In November 2003, Dave Linner called to tell me about how he had just bagged his first elk. High on adrenaline, he described how he scaled a snow-covered mountain road with an ATV before the sun rose, hiked through waist-deep snow, shot a cow elk and packed the 400-pound animal out to the road.
That story convinced three friends and me to join Linner in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for an elk hunt-our first. It would turn out to be Linner's last. For all of us, it was an experience we will never forget, one of those vacations where noting works out but it's so much fun it doesn't really matter.
Mike Haenggi and I were meeting the rest of the group at Linner's home in Steamboat Springs after driving in from Denver. We rolled into his driveway at 5 p.m., about three hours late. Sporting a new flat-brimmed black hat and a neatly trimmed goatee, Linner was in the garage sorting through a pile of sleeping bags, rifles and duffel bags.
"Hey man," he said, offering his hand and a grin backed by a slightly baleful glint in his eyes. "Where have you two been?"
The reason for our tardiness was two-fold. We had taken the scenic route, for one, but we also got delayed buying a trailer that was perfect for hauling two ATVs. For the elk hunt, we were hauling a Polaris Ranger 4x4. The trailer had 12-inch-high side rails all the way around it with an opening at the back that was wide enough for an ATV but too narrow for the Ranger. We had the guys at the dealership put the Ranger on the trailer with a forklift. We'd figure out how to unload it at the trailhead.
After explaining why were late, we asked Linner about the fourth and fifth members of our elk hunting crew, Sam Wheeler and Peter Peil.
"They're asleep," he said. "They fell asleep after the third beer and the fourth episode of 'Sanford and Son.'"
The two emerged as if on cue, rubbing sleep out of their eyes and accompanied by Linner's wife, Laurel. Peil sported an eight-month tangle of wild facial hair topped by an unkempt mop of hair on his head.
"Great to see you guys," Haenggi said. "What's up with the hair, Pete?"
"When ski season ended," he replied, "I decided not to shave or get it cut until it started again." He then erupted into his trademark giggle, an infectious laugh that bubbled out of him like water from a spring.