Category Archives: Road Trip Blogs

13. Road Trip 2008: Day 11-12, Return from Long’s Peak

“Nothing more detestable does the earth produce than an ungrateful man.”

Ausonius

I sat on my perch reading for at least an hour when Paul reappeared on the path below me.  He had a scowl on his face.  I wondered if it was due to me not joining him or if he contracted the look of agony during his climb, like all the other exhausted faces I’d seen returning from the mountain top.

“Hey Paul!” I shouted as I stumbled down the slope to join him.

When he spotted me his grimace disappeared. “How’s the book?” He obviously wasn’t too upset.

“It’s great! How was it up there?” I asked as I joined him down below.  He nodded, then turned back toward the path and continued on his way.  I didn’t question him further deciding his climb had either been so enlightening he couldn’t capture it in words or the upward haul left him drained and unable to express his thoughts.

We began our return trip and soon found ourselves back beneath the arches.  I gave the beautiful landscape one last look, soaking the image into my brain for use in the winter when I knew I’d be yearning to be back in the wild.  Maneuvering down the rock incline didn’t require nearly as much energy as going up had, but it was still a tedious task constantly searching out a strong foothold.

Halfway down, we stopped to rest for a spell.  As we sat in silence a couple younger guys walked up.  One of them stumbled toward us, holding his stomach as saliva dripped down his chin. He was hurting.  He leaned down toward a rock and began retching. His friend approached us as the gagging continued.

“Hey, do you guys have any water? We ran out and my buddy has been puking blood.”

“Sure,” Paul said handing his bottle.  They both thanked him and chugged the remainder of our water supply. “Do you guys need food?” Paul, the Good Samaritan, asked.

“Yeah, if you have any we’d appreciate it,” the more composed friend replied.  Paul reached down into his pack and pulled out his only Cliff Bar. “Here,” he said handing over his treasured brownie.  I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.  Instead of handing puke blood boy some jerky or dried fruit, Paul opted for his coveted Cliff Bar.

The puker ripped open the package and began gobbling up the brownie.  Paul watched on with a grin on his face, as black crumbs fell from the puker’s mouth.  Staring at the crumbs stuck in his chin drool, I contemplated offering up my Cliff Bar.  Then I thought to myself, “I think I’m kind of hungry.”  So I pulled out a couple cheap brand granola bars and handed them to the castaways and then grabbed my chocolate chip Cliff Bar, which I relished as Paul looked on in hunger.

The four of us sat around for a while, but decided we’d better get going with the sun beginning to make its daily descent. We eventually came upon a stream and refilled our jugs.  I was so thirsty at that point I didn’t care if the stream carried the AIDS virus.

I walked ahead of Paul, who had difficulty moving downward with his bum knee.  A few hours later it began to get dark, especially when we entered the tree line.  For some reason I was no longer tired.  I almost felt like skipping through the dark forest like a modern day Little Red Riding Hood.

I passed all the sights from the day before: the waterfalls, benches, and wooden fences.  And before I knew it, I emerged from the wild, spotting my Element hiding in the back corner of the now empty parking lot.  Once I got to the car, I sat on the hitch waiting for Paul.  Eventually he appeared at the forest edge and made his way toward me.  When he neared the Element, he walked right passed me and threw his pack into the back seat. “If we leave now we can hit a brewery in Estes Park before they close.”

“I like the way you think,” I said tossing him the keys. We sped down the mountainside and rolled into Estes Park around 8:30.  As we drove through the rustic mountain town Paul pointed out places he’d spent his time over the years while attending a wrestling camp in Estes.  The Go-Kart park, the places they’d go to eat, and the hotel where “The Shining” was filmed.  When I told him I’d never seen “The Shining” he began berating me for not seeing one of his favorite films.  The fact that I hadn’t seen it even shocks me.  Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” and “Dr. Strangelove” are two of my all-time favorites.  But then again, “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a bore fest and only the first hour of “Full Metal Jacket” is worth watching.

"I'll bet you're one of those worthless faggots who claim to be a Kubrick fan but doesn't have the God damn courtesy to watch 'The Shining!"

When we walked through the door of the Estes Park Brewery, we were almost knocked down by a pack of children stampeding down the stairs.  Children at a brewery?!  We continued walking, and entered the beer tasting room where we were joined by more kids and their parents.  We would later discover we visited a brewery/arcade/pizza parlor.

Our thirst for brew over-rode our hatred of toddlers, and we bellied up to the taster bar.  We ordered up a shot of each of their beers.  Of their seven choices, two were fruit themed (blueberry and raspberry) and the Bavarian’s “hint” of banana flavor was anything but a hint. We forced down the samplers and then let our stomachs lead us to the restaurant upstairs.

It was like Chuck E Cheese for alcoholics.

Fortunately the menu offered items outside the realm of pizza.  I ordered a brat with a pint of blueberry wheat while Paul bought a stout to go along with his homemade beer chilli.  My beer tasted good in a Smucker’s kind of way, and the brat hit the spot. While we were eating, Paul called his friend Malcolm who lives in Parker, a suburb southeast of Denver. We still didn’t have a place to stay for the night, and we both needed a good night’s sleep after the past few days of hiking.  Malcolm graciously agreed, and we had our lodging for the night set.

As we finished up our beers and meal, Paul warned me about his friend saying, “He’s kind of a weird dude.” They knew each other through wrestling camps and became roommates during Paul’s one year at the University of Wyoming.  “He’s allergic to like everything. He can’t eat yeast; he’s never drank a drop of alcohol. And, oh yeah, he farts a lot, probably due to his strange eating habits.” A wrestler who farts a lot? Didn’t sound so strange to me.

Paul took the wheel and began the long drive south.  He told me a little more about his friend we’d be staying with who owns his own gym. He uses it to train athletes, focusing on speed and agility. A year before he won some type of world wrestling championship, I believe it was a FILA competition, so he uses that notoriety to help build up his training clientele. Despite Paul’s description of this “weird” guy, I still expected your run of the mill meathead (sue me for being judgmental).

The drive took almost an hour, but we finally found our destination and pulled into his apartment complex.  Malcolm stood in the parking lot awaiting us, a monster of a man with his muscles and veins bulging out of his t-shirt.  With his gelled up crew cut and stone jaw line, he reminded me of a real life Collossus.

Minus the shiny yellow skin, I'd say I'm pretty dead on.

Paul introduced us, and we followed him up to his apartment, a classy little one bedroom filled with wrestling trophies.  I plopped down on the futon and made myself at home while the two friends caught up on life.  I sat in an exhausted stupor listening to their stories of college, slipping in and out of sleep for the next couple hours.  Eventually they called it a night and we finally got the rest we had been yearning for all day.

The next morning I awoke to the smell of eggs – Malcolm was cooking us breakfast burritos and spinach.  A strange combination, yes, but Paul did warn me of his diet.  In the next few days I’d learn that every meal of Malcolm’s contained a tortilla in one way or another.  I think he ate quesadillas four times during our visit.

The burrito/spinach combo tasted great.  While Paul and I inhaled our breakfast, Malcolm got ready for his modeling gig that morning.  A wrestling organization in Denver asked him to pose for a poster advertising an upcoming wrestling tournament.   He went to his TV stand and pulled a handful of medals from a drawer, then threw them in his bag.  He asked if we’d like to come watch his photo shoot.  I declined, but Paul decided to join him since he rarely gets to see his old friend.  Watching a man get photographed just sounded a little too gay for my taste.

I spent the next few hours vegging out watching TV and napping.  It was the first time since my trip began that I actually got to sit and be a slob.  When they returned Malcolm suggested we go check out a state park nearby.  With nothing much else to do, I thought it sounded like a plan and went to brush my teeth and shine my bald head.  We packed into his “work” jeep, decked out in advertisements for his gym, then headed south toward the park.  We pulled into the entrance and were greeted by a park ranger.

“Five dollars please,” he mumbled.  I pulled five bucks from my wallet and handed it to Malcolm who paid the ranger.  As we drove on, I couldn’t help but wonder why we were paying money to see nature.  Long’s Peak and Sphinx Mountain, two of the most beautiful places in the world, cost nothing other than our will to keep climbing.  The last park we paid to enter was Yellowstone, and we later realized it was a disappointing waste of our money.

Once parked, we began hiking down a trail that led to a little cave.  Inside, Paul began scaling the walls that stood four feet apart.  About halfway up he announced to us that he was going to climb all the way to the crack up above and that we should meet him up top.  Malcolm and I left the cave and began to hop up the easier path of boulders.  A few minutes later we arrived at the top where Paul sat in his old man shades.

“It’s beautiful up here, isn’t it?” Malcolm asked.  And even though I knew it was a gorgeous scene, I felt unimpressed.  Sure, the green trees stretched for miles, and the rock formations in the distance were striking, but it didn’t do anything for me.  Two weeks earlier I would have been blown away by the view, but no longer.  I had been pampered by nature’s splendor for the past week and a half, and in the process, I had become my worst nightmare: a nature snob.

If I viewed nature like a wine enthusiast, this would be Boone's Farm's finest reserve.

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13. Road Trip 2008: Day 11, Zen and the Art of Hiking

“When you get to the top of a mountain, keep climbing.”

Zen saying

Paul roused me from my slumber saying we had to get going in order to beat the weekend rush.  We quickly tore down camp and returned to the crossroads where we decided to head up the path leading to the mountain’s peak.  I struggled the first hour of hiking, plodding a distance behind Paul from the lack of both a good night’s sleep and a fresh cup of morning coffee.  When we came upon a stream, we refilled our water bottles and I splashed my face awake.  Still needing a kick in my step, I pulled out my i-Pod and put the Pennywise discography on random. There’s no point in picking one particular album with Pennywise: all their songs over the past 20 years feature the same up-tempo beat, grinding guitars, and political fervor.  The relentless tempo kept my feet moving at a pace up to Paul’s standards, and I nipped at his heels for the next hour.

“Go Straight Ahead – not a bad anthem when hiking up a mountain:

As we came around an upward curve in the path, we caught sight of a herd of elk sunning along the mountainside.  The elken flock seemed to stretch all the way down to the forest edge.  Paul pulled out his binoculars and counted 44 elk in all.  Some roamed around grazing on the mountain grass, others bathed in the sun’s rays, while others tended to their calves stumbling about on fresh legs.  I pulled out my camera and began snapping photos of the amazing mountainside scene when the “battery low” light began blinking and the camera refused to take anymore pictures.  This was a major problem with the awe-inspiring mountain top scenery still ahead.

 

One of my final pictures before my camera died; at least I captured this scene.

We sat down for about 20 minutes, admiring the elk at home in their natural Eden. To see such a large group of animals this high up on the mountain was truly astounding.  Paul told me he had climbed Long’s Peak many times and had never seen anything like what we saw that afternoon.

With the day quickly passing us by, we continued on our climb, eventually approaching a large rock field.  The cool wind seemed to pick up.  With the stones becoming larger, we were no longer hiking but hopping across the taller rocks.  The path disappeared and soon we were following the mini-rock totems set up to signify the right direction.  The rock field gave way to a camping area, furnished with toilets and all.  Each camping area featured a rock barricade reminding me of the snow forts my brothers and I built as kids.   I decided the barriers must be there to keep those pesky, toe eating marmot away.

"Foolish kids! Snow walls and moon boots can't keep me from feasting on your tootsies!"

When we neared the central area, Paul went to take his morning crap in the man-made stall. I sat down on a large rock and began to read more out of Dharma Bums. Just when I reached the section where Japhy and Ray (Jack) start their hike, a hippie woman sat next to me and began talking at me.

“So, you climbing the entire way?”  I tried acting like I didn’t hear her.

“How rude?” I thought. “Can’t she see that I’m reading?”

The last thing I wanted to do was chit-chat with a stranger. “Hey, are you climbing the entire way?” she reiterated. I couldn’t deny her persistence.

“Yeh.”

Seeing this as a sign someone wanted to talk to her, she began rambling about how her friends were climbing the rest of the way, but she was going to hang out here in the camp area all day until they returned.  She went on to say that the climb wasn’t worth the effort.  “The hike is straight up from here on out, and no one returns from it with a smile on their face.  Believe me, I’ve been watching painful faces coming back through here all morning.”

Paul rescued me, but the woman’s soothsayer-like tale of worn down hikers had me concerned.  Climbing the Sphinx was exhausting, but unlike her story of eminent exhaustion, we climbed back down better than we arrived.

We continued on our way, heading upward, hopping stone to stone, with the stones getting larger and larger and the leaps getting more and more difficult.  Coming over a rock mound, we discovered an archway at the top of a steep hill of boulders in the distance. I cautiously stepped from rock to rock in my worn down Nike high-tops, while Paul bounced off ahead of me like a mountain goat.  Every few minutes he would look back at me, annoyed by my dainty pace, but I didn’t care.  I twist my ankle once a week playing basketball; God knows what a careless step in a boulder field would do to me.

To add to my lumbering pace, the higher we got, the harder it became to breathe.  The closer I got to the arch, the more often I had to stop to catch my breath.  I didn’t remember having this much difficulty breathing on the Sphnix – obviously we were already at a higher altitude.  In the back of my mind, I wondered if our smoking exploits had been a bad idea on the eve of our climb into the stratosphere.  “But then again,” I thought to myself,” Carmello Anthony and Allen Iverson play in Denver’s thin air nightly, and they are the cannabis kings of the court.”

"Maybe that pregame joint wasn't such a good idea."

At one point I stopped and sat down, finishing off the remainder of my water while staring off into the wall of rocks that still lay ahead.  I could no longer see Paul, who I guessed had already reached the archway.  I imagined him sitting there in the shade while the sun continued scorching my shiny head.  The sun sat five feet above my shoulders – if I were Icarus my wings would have melted hours ago.

I decided I couldn’t keep Paul waiting longer. I had to toughen up.  I had to fight through the burning in my lungs and move beyond the sight of the searing rays.  I began leaping carelessly up the side of the rock hill, two boulders at a time, not stopping, pushing through the stitch building in my side.  When my hamstring began to act up again, I crouched and walked on all fours, having flashbacks of my high school football coach, Mr. Troug, screaming at me in his booming growl, “Bear crawl damn it!”

Eventually my upper body was doing all the work, gripping, clawing, pulling, relentlessly grasping for the next rock in my path.  I wasn’t going to let anything stall me at this point.  I could relish the pain later.  I had to reach that shady arch: dead or alive.  Higher and higher, aching, burning, heaving, closer and closer, slipping, scraping, sweating, aching…

I pulled myself over the final boulder and was almost knocked backward by both the burst of artic wind rushing through the archway and the magnitude of the enormous mountainscape before me.  The experience reminded me of the final scene in “Vanilla Sky” when Tom Cruise sprints to the edge of the building and is suddenly overwhelmed by his surroundings: the blowing wind and the cityscape below.

A cool version of the scene set to the music of  Sigur Ros:

All the pain I felt only seconds before suddenly washed away. I stood and let the mountain air wash over me for the first time since the Sphinx.

I glanced down to see Paul leaning against a ledge nearby, but I remained in that spot for several minutes staring out into the vast valley below.  Glistening lakes speckled the mountainside and evergreens swayed below, tickling the mountain’s feet.

 

Fortunately, my camera found the energy to take a few more pictures.

Eventually I slid down next to Paul, but we didn’t exchange words.  I could see why Paul loved this mountain so much, despite all its touristy flaws.  I was visiting his sanctuary, and for that moment, everything in the world seemed to make sense.

My solace was broken when I noticed Paul rolling a pebble between his fingers as he looked out toward the scenery.  I glanced down and realized it wasn’t a stone at all, but a small brown nugget resembling a rabbit dropping.  I didn’t say a word and contained my laugher as he continued fingering the turd.  About 30 seconds later, Paul looked down at his toy and had the sudden realization he had been caressing poop in his hands for the past few minutes.

“Fuck man! I was playing with marmot shit and I didn’t even know it!” He tossed the feces over the edge, and I watched the droplet disappear into the great unknown.

One marmot's shit is another man's treasure.

Just as I was beginning to feel relaxed, he told me he was returning to the path.  Since I didn’t feel up to it yet, I told him I’d catch up. He seemed to understand and disappeared around the mountain ledge.  I sat there for a while, wondering if continuing my climb would be worth it.  Could it get much better than what I was looking at now?  The voice of the hippie woman kept seeping into my brain. “The climb is straight up from here on out…” Feeling somewhat rejuvenated, I thought I’d give the remainder of the climb a chance.  It couldn’t get much worse.

The hike turned into a narrow mountain path: one side rock, the other a drop off.  I tiptoed carefully, trying not to look down but still attempting to find my next foothold.  Every few minutes a group of people would emerge from the rocks ahead and I’d have to climb up out of their way so they could pass.  I began to notice that every person that returned bared the same pained look. These people didn’t look enlightened by nature – they looked like they’d just had a root canal.  The voice of the hippie woman continued whispering in the wind “…no one returns from the peak with a smile on their face.”

Coming around a mass of rocks jutting out of the side of the incline I could see Paul up ahead taking a break, sitting on a rock and eating beef jerky.  When he saw me far behind, he waved.  I looked up above him to see that he was about to climb the worst incline we’d faced all day, almost straight up. It was then that I realized I didn’t want to go any further.  I felt guilty leaving the rest of the climb to Paul, but I didn’t see any point in finishing the hike.  I’d found what I was looking for, and from what I had gathered, no one returned from the top uplifted by nature’s beauty.   I yelled to him. “Paul! I’m just going to wait here!”  He nodded, although I’m not sure if he heard me. I knew he probably saw me as a quitter, but I didn’t care at the moment.

I moved up and away from the path to find some privacy. After putting on my earbuds and cueing up Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago”, I pulled out Dharma Bums.  I thought about how all my middle school reading teachers used to profess the importance of finding a comfortable place to read.  Looking out onto my surroundings, I decided Mrs. Jensen would be proud of my “special reading place”.

Along with my “special reading music”:

I sat there reading for an hour or more, and when Japhy and Ray neared the top, the narrative felt eerily similar to my experiences that afternoon.

Soon Japhy was a whole football field, a hundred yards ahead of me, getting smaller.  “How can I keep up with a maniac like that?” but with nutty desperation I followed him. Finally I came to a kind of ledge where I could sit at a level angle instead of having to cling not to slip, and I nudged my whole body inside the ledge just to hold me there tight, so the wind would not dislodge me, and I looked down and around and I had had it.  “I’m staying here!” I yelled to Japhy.

No longer did I feel bad for not finishing the climb. I had already found what I was looking for on this hike, on this mountainside, on this road trip.  Everything else from this point on would just be the an added bonus.  I felt comfort in my surroundings, the natural beauty around me, reading on as Kerouac reassured me that all was right in the world:

“…when Japhy gets to the top of that crag he will keep climbing, the way the wind’s blowing.  Well this old philosopher is staying right here.  Besides, rest and be kind, you don’t have to prove anything.”

 

My special reading place.

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12. Road Trip 2008: Day 10, Rocky Mountain High

It’s Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high
Rocky mountain high

“Rocky Mountain High” John Denver

The next morning all of us were hurting.  We didn’t start dragging around the motel room until 10 a.m, which gave us about an hour to shower and pack up.  My prospects of getting in the shower were slim, so I pulled on my swim trunks and stumbled out into the morning glare.  After exploring the motel, I found the quaint little 10 x 10 swimming pool.  Without hesitation I tossed my dirty shirt onto the fence and dove in.  Instantly the hangover washed away as the chilling water rushed over my achy body.  As a lifeguard (many, many years ago) I learned the power a morning swim can have over a drink related headache.  Not only did I eliminate my weary head, but I got a quick chlorine bath in the process (my friend Tony takes these exclusively).

Tony preparing for his morning bath.

I swam a couple mini-laps, kick-starting the blood flow in my sore muscles and joints.  Refreshed and rejuvenated, I jumped out and let the air dry me as I walked back to the room.  On the way I passed a gorgeous woman with jet black hair hanging down to her curvy waist.  Her dark almond shaped eyes glanced at me, a dripping mess clomping down the sidewalk.  Once I reached our room, I glanced back to her pushing a cart filled with towels – she was the cleaning lady.

“Hey guys, the cleaning lady is hot!” I announced upon entering the room.  They chuckled and casually returned to their packing.  In fear of irritating the rapidly approaching hot cleaning lady, I tried hurrying up the process making comments like “We’d better get going” and “They might charge us extra if we aren’t out by eleven.” When we finally straggled out, she rolled up to our door, looking annoyed.  I gave her a big dimply smile, but she didn’t share the sentiment.

Probably the most American picture ever taken.

John and Tif decided to follow us up the scenic route to Long’s Peak (the mountain Paul and I would be climbing that afternoon).  They contemplated pushing back their biker road trip a few days to hike with us, but based on the look of the hung-over couple, I doubted they’d be joining us.

When we reached Lyons, we stopped at a coffee shop to get breakfast and of course feed my desperate thirst for coffee.  Armed with a Grande Americano, I noticed an internet ready computer in the back corner.  I realized I hadn’t been on the internet for over a week, a fact that would usually drive the web junky in me insane.  But lost in the joy of the wild, I completely lost track of my life in the digital world.  This of course didn’t keep me from getting online for a few minutes; I hadn’t completely weaned myself from web’s teat.

With tummies full and caffeine rushing through my veins we set out for Long’s Peak, traveling up the winding road lined with signs marking it as Roosevelt National Forest.  I wondered if my old fave FDR was responsible for the grandeur or if my new hero Teddy had anything to do with it.

WE pulled into the Long’s Peak entry and soon after discovered a parking lot filled to the brim with Outback station wagons and Land Rovers.  Earlier in the morning Paul expressed his concern about the amount of people out on the weekend, and he had been correct.  Our hiking experience wouldn’t be as intimate as the Sphinx.

We began filling our packs once again and made sure to include the Cliff Bars we bought at Target.  Paul insisted we buy the high priced granola bars that I’d never tasted before. Paul promised they’d be worth every penny.  Plus, in a recent SPIN article, Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes said he wouldn’t sell any of their music for commercial use, unless it was for Cliff Bar.

While stuffing my pillow into the pack, Jon Jon approached nervously.

“Hey Andy,” he whispered. “I’ve got something for you.” He stuck out his hand and dropped a little self-rolled cigarette into my palm.  “Since I’m not climbing, smoke that for me when you reach the top.”  Smoking amidst the thin air of a mountain top didn’t sound very enticing, but I nodded and held the wad of paper awkwardly in my hand.

“Put it somewhere safe.”  Having little experience with a hand-made cigarette, I put it into my pants pocket.  Upon seeing this Jon gave me a nudge and yelled in a low voice, “I said put it somewhere safe!  Here, I’ll give it to Paul.”  I handed it back over to him like a scolded child and watched him give it to Paul, who placed it into an Advil bottle, then into his pack.  This surprised me.  To my knowledge, Paul hadn’t smoked since high school, so I figured he’d turn down the offer.  My experiences were also few and far between.

Once we had all our gear packed, we said our goodbyes to Jon and Tif, then wished them good luck on their bike trip north.  With memories of Montana still fresh in my mind, part of me wished were joining them.  Around 2:30 they rumbled off into the distance and we began our climb.  As we made the ascension, we found ourselves surrounded by other hikers: healthy old people, hippie youth, and even church-going families.  Everyone was cordial and friendly, but our climb felt far removed from the journey into nature I anticipated.  The peak was obviously a big draw for the area with fences alongside the path, stone stairs on steep inclines, and sitting areas every few minutes.  Even when I did see beautiful waterfalls and rock formations, it seemed like the fake scenery you’d see at an amusement park.

After reaching the top of the tree line, the path split into three options.  We decided to set up camp quick, and then explore one of the paths.  We walked back into the woods and found a nice flat space to throw up the tent.  We had it assembled in minutes and rushed back to the path.  The far left path was the only one Paul had never been on, so we decided to give it a try.

The walk wasn’t very exciting, although I did enjoy the constant appearance of animals.  Chipmunks and marmots skittered across the path every couple minutes and they didn’t seem scared in the least of our approach. An hour into our hike, we began to realize the path didn’t lead to much and headed back to camp before sun down.

At camp, we both grabbed our books, him Harry Potter, me Kerouac (you decide who is the douche).  We headed into different directions, finding our own personal reading solitude.  I made my first venture into The Dharma Bums and quickly found myself once again engrossed in Kerouac’s words.  (I still prefer the depressed, self deprecating Jack of On the Road over the happy-Buddhist-Zen-mad-man of Dharma Bums).

With our reading light setting behind the mountains, we began to gather firewood and lit the kindling.  Paul soon had the fire raging, so I put a couple soup cans into the red coals, letting the flames lick the edges of the Chunky soup, performing cunnalingus on Donavan McNabb’s smiling mother.

"Keep toking that fire boys!"

Paul broke me from my soup can fantasy, asking, “Soooo, you want to smoke Jon’s little gift?”  It felt like we were teenagers trying beer for the first time, a combination of curiosity and guilt mixing in our jerky filled stomachs.  I thought it over for a while, and finally came to the realization: why not? How many times in my life would I be sitting on a mountainside with Paul and a little jay of joy.

With only matches to light the cig, Paul unsuccessfully lit it several times before finally succeeding.  Sitting next to the fire, we began trading drags from the little roach.  When there no longer remained paper to hold onto, Paul threw the remainder into the fire and awaited the affects of Jon’s little gift.  The few times I’ve smoked I’ve had the opposite affect from the lethargic, slothful interpretation you see in the movies.  Instead, I become overtly energetic, bouncing off the walls and spouting random, moronic thoughts.

I grabbed the soup from the fire with my BloodRayne beanie/oven mitt and handed one to Paul and then grab one for myself.  I sprawled back onto a rock and stared into the night sky.  The glistening lights above seemed to be smiling down upon us.   I sat up for a moment and opened up my can of soup to enjoy the medley of steak and potatoes.  Out of no where, Paul broke the silence muttering, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if Bono suddenly floated down from above, singing ‘In the Name of Love’?”

“What?” I asked.  This surprised me.  Paul despises U2. He had to be in another state of mind to be dreaming of Bono.

“Yeah, like Bono just floats down, and then Edge emerges from the trees playing guitar.” I giggled at his idea, and added, “Yeah, and then the bears and marmots come out of the trees singing along to the chorus.” Caught up in our imaginings, I stood up and yodeled into the night sky, “In the name of love, what more in the name of love!” We both chuckled at the echo of my howling voice.

I then had a sudden flashback to childhood, remembering when The Muppets performed Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”.  “Dude, dude! I’ve got it! What if Bono and Edge were on the Muppets, and it was like a bunch of puppet bears singing along.”

Paul looked confused (in hindsight, he might have just been stuck in a stupor).  “And then like Fozzie bear comes in and ruins everything yelling ‘Wok ka Wok ka? Eh? Paul?”  He stared at me glossy eyed. I lost him with my random Muppet reference, but didn’t care, thinking back to the classic Muppet scene, hunters and all. I began pacing around the fire, continuing my random ramblings while Paul just kind of lifelessly laid there, much like the rock beneath his head. I looked down at him and asked, “Are you feeling it already?”

“Yeh,” he mumbled.  “Aren’t you?”

Feeling chock full energy, I should have known the affects had taken over, but for some reason I was convinced I remained unaffected. “No dude, this sucks.”  I then continued rambling – talking about what a strange word “pertinent” is, questioning where soup was invented, and spouting off a jumbled mess of ideas for the upcoming Repeater and the Wolf album.  Paul finally broke my stream of consciousness, asking, “Aren’t you tired?”

“No!” I responded.

“Well, I’m ready to crash,” he said, closing his eyes.

“Um…okay.” I looked at the time on my i-Pod, and realized it had already reached midnight.  The night had flown by us, lost in our fire side reverie. I crawled into the tent and laid back, trying to find the calming solace Paul was feeling.  Unfortunately, my crazy legs continued kicking and my brain couldn’t stop wondering where marmots sleep at night.

To help ease my mile-a-minute mind, I put on my ear buds and began listening to some Opie and Anthony, letting their conversation occupy my brain.  I don’t remember much of the show I listened to, but  O and A have never seemed quite as funny as they did that night on top of Long’s Peak.   I’m not sure what time I finally went to bed, but the next morning Paul complained that he could hear my maniacal giggling into the early hours of the morning.

"To answer your question, marmots sleep where ever the hell they want. Now go to sleep before I eat your toes you giggle-y fuck."

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11. Road Trip 2008: Day 8-9, Hippies and C-Bombs

“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Once Aimee’s amazing set finished, we decided to leave.  Old bullet head Marc Cohn could never upstage her performance.  Before heading out, I stopped at the merch-booth.  Since my mom is also an Aimee Mann fan and her birthday was coming up soon, I wanted to buy her a t-shirt.  I looked at the options available, but they all featured the title of her latest album “@%&*! Smilers.”  Since I couldn’t imagine my mom walking around small town Iowa in a shirt that basically said “Fuck Smilers”, I opted for “Bachelor No. 2”, the only album my mom doesn’t own.

Walking back toward the car, I pulled my phone out to see I missed four calls during the show.  They were all from Jon Jon. I called my voice mail to see what his urgency was all about:

“Hey you mother fuckers. It’s Johnny. God damn it, why didn’t you faggots tell me you were going on a road trip.  I’m off this week and taking my bike up to Montana.  Call me back.”

This message was followed by three others, all Jon Jon expressing the same sentiment, although with his voice becoming more and more slurred with each.  He obviously tipped back a few whiskeys while awaiting our call back.  Jon Jon grew up in the same rural area of Nebraska as Paul. I met him eight summers ago when he joined Paul and Carl on their road trip to Des Moines.  They met up with Tony and I at the Iowa State Fair where we watched Bob Dylan mumble through his hits.  Since then, I’ve gotten to know Johnny more and more each year at South By Southwest (he has attended six of the seven years that we’ve gone).

 

A young Carl, Paul, and Jon Jon in my station wagon in the way to see Bobby.

Paul called him back and soon got a garbled earful about our inability to inform him of our trip.  While Paul tried talking down the inebriated babble, I drove north towards Longmont.  Our plan to hike Long’s Peak the next day now seemed up in the air – Jon and his girlfriend Tiffany were setting out on a motorcycle trip through Montana the next day and wanted to meet up with us in Boulder.

Once off the phone, Paul and I questioned whether or not we should change our plans. We definitely wanted to see Jon and Tiff, but we didn’t know if we should take his word: it was midnight, he was drunk, and he had to work the next morning at 4 a.m.  Would he be up for setting off on their trip in his inevitable hung-over, exhausted state?

We decided we’d make our decision the next morning. We had more pressing issues at the moment: where should we stay for the night?  Driving through suburbia at midnight, our options for camping were few and far between.  I also didn’t feel like setting up camp by car headlight again.  Our only options were sleeping in the car or getting a hotel room.  The idea of sleeping in an air conditioned room with a bed sounded nice, so I told Paul to pull into the next motel he saw.

Once he found a Super 8, I went in to purchase a room.  $110 dollars later, we were in our beds, fast asleep.  Up to that point in the trip, we had spent zero dollars on lodging, but in one swipe of my credit card, our spending jumped up 110%.  Fortunately, I was too tired to care.

After eight super days of free "housing", Super 8 decided to rape my wallet.

Since John told us that he would have his cell phone on him at work and that we should call him early to figure out our plans, Paul called him that morning. Of course when we called, he didn’t answer.  Irritated and uncertain whether we should go with our original plans of hiking, we went to a bagel shop to get breakfast.  An hour later we still hadn’t heard from Jon, so we drove to Target to restock our trail mix supply. We decided Jon was bluffing and that we’d stick with our plan to hike.   We chocked it up to John being lost in drunken reverie the night before.

Or at least we thought. Just as we pulled out of the Target parking lot, ready to conquer another mountain, the phone rang.  It was Tiff.  Jon didn’t bring his phone to work, but they were still planning on coming to see us.  In a moments noticed, our plans changed for the third time in an hour.  We decided to push our hiking trip back a day.  To pass the time, Paul suggested we hang around Denver awaiting the arrival of the biker couple.   Paul drove us to downtown Denver to visit Twist and Shout records.  For years, he had raved about Twist and Shout, claiming that it’s the most spectacular record store he’s ever been to.  Finally, I would be privy to its greatness.

Inside, the aisles of CDs and records seemed to sprawl for miles.  Part of me was excited to scour the racks for hidden gems, but I also dreaded the afternoon ahead of me.  Paul is the worst person in the world to go to a record store with.  In a small record store he’ll spend at least an hour.  Looking around this Mecca of music, I feared our day would be more strenuous than our eight hour hike up the Sphinx.

I took my time, examining almost every CD in the store, even perusing the vinyl.  After killing an hour, I finally approached the counter to purchase a handful of CDs.   I didn’t feel like exploring the store for Paul knowing he was probably lost somewhere between World Music and Prog Rock.

 

"Paul? Are you out there?"

Earlier, we agreed to meet up at the book store next door. I think Paul foresaw the grueling afternoon ahead of me.    I looked through all the music magazines, studied the Tolkien section, and even roamed through the children’s book area downstairs.  I finally grabbed a book with tips for songwriting and found a table to sit at.  Some of the tips were useful, but I couldn’t help but get annoyed by the attitude of the writer.  The heart of the book seemed to be on making money off your songs.  One chapter focused on connecting with Middle America, another talked about finding what genre or even specific artist you wanted to sell your song to, while another talked about how lyrics should be literal and straight forward.   It all kind of irritated me.  What about the songwriters who are writing for the love of music, not for the paycheck?  What about the songwriters writing songs as a means of expressing themselves, and not as a device for connecting with truck drivers nationwide?  Sure, I want my friends to enjoy my songs, but in the end, I do it for myself.

Despite my irritation with the book, I ended up reading 100 pages.  In fear of adhering to the money-making psycho babble, I put it back on the shelf and found a clock to check the time.  Paul’s record store romp had reached hour number three and I was running out of reading material.  When I discovered a comfy love seat surrounded by book shelves, I plopped down and stared up into a nearby book case.  To my surprise, I had sat myself down right next to the Jack Kerouac section.

A sign from Dharma?

I began looking through the large selection of Kerouac books, when I noticed the cover of “Dharma Bums”: photographs of mountain peaks reminiscent of the ones I saw in Montana. My old roommate Richard always told me I had to read this book, but I had no idea it dealt with Kerouac’s adventures in the wild.  As I flipped through the pages, Paul walked up, ready to finally leave.  I knew my chance run-in with Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums” was not a coincidence, so I bought a copy before leaving the store that served as my hostel that afternoon.

Driving back north to Boulder, Paul called Tiff to check on their progress. They were just about to leave from Lyman.  They said they wanted to stay in a motel, which sounded like a good idea despite the price I knew that awaited us. At least this time it would be split between four people.  As we continued up the interstate, I grabbed Paul’s paper sack of CDs and began looking through his 15 purchases: Free Design, Nadja, Gentlemen’s Pistols, Food Brain, Nachtmystium, Anne Briggs, Art Bear, Euphoria, Orange Goblin, Gilbert Gil, Twink, High Tide, Roy Harper, The Groundhogs, and Extra Life.  Of the 15, I only recognized three of them.  I like obscure music as much as the next music snob, but Paul’s expeditions into the unknown ceases to amaze me.

In Boulder we drove around for an hour, trying to find a motel.  We stopped at a few, who of course didn’t have any open rooms, but they directed us to one on the edge of town where we got a room for $95 dollars.  We only asked for one bed. I figured we’d slept on nature’s ground for a week, a motel room floor wouldn’t harm us (minus the dried cum and all).  As if on cue, Jon and Tif called while we unpacked the car, and once they had directions, Jon’s rumbling motorcycle came rolling around the corner of the motel.  We threw all their bags into the room and headed out for some food, brew, and good times with old friends.

Our first stop was Mountain Sun Brewery.  We walked through the door and found ourselves surrounded by hemp wearing hippie folk. The walls were covered by Grateful Dead posters and tie-dye psychedelia.  With so many skunky smelling tree huggers, we couldn’t find a table.   Since the brewery also sold organic food and tofu based blah, we ended up standing near the bar, ordering up a few drinks.  I ordered a Swan IPA and looked around in disgust at the hippie patrons.  I don’t know why I hate hippies.  I love nature, I’m extremely liberal, and I don’t mind an occasional veggie burger.  I guess they just take things a little too far and try to rub it in your face: the 9/11 conspiracies, the shitty jam bands (Phish, DMB), and the mania for all things organic.

And now I had one more reason to hate hippies – my Swan IPA tasted like a dusty rag dipped in castor oil.  The other’s drinks were better, so I couldn’t totally dismiss hippy beer.  The Thunder Stout Paul ordered tasted especially great, with the coffee overtones and a little splash of fruity sweetness.  We ended up getting another round but didn’t scratch the surface of what they had to offer. With 15 beers on tap, we would have spent the entire evening trying to taste them all. It didn’t help that Jon Jon ordered the same wheat beer both times (we of course scolded him for not having beer tasting etiquette by switching it up).

Next we walked up Boulder’s famed Pearl Street in search of B.J.’s Restaurant Brewhouse.  The streets were also filled with hippies walking around barefoot.  It seemed at every block we were greeted by a dreadlocked hippie playing guitar or an activist asking us to sign an anti-war petition.

We finally escaped hippy hell, finding solace in B.J.’s sterile atmosphere.  The waitress led us to a table upstairs, away from almost everyone except a large group of couples dressed to the nines.  We ordered up some beers and food, and began catching up on life.  We found out that the railroad company Jon worked for had recently been bought out.  Fortunately, he was one of the guys to be picked up by the new company. Since his new bosses wouldn’t be taking over for another week, he had seven free days to explore the mountains with his girl Tiff.

All of the beers were tasty, although nothing blew my top off like the savory food they brought out.  At the time we didn’t realize BJ’s was a chain, but in recent years, three of their brewery restaurants have opened in San Antonio alone.

We were on our 5th beer of the night when Paul’s voice started to get louder. This is a sign he is drunk, as with most.  With the table of fancy pants gone, we were alone upstairs, and he began telling us about an event that happened this past winter.  The story entailed an angry girl who didn’t appreciate Paul’s use of the word “cunt”.  She told him she’d put a cigarette out in his eye if he used the word again, so of course, he called her a “cunt”.  Next thing he knew, the girl stuck the cigarette into his shoulder, burning a hole in his shirt and leaving a small brand on his skin.

As he told this part of the story, his voice got even louder.  “The girl burnt a hole in my favorite shirt, so I just yelled ‘Owe, you cunt! This is my favorite shirt!”  Right as he reached this part of the story our waitress walked up the stairs.  A shocked look washed over her face as she tried to casually clear our table.  All of us turned red, except Paul.  He just went on with his story, continuing his use of the magic ‘C’ word as if the waitress were a ghost.

Embarrassed by the c-bomb attack, we left the poor girl a huge tip and made our way back out into hippie land.

 

Cunt-sider yourself, one of the family!

We were all smiles, buzzing and giggling as we stumbled down the Boulder streets in search of Boulder’s Original Brewpub.  I can’t believe how much fun I have when Jon Jon is around despite the fact I barely know the guy.  It always kind of has a summer camp feel: you’re best friends for a week, knowing all along that the good times will be over soon.

 

Greetings from Camp Drink-A-Lotta

At Boulder’s Brewpub, the rest of the crew began to slow down, letting their drinks stagnate on the bar while I continued drinking down my dark liquid.  At that point, I could no longer decipher between a good beer and a bad beer, but from what I recall, they were all pretty tasty.  After finishing my second brew, I realized the rest of the group was still working on their first.  I could tell Jon’s day of hung-over work had caught up with him, barely keeping his eyes open as we watched homerun derby highlights (Justin Morneau is God).  In fear I would watch all my comrades pass out on the bar, I began chugging down their warm beers one fist over another.

Eventually we stumbled out of the bar and somehow found the Element in a Boulder backstreet.  On the way back to the motel, we considered buying more beer, but noticed it was almost two o’clock.  Never fear, Paul brought whiskey!  Back at the motel, the four of us began tossing back plastic glasses of whiskey waters, continuing our drunken stupidity into the early morning.  Around three Jon Jon kept passing out. We of course took this as an opportunity to mess with him, but nothing seemed to wake poor Johnny.

 

Nothing could wake Jon Jon; not even the bald head of a gentleman in the nook of his armpit.

With Jon passed out, the three of us took our party outside, sitting in front of the room sipping our whiskeys and chatting for another hour.   At one point Tiff turned to me and said, “Oh, I never told you how much I love your CD!” It took me by surprise; I hadn’t thought about or heard mention of the album of music I had recorded for over a year. Most people got my CD in 2007, but Jon Jon didn’t get his until this spring.  Looking out into the city lights of hippy town Boulder, I felt good knowing my music reached another person. I thought back on the book I read on songwriting and its obsession with making money in the business.  I’m sure I could throw together some catchy tunes about my love for pick-up trucks and rodeos, and I might even get the Tobey Keiths and Kenny Chesneys of the world to buy my songs.  But I’m pretty sure no paycheck can compare to the feeling you get when someone authentically connects to a song you wrote, not for the big paycheck, but for yourself.

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10. Road Trip 2008, Day 8: Return to Colorado

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Abraham Lincoln

Eventually the rude bartender shooed us out the door, but not before Paul bought a growler of their ESB.  In the car, he grabbed the map and pinpointed Fremont Lake, a state park area just north of Pinedale.  Since we hadn’t eaten all night, what with our rush to drink mango beer, we stopped at a gas station and bought chips and water.   With food supplies replenished, I drove up a winding gravel road, eventually finding a roadside nature stop where we could set up camp and get some shut eye.

We began unpacking the usual supplies (tent, sleeping bags, matches) when Paul noticed that the flashlight had died.  I re-parked the car in order to face the headlights straight into the woods.  By car-light, I set the tent up while he scoured the forest for fire wood and rocks to form the pit.  Once he finally had a fire started, I turned the headlights off and went to bed.

I slept in pretty late, but finally woke up to the sound of Paul crunching on cereal outside the tent.  I got up groggily, and began the habitual act of rolling up sleeping bags and tearing down camp.  With everything packed into the car, I got into the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition.

“Chkkkkkkkk……Chkkkkkkk……..”  The battery was dead.   We only had the headlights on for 20 minutes to set up camp. Could that have been the cause?  Or did we leave one of the dome lights on while munching on our dinner of potato chips?  Neither of us knew how the battery died and were in no mood to play the blame game.  We had bigger issues.  How would we find help out here in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness?

Not a bad place to be stranded.

We sat on the hitch of the Element for a while, looking out at the distant lake.  As beautiful as the scenery appeared, we didn’t seem to care much at the moment.  Our plans to see Aimee Mann that night in Boulder were on the brink of extinction.

After about 15 minutes of staring down the gravel road, I could hear the rumbling of a car engine coming around the bend.  Paul jumped up and ran roadside, waving his arms at the approaching Honda Escort.  The car came to a stop and the window came down.  In the drivers seat sat a young teenage girl who seemed scared of the strange bearded men stranded in the woods of Wyoming.  Paul explained our situation and she said she’d send someone to give us a jump.

Feeling accomplished, Paul grabbed his Harry Potter book. I remained in the car waiting for help while he went to the edge of the forest, sat on a rock and read his children’s literature.  Another 10 minute wait and help finally arrived in the form of a large Ford pick-up truck.  The back window was caked in stickers: Oakley, No Fear, and of course Calvin pissing on a Chevy symbol.  He stepped down from the truck and couldn’t have been a day over 16.

“You boys need some help,” he said in a fake “I’m a man’s man” voice.  When I explained the situation he went to the back of his truck to grab jumper cables.  He looked for about a minute, and then out of no where he burst into a barrage of curses, “My God damn faggot brother! He must have fucking borrowed my jumpers. I’ll be right back.” And he was gone before I could get word in.  Watching his advertisement laden back window fade away, I noticed an Opie and Anthony sticker in the top right hand corner. I knew this wasn’t a good sign: O and A fans are not the most compassionate, trustworthy breed (take me for example).

The first sign you're dealing with a miscreant.

I waited and waited, the entire time getting more and more irritated by douchey Paul, contentedly lounging on his rock, reading Harry Potter.   Car after car drove by, but no sign of sticker boy.  After 30 minutes, it became pretty clear that he wouldn’t be returning.  Every few minutes a car would pass.  Each time I’d look back at Paul to see if he had any concerns about waving another car down. But no, he was too busy reading about Dumbledore or Veldemort or some other stupidly named wizard in his amatuerish book.

Fed up with our situation, I stood roadside waving down each car that passed.  After 10 minutes of standing there looking like a hitcher, a female park ranger pulled over and said she’d send someone up to give us a hand.  As she drove away, I wondered if she’d ditch us like the last two cars who had stopped and talked with us.

Fortunately, we wouldn’t have to wait and find out.  About 30 seconds later a truck swerved up the hill and pulled into our area. An older gentleman with an obvious sunburn stuck his head out the window.  “You guys need a jump?”  The truck was packed to the brim, with five teenagers crammed inside.  Two of the boys jumped out and goofily fooled around with the jumpers before hooking my car up.  And just like that, my car engine began to purr once again.  As if on cue, Paul appeared next to me smiling.  I glared at Harry Potter boy for a brief moment and then thanked our heroes. They told us they were going on their own mountain adventure that morning, so we wished them luck and let them go on their way.  Why five kids are heading into the woods with creepy sun burn man, I’ll never understand.

The battery debacle set our day back an hour, so we didn’t waste time in Pinedale, heading south toward Rock Springs.  On the way, Paul suggested we get a shower at a truck stop if possible – our last real shower had been over a week ago in Omaha.  I agreed with his idea.  With the Aimee Mann concert that night, we would be re-emerging into the public after our hiatus in the wild.  Plus, if by chance I did run into Aimee, I would want to be my best. Sure, she’s old, but I still find myself attracted to her.  I’m not sure whether it’s her looks, her voice, or her songwriting.

Is it just me, or has Aimee gotten hotter with age? Maybe it's just the 80s hair throwing me off.

We found a truck stop on the outskirts of Rock Springs, so I went in and inquired about the price of a shower.  I couldn’t believe the obese clerk’s response.  “Eight bucks.”  I found Paul in the candy aisle and relayed the roadside robbery to him.  He suggested we just split the price. I’d take a shower, and then sneak him in when finished.  It seemed like a ridiculous task just to save eight dollars, but the challenge peaked my interest.

I ran out to the car and grabbed a fresh change of clothes, bathroom amenities, and went back inside.  I walked down the hallway of showers, eventually finding shower #4.  I dialed my code number and entered expecting the worst. It was actually a pretty sterile, spacious bathroom.  I peeled off my mountain climbing clothes, threw on some flip-flops and jumped into the warm shower spray. I stood there for an eternity, relishing the refreshing water flowing over my sun burnt scalp.  I then commenced taking the most meticulous shower I’ve ever taken, cleaning every crease and crevice of my body three times over.

15 minutes later I emerged from the invigorating waters a new man.  I threw on a fresh set of clothes and stepped out of the shower room expecting to find Paul, but of course, he was no where to be seen.  “Now what?” I wondered.  We hadn’t talked out our plan. I went back into the room, grabbed a towel, and threw it in the doorway to use as a doorstop.  When I came out from shower alley, I discovered Paul sitting with a couple other truckers in the lounge area watching “COPs”.  I raised four fingers toward him, signaling our shower number, and continued out to the car.

To pass the time I laid back in my car seat and read a couple chapters out of Klosterman V.  A while later Paul walked out of the truck stop with his mullet dripping wet.  He hopped into the car and said, “Do you want to stop at the brewery here in Rock Springs? We’re making good time and I could use some food.”  I agreed. My last real meal was my chicken fried steak in Ennis, two days prior.

After asking for directions at a little white trash gas station, we found Bitter Creek Brewing amidst the industrial district.  Inside, the brewery oozed with a woodsy, log cabin feel.  We were led to a table in the back and ordered up a couple beers.  I went for the Sweetwater Wheat while Paul opted for their Scottish ale, The Wee Bastard.  Being located near the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice a voluptuous blond waitress passing us once every few minutes with her bosom leading her around the restaurant.  I pointed her out to Paul, but he didn’t seem very impressed.  I looked her over again and began to wonder whether my judgment in beauty had been altered by my time away from civilization.  Had I turned into a swarthy Neanderthal, ready to pounce on anything that moved?

My wheat tasted great, with a hint of banana.  I could tell my trip had already taught me a lot about beer when I commented to Paul, “This must be a Bavarian style wheat, it has a banana-y aftertaste.”  He nodded, not even questioning my beer snobbery.  Soon we had a couple of burgers brought out to us, which we inhaled.  All out of my wheat, I ordered up “A Beer Named Bob”.

When the waitress heard my order she scrunched up her noise and said, “You sure you want that?  It tastes like burnt coffee.” I scoffed. Poor girl, she doesn’t appreciate a good stout.

“Yeah, I like the taste of burnt coffee,” I replied.

“Okay then. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

She came back with the black potion and set it before me like it was a vat of acid.  “Enjoy?” she said as she walked away.  Foolish girl.  I took a sniff, swirled the glass like a true beer connoisseur, and sipped the stout, letting the malt and hops settle on my tongue.  She was right. Burnt coffee.  Not strong coffee or bold coffee: burnt coffee.  I felt like such an ass, doubting her beer tasting abilities.  I drank the rest of the brew like I was a 10-year-old again taking spoonfuls of Nyquil.

Since we had to get going in order to make the night’s concert, we returned to the road.  Paul told me to take a southern scenic route because we would be spending time in Laramie in a week.  No need taking the same road twice. Paul took a nap, so I listened to the new Wolf Parade while driving through the rocky landscape.  When we rolled into Colorado, he woke from his nap and asked what I thought of the scenery.  I told him it looked like the fake landscape you usually see at the zoo.

I then had a realization: the last time I visited Colorado was 10 years ago.  My friend Justin LeSieur lived in Fort Collins, so Duhn and I road tripped out to see him.  We spent a week in the area, visiting a Renaissance Fair, and enjoying the natural surroundings.  The first night at LeSieur’s apartment he introduced me to the locally brewed Fat Tire.  I didn’t even drink back then, but he assured me I would enjoy it.  To this day, Fat Tire is my all time favorite beer, and it has never tasted as good as it did that night out on his patio, looking out toward the silhouette of the distant mountains.

“Hey Paul, the last time I was in Colorado I was 19.”

“Oh yeah?” he answered with disinterest.

“Yeah, I can’t believe that was ten years ago…crazy.”

Paul looked confused. “Wait a sec…10 years ago? 19 years old? Dude, you’re 29!?”

“…yeah, how did you not know that?” I asked.

“Holy shit dude, you’re fucking old! So you’re turning 30 soon?”

“Yeah,” I said, annoyed by his burst of excitement in connection with my age.

“Damn. I hope I’m like you when I’m 30.”  I let this statement sit for a moment.  I tried to figure out what he meant.  He didn’t say it sarcastically.  What about me as a balding 30 year old did he appreciate?  I didn’t go any further with the age conversation, but I’d like to believe he admired my freedom and yes, my blatant immaturity.

When we reached Boulder, we were once again in a race against time.  The Aimee Mann show started at eight, and we didn’t find a parking spot until 7:50.  I reassured Paul, telling him we’d just miss some of the opening act.  The show was scheduled to take place at the Chautauqua, a historic amphitheatre built in 1889. The theatre was located in the rear of a large park.

We walked into the entrance to the park and saw a scene taken straight out of Pleasantville.  Hundreds of people milled around the park, some having picnics, others walking dogs.  Frisbees flew to and fro while bikers rolled down the path winding throughout the park.

We didn’t have time to enjoy Eden, speed walking through the hub bub and finding the auditorium up the hill.  As we approached, I could hear “Deathly” from the “Magnolia” soundtrack.  I turned to Paul in shock. “That’s Aimee Mann! She’s playing already!”  I jogged ahead, taking two steps at a time and tossing my ticket to the doorman.  Once inside I looked to the stage to find Aimee and her band playing the final chords of the song.  Since when do shows actually start on time and why the hell was Aimee Mann the opening act?!

Once Paul caught up with me, we found our seats near the back of the giant amphitheatre.  Next up Aimee played the catchiest song off of her latest album, “Freeway”.  It’s one of those songs where the lyrics make no sense, yet you can’t help but sing along.  I started to get into the performance, nodding my head and singing along. Then I noticed everyone around looking at me in annoyance.  I took a look around and found that we were surrounded by a bunch of gray hairs.  The old women were decked out in their Sunday’s finest, while the wrinkly old men were sporting their Jimmy Buffet look, floral beach wear and all.  I had no idea Aimee had such a senior citizen following.  Maybe they were here for the other act? Nah.

Between songs, I grabbed a program see who Aimee opened for.  Marc Cohn? “Who the hell is Marc Cohn?” I wondered.  I read on to discover he won a Grammy like 20 years ago for the song “Walking in Memphis”.  You know the song. The dude puts on his blue suede shoes and boards a plane, then touches down in the Delta blue.  Yeah, that song sucks my balls.   I thought the “Walking in Memphis” guy got shot or something.  And now he was getting top billing over Aimee?  Oh the humanity…

Marc Cohn is a zombie.

The crowd’s faint applause between songs annoyed me even more.  I tried to get over the audience and redirected my focus on the band.  For such an old structure, the Chautauqua had amazing acoustics.  I hate sitting at concerts, but this one sounded so great, I didn’t mind leaning back and soaking in the soothing sounds of Aimee’s heartfelt music.  I’ve always loved her self deprecating, genuine, lyrics, laced with the type of imagery that would make Bob Dylan proud.

When the band began playing the song “31 Today”, I was reminded of our conversation in the car earlier that day.  I listened to the lyrics, expecting to hear Aimee speaking my feelings like she’s done so many times before:

Thirty-one today

What a thing to say
Drinking Guinness in the afternoon
Taking shelter in the black cocoon

So far so good, but then the chorus broke in, and for the first time, I didn’t agree with Aimee’s sentiment:

I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
I thought my life would be different somehow
I thought my life would be better by now
But it’s not, and I don’t know where to turn

Yes, 10 years ago when I first visited Colorado, I did have a different vision for my life.  Sipping my first Fat Tire with my lifelong friends on that Colorado night so long ago, I’m sure I didn’t foresee myself being a bachelor at 29 years old.  But I also don’t think I could have foreseen the plethora of life changing experiences I would undergo or the wide array of amazing people I’d meet.  Yes, I was back in Colorado 10 years later, and I could honestly say that my life was better than I could have ever imagined.

The old people around me were annoyed by me taking this photo.

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9. Road Trip 2008, day 6 and 7: Terrorists and the Race Against Time

“Is the glass half full, or half empty? It depends on whether you’re pouring, or drinking.”

Bill Cosby

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.

Bridges? We don't need no stinkin' BRIDGES!

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.

Could be a vulture turd for all we know.

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.

 

"Hey, where can an elk go to find some shade around this place?"

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.

 

“I don’t wanna die in Yellowstone!

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
I’m ALIVE!

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.

 

We'll be back Tetons...

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.”

"We'll leave the light on for ya!"

“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.

 

Like "Need For Speed" on 3DO minus the slow motion crash sequences.

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.

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8. Road Trip 2008, Day 6: Strider and the Great White Menace

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street.”

William Blake

I continued looking out of the tent, searching for some sign of Paul, but couldn’t see much. I decided I needed to do something. I knew I couldn’t just sit there in fear, hoping for his return. I would have to go on a search mission. As I began stepping out of the tent, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye next to a log. I quickly looked over to find a pair of eyes staring back at me. I squinted, and made out the face of Paul, lying against the log, cuddled up in his sleeping bag. He didn’t say a word, just looked back at me in the shadows.

"Don't mind me Paul. I'll make sure things are safe in here."

I returned to the tent and zipped up the door. I knew exactly why he decided to sleep outside. He told me he would think of a solution to our bear problem, and he did: he would sleep next to the fire to keep the flame burning. He told me earlier in the evening that bears are afraid of fires (I have no verification on this claim). Nestling back into my sleeping bag, I felt kind of like a coward, letting him lay out there to face the wild beasts of the woods. I didn’t feel bad long though, returning back to sleep, feeling a little safer with a guard outside my tent. The remainder of the night, I woke up about once every hour to the piercing sound of cracking wood. It no longer scared me; in fact it comforted me. I knew it was just Paul breaking branches to feed to fire.

In the morning, I came outside to find Paul eating dried apricots next to the remaining embers of the fire. He looked up and smiled, “Man, do I have a story to tell.” He went on to describe his night. After I went to bed, he sat next to the fire and began reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (homo). While sitting there, he heard strange growls and rustling branches. The noises became louder, but came to an abrupt stop when they were interrupted by a loud thumping sound nearby our camp. He grabbed the flashlight and shone it into the woods.

There stood an enormous elk staring out into the woods, stomping his hoof against a rock in defiance. He seemed to be angry at something in the woods. Paul ventured to guess that some type of beast (bear, mountain lion, bobcat) had wandered into the area, which also happened to be the home of the elk and his family. After witnessing this exchange, Paul’s fear grew, and he decided he better pay up on his promise to “figure something out”. The remainder of the night, he kept our fire raging, collecting firewood whenever he saw it dwindling.

“Dude, I felt like Strider in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. You know, the part where he stays up all night toking the fire to protect Frodo from the Black Riders…oh yeah, you never finished that book, douche.”

"Sleep well, young Douche-bo Baggins."

While we ate breakfast, he continued telling tidbits from his crazy night including a shooting star that lit up the entire night sky and a moth the size of his fist that flew into the fire and exploded. I regretted missing out on all of the excitement.

Once we had camp all packed up, I grabbed my pack and threw it onto my back. My aching body wasn’t fully prepared for another day of hiking.  I desperately needed a cup of coffee and realized how serious my dependence upon the black concoction had become.  I began clipping the straps, when I noticed Paul heading toward the path leading up the mountain. I figured we’d just head back down. The walk to our campsite took seven hours alone. Now we were going to go three more hours up, then come back down the same 10 hour walk, resulting in 13 hours of hiking in one day.

“Paul, where you going?”

“…up the mountain?” he answered annoyed.

“I thought we were just going to head back down.  If we go up, we probably won’t be getting back to the car until like 10 at night.”

“Whatever,” he said as he turned and continued up the path.  I couldn’t believe it. He wasn’t even going to be mature enough to have a conversation?  As much as I wanted to reach the top, it just didn’t seem feasible with our plans to see Aimee Mann two days away in Boulder.  Yet there he was, disappearing up ahead into the trees.

What choice did I have?  Start climbing.

While re-treading the same path we walked the night before, I decided I couldn’t be too angry at his choice to act like a child, avoiding a discussion.  I mean heck, he stayed up all night protecting me.  When someone saves your life, they kind of have the right to do whatever the hell they want.

Thinking of the possibility of missing the Aimee Mann show, I threw on my ear buds and listened to “Lost in Space”.  Ever since Paul’s story about the monster moth, I had Aimee’s song “The Moth” running through my head.  The song talks about the careless, risk-taking life of a moth, flying straight into a flame without a concern.

The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.

He might get burned, but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in, he can’t go back,

He’ll beat his wings ’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care when he sees The Flame.

Dragging my feet and listening to the song, I thought about how Paul lives life much like a moth, following his instinct, even when he knows he’s probably going to get burned in the end.  I looked up ahead and could see him in the far distance, walking into the great unknown, thrilled with the uncertainty that lay ahead.

 

The moth heading toward another flame.

We eventually passed where we gave up the night before and continued on our way.  Soon we were surrounded by snow and mountain flowers.  It just seemed like such a strange combination, enemies co-existing side by side.  Two hours into the hike my hamstring began to hurt again, forcing me to slow down a bit.  I didn’t know how I would be able to walk another eight hours.

As the morning progressed, the peak became closer and closer and my hammy pain disappeared gradually. The grass progressively changed to rocks, and the peak slowly disappeared behind the steep mountain walls.  I could hardly contain my excitement: we were almost there.

Coming around a rocky curve, we came upon our first obstacle of the day: a steep wall of snow, smothering our path.  To our right laid a steep incline that would take some skillful rock climbing.  We couldn’t climb the mountain side with our packs on. We needed to devise yet one more plan.  Paul decided he would leave his pack with me, climb up and over to assess the situation.  I didn’t mind; it gave me a much needed rest, sitting on a rock and heaving in the thin mountain air. Five minutes later I heard a loud hoot coming from the West. I looked over to see Paul standing atop the snow covered ledge.

“HEY! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE ABLE TO CLIMB UP WITH YOUR PACK! YOU’RE JUST GOING TO HAVE TO TRY CLIMBING ACROSS THE SNOW!”

 

And we thought crossing a stream was difficult...

I looked at the white menace before me, noticing how it went up at a 45 degree angle.  I climbed through a lot of snow as a kid, but never in my life had I attempted maneuvering across a steep snow pile atop a mountain ledge.  I walked over to the snow’s edge and screamed back, “WON’T I SLIDE DOWN?”

“WITH EACH STEP KICK YOUR FOOT IN NICE AND DEEP AND PUNCH YOUR FIST INTO THE SNOW! YOU’LL BE FINE!”

I walked up a bit to a spot where the thinnest area of snow laid before me, took a deep breath, and began my first ever snow-wall climb.  I stuck my left foot into the snow and it instantly slipped out from under me. Fortunately I grabbed a hold of a near by rock.

KICK YOUR  FEET IN!” Paul yelled, watching me on the verge of my demise.

I kicked my foot several times in, forming a strong foothold and made my first step.  The difficult part was crossing my other leg over to form the next hole.  I continued across, starting to get the hang of it, although my hands started to freeze, gripping onto the chilly snow.  About half way, I felt as if my hands were going to fall off.  I needed to get across, and quickly.  The faster I moved, the weaker my footholds became, and soon my hastiness came back to haunt me.  With only a few steps to go, my foot suddenly slipped out from under me.  I grasped for snow and dragged my rampant foot, hoping to catch hold of something before falling to my death.  With a pigeon-toed stance, both of my feet came to a standstill and calm returned to the mountain peak. I looked over at Paul with my eyes wide-open.

“I TOLD YOU TO PUNCH YOUR HANDS! TAKE YOUR TIME!”

The final few steps I returned to my careful ways, despite my hands losing all feeling.  Once close enough, Paul grabbed my hand and helped pull me to the ledge.  I looked back at my snow path, proud of my feat and glad it was over.

 

If you look closely, you can see where I became a careless ass.

While rubbing my hands together, he explained his plan. “I’m going to climb back down to my pack, and try doing what you just did.”  I told him good luck while rubbing my frost bit hands, and he went on his way.

I turned and took in the view, a breathtaking display of a dozen snowy mountain tops. The ancient peaks sat all around me, like I was the dealer at a poker table surrounded by the most stoic of competitors.  Looking down into the green valley, I noticed another path, winding down the mountain side…the other path….the horse shit path!  Maybe our climb down wouldn’t be another 10 hours, but four like we were originally told.

A few minutes later, I turned back to see Paul beginning his snow climb.  Knowing about my frozen hands, he used two sticks as ice picks.  He took a lower path, thinking it would be easier, but as he went along, it became apparent that he had a much longer and more difficult journey ahead of him.  At one point, he seemed to be standing straight up and down.

"I'll take a picture if you fall!"

When he finally came to the rocky ledge, he sat down, sucking in air desperately.  It was the first time the entire trip I saw him fatigued.  We sat down for a while, not talking, just looking around at our amazing surroundings, our composure slowly resurfacing.  Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Do you want to climb up a little higher?”

He agreed, and soon we were crawling up the rocky side of the mountain, hopping from rock to rock and occasionally slipping on pebbles.  I stopped when I came upon the perfect resting spot: a large pointy rock, jutting out over the valley below.  I lay down and looked out on the sprawling mountainside while Paul continued climbing up.

I couldn’t believe I sat here, on this mountain, high above the world.  I thought about the rest of civilization, family and friends, all down below going about their normal business. I wished they could be here with me, away from the suffocating grip of modern society. Compared to this place, blessed with the heavens of Montana, everything else seemed so miniscule and unimportant.  All of the possessions, all of the worries of daily life, all of it didn’t matter.  Nothing compared to where I sat at this moment.  It felt like I was in a different world, different air, different smells, different sights.  There were no sounds, just the cacophonous whirring of the crisp wind rushing all around me. I gazed up into the cloudless sky, listening to the wind’s drone, speaking to my soul as if it were the voice of God.

After almost an hour, we decided we’d better head back down the mountainside.  Refreshed and rejuvenated, we walked to the horse shit path, and began our return trip.  A little way down the path we came across a mountain stream, flowing down the valley.  Neither of us had taken a shower since Nebraska, five days prior, unless you count our venture into the waterfalls in Spearfish.  I took my shirt off and began splashing the icy cold water up into my stinky armpits.  I grabbed the soap from my bag, and began washing my arms, then dipped my head straight into the stream, letting the water rush over my face.  I lifted my head and felt the tingle rush through my head.  I’ve never been so refreshed.  Who needs coffee when you can dip your head into a fresh mountain stream?

Nature's Starbucks

Once Paul washed his hair, we returned to moving down the mountainside.  Our new path seemed to descend much more swiftly, and after and hour it seemed like we were already halfway down.  I found the scenery on this path to be more beautiful, although I didn’t regret taking the adventure path less traveled.  It made for quite an adventure: fording rivers, fighting off grizzlies with fire, and climbing walls of snow.

With our conversation at a standstill, I pulled the i-Pod out again, in search of the perfect soundtrack for my return trip to civilization.  I decided to listen to the “Into the Wild” soundtrack performed by Eddie Vedder.  With all of the lyrics dealing with connecting to nature, I knew I had made the right choice (yes, I get the irony that I was one with nature while listening to my i-Pod).  No song fit more perfectly as a backdrop for my day than “No Ceiling” and its lyrics:

Comes the morning when I can feel

That there’s nothing left to be concealed
Moving on a scene surreal
No, my heart will never
Will never be far from here

Sure as I am breathing
Sure as I’m sad
I’ll keep this wisdom in my flesh
I leave here believing more than I had
And there’s a reason I’ll be
A reason I’ll be back

The mountain climbing exploit had been Paul’s idea, and I originally felt lukewarm about hiking up into bear country.  But now, with the beautiful valley before me and the experience of the mountaintop still alive in my soul, I knew I would return.  Maybe not to this peak, maybe not even to Montana country, but I knew I had to return to the wild for another taste of real vulnerability, real adversity, real freedom.

 

"No, my heart will never, never be far from here." - Eddie Vedder "No Ceiling"

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