I spend the night after my injury in Jackson Hole. In the morning, I reconnect with Jeff and Jay, the guys I drove here from Boulder, because they’re trying to get up into Montana. Thankfully, my park entry receipt is still barely legible even after being plunged into a glacier stream and crumbling in the dry heat of my car, so we cross into the Tetons and Yellowstone without having to pay another $25. I’m excited to pass through the rivers and lakes and geysers of Yellowstone that I’ve been hearing about for so long, even if I only get to drive through rather than fold myself into the backcountry like I’d been intending to before I destroyed my ability to walk. I’m limping like an old man; I wish I had a cane.
I find Old Faithful, an attraction that draws numberless tourists from across the world, to be mildly interesting. What I find more interesting is the similar apathy I sense in the people who have traveled thousands of miles to see this feature. In a remarkable stroke of serendipity, Jeff, Jay, and I arrive just moments before the once-every-hour-and-a-half-or-so eruption, and we join the gathered throngs. Now, I have nothing to contribute at the moment to the general discussion on the modern role of the camera in preventing us from experience life directly, but at the geyser I was even more taken aback than usual. This beautiful, violently powerful geothermal eruption occurs once every ninety minutes—and hundreds of people are standing there with cameras pressed to their faces! They aren’t even going to get to see the eruption! There seems to be at least a little sanity in taking pictures of mountains and lakes—at least you get to admire the vista before capturing it—but this I found highly peculiar. Best of all was that, while the eruption goes on for about five minutes, people started trickling out after one or two. They wait 90 minutes to get their snapshot and then don’t even have the attention span to stay and watch the event. Or maybe people are not to blame; maybe in rendering Old Faithful so accessible to the general public, the National Park Service has inadvertently destroyed any wonder or fascination that an explorer might have felt to discover the geyser on her own. But an essay on the NPS another time.
We snake out of Yellowstone and into Big Sky Country just as the sun settles into the hills and begins casting those mountain-sized pre-sunset streaks of light and shadow. We snake along the glittering river, soaring through the hills with the windows down and warm gusts billowing through the car. In Bozeman, the nearly-full silver moon rests atop pink clouds atop spiky peaks and we park at a gas station and cook rice and chili on our stoves. Before hitting the road west towards Missoula, I ask the attendant about any extra food that’s going to be thrown away, and he sends me out with a heavy double-bagged assortment of corn dogs and barbeque pork sandwiches and egg rolls.
Instead of driving all the way into Missoula at night, we decide to camp out somewhere along highway. After passing through Butte, we pull off onto an unlit road and park in gravely turnout next to some mailboxes. At the top of a grassy hill, Jeff pulls out IPAs and we lay our sleeping bags out under the cold stars.
In the morning, Jeff and Jay consult their phones to revisit last night’s messages, and they decide they will actually head east back to Bozeman (this is to be mostly attributed to the influence of a certain lady friend). I drop them off at a rest stop to hitchhike back, and I continue on towards Missoula. I see a blue H sign, and I pull off to stop into a hospital in a small Montana town just to ask if my knee looks like it’s healing ok and to ask if I can use their bathrooms to wash my leg. The nurse in the ER says the wound looks good, and she tells me I can definitely wash up—in fact, take a hot shower if I want to, here’s a towel.