Author’s Note: Unfortunately, the pictures from this experience did not survive the many moves made since. But enjoy the story anyway.
We left Missoula on a late summer Friday evening after work – I built fences, she built gargantuan burritos – and headed north on 93 to Polson, our rest stop before continuing on to Glacier National Park the next morning. She had an aunt that lived in Polson and yet was away for the weekend, giving us free and clear lodging halfway from Missoula to Glacier. It was in Polson that the symptoms of a sinus infection (to which I’m unfortunately quite susceptible, see http://danandcedar.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/i-can-smell-tha/) began to present themselves. They ramped up quickly, and by morning I was a balloon attached to my body by a flimsy and overstressed string.
And yet we persisted in our mini vacation. It’s about an hour and a half drive between Polson and West Glacier, the (you guessed it) western entrance to the park. This did little to alleviate my discomfort; my lungs slowly filled with post-nasal goo and I’m fairly sure the cerebrospinal fluid had drained from my skull and pooled in my neck and shoulders, which were sore and rattled by the tight suspension of her old Toyota pickup. Upon reaching the entrance, we paid our dues and began the close to 8,000 foot ascent of Going-to-the-Sun road, which traversed the park from west to east (and vice versa) and crested at Logan Pass, where there was a visitor center and mountain goats which enjoyed licking the spilled coolant from overheated cars.
Just driving on this road should be a recommended vacation for every bored American. It hangs precariously on the side of the mountains, undulating with the folds of the Rockies. It is wholly appropriate that the driver of a vehicle navigating this road would be situated closer to the center of the road than the edge; one glance down the falling slope would give even the most intrepid motorist a brief stint of the howling fantods. The road climbs and climbs. As one may imagine, this sort of ascent causes all sorts of hydrodynamic activity in the human noggin, which is especially perceptible to the traveler with a snarling sinus infection. I was…uncomfortable.
We rested at the top and snickered at the gyratic hopping of antifreeze addicted goats. Midsummer weather mocking my ailments. Thin air intoxication. I needed a nap. She had previously worked in the park captaining a boat on Lake McDonald and was familiar with the community here. We continued east to an annual impromptu campground populated by the hippies that were employed in the park and surrounding areas. We found a nice spot to set up our tent and I quickly drifted away.
It was probably less than an hour later that I awoke amidst thunder. It wasn’t weather; the walls of the tent fluttered and bulged at the pressure of a cattle stampede. I suppose the tent seemed solid enough that the steers swerved and eddied around us for 90 seconds of terror. At the culmination of this, we opened our tent and emerged into a cloud of dust, only to see hippies perched in the beds of their trucks, pointing and yelling. A grizzly bear lumbered slowly through the camp, head swinging at the shouting around him, following the general path of the cattle.
The next day, I felt well enough to go for a hike. We chose the Swiftcurrent Valley trail, due to my lingering symptoms. A simple, beautiful day hike. On the way back to the car, I was feeling more energetic. She and I began racing down the trail, competing for the lead. I gained the lead, stopped, and turned to face her. Still running, she came up to me and gave me a light shove. As I stumbled backwards, her smiling face melted into horror. I stopped. We faced each other, but she looked over my shoulder, frozen. I didn’t need to turn to know what was behind me. But I did – turn – slowly, to find myself within two strides of a younger grizzly, shuffling across the trail. It stopped and regarded me briefly. My briefs were ruined. It was a fine trip.