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BOWEN COLUMN: Lost in Yellowstone (Part 11)

There it stood! Perhaps it was just the Lord’s reminder for us to absorb all the good things around us, not just the ominous.

We hadn’t gone a hundred yards toward the river that Wednesday morning until an elk — Todd says its rack at least a 5 x 5 and maybe 7 x 7 — came out into a wide opening in the woods and posed for us there in the field. It just stood there in the middle of the field, majestically, looking at us for several moments, as curious about us and we were about him. He was far more majestic, though. It was one of the most beautiful sights I would see, with another awaiting a little more than a day ahead.

After a few moments, the elk with that massive rack hovering two feet over his head dashed into the forest for safely; and Todd and I appreciated its beauty for a moment longer before we hiked on toward the river we could hear flowing half a mile from our campsite. At the river, we turned and made our way northward. We had not gone far until I motioned to Todd for us to stop again, and I wrote another note, thinking that it was more likely someone would come across a note at the river than deep down that dark trail where we had camped. I was shocked later to find that both notes were found within a couple of days, which created a stir ‘on land,’ both for our wives but also for our original hiking buddies Randy and Roy who were waiting for us outside of Yellowstone. I had felt sure that by the time they were found that either we would have found the trail and made contact with our families — thus no alarm when they called our wives at home — or we would be lost and those notes would point the way for searchers. My plan there only worked partially, because the Hogans, whom we had met Tuesday, were contacting the amazin’ blonde about this same time on this Wednesday — thus the creation of some degree of panic at home had already begun, something we would learn much later.

Knowing we were lost and completely at the Lord’s mercy of finding any kind of a trail now, I made a decision for Todd and me. I had already decided that I was going to be more proactive in regard to pushing our way along regardless of whether we were lost or found. I told Todd he needed to go on ahead and try to find a trail or find help. His hanging back with me was only going to slow the progress and lessen our chances of getting out of there before nightfall. I assured him that I would be easy to find if anything happened, that I would stay on the river, heading north.

We had a prayer together by the edge of that calming river, and I bid Todd Godspeed. One of the great things about our trip was our daily prayers, not only at the meals (such as they were, mainly a bite or two out of a protein bar) but numerous times along the way. I usually said the prayers, I guess thinking that that would be my contribution to our team, if nothing else. And Todd seemed to want me to pray and waited for me whenever the time came. It is an amazing thing to consider, but for a forty-eight-hour period it was just Todd and me, and the Lord.

When you really think about that, it’s sobering. We had no way to talk to or hear from anybody in the world for two long, hard days — except the Lord.

But when the Lord is there, you are always in the majority. You understand.

With the A-men said, Todd was on his long journey north, up the river, with my blessings. I say it that way because many question the decision to separate. We considered both ways. I know far too well that, on my part, that the judgment — or lack thereof — in taking on this mammoth of a hike unprepared was questionable, obviously. But by the fourth day of this great challenge, we were all using the best judgment we could in making sure we would survive. We needed to find a trail, and our chances of doing that were far greater with Todd’s going ahead and scouting out the region. His physical stamina had been amazing (something I still marvel at), and I trusted his judgment completely. I probably still do not understand his own sense of personal responsibility in trying to forge ahead but still make sure he got back to make sure we were both safe. I think he carried a much heavier burden than I realized. I tried to lighten that for him, if nothing else in assuring him that the decision for him to go on was mine. And as I think of it, Randy and Roy back outside the park were carrying some heavy burdens on our behalf, too.

No man travels a trail alone.

As Todd made his way up the trail on the bank of the river, I do remember thinking that I did not expect to see Todd any time soon; and I felt that there was a really good chance that night would fall and I would still be on that river. For some reason, I think I fully expected that and prepared myself mentally for it. When night came, my plan was to sleep on one of the rocky islands that separated the river numerous times as it flowed southward.

I had made another decision that morning, quietly and privately.

I told myself that — whatever happens — I was going to enjoy this adventure from this point on.

I was especially going to enjoy the river. I always felt we were safe there, regardless of what other situations we were in. I decided that on this day — still early Wednesday morning — that it was very important to try to renew myself both physically and spiritually. Regardless of what lay ahead, that renewal would serve us both well. Best-case scenario, I knew, was that we would find the trail but still have to hike some twenty-plus miles to get out of this wilderness.

There was a worse case, too, but we would wade down that stream if we came to it.

It wasn’t long before Todd was out of sight around a bend, and I was alone on Snake River. I walked on through the water, slowly, for a good while until finally I splashed my way to the bank on the west side. There I found a cool, shaded spot, took off my backpack, and rested. It was the first nap I had on this trip, some of the best rest I had had. I slept until the sun began coming out from behind the trees — I do not know how long it was, probably as long as thirty minutes — but the sun’s shining on me shortened the nap and alerted me that it was time to move on. But before I went back into the water to walk, since I would do no hiking in the high weeds of the riverbank, I pulled out my papers and began writing notes describing how things stood.

There is irony regarding the paper I had packed in my backpack. I knew I wanted to write along the way as we set off on the journey. Maybe I would have a book in me, I thought. Of course, no one could have known just how much of a book there would be in me after it all. Not wanting to be laden down with a spiral notebook, I had made a copy of a sermon by the world-renowned preacher Charles Spurgeon to read on my trip, about five or six pages. All of the journal notes I wrote, along with the two notes I left asking for help, were written on the back side of that sermon.

I still haven’t gotten back to read that sermon; but I can say that I have lived it, more than I ever knew I could.

It was called, “The secret power in prayer.”

We would call on that secret power many, many times.