This One Chance
Once, in a moment of complete insanity, I signed up for a month-long hiking trip in Montana. It was organized by an outdoor leadership school for adults.
The company’s brochure said “THIS IS NOT A THERAPEUTIC TRIP FOR THOSE DEALING WITH GRIEF, RECOVERING FROM ADDICTION OR IN THE PROCESS OF QUITTING SMOKING.”
And yet, the people in my group were hanging on by a very thin thread.
One of the women had been dumped by her professor and couldn’t stop crying. Another was depressed. One of the guys had anger management issues. And four people that I knew of had had their “last cigarette” in the parking lot before the bus took us to the middle of nowhere.
And it really was the middle of nowhere. We navigated with topographical maps and compasses, covering ten miles a day up and down mountains. We had a guide named Sky, but there were no trails or signs–just a radio Sky could use to communicate with planes overhead in case of an emergency.
As far as I was concerned, the entire situation was an emergency. There were no showers, no bathrooms, no internet and no beds–just bugs in our ears at night and rattlesnakes curled up in our frying pans in the morning.
I carried the cookware, water purification pills, and food: dehydrated chili, pancake mix, powdered milk, hot chocolate, pasta, rice, peanut butter, sesame sticks, and spices. I also had a cookbook with campsite recipes in it–things like pancakes, cornbread, and spaghetti.
One night, after a harrowing day spent fording streams and pulling each other out of bogs, we pitched our camp on the edge of a wide field. It was a nice field–full of tall grass and prairie dogs.
It was my turn to cook dinner for everyone. I decided to make polenta, even though it wasn’t in the book.
I don’t know what happened out there, but instead of polenta I wound up with a salty, gelatinous gruel. It was like something out of Oliver Twist. There was no way to fix it–we had no butter and no cheese. We had limited food rations, and if I didn’t serve it we’d have to skip a meal.
As soon as I took it off the fire, a cloudy film formed across the surface. I spooned it into bowls, and it congealed into a sort of corn-water jello.
The guy with anger management issues stared at it, adjusted his hat, and walked slowly into the woods.
Even Sky, who had been hired for his tremendous optimism and his hippie joie de vivre, looked upset.
We had a lot of uneaten gruel that night. Disposing of it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but we were bound to a “leave no trace” hiking philosophy. We weren’t supposed to produce any trash. We were supposed to pee 200-feet from any stream so we didn’t mess up the pH of the water. We were even supposed to spit our toothpaste out in a wide arc so we didn’t leave globs of it on the ground.
We were definitely not supposed to pour cold gruel down any prairie dog holes when Sky wasn’t looking.
But the consensus was we absolutely could not eat left-over gruel for breakfast. So we waited for the sun to set. And then we slipped into the tall grass and scraped our bowls clean.
I returned to camp covered in dust and dirt, my conscience heavy with the possibility that I had murdered a prairie dog, or perhaps a prairie dog family. That night, as I lay in my sleeping bag in the great wide open, I swore on every star in that deep, twinkling sky that I would never hike again.
I haven’t hiked since. It just isn’t for me. But that’s alright. People find beauty in different things.
What matters is that we rush out into the world. We don’t have to cover any vast distances or anything; we just need to get out there and look around. Because we only have this one chance. Read this poem, my friends, because it says it better than I can. Then you should probably eat some waffles, grab someone you like, and get out there.
by Robert Francis
Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling up the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I’m half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I’m not too hard persuaded.
About those waffles. . .
Those ham and cheese waffles. . .
They are every bit as amazing as they sound. They’re made with soda water and baking powder, and they are the lightest, fluffiest waffles I’ve ever had.
Then there’s the fact that when you bite into them, you get little bits of ham and tiny pockets of melted cheese. I mean, please. Even a prairie dog would gladly open his home and invite you to shove some of these down there.
The recipe is straight from Bon Appetit. Here’s the link–I didn’t change a thing except I used regular cheddar cheese. They’re so flavorful that we eat them plain, sometimes with a little jam.