Category Archives: Adventure Report

Montana Miles

Combing through the three draft posts that have accumulated in my WordPress dashboard over the last year is a lot like viewing the stomach contents of a trout. Dulled is the fly fisherman’s coveted iridescence on gossamer wings. Nothing real looks good half digested.

I can still decipher the essence of my intent, but the metaphors seem tenuous at best. I really should start including tasting notes with my blogs: best consumed with a scotch ale and a sleep deficit.

In my last annual report a year ago I made some predictions about the year to come. Whether you call them tongue -in-cheek or lip-and-chop depends upon how much emphasis you thought I put on the emergence of facial hair trends.

Regardless of how clever I thought I was, there were a lot of things that one-year-ago me didn’t anticipate. That guy certainly didn’t predict a year-long drought in putting digital ink to virtual paper. And I’ll be damned if he had even a splinter in the brain to the notion that his next year in Montana would be his last…and end just as this love affair started, on a river in country that is less a place than an archetype of the indefinable.

Sunset in the Big Belts – Near Avalanche Butte, Montana

John Steinbeck once wrote,  “I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it …”

Reticence to trample the words of Steinbeck provides a credible excuse for me to abbreviate my own rumination on the relationship I’ve cultivated with this landscape. I possess not the literary acumen to avoid the awkwardness of the trite prose I’m compelled to pen; lest they dwell on tears descending to the pacific as their Atlantic bound source sojourns on.

On a side note, I’m probably going to punch myself  squarely in the pretentiousness when I re-read this in the morning.

The point is, my connection to this place extends far beyond an alignment of my aesthetics with the landscape. The eponymous mountains of this state aren’t the only snow-capped beauties I’ve seen in my life. Yet none of the other thirteen ranges I’ve explored in half-again as many states offer the sense of place I’ve experienced little further than my front door in Missoula. A short walk through my neighborhood affords me a view from the top of Mount Jumbo onto a city that is as comfortable with its  quirky, independent and inclusive identity as I am.

Rattlesnake Recreation Area - Missoula, Montana

Upper Rattlesnake – My “Backyard”

To venture into Montana’s backcountry only serves to solidify that which I feel on the streets in Missoula. I’ve explored 7 or 8 of the ranges here, but there are over 100 big enough to carry names…all of them are big enough to kick my ass. That is an indelible part of the ethos here; it takes work. Sometimes it even takes work coming down.

Pillows Run at Lolo Pass - {Photo By Sperry Desrosier}

Backcountry Pillows Run at Lolo Pass – {Photo By Sperry Desrosier}

“Earning it” isn’t unique to Montana however; I’ve written about it before. Yet in most places I’ve lived, the line of authenticity separating daily life from a crafted adventure is an obvious one. Here, perhaps only woven into the context of my expectations, is a sense that the quiver of skills one carries is necessary to navigating this landscape; not a luxury. This isn’t strictly fact of course, Missoula is a city after all. But perceptions are important, and the fact that skiing to work or towing a baby stroller behind your bicycle during hunting season isn’t considered by most to be odd demonstrates a sense of place that embraces “adventure” as a part of life.

The Hunting Rig - Upper Blackfoot Valley

Hunting Season – Upper Blackfoot Valley, Montana

As Thomas McGuane put it, “Giving freaks a pass is the oldest tradition in Montana.”

I’ll miss that.

Graduation is scheduled for May 18th and is just as much the marker of a task completed as it is a starter’s pistol. My days in Montana are numbered, approximately 235 in fact. In December, I’ll be driving back to the Midwest for Christmas before moving to Durham, New Hampshire a month later. I’ll shed my Grizzly skin and enroll as a Wildcat for a masters program at the university there. From Missoula, traveling four hours in any direction will get me to at least any given three of one-hundred named mountain ranges and probably at least one national park. From Durham, the same spin of the needle could put me in the White Mountains, New York City, or in the open ocean of the Atlantic. A different kind of adventure awaits me, to be sure.

North Fork of the Flathead River | By Clinton Begley

North Fork of the Flathead – During my First Visit in 2009

But the landscape that captured my imagination in 2009 during my first night spent camping in Montana will be my home until then. It was along the banks of the North Fork of the Flathead River, just outside of the electricity-free outpost of Polebridge, Montana that I heard a lone wolf howl for the first time, and where I first fell in love with this state.

Polebridge, Montana – 2009

Beginning in the week following graduation, I will have a Polebridge address. My mail will be delivered by a woman who owns a wolf she raised from an abandoned pup. I will not have electricity, nor cell service, nor internet. The five months I’ll spend there may be my last in Montana as I cannot say what adventures may be ahead of me. But I am confident that after a summer spent in its heart, the romance I already hold for this state will only be magnified by time and distance from it.

My good buddy Matt likes to measure the long uphill sections of especially rough, unkempt, talus strewn and log hampered trails here in “Montana miles,” a term of endearment to be certain. Because although the trails are tough, they are also ruggedly beautiful and the view from the top is always worth it.

I’m a full eight months from my date of departure and already I am measuring the long stretches of I-90 east in Montana Miles. Not because they are physically demanding, but because it will take some serious work on another level to convince myself that the view in end, another step on the career path near the Atlantic, will be worth it too.


Annual Report

As the literary year draws to a close, I am reminded of just how much has changed since my first blog post one year ago today.

I’m glad to say that I’ve not had the time to write nearly as much as I would have liked.
It’s a strange thing to say considering how much I enjoy writing, but I tend to acknowledge the relationship between words written and miles of trail or river experienced as inversely proportional.

While this isn’t strictly true, it should serve as an indication of just how many miles I’ve traveled in the last year. But I’d prefer to qualify those miles traveled with approximate data on three vectors that may better illustrate what was witnessed and experienced in those miles. Since a year ago I was probably doing something similar with investment data, I thought it fitting to focus upon different measures of success to summarize the last four quarters of experiential growth.

Quantitative Performance Summary

This first graph will illustrate the approximate number of  nights annually spent outside throughout a duration of  past seven years and three months. I used a combination of recollection, planning documents (maps) I’d retained, and Facebook photos/videos to reconstruct my memories of various trips throughout the years. This is as scientific as it gets kids. You’ll see that literary year  (LY) 2011-2012 was the most “outside” year on record, with approximately 36 nights spent outside. So far in 2012, we’re off to a great start with 17 nights already accounted for in January and February alone. I project LY 2012-2013 to be a bullish year for “Agorasomnulence” and set new records for mosquito slappage.

Graph two shows approximate figures of photos taken annually over a duration of the last seven years and three months. Figures were determined based upon photographic archives and did not include cell phone photos or photos taken with other people’s cameras. LY 2012-2013 is on target to be the most picture takingest year on record with already 25% of 2011-2012 calendar year captures in the bag. A reliable sampling method has yet to be developed in order to establish correlation between quantity of total image captures and those that are not complete crap and/or awkward gopro images of my own befuddled face.

Using facebook photos and recorded interviews with friends, family and strangers in supermarkets, I have been able to reconstruct approximate head and facial hair values for the past six years and three months. Again, LY 2011-2012 proved to be a record breaking year for both head and facial hair length. In the final days of LY 2011-2012 we saw an emergence of a new “mustache”  category in conjunction with a slight decline in overall facial hair length. Analysts are currently developing new metrics for reporting mustache v.s cheek hair length. Forecasters are unsure if the mustache emergence will be a trend throughout LY 2012-2013 or if it’s growth will be undermined by environmental factors such as  heat and ridicule.

*High Five counts were not available at the time of this writing. Initial projections indicate a statistical increase, but causation cannot be determined due to an unusually high occurrence of people with more than two hands represented in the data set.

Qualitative Summary

The cliche simile of comparing life to a roller-coaster belies the complexity of existence. Days, and by extension lives are seldom either exclusively good or bad… up or down. Everyone knows this, yet we perpetuate the colloquialism.
One of my favorite ideas to share as a counter point is that we’re all just extracting particles of existence from waves of probability. The idea, that I’m fairly certain I stole directly from Rob Bryanton, is a freeing one.
The selections we make everyday when choosing our own pocketfull of existence particles are by definition products of compromise. We trade the ideal for a reality of consequence each time we reach into the flotsam of probability and  make a choice. And while our ideal future is rarely bobbing on the surface like a cork, the process of reaching deeper into the froth is one that forces us to get our feet wet. Because while at some time or another we’ve all been lucky enough for our ideal to wash up at our feet like so many sand dollars, most of what is worth having requires wading eye deep in order to see it, much less reach it.

The metaphor of existence and probability as ocean waves sort of got away from me; the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve traded a lot for the amazing year I’ve had. Where I’ve gained friends and fellow travelers in new experiences I’ve missed time with loved ones and being there for many major events in my friend’s lives. For every mile of beautiful river I’ve floated, or mountain landscape I’ve photographed, I’ve missed floating from bar to bar with some of my best pals and cheesing with them shoulder-to-shoulder. And for every transformational experience with wildlife that I’ve been privileged enough to see, I’ve missed the chance to share it with two of my best friends, my parents.

Yet sometimes no matter how deep we dive, the reality for which we’re searching is not a probability that exists within this universe. Becoming comfortable with this idea is what makes us comfortable with ourselves and our choices; but deciding to embrace the discomfort makes us value the things that are not quantum…it makes us value the things that we cannot incorporate into all possible places in all possible times of our lives… that which is finite, yet always immeasurable…that which we share with those who’s feet get wet alongside our own…or our mustaches…only time will tell.

El Lobo Norteño

Finding a spot to pitch my tent was difficult; foot-deep holes lined with the shredded root-ends pockmarked the banks of the North Fork of the Flathead River just outside Glacier National Park’s west entrance near Polebridge.

Grizzlies had undoubtedly found this spot as beautiful as I had, and bountiful to boot.

The light was fading fast, but it wouldn’t be the first time we had set up a tent in the dark. While Matt and I continued with the assembly after a brief pause to snap this photo, I heard a strange music swelling above the rustling of coated nylon and clanging of tent stakes.

We stopped. So did the music.

After a few perplexing seconds of silence, save for the din of the river’s flow, the sound swelled again from the meadow beyond a stand of burnt trunks and spry new growth.

This time the haunting sound of a single wolf’s howl echoing down the valley was unmistakable. To call it a song would be to diminish it’s wildness. But to describe it simply as power measured in hertz would be to deny the wolf’s raw musicality.

We never heard it again on our trip.

Yet, whenever I look at this underexposed photo of an artificial management border through an otherwise continuous landscape, I remember how the sound transcended that division both physically and symbolically. Now, I also realize that it transcends space and time each time I look at this photo as the sounds continue to vibrate the hairs on my neck to attention and moments later, the corners of my mouth to a grin.

The Horn of Atlanta

Flag of Eritrea

It’s a lot easier to focus on writing when no one around me is speaking English. Well, no one except Neil Cavuto.

I have no idea why the Eritrean proprietor of “Atlanta’s Best Coffee” insists upon using the “Deafen” setting on the television in his shop, but since his channel of choice is Fox News, I always find myself disappointed that the maximal setting just  isn’t quite enough to actually rupture my eardrums for good. I suppose I can’t complain too much though; the jabbering of prime time political punditry typically floats to the surface of audibility only in the lulls between chatter and greetings between the Eritrean patrons. It almost seems as though everyone who enters is arriving to a party in their honor after a long absence. Hugs, cheek to cheek kisses and megawatt smiles are traded around while no palm is left untouched. Well, no palm except for mine anyway. I’m becoming a regular though and the old man who owns the place is starting to pick up on what I order when I come in. Decaf soy cappuccino. A man’s drink.

In all the times I’ve been there, the only English that is ever spoken is to me… both from the man, and his television. There is something refreshing in this. Perhaps it’s just a bit of novelty from having enjoyed an essentially mono-cultural existence in Quincy for so long. But I feel like that is okay.

Atlanta’s Best Coffee is far from being convenient. It’s neither on my way to work, nor on my way home and there are much closer, and trendier places near each. But a 20 minute drive is a small price to pay to feel worlds away from anything familiar.

I first discovered it on one of my many meandering drives in an attempt to familiarize myself with the painfully conceived road system around Atlanta. The free wi-fi and the promise of a cure for my sweet tooth lured me in. But I return not for the coffee, and not really for the free wi-fi either. To be honest, I’m not really certain why this particular place has become my go-to for a hot beverage and bandwidth. But I suspect that somewhere in between the appeal of being immersed in a different culture in À la carte doses, and  having a place to focus  without the temptations of inadvertent eve’s dropping, I have garnered a sort of pride in the discovery that keeps me coming back. In the midst of becoming familiar with a new city, and new people giving suggestions and tips and directions on where to find their favorite everything, I have discovered a place of my own to prefer.  While I appreciate them, recommendations often negate the serendipity of exploration that I love so much. So even if what I discover pales in comparison to that which is recommended, at least the discovery is my own to cherish and stubbornly enjoy.

So I’ll keep going back to Atlanta’s Best Coffee as often as I can. Yet I won’t be aiming to gain admittance to the hugs and handshake club. I am perfectly content to enjoy the atmosphere and the positivity that they generate, but I may not have a choice in the matter. One day last week, as I was leaving the shop I received an invitation to attend an Eritrean Independence day celebration to commemorate 20 years of Eritrea’s freedom from Ethiopia. Food, and a live DJ were promised along with a prominent keynote speaker. I’m just crossing my fingers it’s not Neil Cavuto.