Monday, November 6, 2017

Treasure Hunters

It’s not like I was expecting lush green grass, but I figured it would at least be a bit more colorful than the drab yellowish brown that crunched beneath our feet. Oh well. I suppose I can’t demand much from a warm September afternoon in Wyoming. It’s not like the area was known for its rolling emerald hills. But Tolkien did me a disservice. I really believed that adventures involving treasure and tumult were supposed to begin with vibrant green grass before plunging its heroes into a world of ominously dead weeds and bison skulls (the former of which stretched out as far as the eye can see and the latter was scattered about here and there to ensure that we never quite felt safe).
But trepidatious or not, Jac and I were treasure hunters now and we couldn’t turn back! I mean, three million dollars of gold and jewels awaited us at the end of our journey. So we pressed onward.
It may be advantageous to the story that I inform you of our present predicament. You see, we had no provisions and our only form of communication with the outside world was the heartiest screams or shouts we could muster, since our phones had been long dead. But by now, we were roughly three miles from the trail head (a term used here loosely as a formal trailhead was nowhere to be found) and Jac was patiently following my lead into the great unknown.
Now you may need to know that I am not really keen on being gored, trampled, or eaten. So when Jaclyn and I happened upon a herd of roughly fifty American bison, I was decidedly unwilling to barrel through them. Jaclyn disagreed.
But, being the heroic fellow that I am, I insisted that it was far too scary to continue until they’d moved on, so we stood perfectly still for two and a half hours. Jaclyn tried several times to move forward, but I was unwilling to die. So we remained in the same place. Some more.
But these bison weren’t ready to move along. A couple groups of adolescent calves were butting horns and grunting rather aggressively at one another, a few babies were suckling the teets of their mamas, and the largest, scariest two of the bunch took turns lying down and standing in our way, staring us down. Oh and a few were making new calves.
Anyway, after a while, we saw a man approaching from beyond the herd and so we left the beaten path and walked about a mile out of the way and further into the wilderness of the prairie. It was sunny, so it wasn’t so bad, but we were a little wet, having just endured a flash rain. Oh well. We pressed on.
Another two hours passed as we hiked, eager to arrive at our eventual destination, a creek where I believed the treasure to be hidden. We made it to find a couple of people making their way back toward civilization, and we began surveying the area for the right hiding spot.
The clues were all there. We needed some waist-high water - we had it. We needed some old burnt wood - we had it. We even had a rainbow, resting in a spot marked by a naturally formed X. We were confident we’d found the right spot.
I began digging in the wood and water for clues and hints to the exact whereabouts of the treasure, but to no avail. It was deeper. And Jaclyn wasn’t going to let me walk away from this adventure without checking as thoroughly as possible.
She urged me to disrobe and hop in. So after a bit of protesting, I conceded and took off my clothes. The water was cold. And worse - slimy. But that’s alright. I was there for $3,000,000. Trouble was that the $3,000,000 wasn’t there for me.
Defeated, but oddly satisfied, I hopped out of the freezing creek and put my clothes back on. It was time to head back. Besides, the sky wasn’t blue anymore. Instead, it was painted with beautiful pink and orange strokes, but the beauty also meant danger. We were no less than eight miles deep into the wilderness with no provisions in the middle of grizzly country. So we started hiking.
But the trail wasn’t so easy to find this time around. It had been obscured by several herds of bison and our own inability to navigate a prairie. Still, we marched onward.
But it wouldn’t be a safe journey back. Or a dry one. The rains came again! This time with a vengeance. And being later in the day, it was much colder than before. We hunched and kept trekking, soaking wet now. We made it about a half mile and the rains stopped. Relieved, we smiled. But Mother Nature is a cruel prankster.
The rains subsided only to make way for the hailstorm that followed. Tiny pellets of ice beat down on us. And then they got bigger. A year later and I can still feel the bruises on my ears. We ran for cover, but no cover would be found. So we prayed.
Finally, we spotted a meager tree in the distance. It was off the trail (if such a thing even existed anymore), but we needed to find shelter. We made a run for it, our socks soggy and wet, sloshing with rain water and our feet blistering.
The tree wasn’t much help. It was small, and with autumn in full swing, what few leaves it might’ve had just a few weeks earlier had long since fallen. We held one another, praying. I tried to shield my bride from the elements, cradling her head under my body.
Then she began to panic and flail. She was under attack! Suddenly, I watched as her leg swiftly accelerated upward, punting a baby bird. It must’ve been seeking shelter in her pants. It wasn’t too injured, but it was certainly not pleased with her unwillingness to share, so it five bombed her, hitting her hair before flying off into the storm. After a half hour or so, the hail subsided, and we were back on our way, the sky a dim, dark gray now.
We hadn’t taken more than five steps when Mother Nature decided to prank us again. CRAKOOWWW!!! A huge burst of lightning rocketed to the ground ten feet from us. Our hearts pounded. CRAKOOWWW!!! Another bolt. We crouched and started running.
To our left, we saw the agitated bison making their way to us again. In the distance, the sounds of howling wolves and rolling thunder. We were stranded and lost at six thousand feet and seven miles from the road. We ran.
Our panting must’ve seemed so loud to anything out there. But it was getting dark, and we were certain that this was our last night together alive.
We made it to an embankment. It was muddy, but we remembered coming down it on the way to the treasure (which we hadn’t found). It was the first semblance of a land marker we’d seen in some time, so we knew generally where we were.
We were in Death Gulch. And the bison skull and grizzly paw prints we almost tripped on didn’t give us any ease. We started up the embankment. But it was loose mud and wouldn’t hold us. We trigger a mudslide (unintentionally of course). Jaclyn was whisked away by it, falling fast.
I quickly grabbed for a root protruding from the ground and latched on with my right hand as I grabbed my bride’s wrist with my left. I may have hurt her arm a little, but I had to save her life. Rocks and mud and water poured over my body as I strained with all my might, praying the root wouldn’t snap. A quick rush of adrenaline allowed me to push my darling up the embankment to safety and then she helped me up. By now we were bruised and muddy and soaking wet, but to good news was that it was almost dark and we were six miles from the car.
We pressed on, Jac following my lead. I held her close. Her sock had long ago slipped off her foot and was eroding her skin from inside her boot. But we had no time to stop and fix it. We had to press on.
Night fell and we were still a long way from the car, but by 11:00PM, we finally made it back. Unwilling to ride in wet clothes, we disrobed and hopped in, ready to get to the hotel only five miles away.
Except that five miles was an exaggeration and the nearest hotel in that direction was ninety miles away. So we drove. We drove into the night. Into the fog. Around the mountain. Through construction. Around a porcupine. Going 5 MPH at some points and 35 MPH at others. And finally, after hours of exhaustion and defeat, we arrived at a hotel and I walked in (I had eventually put on some clothes).
Inside, I asked for a room, my eyes bloodshot and my face weary. And then a cockatiel attacked me! For whatever reason, it hated me that night. First, it swooped down and attacked my head, then it circled back around and started violently pecking my bare feet (okay, I was wearing flip flops). What could I do?! I dodged and evaded (unsuccessfully), but I came away battle scarred. Still, at the end of the day, we were officially treasure hunters. We weren't treasure finders, but we were treasure hunters. And I had a room key.

We showered. We ordered food. We passed out. And that’s just one reason

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