The Leland's Wyoming Odyssey

Sunday Travel Section


TETON NATIONAL FOREST, Wyoming-"Don't worry."

The outfitter's voice behind me was low and calm, the twang of a Western accent playing around the edges. "A horse would much rather stay on the trail than stumble over the side and fall to death in that ravine down there."

This was very good news to me because I WAS worried. Very worried. I sneaked a quick glance to my right and peered down the abyss that fell off from the rocky, foot-wide trail my horse and I were traversing up the steep side of the mountain.

They say a horse's eyes show flashes of white when it is terrified. I couldn't see my horse's eyes at the moment because I was hanging onto the saddle for dear life. So I didn't know whether his eyes were rimmed with white, but I'm certain my own were. And I'm sure my face was ashen as well.

A question flashed through my addled brain about half way through the day's eight-hour ride: What in god�s name was I doing on this gut-wrenching track in the wilderness, my tired old body snapping back and forth with every step of the creature beneath me?

The answer was simple and harebrained: I was reprising a similar adventure on horseback that I had taken with my children when they were much, much younger, and I was too.

Back then, they were in their teens, and I was middle-aged. Now they were in their 30's and I was in my 70's, my Medicare card safe in my wallet.

Once again, we were trekking through the wilderness of the Teton Mountains - along with eight horses, four mules, tents, sleeping bags, fishing rods, rain gear and enough trail mix to feed an army: my daughter, London, 33; her husband, Dave Herring, 34; my son, Sasha, 39; and my old childhood friend, Jim Dean of Berwick, Maine, who was a creaking senior citizen like me and had snow-white hair to prove it. We were accompanied on the five-day trip by a cheerful Wyoming outfitter named Dustin Child; a loquacious trail cook named Barry "Bear" Shaw, and Rogelo Belarde, a friendly trail hand.

As it turns out, taking a trip like this in your 70's is quite different than taking it in your 50's.

For one thing, when you're a septuagenarian the horses are a lot taller. Previously, I was able to put my foot in the stirrup, then swing up, over and on. Now, for some reason, that maneuver wasn't in my repertoire. If there wasn't a large rock or stump nearby to stand on, forget it. The horse and I were not going to connect.

Take-along medications also change. On the first trip, the only pills I brought were Vitamin C to ward off colds. This time, I brought baby aspirins to ward off heart attacks, Glucosamine to lubricate my aching back, and an assortment of other pills to soothe my stiffening joints. None of them solved another physical problem, I discovered: When you�re on horseback at my age -- no matter how spectacular the views -- you yearn for a nap about two in the afternoon, just like at home. And naps are hard to take when you�re jouncing back and forth in a saddle.

But naps or no, there's nothing on earth more exhilarating than riding through the Teton National Forest with your family on a sunny day in mid-July-- the sky a deep blue, the wild flowers daubing the slopes with brilliant yellows, lavenders and reds, the mountain peaks in the distance glinting white with patches of s