Alone in the Dark

For a closet introvert who can fake the opposite on command, time alone is like being plugged into a battery charger.

If only I had a USB port at the back of my neck. Then I wouldn't need to disappear for hours at a time to replenish what the real world drains (on second thought, when that port is invented, please pass me by--I'm not interested).

While "alone time" is necessary for a guy like me, there are times when a friendly voice is appreciated. As I hiked on blistered feet out of the Yellowstone backcountry, racing the sunset and losing miserably, I would have loved a reassuring voice, if for nothing else than to have a little conversation to discourage the park's grizzlies from getting the wrong idea.

A casualty of the 1988 Yellowstone fires.

I stayed and fished at my destination too long. I took an inexplicable wrong turn down a spur trail that likely cost me two miles. And, despite my belief to the contrary, I didn't pack a headlamp. As the sun set over the skeletal lodgepole trunks left over from the fires of 1988, I knew I was going to have to hump it to make the trailhead before the light gave out entirely. In the distance, the bugle of a rutting bull elk was countered by the mournful howl of a wolf. Soon, other big canines joined in and the elk, wisely, ceased his call. Off in the trees in the half-light of deep dusk, something big stepped on crunchy ground and moved away from the sound of my footsteps on the trail.

As I walked the last mile and a half while holding the LCD screen of my digital camera out in front of me for just an inkling of light, I knew that being alone--while therapeutic and ultimately healthful--was pretty risky. Thankfully, I'd managed to navigate the "moderate" portion of the hike in the failing light of day. The home stretch is pretty flat and unremarkable, although I still stumbled a few times before I made it to the truck.

After a sans socks summer of sandals, my feet rebelled at the notion of my hiking boots. Six miles into a 12-mile round-tripper, I knew I might be in trouble. By the the time the hike mercifully ended, I was sporting ripe blisters on both pinky toes and my feet were ... hot.

After I dumped my pack and my rod case in the back, I climbed thankfully into the driver's seat of the FJ Cruiser. I'd stashed a turkey sandwich, a liter of water and a couple of apples in a brown paper bag under the passenger seat, and all were gone within minutes.

Lake trout in the shallows. Worth the risk.

The chill that comes with sunset in Yellowstone started to set in over the last half of the hike out, but I was prepared for it with layers and, of course, a cardiovascular counterweight to autumn's chill--six miles up and over a ridge or two at about 7,000 feet will keep anyone's blood pumping. As I sat in the car, relieved and a little regretful that I couldn't fish a bit longer in this amazing place, I began to feel the night settle in around me. It was a cavalier move--hiking all that way and staying too long... alone.

Not my best work.

But a tight fly line and the rare chance to connect with fish that only visit the shallows at certain times of the year inspired this adventure, and this was the day I'd set aside for it. Lake trout on the fly. Beefy, fish-eating char with appetites so voracious, they can wipe out indigenous fish and then turn on each other for sustenance.

No regrets. None.

And the battery is replenished. No USB required.


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