Wednesday, November 23, 2011

THANKSGIVING IN THE ROCKIES : Part II

As I got up from my log, I tossed a few chunks of wood on my fire and started towards the road. As I made my way along I could for sure hear voices, and the creak of leather on the cold wind.

Around the bend in the road came two men on horseback. One was leading a pack horse with empty packs, the other was looking behind to see how things were going. Both men seemed in good spirits. As they came around the bend fully they saw me standing by the road. I raised a hand and said hi. They both pulled up to a stop in front of me. The horses were breathing a little hard and you could see the steam rise from their damp fur. The men said hello and then they saw my camp.

One of them laughed. He said that they thought that they were the only ones up here. I told them that I had hiked in just this morning. I asked them where they were headed. The one leading the pack horse smiled and said that they had a few out of town hunters down the road, and that they were with an outfitter from Granby. He introduced himself and his friend.

The one leading the pack horse was named Bob, and the other one was named John. I invited them to my camp and told them that I could put on a pot of coffee. They thanked me, but said that they had to be at the top of the county road to pick up some supplies for their camp, which they said was about 3 miles further down the road. They told me that they had several hunters from Texas and had several tents set up. Said that they were the "Chief cook and bottle washers for the outfit." They would leave camp every 3 days to get more supplies. They would ride out to the main road, and would wait until their boss showed up with more supplies. Bob said that they had been up there for about three weeks now, and only one of their Texas hunters had filled his tag, and that had been filled yesterday.

John added that they should get a move on so that they were up by the main road by 4 p.m. They had just a few miles to get there and wanted to be there before the "boss" showed up. They thanked me for the offer of coffee, and said that they would stop for a few minutes on the way back to their camp. Well the little break they had taken, by stopping and talking to me, had let the animals catch their breath and cool down some. They took off up the road and I walked all of maybe 50 feet when I looked up and saw I had three deer in my camp. The deer saw me at the same time and, in about 3 leaps each, they were in the trees and gone.

As it was getting to be later in the day, I thought that I would start to get things together for my dinner. I thought that maybe I would fix up the chicken that I had brought with me, along with some canned corn and maybe do up some more biscuits. So I stoked up my fire, got my chicken out of the plastic bag I had him in, made a spit out of a choke cherry limb, and put him over the fire. Opened up a can of corn and dumped it in a pan, and took two more biscuits from my pringles can, greased up my old skillet, and set them by the fire. I decided to have some coffee, so got that to making also.

Things were shaping up real nice and I could start to smell the bird cooking. As I set out my plate and silverware I heard a gun shot, then another followed about 20 seconds after the first. I figured that one of the Texans must have filled his tag. So as I was setting there feeding my face, I heard voices again and a horse blow. It surprising how far sound carries in the mountains.

Down the road came Bob and John, leading the pack horse, and this time all the packs were full. As they got near my camp I got out two more cups, poured some coffee in each, and walked down to the road. They pulled up and I handed them each a cup. They didn't say a word, but went right to sipping that coffee. You could tell that they were a bit on the cold side. Both had red checks and their noses looked like they would fall off if you touched them. Man! they were redder than fire trucks.

Bob said that they had to wait a little longer than normal: the boss had a flat on the way up and had to change it. They also told me that my car had been buried in snow when the snow plow came by.

I told John that I heard a shot a while ago and figured that one of their Texans got something. Bob chugged the rest of his coffee, and said thanks, and that he was going to head on down the road back to camp. John said he would be right behind him. As Bob went on down the road, John thanked me for the coffee and behind this great big smile asked me if I would like to join them all for Thanksgiving dinner in their camp tomorrow afternoon, as it would be Thanksgiving day. I wasn't really quite sure what to say. Here I was up in the mountains the day before Thanksgiving and just planning to spend time by myself, camp out from Wednesday to Sunday, head home, and start the work week, never expecting anything like this.

But I said, yes, that would be great. John thanked me again for the coffee, and I asked as he was riding off if I needed to bring anything with me tomorrow. He said, over his shoulder, not to worry, that they had it covered.

As John rode out of sight, I caught a whiff of my cooked chicken and my biscuits. I poured myself another cup of coffee, stirred the corn, and checked the biscuits. Everything was done and I couldn't wait to eat. The meal was great! I ate just about the whole chicken, but managed to save one drumstick for breakfast in the morning.

As evening was approaching, it started to snow lightly. I cleaned up my campsite, carried water up from the stream to heat for washing dishes and for washing myself up. Nothing like standing out in the wilds with no shirt on and trying to wash up.

As the night progressed and it got darker, I threw more wood on the fire, settled back on my log with my feet towards the fire and just lounged. It was a beautiful night, snow was still coming down lightly, and the stars were shinning brightly. Later the moon would be out. All seemed right with the world. It must of been close to midnight or so before I banked my fire, crawled into to my tent, and snuggled down in my sleeping bag.

I awoke to a gorgeous morning. The sun was out and everything was so bright. It was one of those mornings, you know, the kind when you were a kid, and it is Christmas and the morning just flies by before you know it? Well, it felt like one of those mornings. I could hear the stream behind my camp and there was a squirrel chattering in the pines. And I could swear that I could smell coffee and what almost smelled like pumpkin pie. But it couldn't be. It had to be my mind playing tricks on me.

I checked my campfire and found a few hot coals, and got my fire going again. Put on some water for coffee and made up some eggs, fried up the rest of my trout, and had a fine breakfast. After breakfast, I went and picked up more firewood, stacked it under a big tree, and covered the wood with the tarp I had brought with. I cleaned up camp and finished up the coffee.

I had some time before I had to head down the road for my Thanksgiving meal and I didn't want to go empty handed. So I grabbed my fishing pole and off to the stream I went. The fishing was not as good as it was the day before, but I managed to catch four nice brook trout. I like to catch these brookies, they all are about 8 to 11 inches or so, and they fit just right in my old skillet. There are smaller brookies, but I try to let them go. But every now and then one of them little buggers swallows the hook, and well, you just end up with a small one now and then. But they all taste great. So now I had something to bring to the Thanksgiving meal.

I grabbed my snowshoes and my back pack, stuffed the fish in a bag, and put them in the pack. I grabbed my .22 -- you never know, I might get a rabbit or two along the way. So off down the road I went. The going was not too bad after having some fresh snow from the night before. I was making good time, and I could hear some voices in the distance. Sounded like they are having a good time.

As I was snowshoeing along the road, I was coming across a lot of tracks -- deer, elk, porcupine, squirrel, martin, and rabbit. As I came over a little rise, standing in the road were two grouse. Well, grouse is better than rabbit any day, so I took aim and got one of the grouse. The other flew into a tree not 20 feet from me. I took aim and got the second grouse. I took the time to dress them out, put them in a bag, and placed them in my pack.

I could see the camp of Bob, John, and their Texans. They had a real good spot for the camp: plenty of wood all around, a small corral for the horses, the same stream behind the tents as I had, and they had two huge tents set up across from one another.

Then the wind shifted and I got a whiff of something cooking. I could swear that I smelled turkey. Bob saw me first and hollered at me to come on in. As I made my way into the camp, I thought I could smell apple pie! John came from around the corner with a arm full of firewood. He dropped the wood and pointed out the rest of the guys that were setting around the fire. There was a guy named Mark, real skinny and tall. And then there was Josh and Ray, two of the biggest guys I had ever seen. I thought for sure that they played pro football. I felt kind of sorry for the horses that had to carry these two.

I took off my pack and unloaded the birds and fish. Bob took them and went into one of the tents. As the flap opened I thought I smelled sweet 'taters, or could it have been pumpkin pie. When Bob came out of the tent, he had donned a apron. He said it would be about another hour before we ate. I was handed a beer and given a fold-up chair to set in. We set around the fire talking about this and that. The guy named Mark was in real estate sales in Houston. Josh and Ray were from Dallas, and they were partners in a log cabin business. Tey would get together every deer and elk season and come hunt Colorado.

They all seemed really nice. It was a little difficult to understand them every now an then. But I liked them well enough. Before I knew it Bob was hollering and banging on a pan to "COME AND GET IT !!" I thought that I was going to get trampled getting into the tent. I could not believe my eyes when I got inside.

This tent was their mess tent; they took all their meals in it. They had a folding table off to one side. On it was drinks -- pop, beer, water, coffee, wine, and who knows what else. The other table was set just like a fancy restaurant -- napkins, silverware, cups, glasses, a centerpiece decoration, and the food. It looked like there was enough to feed us and the whole town of Golden. There was turkey, which they had brought with them from Texas. There was my grouse and brook trout. And we had stuffing, potatos -- sweet and mashed, gravy, cranberry sauce, biscuits, corn, green beans, and at least three different kinds of pie. It was just like being at home with family and friends. I have never seen that much food for one meal on a hunting trip of any kind in my life.

We ate and ate, laughed, talked, and ate some more. I have never eaten that much in my life! And the pies! They were so good. I seem to remember eating at least 4 slices with whipped cream. By the time we were done, we had pretty well eaten all there was. I don't think I could have looked at a pie or another piece of turkey for at least another year. I mean, we ALL, had our pants undone and could hardly move. I do not know what it is about eating while in the mountains, but it always seems to taste better, and you can eat so much more.

We sat around and talked until it was dark. The food was fantastic and the company was great. They loaded me up with leftovers, and I managed to be able to bend over just long enough to get my snowshoes on. And I headed back up the road to my camp, the walk was slow. . . really slow. I thought I was going to burst.

I made it back to camp, got my fire going, dragged out my sleeping bag to wrap up in, and just sat in front of the fire. The next thing I knew, it was morning.

The next few days were spent fishing, drawing, collecting firewood, and seeing the guys down the road every now and then.

Sunday came too fast, and I was packing up to head back to my car when they all came out and up the road, scruffy, dirty, and smiling to beat the band. They stopped long enough to let the horses blow and check the load on the pack horses. The guys from Texas had bagged two elk. I don't know who got what. They all seemed ready to head for home. I shook hands with all of them, and they left, leaving me feel that I was a part of the group.

I finished packing and hiked out to my car. To my surprise, those guys had dug my car out for me!

That was one of the best Thanksgivings that I have had in my life. I still think about it every year at Thanks giving.

I saw Bob and John several times over the years on some of my hunting trips, and I ran into Josh and Ray one year while hunting right where they had hunting camp set up so many years ago.

After all these years, and so many hunting trips have passed, I still think of these guys every year, and thank them from my heart that they shared a Thanksgiving so many years ago with me. It has brought me closer to my family and friends.

I wish that all of you could share in something like I did. I wish that all of your Thanksgivings, no matter where you are, are the best and that they bring memories that you will all cherish forever.

That was my Thanksgiving in the Rockies.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

7 comments:

  1. Jim, that is a great story post. I enjoyed it so much, thank you for making the time and effort to share your experiences with us. I felt like I was right there with you and loved it.

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  2. You are a wonderful storyteller! I came here from CITR and am delighted that I did. That Thanksgiving dinner is a very far cry from the trail meals I had in my years of hiking!!!

    Nancy in Iowa

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  3. My god - that is an awesome story!!

    i can feel like i am right there!! i loved the part about the brook trout i catch tons of theme here and there is nothing better!

    this sounds like the happiest thanksgiving - you have a great memory for life!

    and for this year, happy thanksgiving!

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  4. Fier buddy - man do you ever tell a good story!

    just wanted you to know that you and Kathi and all of yours are in our giving of thanks today. we are thankful for all of our internet friends, both old and new, who have taught, and keep teaching us how to live a good life.

    thank you for all of these crazy stories that you share and thank you,and Kathi, for being so easy to become friends with.

    both of us wish our best to you and yours on this day of Thanks!

    your friends,
    kymber and jamie

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  5. A wonderful story. Ther's nothing like the comaraderie of the hunter. Great times and great friends.

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  6. That was a great read, thank you. I do miss the mountains, the grouse, elk. Spent many years wandering the west. You should reflect more often, hard to find good writing these days.

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  7. Thank you all so very much. I have lots more to tell.

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