It was an uneasy feeling, a conscious cognizance of something not quite
right, of an imbalance somewhere undefined, yet definitely real. Through
my morning coffee and early day routine I ignored it… I’d slept poorly the
night before and felt it was just a tired, “bad day” kind of feeling that would
eventually go away. I was wrong.
It was September 6th, the day after Labor Day. The day when all the
out-of-staters leave our fair state, and we residents reclaim our hills
and valleys. It’s always a bitter-sweet time here. We love this time – we
can fish our favorite holes without big rigs with California plates being
parked in our space. We can venture up into the hills without Idaho,
Utah and Wyoming campers sprinkling our favorite stop-offs. Most of us
live here because of the lack of people, so of course the end of summer is
a big deal for us. We get our country back… we get the reason we live here
in the first place… back.
oh yeah. Bitter-sweet. Yes, We also know that we now have between two
weeks and two months before the snow flies again, and again, and piles up
for the next 6-plus months. We want, and hope for, a beautiful Indian Summer,
a season that is the softest, most beautiful time of year in Southwest Montana.
Spring is nonexistent here of late… a nasty, wet, muddy, windy & cold late
winter suddenly shifts into a warm summer around June 20th. Thanks, La
Nina. Thanks for hammering us with that non-Spring last “Spring.” It’s especially
bad for me, for I remember all those countless Atlanta Springs that began,
without fail, on March 12th. The little green buds appeared on the tree outside
my window, the blossoms followed soon, then the greenish pollen storms that
clouded the skies around Atlanta for several weeks. The smell of the Azaleas,
the white and pink dogwood blossoms, good god. I was so spoiled. Spring in
the South is truly spectacular, truly renewing.
So. Yesterday, bitter/sweet. Today, off balance, uneasy… why?? The moon?
No. The season? Yes, partly. But there was something else.
Last week I had 4-wheeled up Alder Gulch in search of some new trails.
There are a lot of small trails up in there, many I still don’t know, and it was a
great day to bounce around up there and figure some of it out. And I did.
Let me explain here that most of us here in V.C. call ATVs 4-wheelers. Other
people, in other places, call them ATVs. I know that East of the Mississippi,
the boys call them “quads.” Right, Michael?
In my travels that day, I found a rocky path from the top of Alder Gulch east
over to the Axolotl Lakes, a trail I had not known to exist. Through deep woods
and rocky roads, finally out into the high prairie of the lakes region, a great
ride, all in all. But something happened. I saw the road that comes in from the
highway outside V. C…. the road which makes it a short haul into the Axolotol’s,
a road which has a very steep incline down into the lakes – a road I’ve been
afraid to take since I returned home 5 years ago.
I 4-wheeled back to town on an alternate route and figured that was that. But
it wasn’t. My Betty had returned to Seattle last Friday and I was bumping around
the cabin, aimless, half lost, and now all this beautiful fall-like weather beckoning
me to get out and play in it. The problem, I had seen the lower Axolotl lake the
other day and now wanted to go kayaking in it. But there was only one way to
get a kayak up to it… and that was the dreaded road, that damned steep road.
I’d driven Iron Jack up there two years ago, taking fall pics. I’d pulled up to the
steep drop-off and decided right then I couldn’t do it. Now it was a roadblock in
my mind, telling me over and over again that Jack couldn’t make it down, it would
slip off the steep place and roll ten times to the bottom of the ravine. Logic told
me that it had to be doable… what fool would build a road that no one could use??
Now I wanted/needed to get out of the cabin again, now I really wanted to kayak
that lower lake. But what I was feeling was… fear. A feeling I’ve experienced only
several times in the last twenty years. Now here it was again. What was I going to
do, give in to it, live with it?? Four years ago I’d faced a major fear and dealt with
it, that’s another post for another time, concerns snowmobiling. That one turned
out fine, I’d faced it, overcome it and it had dissipated in the howling winds of a
major winter storm up Alder Gulch.
Yes, life continues to be most interesting. Think that, as a retired person, your
challenges are over, that life is easy now, put ‘er on cruise and pour another
bloody mary? Nah. Couldn’t be that easy. There are always challenges, whether
we choose to face them or not. I decided to make an experiment of this new
*fear* I’d bumped into and document the outcome, even if I had to show I’d failed
to overcome it.
So I loaded the kayak into Iron Jack and strapped it down good. Threw in the
paddles and a life preserver and up the hill out of town we went. I noticed the
gas was low in Jack, perhaps an item that would distract me from my fear. But no,
it was there, in my head, in my chest. I could see the steepness of the road in my
mind’s eye, and could not imagine myself actually driving Jack down it. It was
simply too dangerous.
I turned off the highway at the top of the pass and rumbled down the dirt road
4 miles to the “cliff.” When I got there it looked easily as bad as i’d remembered.
I started by putting Jack into 4-wheel drive, then I ate an Altoid, took a few pictures of the deaded road and got back in the truck.
Time to either go or not go. I had my cellphone with me, in case I rolled Jack to the bottom. I would surely need help… lots of help, help of all kind. But now there was nothing to do but go or not go. And so I did.
We moved up to the precipice in low gear and I didn’t hesitate… just eased Iron Jack down at about 3 miles an hour. It was so steep we were slipping a little, but still in control. I didn’t breathe for at least 30 seconds, but held on to Jack and kept
the speed at nearly stopped. Slowly we got past the dangerous spot and kept
moving down the steep and narrow grade. I had made it, I’d actually made it!!!
The rest of the day was a piece of cake. I kayaked the lower lake for about 2 hours,
no one up there but me.Took some pics, saw some fish and the legendary Axolotl, a lizard with gills, or a fish with legs… whatever.
They really do exist up there, a natural phenomenon of sorts. I couldn’t get their picture, they’re a slimy strange green color, matching the bottom of the shallow end of the lake exactly. Will try to get a few pictures of them for you sometime… I know you don’t believe me… ;^)
Going back up the steep part later in the day proved to be almost as exciting as it
was coming down, Jack scratching and digging in 4-wheel up close to the top…
and of course we made it. Back in V.C. I stopped at The Bale Of Hay Saloon for a
celebratory beer, deciding on the Dragon’s Breathe Dark Ale. After all, I’d just
conquered a fear, hadn’t I? The ale went down smoothly and I had a second, musing about how strange fear is, and once faced, how easily it dissipates into
nothingness. What a curious power, an emotion we can have such difficulty with
at times. I guess that, ultimately, the trick is to know when a fear can be a healthy thing, a thing to respect and live with. Matter of fact, let’s drop the word “fear” from
any emotion that is logical enough to keep us safe from anything foolish, and call
that emotion simply “respect.” Okay? Yeah, that works for me.
In the middle of my last beer, a Merle Haggard song came on the stereo in the bar
and it hit me like a steep, cliff-like road. What a perfect song to end a perfect day.
“Every Fool has a rainbow
A rainbow that only he can see
Every fool has his own special rainbow
and that rule applies to me.”