It’s December, two months after Sarah’s and my llama trek or, as I dub it, our “Home Country Walk-About Around the Heart of Wild Idaho”. We’re beyond the immediate impact of the journey upon us, had time to reflect upon its values. I identify the gold nuggets that washed out of the experience for me in the Synopsis and, in the Acknowledgements, appreciate the folks who supported our journey, the storytellers who publicized it and the donors who contributed to a major goal of the trek – drumming up support for a new generation of leaders, young women and men for whom doing their own wild miles helps to define their values and vision, inspires them to build peaceful, inclusive communities world-wide whose economic development is in balance with the resources and gifts of the natural world. Go to http://fellows.wildgift.org for their individual stories and work.
Why did you do this; why such a long trek at your age? Did you do the entire route that Bob mapped? All 500 miles and 81 days?? If not, what happened and how much did you do? What are the best and worst things that happened? Did you and the llamas make it without injury? What would you recommend to trekkers who followed your trail? To seniors of your age and older? What were the relationship challenges between you and with the llamas? Tell us about the llamas and from whom you rented them. Did anyone accompany you for any part of the trail? How did everyone get along with the llamas? What’s the difference between friends and family joining you and being alone? Who helped support your trek? How many resupplies? What about wildlife; what did you see and experience? Will you keep trekking into the wild and use llamas again? What’s come down for you both about this journey? How many dollars did you raise for Wild Gift?
These are the questions four Idaho journalists and Idaho Public TV’s Outdoor Idaho film crew asked. You can view/read their stories at the following links:
Idaho Public TV’s Outdoor Idaho Film “Into the Pioneers” aired December 3rd on Public TV and can be watched at:
http://www.pbs.org/video/into-the-pioneers-a3o4gf (minutes 8 -16)
Idaho Statesman – Boise. “A wild and wooly trek” by Cindy Chojnacky
Times News – Twin Falls. “An 80-day hike with llamas” by Karen Bossick
Idaho Mountain Express – Ketchum “Couple completes marathon wilderness trek” by Greg Moore.
The Weekly Sun – Hailey “500 Miles Through Idaho Wilderness With Llamas” by Jennifer Holly-Smith
https://issuu.com/theweeklypaper/docs/binder6_f4525f0907ef16 Page 6
O.K. between Sarah’s and my on-trail reflections posted on the Wild Miles blog site and the journalist stories identified in the above links, the reader gets the whole picture of our trek. In this Synopsis I answer the question “What’s come down for me about this journey?” All journeys are about relationship. I conceived this trek to celebrate my home country, 75 years on Earth and Sarah’s and my partnership. At the time, I thought less of the llamas however they were instrumental to the success of the journey and at our side every day. So, the major relationships of our journey were with Wild Nature, between Sarah and me, the llamas and with self.
The Llamas: These guys – and they were all guys - were true soldiers. They carried on with their charge as faithful and dependable pack animals whatever the load and natural challenge and whoever the human handlers. During the 6 legs of the journey we had the pleasure of working with 12 different animals, albeit two, Bono and Johnnie, were our packing companions most of the way i.e. 50 days plus. I was amazed at how unflappable and task oriented they were. Dependable, steady. As Sarah characterized them – no drama llamas. A cozy relationship, nuzzling-up for an ear scratch on trail or coming to our camp circle at the end of a long day for more affection, did not happen. Aloof is the word I kept using. Even Bono, the world-class pack llama I revered and led most of the trek never approached me as friend. I felt an attitude “let’s get up the trail; get the job done”. I let it go, respected his stoicism, fortitude and skill, but wondered, “Is Bono reflecting my own vibes?” One burst of llama emotion we witnessed made clear that I could spend more time grooming a close relationship and had a lot to learn. It happened at Heather’s ranch after we trailed out of the Middle Fork country via the Big Horn Crags.
When we arrived at her ranch, Heather, who had never worked with llamas, laid hands all over Bono and Johnnie feeling their body parts and energy, then proclaimed they really needed a rest. Further, insisted upon taking off their halters. When she did that, the guys exploded in a joyous romp of happiness. Sprung like pogo-bounding deer all around the corral, leaped up on their hind legs, rolled in the dirt, wiggled through tall sagebrush, tossing their heads to and fro. I was ecstatic for them. Wow! What I didn’t know about these guys. Five days later they were reluctant to give up their freedom. Bono, especially, required six people to corral and get his halter back on. I whispered to myself “Thata’ boy, Bono, thanks for showing me your heart. Sorry, I’ll be saddling you again for trail work when you’d rather run wild.” I was closer than ever with him. Sarah was close from the beginning of our trek, spent far more energy worrying about the llamas’ welfare than I. The fact we suffered no llama injuries or ‘rodeos’ during the entire trek can be attributed more to Sarah’s close attention and vigilance than mine. It became my joke about who, among her trailmates, got the most attention.
Wild Nature: Our Home Country. We walked through the contiguous mountain ranges of the Smoky, Sawtooth, Middle Fork of the Salmon River, White Cloud/Boulder/Jerry Peak and the Pioneer in a grand horseshoe-shaped loop starting at the edge of the Snake River Plain near Shoshone Ice Caves and ending on the Plain at Craters of the Moon National Monument. The feeling that howled inside me upon reaching the Craters was boundless gratitude. Felt so fortunate to live and play on Earth in such a spectacular place. Feel damn-right lucky that I grew up in a landscape where, 70 years after my first exploration of this country as a feral child, I can still walk out my backdoor onto public lands where the wild roams, be able to keep walking for months, loop through six mountain ranges and their distinct watersheds. Still discover corners I’ve not explored. Know that my daughter and other children in my family tree and all future generations will be able to experience what I did because this imposing wilderness is public land, a majority of it protected under the Wilderness Act of 1964. For the love of Home Country, thank you Great Spirit for the confluence of fortunes that I’ve been raised and continue to be nurtured by such a grand wildness!
Between Sarah and Myself. What I’ve said about home country is a metaphor for my relationship with my partner Sarah Michael. We were romantically involved when we did a two-year self-powered trek around Wild Alaska, a journey together that truly revealed who we are as individuals and would be in a lasting partnership. Twenty-one years later the bond in our relationship is still held firm by doing annual trails into the wild. There’s the beauty and wonder, the power and mystery that transfixes; the health and spirit Nature provides. However, it’s Nature’s challenge that’s revealing. When She taxes us, kicks our ass, challenges our passage. When the mortal she tweaks comes out of its personal cover and begins barking. When getting to the other side of strained emotion and danger is imperative. That trial, and it’s a trial, builds bonds or shreds them. It’s not at all strange that through human history survival scenarios and fear has bound community and lovers. Or separated them.
Sarah left our wilderness trek twice in Alaska, but returned and finished the journey with renewed heart and vigor. During our Idaho trek, Sarah also left the trail twice, but did not return after leaving the White Cloud leg except to do the Outdoor Idaho vignette in the Pioneer. Continuing through the Pioneers became anti-climatic for her. We’d done the tough part of the route with llamas the year before and her soreness from bruises continued to nag. As she admitted in the blog, when the trail challenges and fatigue persists, her patience and enjoyment drains. Early in the second Sawtooth trek, my own patience drained listening to her broadsides about how tired the llamas were and that we should turn back. I confronted her, “Leave, I’m not holding you. Don’t do this if you don’t want to. Me and the guys will be fine alone.” But Sarah can quickly place a mirror in front of self and see clearly. She realized that her exaggerated concern about the llamas reflected her own trail weariness. She replied with a genuine honesty, apologized for being such a drag and expressed the desire to continue together. There was a lighter step and recaptured joy on the rest of this Sawtooth trail. It melts me and is a hallmark of our relationship – forgive, forget, move on. We both engage this way, never letting a scar develop. Below are two portraits taken at a favorite camp. Still, it was not the same as in Alaska. What has changed is our own selves.
Between my selves: All life on this planet has life stages; changes into new beings in the journeys between birth and death. Babes, kids, adults, middle age, old age. Sometimes, in dealing with where I am now, I think of insects. Yes, insects. I’ve entered old age. Even though I’ve had the advantage of dealing happily with the death question it does not matter. Old age sucks. Body parts rust and dry out. Libido wanes. Resiliency and strength ebb. One shrinks, warps. It’s a reality that flagellates spirit. A changeling I’d rather not be. Insects do it the other way around. In their end, the most magnificent being emerges, a butterfly or another damsel of delicate wing wheels in the sun’s rays and procreates in the glory of a single summer season or day. Drops dead. Wondrous. Poetic. I told my daughter, if for any reason that I died on this trail that would be just fine. I’m out there where I’ve thrived in all of my beings.
What I really had in mind when concocting this wilderness trek was a Thoreauvian existence. Let the day lead me by the hand, beholding to and fascinated by nothing other than the beauty and miracles of Nature. Remain gaping the entire trek; be driven out of the mountains only when the new winter iced the land for certain. But Thoreau circled a pond, lived alone in a sheltering cabin on its shore and could walk to a near-by town in less than an hour. Probably seldom stubbed his toe and was never wasted by hunger and physical rigor. He was a contemplative man who did not explore West, but chose to focus on the unappreciated wonders in his backyard and coupled them with the universe. He slipped into divine muse and had the energy to stay put.
Continually walking through a big wild each day as an elder person screws such focus. I tired and lamented the loss of desire. Yes, I would have preferred to be alone from day one to the end of the trek. Move along the trail gawking; follow a bear another day or wait an entire day for the rattlesnake’s portrait. Fish from dawn to dusk for cutthroat. Watch the day sky and insects in their last hurrah. Make notes in my journal. Be fast with my greatest love and no one else. Not be tied to a schedule of resupply and meeting folks joining our trails. Live off the land if I missed a resupply; suck up my gut to my backbone for a few days if necessary. So, I was dishonest with myself from the beginning.
Why this admission? We all know that not being true to our heart affects relationship. I am no longer the patient mountain guide, am less sensitive of another’s need and inside self more, stepping away from conversations. My attention strayed in company. That behavior is not endearing, but that’s what happened. I was there, but not always there. Alone with Sarah during most of the journey, my tongue could be as sharp as hers. I did not tango. I often slipped away from our camp alone to watch and photograph the world.
I’m certain that I will never obligate myself to a schedule on a long trail again. Nature often surprises, forces alternative routes and mindsets, something I learned long ago. It’s why we were alone most of the Alaska trek and I traveled solo during one leg. Yet, I will always be about sharing Nature’s wonder. I wanted to celebrate home country with Sarah and family and friends during our trek. There will always be family and friends who join some of our trails and we will join some of theirs. And I will have my Thoreauvian time. I’m enamored of that image, a butterfly floating into the dusk.
One last thing. How many miles did we actually do? How many days? Aaaah… really, it’s all about beginning and ending the journey well no matter the miles, days or disruptions. I was going to subtract miles from the original itinerary when we were forced to turn back or reroute because of downed timber, wildfire, mountain passes blocked by deep snow in July and snowstorms in late September. Add the miles when backtracking, scouting and doing alternative routes. Add the miles in the Smoky, Sawtooth and Middle Fork of the Salmon during late June when Sarah and I scouted pieces of the original itinerary to ascertain the impact of the huge winter snowpack. What we discovered forced a revised itinerary from the very beginning of the trek. I’m sticking with 500 miles. Days out there? We started July 5th and I ended Oct 1st. We snuck into town for 3 days to shuffle our duffle for the White Cloud/Boulder and Pioneer legs and one day before the Outdoor Idaho shoot. I was flushed out of the Pioneer high range by mid/late September snow-storms and rested four days at home before finishing the last piece of the route - without llamas and alone. 80 days.
Thanks Wild Miles Supporters! You have delivered a total of $19,725 on your pledges to support the work of Wild Gift’s leaders and honor the completion of Sarah’s and my llama trek.
$1,000 - $5,000: Ann Down, Karen Griffin, Charlotte Unger, Judith & Michael Myers, Reuben Perin
$900: Jim & Becky Morgan, Morgan Family Foundation.
$250- $500: Bob & Barbara Grabowski, Monica Samec, Cristina Harmon, Sarah Woodward, Scott Carlin, Marcia Liebich, Ginger Harmon, Chuck & Christina Holloway, Peter Michael, Edward Michael, Byron Blevins, Anne Geraghty, Susan Scovell, Diane & Daniel O’Connell, Marcia Green, Joann Boswell, Jo Lowe
$50 - $100: Lisa Curtis, Ann Christensen, Marcia Grabow, Mary Houghteling, Center for Mindful Work, Stephen Collins, Priscilla Pittiglio, Robert Kahn, Jan Wellik, Susan Passovoy, Debbie Tucker, Chris Howell, Clifford Wright, Peggy Grove, Jim Finch & Kathy Rivers, Doris Byerly/Byerly Family Trust, Louise & Jay Noyes, Angela Borup, Smiley Creek Lodge, Mo Jenner, Sarah Bessera, Mark & Margaret Stewart, William Pryor, Patricia Klahr, Beatrice Bowles
If you would like to contribute to Wild Miles, you may send your check to Wild Gift c/o Bob Jonas & Sarah Michael, Box 3060, Sun Valley, ID 83353.
Wild Miles is more than a Bob & Sarah campaign to raise money for Wild Gift’s leaders. Wild Miles are integral to Wild Gift’s programs – its new leader class and alumni network. The new leader class program is 16 months duration. During a 20-day deep wilderness backpack trek in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains each new class of leaders is charged with defining their personal and project visions to be in accord thence relate to project deliverables each quarter that ensure a successful work year. After their project year, the class returns to the Idaho wild, this time for a weeklong synergy float on the Main or Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Alumni and Wild Gift supporters join the float, rap about continuing success for the new class and deepen friendship.
Lotsa’ firsts this year at Wild Gift: The first All-Alumni Board is charting Wild Gift’s future. The 2018/19 new leader class will be the first recruited under their direction. They’ve hired their first staff member, also an Alumnus, as the organization’s new Development Director. They’re working to promote more impact within the Alumni Network. The Board has identified wilderness time as the most unique and important curricula element of its leader programs. Wilderness trails are the glue that bond new recruits and Alumni alike. As such, alumni participate in both the new class’ deep wilderness initiation trek and its wilderness synergy trek. They organize wilderness retreats for the Board and Alumni Network. As individuals, they carve their own wilderness trails out of their busy lives. A portfolio of some Wild Gift leaders doing Wild Miles is included here.
Please review the Alumni Board’s first Annual Report about Wild Gift’s continuing success and worldwide impact at:
Who were the supporting cast for our trek?
We rented our llama companions from Beau and Kirsten Baty, owners of and trainer/breeders at www.wildernessridgetraillamas.com it’s been a great pleasure to work with Beau and Kirsten. They’re destined to be the llama king and queen of the West. Here’s a pitch from their Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas website:
“Our Classic Ccara pack llamas are bigger, stronger, go further, and pack more. They are gentle, great with kids & pets alike. The Perfect Hiking buddies. • Llama Rentals- We provide everything you need. Take our llamas & choose your own adventure! • Llama Clinics- learn how to pack with llamas and see if it is for you. • Fully Outfitted Summer Trips: Guides, Food, Shelter, Gear, Swag - EVERYTHING is provided!”
We heartily recommend Beau and Kirsten’s llamas and their operation. We’ll be using their llamas on a trip every summer. We look forward to growing our relationship and learning more about their wonderful animals. Special thanks to their partner, Program Manager and guide Dennis Duenas. Dennis accompanied us the entire 10 days of the Smoky Mountains trail, the first leg of the trek. His guidance relative to handling, saddling, packing and medical care of the llamas was invaluable. We did not suffer a single llama injury the entire trek. And, Dennis was one helluva’ fine trail companion whether sharing his packing skill and llama wisdom in his laid-back style, spinning a tale or surprising us with a gourmet elk stroganoff.
Thanks to Frank & Sue Rowland, Andy Munter & Janet Kellam, Mark & Margaret Stewart and family members Nina Jonas & Andreas Heaphy and John & Pam Jonas who insured that are resupplies were delivered – 10 total - and were there for us when we had to change the game plan. In the latter regard, a special thanks to Andy, owner of Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum www.backwoodsmountainsports.com who picked us up when we had to backtrack in the Middle Fork of the Salmon country and delivered us to a new trailhead, a long drive in rough country. Andy was also the liaison with Shannon Orr. Many thanks to Shannon whose horse trailer we borrowed 4 times to transport llamas relative to the re-route scenario and llama deliveries to outfitter, Wilderness Ridge Trail Llamas. We were finally ‘burned-out’ of the Middle Fork- by a wildfire that blocked our planned exit route and from being fatigued after days in a purgatory setting – constant wildfire smoke, red sunsets and sunrises, mile upon mile of dead, burnt forest. To our rescue came Heather Mack, a holistic equine vet and horse whisperer www.balancedequinewellness.com. She did a bitch of a drive on a winding backcountry road to fetch us at the Big Horn Crags trailhead. We drove back to her ranch on the East Fork of the Salmon River for a five-day rest. The ranch is a wilderness oasis and was a resupply stop for our trek. We witnessed, with her husband Ron, the amazing Solar Eclipse - two minutes of totality - on what we all christened ‘Eclipse Mesa’ high above the ranch.
Thanks to Forest Service Wilderness Rangers Jay Hammer and Lisa Dean and FS trail crew leader Patrick Brown who informed us about current trail conditions and wildfire.
Wild Gift leaders Lisa Curtis (kulikulifoods.com) and Spencer Brendel (playhardgiveback.com) contributed there hearty and natural energy foods for our trek. Lisa works with rural famers across West Africa and South America, especially women, in sourcing her foods. Besides their food product, Spencer’s company unites pro athlete to give back globally and within their own community.
Sarah told most of the running story while on trek, which she streamed to the outside via our digital connections to Wild Trails blog manager, Pete Land. Pete, the very first Wild Gift leader recruited back in 2002, posted the trail story to our blog. Tamarack Media Cooperative (tamarackmedia.com), an environmental messaging company Pete and a friend founded 15 years ago, continues to thrive. Pete and his young family housesat our home in Ketchum for the first two legs of our trek. He saw us off at the beginning and connected again at trailheads in the Smoky and Sawtooth. Thank you buddy!
Who joined us on the trek?
Sarah and I were alone for the biggest chunk of the trek, the Middle Fork of the Salmon River country, aka “The Frank” (Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness) and again for the return trip to the Sawtooth when wildfire chased us out of the Frank.
Walt and AK Minnick joined the Smoky trail at mid-point. We’ve shared many memorable backcountry hut and wilderness ski, river and backpack trips. Often with our kids. Walt has also notched 75 years of wild trails and at nightfall makes damn sure there are proper libations to celebrate the daily wonder and adventure. His patented ‘Rocket Fuel’ raises eyebrows among his senior pals now, but never the fine Port. My niece Amy’s husband John Benson and his 9- year old son Jonas plus newcomer Louise Noyes joined us in the Sawtooth. It was Jonas’ first long trail. We all marveled at his strength and gusto whether backpacking more on his 49-pound frame than the 20% of body weight rule or leading llamas. The kid is destined to be a backcountry wild man. My daughter Nina joined me for the three-day trail in the far North corner of the Sawtooth. We were alone, something I relish given her busy life as a Ketchum restaurateur and its mayor. Nina was imprinted with the wild as an infant and small child in her home country. Louise came back for the White Cloud leg plus new friends Charlotte Unger and Reuben Perin. Louise and Charlotte, on the backside of their sixties, and Reuben, just cracked 80, are elder wonderkind when it comes to racking-up wild miles in home country and world-wide. When you’re fleet and focused on the next horizon, slowing down to llama-time was a new challenge but the trio mastered llama packing and their character - like it or not. Birgitta Lamb joined me on the first leg of the Pioneer trail. Husband Frank, friend Mark Stewart and Sarah saw us off after we all enjoyed two days together with the Outdoor Idaho film crew. As with the Minnicks, we have enjoyed many wild trails with the Lambs and Mark and his wife Margaret.
Thanks to Cindy, Karen, Greg and Jennifer and the respective newspapers for publishing their stories. In July 2016, Sarah and I, with llamas, passed Cindy and her husband Dave on a 10,000 foot pass in the Pioneers. Due to extenuating circumstances, we did not stop to get acquainted, but have since. At the time, they were doing a 30-day, 275-mile backpack trip from their Hailey home to the Big Horn Crags. Wilderness backpackers for over 40 years, they share their love and activism for wild places at www.wildernessneed.org . No one covers the Sun Valley Beat –happenings, people and environment - better than Karen Bossick. She came to the field to see us off, jogging between llamas and human characters for the next several hours as we moved up the trail. She is the indefatigable, ever present journalist on the Valley scene, scribbling intelligible notes (remarkably so) as she engages you eye to eye while probing all your personal spaces for motivation about why you’re doing what you do. Checkout her Sun Valley blog “Eye on Sun Valley” eyeonsunvalley.com if you want to know all that happens in Sun Valley.
Sarah and I had the great pleasure of getting to know the host/writer/producer/crew of Idaho Public TV’s Outdoor Idaho show when they were collecting material for a clip on our llama trek, part of their latest film “Into the Pioneers”. Thank you Bruce Reichert, Peter Morrill and Jay Krajic. The artistry and love you guys have devoted to the creation of your wonderful films for 35 years have inspired legions – young and old alike. They are must-see stories for anyone who wants to know and travel Idaho’s exceptional Wild Nature. Outdoor Idaho’s film library includes several films depicting the country we trekked – the Sawtooth, Middle Fork of the Salmon, Big Horn Crags and the newest US treasures – the wildernesses of the White Cloud, Boulder, Jerry and Herd Peak.