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 traction.

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.

- Will Sands




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