*Decided to break this trip report up, want to cover a lot. No need to rush.
I awake to noise coming from our bathroom down the hall. The bedroom light is still off, and outside the sun has yet to rise. My alarm hasn’t gone off yet either, allowing for a little more time to catch some precious sleep.
Moments later, Heather comes back to bed and I look at her for a sign. “I’m not pregnant,” she says, and I can hear the sadness in her voice. She’s only a day late, so I actually thought she was taking a test basically for the hell of it, but that’s not Heather’s rationale. She is so worried about me getting eaten by a bear, she wanted me to know that I would be a father before departing, if that were to be the case. She is so distraught with me potentially meeting my demise by said bear that the night before, she even mentioned having to regretfully name the child “Doug” in my memory.
I sigh, kiss her and tell her that, “it will happen when it happens.”
I sigh again, this time with some relief and excitement. It’s Montana time baby.
Get what little gear that isn’t waiting for me at Dad’s, and Heather drives me over. We hit the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru for my coffee and bagel. Heather’s pretty upset. She knows I’ll have no cell service for a straight week in bear country (She has yet to trust my survival skills).
When we pull up to the old man’s I assure her everything will be fine and I’ll call whenever I can. Give the old lady a kiss and head in to see who’s up and ready to go.
Walking in to Dad’s at such an early time of day is always a tentative approach. I walk slowly through each room assessing damage from whatever drunken debauchery my brothers had taken part in the night before, checking for any decent beers that may have survived for my confiscation, and always spare bodies. Friends always seem to be tucked on undersized couches in that uncomfortable sleep of a college kid, of which I’ll never miss.
George is of course up and still packing. Never have we gone on an excursion and not been packing well into the night before departure. Knock on wood; we have yet to leave anything important behind (credit the old man for that). Chow is fairly easy to get up. Luke on the other hand, when he finally does arise from bed, is still drunk from the night before. He doesn’t seem to care that he got home from the local bar at 2am and drunkenly threw clothes directly from the dryer into his pack. For the millionth time, I warn him of the trip we are about to embark on and how he should take his packing seriously. In response he grabs my bagel and takes a bite. The little bastard hasn’t even brushed his teeth yet. My frustration now begins to manifest. I abandon my breakfast after Luke just slobbered all over it, and begin to pack the truck for our ride to the airport.
Fifteen minutes passes with all of us but Chow sitting in the truck, ready to go. As we’re all walking out the door he decides he has to take his morning shit.
After Desimone’s 23rd beep of the horn I’m ready to explode. (Desimone is our chauffeur to the airport. I typically tell people he is my step brother just to make short work of a conversation I don’t feel like having. Truth is he is Luke’s fat Italian friend who has lived with us for over 10 years and if hard pressed I’d give him the title of brother, no step. Emphasis on hard pressed). So here we are, packed in the truck and an hour away from boarding our flight to the Promised Land and Chow is taking a shit. I want to kill him. Finally he comes jogging out. Wearing my gym shorts.
It takes two of us to unload our community suitcase. A large blue case that contains all of our food, knives, rods, flies, reels and everything else that’s not allowed in a carry-on bag. Getting charged an overweight fee is no shock. As we hand it over I take a long hard look at that blue bag, trying to will its timely and safe arrival to Montana. That damn case has everything! If the airline loses it or sends it to China, our trip is fucked. We tip the baggage handler for some good karma, and head to check in.
Despite Luke’s drunkenness, Chow’s shit, and my overall frustration with the two, we have some time to kill. This of course grants Chow and Luke satisfaction. “Told ya plenty of time.” “Take a zanny and relax.” These Clowns seem to think you can walk up to your terminal and waltz onto the plane. We’re lucky to have 30 minutes before boarding so I head to the bar for a drink. The bartender, a typical, stocky Italian with a South Philly accent to boot, comes around and asks for my order. Order the breakfast special: vodka and orange juice. “Double?” Well shit, what kind of man is going to say no? Excellent sales tactic by the airport bartender. Subsequently, the double proves to be a good suggestion. Back in the terminal, Chow and Luke text while George and I scan the other passengers for fly fishing paraphernalia. I pay close attention to rod tubes, searching for fellow bamboo fisherman but all seem to be carrying plastic. Poor guys.
Our first flight is uneventful, exactly how you want your flight to paradise to be. Turbulence, sitting next to a fat guy, or crashing, are things you want to happen on the way home. We land in Minnesota and I text the wife. We have just enough time to get our bearings and take a seat before the next flight. A hostess comes over to our table and asks about my magazine. Huge fan of the Drake magazine and I carry it with me daily, not just on long trips. This girl, however, thinks the magazine is based on the rapper, Drake. Needless to say, that was an awkward conversation and only heightened my urgency for arrival in Montana.
This flight does not go as smoothly as the last. We’re all seated in the emergency exit row. The attendant comes over and asks the standard question, something along the lines of, “Are you willing to open this bitch up and jump out if need be?” Sure lady, whatever keeps me in this seat with all the leg room. She goes down the row, getting the politically correct answer of ‘yes’ from everyone until she gets to Chow. Meathead stares at the woman for what seems like an hour. She has to repeat herself and in unison Luke and I yell at Chow to reply “YES!” Who knows how long he would have continued to stare blankly. After Chow, it’s George’s turn. He doesn’t hear her and with that, the flight attendant thinks we’re all high or stupid or both and says something about learning English and storms off. My anxiety rises and I search for the damn drink cart to make its way down the aisle.
We arrive in Missoula on time and ready to roll. I’m anxious to see the inside of the airport. Heather just watched a recent Housewives of New York episode where the women all went to Montana and were amazed at the amount of dead animals on display in the airport. I share in their amazement as I walk through and see my first grizzly mount. Jesus Christ, they are monsters. The 4.5 inch Randall knife and bear spray I brought for protection will be reduced to scraps if I encounter one of these beasts. Luckily it’s dead, and in an airport, so I make way to baggage claim.
Outfitters and clients with fishing gear are everywhere. I bump my way up to the front and await the pending arrival of the big blue suitcase. After a short period of waiting with some strong anxiety, the bag tumbles down and I snatch it up. Relief finally comes over me. Good thing I made my way to the front. After they saw I had the bag, Chow and Luke disclosed their plan to grab the bag, hide it and watch my heart attack.
We meet Pops at the rental car station. He was told the wait would be about an hour long. Chow and Luke gripe. I, on the other hand, could care less. We’re in Montana and we have the gear, the car will come, and our trip will be unimpeded. Only 20 minutes of waiting and we’re led to our economy car in the lot. It has AC, the sun is out, and we have a map and plenty of time. This journey is about to officially kick off.