Yellowstone: Old Faithful Sucks

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After the Tetons of my last post, I headed to Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone has been on my bucket list since I was a little kid. I always wanted to see Old Faithful. But sometimes it’s better not to meet your childhood heroes that can’t live up to the hype you’ve created in your mind.

Hot Springs and Geysers

If you don’t know, Yellowstone is a huge geothermal hot bed (no pun intended) and has over half of the entire world’s geysers and hydrothermal features. The CDT passes by quite a few of these: boiling hot springs, bubbling mud pits, and spewing geysers, including Old Faithful. Woohoo!

Here are a few photos of Yellowstone. I’ll show you a compilation video of the hot springs and geysers in just a bit. First, I want to tell you about an incident at Old Faithful Village.

The Suicidal Woman

The CDT goes through Old Faithful Village, which is full of park hotels, restaurants, and stores. It has showers and laundry. Great place for thru-hikers to cleanup, rest, and resupply.

Old Faithful Lodge at Old Faithful Village.
Old Faithful Lodge, one of the hotels at Old Faithful Village.

While I was in Old Faithful Village, I met several other thru-hikers. I ended up hanging out with a hiker named Forest. Great guy. We started talking about caving. More specifically, I talked about caving while he listened. We talked so long that we shut down the hotel’s bar and had to move out into the lobby. I continued my passionate stories of my favorite cave: the glorious discoveries, the heartbreaking disappointments, the stupid ass shit I did in pursuit of new passage, the time everyone thought I was dead and returned to camp to organize a body recovery and to draw straws to see who was going to tell my dad that his son had drowned while exploring the cave.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t actually die, but I did come back with a broken toe and a great story of adventure and discovery. If you want to hear more, then join me camping, my dear friends. As we sit around the campfire late at night sipping from a shared bottle of whiskey, you might hear me tell these tales.

In the middle of my story, an older woman plopped down on the chair next to us. She was obviously inebriated. She had a little dog on her lap. She said her name is Maria and that she didn’t want to live anymore. She said she was rich and wanted to find a man to make her happy.

What an introduction.

Asperger's

I could empathize with Maria. I contemplated suicide for two years in my youth. I was being bullied in middle school. Physically beaten on a regular basis. Despite the fact that I loved to learn and had an almost insatiable thirst for knowledge (I used to read the encyclopedia for fun), I dreaded school. On top of that, I had undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome, which is now classified as Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 1. Basically, I’m a “highly functional autistic”.

One of my Asperger’s traits is that I hyperfocus on topics that interest me and ignore everything else. Hence, my grades regularly fluctuated from an A when I was interested in a class to an F when my interests shifted, then back to A. At the time, I didn’t know about Asperger’s or how it was affecting my schooling. I just knew that I hated school because I was being bullied there.

My grade fluctuations caught the ire of my father. This was at the height of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign with all the warning signs of teen drug use, like poor grades. Thus, at a “Family Meeting”—which were never discussions but just the sentencing phase of a trial that my father had already played out in his mind—he accused me of being on drugs.

For the record, I was not on drugs at the time. My father had absolutely no basis for that accusation other than my fluctuating grades. However, once he makes up his mind about something, that’s it. That’s how it is. End of discussion.

Alone in the World

I was only 12 years old at the time. I was pleading my case to my father, trying to explain that I’m not drugs but that I’m being bullied at school. He didn’t believe me. He didn’t want to hear new evidence because in his mind, the trial was over. My grade fluctuations were the result drugs. End of discussion.

I looked at him with tears rolling down my cheeks and asked, “When you were in school, wasn’t there a kid who always got picked on?” I will remember what happened next for the rest of my life. He looked away for less than a second then back at me and very coldly said, “No.”

At that moment, I knew I was alone in this world. No one would ever support me. No one would ever help me. Teachers turned a blind eye to the bullying. Fellow students did nothing, or worse, joined in. And my parents didn’t fucking care. Do you know how devastating it is for a 12-year-old to realize they are alone in the world? That there is no one they can go to for help?

That’s when I started contemplating suicide. All I could see my life ever being was pain. There was no light at the end of the tunnel; my entire world was black. At 12 and 13 years old, the only way I could see to end this pain was suicide.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t commit suicide. I persevered and eventually went on to lead an incredible life filled with love and happiness and adventure. I love who I am today, and everything in my past—including the traumas—has made me who I am. I just wish there was a less painful way to achieve that. 😂 However, without the hardships I’ve experienced, I would not be the loving and empathetic person that I am now. So…thank you, cold, cruel world?

Side note: I never intended to share this story publicly while my parents were alive, although I do intend to include it and many, many similar stories in my future book entitled How NOT to Parent: A Memoir. My parents can’t change the past, so this story (and the many, many others) would do nothing but cause them pain to know how devastatingly they fucked up as parents. I don’t want to cause my parents pain.

However, things have changed. My parents are raising my nephew now. Unfortunately, they are no better parents to him than they were to me. So let this story be a lesson to you, Dad.

Furthermore, I had never even tried drugs when you refused to listen and callously punished me. Later, when drugs presented themselves to me in my youth, I figured, why the fuck not? I’m already being punished for being on drugs, so I might as well reap the pleasures of drugs, too. Way to go, Dad. Another thing to contemplate while you’re doing some self-examination.

Do a better job raising Chance than you ever did raising your own children. Even though you’re nearly 80, maybe it’s time you took some parenting classes. I’m not joking. Chance deserves better.

Finding Your Passion

Obviously, I could empathize with Maria. I understood the dark place she was in. Alone in the world. Seeking an end to the pain. However, she was placing the burden of her happiness on someone else, on a partner, a lover. That’s an unfair burden to place on someone you love.

It’s taken me many years to learn this, but I know that your happiness—actually, all of your emotions—are your responsibility. What Maria needs is not a man but something that gives her life meaning, something she’s passionate about.

Furthermore, relationships are so much better when they’re a partnership, when you each bring something to the table. You have passions that you can share with your partner(s), and your partner(s) have passions to share with you.

I was just about to tell Maria that she needs to find a passion when Forest spoke up. “You just need to find a passion in your life.” Wow.

Wise Beyond His Years

I don’t know how old Forest is. It’s hard to tell when male thru-hikers grow their beards, and their face is leathery and wrinkled from months of sun and grime. From our earlier conversations, I was guessing late 20s, maybe 25–28. However, he certainly handled Maria with a skill well beyond those years. Every thought I had, he was already there. He masterfully shared wisdom that’s taken me over 50 years to accumulate. All I could do was voice my agreement.

At some point I was going to chime in with some examples of passions to give your life meaning. For me, it’s caving and cave photography. I love sharing the underground world with people, sharing photos of the remarkable beauty of caves, the thrill of discovering new caves, being the first person to ever walk down a passage. I get excited when I talk about caving. It’s palatable.

From there I was going to transition into finding something that she’s interested in and will give her purpose. She said she was an Olympic skier, so perhaps skiing? She obviously loves her dog, Baby. Had she thought about volunteering at an animal shelter? How about fostering animals?

But right before I embarked on that conversation, up walked a security guard.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

“What are you doing out of your room?” the security guard barked at Maria.

“Can’t I stay here with my friends?” Maria pleaded.

The security guard turned to us. “Are you staying here?”

“No,” I said. “We’re thru-hikers.”

“I better not catch you sleeping here.” Then she grabbed Maria and started marching her across the lobby with Maria protesting all the way.

As they disappeared down a hallway, two other people who were in the lobby quickly packed up their laptops. Either they both finished what they were doing at the exact moment that Maria was being whisked away, or they were rapidly clearing out because they didn’t want to be the next to face the security guard’s wrath. One of them mouthed something to us, an apparent appreciation for how we handled Maria, or actually how Forest handled Maria.

Then it was silent. Eerily silent. Forest and I were in shock at what just happened. There’s no curfew here. You can’t force someone to stay in their room. Maria was depressed. She just needed someone to talk to. We weren’t being loud or disruptive. The security guard was a callous bitch on a power trip. Yeah, I’m calling you out, security guard.

With the wind knocked out of our sails, I trepidly wrapped up my caving story, then Forest went looking for his backpack. It was missing. He went in search of a nightshift employee and discovered that his pack had been turned into lost and found where every single item in the pack had been removed and inventoried. It was a mess.

While he was dealing with that, the security guard came back. She told me that we were being quiet, so we could stay as long as we didn’t sleep there, but if she caught us there tomorrow, it’d be trespassing. “No problem,” I said. “We’re both leaving tomorrow.” Then she let me in on a little park secret. The yurts in the middle of Old Faithful Village aren’t on park property. They’re on tribal land, so she didn’t care if we slept there. This woman was all over the place. Bitch to Maria. Bitch to us. Nice to us but with a threat. Then nice to us again.

When Forest got back with his pack, I told him about the yurts. We walked across the dark, deserted village to one of the yurts. Door was unlocked. We stepped in. It was a spacious meeting room with tables and chairs. We laid out our sleeping bags and went to sleep. It rained all night, but we stayed nice and dry in the yurt. In the morning, we got up early, packed everything away, and stealthily merged into the morning crowds.

Forest and I had breakfast together, then parted ways. He went to purchase the last of his resupply while I went in search of WiFi to plan my Big Sky Alternate that would put me through Gallatin Petrified Forest. I love petrified forests. I’ll tell you about that next post. First, let’s get back to the geysers in Yellowstone.

Never Meet Your Childhood Heroes

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I wanted to see Old Faithful ever since I was a kid. When I first got to Old Faithful, it was almost sunset. A crowd had gathered on the boardwalk around Old Faithful. A steady cloud of steam billowed forth. I heard people talking. Should erupt in about half an hour, plus or minus 10 minutes. Sweet! My whole life I’ve been waiting for this.

I find a seat along the boardwalk where the setting sun will be behind Old Faithful when it erupts. There are a few clouds dotting the sky. I’m thinking as the sun sets, it should highlight the clouds shades of pink and orange. Oh, this is going to be magnificent.

I take some test photos. Then I wait. Old Faithful keeps steaming and steaming. A couple more photos. And I wait. Crap. The sun is setting. I wait. The clouds highlight with yellow, not the pink and orange that I had hoped. And I wait. The clouds are dissipating. Their yellow highlights fade away. Still I wait. The sun is gone now, but there’s still enough light to see Old Faithful steaming. Then a little water erupts. Oh! It’s happening! Nope. False alarm. Back to just steam and waiting…waiting…waiting.

Finally, it happens! Old Faithful erupts! Water shoots upward. Unfortunately, the boardwalk around Old Faithful is so far away that you really need a telephoto lens to get decent photos. Even more unfortunate, the water doesn’t shoot up that high. In fact, it’s hard to see the water through the constant billows of steam. Sure, a splash escapes every now and then, but pretty much just a column of steam. After about three minutes, the water unceremoniously dies away. The crowd around Old Faithful sits quietly for a moment, then stands up and wanders off into the night.

What a disappointment.

I went back to Old Faithful the next morning just before sunrise, hoping that last night’s disappointing eruption was a fluke. I positioned myself on the opposite side, hoping to capture Old Faithful with the sunrise behind it this time. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice to say, it had more clouds but was just as disappointing. All these years I have wanted to see Old Faithful, and now I have. I mentally put a disappointing checkmark next to that item on my bucket list. No need to ever do that again. But, dear readers, there is some redemption.

Geysers Redeemed

The day after the Maria incident, I left Old Faithful Village just like I said I was going to do. Farther down the boardwalk, there was a large crowd gathered around a baronial geyser named Castle Geyser. There was anxious talk about it erupting soon. I decided to stick around for a few minutes to see the show.

Castle Geyser.
Castle Geyser

As I’m waiting (and waiting…and waiting…) a couple runs by. I heard one say, “I hope we didn’t miss it!” Off they sprint across the boardwalk to another large crowd. Hmmph. What’s that about? They didn’t even pause at Castle Geyser. I check my map. Looks like that crowd is gathered around Grand Geyser. That sounds impressive. Based on the name and that couple’s enthusiasm, I wander off in that direction.

The crowd around Grand Geyser is huge, but I get a pretty good front row spot. Like the other geysers, there is much of the same excited talk about it erupting soon. And also more waiting. The whole time I kept looking back over my shoulder at Castle Geyser. Did I make the right choice?

Hell, yes!

When Grand Geyser erupted, it was spectacular. A column of water shot high into the air, far higher than Old Faithful. Column after column of water erupted forth, shooting into the sky. I took photos for a solid three minutes until I decided that I had more than enough and switched to video. Even then, I still got over seven minutes of video. At some point, the wind shifted slightly and sprayed the crowd with water. People squealed with delight. Still Grand Geyser continued to erupt. On and on it continued, until the columns decreased in height, then abruptly stopped. The crowd was silent for moment, then burst into applause and cheers.

Now that’s how a geyser should be. I included Grand Geyser at the end of my video below. What a finale. I’ve since learned that Grand Geyser is the “tallest predictable geyser known.” If you ever have the opportunity to visit Yellowstone, screw that lame ass Old Faithful—go see Grand Geyser.

Up Next

Stay tuned for my next post. I take the Big Sky Alternate, which includes the tragic tale of my phone dying during an all-day rain. Not battery dead but dead dead. Do you know how difficult it is to function in current society without a mobile phone? There are no payphones anymore. No phonebooks. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere trying to get to a town with a phone store. Unfortunately, our lives are tied to our phones. Everything I tried to do from a different phone or computer wanted to send a verification code to my phone. Bank accounts, Uber, even email, wants a verification code from my phone. I don’t fucking have a phone right now! That’s the problem I’m trying to solve. Argh!

But I’ve said too much. Wait until my next post to read about the near impossibility of functioning in modern society without a mobile phone. Meanwhile, enjoy some more fungus photos.

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One Response

  1. Bennett is spot on regarding Old Faithful. I spent a day there many years ago with some friends, unexpectedly, due to one friend who came down with plantar fasciitis. We all spent the day running (the friend hobbling) around checking out all the other geysers, and that was so much better than Old Faithful. So many different colors and types of eruptions, I think it’s worth it to see everything else even if you miss out on Old (yawn) Faithful..

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