A Lonely Path through the Glaciers
“I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
It’s a grown man, with tears to his eyes, who says this.
Damn, even a heartless robot (not a pleonasm) would say something.
“I heard you making some calls. Were those the…?”
“Yeah. I’m not in. I can’t do this anymore. I think I need… help.”
My head’s still muddled from sleep. Step out of the car so we can talk seriously.
What is he going to do? Leave Salt Lake City to go back east? Unthinkable, especially in the mindset he’s currently in.
Go straight west? Will I head north to complete that part of the journey? We meet in California and live happily ever after?
Fly back? Screw the car and this whole damn road-trip?
Do something even more stupid?
I’ve known Redrik for over ten years. Not far from half of my life.
We met in school and I was among the first to go up to him and befriend the ‘new guy’. Over time, he joined the crew of friends and we’ve had our share of beers, delinquencies and night outs.
We’ve also been on several trips together before, a number of (relatively) shorter road-trips and a month-long trip through Turkey.
At the beginning of 2011, he moved from New York to London in an attempt to mend things with a former girlfriend. He trumped odds for a while and carried the relationship through to the end of the year, at which point it died out organically. Perhaps he’d been flirting with another girl…
A few weeks after the breakup, he got together with N., with whom he spent the next three months in what would forever remain another Life episode of passionate, tender love.
Till it wasn’t. In January, N., who’d moved to another European country, ended things. At that point Redrik, who hadn’t been seriously considering the road-trip, called in. It was the worst time of his life.
On February 20th, he flew back to New York.
The rest, as I say, is this story.
Redrik’s been applying for schools prior to and during the trip, another source of doubt and stress – and unfortunately till now, rejection.
“I got another negative answer from a school this morning.”
“Still a few left, right?”
“Come on, seriously. What’re you gonna do if you leave?”
I offer him my most reassuring words (I am not good at this). Convince him that it would be risky and unreasonable to try head back east now. Besides, this far into the trip, it would be a shame not to complete it.
Also try to convince him that he’ll have plenty of remaining options should he not be accepted in a program. He’s been freelancing on headhunting gigs, why not delve into that deeper? He’s mentioned his interest for this work. Share some business ideas about how it could pan out (as if I’d know something about that).
Also reassure him that we’ll be booking hotels in the next days: the trip is coming to an end, we almost made it, it’s time for some added comfort.
Decide to flunk my job’s work for the day, we drive out to the middle of industrial salt processing facilities and well aligned beige suburban houses. Have a beer by the dehydrated salt lake, we talk more.
“Could we head straight from here to Seattle?”
So in the end, we didn’t split quite then. But we sure got close.
For the second time in a year, I leave Salt Lake City after having spent less than 24 hours there. Last year, I had an interesting encounter with two Mormon sisters. I wish I could’ve interviewed a Mormon. We go to nearby Ogden, looking for a suitable place to work. Finding none, soon leave for Blackfoot, Idaho.
Redrik has decided against going to Yellowstone (see last trip’s photos). He’d like to make it to the West coast pronto. From his point of view, the expanse of land from Miami to Seattle has been, literally and figuratively, overwhelming. Truth is, it’s been for both of us.
I had not thought it would be so difficult, so long. Map-dreaming can become a painful mirage. It’s going to be nice to reach the coast.
But there remain some pieces to bring to the puzzle.
I’ve fumbled with the Atlas repeatedly, trying to figure out the most livable compromise. If we race through Idaho and Montana, we can still make it to Glacier Park, and head due west to Seattle from there. It’ll add a day of driving, but it’s the one piece I can’t seem to pass on for the project. Can we hold till then?
And there will still be time to decide, or to change minds, tomorrow.
Drive over the same road I took to Yellowstone last year. Idaho’s potato plains sprawl into the distance. Pretty mountains, the memories intertwine. We’re headed due North.
Our entrance into Blackfoot, on the other hand, is dreary. We’re greeted by a Walmart and other superstores, the motel curled in a corner between the freeway and one of the warehouse-buildings.
Walk around for some pictures, check out the skate park, some interviews. Return to the motel, but not before some purchases at the liquor store.
We both split a sandwich from the supermarket, topped with avocado. Tasty. The whiskey takes care of the rest.
There remains the issue of the *. You may remember me mentioning it?
No signs of it. We’ve forgotten all about it. But it’s not over yet.
Waking up in Blackfoot. The motel’s window looks out on an evil-grey sky and depressing parking lot.
Have the feeling things are moving quick, too quick. We’ve already rushed from Colorado, through Utah, and to here. And there’s still plenty of road to Glacier Park. I haven’t had the opportunity to take many pictures, Redrik is on the brink of crunch: careful, careful…
Spend the day and afternoon in the lobby of the motel, after checkout, catching up on work. Am worried, and rightfully so, I won’t get network coverage in the next days.
We move to the Colonial Inn, where I finish up work, Redrik watches the game. The bar’s customers give us the local eye when we enter – we’re recognizably not from Blackfoot. The bartender softens up after a few jokes. She brings us one long drink after the other.
The conversations resume (reminds me of Idaho Falls), flavorful:
“Mix my chicken and your donkey and your donkey eats the chicken, what do you get?”
“My cock in your ass.”
“Y’know what you call a lesbian with fat fingers?”
They all have a hearty laugh.
“How much d you pay for the meat?”
“You lying cocksucker.”
“how much d’you pay for pork butt?”
Don’t hear the answer.
“I m outta here,” screams the first guy angrily.
A couple playing pool:
“I can’t put that ball in there…”
“No! Never say can’t.”
The guy moves over this side of the table.
“Can you move? Don’t want an accident to happen?”
Half question, half threat.
“Accidents happen quick, huh?”
That makes them chuckle.
Guy points to the shiny Apple laptop.
“It’s true huh? You can look at all the porn in the world on that thing and you’ll never get a virus.”
They’re joined by a Hispanic dude. By the looks of it, a tad smarter, a lot more manipulative. He keeps edging the already drunk guy towards betting on pool games. Clearly the Hispanic guy is better – he works here.
The other guy feebly resists.
We leave Blackfoot. Had to ‘waste’ today to work on my job. Hoping we can see Glacier Park by tomorrow afternoon, in time to catch the evening light.
“Hey, I’d forgotten about it, there’s still that bottle of whiskey in the trunk right?”
We stop at a gas station. Redrik pours out a cup, when I notice a black SUV police car parked nearby. Start getting paranoid that he’s going to pull us over as soon as we start.
Redrik chugs the sturdy drink. Start moving out of the gas station, expecting to be pulled over. But nothing happens. A few minutes later, on the side of the road, Redrik is pouring two fresh cups (for himself).
He throws on Dumb and Dumber in the car. We get to listen to the audio through the car’s speakers. Technology…
Stop by to get a picture of a sign of ‘Divide Wisdom’, by the continental divide.
But perhaps wisdom is indivisible: when divided, or rather redistributed, it multiplies (implying wisdom is greater than one or lesser than none?)
No other cars in sight during the two-three-hour drive. Just night, and increasingly cold temperatures.
Reach Butte, Montana. It’s close to 12:30am or 1, a Thursday. We’re very hungry.
Don’t have many expectations to find something open, and yet stumble into a bar with a band and remnants of liveliness. We’re redirected to another bar, which supposedly serves food. This turns out to be a hot dog stand. Inside, a karaoke, a singing bartender, young folk sipping American brews.
We marvel tiredly at the generous spirits of the people we meet in Montana (a kindness which I had also encountered last time around) Big up MT! The singing bartender gives us a few opportunities to engage conversation. Our eyes are drooping though.
Later, drive by a gas station, find a quiet lot behind it. I’m exhausted. Redrik crashes in the car, in low spirits. Sleep outside on a deck, tucked in the sleeping bag up the forehead. It’s cold but ‘comfy’.
Breakfast at the local diner in Butte. The waitress royally refuses to serve us, until we have to fetch the manager. And even then she refuses, the manager does the service. Have a ‘garbage’ omelet. Lovely garbage.
Wish to head straight to Glacier Park but Redrik woud like to get some work done in town before then. We head towards Missoula. Redrik sends a message to a Facebook Friend who lives around there, in case she might be around.
Walk around. Cool, old hippies from the West coast and Bay area.
The Facebook Friend declines. As they sometimes do. Has a date or some other generic excuse.
Meet Redrik. Meanwhile he’s gotten a haircut. Am getting frustrated and crunched for time and light, it’s probably too late anyway. Redrik seems unwilling to leave tonight.
We argue, this time I head out with sleeping bag and backpack. Look for the Greyhound bus station. Next bus for Whitefish, near Glacier Park, is only tomorrow morning.
Have no cell phone coverage. Continue walking, hoping to perhaps hitch a ride near the freeway entrance. Come upon rental car concessions. The deals are ok, guy is arranging. I can return the car by tomorrow evening. Is this it?
Decide to send Redrik an email with my intentions. Soon enough, he pulls in to the lot.
Make him a choiceless offer: come with or end this. Argue that we’ve rushed enough to the detriment of the project, this is one of the places we need to go.
We leave for Glacier Park as the skies turn orange. Thanks. I didn’t want it to have to come to that.
To his credit, though he has not contributed to the output, Redrik has always put up understandingly with my repeated requests to stop by random places of little or no interest to him, and my own sentimental, sometimes devastating, attachment to the project.
The sad truth: I would’ve left there and then had he not come around. And suddenly, at that time, I realize how wrong it feels. How wrong I am. My friend’s going through some of the hardest times he’s ever been through. And he’s stuck with a stubborn maniac.
What’s one supposed to do in this case? There’s no rulebook. Take care of your friends. Do your work well. And when necessary, do both together. How? Deal with it.
I don’t tell him so. Simply look out the window at the sliding trees and fields.
But I do feel bad. What have I become? Is this ever worth that?
We go, he drives, pass by the dream-like Flathead lake, hilly isles at a mystical repose below the rays of oncoming dusk.
Exhausted when we get to Kalispell, sleep in car. Redrik works till late in the night.
Cinco de Mayo – from Glaciers to Coeur d’Alene
Awake at dawn and get in the driver’s seat, to Glacier Park. The clouds and mountain mist have not lifted. I’m excited though. Wheel through the yet unattended gates of the national park.
Turns out the ‘Going to the Sun’ road is still closed – only opens between June and September. I will not get to see the glaciers in their full splendor. A disappointment. Redrik snoozes on. Decide to salvage the sights and photos available. Walk around, hike to Avalanche Lake and back.
Drizzling rain alternates with mushy snow, I’ve been longing for a hike through one of the country’s vast expanses of semi-wilderness – we’ve had few opportunities thus far. Enjoy it a lot.
On the way out of the park, a line of cars is paying the entrance fee. Not a great deal given that the main road is closed off. Redrik’s relieved that we won’t be spending the entire day here. Interview some Asians, been few so far.
It’s noon. We have a sip of what’s left of the whiskey bottle as we drive out.
Small country roads, beauty of Montana – we’d both really appreciated people’s spirits, add to that the scenery and Montana scores high in my book.
Speed limit on the small roads is 70mph. Compare to the 65mph limit of eastern freeways. I’m flying. Lucky to spot a camouflaged cop car, far far down the road, and give the brakes a try.
Nervously inspect rearview mirror. The cop car’s brake lights flash as it begins turning onto the road.
“Give me a mint.” (though I’ve barely had a sip, noon-whiskey-breath is not considered a plus when getting pulled over for speeding).
But it’s the truck behind that ends up getting pulled over.
Stop by for hearty lunch at a local diner, near Paradise.
Switch seats, on the road again, I doze off, and Coeur d’Alene greets us for a pit stop, which turns out to be longer than expected.
Today’s Cinco de Mayo but the Mexican restaurants have little animation to offer. End up at a bar and opt for the drink special, a heavy-handed couple of drinks for 3 bucks. By the second round (so fourth drink each) we’re hungry and in no rush to get to Spokane.
A large group comes in. We offer to move to another table. The host returns the favor with a round of tequila shots.
Have a drunk conversation about the vile and debasing manner in which men, including ourselves, sometimes think and talk about the other sex. Manner which, fortunately, women think they know about but don’t really because consensual reproduction would come to a grinding, no, screeching halt.)
It’s about 10:30pm when we stagger out of the bar. Our plan was initially to continue to Spokane, Washington. May have to rule that out by now. Redrik would like to go. Insists. I refuse, and lay calmly on the pavement. After about an hour – and still drunk beyond doubt – Redrik threatens to leave to Spokane.
We scuffle, clutching at each other’s collars, till we run out of breath, which takes about ten seconds, what with how fit we are from the burgers, whiskeys and sleeping in the car.
We both end up in the car.
“Tomorrow’s another day.”
Just get some sleep. I have no idea if tomorrow will in fact be another day, or of which kind.
But it is. And of the right kind. We both awake with positive mindsets. The sun’s blasting.
Good. I’m tired writing about these spats. Things are about to change. Northwest, here we come.