They rolled in from Atlanta July 21st, after a 4-day cruise across the country.
They had dodged some of the still-flooded areas of Missouri and Iowa,
taking back roads and detours to worm their way back to the “super slab.”
Cameron and Carter, both 21, best friends, on a road trip to Montana to camp out and fish.
Carter had emailed me weeks ago, asking if he and his pal could use my cabin
as a base camp for a week while they explored the immediate countryside and
mountains that surround my little town of Virginia City. Carter had been here
three years earlier with his dad, Andrew. We had fished, bounced around the
hills together and shot my dad’s old rifles. Evidently Carter was somewhat
impressed with his first Montana experience, for he was ready to share it
with Cameron now. “Dammit, Cameron, we’re not here to have fun…
we’re here to catch fish!”
I was unsure of what to expect from Carter and Cameron’s visit. I knew that my
boy, Dillon, had changed quite a bit from 18 to 21. I knew that Southwest Montana
had more than enough treasures and adventures to keep two young men
occupied, once I knew what their main interests were and where to send them.
And I was going to send them, not guide them. I had just finished recording an
album for an old cowboy who had died a month later in a truck accident. Hurrying
to finish the album in the first place, because the old boy was not in good
health, I had been resting up from the experience and slowly getting ready for
the boys. The old boy’s sudden death took the wind out of me, and sent me
back into semi-recovery mode. When Cameron and Carter arrived late on
July 21st, I barely had the laundry done, the sheets clean and wasn’t quite
ready for them. But there they were.
I think we all shared a pizza down at The Bale Of Hay saloon that first evening.
There was, for me, an immediate recognition that not only were these guys not
going to be a problem or a responsibility, but that they might very possibly be
fun to have around, and fun to spend time with. In hindsight I think that by the
time we were through our second beer and our first pizza, I had already morphed
from host to guide. For these were not two ordinary boys. They were young men,
responsible, thoughtful, and to my mind, most unusual.
They turned out to be very independent in all respects. They had their own
food, bedrolls, all of it. I had to twist their arms to fix something for them, for
they were determined to not be a pain. If I didn’t have a dinner plan, they
did and would fix it while I was pouring the wine. If I slept in, the coffee was made,
they had already eaten and had done the dishes.
“Don’t worry about burning the pop tarts, Carter. It’s only a log cabin…”
Sure, in the ensuing days we scouted both major rivers and streams in the area, as fishing quickly became a top priority for them. To my dismay, it turned out that both
the Madison River, to our east, and the Ruby River, to our west, were both still
running high and fast… too fast to fish any portion of them effectively. We fished
Ruby Lake and Alder Creek for most of the first four days, waiting for the rivers to decline and slow.
Upper Ruby River & The Snowcrest Mountains
We didn’t have much luck, but the boys’ spirits remained high. In the evenings
we’d head back to the cabin and grill burgers, or eat something the guys whipped
up. Turns out they are both good cooks and are far more versatile than I’d ever
have guessed. After dinner we’d have a few drinks and shoot the shit, or we’d
head down to The Bale for a few beers and a few games of pool. By the end of
those first four days we were tired, sunburned, and stunk of bug spray and spilled
beer. But we were having one hell of a good time. I would’ve been pooped, but
I was having so much fun, I emailed my special lady friend that instead of tired,
I was now wired and fired up for our next day’s adventure.
“Do you think I drink too much, Cameron?”
“Hell no, Carter. You preserve yourself like you preserve your food… you pickle it.”
Then we did a cool thing. We took a day off fishing to rest a little and hit the
high country. As Cameron turned out to be a wild man on my 4-wheeler,
(‘Don’t worry, Steve, I won’t break your ATV…”) I turned it over to him and borrowed a Yamaha Rhino from my friends Roger and Debbie.
A Rhino is an ATV that seats two side by side, like a small Jeep.
We hit the hills with water bottles and camera, way up as high as the trails
and paths would take us. It was a terrific day. We saw a ton of beautiful country
and I quickly realized that these two “flat landers” were up for the steepest climbs,
the roughest terrain, the next challenge, the next adventure, until they worried me
a time or two.
“One For My Chick…”
Some weather came in late afternoon, and we just made it back to my trailer, Lil Debbie, nestled down below next to Alder Creek in the gulch, before the rain came pouring down. We sat and had a couple of Tecates in lil Deb while the storm blew through. As I sat there listening to them talk and laugh together, I realized I was making two new friends… two new good friends.
Cameron – “The art of travel is in the deviation…”
That day in the mountains changed our luck. The day off, coupled with the rivers
finally receding and slowing, began to make the difference in our fishing luck.
We finally began to catch some. Day six was a good one. Carter caught several
beauties and Cameron caught his first good-sized Rainbow. We ended a good
day of fishing by driving 30 miles north to Twin Bridges, to have a great meal
at The Old Hotel. Back to the cabin for a late evening whiskey and much talk
and laughter about life in Montana and how quickly they had adapted to the
Western lifestyle. (“A good decision is based on logic, experience and intuition.”)
I admitted to them that Montana and I had been trying to ruin them for going back east to their jobs and their school, and they admitted that we were having a little luck in our evil pursuit. For we now had some fresh fish in the fridge, and only needed three more decent ones to have the big fish fry we were hoping for.
Actually, we’d already had a fish fry. Carter had caught enough several days
earlier to wrap them in tin foil and throw them on the grill. Cameron had made
french fries and we had feasted. But that had been the teaser. We had bigger
plans. All we needed was a few more fish.
The next day, day 7, we caught them. The water was down and clearer and
we had our serious fish faces on. The playing field had finally leveled. We
caught more than enough for a big fish dinner.
The guys went back to the cabin to get ready to prepare and eat a pile of fish. I stopped downtown to have one with an old friend, and the one turned into three. When I got back
up to the cabin, half tipped-over, the guys had gotten tired of waiting for me
and had the fish about ready to fry. Carter had filleted them all beautifully
and Cameron was preparing the batter and cornmeal breading to bread them
before deep-frying. I felt a bit sheepish, but they poured me a glass of wine
and told me to stop hanging my head and start up the cheesy fried potatoes
that were going to compliment the fish.
The scene in the kitchen that night was hilarious, in retrospect. I was frying my potatoes and watching the guys, who were tossing breaded fish around, flour and cornmeal flying as if a couple of short-order chefs were putting on a show for an audience on a cooking show. Wisecracks and comments about “superior fishermen” bounced off the cabin walls.
When we were done there was a mountain of fried trout and cheesy potatoes on the table. But they weren’t there for long. In what I perceived to be a sped-up time lapse, that pile of fish disappeared completely and the potatoes were but a memory, even as the fried potato peels were still hanging suspended above the kitchen table, as if, in a Road Runner comic, the potatoes had zipped down the road before the peels could catch up. Then it was time for some beers and good conversation. Again, I sat there, realizing what great guys these two were… how mature they were for their age, how fun-loving yet responsible and capable they had already become.
“Surprises, in relationships, are usually more bad than good.”
There are probably hundreds of defining moments in our lives, moments which make us smile later, moments which pop up in both good times and bad, sometimes when we least expect them… moments which linger and caress our memories when we most need them. I’ve had my share of defining moments, but
I’ve never had a defining week. Until now.
“A good decision is based on logic, experience and intuition.”
“Spontanaity makes a great vacation. A sudden change of plans… what the hell…
why not? That’s what makes memories.”
“Nature’s really neat, isn’t it??”
“Don’t worry, Steve, I won’t break your ATV…”
“You preserve yourself like your preserve your food… you pickle it.”
“Don’t worry about burning the pop tarts, Carter. It’s only a log cabin.”
“We’re not here to have fun, Cameron. We’re here to catch fish!”
Thank you, guys, for the best week I’ve had in a long, long time.
You’re the best.