“Is the glass half full, or half empty? It depends on whether you’re pouring, or drinking.”
The hike down was pretty uneventful. This was okay with me. We already had enough adventures: climbing snowy mountain walls and fording rivers. As we neared the end of the trail, I came upon a sturdy wooden bridge over the stream. I stopped and gave Paul a look of disgust. Bridges are for pussies.
When we finally came out of the trees to the relieving sight of the Element, I checked the time to see our hike down had only taken four hours – just as we had been told. Back at the car we didn’t say much, unpacking our bags, peeling off our soggy socks, and emptying our stinky shoes of pebbles. Once we had everything somewhat organized, we headed back to Ennis with one thing in mind: must eat now! A diet of jerky and granola can only hold you for so long.
After scouring the streets for a barbeque joint, we settled on a mom and pop café nestled in downtown. I had a giant chicken fried steak and Paul had a buffalo burger. We ate in sleepy silence. At one point the waitress came over and asked if we were all right. She said we looked like zombies. I wanted to explain that we had been hiking for two days straight, but lacked the energy to produce any words other than “eh”.
Back on 287 with our stomachs full, we had a dilemma before us. We both were exhausted and in desperate need of rest, but we disagreed on where we should stay for the night. I thought we should drive into Yellowstone National Park and camp there. Paul disagreed, thinking this would cost us money and we would have to deal with tourists in RVs. He wanted to stay by a pond about 15 miles north of the park. We argued for about five minutes; I really wanted to stay at Yellowstone just because, heck, it’s Yellowstone. Paul contended it wouldn’t be like I expected and would cost money.
When we finally reached the pond, my drowsiness conceded to his plan and I pulled into the gravel drive. We wordlessly walked up the passageway, finally setting up the tent in the first decent area we came upon. I was inside sleeping before Paul had even started the fire.
We rested late into the next morning, letting our replenished bodies rest for just a little bit longer. Eventually, we got up and began tearing down camp, stiff joints and all. My body hasn’t ached like that since two-a-days in high school football.
On the way to Yellowstone, we refilled our ice, and I grabbed a much needed coffee. I perused the beer aisle again, and discovered a couple six packs from a brewery in Victor, Idaho. In the car I checked the map and found that Victor wouldn’t be too far out of the way if we had enough time that evening.
Back on the road, we began seeing signs saying “Yellowstone National Park Ahead”. My excitement began bubbling; I’d never been to the famous park and looked forward to seeing more of nature’s beauty. A few minutes later we came upon the entrance and paid our 25 dollar fee. Upon entering, we quickly came to a complete stop – cars, cars, and more cars. It looked like big city traffic jam; just replace the trucks with RVs and mini-vans. Slowly inching our way down the road, we both wondered how there could be traffic in a park. I hoped and prayed that an obese tourist would step too close to a grizzly and get clawed to death.
After driving 10 minutes and only moving about 10 feet, a guy suddenly flew down past the line of cars, driving in the wrong lane.
“Where the hell does that guy think he’s going?” Right as I said this I noticed him suddenly swerving back into our lane and flying off over the hillside…it didn’t make sense. Then, I realized what was happening just ahead of us.
“Dude! We are at a stop because some dumb ass up there is holding everyone up!” Paul screamed. Others in the line also noticed this, and began passing the road squatter. When we reached the silver Uplander, I saw what they were stopped for. A bald eagle sat perched on the top of a roadside tree. As we passed them, I goose-necked and took a picture of the bird. I examined my photo as Paul picked up speed – It didn’t look like much more than a brown blur. I couldn’t believe these idiots held up traffic for 10 minutes just to take a picture of what may have been an eagle.
Further up the road we noticed people parked roadside like the eagle loving morons from earlier should have done. When I looked to see the sight-seeing occasion, I spotted a prairie of tall grass with a family of elk roaming in the distance. We stopped and joined the tourists, taking pictures. That’s when I noticed the backdrop of the scene: dead trees stood all around them, and the hillside in the distance was scattered with blackened logs. I knew the park got devastated by a fire in 88′ but didn’t expect to see the causalities still strewn across the land.
I figured the massacre’s remains would just be seen in one area, but the entire park would end up featuring a landscape of burnt trees. Looking over the land, I mentioned to Paul that this is what the Desolation of Smaug might have looked like (last “Hobbit” reference, I promise). The drive that I expected to be a highlight of the trip, slowly turned into a depressing ride through a tree cemetery. I could still see traces of the beauty that once graced the land. It was a lot like listening to a Times New Viking CD – you think you might be hearing some amazing pop songs, but it’s hard to tell beneath the carnage caused by the shitty recording quality.
We only stopped a few more times to look at waterfalls and a few geysers from a distance. Neither of us wanted to deal with the tourists that ran amuck. We pulled into the area where you could go watch Old Faithful, but decided against it when we saw the stream of people walking toward the bleachers. Yes, there are bleachers. When I noticed a guy pushing a stroller, I became annoyed.
“Why would you bring a baby to Yellowstone? God damn terrorist.”
Paul sat quiet for a second, then said, “Uh, did you say terrorist?” I looked at him, realizing my word slip-up. I went with it anyways.
“Yeah, fucking terrorists. They’re terrorizing nature maaaaan!” We both laughed and kept using “terrorists” the remainder of the day to describe the sightseers bothering nature.
Disgusted with the entire Yellowstone experience, we sped through the last leg of the drive. Paul put in some 70s metal band called Cirith Ungol (named after a location in Middle Earth…I know, I know, I already broke my promise). When track two came on, a song called “I’m Alive”, Paul screamed along to the chorus of, you guessed it, “I’m ALIVE!” The second verse seemed fitting for our exit from the land of the dead:
I roamed the world in search of life
Death followed in my wake
I searched for truth, I want the truth
And learned more than I could take
I’ve walked the roads of mystery
And it’s aged me much too soon
I’ve pied the piper and I’ve pied him well
But he still calls the tune
Soon after our exit from the park, we began seeing the outlines of an intimidating mountain range – The Grand Tetons. We began stopping every two minutes to soak in the grandeur of the Tetons; it was almost like we couldn’t resist stopping to stare. Back in the car, we would both look off at the distant peaks. Occasionally one of us would break the silence singing the opening lyric to the Modest Mouse song “Blame It On the Tetons”.
We stopped when we reached a lake that sat at the foot of the mountain range. We got out of the car and rested on the shore for a while, wishing we had a canoe to row out to the mountain’s edge. In Bozeman we saw brochures advertising a kayak trip out to the Tetons for the low price of 95 dollars. We passed, but wished the remainder of the trip that we had the foresight to bring a boat of some kind.
After about 20 minutes, I suggested we get going or our goal of reaching Pinedale, Wyoming by sun down would never happen. Before heading to Pinedale though, we wanted to make a quick stop in Jackson Hole to visit Snake River Brewing. Downtown Jackson Hole bustled with activity, people walking up and down the streets visiting the multitude of ski shops and mock saloons. As we drove through town in search of the brewery, I remembered that my brother Alex proposed to his wife while visiting here on a ski trip. The streets they walked down as young lovers, the bars they perused, and the restaurant where my brother proposed: I felt like I was visiting a historic site, the birthplace of their lifelong relationship.
We parked the car on a side street and walked over to Snake River Brewing, a modern building with a wall of windows out front. The crowd of people sitting on the patio stared at us like we were homeless. They were partly right. The only shower we had taken on our road trip occurred in a mountain stream, which we happened to lightly splash across our faces and armpits. Regardless, I didn’t feel welcome at the brewery. Even the bartender acted rude toward us, throwing his nose in the air when we told him we didn’t want food, just beer. I began noticing all the patrons shooting dirty looks at us. What I thought to be a hippie town quickly turned into yuppie-ville.
Even though the walls were lined with world beer awards, none of brews impressed us. I don’t know how it’s possible, but maybe the snooty atmosphere affected our taste buds. Every other brewery we visited had a welcoming, down home feel, while Snake River’s ambiance reeked of pretension. We ignored the asses and began discussing our plans for the night.
“If we leave right now, I think we could get to Victor to try some of that Teton beer. If we only stay there like an hour, we would be able to get to Pinedale in time to visit Bottom’s Up. What do ya think?”
Maybe the snob beer was stronger than I thought, but I didn’t hesitate. “Let’s do it.” I raised the remainder of my brown ale and chugged it down. Paul smiled and did the same. We had better things to do than hang around this uppity joint.
Paul made a quick phone call to the Grand Teton’s Brewery and the guy told him they would be open until 10. On the map the drive to Victor looked like a straight shot from Jackson Hole. Swerving around the mountains, we soon realized it was anything but straight. The drive took us 10 minutes longer than we had accounted for, so we made it a necessity to make our brew stop quick.
Rolling into the outskirts of Victor, Paul noticed a large white barn to our right with a sign that said Grand Teton Brewing. I almost missed the turn. As we approached the building, two horses could be seen strolling near the entrance. I could already tell that it would be a much more welcoming experiences that Snake River.
Around the back we found a door and rang the bell. When no one answered, I stuck my head in. A young earth-child of a woman walked out of the back room with a surprised look on her face.
“Uh…how may I help you?”
“We’re here for a tasting….” She looked confused. “We called a bit ago…some guy said you’d be open.”
“Um…well, we close at eight…but come on in guys,” she said. Although surprised, she already seemed welcoming to the two smelly strangers. Being the only patrons, she served us every beer on their roster, and as we sipped each she’d give us a detailed description of how the beer was brewed and what we should taste. She seemed to know every minute detail of the beers. She gave us the most attention we received at any brewery which amazed me considering she was supposed to be off work.
Soon we moved beyond beers. We told her about our trip and she informed us of her gypsy life that lead her from South Carolina, to Texas, to Washington, and eventually Victor, Idaho. With the congenial conversation flowing, she told us she had a special treat for us and went to the back room. While gone, Paul and I whispered in excitement with how cool she had been. We decided we’d give her an enormous tip. It’s the least we could do.
She returned with a non-labeled bottle saying, “You have to try the stout. We don’t make it anymore, which is a shame.” She poured us each a shot and we all raised our glasses. She assessed the beer perfectly. Best stout I’ve ever tasted, hands down. Creamy texture, a hint of chocolate sweetness, and an irresistible coffee finish.
“Ah…love the coffee taste,” I commented.
“Yes! I actually mix it with my espresso in the morning.” We laughed at her Johnny Cash lifestyle of having a beer for breakfast.
Soon we realized we hung out at the brewery far longer than an hour and had to get a moving. We both bought a couple 12 packs, specialty aged editions of their anniversary beers, and we each left her with a 20 dollar tip. It’s not everyday you meet such a laid back, chill person. We thanked her about a dozen times and finally hit the road.
We had a problem. Pinedale laid 90 miles away and the clock in the car read 8:30.
“I don’t think we can make it to Bottom’s Up before closing,” Paul said.
“Dude, the brewmaster at Madison River said we had to stop there. Now, you don’t want to let him down, do you?”
Paul grinned and asked, “What do you want to listen to?”
I told him to pick something that would pump me up. Something that would encourage a lead foot. He didn’t disappoint. When the opening guitar strums of the new Titus Andronicus album “The Airing of Grievances” came out the speakers, I buried the pedal and prepared for the windy road ahead. We had a race against time on our hands.
The pounding beat kept my heart on pace as we swerved around the peaks. I felt like a 12-year-old again playing “Need For Speed” on my brother’s 3DO, flying through the mountainside at a ridiculous rate. I’m not saying it was the smartest moment of my life, but it was definitely the most exhilarating drive I’d ever taken.
In Wyoming we flew through the Manger mountain range, dancing with the Snake River, passing over it every few turns. Around 9:30 we passed Bondurant, so I asked Paul how close we were. He informed me that we had probably another 40 miles to go…the bar closed at 10. I ignored the imminent truth, and continued my high-speed journey for Bottom’s Up beer.
At 10:15 we finally reached Pinedale with Titus Andronicus coming to a close. Perfect timing. We drove down Main Street feeling unsure of whether the race had been worth the effort. To our right we could see a sign for the brewery and noticed cars in the lot. Maybe we still had a chance. I parked the car abruptly and we jogged into the bar.
“We’re closed boys,” a frumpy woman with a raspy voice said as she lifted a chair and put it on top of a freshly cleaned table.
“Can we just have one beer,” Paul blurted out. She looked at the two of us, looking disheveled and hopeful.
“Eh…just one and your out of here guys.” She said with a scowl.
I exhaled. We had reached another brewery just in the nick of time. Paul ordered a porter, and I scoured the menu for the perfect beer to finish off our long day of driving. Mungo Mango Wheat? I’d never heard of such a thing. It sounded kind of gross, but I thought I’d give it a try.
As the bartenders cleaned the bar and continued placing chairs up on tables, Paul and I sipped our beers in satisfaction. The mango beer tasted refreshing and of course tutti-fruity. I knew this would probably be the last mango beer I’d ever drink, so I relished every drop (even with the bartenders glaring at us).
Looking at my half empty pint, I thought about how our road trip was already half over. We’d already done so much and the days flew by so quickly. I raised the glass to my mouth, ready to delight in what my next drink had in store.