ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED august 2011
I am sitting in one of Forrest’s bathing holes from when he was a kid in West Yellowstone. The Fenn family had no plumbing in their cabin. The best way to get a hot bath was to head to one of the places out here where steaming vents drain into a cold river. This one is on the Firehole River inside the park, about 20 miles from his family’s cabin. In his blog he writes that this was his secret bathing spot.
Its a noisy place with the hot springs gushing steam and boiling water out of a deep blue hole in the bank and the turbulent rush of water in the river. The Firehole is unusually high for early August.
I am sitting here for a few reasons; I am tired after ten days of tromping around in the sticks, if I position myself just right I can warm my butt and cool my heels at the same time, its pretty here…and quiet, I think that Forrest’s treasure might be hidden nearby, and I feel that if I sit here long enough maybe some of how Forrest thinks will be absorbed by my brain.
I close my eyes and feel the swirling warm water press against my sore back. I could doze off except that it takes some effort not to be pushed downstream by the charging river. My bath is a mixture of relaxation and tension. For a moment I drift away into 1942 and am watching trout rise in the water ahead of me. I see Forrest riding his bike toward the river. He is 12 years old. Skippy is with him. The current stirs me from my reverie.
Its evening and the river is reflecting the deep blue of the Wyoming sky and the brilliant orange of a California sunset. The trout are actually rising. The vent is steaming. It feels prehistoric. I close my eyes and begin to drift again into 1942.
I sense that someone is staring at me. My eyes blink open and I see an attractive young woman standing on the bank. She is wearing a green ball cap that has the Sundance logo on it, a khaki fly-fishing vest with about six zippered pockets over a forest green t-shirt that might be made of silk, expensive khaki hiking shorts with lots of velcro sealed pockets, khaki colored mountaineering boots and knee socks that match her t-shirt and ball cap, and oddly, a bright pink daypack. Her clothes don’t look like they have ever seen sweat. Her hair is tied back in a fluffy ponytail sticking out of her cap that looks like it would probably bounce a lot when she walks. Other than the pack she looks like she just stepped out of an REI catalog. With the pack she looks like she just stepped out of a Hannah Montana movie. I figure her wardrobe set her back at least $750…plus underwear. The boots alone are probably $300. They look like high end La Sportiva boots from Italy. I saw a pair in a window in Jackson once. I didn’t buy them. I am not a mountaineer.
She is standing about five feet from me. Even in the early evening light I can see that her nails are pink and match her daypack.
We stare at one another for a second. When she realizes my eyes are open she yells at me so she can be heard over the rush of water.
“What are you doing?”
“Taking a Bath”, I yell back.
“Is it nice?”
“Well…yes its refreshing. The heat from the spring against my back and the cooler water on my feet. I feel like a king. Its a natural spa.”
She didn’t look like the type to take a bath in a wild, trout ridden stream. She looked like she might be more at home shopping in LaJolla or Paris. She didn’t say anything back right away. Maybe she was thinking.
“Why are you wearing your clothes?”
“I’m doing my laundry at the same time.” In fact I’d been wearing the same clothes for ten days but I figured that was too much information. I still had my jeans and t-shirt and boots on. We were getting clean together. My wallet was on the bank next to my ice axe, near her feet. I’m not the kind of guy that feels the need to be naked very often.
Again she was quiet. I adjusted my position a little because the current had changed slightly and I wanted more hot water against my back. It felt really, really good.
“Nice boots” I said, “Where did you get them?”
“Is it legal to be in the river?” She asked.
She thought. I waited.
“I don’t think I’d bathe with all my clothes on.” She yelled.
“Of course not.” I said.
I waited. She thought.
“I think I should come back later when there isn’t anyone around.” She said just before she turned to go back up the trail, probably to her leased, rose Lexus.
“What time?” I yelled after her, but I don’t think she heard me. She kept walking away. Her bouncy ponytail sashaying over her bright pink daypack.
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