Hello to everyone from Casper in central Wyoming! I don't suspect that I'll forget much of the year that has passed but I doubt that this week, from Rock River to Casper, will ever fail to make me smile. I ended up staying a day in Rock River after the snow fall during my last blog entry pretty much closed me in. Forrest, Susane and Josh were impecable hosts & I had one of the most relaxing days in a long time. With the town covered in a blanket of white I attended the only church in town for the Sunday service, a small Baptist church of around 15 faithful. It was a quiet, slow day but what a welcomed change! On Monday morning I continued on with young Josh joining me until the town boundry. At the town boundry we turned around & returned to their house to retrieve my food that I'd left in the fridge & then once again walked to the town boundry... A big hand shake & thanks to Josh & I was on my way into the snowy wilderness. As I left Rock River for Medicine Bow the wind picked up & began to whip up snow drifts. I later found out that the temperature was around negative 14degC, so when you add on to that the wind-chill factor we're probably looking at something relative to -20degC. IT WAS SO COLD! Not far from the town a sudden gust of wind blew small particles of snow up through my balaclava & straight onto my face. I acted like any big tough Aussie would & unintentionally let out a high-pitched shrill. My very manly squeal scared me as much as the freezing conditions & I couldn't help but laugh as I stumbled on down the road. I couldn't walk on at one point & sort shelter in a road culvert for 15min until I'd warmed back up a bit. It wasn't a long walk to Medicine Bow but it felt like 100km! I walked on past the famed dinosaur graveyard at Como Bluff & eventually made it one piece (one solid ice block!). I checked-in to the famed Virginian Hotel; an antique hotel still in all it's old charm & in the middle of nowhere. It was made famous through a novel called 'the Virginian', which was set in the very place I now stood. And it was only $27 a night. Turns out the prices haven't changed in 100yrs either. The afternoon & evening in Medicine Bow was a tense time for me. Not because of Medicine Bow, it was a beautiful little town, but because of what I knew laid ahead - a 148km crossing of the Shirley Basin to the city of Casper, with nothing but wilderness for at least 130km. It would take 3days at a testing pace with no back-up & no way of resupplying food or water. Internally I was feeling uneasy about the intensly cold weather & 148km walk ahead. I got to a quiet point where there was pretty much nothing left but me & God. I wasn't praying with words so-to-speak, but I think I'd just saddled up alongside Him as I mentally looked out at my next 3days. In the quiet I felt the Lord say one thing, "Trust", and that was it, but it was said with conviction. I got a good night's sleep, packed up early & headed off before sunrise into a freezing darkness. As I crossed the Medicine Bow River & across the town boundry the 1st sign of morning began to appear on the horizon. It was the most spectacular glow of red & orange & in a way promised a hope of warmth. The rising sun would eventually show up a winter wonderland of snow & mountains under a clear blue sky. The wind picked up throughout the day but the cold dissipated & I was able to, for the 1st time in 2weeks, walk without my jacket. I entered the Shirley Basin in the mid morning & was gob-smacked at the vastness of this mountain guarded basin that extended for probably 80km. I passed by herds of antelope grazing & felt like a small dot plodding along out in the middle of nowhere. Probably because I was. I walked to a point 51km from Medicine Bow & as the sun began to set, found a great little spot on the side of the road to pitch my tent. As I sat down to eat my dinner the wind stopped & it was dead quiet. I could see two herds of anteploe grazing in the distance & then I faintly herd the cry of Coyote's on the far-off foothills. It was, to a point, beautifully peaceful. I half expected to look out into the distance & see Kevin Costner riding along with a group of Indians as they hunted down a herd of Buffalo... "Tatonka!" As the sun set I snuggled into my sleeping bag & drifted off to sleep. By 2am though I was beginning to struggle with the rapidly dropping temperature. The threat was very real & it was due to the geography of the place. I was out in the middle of a massive basin with snow capped peaks surrounding me. With no breeze what-so-ever & clear skies above, the cold air began to flow downwards & the world around me began to freeze. By 4am I discovered that there are few better scientific tests to show how cold it is than breathing out & watching your breathe ascend to the tent roof... & freeze to it! My tent became an ice cave! I had stalactites! I ended up wearing full thermals plus balaclava in my sleeping bag to try & combat the cold but with one final thought, "This sucks", I packed up, shook the ice from my tent & began walking again at 5am. It was still very cold but with no breeze it wasn't too difficult to cover up. I walked & prayed through until sunrise & waited patiently for my water supply to thaw... By mid morning I was still sucking on ice chunks when a fellow called Gary pulled over to offer me a lift. I explained what I was doing & he responded with an emphatic, "Hallelujah Jesus!" He asked me if I needed a drink. I said yes. He pulled out a huge bottle of gatorade, which he'd been carrying but hadn't yet opened. He also threw me some snickers bars & after a great little chat I was left to continue walking, praying & sculling gatorade. With a large variety of wildlife around I was wide-eyed for most of the trip & as I walked up & out of the basin & through the surrounding mountains I caught sight of something move on the hillside a km from me. I grabbed my camera & started filming as I zoomed in. It was a mountain lion. It ran on up the hill & then stopped & starred straight back at me. I thought, "I can see you too mate" & watched in awe as it powered on up over the hill. I was on top of the world after that & as I passed by more antelope, hawks, eagles & beavers I felt very blessed. Very Forrest Gump, but very blessed. In the late afternoon a funny thing happened - I had a craving for peanut butter. Odder things have happened. An hour later, Gary pulled over again (on his way home) & guess what? While in town he'd bought me 3 peanut butter filled choclate cup-cakes! Haha, brilliant!! Thankyou Gary, thankyou Lord. By the end of the 2nd day I had made it to km 104. The best place I could find for my tent was outside a horse ranch. I wandered on into their indoor rodeo arena to see if it was ok for to me occupy their front gate grass. As I walked in, I was greeted by 3 cowboys resting against the bull-fence. Suddenly the lights went out in a power failure & so I reached for my torch & flicked it on. One of the cowboys noted, "I got no idea who you are but I'm glad you're here!" The guys were very welcoming & offered a safer piece of ground to me just on the edge of their arena. One of the cowboys, Jet, did a very kind food run for me & returned from his house with fruit, jerky & home cooked cake. It took the pressure off my dwindling supplies massively & after a good dinner I managed to get a good night's sleep. Day 3 of the crossing to Casper began before sunrise again & I headed up along a dirt track (road 401) through beatiful rolling hills & along stark, steep ridges that droped away massively on both sides. I was beginning to hurt physically from the pace & I could feel a chest infection coming on so the quiet wilderness walking was just the thing to keep me 'not caring' about the pain. By mid afternoon, slightly ahead of schedule I limped into Casper with a few bleeding toes & only one piece of chewing gum left :-) I wanted to find a hotel straight away, shower & curl up in bed but I felt the Lord ask for that one extra effort - "Go to the Church". The 1st Church was the Paradise Christian Centre where I stopped & extended an invitation to pray for unity & i then passed a few churches with no one present before I walked up to the Catholic Church. It was 5pm & apparently the priest had just sat down to eat his dinner before watching the World Series Baseball 2nd final. His reaction at my untimely entry? He left everything & gave me his full attention. Meet Fr Fox. With his dinner waiting, the baseball about to start & a meeting scheduled for an hour from then he responded to my parting question, "Do you know of somewhere cheap to stay?" with his time & his car. He drove me around town in an attempt to find me a place to stay but with a huge tournamnet in town pretty much everything was booked up. His solution? He put me up at the Hotel Marriott. Oh-my-goodness. I walked into my room & just stood there, wide-eyed, starring at the size of the room & the amount of stuff in it. I feel out of place here. My boots aren't shiney!!! Fr Fox didn't leave it there though, he picked me up this morning & took me to mass & then did all he could to help me prepare for the next 15days (today was a rest day). In order to help spread the invitation to pray for unity he even called the newspapers & tv news crew who turned up for interviews at lunch time while we ate ordered pizza. It was supposed to be his day off today. This afternoon 'Foxy' finished off my busy day by driving me up to the mountain overlooking Casper & we chatted about anything & everything. What ever it was, we seemed to always end in laughter. I've felt so blessed this past week. It was incredibly tough & from high-pitched shrills, to ice, to bleeding toes the only thing that fills my mind now is gratitude. God is good. Please join us in prayer, particularly at 4:01pm each day as we continue to pray 4 1. May we be one. God bless & peace be with you, Sam.
"Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you." Psalm 9:10