Here’s a little ditty about how I relived the last 4 years of life prior to my time in Colorado back in January and February of this year.
There are some places I will never be able to do without, and one of those is Montana. In January I went to visit some old stomping grounds.
This was the first major outing I’d made with the van and noticed a few differences in the way it handles in comparison to the Santa Fe. It’s a sail. In shorter profile cars you’d probably notice the 55+ mph crosswinds of Wyoming, but in this thing you notice your knuckles wringing-out the steering wheel. I passed a cop in the middle of my hours-long fight versus the gale and he tailed me for a few miles, probably checking my plate for amber alerts.
I stayed with Kris and Ray in Billings for a few nights and did a bit of hiking in the Absarokas before getting a sickness that lingered throughout my entire trip.
From Billings it was on to Bozeman where I saw some good friends and spectated some skijoring.
Onward west and a few hours in Butte to pick up my friend Leisha before the last leg to Philipsburg. Butte is one of those cities I’ve always enjoyed simply for the rough edges. Even on a sunny day it’s not exactly a bright place, and damned if it ever will be.
The drive into Pburg felt as it always had, precarious from the fresh fallen snow, and as if I were returning home. We kicked it in town for a few days as my ear became infected and my peepers simultaneously contracted a case of conjunctivitis. All the same, we were able to hitch a ride from the new maintenance director on the snowmobiles to the trailhead of Senate and a few miles later were up at the cabin. Luckily I didn’t have to shovel out the chimney this year but we were out of luck in the axe department. Burning log rounds only heat up the place a little bit, but it was much better than a snow cave.
We managed a few tests of the snowpack that afternoon and I was surprised at how right-side-up it lay. Not a facet to be seen. We were looking good on the avalanche report.
The following sunrise we were up early with gear ready and avy-beacons in check. The slog up to the ridgeline was tough going as Leisha didn’t have skins for her skis and ski boots have a much smaller surface area than those for snowboarding. + 1 for snowboarders. The slog to the top was a pretty big energy sap and after a quick lunch we made smaller laps around the bowl area.
Click the link below to check out a bit of the gps watch metrics for the day.
We were able to make it back into town for Wednesday night bar fun. Gwensday they call it, as Gwen was the bartender and for $10 you were sure to leave the bar walking in a line as straight as a sinusoidal wave and another Lincoln still in your pocket. That’s the Whitefront Bar I remember.
After dropping off Leisha at a god-forsaken hour at the Butte airport I drove to the top of the continental divide and parked off the road to catch a few winks before heading on the long journey back. I was trying to make good time in order to beat a winter storm coming through Wyoming and made it 3/4 down the state until the 65+ mph gusts forced me to camp out at an unnamed rest stop. At least I had a few beers with me this time around.
I awoke much before sunrise and hopped off the I-25 at the US 26 junction and headed east for a bit through Fort Laramie, turning south at Torrington. I wouldn’t have mentioned these places had it not been the eerie creepiness I’d felt while driving through the ghost-like towns in the early morning hours. I say ghost like because while nobody has completely abandoned these parts, it feels like they want to be. You can drive through at 5am with the stereo blaring CCR, cabin warm from the heater, with no real danger existing and come to a red light and the thought will just hit you, “this place doesn’t want me”.
I rested up for a few days in Boulder before taking the flight south. Ruben had been my roommate for a short time when I lived in Chile and was one of the great friends I had left down there; now it was time to return for his wedding 4 years later. It had been almost exactly 4 years prior that I had left that country hitching out of the Atacama into Bolivia, and the moment I heard some of that undeniable Chilean slang in the Atlanta airport, my brain made a switch and I was back in Spanish mode. So well had my mind made the transition, that it took the Chilean sitting next to me a few entire sentences before I told him that I wasn’t from his country.
Upon arrival in Santiago I immediately took the 7 hour bus to Concepción and reunited with Michael and Jorge. The following morning I promptly took another 7 hour bus to Valdivia to where I’d warmly embrace Ruben and he would treat me to my first food in an entire day, a sopaipilla straight from the street vendor.
I stayed with Ruben and his friends for the next week or so slugging beers late into the night and remembering Chile the way I had discovered it, by walking aimlessly through the streets for hours at a time.
The wedding was beautiful. Very similar to the US style but the drinking waited until much later and the drinking was, expectedly, much harder; almost to the point where I won a dance competition. The next morning I remembered there was a reason the slang in that country has so many words for “hangover”.
After bidding chau to Valdivia and Ruben, I hopped on the bus again back to Concepción. With Michael and Jorge we had a planned trip to the headwaters of the Archibueno river. http://www.wikiexplora.com/index.php/R%C3%ADo_Achibueno , unfortunately not everything always goes to plan. It took a good bit of public transport magic to near the trailhead and we had to camp at a pay-site because it had taken so long. The following day my companions weren’t super keen on the hike itself and after I stupidly forgot any form of identification, we were back on our way to Conce. Luckily a customs fair and a bit of hitchhiking made the trip a bit more tasty and exciting.
The next days I spent meeting with old friends and remembering the city. One night I went to a reunion with one of my former co-workers in the English program and the most magnificent “small world” experience transpired. I went around meeting the guests and shook the hand of Boris. Boris, I thought, I’ve heard that name before. As the night transpired I learned that Boris was a musician. Curious… I had once known of a musician named Boris who played the Chilean Tuesdays at my favorite bar, El Averno, from many years back.
“Hey Boris, did you ever play at El Averno?”
“Yea, I’m not sure what’s up with that place now though.”
“About 4 years ago on Christmas day, do you remember picking up a gringo hitchhiker on the ruta de Itata?”
“…yea… wait a second…”
“Dude, that was me!”
And it was in this way that I re-acquainted with the first person to give me a ride on the pinnacle of my South American experience 4 years ago.
Eventually it was time to leave Conce and head back to the capital for my flight home. I spent the night with Rocio and her splendid family familia; all of whom were just as hospitable as they had been to me when I couchsurfed with them years ago. There really is something to be said when a family accepts you with open arms and open hearts… unfortunately, I can’t put it into words.
And with that, the rewind finally caught up with the present. I was back in Colorado and it was time to begin work again.