Bozeman True Confessions: I am an Outdoor Nerd!

Lara Wisniewski  |  Tuesday Sep. 30th, 2014

When we told people we were moving here, their first question always was: do you ski, do you hike, do you fish, do you bike, boat, snowshoe…perhaps? In other words, am I an outdoor person? My response was no, no to everything but a hike but you know, a pedestrian hike. To me, it felt like everyone was basically asking if I did Ironman every year. I did very little outside comparatively, other than walk and sit. I am a self-professed nerd.
Until this summer.

What got me? The fishing trip to Ennis over July 4 weekend. What else could it have been? A couple beers at the Gravel Bar and one of their pink G spot t-shirts gave me the Dutch courage to start talking to the fly fisher men at the bar which would describe pretty much everyone there. Anyway, the night after the Gravel, my husband and I went out on the Upper Madison for a float and a fish with our trusted accomplished guide from Bozeman, Tyler Garrison. I didn’t know what to expect, I just thought it was cool to do at least once. Ill try anything once.

By lunch, no fish, but I was hooked. I sat in the back seat just watching. I knew I had to get back out here, I mean on the river again, and again soon. For eight hours I sat and watched my husband and the guide get few bites and a couple fish. We floated past the cliffs where the Indians used to run the buffalo off to kill them. I watched the grass and the flowers, and listened to the river. I had to get back on the water and soon, like in days not weeks.

We went home and I rented a kayak from The Barn as a way to research buying one. I almost just bought one, so driven was I with my lusting for the river. I even almost convinced myself to get a kayak outfitted with fishing apparatus. I believed the picture of the old man sitting in his kayak on some lake, calmly fishing, that would be me, the sportsman fishing in her kayak.

At The Barn, I was advised well and of course they steered me away from the fishing kayak. I went ahead and rented a beautiful kayak, hurled it onto the top of my car and took off on the Gallatin. I took an amazing float from Nixon Bridge in Manhattan down to Logan. It took some hours, but I made it. I saw a hawk teach its baby to fly. I saw deer and ducks and pelicans, eagles and trains passing. I felt like an explorer into new lands. I needed more and soon. I screamed with joy when the first rapids took me and imagined myself on Class Three rapids...if you knew me you’d laugh at the thought... Regardless the trip made me feel big, strong and capable. My husband picked me up at the drop point. I think he was relieved to see me alive.

For the next week I waffled. Do I buy a kayak, or not? Is it a waste of money, all these people were on ebay selling their kayaks because they only used them a few times, was I crazy?  Finally, the decision came and it felt like triumph driving to The Barn with aplomb. I had it all picked out and had had extensive conversations with the salesman. He outfitted me and was such a good salesman, he almost convinced me to buy the $290.00 paddle which seemed great. If it could do the job for a competitive kayaker, it certainly would for me. I said to myself…please! I went for the one that was half the price and haven’t been disappointed yet, although I still try to convince myself to buy the expensive one anyway.

It was when the experienced salesman started to warn me against wandering  into Class Three rapids that I began to feel my knees get a little weak, something in me wanted to pull out, I hadn’t put down the credit card yet, maybe I shouldn’t... But I did and made him tell me where not to go so I didn’t hit those rapids. He tried to sell me a skirt and a helmet. I promised him...maybe for next summer...In my dreams.

By now I had been to Logan twice in one week. Time to try a new route. There was a drop point in between Belgrade and Manhattan. I stopped at it twice in preparation scoping it out, acting savvy and watching everyone basking in the sun there but not dropping boats, as far as I could see. I was certain they just weren’t boaters, and what was wrong with them?

It wasn’t until I was in that river that I realized there was a reason that nobody knew much about this drop point. The first warning sign should have been the first ten seconds. I put my brand new kayak in for the maiden voyage, I’m floating along the beautiful river and STOP! Or I’ll run right into the massive tree that has fallen across the river like a massive dam. No, Lara, you can’t move it, I thought as I begged for another reality. I pulled my kayak to shore and thought, gee I’m all ready. My back hurts some, probably this is a sign that I should go back. The adult me is saying go back. All the signs say go back, the tree was like a large neon sign that said, go back. GO BACK! But I persevered, like the curious dummy I am, the newly born outdoorsman.

I asked a guy nearby fly fishing what he knew about the route I was embarking upon. Not much he said, he said however that the route from Four Corners to there was pretty hairy when he’d taken it a month before with some friends. But they were on rafts and the rafts got eaten by trees and rapids. I thought that’s not my stupendously handsome and strong kayak. Anyway I knew I was better, much, much better than that. And with that assurance, me and my inflatable ego and my invincible kayak walked across the beach together and dipped back into the Gallatin for the rest of our adventure seeking summer joyride.

First Hour: (of which based on the distance to my dropoff point I estimated at three) was more of the same first thirty seconds. I kept beaching since the river was low, and then there were more logs and downed trees. I felt sure this would be great exercise since it was not at all like the more mellow trips I had taken before.

I was excited, getting back in touch with my canoeing techniques I had learned in summer camp oh...about forty years prior. Still, it was coming out and telling me how to deal with a rock that had a small rapid on it. It was fun
for me.

Second Hour: A lot like the first, just more of it, and my back pain is forging a knife in my lower back. The river was still much more interesting than my back pain, especially since I couldn’t go back, I couldn’t get cell reception and I couldn’t have told my husband where I was to come get me. It was just me, fate and my ability to work my way to the next drop point.

Hour Three: Not quite like the first two. First, I should have been home by now and my out of shape body is starting to be less diplomatic and more insistent. The back pain is now a full on sword. I am still dying of curiosity though. I have to get to the end! I will! I shall! And then...I come upon the first sign of life, a few little boys playing in the river.

The little boys see me approach as if I am an apparition from another dimension. I feel plain stupid although I try to seem experienced like: “Who wouldn’t take this absolutely insane kayak run?” Meantime, I get a call from my husband  -- reception! I answer and he wonders of course where I am. There is a drop point and stairs to the road, a bridge I begin to float under. The mature thing to do is tell my husband to come here and get me. But no, I had to, had to!! finish my journey and see what lay ahead. Anyway...it couldn’t have been that much longer, I was almost to Manhattan. I told my husband 45 minutes max.

Then I ran into a cattle fence that ran across the river. Well, that wasn’t going to stop me either, I just got out, with the knife well burrowed into my back now and pushed the kayak under the fence line. The river sections were also longer now too, except they resembled what the guy at The Barn had said, that even though the Gallatin River was listed as a Class One run, there were Class Two and Three rapids. Well, I definitely got the Class Two part that day.

Before I had a choice, I would be thrown into a log. Then, if the current and my resistance were just right I was up...and over. It kept happening, and it was fun and God bless me, I just kept trying to focus on that because now I really had no choice but to forge on. I came to the last fence. I thought I could just glide right under it, cause getting out of the kayak now was undeniably agonizing. There was some current, I went to duck and the next thing I knew I was under water, thinking of the guy at The Barn again, pushing myself up and away from the boat. Very interesting. Well at least I had mastered that trick. I got under the fence and saw where I lived on the hill. Couldn’t be far now, the journey is almost over...
One thing I’ve learned, don’t get nostalgic about your trip until you are standing in front of your car and your kayak is well onto dry land. My trip was definitely not over. I went a ways, was feeling excited, almost over, yep I could do this! Came round a corner and blammo! the biggest, most grounded tree and the longest walk across the beach from all the other times I have had to pick up and carry thirty-two pounds of molded unwieldy resin in the last three hours.

I was looking for a drop point that branched into the housing area where I lived. Just a smaller tributary, not hard to find though what I didn’t put together however is that the forks in the Gallatin, aren’t called the forks in the Gallatin for nothing. I realized I was way past that point when I saw the Nixon Bridge coming up. Damn! I had so not wanted to get out here. The current was tough and unpredictable, a terrible place for me to get out. I tried to call my husband at the other point and there was of course no cell reception. I threw the phone in my lap in its waterproof case with my keys, because there was a busy part coming up. Then I had to make sure and pull off fast where I could stop. I only had five minutes and I really was done, but not without paying a price.

Next thing I knew I was in the bank, one of those gross ones with stringy stuff and cobwebs and river sludgy foam. Ick. I had the paddle against the bank staving me off and the current pushing at my other side. The next thing I knew I was sideways, I mean at a 45 degree angle holding off, holding off. I - WAS - NOT - GOING - OVER - AGAIN! I held and held and held and uh...I was back down river...and without a phone or keys. They were my sacrifice to the Gallatin, for not getting thrown under into the icky swampy part, for making it in one piece home from this vastly long and unexpected trip.

I dragged my boat out and up a steep short hill offshore, about fifty pounds heavier because of all the water in it. I begged a guy there getting ready to go fishing to use his phone to call my husband and then while I waited, I walked back upstream onshore to see if I could miraculously find my phone or keys. I didn’t of course, but the mosquitoes definitely found me and I was covered with their bites by the time my husband got to me. Sadly I realized I had also lost my G-Spot t-shirt too, one of the many times the boat went over.

I had to hang up my obsession with the kayak for the next few weeks in order to heal my back. My chiropractor, Dr. Clete Linebarger couldn’t have been nicer and more understanding as he pushed my back into place. I admit I yelled a little when he did that, I hope I didn’t scare away his waiting patients. My acupuncturist AI Lieber tried to assure me that having fun was sometimes worth the sacrifice. I think he knows he can say that because he can get me better. In fact, if you recall, that’s what I said for most of the trip. Boy, did I keep thinking back to that bridge where I could have had my husband pick me up. If I had just called my husband and had him come and get me, I wouldn’t have had to lay immobile on the floor for a week.

Would I have done it differently in hindsight? Naah!!!    

About the Author(s)

Lara Wisniewski

Lara Wisniewski is a professional editor of the written word and a longtime writer of fascinating life interests, art and culture. She is also currently at work on her first novel. She is an extremely happy, new resident of the Bozeman area and the proud, new mama of her rescue puppy Bettina.

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