The Hundredth Meridian

The Centaur

I used to make fun of them, those barelegged, ball-capped figures grunting under the weight of 90-pound loads giving them the appearance of Neil Armstrong on the moon or a man bearing his own coffin on his back: tall, headless silhouettes lurching from around a bend in the trail to dispel the illusion of primordial wilderness and scare the horse apples out of seasoned stock. So what am I doing trudging the hills above Laramie, a Kelty pack filled with 65 pounds of rocks and assorted trash sawing my shoulders and pounding my kidneys, in 42-degree weather with the wind blowing 3 5 miles an hour out of the northeast? It's Tom Sheeley's fault for having talked me into making a trip off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from which horses are barred by the National Park Service, along with the firearms required to put the less surefooted animals out of their misery. You actually need a PERMIT to 50 down there yourself—pay good money to the U.S. government 2,500 miles away in Washington, D.C., for the privilege of packing cases of wine and beer in on your own knotted-up, broken-down pack. It isn't her bailiwick, of course, but expect to speak firmly to Sheeley's old buddy Maddy Albright when she shows up with the rest of the gang from Flagstaff the Jacob's Lake Inn at three o'clock in the afternoon of April 13. "Who was your Somalian waiter last year?" I'll ask her. The State Department wouldn't treat...

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