This was the third time I was to the gate. This time someone was there. The last two times it was still dark, a bitter cold Sunday morning in the wilderness of America and in that pre-dawn world of closed shops and empty streets and there had been no one at the booth. There were envelopes to pay the park fee but I had no cash. So I backtracked to the collection of buildings marking the entrance to Glacier Park, the little more-or-less village of West Glacier, for the ATM in order to obtain some cash and ensure my visit would be legal. However, either due to the off season, the unseasonably cold, the dark, or a Sunday or all of the above, the ATM was nonfunctional. I pressed buttons and attempted to jump it into life, but no luck. In the short time I was out in the elements my fingers started to stiffen and I dove back into my little gas powered car for the warmth and safety it provided me.
I paid my fee to the Park Ranger. “You need any hiking information?” she asked me. No… I told her. No need, I am literally passing through.
The conundrum of travel is always time and resources. Time being the paramount factor. All over the world from sunny beaches to rainy castles I have met the travel who was staying put in order to “really explore” or “see non-tourist life” or if they were in a brown people country, they were staying put to “Live Among The People” a light-skinned region it was “hang out,” and drugs place it was “to relax.” Most of these stay-puts were young. All had some financial lifeline either to a bank account back home or were those crafty clever handsome sorts who can always land a bar gig at a bar or hotel catering to foreigners or locals with Eurofever or they were part of some former Empire and had access to work permits and other needed documents. Since I grew up in a house without running water or a working toilet, I never had much interest in Living Among The People (LATP). I did however always nurture an angry jealousy that burned deeply and I had to mask even while talking to these stay-puts since while I wanted to punch their smug little handsome face in, I also wanted to be their friend or lover – hang out on the beach all day, explore some hidden temple not yet in the guide books, come home to my host family who was teaching me Xplaniese and who had prepared some fantastic exotic dinner, and then work a shift mixing fancy cocktails paid only in hard American Petro Dollars meeting all these travelers from all over the world.
Oh you don’t know the place until you’ve been here for a few months, he said strumming a guitar playing a song taught to him by a local shaman. I spent three months in Chapatastacarankalora and then I met a few friends and they had rented a houseboat on Lake ChiChiYoMama and had a local that was going to teach them how to weave silk Sham Wows, the attractive blond said, her bikini tan lines showing above the tube top she was crammed into.
I always asked for advice. How did you manage to do this? It was easy, they always replied. How did you get that bartending job? I just faked my way in, was the answer. Were I to dig deeper, sometimes they would slip up. They had experience in hotels, they had a relation in Java, they had skills they kept under wraps – foreign languages they had learned in school, intellectual abilities above the average bird, they were attractive and had that easy personable attitude that comes from being sought after and fawned upon since birth.
I did meet a few hard scrabble Stay-Puts. These were usually more mature individuals. Divorcees. Bankruptees. Not as dirty and grungy as Travelers (AKA Crust Punks), but not as oiled as the majority of Stay-Puts. Ones with skilled trades and they didn’t need to put on the casual relaxed show. They built boats. They built houses nine months of the year and then retreated to a less expensive country to live above the station they would occupy back home. They had apartments that cost $125 USD a month and looked at the ocean. They took taxis to visit parks and hike for weeks. While there is also the Playboy/girl crowd among these too, I did not occupy those spaces and have not come in to contact with more than a few, while I have heard their misadventures retold and read about their untimely ends in newspapers. I always asked them for advice, but it was simple set of facts that I was not going to casually obtain their skills unless I fully committed to living their life in full, not just the traveling aspect of a life lived building houses, drilling oil wells, welding underwater shit and living in motels.
I was not to be a Stay-Put. I was, and am a Blow-Through. And for this I have blown through a lot. I blew through Europe in six weeks describing an arc from Morocco to Bucharest. I have blown through England in a few weeks from Chopt-On-Wye to the Upper Haggis Islands. I blew through Russia on my way to blow through China and back in a month. I have been Hither, Thither, and Yon. And yet, always have lacked the ability to order my life to allow more than these scant breakneck rides through nations, cities, nation-states, and city-states.
In my visit to Glacial National Park I was actually working in Spokane and had the weekend. In the matter of two days I traveled over 600 miles. This is a sort of motion sickness, I guess. I was able to touch down on the Going-to-the-Sun Road which was closed for the season at Avalanche Pass and get out of the car to take a few quick snaps. I attempted to walk some down the road after the barrier but a number of factors scrapped that idea: 1) the presence of bears 2) I know nothing about the hibernation of bears… were they awake and super hungry or asleep? 3) Omygoddessesitissocoldican’tfeelmyfeet!
Having scrapped the hike, I opted to return to the Ranger Station and pay my fee (the guilt was growing with each mile I stole from the Forestry Service and you, the tax payer… despite the horrible things I do I make a terrible rule breaker) and attempt to exit the park by a different route.
I traveled towards a village called Polebridge. It was at the end of several miles of icy pavement that finally ended in a packed mixture of dust, ice, and crushed pine tree derbies. The village is not too much, which is exactly what one would expect and hope for. One lone old frontier-style building served as the center of town and only open commerce. Friendly dogs ran about and the smell of the bakery made me at once hungry. Inside the place was a post card wilderness store complete with a Lumbersexual gentleman putting the final touches on a mountain of scones and other delectable pastries. The coffee was on the brew and I grabbed what I expect to be a deli breakfast sandwich since usually in the communities closest to nature there is the least amount of natural things and most amount of plastic surfaces and food. However, the sandwich was cured black forest ham with slices of pineapple wrapped in a fresh baked pocket of dough. I should have expected as much. NPR was playing. I sat for but a moment at the diner table in the back behind the fireplace but in front of the spacious sliding door refrigeration units. Then it was off again.
Down the road that became ever smaller, ever more gravel and dust and snow and ice. Past the closed ranger station, I was determined to take the road as far as I could push my little rented compact car. And I was glad I did. After miles of very frightening and careful driving I was at a lake. Which one? I didn’t know, I hadn’t taken the time in my haste to read a map. I was just following roads. What was before me was a still and open water, and from the other side arose the Great Northern Mountains (I didn’t look to see their names either). I stopped for some time. Walked about the lake as far as the bitter cold would allow and then returned to my car. And crept down the road. I came upon elk. A majestic herd browsing away. A few deer later came onto the road and walked with me a while. I stopped the car. They would stop. I crept along and they too moved on down the road as if checking the pavement for me. At a sharp turn was a pole cat who skirted up a tree and stared at me as I fumbled for my camera and then just gave up and enjoyed the moment, and watched the critter watch me. Before I knew it I was out of the boundaries of the wilderness and back to the World Of Man, the litter of houses, the highways, the railroads and gas stations.
I drove on and fast since I needed to be in Spokane by sunset for dinner with a client. While I had taken the weekend, and on my own nickle, this was still a work trip and I had piles of emails to respond to before the start of the week as well as a dinner to attend that I needed to look clean, presentable, and not like a Traveler.
While I will crack jokes at the Stay-Puts, I can do the same to the Blow-Throughs. I have always wanted to spend more time in one spot, but the hand I was dealt has me off in another direction. And with this momentum, it is hard for me now to sit still and I am not sure that I could actually LATP without taking a thousand day-trips. I do not recommend one way over another. It is the old struggle of breadth and depth, nature and nurture, time and money, community and freedom, loneliness and company.
I would not have seen what I had were I not to push hard those many miles. Perhaps these snapshots are the scourge of our age of disposable relationships and surface experiences. Perhaps, however, to touch so much even for a short time, is that gift we should take when we can, since we never know if tomorrow will be another day and perhaps life indeed is lived but in the moment.