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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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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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7. Road Trip 2008, Day 5: Faces of Fear

“It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Bilbo Baggins “Lord of the Rings”

 

Another glorious morning in Big Sky Country.

 

Once again, I didn’t sleep very well with a rock beneath my head and Paul’s jimmy legs kicking me all night. Around 7 a.m. we began hearing cars driving past our tent since we set up right next to the road. Fearing we might be on someone’s land, Paul thought we should get going. I tried ignoring him, grasping for a few more minutes of sleep. My extra slumber didn’t last long with the sun creeping its way over the mountains, shooting waking rays straight through the screen and into my face.

I lumbered out of the tent to find Paul once again taking a morning shit, this time next to a nearby tree: the guy works like clockwork. I went and grabbed some dry cereal and crunched it down while guzzling some water. By the time I finished breakfast, Paul had finished up his business and started tearing down the tent. I walked over to the barbwire fence, and he handed me supplies. While loading the car, I noticed that the scene before me looked like something out of a Honda Element commercial. From where I stood, it looked as if the mountain-scape was pouring out of the back of my open hitch.

 

 

The Element is shitting mountains.

 

We headed back into Ennis because we didn’t know where we should enter Lone Peak; the crazy Montana woman didn’t give Paul any specifics. Once in town, Paul ran into a fly fishing shop to get directions. He came out a few minutes later with a strange look on his face.

“Um…I asked the guy how to enter Lone Peak from here, and he looked at me like I was crazy. He said he’d never heard of such and thing and then asked who gave me such bad information…”

“I told you we shouldn’t have trusted that wack-o! Damn it,” I said. I knew we should have listened to the guys at the brewery, but for some reason, Paul had it in his head that this lady had inside information. “Well, now what are we going to do? We’re already all the way over here.”

“We have some options. The guy said a lot of people climb some mountain called the Sphinx; it’s like a four hour hike to the top. I think we camped right by it. We could climb that, or back track and climb Lone Mountain. It’s totally up to you,” Paul said.

We discussed our dilemma for a minute, weighing our options. To be honest, I didn’t know any difference between the two mountains. The only reason I had my mind set on Lone Mountain is because of the name; the Lonely Mountains are home to Smaug the dragon in “The Hobbit”. I realized my nerdy reasoning didn’t excuse a 100 mile drive out of our way with gas costing $4.10. We decided we would climb the Sphinx, saving Lone Mountain for some other road trip.

After Paul got directions from the fishing store, we went to the gas station to load up on water, and I needed my morning coffee. With all our supplies replenished, we began the southern drive to Sphinx. A few roads past our camping site, Paul turned into a gravel lane that led us along the rim of the mountain range. Around 10 a.m we found a hiking inlet and parked the car.

Seeing another group preparing on horseback, Paul said we needed to get packing quick in order to avoid walking a trail of horse dung. We pulled out our gigantic backpacks, and Paul walked me through the packing process. What seemed so spacious quickly filled up: gallon water jug, clothes, sleeping bag, poncho, more water, pillow, flashlight, and even more water. I crammed the top of my pack with dried fruit, trail mix, a can of soup, and beef jerky. With the bag bursting at the seams, I heaved it onto my back and commenced the tedious task of fastening the multitude of clips and tightening all the straps. My final step entailed hooking a Camelback fanny pack to my stomach. Fanny packs rule.

Walking up to the entrance I saw two trails next to a warning sign: “BEAR COUNTRY!!! The area behind this sign is used by GRIZZLY BEARS”. I didn’t need the three exclamation points to be scared – I saw “Grizzly Man”. I read every piece of text on the sign twice, even the small print. I hadn’t prepared for grizzly bears. It recommended making noise as to not surprise the bears. I hoped the bears would have the same noisy respect not to sneak up on me. It also mentioned hanging all food items 10 feet off the ground. How we’d do this, I didn’t know yet, but I kept mental note: 10 feet, 10 feet, 10 feet.

 

 

I wonder if fanny-packs scare off grizzlies.

 

The horse group made their way up the trail to the right. When Paul saw this, he said, “I hate horses. Did you know they’re not even native to North America?” I ignored his comment, too busy imagining my bald head being ripped off by a grizzly. Paul broke me from my nightmare saying, “I guess we’re taking the other trail.” Without a map to tell us the right way to go, I agreed that dodging horse poop all afternoon sounded like the better option. Making our way up the path, I giggled to myself at the thought of my new modified version of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one with less horse shit,
and that has made all the difference

After climbing up a hill, we found ourselves surrounded by a prairie scattered with wild flowers. In the distance, a range of snow covered mountains loomed. I wondered which peak we would be climbing. It looked so far away. To think I would be standing on top of one of those in four hours. My excitement grew with each step, continuing through nature’s garden.

 

The hills are alive with the sound of douches!

 

The path eventually led us down into a wooded ravine. Entering the forest edge, my excitement turned into apprehension, looking through the trees for a grizzly bear. As we walked along, I would randomly shout, “Hey bears! We’re here! Don’t be surprised!” When Paul seemed annoyed by my yelling, I altered my bear warning strategy by occasionally whistling a little tune. After about an hour of hiking, my fear began to dissipate.

Our hike came to a sudden halt when the path we followed led straight into a bubbling brook. Growing up my family always walked through the local state park, Fort DeFiance, and would occasionally have to hop stones across a creek, but this wasn’t a Fort Defiance creek. The waves crashed into each other, white capping and wrestling with the rocks and logs that lay in their path. I stuck a five foot stick in to test the depth, and I almost submerged it. We couldn’t just hop across this creek like Frogger. We would have to devise a plan.

After locating a few dead trees, we carried them to the creek’s edge and flipped one end to the other side like a pole vault. With four limbs hanging over the rapids, a bridge was born. Paul gave our creation its first test run, maneuvering his way across the logs as they wobbled and rolled beneath him. Seeing them bend under Paul’s weight, I feared what would happen when my fat ass tried crossing.

My turn.  I cautiously crawled on all fours, feeling the bridge buckle. The heavy tree limbs we hauled down now seemed more like twigs. Reaching the halfway point, the middle branch cracked. As my legs dipped down into the cool water, I grasped for the remaining two branches and hung like a stocking. Quickly, I pulled myself up and speed-crawled the remainder of the way. Once to the edge, Paul noticed that the bottom half of my pack also got wet – not good. I kept my camera in a lower side pocket. I pulled it out and dried it off as best I could, then placed it in my fanny-pack.

 

Nice picture camera. Want to take a dip?

 

We were both pretty proud of our little bridge, despite my near-swimming experience. I felt exhilaration from both the water and the adventure of trying to cross the water. We laughed about my clumsy ass, and felt we had dealt with our last issue of the day.

About five minutes later, the path curved back to the right, returning us right back to the creek and yet another white water obstacle. Instead of getting upset, we rethought the process.  We chose to use only two logs but staggering them so that one sat higher than the other. The goal was to create a log to hold onto with the upper body while tight-roping the other. With the bridge complete, Paul gave a suggestion.

“Maybe I should go across first, drop off my pack, and then come back and get yours. That way you won’t weigh as much when you cross.” It made complete sense, but also made me feel like a Boy Scout who needed the Scout master to carry his supplies. I agreed with his plan, with the added idea of putting all valuables in the fanny-pack, which I would toss across the water to Paul to avoid any chance of getting wet electronic devices.

The plan went off without a hitch. Watching Paul cross the logs for the third time with my pack, I couldn’t help but feel like Bombur in Mirkwood Forest, forcing the rest of the crew to carry my supplies (don’t feel bad if you don’t get my “Hobbit” references; I’m a  bit obsessive). I had a much easier time without the added weight on my back.

 

I can't decide whether the bandana makes me look like a bad-ass or a "Luverne and Shirley" reject.

 

Over the next hour of hiking, we would have to create two more bridges, and my role as helpless Bombur continued. The majority of the hike so far had been pretty flat. Either we were just walking in circles around the mountain’s bottom, or climbing up at an extremely gradual incline. The path eventually led us to a rock field, where we took a quick break and snacked. Paul pulled out our plethora of trail mixes. Half of them we bought at the grocery store, and half were purchasd at Target, and let me tell you: Target’s trail mix is the greatest dried food and nut combination you will ever encounter. While Planters provides peanuts, raisins, and M & M’s, the Archer Farms variety features everything ranging from dried cranberries, soy nuts, and cashews. It’s as “gourmet” as you can get while hiking.

Back on the path, the rock field turned into an upward climb. As we came around a mound of rocks, I looked over the edge to see the creek below. I felt relief knowing we wouldn’t have to deal with any more water crossing exploits.

10 minutes later, my presumption was proven wrong with the creek once again raging up ahead. Our problem this time was finding large enough tree limbs to use. After much searching, we came up with one skinny limb. I didn’t foresee myself being able to balance across and let Paul try first. On his first attempt, he tiptoed across like a cat and laid his pack down. After tossing the fanny pack, he balanced his way back and picked up my pack. This time he wasn’t so lucky, falling in right at the end of the log, and quickly pulling himself out. The pack got wet again, but with our fanny pack innovation, it was no longer a problem.

The big deal at that moment was finding a way for me to cross. If nimble Paul couldn’t do it, I knew this lanky klutz wouldn’t be able to. Instead of trying to balance, I just jumped into the waste deep rapids and began walking across, holding the limb to keep from being rushed away. I didn’t care at that point: my jeans and shoes were already soaked. No point in attempting to be a circus act.

After that adventure, I knew not to count out the chances of running into the creek again, and I wouldn’t be disappointed. This time we found a bridge already created by nature with a large tree crossing the creek, although we had to venture a little off the path. Paul walked straight across, and started to come back for my pack when I waved him off. This was not just a limb, but a large tree trunk. I got down on all fours and crawled across the log with little trouble. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this would be our last water crossing adventure. At that point the creek crossing had become a nuisance, but I would look back on the experience as a challenging part of the climb we embarked on.

 

So close, yet so far away.

 

The hike became much steeper and more difficult to ascend. I knew it would only get tougher as we went higher. When we reached a scenic opening in the trees, we sat to take a much needed rest in the shade. After a lunch of beef jerky and dried apricots, Paul laid down to take a nap. I pulled out my I-POD and checked the time – 4:30. That meant we had been hiking over five hours. We were told it would be a quick four hour climb. Looking at the peak in the far distance, I knew we must have taken the wrong path.

As I stared at the mountain in my exhausted haze, a face began to take shape in the side of the mountain. Was I seeing things? The more I squinted my eyes, the clearer the rock face became. I began to wonder if the face in the side of the mountain had anything to do with the name the Sphinx. When Paul awoke, I pointed out my discovery to verify that I wasn’t hallucinating. After a little searching, he soon agreed with me that a face stared back at us from the rocky side of the peak.

I sat there a few more minutes enjoying my discovery as Paul put away his food and prepared to continue our hike. I didn’t know if we were even looking at the actual Spinx Mountain, but I felt proud of what I found. At first it reminded me of Pyornkrachzark from “The Never-Ending Story”, but the more I looked at it, the more it reminded me of Olmec, the talking rock from Nickelodeon’s old school game show “Legends of the Hidden Temple”.

 

If only Nick Gas were around when they went through the process of naming mountains. Mount Olmec? Only in dreams.

 

Back on the trail, my left hamstring began to bother me. At this point, the climb became almost straight up. Paul flew up the incline while I trounced behind. After another hour of hiking, he asked if we should set up camp and just try to reach the top the next day. Sore yet determined, I told him I wanted to keep going. For some reason, I had it in my mind that we could make it to the top. As we came over the crest of a steep hill, a magnificent scene laid out before us with miles of green pasture at the foot of a far off peak.

 

I can't decide if this picture reminds me of the last scene in "City Slickers" or the last scene in "Land Before Time". Regardless, it would make for a great final scene.

 

An hour later, with the mountain peak still miles away, Paul asked again if we should set up camp. My mouth said yes, but my hammy said no. I still had it set in my mind that we would reach the peak by evening’s end. He explained that we could just try in the morning, but I knew we wouldn’t have much time. We had tickets to see Aimee Mann on the 9th in Colorado, and with it being the 7th, we didn’t have days to waste. We came to an agreement: set up camp, empty our packs of everything but food, and continue up the mountain. We would be able to move faster and would have camp set up before sun down.

A few minutes later we came upon the perfect camping area, a wide open plateau, covered with wild flowers, and trees located on the edge where we set up the tent. With our tent set up and filled with pillows, sleeping bags, and water jugs, we continued our climb. Our packs may have been lighter, but our climb became more difficult. At that point, I no longer enjoyed my surroundings, trudging along, staring at my feet, hoping the next turn would open up to the mountain peak. I threw on my i-Pod and listened to some “Opie and Anthony”, letting the radio show chatter occupy my weary mind.

After an hour, we came upon a valley of snow, which lightened my spirits. We must be getting close! With a new pep in my step, we continued up the mountain side, awaiting the arrival of the mountain top. A half hour later, we finally reached the home stretch.

“We’re almost there,” I told Paul.

“Dude, it may look close, but that’s probably another hour or two of climbing. I don’t think we can make it tonight and still get back to camp before sun down.” I looked down at the time – 7:30 – we weren’t going to make it. Bummed and disappointed, I agreed that it would be smart to return to our campsite while we still had light.

The walk back was even less exciting, knowing we wouldn’t be reaching the top after all. But it wasn’t all a loss, after eight hours of hiking, my legs would soon get their much needed rest. Back at camp, I hung my damp jeans and socks from tree branches and changed into clean clothes. I walked down to the field of flowers and sat on a rock, watching the sun set on our long day. I looked to the mountain ledge to my left, and noticed it also resembled Egypt’s Sphinx, with two great legs lying out in front of the mass of rocks.

 

Will the real Sphnix please stand up?

 

Once the sun had set, Paul got a fire started using branches found in the woods. We set a couple cans of soup next to the flames and eagerly awaited a hot dinner. After a few minutes of drained silence, I said,” We’d better hang our food from the grizzlies before it is completely pitch dark out here.”

“Um… I forgot to bring a rope.”

“What?! We don’t have a rope?” Silence. “What are we going to do with our food?!” Silence. “What about the bears?” Silence. “Damn it!” I shouted, throwing my damp socks into the dirt.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

“How can you say that? We have packs full of food. What should we do? Could we just hang the food off a high branch or something?”

“If we can get to it, a bear can get to it,” Paul calmly answered.

“Fine. I guess we’ll just be bear food then.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll figure something out.”

I couldn’t believe how calm he could be. We were sitting ducks, awaiting our eminent death at the clawed hands of a grizzly bear, hungry for Archer Farm’s Trail Mix. I grabbed my soup and slurped it up in disgust. I couldn’t believe he hadn’t brought a rope. He’s supposed to be the one who knows what he’s doing up here. Instead of worrying about hanging food 10 feet in the air, I should have been more concerned with what device would be used to do it.

Once I finished my soup, I got in the tent and laid down. I knew the polyester material couldn’t protect me from a bear’s claws, yet at the moment, the shelter provided me with mock safety. I tried sleeping but would jump to full alert when I heard twigs breaking and  distant growls. At some point, my exhaustion beat out fear, and I was fast asleep.

In the middle of the night, I awoke to sounds outside the tent. I could see shadows along the wall and hear crackling branches. I sat up for a few minutes, listening for more sounds. Then I looked to my right and realized Paul still hadn’t come to bed. I checked the time – 2 a.m. I took a moment to compose myself, slowing down my breathing, sucking in air, trying to keep my hands from shaking. I had to find out if he was okay. Finally, I unzipped the tent door carefully and glanced out. I could see the fire still crackling, yet Paul was no where in sight. I began to panic. Where had my friend gone?

I stared out into the vast darkness, wondering what I should do next. I was utterly alone.

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Video Clip of the Week: Quincy Punk Rock Episode

Since so many readers loved our “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction” post from a few weeks ago, I thought I’d post another classic TV favorite of mine.  The 1970s coroner crime show “Quincy M.E” is ridiculously hilarious. It was supposed to be a serious mystery drama, but the idea of a medical examiner crashing cars off of cliffs, getting into gun fights, and leading press conferences is a bit much.

The best Quincy episode of all is simply known as “The Punk Rock Episode”.  This episode has gained attention from various sources, whether it be the Spoon song entitled “Quincy Punk Episode”, or The Opie and Anthony Radio show’s constant references to it.  In the classic episode, Quincy must explore the death of Abigail, a girl who died of a codeine overdose…yes, the same stuff in Nyquill.  It’s hard to find this much humor packed into three minutes like the scene when Quincy stops a punk rock show to try speaking to a crowd of “punks”.

Here’s the Spoon song “Quincy Punk Song”:

And here’s just a snippet of Opie and Anthony riffing on this episode:

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Video Clip of the Week: Proof that ANYONE can be a pop-star with auto-tune

The Opie and Anthony radio show recorded the singing of Big A, a semi-retarded taxi driver with a severe speech impediment.  They then put the audio through auto-tuner and edited it. The result is proof that talent isn’t necessary to become a pop-star.

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15. Road Trip Blog 2009: Caught in the Undertow

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

 

Maya Angelou

Staring out into the dark clouds that enveloped our little rock island, I came to the realization that I couldn’t ditch Paul; not just yet. Leaving Paul in Idaho and going off on my own would damage our friendship beyond repair. A year earlier, we planned the trip based solely on the premise of having good times with a friend – the mountains, music, and breweries were just an added bonus. Maybe once we reached Montana things would turn around and get back to the way they had been the year prior. I knew our friendship wasn’t worth sacrificing for a week in the Pacific Northwest. If anything, I’d just have to call the trip off if things became worse.

I still needed a distraction. My frustration and anger still bubbled in my stomach. I pulled out my I-POD in search of something that would put a smile on my face, but none of the music, not even Paul Simon, seemed fitting at that moment. I needed something that would put me in high-spirits yet still have a vicious bite…Opie and Anthony radio show! I’d downloaded their episodes from the entire month of June prior to the trip, and I knew that their raunchy, politically incorrect flavor would hit the spot. I laid back on my rock recliner and giggled into the vast mountain range for the next hour. The bit I recall most from that day was a news story about a funeral home that cut a guy’s feet off in order to fit him into a casket, unbeknownst to his family. Somehow, the boys made this horror story funny (at least in my demented opinion).

Here’s just a small clip from the episode I listened to that day on Chief Joseph Pass:

https://bobdylanwrotepropagandasongs.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/lil-jimmy-as-andy-rooney1.mp3

My mood eased thanks to a few dirty mouthed scoundrels in New York. I finally decided I needed to join Paul to try to smooth things over. I hoped his tempers had ceased. When I arrived to our camp site I could see a large pile of rotting logs laying near my tent. As I approached, Paul emerged from the woods carrying more kindling. He walked past me, not making eye contact. He finally ended the silence asking, “Can you break up some of these logs?”

“Sure,” I replied. At least we were back on speaking terms. He continued stocking the pile, and I began the process of leaning a log against a tree and stomping down on its mid-section to break it in half. After ten minutes, I became bored with my methods and decided to switch it up. I picked up a flimsy, rotting limb and cracked it over my knee Bruce Lee style.

"Don't waste yo self."

Paul walked up just as I pulled off the move and chuckled. “Nice double hand, knee smash.” I took his comment as encouragement, and soon I was pulling off a variety of wood breaking moves including the drop-kick, the teeter-totter, and the over head “HULK SMASH!” Once Paul finished his enormous pile, he joined in on the fun. Soon we were pulling off insane WWF tag team moves. At least for the moment we were back on good terms.

If we were the New Age Outlaws I'd be Road Dog and Paul would be Ass Man.

And really, how could we fight with mushroom and swiss burgers on the menu? It would be our first real meal in a week. Paul got the fire started while I prepared the patties. After sautéing some shrooms, we threw the burgers into the frying pan and soon had the aroma of savory meat floating atop the drifting smoke into the Wyoming air – the same night air grizzly bears would be breathing in. I told Paul we had to make sure to hang up the food and clean the grease out of the pan before bed. He agreed, begrudgingly. Part of me wondered if he wanted to meet a bear face to face.

Paul hanging with his homies.

In ten minutes, we were sitting fireside eating amazing, fire-grilled mushroom and swiss burgers. Paul announced that it was the best mushroom swiss burger he’d ever eaten. It was pretty tasty, but it still didn’t compare to the Hardee’s mushroom and swiss burgers I use to inhale before each high school football game, a pre-game ritual.

Unfortunately they had to ruin the swiss burger with their new Angus burger, which taste like greasy plastic.

After our hearty, grease soaked meal, Paul packed up our food and told me he would go hang the food up in the woods. I asked if he needed my help but he said he would be fine. Minutes after he left, I didn’t feel fine at all, just sitting there with the burger scent fresh on my clothes and breath. I decided to go to bed, finding comfort in my flimsy little tent. Despite being inside, I stayed awake until I finally heard a rustling outside 10 minutes later. When I looked out, I discovered Paul, safely returning to camp.

The next morning I awoke to the strange warbling of some mountain bird. It was quite annoying, but Paul somehow continued to sleep through it. I read some “LOTR” for about an hour, until my partner began moving. I packed up camp and he went and got the food.  Eventually, we made the climb back down to the car.

We drove for about 30 minutes and then decided to stop when we came upon the type of scene you’d find on a doctor’s office calendar. Since we could see a pond nearby, Paul thought it would be a good place for us to bathe and eat. 

We pulled into a nearby parking area and found that we sat right next to a river.  I grabbed the camping soap and my swim trunks (I would not be bathing nude today).  In order to reach the water’s edge, I had to rock climb down into a cove of calm water.  It would serve as a perfect bathing area. 

Unfortunately, we didn't have any nature safe bubble bath to use.

I quickly changed into my trunks and waded into the frigid H2O.  Although I’d been bathing in ice water for a week, I still hadn’t gotten used to it.  As I lathered up my bald head, Paul made his way down the rock wall.  He commenced taking off all his clothes and wading into the water, as if joining me nude wasn’t gay at all.  Of course, it didn’t surprise me. At one point, he asked if I thought I could swim across to the other side?  I looked and tried gauging the current.

“Hmmm…I think so,” I replied. The water was moving at a decent clip, but it didn’t seem like anything I couldn’t power stroke my way through. 

“Really?” he seemed surprised. “You should try it.”

My pride took precedence over my logic.  “Sure,” I confidently answered. Feeling like I was becoming the downer of the trip, maybe this would prove I was willing to take chances. Plus, it didn’t look like too strong of a current.  I waded upstream and tiptoed along the wall toward the raging waters. I knew the second I left the wall it would be a free for all freestyle. 

My goal was this...

I step out and instantly went into swim team mode, kicking my legs incessantly, slicing the waves with my arms, pulling the water beneath me.  With my head down, determined to reach the other end, I quickly sensed that things weren’t going according to plan.  I raised my head for an instant to see that the only direction I’d moved was upstream, and fast.  Crap. What had I been thinking?!

I had to think fast. Within moments I would be out of Paul’s site and further up-stream where “God knows what” awaited me.  I turned around and began swimming back towards our bathing pool, and soon found my body approaching a rock wall. I reached out my arm as far as I could and braced myself for impact, knowing I’d have to also grasp a rock to pull myself back toward Paul.

...but the result was this.

I pancaked into the jagged wall and frantically reached out my hands in search of a crevice to grab on to.  Fortunately, my fingers wrapped around a jutting rock and I found my footing down below. Despite finding my balance, the water continued pushing and pulling me out toward the current.  Slowly and cautiously I moved my way away from the treacherous waves and re-entered our bathing area.  I couldn’t believe how dumb I had been.  What did I have to prove?  I’d been a fool. 

Of course, Paul disagreed. “Dude! That was awesome!” I smiled and nodded, knowing deep down that I had just, once again, escaped the culmination of my New Year’s Day omen.  I pulled myself up into the rocks and laid back, disgusted with myself.  Paul got out also and sat down on a nearby rock (still nude). 

As we talked about my raging river exploit, we suddenly heard a rustling up above.  Looking up I caught a glimpse of a guy looking down at the two of us in disgust. I guess the image of two wet guys (one nude) sitting on rocks and conversing calmly can be alarming to some.

There's nothing wrong with a couple of gents having sitting on rocks and talking (even if one is nude).

When I told Paul what I had seen, he began cackling manaically, loud enough that the guy looking down could probably hear him. It was time to go back up to the car; no need sitting around laughing with a naked guy.  I changed back into my dry clothes and climbed back up the rock wall. 

Back at the car I made a sandwich, trying to avoid eye contact with the people in the two other cars parked nearby.  Out of my periphial I noticed someone approaching me.  I turned to see the same guy who had seen us down below. 

He was the epitiomy of red neck: cut off sleeves, Wrangler jeans, a pedophile stach, and a gaudy belt buckle.  I avoided eye contact and glanced down at his buckle, discovering I’d missed a major detail. A gun.  Stuffed into the top of his Wranglers, a Lone Ranger style revolver. My eyes darted back up to his face that was frozen in a scowl.  I returned my attention back to my sandwich, hoping the gun-toting fella wasn’t homophobic. 

Just then, Paul appeared, pulling himself up from the rock ledge, no longer nude, but now wearing only his used Army underwear.  Crap.  Paul moseyed past the gun-man and approached the car with a goofy smile on his face.  The red neck shook his head and made his way down to an area set aside for fishermen.

“Paul…dude…that guy has a gun!” I whispered over my sandwich.  Of course, Paul’s reaction wasn’t what you’d expect.

“Ha, ha! You’ve gotta love Wyoming!” he joked.

“Dude, he’s the guy who saw us down on the rocks.”

“Really?! Ha, ha, ha! That’s even funnier,” he howled.  Instead of throwing on his clothes and avoiding a gun-point conflict, Paul decided to grab the skin lotion and moisturize his skin outside the car. I didn’t say anything, knowing Paul wasn’t antagonizing the gunman; he has a strange post-shower routine of always lotioning up. 

5 minutes later, as Paul was finishing up his lotion routine, the gun man appeared again, this time not wearing a shirt, showing off his farmer’s tan and blubbery beer belly.  The gun still stuck out from his pants, partly buried under his gut, and his pants were beginning to sag off his fat ass, exposing the top half of his Christmas boxers.  It was a sight that remains etched in my memory. 

You can't make this stuff up.

The red neck, with his gun and festive boxers, walked toward us with purpose, keeping his steely glare on my moisturized friend.  He stalked past us, but his revoltion filled the air.  Once back at his truck, I calmly walked up to Paul.

“Let’s get out of here,” I mumbled.

“I’m going to make a sandwich first,” he calmly replied.

“Okay, but make it quick.” To avoid any confrontation, I sat in my front seat, trying to occupy my mind with my book, but not really comprehending the adventures of Frodo at the moment with my mind on the X-Mas Boxer Murderer, pacing around his truck nearby.  “How long does it take to make a sandwich?” I asked myself, looking back to see Paul meticulously construct a super sandwich.

Just then, the sound of a grumbling engine erupted. I turned to see the shirtless wonder, pulling out of his parking spot and slowly driving  by us.  As he passed, he gave me the evil eye, and sped up, shooting gravel in our direction.  I hoped he wasn’t off to find more friends with guns and holiday themed undergarments.

We'd later find out that we met one of the bank robbing Boxer Boys up close.

I got out of the car and joined Paul amidst his creation of the perfect sandwich. “Let’s get going man. You can eat while I drive.”

“Nah, I’m gonna go back down by the water to eat.”

“Come on man. We’ve already wasted an hour here. Let’s get going.” Paul turned, as if he didn’t hear me, and walked away from me toward the water.  Unbelievable.  I knew the likelihood of gun boy returning was slim. My biggest concern was time. We were so close to Montana I could feel it, yet here we sat, waiting.  It seemed that’s all I did the first week of the trip, waiting, waiting, waiting. 

I sat festering for 15 minutes, bubbling with anger, when Paul finally returned. 

“Was that quick enough?” Paul asked sarcastically.

I tried to keep it civil. “Okay, yes, it was dumb of me for getting mad that you were going to eat by the water, but it just seems like we’ll never get out of Wyoming.”

“What’s your deal? We’ve seen some cool shit. You’re being weird dude.”

He was right; I couldn’t argue.  I had to cool down.  I had to forget all the frustrations and arguments of the past week. I had to forget Oregon. We weren’t going to get there. Face the facts.  We have two weeks left in the trip, and one of those weeks will be in Colorado with Tony.  Oregon would have to wait until next year.  Suck it up Andy. Forget the past week. The trip starts now.

Fortunately, we chose to end our Oregon Trail rather then ending it at the hands of some old timey disease contracted from rotten buffalo meat.

Back on the road, finally, our drive instantly turned to pure beauty.  If only we had driven another 30 minutes the day earlier, we could have camped in bliss rather than turmoil pass.

For the next couple hours, we were stopping every minute to soak in the lay of the land. Like zombies to brains, we couldn’t resist it: start car, stop car, get out, stare at mountains for 10 minutes, get back in car, repeat. 

It's too bad that bald creep had to ruin this picture.

Snow cover giants surrounded us, looking down upon the miniscule Element as we shimmyed our way between its shoulders. Unfortunately, we also ran into a slew of tourists/terrorists along the way, taking photo op after photo op, although a couple cool groups brought their own sleds and were riding down the snow drifts on nearby inclines. It was really a magical land,  that even our sour moods couldn’t resist.

Our goal was for the peak of Beartooth to be Paul's party hat. Success or fail?

Jon Jon had been right; Cheif Joseph Pass is one of the most beautiful drives I’d ever taken. Eventually, it turned into a crazy, downward switchback, rollercoaster ride, leading us downward, back and forth, back and forth, like we were marbles rolling down one of those old wooden slide toys they’d sell at my church as a kid.

How this was fun as a kid, I'll never know.

The road continued slithering downward into a valley of green.  Throughout this journey to the center of the Earth we listened to The Thermals “Now We Can See”, and to this day I can’t listen to this amazing album without remembering the incredible drive that day.

Once at the bottom, we drove a short distance before reaching Red Lodge.  We were in search of Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company, a small town, dive brewery located in an old, red, machine shed.  I could still remember our visit there the year prior on the 4th of July – the mass of townies crammed inside, the bearded lumberjacks huddled around the fooseball table, and the gaudy old fridge sitting center stage behind the bar, plastered in an array of stickers.

I swear the shed was red, although this picture from last year seems to contradict my memory.

Despite thinking we’d see the red shed along our downtown drive, we reached the edge of town without spotting it.  Had we missed it? Or had our memory served us wrong? We decided to continue up the road a little fuhter, hoping to spot the illusive tin barn.  After passing through a slight curve we came upon what looked like a red shed, but much nicer with a vaulted glass ceiling, a fresh coat of paint, and a huge black top parking lot out back (rather than the gravel we parked on the year earlier).  We drove past it slowly and spotted the sign. 

“I guess this is it?” I said to Paul in confusion.

“Yeah…I guess…I swear it was downtown last year,” he replied, equally perturbed.

“This looks like a new building all-together. Let’s check it out.” 

We entered timidly, knowing it was the brewery, but unsure whether we crossed into the “Twilight Zone” or if this was the bizarro Red Lodge Brewery. 

Inside the beauty matched the exterior.  The walls, once faded with chipping paint, were now colorfully designed, featuring a vast array of shimmering medals.  A glass wall sat near the back, looking straight into the brewery filled with more shiney goodness.  I took a seat at one of the art deco tables while Paul went up to order our first two brews.

I began looking around the immaculate brewery, everything glistening and new.  As much as I liked the new digs, I missed the old, small town vibe of the year prior.  It just seemed to antiseptic.

As my eyes roamed the room, I stopped upon a recognizeable item. My eyes focused.  An old beat up fooseball table sat in the back corner, the same foose-ball table we saw earlier. I began to scan the room and slowly, recognizable features began to jump out, hidden within the modern design.  As Paul returned with our pints, I could see the  old beat up, sticker infested refridgerator sitting center stage, right behind the bar.

If you look closely behind Paul carrying our beers, you'll spot the old school fridge built into the wall.

Despite all the pieces from the old bar, things had changed, just like our road trip. We still had all the features from the year prior (breweries, mountains, etc) but things hadn’t gone nearly as well as the year before.  At that moment I knew, with only a couple weeks left, I still had time to make the trip memorable. I hoped my new change in attitude would yield different results.

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