Thursday, July 31, 2008

Farewell to the Rockies

*Note: this is more or less a post composed from my notes of the past week. The last notes were frantically made as I watched my laptop battery creep down to a mere 3% after transferring the latest batch of photos from my camera. Let's see how good my memory is, shall we?

But first, a couple items from yesterday:

I crossed the continental divide a while back in Glacier NP. Then in Yellowstone, I apparently crossed back. Then back again. Then back. The ridges were pretty small, and it was difficult to tell precisely what was going on, but the net effect placed me back on the Pacific side of the divide. So yesterday, driving east on US Route 26 from Grand Teton NP, I crossed the divide for one grand, final time. To celebrate the occasion, I took a whiz behind a tree. On the western side of the divide, of course; this would be my last opportunity to mark my territory west of the continental divide for a long time. So if you happen to live west of the divide, just a little reminder: you're on my property now. I tagged it.

No tag-backs.

Ok, let's start running through these. There's a lot to get in.

1. Milk was a bad choice: I needed some snaxx for quick energy on my hikes. I thought, how about one of those big party bags of milk chocolate mini snickers bars? Guess what happens when you leave chocolate in a black car parked in the hot freaking sun. Exactly. Luckily, I used *science* to help out. Melted candy bar + pot of cold water = non-melted, albeit Dali-esque tasty candy bar. I takes what I can gets. But note to self: no more chocolate.

2. A fair trade: fire for beer. Back in Montana, I met a nice family from Oakland in the campsite next to me. They had the full-on super camp setup, but they weren't very good at making a campfire. Also, their firewood was pretty wet. I waved hi, they invited me over for a beer, and I got their fire going (pyromania does have its benefits. sometimes). As a bonus, I got to talk football with my new buddy Chris. It was good to get some serious sports talk in. Did I mention that this was at the headwaters of the Missouri? See last week's post. I'm still history buddies with Clark. And he would not have made me his bitch. So don't even think about it.

3. Why do I keep saying Yosemite when I mean Yellowstone, and vice versa? I've been doing it like crazy. No idea why.

4. Yellowstone: crowded as fuck. It was bad, really bad. This is what I get for visiting during peak tourist season. Every single pullout on the road had packed parking lots, and I had to elbow my way past fat Americans and bundles of Chinese tourists on every trail. I prefer the Chinese. They have a more polite culture, and tend to defer to my elbow-throwing. Also, they're not quite as wide, so it's easier to slide by.

5. The adventures of Bad Brad. I'm going to mix it up with a little fiction here. Despite any evidence to the contrary, this is not a real story about me. Fiction. So Bad Brad wanted to hike along the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but the rim road was closed for construction. Closed to vehicles *and* pedestrians. Bad Brad decided this was a foolish restriction, especially on a Sunday. He had worked as a civil engineer, and knew that road crews never worked on Sunday if they could help it. So Bad Brad jumped a couple fences, ignored a few "no entry" signs, and found himself completely alone on an abandoned road. A road especially abandoned by construction equipment (ha!). Then Brad went for a lovely hike along the rim of the canyon, enjoying a the peace and solitude that you can only get by keeping everyone else out. It was a perfect afternoon, and he couldn't have experienced it without breaking a little pointless rule. Then he smoked a doobie to celebrate.

Not bad, eh? I'm considering writing further adventures, like: Bad Brad foils a bank heist by jaywalking. The kindly old Irish cop chides him, but we know that he doesn’t mean it. Like a modern-day delinquent Hardy boy, Bad Brad will capture the imaginations of a generation.

6. Animals. There's a good deal of wildlife in Yellowstone. Whenever animals stray near the road, all the tourists stop to take pictures, creating a unique Yellowstone phenomenon: the bison traffic jam. I also got to “fight” two bears at once. (here, “fight” is taken to mean “observed from a distance"). A momma bear and her cub. She was teaching it how to forage, digging at particularly rich grubs and such. When the cub strayed to far, she'd call and it would come running back on little cub legs. Painfully cute.

7. I get freaking sick of geothermal features. Yellowstone has something like two thirds of all the geysers in the entire freaking world. This is an amazing occurence, but after a while all those fumaroles and mudpots and boiling springs tend to run together. It took me a solid morning to reach my fill, until noon, when I decided...

8. Ok, maybe geothermal features are kinda cool. Geysers! Old Faithful was better than I expected (I'd like to thank my brother for bringing my hopes down: "there's nobody, then like five minutes before it is supposed to blow, thousands of people show up out of nowhere. Maybe they were drinking martinis in the lodge. Then there's a little muddy fountain, and everyone takes pictures then leaves"), and as the first geyser I've ever seen live, it was pretty sweet. As a bonus, Castle Geyser blew about fifteen minutes later, so I got the ol' two-for-one deal on geysers. Value!

9. On to the Tetons: because “Big Titty Mountains” sounds better in French. Grand Tetons. Think about it. The mountains really are spectacular. I highly recommend seeing them.

10. Jackson Lake, or why do all my best memories of this trip involve getting clean? It's been damn hot for the past few weeks, and all this hiking gets me dirty and overheated. A dip in the lake was just what I needed. I've discovered a pattern: All my road tripping now has been during mid-summer, when the heat is at its hottest and the swimming is at its swimmingest. There are few pleasures as great as diving into a mountain lake after a day trudging up and down dusty mountain trails in the hot sun.

11. Did I just get zinged by an old dude? I tend to use poles when I hike. It makes the downhill a hell of a lot easier on my knees, and it allows me to go faster. I get in some serious miles (on average, about 10 a day), so this is a good thing. So I'm hiking down the trail from Mt Washburn, and a pass this old man and his wife. “Goin skiin down the trail, are ya?” he said as I hiked past. I replied something like, “It beats destroying my knees,” and he shot right back with “well why don’t ya get some of them kneepads?”

Zinged. damn.

BONUS: This dude was *old*. We're talking older than the park old. He was likely hiking these trails before cars. With dinosaurs and such. old.

Time to add on items for the 29th as well, while I let my camera photos download. I hope this shit can finish before my battery dies…

12. Again, the Tetons are beautiful. I put in my biggest hike to date, a 20-mile ordeal up Paintbrush Canyon and around Solitude Lake. As the Tetons were my last chance to get in a serious big hike, I figured I might as well go out with a bang. It was perfect -- the weather, the sun, the snow, everything. Impossible to take a bad picture. A monkey with a disposable camera could have developed some Ansel-Adams level prints on that hike.

13. Dave's Law of Hikers: The greater the frequency of encounters with other hikers, the worse my mood becomes. If I pass other people, say, once an hour -- I'll give them a friendly smileand say hello, maybe even throwing in a “how are ya”. Once every ten five minutes or so, and I'll dispose with the pleasantries altogether, possibly even avoiding eye contact. One every two minutes, and I'll start brushing by people with the sort of body language that says "who the fuck are you to get in my way, you worthless pile if shit." Elbows may be thrown. Once a minute: I will stab you with my fucking hiking poles.

14. I do some zinging of my own: On the same hike, getting into the more frequent encounter stage, a woman passes me in the other direction. Without indicating a specific peak, she asks me, “do you know the names of these mountains?” Without missing a beat, I reply: “Grand Tetons.”

Zing, baby. Zing.

15. 20 miles is a long hike. I’m not in TFC shape these days. I must be getting old.

There's probably more, but it's been a busy week and I've been typing here for over an hour now. I've got the Devil's Tower to visit, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"-style.

Adventures to follow


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