Big Sky Country: Montana Part 1

Montana with its great skies. Big Sky lives up to the name, that’s for sure. It seems like you cross the border into the state and all of a sudden there’s more fresh air and the horizon has doubled. And once the sun falls and you look out at those millions of stars? Big Sky, for sure. I am very glad that Dave and Barbra decided to get married in Montana. They planned an incredible intro to Montana weekend and it was great to see the state for the first time amongst good friends, kind new faces and a host of superfun activities.

We stopped first in Missoula to see (albeit briefly and from afar) Barb’s alma mater, and to eat some delicious hamburgers at a college bar. The Missoula Club, for all its kitchen glory (essentially a two by two flat top grill, plus a blender for milkshakes), makes a mean lunch. And by lunch I mean cheeseburgers. And shakes (though we forewent these on account of our waistlines). Nothin’else. It was here we got our first taste of the endearing Montana culture: the older gentlemen seated next to Alan saw him looking at some old black and whites on the wall and stood up to point out the 1953 High School State Championship Team and his smiling face among them. He then proceeded to whip out his iPhone and share pictures of his reunion that he posted on Facebook. Love it. This man was at least 75.

The drive into Big Sky was beautiful and full of wildlife already. In fact, just a few hours into our time at Big Sky we saw our second moose of the trip just chilling by the side of the road. After a low key night eating some mean wings and steak the groom’s brother cooked up, it was up early the next day to head out to Yellowstone (including my first foray into Wyoming!). While difficult to peel ourselves out of bed before 6am, it was worth it, because before we even arrived in Yellowstone, nay before we even got off the road that the Big Sky resort is on, I had an epic wildlife sighting. It saddens me to have no pictures to prove this, but friends, I saw a wolf! He was perched up on the top of a hill overlooking the road, and man was he majestic. He looked like Mufasa, peering out over his kingdom before the day’s hustle and bustle had begun. A beautiful, silvery beast he was. Bummer, he was the last wolf we sighted. No such luck in the national parks this week. But in Yellowstone, we did see elk and bison aplenty. (I’m tempted to call bison only Tatonka from now, though I’ve yet to see Dances with Wolves so I feel like I lack the street cred to do so.) Dave & Barb organized a lovely tour which was pretty much family and the bride and groom and ourselves. We had about 15 people on a little bus, and one of the best tour guides I can ever remember listening to. And trust me, that’s appreciated on an 8 hour tour. He took us around for a full day, covering Madison Junction and Lower then Upper Falls, Uncle Tom’s Trail (which included a staircase that engaged my fear of heights not insubstantially – worth it for the rainbows you see in the falls), Old Faithful, and lots of other Geysers, including one that visitors rarely see erupting. We also got on board with the western huckleberry craze by trying some huckleberry ice cream at Old Faithful. Delicioso! We closed out the solid day with a dinner at Buck’s T-4. The food was decent – I very much enjoyed the New Zealand venison, but everything else I tried paled in comparison – and the company was superb, as it was a great chance to catch up with friends from LA and elsewhere. Always a good time with Alan’s Tufts friends.

Saturday was a good day. This is the day of the Mooning Rafter. You may have seen the photo I posted earlier (it was too good to wait), and I’m here to give you some more color, which will add to the enjoyment of that doozy of a snapshot. We set out to hit the Gallatin River white waters for a little rafting trip. I was mixed emotions on this whole process, as it sounded scenic and entertaining, but mostly like a terrifyingly unpleasant way to die. I am afraid of many (most?) things as you will come to see if you continue reading this blog, and white water rapids are chief among said things. Getting a prep lesson in which you are warned that your participation may result in your demise and given tips on how to avoid death by rock impailment makes me uneasy, and I thought of bailing on numerous occasions. In the end, comforted by a raft full of good friends who mostly did not make fun of my terrified faces and mild panic attacks at each rapid above Class 1, I hesitantly partook (in other words, where rapid class > 2, I essentially ditched my paddle to hang on for dear life (I tried, I really did)). Seth, however, was the opposite. He almost bailed because these puny rapids were too small-fry for his Class 5 Dam Release West Virginian rafting experience. And this was made clear to all on our little raft. Yet shortly into our float, after a small pass which to any other rafter that day appeared unassuming, Seth went flying off the raft and into the water. After a brief moment of shock and horror on my part, everyone burst into laughter seeing our fearless Class 5 Dam Release West Virginian rafting aficionado flailing about trying to get back into the raft. When our friends and guide began trying to pull him back in, his shorts caught on the rope and we all got to know Seth on a more intimate level. (In case you missed it, here it is one more time) His wife valiantly threw herself to his side of the raft and tried to help him pull up his pants, but the damage was done. And the raft behind us? I think one of the women put it best when she said “I was really afraid we were going to get balls.” Here’s a little video to give you more of the live experience (full credit to Seth for being a total sport and laughing with everyone throughout this ordeal and then putting together this epic little movie).

Word of Seth’s ass spread quickly, and it made for good fodder at the rehearsal dinner, which was a true Montana experience. Set atop a mountain, complete with horse drawn wagon rides, a roasted pig, s’mores station, and bluegrass band, it was a rehearsal dinner unlike any other I’ve attended. The wedding, too, was a spectacular Montana affair. We danced to the tunes of a local band, ate fantastic bison short ribs smothered in a huckleberry sauce, and stayed up late laughing and drinking Montanan beers. Wonderful weekend. Congrats again Dave and Barb!!!

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