Three days prior, we’d ended the first leg of our High Sierra trek with a 3,000 foot decent from Kearsarge Lakes. The sapphire blue bodies of water run in a chain just below timberline. One sip from these pristine pools made me realize that I had never tasted (I mean really tasted) water before. I had tasted the cocktail of chemicals that magically appears from my tap, but never once had my lips touched something so base and so pure.
The lakes themselves run off into Bubbs Creek, a trickle that grows in tumultuousness as it cascades down one of the many gorges that make up King’s Canyon National Park. The trail we were on followed its banks ever deeper toward Lower Vidette Valley. Somewhere along the way we were to make camp.
Daylight flees with a quickness in the Sierras. It’s easy for the sun to hide behind the enormous peaks. The landscape began to lose depth and distinction in dusk’s grey light. It became increasingly difficult to spot the cleared camping areas that our aching feet were desperately seeking. But, just ahead on the trail, a warm glow beckoned us like siren’s soft lullaby.
Lying propped up on one elbow, legs crossed, before a low crackling fire, within the protective womb of a pine grove, was a cowboy. A real life, boot wearing, dusty jeaned, bona fide cowboy. His horses shuffled nervously as we came into view.His hypnotized gaze broke from the dancing flames and leveled on our haggard band with a serene confidence. Through a roguish grin and narrow eyes he drawled a low, ”howdy”. In case you missed that…he said, “howdy”. Who says “howdy”? A cowboy that’s who!
He was easily one of the most suave and mysterious people I had ever encountered – a possessor of some secret knowledge that made him different than other people. His life, the product of a perfect harmony between his own free will and nature, couldn’t help but make a mockery of my own with its desperate attempt to find balance and meaning amidst the illusions of materialism and professional status.
We asked him where we could find the nearest campsite. He pointed, looking down his extended finger with one open eye, as if through the sites of a rifle, and said, “five minutes’ walk, just round the bend.” His fearlessness was contagious. We calmed and strolled into camp almost as if we had known it was there all along.
It was this fearlessness, the power of knowing that I could survive, that I had sought by agreeing to go on this adventure in the first place. I had forgotten that somewhere along the way as I hobbled off the trail after having gotten injured. I needed to channel my inner cowboy. This was my journey now.I had chosen it; and I had just as much a chance of finding peace in these revised circumstances as I did when my trek first began. I was going to make it back to Vegas. I was going home…and the universe was going to help me.
Just then a total stranger in a white pick-up truck rolled slowly around a bend in the road that met the trailhead to which I had managed hike. I fixed my gaze on the driver through his lightly tinted windshield and commanded him to stop with my thoughts. It worked! All I needed to do was convince him that I needed a ride.