By: Gary DeBoard
It was a “once in a lifetime” kind of trip. You know- those trips that you’ll spend the rest of your life talking about, re-hashing, and always wishing you could do again. The plan was that 4 bachelors and a rather large dog would rent a van, drive west, and climb mountains. What greater, more Hemingwayesque week could possibly be had among friends? On the highlight reel of the trip, there were 3 pillars that will forever live not only in the annals of our memories, but surely in our children’s memories as well.
The first pillar was the comedy relief. Beside the bachelors there was the dog. This very large dog belonged on a snow covered mountain somewhere far north. But as it happened, he was in our small van. The dog was the curious kind who was by no means self conscious or given to vanity. And I remember that it was the taste of his floating hair in my mouth, the smell of his soured hide in my nose, and the feel of his thick drool on my arm that made me eternally less susceptible to ever own a dog or include it with me in a car. It was a stop in the Badlands of South Dakota that would be an unforgettable catalyst to these feelings. As Grandma’s do, one of ours sent fudge for our long trip. Dog’s are not allowed in the Badlands so he stayed behind as we explored. We came back to find our pan of fudge curiously empty. You see, the dog had helped himself.
Now the drive from the Badlands to Mount Rushmore is not more than 90 minutes. And it took less time than that for us to discover that the fudge had not agreed with the animal. It was the smell first. What could such an oder possibly be? It was unexplainable really until one of us made the truly horrifying discovery of regurgitated peanut butter fudge. Now when you come up the road to Mount Rushmore there is a tight left bend where you can pull off and clearly see the monument for the first time. And it was there where, along with gallon jugs of water we attempted, in vain, to clean up a mess that could never really be cleaned. We endured that odor for the duration of that trip. And for the rest of my life I (and any other occupier of that rented van) will never forget that smell as I gazed up and saw for the first time our presidents etched in stone.
The second and more serious pillar was the Beartooth Mountains. This Montanan gem is one of the most beautiful and serene (mostly) places in the world. The plan was to park at a lonely trailhead, hike up to a mountain lake for the night, and hike even higher the day following. It was mid May, still very much in the winter months at the mountain altitude. The hike up to the lake was breathtaking. Postcard views that engendered larger than life musings. As we reached our destination and set up camp, a storm began to form. A soft wind at first and then not so soft at last. The following morning was overtaken by hike halting rain. Undeterred, the four bachelors pressed on. At some point the air turned cold and the falling rain slowed and turned white. Evidently not only had it had been a difficult winter but we were the first to brave that trail for the season. In many spots it was all but in-passable due the to fallen trees and overgrowth. But we were bachelors, we would not be turned back by the world and it’s road blocks. So we forged on. By the evening, wet snow was falling at a steady pace. So camp was made once more and we huddled around a small fire seeking warmth and dry socks. After a make shift meal, we turned in under a wet and unperceivable sky. The next morning was one of the most interesting juxtapositions of my life. Unzipping the tent we found a world turned white. 10 inches of snow had fallen overnight and it was still falling at a veraciously accumulating pace. Seeing our path permanently block the night before, this new devilry was too much. We decided to marathon hike back to the trailhead for the sake of our limbs, fingers, and toes. And at some point between waking up and walking out, it happened. I saw the mountain. The picture will forever be itched in my mind- an ominous mountain on top of a mountain that was inconceivably bigger than anything I had ever seen, covered in limitless lonely pines with the haze of falling snow in the foreground. All of it together painted a mysterious and powerful picture. This all in front of me, impossible to miss. The only feeling I could feel was a fearful awe of the God that had created such a thing. For a precious moment I was lost in wonder.
The third and final pillar took place on a lonely South Dakota highway in the dark of the night. The day had been long and I was but a passenger in the van. So with heavy eyes, I took the opportunity to doze off into the night. A short time later I was awakened by the slowing inertia of the car as it veered off an exit and pulled over on a road that was all but uninhabited. At first it took me a moment to understand why everyone had stepped out of the van. In the front seat looking to my right and left in the now empty van, I stopped and looked out and up. What I saw was shocking. I stepped out of the van, looked up and instantly I once again felt so small . For in the sky above I saw the stars as I had never seen them before. I gazed in awe as I beheld more stars than I had seen in my lifetime combined. It was as if the map of the universe had been rolled out before my eyes and I was gazing at all it’s hidden secrets. And like the mountain, in that precious moment, I was lost in wonder.
Now looking back at that trip that will be talked about and re-hashed for many more years to come, I find myself still thinking about those moments. Almost forcing myself to remember them. Because in our lives their are precious few moments when we stop and really capture the wonder of what we see, where we are, or even who we’re with. The travesty of our incredibly advanced modern society is that so many people have lost the wonder. Lost the ability to see the deeper things of life that can only really be seen when we stop to look, and ponder the questions the moment creates. For me, those moments on the mountain and on the side of that desolate highway rightly helped to put into perspective my small existence and relatively unimportant contribution to the world. And that’s good, because the absence of those things help me to see other infinitely more important things. Don’t ever lose the wonder. And if you have, fight hard to get it back.