Hi all, writing today from lovely Lander, WY, where I will be taking a few days off to reconnect with Kate when she gets here on the 4th. The town isn't one often frequented by thru hikers, as there are several other, more conveniently located resupply options, but given its size and relative nearness to a bunch of activities, it seems like a good place to spend the holiday, particularly with several cheap lodgings available. The trail itself passes through South Pass City ("city" being a very loose term out here), which is actually a preserved historic mining town complete with log cabins, gold panning demonstrations, small exhibits, and a general store, but no place to actually stay. It also runs concurrent with the Oregon Trail through the area, which is a neat little bit of history to be a part of, but it does raise concerns about my oxen dying of rattlesnake bites, or Mary getting typhoid again (who says video gamjes can't be educational?).
This last stretch was one of the more psychologically challenging areas I have encountered so far, on any trail. The trek across the Great Divide Basin, which is thankfully over and done with having crossed South Pass, was a long, dry, hot, and flat one (though not also crowded; sorry Friedman). The trail mainly follows dirt roads or buried pipelines the enitre way, which can seem to stretch for endless miles straight across a relatively featureless savannah of scrub grass and sagebrush. While this makes for fast hiking and big mileage, the hours seem to drag by as that hill on the horizon just... won't... get... any... closer. You know when you are in trouble when you can literally see the next 15 hours of your life traced out as a line receding into the distance.
The mind can do wierd things in an environment like that, particularly when there is no tangible peak to set as a goal; the only motivations to keep pushing are mental and invisible -- the promise of a spring in several hours time, or the though of reaching an arbitrary border. The body, however, doesn't always do so well with such distant promises, often resulting in an antagonistic dialogue between my brain and the thing it supposedly controls. When anywhere is as good a place to stop and rest as the next, why keep walking? Because I told you to, Feet, thats why.
Thats not to say the area wasn't without its moments. The huge skies this area is know for didn't disappoint when it came time for the sun to rise and set, particularly when colored by smoke from (yet more) wildfires on the western horizon. Thankfully these are once again distant enough not to be a worry, but the threat is always there; I should be out of the perpetually fire ban once I get to Idaho and into slightly wetter climes. Ironically, the highly flammable shrubland does have a nice velvety glow to it at magic hour... until one realizes there is no place to actually camp in it. When the trail does climb high enough to get a sense of the surroundings though, one can't help but feel the vastness of the place, and wonder at how continued exposure to its light and space must have affected the settlers who traveled across here. The ocassional cabin or RV parked in the few year round stream beds attests to the fact that some do find this place hospitable.
The wildlife in the area, though not so varied as before, does at least provided some entertainment as well, as innumerable pronghorn antelope could be seen racing in small groups everywhere thanks to the incredible sight distances (btw, a baby antelope would make a great Christmas present... just saying). Lastly, the sparseness and scarcity of...well, just about everything in the region makes one appeciate it all the much more. The shade provided by that one tree can seem a huge blessing. The fleeting breeze can be a godsend. And finally reaching that one flowing, non-cow-contaminated water source after 28 miles of trudging? Forgetaboutit.
Clearly, 5 days of desert is enough to get my brain pretty chatty, but its time to go plan some activities for the next few days. It will be good to have some rest as the next section through the Wind River Range is supposedly one of the hardest, most rugged, isolated and beautiful on the trail. I am looking forward to reaching Yellowstone and the last leg of the journey, but for the meantime viva Lander. The trail will still be there in a few days, and who knows, I might even finally meet some other thru hikers if they catch up! Talk to you later.