Getting a little out of touch with history

Three days in the woods -- and the world keeps spinning


— We took off for a hut trip over the weekend and as much as I was looking forward to it, I must confess a little nervous anticipation as we headed south to Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.

It might have been due to the certain knowledge that I am not in tip-top physical condition, or anything like it. Alternatively, it could have been the fact that this weekend marked the tenth anniversary of seven Coloradans becoming lost in a blizzard near Aspen.

As I think about it, it was neither of the two.

Instead, it was a nagging little feeling about being completely out of touch in the Colorado high country for three days and the possibility that the world might well have changed by the time I returned.

I considered that we might have gone to war while I was cooking pasta on a wood stove. Or foreign terrorists might have launched an attack. There was even a chance that the bachelorette might finally have arrived at a decision.

I've had it happen before.

In August 1974 I was backpacking in a lightly visited National Park named Isle Royal when the world changed and we didn't find out about it for several days.

There is a reason why Isle Royal doesn't see heavy visitation; it's in the middle of Lake Superior, closer to Canada than to the mainland U.S.

The island is a rugged spine of granite that is part of the Niagara Escarpment. We reached it via an old silver floatplane that seemed to struggle to clear the bridge that guards the entrance to the harbor in Houghton, Mich.

The national park was known 30 years ago for a couple packs of wolves that, in those days, were in perfect balance with the resident moose population.

The wolves took only the weakest moose, which were easy to overtake because of a parasite on their lungs.

Or was it their livers?

Anyway, sometime prior to leaving for the backpacking trip, my father and I made a wager. He bet me $10 that Richard Nixon would not complete his term as president but would leave the Oval Office prematurely for reasons that would not include poor health.

I bet that he would complete his term.

One day in the middle of the backpack trip we were resting atop a hill when a park ranger came around a bend in the trail and greeted us.

"Have you heard the news? The president resigned three days ago (on Aug. 9)!"

I dug a picture of Alexander Hamilton out of the top lid of my backpack and handed it to my father on the spot.

Later, he framed it and gave it to me as an emblem of a significant moment in history.

All of us can vividly recall moments in time that signified a shift in world history.

My parents can recall V-J Day in great detail. I can still recall that I was standing in line to return to my fifth-grade class after lunch when I heard that JFK had been assassinated. There isn't one of us who can't remember exactly what we were doing when we received the staggering news on Sept. 11.

I figure with any luck, we'll have returned from the hut trip to confirm that "no news is good news."

And after all, the odds are good I will have been able to get cell phone service from 11,000 foot Bald Knob -- a skier can practically look down into Aspen from the summit.

And that's a reassuring thing, because these days, backcountry skiers want to be able to call home to find out if Trista the bachelorette has finally identified the hunk of her dreams.

Come to think of it, the world has been in a constant state of flux since 1974.


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