Words by Kyle von Hoetzendorff, photos by Daniel Wakefield Pasley
Sheets, arguably the most important layer of sleeping fabric, the layer that most fluidly covers your body when you sleep, the comfort layer, known to some as “the breath of the maiden,” the right sheet can make or break a good night sleep. Out in the wild, at least 20 miles from the nearest sheet, one might think that a good night's sleep is impossible. Don’t fret, a 17th century knife fighter from England invented—or at least brought to fame—an article of clothing that would become synonymous with the outdoors, Long Johns. These mobile articles defined innerwear for generations of explorers, miners, derelicts and enthusiasts. These are mobile fitted sheets, the ultimate in-woods sleeping accessory. I happened to forget mine and Captain Daniel, with a kindness found in only the best of leaders, gave me a pair of his to wear. Never mind that maybe, at one point, when my mind was still groggy from a good night, I neglected to thoroughly shake and the slightest wet spot dotted the crotch of Daniel’s Long Johns, a lonely archipelago of life and waste. Reeling, Daniel recovered quickly and managed to draw the rest of our party's attention to the sad little islands before they disappeared from the embarrassed red flush of my corporeal “global warming.”
Consensus: A general agreement.
Shame: A painful feeling of humiliation or distress; a loss of respect or esteem.
Our party was headed into a small town nearby, a town that was stocked with provisions and hope. We had failed to make the first day's camp for two consecutive days. On the map we had covered a fingernail's width, and we still had a thumb's length to go. Morale was low. We reached a consensus that once in the town we would restock, revitalize, and reroute with the goal of looping back to our cars. We had made mistakes, we had ignored all the signs, and with that in mind and our change in course agreed upon, we broke camp in high spirits. At this small town we gorged on grinders the size of lunch boxes and drank beer in the sun while lounging on the sidewalks. Steve was open and generous with his jerky, Bo and Lyle laughed with ease, McNally casually reclined. But where was David, where was John, where was Daniel? In our blissful ignorance these two had approached a local guide service in order to secure motorized transportation to the top of our next climb. This move would put us back “on track” and could "salvage" our expedition. Reaction was mixed. Enter SHAME. Research shows that time and time again shame is truly one of mankind’s most powerful motivators. Here, comfortable like house cats in the clean hot sun each one of us succumbed to its power.
Who was going to say no, who was going to put their foot down and stop this adventure, who among us would not only recognize the signs and read the signs but heed their warning? Ours was an errand and we were its fools.
Before loading our bikes into the back of the pickup truck that would be used to shuttle us up to our next departure point, our driver needed first to remove the decapitated head and the associated blood capture bucket of a recently bagged six-point Buck from his truck bed. This macabre combination was to be replaced by our nine bikes, our vehicles into perdition. The buck had lived a life of foraging, fighting, and fucking in the surrounding wilderness and we were men who have smart phones, men who use lotion, men who at one point or another, had shaved our legs, we were men who refused to listen to our DNA, our chemicals, the intuition of our gut.
We were heading into the wilderness once again; we would travel a long thread of winding gravel roads and we would struggle to find the trailhead, and when we did, when we found its path overgrown with weeds and barred by fallen trees, we would carry on. A return to wilderness, a regression into primacy, a feral nature, with each step the trail deteriorated, with each step the totality of recent visitors dropped. It felt as if we were returning, if only by a degree, both mentally and physically to the place that the now dead deer had once frolicked, where he lived absent of doubt and virile as an adolescent Olympian. We would only come to this conclusion much later, while laying in our beds, or checking our 'gram, or in the midst of typing one of those absolutely unnecessary emails that do nothing for anyone. Here we had a glimpse of a true nature, one that we could never really know, and be we could remember it, it was something both foreign and familiar, like the memory of a friend you had in preschool.
The apparent height of an object, h, is the actual size of the object, a, divided by your distance to the object, d; that is to say perspective, or the lack thereof, can be an absolute killer. In front of us a series of peaks lined up like a group of people at a bus stop straining out from behind one another to see when the line was coming. These mountains were boulder-strewn and forested, and they turned purple as they filed into the distance like a wine-stained pile of broken teeth. One of these peaks was our destination, our last climb and our carrot, what we had been promised in emails and in car rides, had dreamed about along paved roads and through wrong turns, been reassured by in small towns with big sandwiches and in the recently converted deer mortuary cum truck bed. After this last peak we were going down; 5000' of buffed out single track descending awaited our arrival. FIVE THOUSAND FEET of pristine trails with Velcro® traction, 5000' of descending where the all the animals of the forest would come to cheer us on, to wish us farewell dressed in their Sunday best and their dance club worst. And our plan was to pass over the tops of each consecutive peak until we found it. You see, not a single member of our party had traveled this route; this is not a problem with true and specific beta, but we did not have true and specific beta, rather we were working off of a half decade old blog post and a two decade old topo map. The result of this imprecise information would take its toll on our expedition. We spent a great deal of time walking with our bikes. And our guide, bless his soul, resorted to the One-Last-Hill school of motivation. We like to refer to these false promises as huckleberries. Why? I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that our trip was full, FULL, of huckleberries. “Oh here’s a huckleberry, and there, and over there, over there there is like this whole bush of huckleberries just a ton of them…” ad nauseum. Each peak was the end, and each huckleberry was more sour than the last. At one point the rest of the group caught on to what was now a de-motivational technique and by inference realized that we were not actually climbing or even near the last peak. At that moment, I imagine our group experienced a small taste of the dread that must have descended upon the Donner Party when they realized the extent to which they were completely screwed, that they were going to have to survive the winter in the bleak desolation of the high Sierra, and how they did not know yet that the sour taste of huckleberry would stay on their lips until death.