(Unlike yesterday’s April Fools fishtale, today’s offering is absolutely honest and truthful. Only names have been changed to protect the innocent)
Each Memorial Day weekend Marck leads the charge to fish the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park. The list of participants changes somewhat from year to year, but no matter who is in attendance the event always begins with the 4 A.M. departure from Marck’s house on Friday. This means that I have to get up at 3 AM in order to make coffee and drive the 25 miles upstream from my home. Not surprisingly there’s little traffic at that God-forsaken time of day, and I feel bad for anyone else on the road that’s not headed to Montana for some fishing. The annual jaunt from the North Bend, WA to West Yellowstone, MT (a distance of 575 miles or 925.18 Kilometers) is not something one typically looks forward to: it is simply a means to an end. The drive had been far less than enjoyable two years prior as four of us were shoe-horned uncomfortably into my Jeep Cherokee, which lacked both cruise control and ample leg room for anyone other than myself. The next year I missed out on the trip because my daughter’s 4×400 relay team was competing in the state track meet, so Marck made the drive alone and had one of his best fishing days ever. So on this year it felt good to be heading back to Yellowstone: the Jeep was left behind and The Soccer Mom Express pulled out of Marck’s driveway right on schedule with Nash behind the wheel, Marck riding shotgun, and myself and Stan (not his real name) in the second row of seats. While Nash’s wife’s mini van might not be the vehicle a fisherman prefers to be seen in passing through Idaho and Montana, I have to admit that it was like traveling in first class, complete with beverage and snack service and movies on DVD. We made our typical stops in Coeur d’Alene, ID for gas and breakfast (which resulted in more gas), and then at the Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, MT for a bathroom break and a Testicle Festival t-shirt. During the course of the long road trip we took turns behind the wheel, which allowed us to kill two birds with one stone: First, it offered everyone an opportunity to grab a nap; secondly it ensured that no one would be denied the pleasure of being seen driving a mini van through Idaho and Montana. I’m being sarcastic of course – but truth be told after the first hour I stopped hiding my face whenever we were passed by a 4×4 diesel pickup.
Even though the drive was as pleasant as this drive can possibly be, one tends to be a bit road weary after 12 hours in a car (okay, a mini van). A good night’s sleep would still be important because the next day would be a long one, spent walking several miles of river and fishing hard. Opening day of the fishing season on the Firehole can be epic so one wants to bring their A game, knowing that the water will be worked hard and a lot of it will be covered in a vain attempt to keep up with Marck’s catch rate. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Ho-Hum Motel in West Yellowstone straws were drawn to determine who would bunk with Stan. You see, there’s the little matter of Stan’s reputation as “one who snores” which mandates the annual drawing. I had successfully dodged that bullet on a previous trip, so I had no firsthand experience in dealing with his reputed snoring. However, one cannot tempt fate forever, and I was left holding the short straw this time. Not to worry, I was also reassured that Stan’s snoring used to be a lot worse before the surgery to repair whatever it was that was causing the snoring to have been so notorious.
To insure that which follows does not appear as an attack on his character, let me make it clear that Stan is the type of guy you know you’re going to like the first time you meet him. He’s unpretentious, easy-going, speaks his mind and has a great sense of humor. However, if you happen to draw the short straw a good portion of that appeal goes quickly by the wayside once the lights go out.
It should be noted that I am not one to fall asleep right away. My brain is just wired such that when I assume the horizontal position I begin to process typically useless information. While I may not be sound asleep, as long as it’s dark and quiet I’m still relaxing and recharging. While this is my way, it is not Stan’s way. When Stan’s head hit the pillow that first night, his eyes immediately rolled back in his head, his jaw dropped open, and he was asleep. Not sort-of-asleep as in that magical happy place when you’re just slipping out of consciousness, but OUT as if having just been dropped to the canvas by a thundering blow to the chin and then placed into a rear naked choke. For a few glorious minutes all was quiet on the West Yellowstone Front. And then the storm began brewing.
Slow at first, and not snoring per se – just heavy breathing. After about 31 seconds of this the pace increased and simultaneous inhalation through both the nose and mouth commenced. With such a large volume of air being sucked through both orifices, things started to rattle inside Stan’s sinuses like the shutters on a house during a gale. As the force of the storm increased, it sounded like something was going to tear loose at any minute and I lay there in shear amazement at what was happening in the bed 4 feet away. At this point I wasn’t yet annoyed – afterall we were only a couple of minutes into it. I was, rather, quite simply impressed. Then it subsided and became quiet again. That wasn’t so bad, and I naively assumed I could probably fall asleep before another storm system rolled in. However, the next front blew in with unthinkable ferocity and apparently carried with it a flock of geese that landed on Stan’s bed and began a terrible ruckus; fighting, squawking and honking their honkers. It amazed me that Stan could sleep through the violence, so I did what any friend would do when their buddy is under attack: I threw a pillow at him. This didn’t wake him up, but it did seem to silence the geese. Temporarily.
Within 10 minutes they were at it again, and in an act of self preservation I put the remaining pillow over my face and attempted to suffocate myself. I tried not to struggle, but the survival instinct kicked in and I tossed and turned and became hopelessly twisted in the bedsheets. Exhausted, at some point very late that night I managed to lose consciousness and catch a couple hours’ of oxygen-deprived shut-eye. I was just entering that period of deep REM sleep when the alarm went off at 5 AM and rudely jolted me back to conscious reality. Stan was bright-eyed and ready for the day: “Mornin’ Sunshine– how’d ya sleep?” he asked. I was feeling a little less than chipper as I sat on the edge of the bed trying to pry my eyes open so I could survey the damage. I suffer from a mild allergy to goose down, which causes me to get all congested and puffy in the face, and so I squinted through bloodshot eyes, fully expecting to find feathers and goose droppings–maybe even a carcass or two. To my surprise there was no sign of the carnage I had witnessed just a few short hours before. We dressed in warm clothes (there was a fresh skiff of snow on the ground), loaded our fishing gear into the Soccer Mom Express and headed to breakfast. Marck, Nash, Stan and I sat down to a hearty meal at a cafe known as the Three Bears. It seemed a cruel bit of irony that this place would be named after the fairytale in which Goldilocks sleeps peacefully through the night, and I couldn’t help but think that the place should have been called The Mother Goose Cafe. Three of the four of us were apparently well-rested and eager to chat about the day ahead, and somehow I managed to keep my eyes open between visits from our waitress, who saw my desperate need for a steady supply of coffee. Marck noticed that I wasn’t my normal chipper self, and in a tone that suggested great concern for my well being he asked, “What the hell happened to you?” I couldn’t give him an accurate answer because I myself wasn’t sure what had taken place in our motel room during the night. All I knew was that we had two full days of fishing the Firehole ahead of us, and I had one more night of fending off geese. I was looking forward to the fishing.
Tune in next week for Part II: Will the Unaccomplished Angler catch some quality shut-eye, and maybe a fish…?