Montana, Day 5: It’s Not A Vacation Till…

It’s not a vacation till a boulder rolls across your leg.

We rose early, jumped into our rented Subaru and pointed it toward Yellowstone.  The day before, I’d spotted a couple of signs in Gardiner boasting breakfast buffets and despite the fact that “nary a grit were to be found in these parts” (Tom Conlon quote), the organic, farm fresh eggs common to this area more than made up for it.  Unfortunately, either I’d imagined the signs or they’d been taken down since yesterday.  We ended up having breakfast in a little diner that was overflowing with sightseers as well as locals, staffed by one frantic, flustered and overworked waitress.  Almost 2 hours later we finally left the diner and drove under the Roosevelt Arch, the giant monolith that marks the Northwest entrance to Yellowstone. Most everything was still obscured in the billowy whiteness of snow and fog but we held out hope that the God who had made these mountains and had brought us here would lift the clouds to give us a glimpse of his handiwork.

Today’s destination was Old Faithful, 51 miles from the entrance. Neither Dana nor I were overly excited about seeing the geyser itself but moreso in walking for a while in footsteps my dad had  left there years before.  As a young soldier he had driven his Studebaker through the area, spending his nights sleeping under the stars. The summer evening he spent camping just outside of Old Faithful Lodge a family invited him to join them for dinner.  He thanked them for their generosity but explained he had some hot dogs he planned to roast over the fire. They told him to save his hotdogs for later, tonight he would eat steak.  Of course he couldn’t say no to steak. Years later the kindness offered to this young serviceman lives on.  I have to admit, I was combing the area looking for a soldier not unlike my dad I could extend the same generosity to…pay it forward.

We were told that no matter what we did, we just had to enjoy a meal at the Old Faithful Lodge. Famished, we sat down to what we anticipated would be a sumptuous meal, served buffet style. Unfortunately, like every other meal we’d had inside the park it was a huge disappointment, bland and overpriced. All of the concessions for the park are sub-contracted to a company called Xanterra. Seasonings, apparently don’t figure into their bottom line. Take this not so much as a criticism as a suggestion to bring a picnic lunch.  We looked jealously all around us at those who’d had the foresight to do this very thing.  Yellowstone is made for picnics…and its unbridled splendor more than makes up for a lack of good food.

The clouds parted just in time for us to see the 2pm eruption of Old Faithful. The old geyser must be getting along in years for it erupted with a whimper, not a bang. In the midst of it’s whimper , the clouds moved in and a cold rain began to soak us as we ran to the car.

If you know me at all you’re aware of my disdain for gloomy, white skies.  This had been our weather, with occasionally interruptions of rain, sleet and snow, since we left the airport. As hard as I fought to not let this affect my disposition, the weather coupled with hours of 30 mph driving, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to hop out and snap pictures had left me in a sullen funk. I looked on longingly as I saw 4 guys hoisting their packs for what must’ve been a multi-day backpacking trip into the wild. It didn’t escape Dana’s notice.  “Want me to let you out?”  “Nah, I’m fine.” “No, you’re not.” I wasn’t and I knew it. Surrounded by this veiled beauty and stuck in this horrid pattern of starting and stopping had made it’s mark on me.

At the sight of a sign marking the Continental Divide, we stopped again to snap a pic.  Pointing to a steep embankment, Dana said, “Crawl up there and let me get your pic.” The soil was loose but I made it a little ways and posed while bracing myself on an exposed root from a fallen tree. Once done, I scrambled the rest of the way to the top to find a spot out of view to, ahem, “make water” as my dad calls it.  I returned to the top of the hill and warned Dana and an older woman who’d arrived in my absence to move out of the way, in case this went bad.  Dana hid behind the sign and the woman moved to the side.  Best I can tell, when I began to slip I instinctually reached out and grabbed a boulder that sat loosely in the soil, dislodging it to chase me down the hill.  I was nearly at the bottom when it overtook me, slamming into my right calf, driving my knee and right shoulder into the gravel. Dana, the older lady and her husband all screamed as I fell. I hopped up quickly, dripping blood from multiple places and hoping, praying I’d not done serious damage.  7 hours later, after our continued “start-stop-snap-a-picture” method of travel back into Emigrant, I limped bruised and battered back into our cabin and took inventory of my injuries. Best I could tell I had a mild ankle sprain from hyper-extending my foot when I attempted a “Superman” off the embankment, a torqued and bruised knee, one seriously bruised, scratched and swollen calf along with an assortment of cuts scrapes and scratches from my trip through the gravel. Like I said, “It ain’t a vacation till you get run over by a boulder.”

 

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8 Responses to “Montana, Day 5: It’s Not A Vacation Till…”

  • Lucky for us, I take it, the main dining room was very crowded when we visited the Old Faithful Lodge and so we ate at one of the faster food places and it was pretty standard fare.

    Lucky for you that boulder didn’t do more damage. Speedy recovery my friend.

    • Thanks, Frank. And thanks for the reminder to check out your blog. We’ve been so wrapped up in our own woes and travels that I’d forgotten to drop by. I’ll do so posthaste!

  • mel:

    sounds like a typical longley vacay to me! all norman rockwell on the inside and reality on the outside!!! enjoy reality, bolders and all it’s a better story!!!! be safe and watchout for mountain lions, could you even imagine the story that would be!! LOLOLOLOL

    • Unfortunately, I have no argument. I think this time, Dana (and I) would’ve settled for a less interesting story and a little more time in the woods. Dana was scouting for cats, by the way.

  • penny dugan:

    Sorry….. I arrived at Ben and Mel’s about 10:00 PM to hear of your vacation woes! I pray you have fun, but hurry back, I want to see you two!!!

  • Ben B:

    Jeez-o-pete man! The grand loop road crossed the continental divide a dozen times or more! hope you’re ok! We stopped turned around to take a pic the first time we saw the continental divide sign. Then we felt silly when we saw another one. and another one. and another one. Ha ha.
    Felt the same way about Old Faithful. We had a meal at the other hotel (I can’t remember the name of it) and when I remembered it fondly, my wife reminded me it was because it was at the end of one of the longest hikes/days of our trip. She does still take her souvineer coffee mug to work from time to time. lol.
    Also I’d recommend Cowboy BBQ if you’re still in Gardiner. had a great lunch there.
    Keep wandering!

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