This photo has a third character in it: the discreet sinkhole in the back right.

I turned 26 last weekend. Usually on my birthday I try to travel or do something outside of my daily routine, a tradition which took me to Brazil last year and Savannah the year before. This year, my birthday wanderlust took me up to Montana for a weekend backpacking trip in the wilderness. I have never been to Montana, but the wide open spaces and boundless wilderness has always intrigued me.

So there I was, walking around with my friends between the trees as they scouted for hunting season, breathing in the fresh, mountain air and making my way through the forest. We walked on trails. We walked off trails. We walked through the forest, up to ridge lines, and back down through open fields.

I really enjoy spending time in the woods. When you disconnect from civilized life and plug yourself into the wild, you humble yourself before the whims of mother nature. Weather can be seriously dangerous, as can predators, and humans are but visitors in the forest. Nature holds us at her standard. If we are going to subject ourselves to the disorienting and deadly forces of nature, we must plan and tread carefully.

We had been walking for about the first half of the day, and eventually placed a trail cam and headed back to camp, about a 90 minute walk from where we were.

After seeing a handful of fresh wolf tracks in the snow, Andy spotted a dead elk skull in the middle of the field. That was an easy grab, but another score would be the ivories on the lower jaw, which were spotted in a little stream farther into the field.

The low points were soaked in melted snow, and walking through some spots required jumping from mound to mount to avoid the water. I was hanging back 15 feet or so. Lawlor lead the way to the stream. Andy was right behind him. From the back, I saw it in slow motion. With his next step, Lawlor’s foot sunk into the mud deeper than usual, and without hesitation, the rest of his body plunged in behind it. Wide eyed, Lawlor reached his hand out automatically. Andy stepped forward, clasped his outstretched hand and pulled him back to solid ground. Their instinctual responses looked as if they had been choreographed. It was all automatic. No words were said. Then, we all exchanged looks of bewilderment.

Andy immediately started talking about what we should do get Lawlor dry. I immediately grabbed my phone and started recording the aftermath.

Lawlor was wet and it was cold out, so we needed to get back to the camp ASAP. We did take a few minutes to laugh about it though. It was honestly one of the most ridiculous, unexpected things I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. After what was probably a long, cold walk back to camp, he got some dry clothes on and warmed up with some cider and mashed potatoes. Then we continued on to the cabin for our second night in the woods.

Imagine falling into that sinkhole alone. We had no idea how deep it was, what else was down there, or how hard it would be to pull yourself out. Then there were the wolves. So we figured the elk probably fell in and got picked apart by the local wolf pack. What that means is that the sinkhole wasn’t just filled with mud. It was filled with the decayed blood, guts and shit of that elk. And mud. And I wonder how many other animals met their end down there.

Luckily, Lawlor is the type of guy who genuinely enjoys a good suffer fest. So when shit hit his chin, he laughed about it, put his head down, and booked it to camp to get dry and take care of business. Mindset is everything, even when shit hits your chin. 

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