Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sleepless In Montana

This blog is primarily about business travel, but once in awhile I write about my family’s vacation trips. Last week we visited my wife’s family in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area of Montana where they have a modest summer cabin. The Stillwater Valley is one of the most gorgeous places on earth. We had a wonderful time, as usual, this being our 13th or 14th annual visit. However, there were some challenges.

The cabin relies on a spring up the adjacent mountainside for water using an ingenious array of pipes above and below ground that my dad-in-law has engineered to provide cold and solar-heated aqua. Gravity does the rest. Now that’s OK, except when there’s been a drought. And that part of Montana (about 26 miles north of the northeast quadrant of Yellowstone National Park) has not had sufficient rainfall for several years. So the mountain spring is a trickle now instead of a stream. Thus water conservation at the cabin is mandatory: very few daily toilet flushes and days-long intervals between showers.

All that’s OK, too, until the cabin gets crowded. Which it does when all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends show up to see us and each other as they are wont to do. There just isn’t enough water or space to go around.

The cabin is small and becomes crowded fast. We had seven people there, and then four more arrived midweek, swelling it to eleven. There were already five of us in the tiny upstairs loft. Now there were two more directly beneath us on the fold-out couch, plus an uncle on the porch (in a sleeping bag on the floor), and my in-laws in the sole bedroom. That left a cousin who was going to sleep in the family car (their seats fold down to flat).

But cold and unexpected (but much-needed) rain made him choose to sleep in the recliner literally next to my bed. It was less than a foot away from where I was sleeping.

That was too much for me. My need for a modicum of privacy, already strained, went into overdrive. I left and went out to my rental car, a new Ford Explorer, folded down the back seats, and wrapped a blanket around me. I cracked the windows to avoid suffocating. By the following morning I was stiff, had thrown out my back trying to sleep like a pretzel, and I was very sleepy.

During my long night of discomfort, I decided it would be prudent to find my own place for our final two nights in Montana, and thus I spent Friday and Saturday nights in a strange place called Carter’s Camp, about 5 miles away.

I expected a bit more for $69.40 per night. My room had a huge fireplace but no heat or air-conditioning (they provided an oil space heater on request--it was unusually cold there last week). The Carter's Camp owner couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the satellite TV, nor could I, but the shower worked well—until the water went off (it was restored after a lot of work several hours later).

My room had no number—a first for me after many decades of rented accommodation. It was described to me as “the one next to the Post Office.” And sure enough, the tiny Nye, Montana P.O. was literally two steps from my front door. I guess that when you have only three rooms to rent, numbers aren’t necessary. The lock didn’t work very well, but I don’t think there was any need for worry about a break-in.

The room wasn't much; however, I thought happily, at least Carter's Camp had a bar. You see, I like bars, and I like beer, and it’s a good thing I do, because the bar turned out to be the only place where Carter’s Camp's much-vaunted wireless Internet worked. In my room, which was just 25 or so feet from the bar, my laptop’s super-charged LinkSys wireless card indicated a signal strength of 2-4%. In the bar I got as high as 91%. The owner said he should probably look into a repeater for his wireless system some day, and I concurred.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that every other word heard there at the bar started with “F”. I heard the “F” word used in every possible way: as a noun, an adjective, in several interesting verb forms, and in a myriad of combinations with other words (e.g., the oft-used “mother-F” and many, many other variants). A flurry of words not usually heard in church echoed through the deep blue haze of cigarette smoke last Friday night. No one flinched; Montanans lean strongly toward tolerance in most things.

Ah, it all brought back memories of my wild youth and being single!

Some tough dudes in that bar, diggers (miners) most of them, who work at Stillwater Mining up the road, America’s largest Platinum and Palladium mine. Those guys work underground doing extremely dangerous work, and they drink heavily when they aren’t working. And smoke nonstop. So Friday turned into something one helluva lot different from the homey environment back at the cabin.

Of course I spent a lot of time back with the family. I met my wife and kids at the bridge over the beautiful Stillwater River (which dumps into Yellowstone River some 40 miles away) not far from the family cabin (about a mile away), and we caught another big Brook Trout late Friday afternoon. I let my three year old daughter reel it in, and she was thrilled! I cleaned it for dinner before I left the cabin. Though I hated to leave my family, I was frankly glad not to be enduring another night cheek-by-jowl with ten other folks in very close quarters.

At the bar, I didn’t see any broken noses. Civilized drinkers who knew how not to go too far, it seemed, but all committed imbibers just the same. Even though I would have preferred to be with my family at the cabin, I liked the dive.

I took in a Western Garter Snake about 18 inches long because my eight year old son had picked it down by the river, and I forgot it was in my shirt pocket. Everybody there at Carter’s Camp, smoking and drinking up a storm, were fine for the little snake to wander around the bar. My kind of place.

I learned a few useful things that night in the bar. For instance, I picked up a good tip next time I go duck hunting. One of the diggers on his 10th or 11th beer was bragging (and slurring) about how the Federal Game Warden couldn’t arrest him last winter for hunting ducks even though the warden had heard him fire five or six times in rapid succession at some passing waterfowl. It’s illegal to have more than three shells in your shotgun when duck hunting, but there’s no limit to the number of shotguns you can have loaded and ready. This fellow had beat the system by keeping three shotguns by his side, thus able to fire up to nine times if need be. His strategy flummoxed the poor warden, who left the man’s duck blind with his tail between his legs. The inebriated raconteur spiced up his tale with some mighty salty language, too, adding to the fun.

As the night wore on, I also picked up plenty of tips from gregarious patrons related to the finer points of love-making, most of which sounded dubious, and one suggestion so bizarre that it would have caused a pole dancer to blush.

Before I went to bed, I bought a round of drinks for the bar. Set me back a whopping $29. Like I said, it wasn’t as good as being with my family, but life’s an adventure, and at Carter’s Camp I could at least flush the toilet whenever I wanted and put my head down to sleep without someone snoring six inches from my face.

And in the bar, the beer was kept ice cold and well-stocked in oversized coolers designed to ease the mind of anyone who might fret over the prospect of running out.


Blogger Bill said...

Interesting story. I was under the impression that Montana has a state law against smoking in bars. Do they have an enforcement problem?

I can identify with the discomfort of sleeping in a vehicle. My parents had a camper that could hold everyone but me. I was in the back of the station wagon.

6/21/2007 2:06 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

To Bill re smoking in Montana bars:

I know nothing wbout a state law in Montana banning smoking in bars. I can only attest to the fact that virtually everyone in that bar was smoking heavily.

In rural areas of Montana like remote Stillwater County I would guess that enforcement is rare. Carter's Camp in Nye, Montana is very close to the end of state highway 78 (it terminates 7 miles away in the Stillwater Gorge) and is 30 miles from the nearest small town, Absarokee.

Except for mine employees and a few tourists, there isn't much traffic. I can't see state liquor license folks making a special trip way out there unless someone complained, and I don't believe the loyal patrons of Carter's Camp would be likely to send up a flare. They live and let live.

6/21/2007 6:53 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Hello Mr. Allen,
I did some further checking, it appears that bars in Montana are exempt until 2009. I never quite understood the philosophy of delaying the ban on dangerous things. I hope you've had a nice summer so far, glad to hear you haven't been flying.

8/05/2007 3:04 PM  

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