to me, was drowned out by the passing semi trucks. I decided to lay until 830 am, which would have been just after the sun rose. I had to urinate, so, so badly, but since it was still dark and I was naked, I had to hold it. There I was, mummified in my sleeping bag with my arms crossed over my privates, shivering like a madwoman and rolling around. I felt like my personal hell was realized: rolling around, never finding the right temperature, and naked and afraid in the middle of a state I had never been to.
As the sun rose, I felt my clothes. The sweat had frozen to them. This prolonged my getting ready. I stuffed them down in between my crotch and felt as they warmed up while expelling the cold onto me. I decided from that moment on, I would only delayer the cotton and use it as a pillow, and every other belonging I had would go in the sleeping bag. My phone had a layer of frost on it, my GPS was dead, my watch was dying, my speaker was filled with ice, and as I touched the edge of my tent snow would fall between the threads. I had left a window fully open to combat my ongoing condensation issue, but it was to no avail. The difference in temps between the interior of my sleeping bag and the outdoors was simply too great.
I put on everything I owned for clothes and warmed up rather quickly. Snow dribbled off of the vestibule and onto my hands as I revealed myself to nature. Everything was covered in frost. I was horribly thirsty, and was entirely out of water. In the bear box I had a Cliff Bar, but it was frozen solid and I wasn’t able to eat it. I tried to suck any drops of water out of my hydration pack but it had frozen solid.
As I packed up, I wasn’t so cold anymore despite it being 30 degrees out. In fact I was quite comfortable. If not for the lack of supplies, I would have actually been enjoying myself. Winter camping is a strange experience and I had to revel in the newness of it to me- bundling up after a day of hard work was my idea of a good time. Everything I owned was soaked or melting that went into the pack. I ditched my final stuff sack for the sleeping bag and used it as a trash bag for everything I was ditching. I left behind water bottles, and other bits of wrappers I held onto. I find “Leave No Trace” to be especially important.
As I was leaving the campsite, I checked the bathrooms. For some reason, they were unlocked. I could have slept in there. When Adrian spoke of sleeping in the “toilet” at campsites I pictured a small green man sitting upright in a porta-potty, but I realized that these state campsites had spacious bathrooms. I wouldn’t have even had any bad smells- the toilet had a trash bag over it and the room was winterized completely. It would have just been a safe space to not have to wonder what every sound was. Also, it would have been quite inconspicuous. I remembered my conversation with Jonathan and his wife about how the bathrooms had no designated gender. There were two, adjacent to each other, and both had a male and female sign on them. It put into perspective how outrageous gendering bathrooms is in general. At some point I think we can all agree- if we are using a bathroom its usually to let out some pee or drop a poop. The need to be separated from the other gender to do that is simply an extension of insecurity.
My first pushes hurt. I didn’t get to recover after the long day because of how hungry I was and how I had no water. All I wanted was to drink some water. My pee was neon yellow. As morning traffic died down, the silence of the wild took over. Snow melted off of the trees and the roads had returned to a dry state after icing over the night before. Nobody was going to pick me up. In a land of only 400,000 people, the people basked in their seclusion. I could sympathize with the thought that out in the wilderness a hitch hiker could have been anybody. Back in Oregon, hitch hikers were more likely to be people with places to go. There was nowhere to go in Wyoming. Nobody was going anywhere. I put out my thumb for the first time- trucks blew past me without even slowing down. As much as I wanted to hate them, I couldn’t blame them. Perhaps if I was passed out on the side of the road someone would have stopped.
I couldn’t even hold my weight up. I had to walk, and hobbled along. My energy was at an all time low. I contemplated grabbing a handful of ice or snow, but it melted before I could act on the thought. The river was right there. I came up on a recreation area, with a hot spring 10 miles of hiking into the woods. Of course, it was commercially owned and cost money, but I certainly thought that a day of sitting in the apring would have soothed my bones. Plus, if someone had to take my money, they probably had water, even if I had to buy it. I noticed a dead deer by the entrance and saw that it was frozen solid. Its entire mass was eaten by coyotes. I kicked it a few times just to see what it was like. It was very sad.
I saw an opportunity to reach the river. I was only 7 miles beyond where I started but felt like I was dying. I pulled out my Sawyer water filter from my bag. The cap was partially broken on the filter and the bag had a hole in it. I must have dropped it, or left my knife open with it. I was devastated. I grabbed at my Life Straw and realized I had nobidea how to use it. Blowing into it or blowing out of it, there was no air flow. The images on the device made absolutely no sense to me. I tried and tried and tried and tried some more to no avail. I screamed like an idiot, threw my hands down and cried. My sadness turned to anger as I smashed it between two rocks. I just kept smashing it. It was in bits and pieces. I picked up the pieces and packed them away, but still had no water. I grabbed my water bottle and rinsed it and filled it up a few times, debating whether or not I was truly about to drink unfiltered water. Wyoming had more animals than people, and I was willing to bet that all of them shit and pissed or decomposed in that river. On the contrary, the river was icy cold and clear as I had ever seen natural water in my life. I succumbed to my senses and drank over 40 ounces of it. My mind swirled about worms and microbes living in what I just drank. However, I was no longer parched.
I strapped my board to my bag and moved on. The road to Pinedale was entirely uphill, more so than the day before. I was 7500 feet up. As I walked along the river and past the campgrounds, I realized that if I walked I never would have made it. I settled for a shorter distance. The town of Bondurant, Wyoming revealed itself just after a bend in the road. It was a ghost town. I saw horses on a ranch but they were in a tiny enclosure. There was so much land beyond the fences they were kept in, but 8 horses were confined to an area as big as a small house. I felt bad for them. They stared at me and lifted their hooves.
The sign read “Population: 100” and I knew nothing good was there for me, but I saw a small gas station and grocery store. I was excited. My phone got service once again and I was able to update the world on where I was as I went to enter the store. As I got nearer to the store, I saw all the lights were off and a sign was on the door: “We will be closed Monday and Tuesday and will reopen Wednesday.” It was Wednesday. I just screamed, “FUCK!” and pushed on. Google Maps told me a restaurant was about 3 miles up ahead. As I walked there, I saw a motel with a for sale sign on it. Buildings were collapsed. It was a complete ghost town.
The Branding Iron Cafe caught my sights. I checked their website and it said they were open Wednesday to Sunday. Google said they were closed. I called and got no answer. Nobody was inside. I stopped and pouted some more as cars roared past me. I ate a few sticks of honey that Mama Wilky gave me and walked on. A sign up ahead told of construction going on in the road and I looked forward to being able to ask for some water. I trudged forward and came across a girl waving a flag at oncoming traffic. I asked for water and she gave me a liter water bottle. I drank it all in one gulp. I asked her, “Do Wyoming people not pick up hitch hikers?” She shook her head no. They do not. It is a thing they discuss amongst themselves. They simply just don’t. I changed the conversation to ask her for a ride. She said she lived 2 and a half hours east and my eyes lit up. However, she didnt have a car and couldn’t accommodate me. She pointed beyond the corner and said a woman named Charlotte was a total badass and lived east too, and that I should ask her.
Road crew trucks whirred by me and passing traffic came dangerously close to hitting me. The sun pelted in the direction of those around the corner and there was no way they could have seen me. The road crew was spraying a horrible smelling chemical on the road and it splashed all over me. It smelled like cancer. I went beyond the corner and saw Charlotte, an older woman also waving flags. I thought it was super cool seeing women doing a job like that. In the cities its always men. Out in the west, women are mostly equals in work ethic, from what I saw.
Charlotte was happy to talk to me and offered to bring me to Daniel, where there was a motel and restaurant. Of course, I had to wait until her shift was over four hours from then. I was so battered from the day that I couldn’t think of going on any more. It had been 18 miles and almost 2500ft of ascension. I walked the majority of it and I was dead tired. Charlotte didn’t mind that I sat and bothered her for her work day. At some point I thought she enjoyed my company. I loved how easy she was to talk to. The age gap between us meant nothing. We spoke on the road I planned to travel, her life and family, and my motivations. I avoided the topic of me being transgender, but when I gave her my card she said, “You have the same name as my daughter” and I could only laugh. She had to have known at some point I was another weirdo from California, or just a really gay guy. Regardless, we didn’t talk about it.
Four hours passed while Charlotte flagged down cars and the workers installed reflectors on the side of the road. We counted down how many they had left until the day was over. Charlotte then picked me up in her 4×4 and we hit the road. If I had continued forward, I would have had another 1000ft climb followed by a 10% grade downhill. I couldn’t have handled it. I didn’t have it in me. The drive was peaceful, and I told Charlotte about all of the great people I met on the road and how she was one of them. None of the people I met were the same. It was very cool.
It was only 25 miles but the road was daunting. I was thankful for the ride. We said our goodbyes and I checked into the motel. They weren’t sure if they had any rooms and I said, “Listen I will take a dirty room at full cost if it means I dont have to sleep outside tonight.” I had no other options. Luckily a room was available and I was in it faster than an antelope runs away from a hunter. There was a restaurant menu for the Bear Den, which was right on the property. I decided what I wanted and got excited to eat for the first time all day. All those hours sitting with Charlotte left me starving.
I sat down, ordered a beer, and two meals. I scarfed the food down and talked with the waitress about my travels. I felt like everyone was staring at me. I was the only one not wearing a camoflauge jacket in the whole place. Instead of side eyes, the people just wanted to hear my conversation. I spoke a bit louder and included everyone in the discussion. They offered me advice on where to go next and how to deal with bear or moose encounters. Everyone was having a good time. The entire area lost cell phone reception for Verizon, and there was no Wi-Fi, so the entertainment was essentially the only thing going on. A girl gave me a card for a domestic violence group where she worked. I wished I was able to tell her of me, my gender identity, and the motivation for the trip, but I was still uneasy around all of the hunters. She told me that no matter where I was in the state, they would find someone to help me.
My meal was comped and I tipped 100% on the beers. I thought I left a great impression. I retired to my room and fell asleep in the shower. When I fell over I woke up, and crawled into bed soaking wet and butt naked. I didnt care. I was safe and warm and my day didn’t end as bad as I started. I needed a rest day.