This week’s 3-Word Wednesday got me thinking about this story. The words for this writing assignment are: Empty, Highway and Ignored. As usual, I’m posting my 3-Word Wednesday writing assignment on Friday.
A car approaches from the north. I turn around and stick out my thumb. “Was this a good idea?” I question. I need to hitch back to my car at a trailhead. It’s going to be a long exposed walk if someone doesn’t pick me up. They’re few cars in this lonely country. The car rushes by, its wind providing a moment’s relief from the heat. The sun is burning brightly overhead. With no clouds and no wind, it’s hot, even at this elevation. Heat can be seen rising from the asphalt, its waves blurring the scenery down the highway. I turn back and resume walking along the shoulder of Highway 75, south of Stanley.
I hear another vehicle crest the hill behind me. It sounds like a truck. I turn around and stick out thumb. It’s an old jeep; this will be my ride, I’m sure. Jeeps always pick up hitchhikers.
I remember an autumn day on the beach, five or six years earlier. I’d been on a conference. A hurricane was offshore and we had to leave the island. When I got in my car, I realized that I my gas gauze was on “E.” Shortly after cross the waterway bridge, the car sputtered and quit. My gas tank was empty. Getting out, I hoofed it a couple of miles to a gas station. They lent me a can and I purchased some gas and when I started back when one of those bands of blinding rain hit. About that time a jeep came by, without a top. He shouted for me to jump in and I did. His windshield wipers worked overtime, but it didn’t make much difference for there was as much water inside the glass as out. I began to wonder if riding in his jeep was such a good idea. The rain was so hard; I could hardly see my car park on the other side of the road. I put the gas in and headed home. The hurricane turned and went out to sea.
This jeep didn’t stop. “Son of a…” I started, and then thought better. I couldn’t believe he ignored me. I turned and started walking south. A few other vehicles came by, but none of them stopped. I continued to walk. Another vehicle approached. It was a mini-van, a family wagon. I didn’t expect much, but stuck out my thumb. She flew by, but then hit her brakes, pulled over to the side and began to back up. I ran up and noticed that there were kids in the back waving at me. This wasn’t who I’d expected to have given me a ride, but I was thankful for not having to walk all the way to my car.
“I don’t normally pick up hitch-hikers,” she confesses, “but the kids recognized you as the hiker on the ferry when we came back across Redfish Lake. I look back at them and smiled, remembering playing games with her kids, the oldest of whom was probably eight or nine. I thanked her for the ride and told her my car was at Hell Roaring Creek trailhead, just off the highway. She asked about the trip.
“I started out four days ago, spending the first night at Hell Roaring Lake,” I began, “camping under the ominous “finger of fate” peak. It’s a lone bent rock pinnacle that could have served as a model for Michelangelo’s “Finger of God.” The lake was surrounded by dead tree trunks from winter avalanches. Many of those trunks were waterlogged, but the ones not provided plenty of firewood. Although open fires had been banned for the summer (Yellowstone and Hells Canyon were being consumed with flames while I was hiking) I counted four campfires along the lake. I was invited over to one’s family campfire. I joined them and was shocked to learn that one of men was a Forest Service employee.”
“The next day I continued hiking deeper into the Sawtooth Wilderness area, climbing over a steep pass. There were so many lakes, I can’t recall them all,” I confessed. “Imogene, Virginia and Hidden were some of them, each surrounded by rocky peaks sparsely covered with gnarly trees. After leaving Hell Roaring Lake, I was alone with only the pikas keeping me company at night. I ran into a group of smoke jumpers, hoofing it out after having extinguished a small lightning fire deep into wilderness. We talked for a few minutes, but they were hiking much faster and moved down the trail toward their pickup point.”
“It’s all beautiful,” I said, “but my favorite had been the Cramer Lakes, each with a waterfall outlet that spilled into the next lake.”
“We were there,” she said. “We took the ferry across Redfish Lake, and hiked up to Lower Cramer for a picnic.”
All photos shot with a Pentax MX on Kodachrome 25, using either a 28 or a 100 mm lens, digitally copied from slides:
It had been on the ferry on the way back, which saved miles of hiking along the shoreline, that I’d met her children.
“Oh my God,” she muttered. I looked up and there was a jeep, lying on its back out in the edge of a field. A small fire had started. A couple other cars had also stopped and people were getting out of their cars, but no one had gone over to the jeep, where the driver stood stunned.
“I’ll check it out,” I said. “Park down the road a ways.” Jumping out as she slowed down, I ran over toward the jeep yelling, “Is everyone okay?” Another car pulled up. The driver, shaken and with tears in his eyes, said that he’s okay but was begging for a fire extinguisher. Drops of gas were dripping onto the ground and the fire was beginning to burn across the field. Without a fire extinguisher or other equipment, there wasn’t anything we could do. I told them I’d get a ranger and ran back to the awaiting minivan. I knew a ranger’s station was across from the trailhead from where I’d left my car. We flew down the highway, turning off and leaving a trail of dust on the dirt road up to the station. I reported the accident and the fire. The ranger called it in and got into his truck. The lady in the mini-van drove me over to my car and I dropped my pack in the trunk and headed back to the accident site where I helped the ranger and several other men dig a line around the fire. Luckily, as dry as it was, there was no wind and the fire didn’t get out of hand. With everything under control and after the arrival of a regular fire truck that hosed the jeep down and put out the grass fire, I got back in my car and headed back to camp. By the time I left, the jeep that I had seen as a possible savior less than an hour earlier was a charred pile of metal.
1. Hell Roaring Lake at Dawn (notice the finger of fate peak in the center)
2. Trail in the Sawtooth Wilderness
3. From a pass, overlooking Virginia and an unnamed lake
4. Cramer Lakes (notice the smoke in the sky)
5 Falls into Lower Cramer Lake