Staring out into the dark clouds that enveloped our little rock island, I came to the realization that I couldn’t ditch Paul; not just yet. Leaving Paul in Idaho and going off on my own would damage our friendship beyond repair. A year earlier, we planned the trip based solely on the premise of having good times with a friend – the mountains, music, and breweries were just an added bonus. Maybe once we reached Montana things would turn around and get back to the way they had been the year prior. I knew our friendship wasn’t worth sacrificing for a week in the Pacific Northwest. If anything, I’d just have to call the trip off if things became worse.
I still needed a distraction. My frustration and anger still bubbled in my stomach. I pulled out my I-POD in search of something that would put a smile on my face, but none of the music, not even Paul Simon, seemed fitting at that moment. I needed something that would put me in high-spirits yet still have a vicious bite…Opie and Anthony radio show! I’d downloaded their episodes from the entire month of June prior to the trip, and I knew that their raunchy, politically incorrect flavor would hit the spot. I laid back on my rock recliner and giggled into the vast mountain range for the next hour. The bit I recall most from that day was a news story about a funeral home that cut a guy’s feet off in order to fit him into a casket, unbeknownst to his family. Somehow, the boys made this horror story funny (at least in my demented opinion).
Here’s just a small clip from the episode I listened to that day on Chief Joseph Pass:
My mood eased thanks to a few dirty mouthed scoundrels in New York. I finally decided I needed to join Paul to try to smooth things over. I hoped his tempers had ceased. When I arrived to our camp site I could see a large pile of rotting logs laying near my tent. As I approached, Paul emerged from the woods carrying more kindling. He walked past me, not making eye contact. He finally ended the silence asking, “Can you break up some of these logs?”
“Sure,” I replied. At least we were back on speaking terms. He continued stocking the pile, and I began the process of leaning a log against a tree and stomping down on its mid-section to break it in half. After ten minutes, I became bored with my methods and decided to switch it up. I picked up a flimsy, rotting limb and cracked it over my knee Bruce Lee style.
Paul walked up just as I pulled off the move and chuckled. “Nice double hand, knee smash.” I took his comment as encouragement, and soon I was pulling off a variety of wood breaking moves including the drop-kick, the teeter-totter, and the over head “HULK SMASH!” Once Paul finished his enormous pile, he joined in on the fun. Soon we were pulling off insane WWF tag team moves. At least for the moment we were back on good terms.
And really, how could we fight with mushroom and swiss burgers on the menu? It would be our first real meal in a week. Paul got the fire started while I prepared the patties. After sautéing some shrooms, we threw the burgers into the frying pan and soon had the aroma of savory meat floating atop the drifting smoke into the Wyoming air – the same night air grizzly bears would be breathing in. I told Paul we had to make sure to hang up the food and clean the grease out of the pan before bed. He agreed, begrudgingly. Part of me wondered if he wanted to meet a bear face to face.
In ten minutes, we were sitting fireside eating amazing, fire-grilled mushroom and swiss burgers. Paul announced that it was the best mushroom swiss burger he’d ever eaten. It was pretty tasty, but it still didn’t compare to the Hardee’s mushroom and swiss burgers I use to inhale before each high school football game, a pre-game ritual.
After our hearty, grease soaked meal, Paul packed up our food and told me he would go hang the food up in the woods. I asked if he needed my help but he said he would be fine. Minutes after he left, I didn’t feel fine at all, just sitting there with the burger scent fresh on my clothes and breath. I decided to go to bed, finding comfort in my flimsy little tent. Despite being inside, I stayed awake until I finally heard a rustling outside 10 minutes later. When I looked out, I discovered Paul, safely returning to camp.
The next morning I awoke to the strange warbling of some mountain bird. It was quite annoying, but Paul somehow continued to sleep through it. I read some “LOTR” for about an hour, until my partner began moving. I packed up camp and he went and got the food. Eventually, we made the climb back down to the car.
We drove for about 30 minutes and then decided to stop when we came upon the type of scene you’d find on a doctor’s office calendar. Since we could see a pond nearby, Paul thought it would be a good place for us to bathe and eat.
I quickly changed into my trunks and waded into the frigid H2O. Although I’d been bathing in ice water for a week, I still hadn’t gotten used to it. As I lathered up my bald head, Paul made his way down the rock wall. He commenced taking off all his clothes and wading into the water, as if joining me nude wasn’t gay at all. Of course, it didn’t surprise me. At one point, he asked if I thought I could swim across to the other side? I looked and tried gauging the current.
“Hmmm…I think so,” I replied. The water was moving at a decent clip, but it didn’t seem like anything I couldn’t power stroke my way through.
“Really?” he seemed surprised. “You should try it.”
My pride took precedence over my logic. “Sure,” I confidently answered. Feeling like I was becoming the downer of the trip, maybe this would prove I was willing to take chances. Plus, it didn’t look like too strong of a current. I waded upstream and tiptoed along the wall toward the raging waters. I knew the second I left the wall it would be a free for all freestyle.
I step out and instantly went into swim team mode, kicking my legs incessantly, slicing the waves with my arms, pulling the water beneath me. With my head down, determined to reach the other end, I quickly sensed that things weren’t going according to plan. I raised my head for an instant to see that the only direction I’d moved was upstream, and fast. Crap. What had I been thinking?!
I had to think fast. Within moments I would be out of Paul’s site and further up-stream where “God knows what” awaited me. I turned around and began swimming back towards our bathing pool, and soon found my body approaching a rock wall. I reached out my arm as far as I could and braced myself for impact, knowing I’d have to also grasp a rock to pull myself back toward Paul.
I pancaked into the jagged wall and frantically reached out my hands in search of a crevice to grab on to. Fortunately, my fingers wrapped around a jutting rock and I found my footing down below. Despite finding my balance, the water continued pushing and pulling me out toward the current. Slowly and cautiously I moved my way away from the treacherous waves and re-entered our bathing area. I couldn’t believe how dumb I had been. What did I have to prove? I’d been a fool.
Of course, Paul disagreed. “Dude! That was awesome!” I smiled and nodded, knowing deep down that I had just, once again, escaped the culmination of my New Year’s Day omen. I pulled myself up into the rocks and laid back, disgusted with myself. Paul got out also and sat down on a nearby rock (still nude).
As we talked about my raging river exploit, we suddenly heard a rustling up above. Looking up I caught a glimpse of a guy looking down at the two of us in disgust. I guess the image of two wet guys (one nude) sitting on rocks and conversing calmly can be alarming to some.
When I told Paul what I had seen, he began cackling manaically, loud enough that the guy looking down could probably hear him. It was time to go back up to the car; no need sitting around laughing with a naked guy. I changed back into my dry clothes and climbed back up the rock wall.
Back at the car I made a sandwich, trying to avoid eye contact with the people in the two other cars parked nearby. Out of my periphial I noticed someone approaching me. I turned to see the same guy who had seen us down below.
He was the epitiomy of red neck: cut off sleeves, Wrangler jeans, a pedophile stach, and a gaudy belt buckle. I avoided eye contact and glanced down at his buckle, discovering I’d missed a major detail. A gun. Stuffed into the top of his Wranglers, a Lone Ranger style revolver. My eyes darted back up to his face that was frozen in a scowl. I returned my attention back to my sandwich, hoping the gun-toting fella wasn’t homophobic.
Just then, Paul appeared, pulling himself up from the rock ledge, no longer nude, but now wearing only his used Army underwear. Crap. Paul moseyed past the gun-man and approached the car with a goofy smile on his face. The red neck shook his head and made his way down to an area set aside for fishermen.
“Paul…dude…that guy has a gun!” I whispered over my sandwich. Of course, Paul’s reaction wasn’t what you’d expect.
“Ha, ha! You’ve gotta love Wyoming!” he joked.
“Dude, he’s the guy who saw us down on the rocks.”
“Really?! Ha, ha, ha! That’s even funnier,” he howled. Instead of throwing on his clothes and avoiding a gun-point conflict, Paul decided to grab the skin lotion and moisturize his skin outside the car. I didn’t say anything, knowing Paul wasn’t antagonizing the gunman; he has a strange post-shower routine of always lotioning up.
5 minutes later, as Paul was finishing up his lotion routine, the gun man appeared again, this time not wearing a shirt, showing off his farmer’s tan and blubbery beer belly. The gun still stuck out from his pants, partly buried under his gut, and his pants were beginning to sag off his fat ass, exposing the top half of his Christmas boxers. It was a sight that remains etched in my memory.
The red neck, with his gun and festive boxers, walked toward us with purpose, keeping his steely glare on my moisturized friend. He stalked past us, but his revoltion filled the air. Once back at his truck, I calmly walked up to Paul.
“Let’s get out of here,” I mumbled.
“I’m going to make a sandwich first,” he calmly replied.
“Okay, but make it quick.” To avoid any confrontation, I sat in my front seat, trying to occupy my mind with my book, but not really comprehending the adventures of Frodo at the moment with my mind on the X-Mas Boxer Murderer, pacing around his truck nearby. “How long does it take to make a sandwich?” I asked myself, looking back to see Paul meticulously construct a super sandwich.
Just then, the sound of a grumbling engine erupted. I turned to see the shirtless wonder, pulling out of his parking spot and slowly driving by us. As he passed, he gave me the evil eye, and sped up, shooting gravel in our direction. I hoped he wasn’t off to find more friends with guns and holiday themed undergarments.
I got out of the car and joined Paul amidst his creation of the perfect sandwich. “Let’s get going man. You can eat while I drive.”
“Nah, I’m gonna go back down by the water to eat.”
“Come on man. We’ve already wasted an hour here. Let’s get going.” Paul turned, as if he didn’t hear me, and walked away from me toward the water. Unbelievable. I knew the likelihood of gun boy returning was slim. My biggest concern was time. We were so close to Montana I could feel it, yet here we sat, waiting. It seemed that’s all I did the first week of the trip, waiting, waiting, waiting.
I sat festering for 15 minutes, bubbling with anger, when Paul finally returned.
“Was that quick enough?” Paul asked sarcastically.
I tried to keep it civil. “Okay, yes, it was dumb of me for getting mad that you were going to eat by the water, but it just seems like we’ll never get out of Wyoming.”
“What’s your deal? We’ve seen some cool shit. You’re being weird dude.”
He was right; I couldn’t argue. I had to cool down. I had to forget all the frustrations and arguments of the past week. I had to forget Oregon. We weren’t going to get there. Face the facts. We have two weeks left in the trip, and one of those weeks will be in Colorado with Tony. Oregon would have to wait until next year. Suck it up Andy. Forget the past week. The trip starts now.
Back on the road, finally, our drive instantly turned to pure beauty. If only we had driven another 30 minutes the day earlier, we could have camped in bliss rather than turmoil pass.
For the next couple hours, we were stopping every minute to soak in the lay of the land. Like zombies to brains, we couldn’t resist it: start car, stop car, get out, stare at mountains for 10 minutes, get back in car, repeat.
Snow cover giants surrounded us, looking down upon the miniscule Element as we shimmyed our way between its shoulders. Unfortunately, we also ran into a slew of tourists/terrorists along the way, taking photo op after photo op, although a couple cool groups brought their own sleds and were riding down the snow drifts on nearby inclines. It was really a magical land, that even our sour moods couldn’t resist.
Jon Jon had been right; Cheif Joseph Pass is one of the most beautiful drives I’d ever taken. Eventually, it turned into a crazy, downward switchback, rollercoaster ride, leading us downward, back and forth, back and forth, like we were marbles rolling down one of those old wooden slide toys they’d sell at my church as a kid.
The road continued slithering downward into a valley of green. Throughout this journey to the center of the Earth we listened to The Thermals “Now We Can See”, and to this day I can’t listen to this amazing album without remembering the incredible drive that day.
Once at the bottom, we drove a short distance before reaching Red Lodge. We were in search of Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company, a small town, dive brewery located in an old, red, machine shed. I could still remember our visit there the year prior on the 4th of July – the mass of townies crammed inside, the bearded lumberjacks huddled around the fooseball table, and the gaudy old fridge sitting center stage behind the bar, plastered in an array of stickers.
Despite thinking we’d see the red shed along our downtown drive, we reached the edge of town without spotting it. Had we missed it? Or had our memory served us wrong? We decided to continue up the road a little fuhter, hoping to spot the illusive tin barn. After passing through a slight curve we came upon what looked like a red shed, but much nicer with a vaulted glass ceiling, a fresh coat of paint, and a huge black top parking lot out back (rather than the gravel we parked on the year earlier). We drove past it slowly and spotted the sign.
“I guess this is it?” I said to Paul in confusion.
“Yeah…I guess…I swear it was downtown last year,” he replied, equally perturbed.
“This looks like a new building all-together. Let’s check it out.”
We entered timidly, knowing it was the brewery, but unsure whether we crossed into the “Twilight Zone” or if this was the bizarro Red Lodge Brewery.
Inside the beauty matched the exterior. The walls, once faded with chipping paint, were now colorfully designed, featuring a vast array of shimmering medals. A glass wall sat near the back, looking straight into the brewery filled with more shiney goodness. I took a seat at one of the art deco tables while Paul went up to order our first two brews.
I began looking around the immaculate brewery, everything glistening and new. As much as I liked the new digs, I missed the old, small town vibe of the year prior. It just seemed to antiseptic.
As my eyes roamed the room, I stopped upon a recognizeable item. My eyes focused. An old beat up fooseball table sat in the back corner, the same foose-ball table we saw earlier. I began to scan the room and slowly, recognizable features began to jump out, hidden within the modern design. As Paul returned with our pints, I could see the old beat up, sticker infested refridgerator sitting center stage, right behind the bar.
Despite all the pieces from the old bar, things had changed, just like our road trip. We still had all the features from the year prior (breweries, mountains, etc) but things hadn’t gone nearly as well as the year before. At that moment I knew, with only a couple weeks left, I still had time to make the trip memorable. I hoped my new change in attitude would yield different results.