Dubois, Wyoming is a small cowboy town caught between two of the wildest mountain ranges in the lower 48 states – the Wind River Range to the south, and the Absaroka Range to the north. At one time, this town was going to be named “Never Sweat” perhaps for the rule that a true cowboy never sweats, or, more accurately, never admits it to a lady. Home to a few bars and the best thrift shop in western Wyoming, aptly named the “Opportunity Shop,” it was also where I met my slightly dusty, yet strong dad, just in time for a whiskey drink and a quick turn around to hit the trail.
I got the call early that first morning – dad was heading out a day early from the Wind River Range, after hiking all night because of snow. I rallied my adventurous friend Janine, who is up for anything on a last minute’s notice and was conveniently on a break from teaching students in the wilderness. What better way to spend time with my dad walking 25+ miles a day through the most remote corner of the lower 48 states – the Thoroughfare of Yellowstone National Park?
Known to be the furthest distance from a road in the lower 48 states in any direction – 25 miles give or take a few logging road miles, this part of Yellowstone National Park is rugged, lined by huge peaks more than 11,000 feet in height, home to some of highest concentrations of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, not to mention wolves, weasels, and all the creatures and their habitats that make any wildlife biologist giddy with wandering wonder.
The hiking is relatively easy given the remote nature of the landscape, and remnant damage to the forest from the 1988 fires in Yellowstone that can be seen everywhere. About 40 miles into our hike, we came to a creek that was flowing from a sub alpine meadow into two distinct creeks – “Pacific Creek” and “Atlantic Creek” at a place on the map called “The Parting of the Waters.” This specific spot holds waterways that split from the high mountains and flow both east and west, towards the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which is the true definition of the Continental Divide. My dad had walked almost 2000 miles across the Continental Divide at this point, and he had yet to see another spot such as this one, so we took a moment to take photos of him with his feet in the headwaters of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
We also crossed the headwaters of the Snake River, which flows west to the Pacific Ocean, more than 1000 miles from its headwaters in Yellowstone National Park. It is the largest tributary of the Columbia River system and rivers such as the Salmon River, which is one of the largest wild and scenic rivers in the United States.
My dad is over 2,000 miles into his journey along the Continental Divide Trail. He has a rhythm in the way he moves throughout a day. He is strong, happy, and humble. I have so many questions for him, what is he thinking about, what are the other thru-hikers like, what has been the highlight, what is hard about the journey, etc. I think he was happy for the company over this 110 mile section through Yellowstone National Park. Days are long and lots of walking, with no down time other than occasional breaks to snack and sleep. As usual, my feet looked worse than his, even though I only hiked 110 miles of his 2,000 mile journey with him.
The hiking was fast, with a great side bushwhack to a wonderful waterfall with a deep chasm, a quick view of a too close grizzly bear, lots of laughter, and of course, a little Montana moonshine to celebrate the passing of each day.
Perhaps the biggest treat of the landscape was four days of full moon light each night in the mountains.
The journey of the last few months for my dad has been one for our whole family. In the 110 miles I walked with my dad through burned Yellowstone forest, across high alpine plateaus, and in the quiet solitude that we share as father and daughter, I realized my parents gave me the two greatest gifts possible – my dad taught me to chase my dreams, whatever they may be and wherever they may take me. My mom gave me my first journal when I was seven years and told me to chase my dreams, then write about the adventures. So, here is what I wrote about the time with my dad on the trail in Yellowstone:
“I ask dad, ‘What’s next after this dad? After this grand adventure?’ He calmly responds, ‘Nat, I needed this adventure, to help me move into the next phase of life – getting older. Getting older will be an adventure, and I am excited about it, I just had one thing on my bucket list. This is it. After this, I have nothing left on my list, and I am ready to grow older.’ I run to keep up with him, his strong steps, his happy heart, his laugh and smile that matches any half his age on the trail. And I am happy to follow his footsteps, as I have done since I could walk.”
My dad keeps walking now into Montana. With any luck, I will get to see him once a week for the next month. Funny that my parents have to walk across the country so that I can have dinner with them once a week, but then again, Dawson’s have never done anything the easy way, and stubbornly, we each have to do it our OWN way. In a few weeks, my mom and I hope to walk the last 100 miles through Glacier National Park and to the Canadian border with dad. I will probably bring him some cookies.