Round Trip Ticket to "The Big Empty"

Sam Freestone - Moose Creek Trail Crew Member

Former SBFC IDAWA Student and SBFC Wilderness Ranger Intern

I thought about writing this blog post in a journal format. Something similar to the work of people like Pete Fromm or Richard (Dick) Proenneke who detailed the adventure (or lack thereof) of each day with a date and sometimes weather and temperature. However, as a Trail Crew Member on the trail to complete lofty goals on even loftier mountains, I’m finding nearly impossible to keep the finer details of my day in order long enough to share with you before falling asleep pen in hand. That really isn’t my style anyway. I like to get to know people by sitting down with them over a drink or two and sharing the tales which brought us to where we are now. I know this medium doesn’t exactly allow for anything quite like that, so how about I have a drink and write to you from the concrete porch of the bunkhouse I call home at Powell Ranger Station; then when you get a chance to read this you can go ahead and have your beverage of choice and do your best to imagine we're just sitting next each other.

For longtime readers of these blog posts, you may remember me from two years ago when I served as an intern, but for those that don’t here is a bit of my story. I was born and raised in a little town called Adel, Iowa where through my county conservation department I began as a parking lot wienie and slowly became acquainted with the concepts of the natural world and wildness. This was large because of a man by the name of Chris Adkins and through time I became aware of trips Chris led, taking high schoolers from my neck of the woods to the great capital “W” Wilderness of Idaho. To me the chosen few who went on that trip were elite and when I came of age I toiled for hours and hours trying to form the right words to use on my application so there would be no chance of me being passed over in favor of another. My work and worry paid off and I found myself with a round trip ticket to the big empty. The rugged country where I could curse and holler into the wind without worry of repercussion. I and ten others would go on a great adventure together as strangers and come back rugged people of the outdoors. We would all grow full beards in a week and walk with the calm saunter of a man who has spent too much time on a horse. To ease the process of our acquaintance with each other we all filled out and exchanged social elixir forms so that when our time came, we slide into that 15-passenger van without friction. During our two-day drive to across the plains, we received yet another social elixir form. This one was filled out by Connie Saylor Johnson. Her cursive accent was thick and to my teenage self who hadn’t interacted with cursive since the 3rd grade, it took time to decode. But with each sentence decrypted she became nothing less than a mystic walking the wildest part of this earth. We arrived at Lolo pass and took our touristy photo of our group at the Idaho border sign before storming the visitors center and discovering the hot chocolate which I now describe as the nectar of the gods. After piling back into the van for the last 12 miles of our journey to Powell Chris spoke of a song which he believed to be about Connie. The song, 'Yukon Sally' by Peter Mayer began to play and chatter in the van dropped to nothing as we all seemed to sense the importance of the music from Chris’ description. Still now that song gets to me. Arriving at Powell we spread our sleeping bags out on the floor of the cookhouse as Connie pulled into the compound…

Fast forward to now almost 6 years later and the part of myself that I left in the Selway is stronger than ever and continues to pull me back to place where it all started. Once this Wilderness became a part of my life there was little to no choice for me to do anything else but to try and give back to the land that held a heavy hand in my development as a person. Powell is about as close as you can live to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness and that suits with me just fine. Anyways I’ve been rambling for a while so maybe I should go back to whittling quietly. Now that I’ve shared a bit of my Motley Crew’s long and winding road, I think it’s your turn to tell me what connects you to that big patch of dark green on the map and we can get to know each other one letter or comment at a time. Don’t be shy I look forward to hearing from you, good reading material can be scarce to come by here.


Kind Regards,


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