Storms and Cow Ponds

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Last post I mentioned a huge storm—multiple simultaneous storms actually. There’s more to it than just that. As lightning flashed and rain pelted me, I had to push on. I had to get off this mountain and hopefully find drinkable water.

The "High Point"

I’m on the northern edge of the Red Desert in Wyoming. I see the trail starting to enter some hills, and two points in my navigation app are labeled “High Point”. Some comments say there is camping at the second high point. No water, though. Hmmmm…a nice hilltop view would be a welcome change from the flat, monotonous desert. 

The day is relatively uneventful. More boring desert. I do get into some hills and trees. Trees! Oh glorious trees for the first time in days. But the trees gradually thin out and I am back in desert again. Hilly desert this time, but covered with nothing but low shrubs.

I wind around bigger and bigger hills and ridges until finally I get to my destination hilltop.

It sucks.

No water (which I knew), and totally exposed. No cover whatsoever. No rocks. No bushes. Certainly no trees. Tallest things for miles are 4-inch high shrubs. And strong wind. There is a storm looming in the distance, but based on the wind, I assume it is blowing away from me. Cue the foreshadowing doom music.

It’s only 6 PM, and I’m running low on water, so I decide to push another seven miles to a pond. As I’m hiking, that storm splits into two: really dark clouds to the north, and lightning to the west where I am headed. However, I can’t see the western storm because there is a mountain in the way.

The Mountain

Crooks Mountain lies between me and the pond. Unfortunately, the trail goes over the top of that mountain. Along the way, the wind shifts and starts blowing crazy hard from the north. I crest the mountain and on the way down the wind goes bonkers. Solid 40–50 mph wind, not just gusts.

I’m heading west, walking sideways against the wind. My hat is tilted and pressing against one side of my head in a desperate attempt to protect my face from the wind. My hands start getting numb from the wind chill, so I stop to put on my rain gear. I needed to do that anyway because I soon get pelted with rain a few times, but only for a minute or two. I seem to be just on the edge of the storm, and I’m so glad that I’m not in the middle of it.

Surrounded by Storms

The trail just keeps winding up hills and along ridgelines. Put me down in a valley out of this insane wind! I hike the twisty miles on the ridges. In the far distance, I can see a large pond past all these hills and ridges. I think that’s my destination. It seems so far away.

Over and over the rain pelts me for a minute or two, then stops. Then pelts me again. And on and on I hike, deeper into the storm clouds. Fortunately, the farther west I trudge, the farther behind me the dark clouds to the north fade into the distance. And as I hike on, the storm to the west moves south. Again, I seem to be just on the edge of the storm. 

However, as that storm moves south of me, I can see yet another storm behind it in the distance. The sun is setting, peeking through clouds, and illuminating this storm with amazing yellow and orange and pink highlights. It’s beautiful. But is that storm going to keep its distance? Or will it bear down upon me?

Desperate for Water

I need to back up just a moment. There was water on the way that “high point”, but it was all cow ponds. As much as I needed water, I just could not collect that brownish yellow liquid, full of cow piss and shit. Even filtered, it tastes like shit (literally). I just wasn’t that desperate yet.

So I’m pushing on to another cow pond that is supposedly running “clear”. I am doubtful, but I don’t have a choice at this point. Another mile beyond the pond are reports of a water cache where volunteers stockpile bottles of water to help hikers through dry sections. Unfortunately, recent reports indicated that cache is empty.

However, as I’m hiking, I discover that the water cache is actually labeled with its own gate icon in my navigation app. There’s a note that says, as of yesterday, there were three gallons of water left. Oh, please let that be true!

So I push on. It’s dark now. The sun has set. As I’m walking, there is a massive storm on the southern horizon with brilliant displays of lightning showing off the amazing power of Mother Nature. The lightning stretches for miles. So glad that storm is down there and not near me. Cue foreshadowing doom music…just kidding. That storm stayed far in the distance.

I pass the “clear” cow pond. I don’t even bother to stop and check it. Too dark. I’m not desperate enough yet. Worst case, there’s no more water at the cache, and I have to walk the mile back here for water. Two-mile round trip for supposedly less shitty cow pond water. Think about that the next time you casually stroll to your sink to get a glass of clean water. Oh, the luxury.

I push the extra mile to the cache and roll in about 9:30 PM. Wow! The cache is actually an enclosed area surrounded by a well-made log fence. There’s even a kiosk in the middle with little eaves. At the base of the kiosk are two big boxes labeled “CDT HIKERS H2O”. But is there water?


I open the front box. Dozens of water containers. I pick each one up… empty… empty… empty. All empty. I move to the box behind the kiosk. Dozens more water containers. Empty… empty… Hallelujah! There’s water! Several partial containers that seem to total about 2 gallons of water. 

I am so glad that I didn’t/don’t have to drink shitty water (literally). So glad that I didn’t get the torrential rain that the numerous storms today were otherwise dumping all around me. So glad that I didn’t get struck by lightning. 

As I’m sitting there sipping clean water, I can’t help but think what it took to get here today. It makes me appreciate the little things that I usually take for granted. Remember to be thankful the next time you’re in your home, safe from the wind and rain. The next time you go to your faucet, appreciate that simple glass of clean water.

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