Dad told me during our 2nd meetup that he had been trying to figure out some way we could hike together for one of his 2 or 3-day segments between meetups. At that moment, I was not so receptive to the idea because I was still trying to balance all the responsibilities as his “support team”: grocery shopping, cooking during meetups (and feeding myself the rest of the time), seeking out various bits of gear, exploring and hiking on my own, and getting to our pre-arranged meetup locations—on-time. All of which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I had yet to really establish a rhythm or catch my breath. That, and the terrain through which the CDT wove between South Pass and Rawlins was, frankly, pretty underwhelming.
When Dad departed South Pass (hiking southbound on the CDT), I didn’t have much of a plan for what to do with myself before we met up in 3 days. I knew I’d need to get some groceries and gas, and that the nearest station was in Lander. After that, I decided I’d aim for a campground in the nearby national forest. When I discovered upon arrival that the campground was adjacent to a trailhead, I opted to stay a second night. On my “day off” in between, I hiked up to the first of the Stough Creek Lakes at an elevation of 10,500 feet, about 14 miles round trip. Much to my surprise, on the second night, Dad’s inReach location put him only 9 miles away from our 1st meetup. Given his 25 minute-per-mile pace and early starts (he usually gets going around 5am) that put his arrival at 8:45 the following morning! The problem was that I was at least 2 hours away, and was hoping to stop at a grocery store en route. So I also had an early start. I wasn’t sure whether he’d be in the mood for breakfast, as opposed to the cheeseburgers I’d previously promised, so I picked up the ingredients for both. After reaching our appointed lat/long at 8am, I hiked up a nearby hill that gave me a view of the CDT receding into the distance. Just like clockwork, Dad materialized out of the chaparral at 8:35am and we walked together down the trail to the Jeep. He wanted a shower, but in my haste to arrive on time, I hadn’t filled it. So we pilfered water from a nearby livestock reservoir, and he was able to clean himself up. Though his “hiker hunger” had not yet kicked in, I managed to feed him both breakfast sandwiches for lunch and cheeseburgers for dinner.
“Was your Dad going to hike the CDT this year, if not for the pandemic?”
This is what Stephanie asked me, innocently enough, after dinner on June 10th. Whatever prompted her question is lost to everything that came after, but this is where the story begins for me.
I wasn’t sure. But it made me wonder whether his having a hiking partner might be a motivator. I was near the end of my monthslong landscaping projects, and this seemed like a good alternative to finding a job.
So I texted him the idea and he seemed intrigued. But the following night we spoke on the phone and he decided that the risk of contracting the coronavirus (at his age) was just too great. So no hike. At the time I was secretly relieved because when I first proposed the idea, I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around the reality of leaving Stephanie for months at a time, of forsaking the comfort of our backyard gardens and nightly barbecues and dips in the pool.
I wanted to make refried beans, in no small part because I had two pounds of bacon fat trimmings in the freezer, which I had saved expressly for the purpose of making lard. I didn’t really have any intended vehicle for the refried beans, but Chef John suggested nachos, so I made nachos. Of course I didn’t have tortilla chips at the time (and I didn’t want to make a superfluous trip to the store), but I did have a large stack of corn tortillas in the freezer, so I turned those into chips. But I digress.
After straining the rendered pork fat through a cheesecloth, I was left with about 7 ounces of solid bits, known in the south as “cracklings” (ignoring the fact that lard is usually made with unsmoked, uncured bits of pork fat). The lard recipe suggested using these bits in something called “crackling bread”…basically cornbread with pork bits. I had a project!