Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Last Day

  Fog has set in. There is no rain but here in the forest the fir trees shed water with each passing breeze. Moss hangs thick from the towering trees. It soaks up the fog like a sponge. The earth is still around me. I am cold and wet but I have never felt more alive.
   It is the last day of elk season. The camper is on the truck and all of my gear is loaded. I am waiting for my friends to return from a mid-morning hunt to begin tearing down the tent. As I walk through the heavy timber behind camp I wonder why I haven't hunted here. The forest floor is covered with elk scat and tracks. Beneath  my feet is a thick carpet of moss. I am silent as walk along the forest trails.
   This is my first time hunting the hills and mountains above the Columbia River. I refuse to pay Weyerhaeuser company to hunt in my usual area. My dad was so discouraged  that he stopped hunting all together. This year I hunted with new friends who were strangers nine days ago. I am in unfamiliar territory but it has been an amazing week.
  
   On Friday, October 31, I left the mill parking lot in our camper for 9 days of elk hunting. During the last 10 years Mandy and I have been apart for no more than 2 days. As excited as I was to go hunting, I was just as sad to be leaving her behind. With our little Pekingese "Brody" riding shotgun, we left the parking lot to fuel up and buy groceries before heading for the hills. Mandy and our daughter met us at the gate with a platter of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and one last hug and kiss goodbye. It was dark thirty before I arrived at camp and completed setting up. I shared a meal with the guys and headed for bed.
  On my first hunt of the week I headed into the forest on a north, northwest heading. Three hours later I came out on a road and had no idea where I was at. My gps said it was 5 miles to camp but a sheer rock cliff was between camp and myself. It was a 15 mile walk by road. Fortunately a couple of high school kids who were out shooting pictures and who were lost and low on fuel gave me a ride in exchange for navigation.
   It was a great week. We chased elk everyday but couldn't quite put one on the ground. We laughed, told stories, drank beer, and played pinochle in the evenings, before hitting our racks around 9 p.m. My alarm would go off at 5:30 in the morning and we would chase elk all day long. On Sunday November 2nd my dad and uncle made a surprise visit and actually were excited about the prospect of hunting a new area next year. On Wednesday my dad made a return visit with my mom. They brought pizza doughnuts and oranges.  Mandy was coming to elk camp for a night on Friday. She is my good luck charm. On Friday afternoon I got my bull. He wasn't one for the record books for sure but he was the only bull any of us got a shot at all season.  I can't help but feel that just knowing Mandy was coming out was the reason I got my elk. We skinned and boned it and hung the quarters from a vine maple I cut down and lashed to a couple of fir trees. We packed out the back straps, tenderloin, and rib meat, leaving the rest until morning. 
    I raced back to camp for a quick shower and change of clothes and headed to town to have a dinner date with Mandy before bringing her back to camp. After a few introductions we retired to the camper for a glass of wine and a movie. I really missed her. We both slept like babies that night.
   We packed The rest of the elk out early Saturday morning. It was only a half mile pack. When the elk was hanging in the cooler I returned to camp to take Mandy for a hike on the Bradley trail. Long before logging roads and modern forestry practices the trail was the only access to the area. While on the trail we had a rare sighting of a cougar. After reaching trails end we returned and noticed a fresh cat track in the middle of my boot print. The cat had been stalking us. I returned to town with Mandy Saturday evening to perform at a fund raiser for a 6 year old little girl with leukemia. After the show Mandy and Brody returned home and I headed back to camp.
   The one hiccup of the trip came Monday morning. We returned to camp and noticed that both passenger side tires on my truck were going flat. I aired them up and made a quick trip to Les Schwab for new set of Toyo Open Country 10 ply A/T's. I couldn't help but go 2 inches taller.  

   Elk season is over. We will have meat in the freezer. That is always a bonus. As I sit beneath the trees listening to the sound of the forest around me I am thankful. I am so happy to be alive and in this place. I am grateful for my life and my family. Tomorrow I will be back at work. Life will resume as it always does. Winter is coming. The air is cool and crisp. Soon the holidays will be upon us. There will be elk sausage. 101 months since diagnosis and I have just spent a week chasing elk up and down mountains. I had a blast man. It was cool. Never give up my friends. Never give in. When my life is over I want to come sliding through the gates of heaven grinning ear to ear and proclaiming, "Wow....That was a hell of a ride" Todd