Auld Lang Syne

By Glen Ochoa.


What is it about new year's that gives you that feeling of bittersweet? That makes you a little teary-eyed thinking of the best and worst times of the last year and the hope the new year brings.

Riding in the new year's time capsule out in the middle of nowhere in Death Valley seemed to emphasize the New Year's experience. Here I was away from the hustle and bustle, alone with my thoughts, cherishing what I have in my life and the people I share it with, and celebrating the relationships I have built with perfect pace members that get closer trip by trip. But also embracing, or at least accepting, the heartaches over the last year.

After a scrumptious New York steak dinner the first night at our car camp site, a few folks went to bed, and some of us hung out tightly around the fire for warmth, sharing deep thoughts and some captivating stories. Although the forecasts projected sub freezing temperatures that weekend, I realized quickly that night, breaking the ice with this "for real" group was not going to be a problem.

The next day we began our backpack journey and headed to Cottonwood Springs. Unfortunately, a couple of the members started off with some ailments, one with a cold, and the other with stomache trouble. Although close to backing out, they held strong and stuck it out. With the chilly day-time temperatures, the sun was a noticeable welcome friend whenever it popped out between canyon shadows.

Apparently, folks had lots of energy left once we reached our campsite, because like a pilgrimage, one by one, folks started climbing to the top of a nearby peak. It was kind of surreal. Nothing was said. Folks just started climbing. Like some shared inner voice said "You must climb this mountain now". The view at the top was glorious and the time of day revealed magnificent plays of light across Death Valley. Skiing down the scree slope back down to camp was also a special treat.

That evening we laid out on the tarp and enjoyed the star show Death Valley had to offer and talked into the evening until we reached our cold threshold.

The next morning, after doing some hiking calculations, I thought everyone would appreciate starting later, so I postponed our start time. Apparently my calculations, or topo software was a little off though, because that day seemed to go slower than I expected. I had to have the group pick up the pace a little so that we could make it to Deadhorse Canyon before nightfall. On our way to Deadhorse, we stopped for lunch at one of the springs, which was where I saw the wild horses from my scout trip. We didn't see any right off the bat. I kept hoping, please please please show.

My prayers we're answered. As we continued our journey, we encountered two groups of wild horses in Upper Cottonwood Canyon. I love that canyon. I can see why the horses hung out there. It's a huge remote bowl with a water source, a perfect place for being "born free".

We then came to the tricky part of the loop trip that requires some experienced cross country navigation. This is one the things I love best about being a trip leader or in some respects, a tour guide. It takes time and practice to learn to read a topo. It's times like this where the efforts pay off.

Once we reached Deadhorse Canyon, we set up camp and prepared for New Year's Eve. Maybe I should say we battened down the hatches, because we read weather projections would bring the night's low to 19 degrees. Like a cold night in Time Square. Bring it on! I actually slept out on the party tarp that night and awoke the next morning with frost on the sleeping bag.

That night I taught a cooking class. We shaked and baked and everyone helped. It was one of my favorite moments of the trip. For dinner we had Smoked Salmon Fettucini with a Vodka Pepper Cream Sauce. After dinner, Andy delighted us with his famous home-made truffles. Andy's truffles are my favorite of all his amazing dessert creations.

Since we had to start early the next morning and because of the cold, we planned on celebrating the turn of the New Year on New York time. Well... although many of us we're fully layered and even wrapped in our sleeping bags on the party tarp, as the night ticked on, it became so cold we decided to celebrate it on Halifax time, which is one hour ahead of New York. So just before "midnight", adorned in our glow necklaces, we popped the cork of our White Star champagne straight up into the perfect starry night sky. Surprisingly the cork landed right where it took off. I poured into our cups, and then we counted down to midnight 10... 9... 8... 3... 2... 1 Happy New Year! Ching Ching Hug Hug Kiss Kiss

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
and days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

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