The Prize

If I still used a paper calendar, this date would’ve been circled in red. This would be the day that we planned to arrive in West Glacier, Montana, to spend a week in and around “The Crown of the Continent” — Glacier National Park.

We awoke this morning to a landscape muddied by wildfire smoke, our last look at Flathead Lake somewhat spoiled by the haze. We followed the slow-and-low route up the eastern shore, intending to stop in Bigfork to take a break and visit a distillery that a campground neighbor had recommended.

Several miles south of the lakeside village I saw a place to pull off and let impatient traffic behind us pass. What I thought would be a smooth gravel pad, however, was rough and potholed, and even at our slow exit speed it rocked the bus something fierce. Our Berkey water-purification system went flying off the galley counter and crashed to the floor, throwing water and broken filters everywhere.

It couldn’t’ve been helped, really, but the damage was done. It knocked us off our game. We cleaned up the mess and decided to press straight on toward Glacier.

At one point I had to haul Ernie down from speed as a black bear ambled across the road in front of us. And I did pull off US Route 2 briefly at the Bad Rock Canyon turnout, with its spectacular view of the vertical rock walls rising above the Flathead River. I pointed out to Deb the natural spring at the wayside rest, where travelers (including me, back in the day) would fill jugs with sweet mountain water.

Several miles later we turned north and entered West Glacier, arriving at our campground about two hours after we’d left Flathead Lake — not bad, considering. We set up, relaxed for a bit and then, at my urging, drove into town.

This was, for me, all about stirring up memories in a place I’d lived and worked the summer of my 21st year, And the first stop had to be the gas station — now a Sinclair, back then a Chevron — and topping off Mercy’s tank at a familiar set of pumps.

The price of that bit of nostalgia was $4.109 a gallon.

We strolled the shops, perused the Mercantile (grocery) and had dinner at the West Glacier Café. Naturally, things have changed over 43 years, but they were recognizable, especially the old Merc. It felt to me like the same West Glacier.

After we finished eating I drove us down to the old river bridge east of the village. I used to roll out a sleeping bag there under the crumbling arch, the rest of the span having been swept away by a massive flood in 1964. I’d lay back, stare up at the stars and wait for the Northern Lights to appear. I fished for trout in that spot, and I caught a few. The bridge has since been restored as a pedestrian walkway, kind of a back door into the park.

The setting is just as I remembered it. The Middle Fork is still crystal-clear and deceptively deep.

Deb and I clambered down the rocks to the water’s edge. I cupped a hand, reached into the moving river and splashed the icy Flathead onto my face.

It was, in no insignificant way, a baptism.

As we drove back up from the bridge, two young whitetail bucks crossed our path. We stopped and bought a whole huckleberry pie on our way through town. We watched the sun set over the mountains.

We are where we’re meant to be. Finally, we’re where we always wanted to be together. This is a day to remember.

Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.

#WiseUp #LibertyOrDeath

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