Have arrived in Tower Junction, WY, awaiting news of seasonal work. The government needs to approve in this area and the census workers have backlogged the FBI background check system, so may have to figure out another plan. Still torn up a bit from an overnight hike into bear back country of Montana, so could use the rest while the government remains inefficient with paper work.

Departed Babb, MT, yesterday after returning from beyond civilization. Just a couple miles into the thick forests, wedged between mountains and crossing rivers and streams. It was not the easiest adventure. The night before the hike was too long. But on we went anyway around noon on Saturday. Bear spray was provided by a chef from the Two Sisters Restaurant. Three moderately heavy back packs were loaded up with almost all necessities for making it through a night in bear territory.

Fortunately, the weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky. The mountains are occasionally wet from the glacial run-off. And it would not get too cold at night (~40 degrees F). As we picked up a permit, we learned that we would be the only people back there, the first of the season to make it through a night. The bears are hungry after their long hibernation. The advice they give is to drop and sprawl with your arms and hands protecting you neck and head. However, there are times when other options can be implemented. If the bear is stalking you, fight, scream, let the bear know you are not an easy meal. Again, bear spray is useful. Invented by a man on the other side of the mountains, it has stopped many a bear in their track from attack. Some say it puts you in bad karma with the bears to spray them. It is fairly common for bears to contain spirits of passed on Indians as much folklore goes with our Native American countrymen. Best to be left alone. An advanced technique is to sing along the way or yell “hey bear” before making a turn or climb. I find comfort in the understanding many people have in Glacier of a mutual respect between human and bear developed since the dawn of conservation lands. No fear, or they’ll take it as a sign of ignorance, only a heightened sense of awareness.

Into it

We began the hike at 3pm. Our first encounters were with some young New Yorkers returning from a day hike. They showed us some photos of some large grizzlies they saw along the trail not far from the beginning. We bid them farewell and geared up for the high paced march into the wilderness. I could tell from the beginning that I had over packed. It did not take long to feel that pain of exhaustion up Heartbreak Hill as they call it. I sang too much too early and my lyrics were becoming sloppy by the second mile. No bear to be seen which I obviously attribute to the fine song along the way. Our first rest stop was short lived when I spilled some PowerBar Energy Gel, banana berry flavored. Apparently, fruit is the first choice for the bears around there. So with haste I attempted to clean myself off and hope some dirt would kill the scent. We were off again, this time passing much bear scat and prints along the trail to our destination near Cut Bank Creek. Both black bear and grizzly seemed to enjoy this path. One such scat must have come from a 400 pounder by the look of it. My pack had a pot and kettle tied to the bottom of it so the clanging probably gave us even more protection by not surprising a rogue or mother with baby. I started falling behind a few times near the second half of the journey, but we made it just in time to set up tents, hang ALL food high in the air, and find some kindling for a fire. It was nearly 6pm by then.

After depositing some drinks in the river, we went to find some fish for dinner. A bear spear was fashioned and would be continually sharpened for the next few hours. We were unlucky with the fish, so went to plan B: spaghetti. Maybe it was not the wisest idea to try gourmet cooking, but it felt right at the time. On the way back to the tents, a young male grizzly was spotted about 100 yards away before disappearing into the thicket. Fast creatures. Water was boiled in the kettle, noodles added with some garlic salt, corn as well with some hearty vegetable sauce over it all. The biggest rule with cooking is not to leave any leftovers whatsoever. We were well fed and after cleaning the utensils, dishes, and pots, hung them back up in the air. The temperature dropped fast when the darkness came, so we built up the fire to relax by and talk of things talked of in those situations. Dances with Wolves, bears, Magua, Kerouac, bears, privatized government operations, Venutions, peace, bears, and other things that came to mind. The stars were as you could imagine with no artificial light polluting the heavens. And just as we were at our most alert moment, some animal approached. It did not make much noise but was for sure circling around our location. The bear spray was out and ready, but all it ended up being was a snow pawed hare. This rabbit, size of a beagle, was strangely attracted to us for the rest of the night. Around 2am, we decided to sleep in our respective tents for a couple hours before departure. Even though exhausted and naturally ready to sleep, it was hard with the idea that something may investigate you while you are totally unaware. A creek ran closely by so gave an ambiance much better than silence. The night went on.

A couple hours later, it was light. Everything was packed up and readied to go. You do not leave anything behind. Just one sandwich could turn a bear into a fan of human food. When this happens the bear must either be relocated or destroyed because it becomes more aggressive in order to find more human rations. Pack it in, pack it out. It did not sit well with my back, but it was the way. The day again was perfect. So we headed back toward civilization, passing more bear prints along the way. Feet sore, shoulders over stretched, and lower back numb, we made it back.

There was nothing easy about it. Even with the magnificent views of mountains, it is still hard. If only in better shape I thought. There is no limit to preparation though. If you get too hung up in preparation, you will never feel ready. Our limits were meant to be pushed. No life is worth living beneath the limits of human capacity. There seems to be a consensus these days that qualifications come from academic schooling. Although important, it never comes close to the real thing. You are ready when you feel ready. It is what you feel, your confidence, and ability to change that is what you need. No titles of degree can equal that of experience and even though you’ll hear many people say, “you still need that college education,” it is only simple advice to a problem far more difficult to explain than in those short conversations you have with people you only see occasionally. It’s easy advice. It used to be harmless. But now you have countless young people, without any clue of who they are or what they want to do, spending far too many years paying for schooling and the party habits of fraternity row. What a waste! A waste of time. A waste of money. A waste of an opportunity. These countless young go through half a decade of ‘higher’ education and end up broke, with out direction or passion, just a desire to pay off loans and get back to the party. That of course is a big generalization and not the case for everyone. But the point is the same. Figure it out on your own.

“to live is to choose. but to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.” – kofi annan

Waiting now to hear news.