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Out of my element?

A story from the first day walking, posted on my Instagram account…

Walking Coal Country. 1 of 7 // About 1:30 this afternoon the road ended, and I picked up this game trail. Tough to see, but look bottom center. Then follow it up the middle of the photo, deeper into the draw. That's what I did. The draw ran straight north, and I'd been angling more to the west. I was walking cross country through the Thunder Basin National Grasslands, heading toward two of the world's largest open-pit coal mines. I had several miles to go. For the first couple of hours there had been a network of ranch roads, each narrower than the next. Then the last ended, leaving me to go the way of the antelope and the prairie cottontail. Those are the two animals I saw most of back in the draw. Still, I was scared at first. I always get that way in the days leading up to these walks. On the one hand, everywhere I go can be traveled easily enough. 'Sure,' locals say, when I ask if my plan is doable. But nobody walks these places anymore. Me: 'Are there mountain lions in that area?' Local rancher: 'Not likely. But you never can know.' Ranchers ride in trucks and on ATVs and, sometimes, horseback. The coal miners stick to company roads. So I found myself down in the draw alone and unsure. The ridges on each side rose 50 feet and more, and I lost my certainty of direction as I followed the trail. Out of my element, I thought. And that was true. But I also was in my element. In our element: the natural world we so rarely have to navigate. After 30 minutes or so, I crested a rise and found another two-track road. I followed it, but it soon ended. I spotted another game trail nearby, and walked on. #travel #walking #instaessay

A post shared by Tom Haines (@twhaines) on

About to climb out of the tent and start another day of walking. Sixty degrees and full sun. Meadowlarks calling. Coal trains rolling. But the ground feels so good.

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