Back in season
In a sing-song Oklahoma accent, she shouted the recipe
into the mobile phone.
“You’re gonna wanna take the marshmallows
and sprinkle ’em on top of the batter. Pre-heat
to 325...,” she crowed before breaking off.
One hand held the large black, mobile phone. In the other,
a “King” sized, all-white cigarette burned
slowly. Sitting side-saddle atop a camo-colored, oversized,
Yamaha four-wheeler, she shifted her weight to get a little
more comfortable. Behind her an oversized, white canvas
tent sat zippered closed. The heavy buzz of a generator
and rings of smoke leaving a cast iron smoke stack indicated
it was occupied. As further evidence, what sounded like
a televised football game could be heard inside the tent.
Now comfortable, she went back for the phone –
just as I pedaled by. Her jaw and phone dropped, and she
turned her freshly made-up head my way, giving me a queer,
almost disbelieving look.
I was just as surprised. I’d come out to ride Hermosa
Creek for a little backcountry solace. Running into the
dessert recipe 5 miles past the trailhead, a dozen miles
from the nearest power line and 30 miles from Durango
had not been part of the plan.
I’d forgotten that bow-hunting season is under
way, and with me on my mountain bike and Sheila on her
Yamaha Warrior, a culture clash was imminent. Worried
about interrupting the game and seeing inside the tent
flap, I politely smiled, waved and stepped down doubly
hard on the pedals. She went back to the recipe.
Two miles later, the gurgle of the creek had again hypnotized
me and my focus returned to the trail. Nearing a brief
technical section, I pointed my front wheel toward a point
of weakness, rose out of the saddle and aggressively climbed
a stair-stepping slab. Nearing the top, my vision blurred
into a rapidly approaching vehicle’s grill and winch.
Another four-wheeler, this one all green with an emblem
of a wild animal on the side, had locked up the brakes
just in time to narrowly avoid sending me into permanent
Clad in grey and green camo, the two vacationers each
sported a mustache. The front guy drove while the other’s
consolation for riding piggy back and having to straddle
his friend was being able to hold both bows. Unlike the
twisted stare I’d gotten at the first camp, these
stunned faces were those of two men who knew they’d
just narrowly avoided a massive lawsuit.
The near miss had me burning with anger, and I very briefly
considered mounting an attack with my spare tire tube,
a tire lever and a CO2 cartridge. But my healthy respect
for real weaponry took over. Instead I offered a polite
wave, an unnecessary apology and quickened the cadence
of my pedal strokes.
For the remainder of the morning, I would chance in and
out of contact with my fellow recreationalists. Further
down the trail, I spotted a pair of hunters loading a
20-foot trailer (again pulled by a four-wheeler) with
nearly a cord of firewood. They waved. I waved back. Their
tent, a 600-square-foot monster the color of duct tape,
had been pitched 100 yards downstream. Their companions
were sitting around drinking Natural Light, eating jerky
and discussing the morning hunt. At another camp, a similarly
sized white tent was pitched a stone’s throw from
the trail. Immediately next to the trail, a pair of hunters
had found a nice flat spot to set up a foam bullseye and
were firing high velocity arrows at it. There were no
waves here, and as I passed I was thankful that the archer’s
aim was on.
Over the next 45 minutes, I saw four more tents, eight
more four-wheelers, a triplet set of generators, nearly
two dozen gas cans, two elk carcasses, four mustaches,
a bunch of camo and a couple rolls of toilet paper.
The whirlwind ended, and I breathed a sigh of relief
as I approached the sign that reads, “Trail Narrows
– ATVs not recommended.” For the remainder
of the trip to Hermosa, all traces of hunting season and
civilization were gone. The gnarlier the trail got, the
further off the sound of the generators grew. And with
the Natural Light and portable toilets (I hope) at my
back, I started to remember that public lands are for
the public and that sharing can be difficult.
However, having done a little time on other the side
of the rifle scope, I’d always thought of bow hunters
as minimalists, people searching for the primal soul of
hunting. What I saw up Hermosa Creek outstripped any hunt
camp I’d ever known. With a mind to shared use,
I wondered how many four-wheeler trips it took to make
that haul that could have justified an airlift. How many
creek crossing were involved? How much gas was being spilled?
What would the condition of the trail be when it was all
over? And what was inside that zippered tent?
And as unusual as last weekend’s ride was, a twisted
curiosity has been rising in me since. If this is the
state of bow hunting, what are the big leagues like these
days? After all, rifle season is just around the corner.