It was the summer of Woodstock, and Henry and Patsy were going. They asked Sheila and me to go but we heard the weather was going to be shitty. We decided to hop in the Pontiac with Woody and Ken and Lynn and go camping out west to Yellowstone.
We stopped in Russell, Kansas to see Sheila's grandma: bummer. She made us watch religious stuff on TV. We left the next day for Yellowstone. Stopped in Cody, Wyoming, at the east entrance to the national park for camping supplies. We stocked up and Woody bought a pair of cowboy boots.
Woody said, "They're kind of tight, man."
The salesman said, "You gotta wear them every day, they'll break in." Right on, brother.
We got a map of the park and decided to hike into a lake that was 2.5 miles from the road. 2.5 miles ain't much, right?
It took three hours to make the trip, climbing over logs and shit with the packs on our backs. Woody still had his new boots on. When we got to the lake Woody pulled his boots off. His feet had blisters on them each the size of a half dollar.
Ken and I had to make one more trip to get everything we needed to stay for three days. When we got back, Woody was out in the water with his boots on, fishing.
"Man does this cold water feel good on my feet!"
I joined him in the water and we started catching fish with our fly rod.
Woody said, "I think these are trout, but they got scales, and look at those dorsal fins."
I said, "Yeah, they got spots like trout but they look funny, dude."
We got out our guidebook that showed what kind of fish you could expect to find in the lakes and rivers of Yellowstone. We were catching Grayling, which used to be native to rivers in Michigan.
We were happy as hell. We felt in touch with the wilderness. The absence of human sounds was awesome, and our ears strained to hear something, anything. The only sounds were loons, squirrels and the grayling breaking the water to nip the flies off the surface.
We cooked some grayling and some dried stuff for dinner. We were all tired from the hike and sat around the fire humbled by the natural beauty all around us.
I got out the pamphlet they gave you when you enter the park. It had all the rules for camping. We knew there were bears in the park and I started reading the rules for camping in primitive camps.
Leave no trace of your stay. Hang food in the tree high enough so that bears or other animals can't get it. Don't take food into your tent. Don't take a woman on her period to a primitive campsite…
"Oh man," Lynn said. "I'm on my period!"
Cold dark fear set in. All we had for protection was a big Bowie knife and the sun was going down. We were freakin’!
We couldn't make it to the road in the dark. We would have to make it through the night. We all started bitchin’ at each other. Lynn yelled at me, "Hey dumbfuck, you're the one who wanted to get back to nature!"
I said, "Don't blame me — you are the one bleeding to death!"
Ken said, "Fuck this, we gotta do something."
He was right — we had to make a plan, any plan.
After we all came down from the rush everyone got quiet and started thinking.
Yeah, right! We were all scared shitless!
Sheila tried to lighten things up. "We can hang Lynn up the tree with the food." Someone came up with the idea to take the fish scraps a couple hundred yards around the lake. Seemed like a good idea so we did it.
We all got in a tent with Lynn in the middle and the Bowie knife out where we could get it. We were quiet as hell but no one slept that night. Every night sound was a bear coming.
"When the morning comes we’ll be gone like a turkey through the corn," I said.
It seemed like forever before the first light stated in the eastern sky.
Ken and I decided to hike out while the rest were packing up and bring back a motorbike to carry some of the heavy shit. Woody’s feet had swollen so bad he couldn't get his boots off. The motorbike was definitely a no-no but we didn't give a shit. We went outside the park and rented one and rode it into the park off the road to the lake.
Two trips and we were out. We headed out the park's western entrance into Idaho. We camped on the Snake River up a small canyon with mountains rising thousands of feet on either side of the river.
The stars at night were brighter than we had ever seen. We sat around the fire and laughed about our little hike and night of terror.
The next day we drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and went to the Million-Dollar Cowboy bar. The bar stools were saddles with spurs for your feet. We were in cowboy Heaven! We thought about Henry and Patsy at Woodstock and heard about it on the radio as we drove through the West. We were smoking pot and listening to radio jams while driving through the most beautiful country in America. It was far out dude!
We went back to A-2 with a different perspective on life. The simple pleasures of going off into the wilderness camping were worth more than the things money could buy.
(Jerry Mitchell is the proprietor of Carmelita’s Southwestern Grille and Restaurant in Calumet, Michigan and author of “One of Mine,” published by Halo Publishing International, from which this is excerpted.)