On The Loose

June 14, 2005

It’s nearing midnight on June 14, 2005. In twelve hours I will be aboard a plane headed for Denver, Colorado. I’ll stay overnight in Denver, just to catch my breath, and then, on Thursday morning, I’ll begin the biggest solo adventure I have yet planned: Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Laramie, to Riverton, to Lander, to Pinedale, to Dubois, to Casper, to Cheyenne again, and, on June 29, to Denver and home.

When I went on my first big adventure, to the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland in 1990, I went with a group. Someone else planned the itinerary, secured the accommodations, and arranged the activities. It was almost the same when I went to Ireland for a writers’ workshop in 1994. For this trip, I’m on my own.

My desire to visit Wyoming has its roots in the ten-year-old me who sat on Saturday mornings in front of the television set watching  My Friend Flicka, a half-hour series about a boy and his horse based on characters created by Mary O’Hara. As I wrote in 2001:

I want to go to Wyoming. In Wyoming, people live on ranches or in towns with wooden sidewalks. There are no big supermarkets or Wal-Marts, just individual shops of different sizes and designs attached in rows. One of them is a saloon with swinging half doors that go from neck to knee. In Wyoming the sky is blue and the fields are gold and green and everyone owns a horse. The vista stretches unbroken along amber waves of grain, and you can ride your horse on out into forever in search of adventure.      

That’s the vision I have had of Wyoming since I was ten years old. I was a dedicated fan of the Saturday morning TV show My Friend Flicka, which was set in Wyoming, although it was filmed in California. But I didn’t know that, and I took the hills and canyons where young Ken McLaughlin and his horse met adventure as authentic Wyoming. I also watched Fury, the Story of a Horse and the Boy Who Loves Him, set in the less appealing Texas (and also filmed in California) and dreamed of being adopted by Ralph McCutcheon, who owned and trained the glossy black stallion.

But I learned from reading the source, Mary O’Hara’s novel My Friend Flicka, that a mare was a better choice as the companion animal for a youngster, so Flicka and her environs became the paradigm of my fantasy life. I was a city girl, however, living in half a double house with a patch of back yard barely twenty feet square, and the closest I ever got to a horse was the time the Budweiser Clydesdales visited the beer distributor up on Seventh Street, and I was allowed to go along with my older cousin whose passion for horses was much more indulged by her mother than mine was by my mother. (These women were sisters. My cousin refers to her upbringing as “haphazard.” I regarded it as perfect.)

I made the decision in February to follow through with the dream. I’d had something of a health scare, a period of pain and confusion brought on mostly by winter depression and inactivity. I felt paralyzed, unable to make things happen in my life. I addressed the physical problems with improved diet and some exercise. The mental/emotional component I tackled by making plans for a two-week solo trek to Wyoming.

This piece takes its title from a book published in 1967 which chronicled a trip through the American west by two brothers who sought to get their souls free through contact with the natural world. They were in their early twenties when they undertook their adventure. I’m a whole lot older, and my plans are more modest. (They slept outside. I sleep only inside.) Although I’m taking rugged-soled shoes and a telescoping trekking pole, I won’t be climbing mountains. If I can do what my guide book, Hidden Wyoming, describes as “a spectacular short hike on the Popo Agie Falls Trail” (1.5 miles of moderate intensity through a forested canyon), I will have achieved one goal.

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