Sometimes I’m Just Plain Lucky
Last week (August 2012) I went on my annual backpacking trip with some old friends. We hiked up to Big Sandy Lake in Wyoming (in a mountain range the locals call “The Winds” south of Yellowstone) where we set up camp. The next day we took a day hike up the mountain to “The Cirque” through Jackass Pass. On the way we saw War Bonnet Peak, the Warrior Peaks, Arrowhead Lake, Pingora Peak (which has an uncanny resemblance to Devil’s Tower), Mitchell Peak, Lonesome Lake, and Lizard Head Peak.
About half way up the climb to Jackass Pass, as I was putting on my sunglasses (which had been hanging in my front shirt collar) I noticed that I had lost one of the earguards (a three inch gray piece of rubber) which had been present earlier in the climb. Lilly and I were ahead of the others, so after I searched in my shirt and my backpack (the two places I had put the glasses previously), we searched the surrounding area on the trail where it may have fallen. No luck. No ear guard. Oh well, I’ll come back this way later and look on the way back, I told myself. At that time my long sleeve fleece was wrapped around my waist and my t-shirt was under that, but not tucked in. I put my sunglasses on and headed up the mountain.
A mile and a half later we arrived at Jackass Pass which unveiled all the spectacular views of the mountains and lakes mentioned above in panorama view. It was a bit cloudy so I removed my sunglasses. The wind began to blow so I removed my fleece from my waist and put it on. About a half an hour later, while we ate lunch at the pass, the sun shone and the wind stopped blowing so I removed my fleece and tied it around my waist again and put my sunglasses back on. After taking in the view and snapping many pictures, we decided to descend back to camp.
As I am a fast descender, soon the others were quite a ways behind me. As I reached the part of the trail where I had noticed the lost ear guard, I slowly searched the trail and both sides as well. I did this for about a quarter mile, then resumed my fast descent, having no luck locating the lost piece. Meanwhile, nature called and I had to find a place far removed from the path to use “the facilities” (nature’s facilities that is). I removed my sunglasses and placed them in my backpack while I headed into the shrubbery surrounding the boulder field I was hiking through. Once I found a good spot, I removed my backpack and my fleece and placed them on the ground a ways away from my intended spot. I won’t go into minor details, but for the story to be complete you must realize that when a person is ready to perform said act, his shirt is hanging out in the breeze and must be tucked up out of the way to avoid any unpleasant results.
Success, I could continue the trek down the mountain free of bodily burdens, so I tied my fleece back on, put my sunglasses back on and headed down the mountain to camp. At this point I suspected that the rest of the group had pulled ahead of me and I had to catch up in order to make it to camp when they did.
When I arrived at camp one and a half miles later, I found it empty. I was there first after all. So, I entered my tent, swapped out my pants and boots for swimming trunks and river shoes, and headed for the lake (I left the same t-shirt on that I had been wearing the whole time). I still had my backpack since it had water and snacks in it and I also threw in a mini towel to use after swimming. Finally some minutes later, the rest of the crew arrived at our campsite on the lake. After greetings, I told them I would be at the back lake, near the waterfall. They told me they would join me after getting water and changing clothes. When I got to the second lake’s edge (just a couple hundred yards away), I removed my backpack and waded into the water. Noticing my t-shirt was still on, I took it off and flung it onto the nearest bush, near my backpack. Wading a bit more then coming out of the frigid water, I bent down to collect my shirt and put it in my backpack. Still hot outside, I went back to the water, about fifteen feet away where the stream flowed into the lake. Slipping down an inclined rock under the water, I plunged into the lake, up to my neck. Then I decided that since I was already that close I might as well go all the way under. Wow, that was cold. I swam a bit more over to where I had removed my shirt, then exited the water walking on the grass on the lake’s edge. Looking out over the lake, I saw it; something floating in the water, something that was suspiciously the same gray color and size as my missing ear guard. I swam out to retrieve the mysterious object and sure enough, I had found it, miles away from where I had lost it.
Now, being a scientist my mind quickly went through the options and picked out the most likely hypothesis. Perhaps somehow, against all odds, the ear guard had stuck in my shirt (I have no idea how) and when I removed my shirt, it fell into the water. However, where I found the guard was quite a distance away from where I removed my shirt. I had an idea. Perhaps…I removed a piece of grass the same length and shape as the ear guard and dropped it where I estimated the guard would have dropped if I had somehow shaken it loose when I removed my shirt. Sure enough after a minute or two, the grass floated to the precise location I found my guard floating in the lake. One piece of the puzzle solved. I had knocked it loose when I removed my shirt.
Now the harder part. How had the ear guard miraculously remained in my shirt? Plus, that is where I had checked immediately after losing it, and I swear it wasn’t in my shirt. I placed the piece in my shirt. It fell right through. I placed it in again. It stuck, but when I took two steps, it fell right down onto the ground. There is no way it could have stayed there the whole time through all the jostling, the removing and replacing of the fleece, the nature’s calling, etc. So, how, how, how…
Luckily, later in the trip I believe I may have stumbled onto the correct answer, but it is still against most odds. At a rest stop on the drive home, I removed my sunglasses and the famed ear piece remained behind my ear. Could it have been behind my ear the entire time? Perhaps. That would answer why, with all the jostling of my shirt, it didn’t fall out. What it doesn’t explain however, is why I didn’t discover it when I put on and removed my sunglasses several times during that hiking trip. Chances are, it would have fallen when the sunglasses hit it as they were being placed on my head, and again when they were removed. Something else I didn’t even mention in the story above, which I now notice when looking back at some pictures that were taken, is that I was also wearing a European sun hat with straps that I removed several times during the hike as well. If the sunglasses and the fleece didn’t knock it out, why didn’t the donning and removing of the hat? Whatever the case, what remains true is that the missing guard ended up in the lake where I found it. Sometimes as in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In this case, it was not my intuition which helped me figure out the mystery, but the steps of the scientific method which I believe have led me to the truth.