Falling in to Jackson’s Hole (Part Deux)

“We’re going to do what?My voice was primarily enthusiastic with a sprinkling of nervousness for good measure.

I met up with Carson at three in the afternoon at the boat ramp. He had just finished taking another group of vacationers down the Snake river, and was ready for a leisurely ride to relax the day away. I didn’t know it, but I had been sitting next to his group of friends while waiting for him. Eric, Joro, and Lily drove up from Salt Lake City earlier in the week for a little vacation themselves, part of which was a long raft ride down some of the scenic parts of the Snake, as well as a rapids ride. After a short introduction, everybody hopped onto the light blue raft and pushed out into the middle of the Snake river. Conversation flowed like the rapids we were soon to meet- or maybe like the beer we were drinking. Hydration is key when doing intense activities.

“We’re surfing the Big Kahuna! It’ll be nuts, man,” Carson replied, as he took a pull from the Jim Beam bottle Eric had handed him.  

“You care to elaborate on that?”

“Yeah so we’re going to go into the Big Kahuna backwards, then paddle as hard as we can and ride the rapid like a wave.”

“And prolly flip,” Eric chimed in. “We either miss the rapid and nothing happens, or we surf it until it flips us. I doubt we would be able to get out without flipping.”

“Dude, I’m so in for this! I’m all for flipping,” I said. Lily and Jero had been silent throughout this talk. Finally, Lily plastered her face with a countenance of anxiety. “That’s not happening with me in this boat.” It was publicly shared that LIly had never stepped foot into a body of water, natural or otherwise, in her entire life. How she gained any interest in floating down a river on an inflatable raft for her virgin water experience was beyond me. This girl needed a ducky inner tube and a snorkel. The full-face goggles had already been covered, thanks to Jero.

Lemme tell you a bit about this Jero guy, because something about him was a perfect addition to any group of quasi-normal people, regardless of the activity, or lack thereof, involved. Jero was a bit on the fat side, but not like Chris Farley fat- more like Donald Trump fat. So not debilitating by any means. He sported a timid, yet toothy smile, and a thin collection of curly, blonde hair on the top half of his spherical head, which was clearly burned by the Sun from spending more time that day outside than any other day in his life, without question. I wouldn’t call him retarded by any means, because it was obvious throughout my association with him that all cylinders were firing rather smoothly. But upon congress with the other members of our rafting voyage, I later learned that he had an exceptionally rough upbringing which has rendered his sense of confidence and social cognizance as useful as a raincoat on a sunny day. In short, he was a perfect bout of sporadic humor whenever the rest of us had failed to deliver.

Jero showed up to the rafting trip with a pair of face goggles. A pair of face goggles to raft down a river that barely had a risk of underwater submersion. Jero couldn’t swim well, so that accounts for part of the goggle necessity. We were, after all, wearing life jackets. But still; he could have gotten away with some of those eye goggles that competitive swimmers wear, although it wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining. So as we approached the Big Kahuna, I casually reminded Jero to toss his goggles on. There’s nothing worse than getting water in your eye with a set of goggles sitting on your dome. As he securely strapped them over his eyes, I glanced around the group to gain silent acknowledgement from the others that humor was indeed alive and well at the moment.

The first run of Big Kahuna was a normal pass through, so we could take Lily to shore before attempting to do some raft surfing. Immediately after passing through the rapid, we paddled to the side, dropped her off, then the four remaining people, my self included, loaded the raft over our heads and started the walk up the rocky bank of the river to a point before the rapid. During the walk, Eric and Carson discussed plans on how to hit the rapid correctly in order to successfully surf it.

“No way man, we ain’t gonna make it if we start from here,” Eric protested.

“We’ll be fine, it’ll suck us out into the middle as soon as we get out of the eddy,” Carson retorted. After a bit of scrambling, we made it to our agreed-upon launch spot about a hundred feet up river from the rapid. Jero was growing noticeably nervous about the possibility of the raft flipping over, so each of us tossed words of encouragement his way in hopes of calming him a bit. It seemed to work, as he wasn’t abandoning the endeavor altogether to sit with Lily. With a last hoorah, we pushed into the water and demanded focus to execute our strategy.

The rapid was sizeable in comparison to the ten-foot raft that we were riding into it. It was one gigantic liquid undulation, going first down about four feet before quickly curving upwards, topping out six feet from its lowest point. While surfing the rapid, the raft would fit snugly in the wave without any part hanging outside of the dip. We were heading at this thing backwards; the plan was to float along until we got close enough, then paddle in the direction of up river, slowing us enough to get stuck in the dip of the rapid. If we succeeded, we would “surf” the rapid, treating it as a wave and riding in the rhythm it creates. Silence was between us as we awaited the command… Fifty feet… Thirty… Twenty…

“All forward,” Carson yelled. We gave it everything we had as we paddled the raft opposite of the direction it was headed. The raft started slowing as we neared the drop into the rapid, but it didn’t feel right. We were still moving at a pretty good clip. There were screams of physical effort from each of us as we all secretly felt the same thing; we weren’t going to catch it. Seconds later, we were shot out the other side of the Big Kahuna. Cries of disappointment resonated from most of us as we began paddling towards Lily and the shore.

“Guys, I’m sorry. It was my fault. I kinda hoped we wouldn’t catch it because I was afraid of flipping,” Jero muttered reluctantly. What do you say to something like that? It’s almost- but not quite- funny enough to just burst out laughing and let comic relief take care of the rest. We all exchanged glances, once again secretly sharing the same thought with enough control to hold back the laughter which could possibly upend Jero worse than the raft would have. “It’s alright, man; it’s all in good fun,” Eric said with assurance.

By the time we reached the exit point of the river, the Sun had set and the temperature was dropping. Eric hitched a ride back to the starting point while the rest of us prepped the raft and equipment to be loaded in his truck. By ten thirty, we had made it back to the boathouse and began making dinner. The rest of the night was filled with two guitars, fajitas, mashed potatoes, kombucha, alcohol, and conversation. Good times were had.

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Inside the boathouse.

The following morning, Eric, Jero, and Lily left back to Salt Lake CIty. Carson began his weekend. I decidedd to spend the next two days with Carson, as him and I seemed to get along fairly well. It became apparent over the early afternoon that Carson and Jim Beam had fostered a clumsily-beautiful relationship with each other. Carson could (and did) drink absurd quantities of booze while maintaining relatively complete mental and physical composure. Dangerously impressive.

Almost every person on earth has an addiction. I am no different, except that I rotate through various addictions with fluidity instead of capitalizing on any specific one. The Olympics were on the week I was in Jackson. The entire participating athletic group is comprised of people addicted to some form of physical exercise; and we as a human populous praise them, push them, and monetarily compensate them for being hopelessly enslaved to their addiction. You can swim two hundred meters in record time? Awesome! The rest of your life is being taken care of so there is no possibility of you being deterred from an addiction which will invariably wreak havoc on your shoulders, neck, lower back, and knees from overuse.

Now take Carson; this guy drinks more than a stadium full of German soccer fans on a daily basis. The morning following our rafting trip and late-night BBQ, this alcoholic Olympian was up and training once again, after a solid eight hours of inebriated sleep. He trains just as any endurance athlete would do- starts off slow, with maybe one pull from his plastic Jim Beam bottle every hour. But as the day progresses, so does he. By the end of daylight, his body is at peak performancee, running whiskey marathons in succession. And somehow during this test of physical function, his mind rides along with the composure and class of an equestrian rider performing beautifully executed dressage.

But where is the gold medal for Carson’s accomplishment? Where is his motivaltional and financial support to continue his addiction? Micheal Phelps may have paid for swimming lessons and Olympic-size swimming pool admission, but his bank account wasn’t left empty for long before being reimbursed by sponsors. The only sponsor Carson can hope for is some failed, has-been of inebriated athletics from Alcoholics Anonymous. This is the world we live in, people.

The pseudo-weekend was a rather enjoyable one, consisting of drinks and fun people. On Carson’s Saturday night, him and I visited with a friend who lived in a house nearby. We made dinner, watched the Olympics, and didn’t play any card games that we had initially planned to play, instead opting for splitting up into teams and talking the night away about silly things that don’t matter because it’s fun.

Carson’s Sunday was a new style of day for both him and me. We spent most of the day sitting in the boathouse parking lot- a couple of homeless bums passing time next to our makeshift living structures. It was the true American Dream in action! Mid-afternoon, we had managed to gather an entire ensemble of homeless freaks outside of Dumbo and- I can’t remember the name of Carson’s dwelling for the life of me, but I know it had some sort of Brokeback Mountain reference because he’s cool like that. There were roughly ten of us in all, some being rafting guides from the boathouse and others being random vehicle dwellers who were passing through or staying for the night. We even met a lovely young couple that was on their honeymoon in a red seventies chevy with a cab-over-camper setup. The guy had just finished his service with the Army reserves, and his wife was some kind of medical person if recall correctly. I wanna say it was respiratory therapy or something similarly silly sounding. There were a few hours of all of us sitting around with beers and things to say before it dissipated, leaving Carson and I to waste the rest of the night away together.

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Parking lot party!

The next morning, I departed for Yellowstone and the Tetons. The Tetons are magical beauties of rock, rising abruptly to impressive heights above the surrounding land. I would have loved to spend some time hiking the trails around these geological monoliths, but I also had to adhere to a loose schedule. I spent a few hours soaking in the scenic glory before loading my self into Dumbo and heading towards Yellowstone. I had no idea what I was getting my self into, as I presented my annual national parks pass to the person at the south entrance of Yellowstone around two in the afternoon. I perused the area slowly by vehicle, eventually reaching the geyser fields. The lady at the south entrance offered me a map, but I politely declined as I knew I’d use it once and then likely throw it away. That seemed too much of a waste, and I was up for adventure anyways.

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A few tetons.

I got to the geyser fields around five. There is a fairly large parking lot, maybe the size of a football field, and a fence of souvenir shops and the like are set up to deter tourists from going from the parking lot to the geyser fields without some sort of mental battle of consumerism. The fields themselves are barely visible, and there aren’t any accurate signs in the parking lot. I saw a bro sort of guy with a flat hat, gigantic oakleys, and a tank top walking towards the shops.

“Hey, is this the way to Old Faithful,” I inquired.

“Oh yeah dude, you picked the right path! Wow, you’re rockin’ right now! No shirt, cut off shorts, gladiator beard, and zero fucks, huh?”

“Haha yeah man, shirts don’t make much sense to me if it’s hot and I’m outside. No shame in my game.”

“Right on!” He clapped his hand on my back and we walked together towards Old Faithful. Once there, I almost erupted in laughter. There is essentially an ampitheater set up around a hole in the ground, and the air has been infiltrated with the pungent smell of sulfur. And the place was packed with people! There were thirty minutes until this earthly vent hole erupted, and the wad of people sat in a quiet trance of awkwardness. The things people do. We sure are an entertaining bunch. I really don’t understand the need for television when there is a much better option engulfing each of our personal microcosms.

I moved to the side opposite of the ampitheater and took a seat on the chalky, white and pink ground. I wanted a view of the people more than I did the geyser. I knew the geyser show was akin to a slight-of-hand trick: watch this hand while the other makes a move and captivates you. Some time later, the ground began to hiss and steam rose higher into the air. The show was beginning! I sat with excited anticipation as the steam grew higher, and the human geyser began. It started with the Asians, of course. I heard the stereotypical “aaaooooohhhhhhh” as they rose from their places on the faux wood benches. Cameras flashed. Hands clapped. Excitement brewed. People who have seen (and some who have developed) technological advancements like robots who can carry intelligent conversation are marveling at a hole in the ground spraying out boiling water to some fifty feet in the air. That’s beautiful, man. There is no programmer that sits behind a computer screen to write the code for a geyser. No electric motor or engine is underground to shoot the water from the ground to bewildering heights. It doesn’t take a person, or people, to operate a geyser. It just happens of it self. And those Asian tourists, some with the mathematical knowledge to understand and create a microprocessing chip the size of a skin cell, still get it.

I walked around the geyser fields for two hours, checking out as many geysers as I felt to be necessary. I even saw a couple of the smaller ones go off. Towards the end of my walk, I passed a group of three geysers, about ten feet apart. Legend, or science, has it that the three are linked under ground and the eruption of one of the smaller ones can trigger the eruption of the main one. The third one sometimes erupts in unison with the main one. The main one typically shoots boiling water one hundred and fifty feet into the air, making it the highest predictable eruption in the park. Next to that information was its next predictable eruption time: 8:45PM to 11:45 PM. That had my name written all over it.

I cruised the rest of the way back to Dumbo and started cooking dinner. It was going to be dark shortly. Part of me was a bit nervous about this idea. I’m a visitor in the middle of a park that’s home to quite a few species that don’t find me the least bit threatening. I don’t have bear spray. I don’t have a gun. The best I have is a six-inch hunting knife and a crazy head. Sure, why the hell not? That seemed like a relevant risk to take in order to see Mother Nature’s peehole evacuate itself with overwhelming pressure. As darkness fell, I threw on my hunting knife and started the trek to the Giant geyser. “Maybe I’ll get lucky,” I muttered to myself. “Maybe someone will show up and I’ll at least have some companionship when a bear decides to join the conversation.” It felt okay. It was dark, sure, but I didn’t see why bears would have interest in the geyser field anyway. There wasn’t any food, drinkable water, or shelter around.

I reached the bench in front of the Giant geyser and his little buddies with no light to spare. I had my headlight, but there was no point in breaking it out. I’m not currently watching anything and the waxing quarter-moon was illuminating things decently. Twenty minutes go by, and I hear footsteps on the wooden walkway. A hefty young guy, the kind you would imagine to be covered in Doritos crumbs while sitting in front of a computer monitor, or maybe sharing a table of DnD with like-minded friends, comes walking up. “Sweet, I figured I was gonna be the only one sitting here to see this thing go off,” I said.

“Ha, I was thinking the same thing as I was walking out here! For a minute, I didn’t know if it was worth it,” he replied as he took a seat next to me.

“What’s your name?”

“Jared. Yours?”

“Derrick. Looks like we might have some time to get to know each other, Jared.”

The next three hours were entertaining, as Jared and I filled the time with small-talk. He was from the northeast, in his third year of microbiology at some smart people school. He wanted to explore the country during his summer break, so he loaded his three hundred pound body into his toyota camry and drove from state to state. I was impressed to discover that he spent most of his sleeping nights in the driver’s seat of his car. That’s beyond me. He was a truly likeable fellow, with a warming sense of humor and entertaining character. When a man makes a joke about how it is good to have him around in bear country because he’s the main course, you know he’s got a good head on his shoulders.

The wait for the eruption of the Giant geyser was turning into a bit of a game. The smaller geyser that triggers the Giant geyser goes off every twenty or so minutes, creating a ten foot spray of water that was barely visible from sixty feet away in the moonlight. As the time closed in on eleven forty-five, so did our excitement when the little geyser began and our comical disappointment when the Giant geyser refused to follow. At eleven thirty, Jared and I made a deal. “I’ve got one more in me, man,” I began. “If it doesn’t go off this next time, I’m gonna call it a wash and head back. After all, they said that the predictions are an estimate more than a definition.”

“Yeah, okay. That sounds good. I’m prolly gonna head over to that other one and see if I can catch it. It’ll be my luck that I”ll sit there for two hours and it’ll have gone off while I was over here. Ha, and I’ll hear this one going off while I’m over there!” A sarcastic laugh escaped his throat as he finished his joke. We had ran out of things to say. Or maybe the suspense of the next miniature eruption was holding us hostage. We sat in silence as time crept along, until finally the little geyser began its show again. And it sounded slightly different. Maybe a bit more robust? We had heard the little one go off a number of times now, so the sound had become quite familiar.

Yeah. Yeah. YEAHHHHH!!!! Jared and I jumped up in unison as we heard the rumble of the Giant geyser begin to fill the air. Within seconds, there was a monumental fountain of mist and steam in front of us. I turned on the headlamp I brought with me and aimed the beam at the Giant geyser. The height was vastly superior to that of Old Faithful, and shortly, it became clear that the volume of water being erupted was substantially larger. A large stream formed under the wooden walkway that we stood on. Crazy enough, the stream was still extremely hot. There was steam rising up from it as it ran below our feet. For a brief moment, Jared and I were reliving our childhoods. We both giggled hysterically as we ran from one side of the geyser to the other, exchanging comments of excitement and awe continuously. It was huge! And so hot! The air around the geyser was noticeably warmer from the steam created as the water met the chilly evening air.

The Giant geyser shot one hundred and fifty feet in the air for around five minutes before slowly tapering off. “Well,” I muttered, “There’s the end of that. Good show, Mother Nature.” Jared piped up- “It says here that sometimes the Giant geyser will subside shortly and then erupt again, this time with more velocity than the previous. It’s still bubbling. Let’s see an encore!” As we began chanting “encore,” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing at the mental image of two strangers, one destined to be a microbiologist, the other commonly referred to as “stoic” and “mountain man,” united togetther in the darkness by a hole in the ground spewing sulfur water. And just then, the rumble that was felt when Giant geyser began its eruption minutes ago, resurfaced with a greater intensity. It only took seconds this time, before water shot out of the view of my headlamp and high into the night sky. Round two was under way!

After the second round finished, Jared and I began the ten minute walk back towards the parking lot, chatting the entire way about the natural magnificence that we witnessed. About halfway back, we encountered a snow-white-bearded man, sitting in his camp chair next to the Beehive geyser. The Beehive geyser was unpredictable, erupting to over two hundred feet when active. It was a cone geyser, meaning that the tunnel which the water ejaculated from was shaped like a conical nozzle, creating greater pressure than its partner in crime, the fountain-style geyser. Because of the narrow pathway created for the water to escape from a cone geyser, cool water would essentially plug the exit path until pressure beneath became great enough to produce an eruption.

“Would you please turn your headlamp off,” the bearded man questioned flatly.

“Sure man, no problem,” I replied. The headlamp went off. It wasn’t neccessary, since the moon was providing enough light to see the pathway. The Beehive geyser hissed steadily in the background.

“Is it going off soon,” I asked. I had walked past this particular geyser earlier in the day, and didn’t recall a hissing noise coming from Mr. Beehive.

“It is,” calmly replied the bearded man. “The hissing noise is the signal for an eruption. It’s a vent, really. Once it starts venting, it’ll be thirty minutes or less before it begins an eruption. It started venting about ten minutes ago. Seems like you fellas are just in time.”

“Awesome,” Jared and I exclaimed in unison.

After a delayed appreciation towards me for turning off my headlamp, the bearded man gladly shared conversation with us. Bearded man had been hanging out at that geyser since dusk, and it became quickly established that geyser viewing was a hobby among him and his buddies. Every so often in the midst of conversation, bearded man would whip out a walkie-talkie and pass on a timestamp and location to someone on the other end. They were tracking the geyser eruptions across the park. He kept using the word “superb” to describe various things about geysers. It tickled me. “Have you two ever seen the Beehive geyser erupt? No? Oh, you’re in for quite a treat. It is…  Superb.” Maybe it was the emphasis he placed on the word, or maybe it was how delicately he rolled out each syllable like a professional skee ball player executing a perfect ball hop.

The beehive geyser erupted, the three of us smiled and gazed upwards, and the night came to a close. Jared and I returned to the parking lot, said our goodbyes, and walked away from each other.

 

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