Tue 5 Dec 2006
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â By: Sean Â Â Â Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â During our five day stay in Butte Montana my subconsciousness would continuously scream in anxiety: â€œMove south, winter has comeâ€�. So persistant was the thought that it may as well have been seared into my brain with a branding iron; Â I very muchÂ feared encountering more of the snowy conditions endured through the first three continental divide crossings. Yet our speed and direction are ruled by our perserverant qualities of calm complacency mixed with an immutable resignation that snowy fate will have its way no matter how quickly we kick our legs. Indeed it is only natural for us to relish the comfortable homes provided by our acquaintances in big towns, if only that we learn to appreciate more the rigorous demands of roughing it in the Rockies. So we sit around drinking coffee and feign absorption in any article of literature lying within reach, and only when we feel akwardly aware of our role as the blurry mooch in the eyes of our working class hosts do we pick up and leave.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Leaving Butte I had begun to tow on my bike a little something extra to pass away the cold lonely nights out in the wilderness. Out of the communal funds we purchased from E-bay a Martin Backpacker guitar, being a slightly trimmed down version of a regular acoustic. In order to ensure the safety of the delicate instrument I found a hard shell rifle case. It was my hope that the case with its intimidating dimensions, would help me to fit in -if only superficially- among the world class gun carriers of Montana. Perhaps I would no longer feel so inadequately stocked when walking into Montanan bars and cafes that inevitablyÂ display colorful signs and banners welcoming the hunter into its exclusive interiors. Riding along a dark frontage road, the blazing lights of Butte behind me, and slightly muted roar of highway traffic to my left, I felt relief at finally being on the move again and ecstatic over my new medium of entertainment.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â We waited to find camp until we could at last not see the dimmest glow emitted from Butteâ€™s city center. There was a small river on the side of the road, and a small dirt turnoff labeled with two decorated crosses marking the sight of a fatal motorist accident. It was a clear night offering a mesmerizing view of stars and moon when the headlights from the highway werenâ€™t flooding oneâ€™s vision. While dinner was being prepared I began strumming some tunes on the guitar. Because of the narrow body I had to stand while playing, but that was nothing new, I didnâ€™t have a Thermarest chair converter like the other guys. That night it snowed hard and the wind blew fiercely, we had not anticipated a storm but here it was pounding away at our thin canvas home seeming to say; â€œwell it sure is good to have you fellas back out in the open againâ€�.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Next morning the air felt colder than the night before. Not wanting to soak my socks through so early in the day, I just slipped my sandals on and made the first treads to the bikes through the thick white blanket. I brought the cooking supplies back to the tent to make breakfast, sat down to prepare the food, then realized I had forgot the fuel. Unfortunately my feet were freezing and so I began prepping them for a second early morning ice bath. While rubbing my frozen toes, Goat dressed himself and without hesitation began trudging through the snow barefoot to get the fuel. Jacob, still in his bag, peered outside and announced that we should dig a nice ditch alongside the two crosses for him to retire in. I hammered my Dromedary bag against the ground trying to break ice chunks apart, but the damn thing was hard as rock. Had we a blow torch and pickaxe at our disposal we might have been able to thaw our water supplies after an hour of intensive labor, luckily we had camped by a stream that was only partially frozen over. It took over an hour to prepare the big morning meal -the stove was unusually grumpy. The next hour was allotted for eating and digestion at the end of which we predicted there to be a remainder of four and a half hours of light for us to get over a high pass on Roosevelt Drive.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â We found the paved end of the road in rideable conditions. Then after a good two miles of climbing we came to the dirt section of the road that would last the next twenty miles. Though the layer of snow on the road was deep there had been a good amount of traffic to plow some narrow paths for us to follow. Unlike the continental crossing of old, Roosevelt Drive provided a gradual elevation climb over the mountains which meant we wouldnâ€™t be sapped of all strength just to reach the summit. While cresting the top of the pass we were bombarded with gentle snow flurries. My black fleece pullover quickly turned white with the clinging powder. As we began a long downhill section I noticed how icy the road was; my rear tire was sliding all over the place and it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to maintain the balance of my rig which towered high with the added gun case. Later on I would discover that the bolts connecting the Xtracycle to my bike frame were loose and that my rear hub also was loose; a combination that hampered my ability to steer through the ice. It didnâ€™t take long for me to lose control of the bike and crash into a snow mound. There must have been rocks beneath all that soft stuff cause when I sat up blood was spilling into my mouth. Jacob instinctively whipped out his Digital-camera snapped a shot of my wretched state.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The descent off the mountain became steeper with every mile. Both Goat and Jacob were sliding off the road occasionally as their breaks froze. The cable running to my rear break was corroded and bent and ceased to function at all. At a small fork in the road, about ten miles from the highway we were trying to reach I lost sight of Goat and Jacob. I was sore and badly in need of water and I didnâ€™t care if it took me all night to get to the highway. In the course of a half hour I managed to crash at least a dozen times. Concerned that I might severely injure myself, I simply hobbled alongside the bike through the steepest slopes; the sun was dissolving behind a mountain chain in the distance, it was beginning to look like it would take all night to get down.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Freezing air began penetrating my thin layers of soaked clothing; a layer of snow stuck between my Keen sandals and wool socks, my beard and hair crusted in ice. I was now running down hill to keep warm. It was necessary to keep a triangular space between my body and the bike, my feet up high on a snow bank for traction, and my forearms pressing down upon the handle bars to keep the tires rigid. Orange and red headlights were soon visible from the highway, then the black shadowy figures of Goat and Jacob riding toward the mountain. Becoming impatient with my sluggish pace I jumped onto my left pedal with my right foot and coasted the rest of the way down, using my left foot as a break. Goat sounded relieved that I had managed to not kill myself on the trail; â€œwe were just going to flag down a car to search for you, the temperature is dropping way to fast to keep outsideâ€�.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Goat told me that he and Jacob had been biking back and forth from the bottom of the hill to the freeway overpass for the past half-hour to keep warm. Jacob had already leaped over some barbwire fences to investigate a derelict wood house. We could soon see him running back to fetch his bike giving us the green light to invade the abandoned grounds. Two of us stood lifting the rusty barb wire while the other slid the bikes underneath, then we followed a nearly frozen creek up to the backside of the house. Immediatly I stripped off all my frost caked clothing and furiously slipped into every single dry shirt and sock that I owned. All of us were dangerously dehydrated having had but a few sips of water at the begining of the days ride, so Goat went right to work setting up the stove to boil creek water. Jacob and I set to work making a barrel fire with all the yellowed pages of newspaper and splintered blocks of wood littering the house. After stoking up a sizeable inferno we all hovered close around the hobo furnace trying to ignore the freezing air that still licked at our backsides. I noticed Goat intently paying attention to his feet for a change, he had still been wearing his soaked Ski-boot liners and was undergoing the painstaking task of drying them without melting holes into the material. We each sipped at the boiling water, desperately trying to turn our blood to liquid again. Having taken care of the most important survival measures, I tried talking to Goat about preparing some food for dinner. His tone was oddly dispassionate for a subject as essential as food. When I pressed him further he reacted irritably and told me through as shivering mouth that he needed to get into his sleeping bag, that he was feeling particularly haggard. Jacob and me pleaded with him to stay by the fire, but Goat just shrugged off the sugestion and said it wasnâ€™t working. He set out his Thermarest on the inside floor among piles of broken glass and damp carboard and resumed battling his hypothermic condition inside a sleeping bag.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â A pot of oatmeal usually makes in under fifteen minutes, weâ€™re used to eating it at the end of the day when weâ€™re exhausted and near physical incompetence. That night the oatmeal took at least half an hour to make. Our stove radiated the heat of a few candles and would periodically die out completely whenever Jacob went near it. When the oatmeal was ready I put it near Goat and then briskly ran back to the fire to warm my frozen hands. Five minutes later I went to eat from the pot myself to find that Goat had taken just a few meager bites, and that the gruel was already cold. Jacob was busy boiling water to make a hot-water bag for Goatâ€™s sleeping bag. By the time he got at the oatmeal it was nearly frozen to the pan.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Goat instructed me to unzip his sleeping bag at the bottom and place his dromedary bag of hot water at his feet, which werenâ€™t warming up, and were becoming exceedingly painful. The water bag managed to leak into his sleeping bag at some point during the night and caused him a great deal more discomfort than added heat.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Our blazing hobo furnace was my only consolitory comfort that night. It was questionable whether I would survive bundled up in my synthetic cocoon which was rated only to twenty degrees, so I sat in a frosty chair fueling the fire till my eyes secreted some protective glue in response to the noxious smoke and chemical fumes. I went into what had been the bathroom, kicked around sawdust and broken glass, blew air into my Thermarest and covered the top of my sleeping bag with my rain gear for further insulation. I crawled inside the bag shivering and proceed to kick my legs and rotate my body in circles trying to generate heat. It was a process that would have to be repeated a dozen times that night; I would fall asleep for fifteen minutes, wake up shivering, then shake limbs once again. Each time my eyes opened they were haunted by the sight of a horror movie ambiance of dilapidated walls, decaying wallpaper, and a dirt crusted toilet bowl.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â I was the first one to wake up the next morning and quickly worked to set the barrel fire ablaze. Goat seemed in slightly better spirits, yet it was painfully evident that he had sustained some gnarly frostbite on his toes. The quiet reserved voices around the fire reflected disparaged spirits; Goat would be in pain for some time, and it would be necessary for him to begin wearing shoes. Attempting to elevate the mood with some music I began playing my guitar. only to stop when my hands grew too numb ten minutes later. We all began reading the 1978 editions of the Butte news publication, the big headlines relating the gruesome details on the mass suicides of the Jim Jones religious cult. There was also an intriguing article written about a search party discovering frozen bodies of hunters that had lost their way and had been forced to hold up in some remote shelter during a storm.Â Realizing that it might take all day for our stove to cook a decent meal, I began chopping frozen vegetable for a stew. Had I realized that all our food would be frozen for days, I might actually have packed a rifle instead of a guitar. To kill an animal up in these hills would ensure good eating for at least a month. The sight of a perfectly preserved elk carcass strapped to the back of my bike would certainly put me on good terms with the locals from Butte throughout Wyoming, and possible through Colorado as well. What was more, the gun barrel would generate heat that would temporarily warm my hand. The more I thought about it the more I cursed my love of music for being incompatible with the carnal instincts necessary for survival. For my guitar to save my life, Iâ€™d have use the steel strings to strangle an animal. After sometime I felt disgusted with myself for considering the benefits of a firearm. I believe that we were all a bit disoriented that morning; still mildly dehydrated, and strung out from lack of sleep, we had just experienced our first sub-zero night -we later found out that it had dropped as low as negative ten degrees.Â Â Â Â