As mentioned yesterday, Mike of Sometimes Far Afield and I were going out into the great wilderness in search of elk. After my last hunting experience, nerves at the Nerd Ranch were a tad stretched. For those familiar with the area, we were in unit 6C, which is right up next to the Valles Caldera, and generally around Los Alamos. Pretty much everything was at 8000′ plus at a minimum – not the most oxygen rich of environments.
At any rate, the alarm was set for an hour that in past years I had considered acceptable for going to bed. The night before, LabRat and I had come close to looking up what Sir Edmund Hillary had taken with him to scale Everest as a packing list, so gear was laid out and ready to go. Breakfast was bolted, which turned out to be a bad thing, and I set off to the base of the local ski hill to meet Mike.
After some minor confusion involving a local
clusterfuck bypass road, we met up and headed up in the general direction of Camp May. Into steep hills. Hills steep enough to draw folks far and wide for skiing. Hills covered in thornbrush and small aspens, thickly clumped, grow-back after the Cerro Grande fire came through. Did I mention they’re steep? Now at this point, I should say a few words about Mike. Mike looks like a fairly normal guy. A little on the tall side, good build, just your basic mk 1 human male. Looks, in this case, are extremely deceiving. Mike is in actuality some sort of weird human/ATV/Elk hybrid, as he has need of neither oxygen, nor sleep, nor (as we would learn later) even light. Gear shouldered and rifles loaded, we started up the hills to points likely to harbor tasty quadrupeds. After taking a few slightly tentative steps to test the slipperiness of the terrain under the thin layer of snow, I looked up to see Mike already halfway up the mountain, seemingly several thousand vertical yards above me.
“Not a problem,” I thought to myself. “I’m not in great shape, but I’m not that bad either. I should be able to do this.” I checked in with various internal organs for affirmation.
“You’re shitting me,” offered my heart.
“God I hate you,” contributed my lungs.
“Um, boss… about that breakfast…” my intestines attempted to chime in.
“Screw you guys, I’m in charge and we’re going up that hill!”
“No, seriously, boss….”
Several hours later, I caught up with Mike. As he surveyed the hills, sorting out between downed trees and resting elk, he offered a story.
“When I was little, I used to hunt with my grandfather. 60 years old. We’d be out in the mountains and he’d just charge up the hills and leave me in the dust. By the time I’d caught up, he’d caught his breath and we’d be off again.”
“*gasp* *pant* *wheeeeze* Co- *gasp* ol. *pant* *huff*”
“Well, let’s keep going.” He proceeded to gobble up another several dozen vertical yards in two steps.
I checked in with my organs again.
“I hate you.”
“We will kill you in your sleep.”
“No, I’m fucking serious, there’s a problem!”
“Shut up! We’re going!” I replied.
Some yards later, my intestines stopped trying to be subtle or polite. Things had become A Situation. Fortunately, I am (I like to think) as stubborn as I am stupid, and we finished a pretty respectable tour of the draw. With only one snowstorm of the year so far, and it having come through only two days earlier, signs of elk at all were, to put it mildly, sparse. Add to that the fact that I apparently have a Pat McManus-like elk-repellent field (the most concrete thing we encountered was what was probably a pair or three of elk on the far side of some damn thick brush deciding we were too close and taking off – either that, or some trees were really popping and creaking as they warmed in the morning sun). As we worked our way back to the road, I checked in again with my organs.
“I knew you were alright, boss! This downhill part is awesome!” offered my heart.
“Hell yeah, piece of cake! We’re the coolest thing since sliced awesome!” contributed my lungs.
“IA! IA! CTHULU FAG’N!” Ok, so it was a mixed bag of better and worse.
“I don’t know why we weren’t consulted,” chimed in my legs, “but we want you all to know we hate you. That is all.”
After a bit of consultation, wherein my guts provided an uncharacteristically audible contribution, we packed in and headed back for the Nerd Ranch. Discussion, recap, theories about what the hell happened to me*, and an introduction to the dogs (who opted to be assholes for the day), and we all decided that LabRat and Mike should go out and scout for signs while I would hang back and compose loving arias to the porcelain altar. I will omit the rest of my morning for benefit of the reader. I wish only that I could omit it from memory.
At any rate, LabRat and Mike came back a few hours later. More discussion, and Mike decided he wanted to check a few low-odds areas just on the off chance we’d have a better option for Sunday. I continued my love affair with the fixtures. Finally, just as the light was almost faded (and my various anti-evil charms warding off the demons of my digestive tract), my phone rang. Without the handicap of my anti-elk field, diminutive lung capacity, and priest-frightening guts, he had managed to find and kill a nice cow near the Valles Grande. We gathered our coats, knives, and lights and made best time into the mountains.
After some rather interesting driving over unpaved mountain roads with a nice layer of snow which had had a day to thaw, then a cold evening to re-ice, punctuated with a couple exchanges of “Is this the right road? Did you guys come this way before?” we found Mike’s truck and saw lights at a distance up the hill which, given all tales I have heard of getting elk from mountain to truck, must’ve been impossible. Climbing the hill, not only was it possible, but he had already managed to remove the guts. At this sight, my own decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and that they shouldn’t tempt me into performing a similar operation on myself, and remained quiet for the rest of the night. Whatever it takes, I suppose.
From there, we went about the business of skinning and quartering the beast for the
mosey pack out. The last time I had skinned anything was at a summer camp in roughly 1994, so I was just a tad less than skilled. While Mike was apparently comfortable working in near darkness with a small LED based headlamp offering, to my eyes, only enough illumination to distinguish knife from thumb after a few expeditionary slices, I was calling to LabRat for more light in much the same manner as a bumbling surgeon calls for more suction while the patient bleeds from several major arteries at once. His patience and restraint in not simply stabbing my hand to get me distracted and out of the way was admirable.
Eventually we got the beast broken down, and managed to get out of the mountains with no more than minor (read: major) jostling over some seriously washboard roads. We split up the meat, and Mike began the hour and a half drive back to Albuquerque with some home-made beer in the cooler with the rest of the day’s spoils (which given that he left same that morning to meet me at the ski hill leads to our theory that he doesn’t actually require sleep), and we called it a day. While there are some large portions I would be quite happy to never think of or duplicate again, other parts flat out kicked ass. Since the season runs to Wednesday, LabRat and I are going to use our local advantage and try again for another cow before time runs out. The odds are still pretty low, and even if we do manage one, without a pro on hand to guide the gutting and quartering, we may well waste more meat than we’d like, but you don’t learn to butcher without slicing a few primals.
Just don’t ask what my organs think about this plan.
Update: Mike offers an alternative view!
*Once the dust settled, we came to the conclusion that the most likely culprit was some apparently slightly off cottage cheese I’d eaten that morning. Our only local grocery store has been remodeling lately, and the refrigeration units were recently replaced. Best bet is that the curds we took home just spent a little too long outside the cooled areas and, well, you can imagine the rest.