The sun shone upon my 15-year-old baby face. I had just flown in to Colorado, anticipating a happy family reunion. After frolicking in the crisp mountain air, my dad called me over to the picnic table. Immediately, I sensed something was wrong from the solemnity that rarely clouds my dad’s face. I pranced over to face the words that I would never forget: “Pop Pop Hans has cancer.”
Try to imagine the strongest, toughest, most fearless person in your life. That was my Pop Pop Hans. German, gruff, beer-drinking, deer-hunting, mountain-climbing Pop Pop Hans. Nothing could hurt him. That’s the part that my mind just could not grasp. That same man that had faced and conquered death effortlessly throughout his life had been taken over by this “thing” in a split second. It simply could not be happening. But it was.
This is not some crazy fairytale; my Pop Pop Hans did pass away, as many cancer victims do. However, I’ve always been told not to mourn the death of a person, but to celebrate his life. Being the remarkable man that he was, he wanted a remarkable celebration: the spreading of his ashes over his favorite place in the world– Golden Lake in Wyoming. My equally remarkable Grammy insisted that the entire family take a horseback riding trip up to Golden Lake to hold our own intimate ceremony. The idea sparked much enthusiasm from the family, but also a combined concern over my 60-year-old grandmother embarking on such a voyage. Nevertheless, we got our bags a-packin’ and headed on out West, pardner.
The roadtrip itself was incredible enough. As we twisted and turned around nature’s backroads, we told stories of Pop Pop Hans and bonded in just the way he would have wished.
We arrived at the ranch in Fremont County, saddled up, and prepared for the 3-day trek to come. Again, my family made sure that Grammy was up for the expedition; it would be tough. It was made clear that she was fully capable and that we should not be wasting time asking dumb questions. So, we were off!
Natural beauty and charming wildlife encompassed the horse-trail. Pop Pop Hans had always instilled an innate appreciation for the outdoors in my soul, but on that trail, I was intoxicated by Mother Nature herself. Everything sparkled with tranquility.
Suddenly: “STOP, EVERYBODY STOP!” Chaos overtook serenity. I heard confused murmurs and shrieks as the trail leader galloped back to the end of the line. Apparently, my aunt, Pop Pop Hans’ daughter, had been bucked off her horse, which in turn had fallen on top of her. After much crying and praying, we all turned back and waited until Aunt Terry had been life-flighted to a hospital with a shattered pelvis, but alive.
As tragic as this seems, my family believes that this accident ultimately saved my grandmother’s life. If we had continued through the three days of horseback riding and three days return, we feel that Grammy may have lost a crucial part of her health. In the end, I stayed at the camper with Grammy, while the others made the vigorous journey and honored my grandfather at Golden Lake.
Something inside of me changed during the weeklong odyssey. My appreciation flourished not just for the outdoors, but for the unseen. I finally grasped the fact that everything happens for a reason. And since then, it has always been my personal motto. And, of course, I will always try my best to make my Pop Pop Hans proud.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.