Immediately after work we packed the Subaru. The meals were already prepared, the sleeping bags and sleeping pads rolled up, the tent rented and ready to be set up. My dear Mum had brought some firewood and a handy hatchet into my workplace for me to take later (“Is it okay for you have a hatchet here?”).
We hadn’t been camping in some time, and it was only our second time this summer. I wish I didn’t type that sentence, but it is true!
We drove down to Yellowstone, through the Custer-Gallatin National Forest, past a river running very low and lots of houses tucked away into hillsides that we mused would be quite nice to occupy. The sun was going down, fast. We have been lulled into the idea that it would stay up with us and allow us time to make it to our campsite before it departs, but no. Summer is almost over, and those long, almost endless Montana summer days shorten with it.
We make it into bustling West Yellowstone by sundown. Tourists and visitors who don’t use crosswalks in a timely manner (“Get the fuck off your phone while you’re crossing the street!” I remember hissing as Logan sat there calmly as ever) make their way to “rustic” bars and shops. We pull into a gas station and buy a bottle of beer, a lighter (we forgot matches), and a can of bear spray. I have never forgotten my bear spray before and cursed the nearly $40 price tag for a new canister but relinquished because bears, man. Bears. Before we leave the older cashier calls Logan a “tall drink of water”.
We finally make our way into the park. Logan flashes our park pass, replete with regal polar bear, and we zoom into Yellowstone which has somehow become Mordor. The fires in West Yellowstone are visible from the road- red, orange, and pink glow from active fires, and we gape, our mouths open. The smoke gets bad, and we surmise that this trip may be very uncomfortable for our respiratory systems. We drive slow- the dark is heavy, like a wool blanket, and we don’t want to hit any critters. We drive by rivers and they look like they are made of mercury, the metallic sheen of them illuminated by what little light remains.
We finally make it to our campsite. It is dark. We have one headlamp and one flashlight between us, and our campsite is right across from the washrooms, but at the end of the campsite complex, so we are at least somewhat close to something natural. We begin to set up the Marmot 4 person tent I rented, and are pleasantly surprised to see how roomy it is. Logan figures out how to set it up faster than me, which quietly makes my Montana cred fall a bit. I mentally blame my parents who had such complex, old tents that when I go to set up a tent I form a battle plan rather than just roll with the quick, well-planned contraptions now available (sorry Mum and Dad). Logan uses the hatchet to tamp down the stakes, and we high five- we have a tent!
Logan gets ready to start the fire and I go up and say, “Uh, so I know I’m about gender parity and division of labor and things, but I’m going to go be domestic and set up the sleeping bags and things” to which he laughs and responds he’ll do the manly thing and make fire. We do both of these things- I blow up the sleeping pads, unroll our sleeping bags, put the bottle of water somewhere we can both find it. I come out of the tent and find happy flames licking the dry pieces of wood. The satisfying crackle feeds something deep in my soul or maybe my genetics. Fire means warmth, safety, security. A warm, happy, well-fed fire cares for you, and makes you content in a way few things truly do.
We open the bottle of pub-style ale we bought in West Yellowstone and cheers to a successfully set up campsite in the dark. The stars twinkle overhead. Logan makes soup with antelope burger and we drink it out of mugs. We brush our teeth in overly bright washrooms with running water and discuss anything and everything, and go to sleep in our ultra-roomy tent. I wake up in the middle of the night to the eeriest noises, which I swear are wolves calling somewhere nearby. I relish these natural sounds, the unfamiliarity of it. I am so cushioned, shielded in my everyday life and here I am in the semi-woods semi-camping and I get to hear animals make noises in the woods where they live. I am a guest on this magnificent Earth and it feels so right to be humbled by these few seconds of noise.
We wake up to the sun. It is about 7:30, and we have no cell service, and this is not a bad thing. Logan makes breakfast, a delicious scramble of potatoes, eggs, and tomatoes. We wash the dishes, pack up the tent, and drive a little ways to the river to swim. We apply sunscreen diligently and wade in. It is cold- very cold. The river is higher than I remember and I am loathe to fully immerse myself. We swim up the river a bit into the canyon and I start to get nervous. We are both strong swimmers but the canyon is thin and the rock walls are sharp- I’ve skinned my toes and banged knees many times before. We swim up a bit and float down and then get out. It is too cold and fast for us to enjoy ourselves, but it is amazing to see the canyon walls and feel our fingertips grip the rocks. We revel in what nature does, but decide to let her do her thing.
We drove through the park and saw no animals. Road construction and fires likely scared them into more remote parts of the park. This was the first time I had never seen a bison in the park. Usually a cocktail of critters emerge or are spotted, but this time- nothing. It was odd to be in a park where there was no animal life to be seen, but I knew they were just doing their thing out of sight.
The Boiling River was too full to stop by, and we drove into Gardiner for ice cream. The drive back was long but we made it. What a good little weekend foray.