Saturday, July 30, 2016

A Montanan Montage...

The tourist slogan for Montana once was "It's Time".  A cerebral concept that makes a thoughtful person ponder. Time for what? Well, to see the incredibleness of the "Big Sky" State! Or in my case, to try and squeeze in as much as I could in two weeks. 

There's a lot to see here.

Montana is the fourth largest state in the Union. There's 147,000 square miles to roam around in. Although I wouldn't mosey onto private property. (Montanans are a well-armed mob. Think Unabomber) 

That's OK. There's still plenty of Federally owned National Parks, Wilderness Areas and Forest Service land to venture upon. 

And that's what this Wandering, Wondering Jew did. I guesstimated I covered over 130 ground miles in search of "Ooos and Ahhh" views. That's my new career. I hike to pretty places. 

See for yourself. 

Many of these pix were shot in Glacier National Park.
In 1910,  Glacier was deemed worthy of National Park status. At the time there were 125 active glaciers. Now, there's  25. The NPS scientists believe those icy holdouts will be history by 2030. The usually conservative National Park Service uses the term "climate change" to explain this phenomenon. For an organization who tries not to step on anyone's toes, this says heaps. 

The Montanan tourism slogan is spot on. It's time. 

Fun MT factoid: There are almost as many elk, antelope and deer per square mile in Montana as there are two-legged animals. (6.1 vs. 6.8). There is no mention if it's OK for those wild hay burners to trespass upon private property. 

So many places to see, so little time.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

In the Summer of 2005...

I took off in hot pursuit of the Nimiipuu Tribe. For us White Folks they are better known as the Nez Perce Indians. I was touring on a bicycle tricked out with four panniers and a duffle bag. That's all I carried for two months and thousands of miles. See? I was into Minimalism before it was cool.

Now about the Nez Perce and what makes them so special: 

The year was 1877 when 750 Nez Perce tribal members and 2,000 ponies left their ancestral homelands for a better future. That's what they had hoped for. They didn't want to be subjugated to a non-nomadic reservation lifestyle. 
Sound familiar?

The Nez Perce's empire once spanned a four state region of what is now Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana. Their territory included large swaths of forests, valleys, plains, canyons and a few notable rivers complete with salmon runs. It was a large piece of Paradise on Earth. After all the shredded treaties, their Real Estate shrunk by 90%. The U.S. Government brokered a ruthless deal. Move to the Reservation or be forced upon it by the Cavalry.  

A few of the clans said in essence, "Screw that!" They became known as the "Non-Treaty Nez Perce." Once again, a group of Native Americans were led by a charismatic leader. His name was Chief Joseph. The bands decided to take their chances on the road. Their immediate goal was to peacefully get away from the U.S. Army. Their long term goal was to join forces with their Allies, The Crow Tribe on the eastern side of the Rockies. In the end, neither plan materialized. 

What followed was a retreat featuring twenty skirmishes and battles. It was a circuitous route of over 1,100 miles designed to keep the Cavalry at bay, avoid White settlements and stay out of range of their Old Time Indian enemies.

They were eventually headed off at the pass by Colonel Nelson Miles in the Bear Paw Mountains of Montana. They were captured a mere 40 miles from the sanctuary of Canada. 

In 1986, the National Park Service commemorated their escape route. It's appropriately  named the Nez Perce Historic Trail. In 2005, I flew into Spokane, Washington reassembled my touring bike at the airport and began my journey of discovery. 

While the Nez Perce were attempting to find freedom, I felt crazy-free while following along on my bicycle. At the time, I doubted if their was a happier dude on the planet.

Now I don't ride much since my sedan/bicycle accident.

BTW: I wrote an article about my flight as well.

However, I'm pleased to report, I still feel incredibly free and very happy.
I'm now using horsepower to get around instead of pedal power.

The photos are from my recent visit to the Big Hole National Battlefield near Wisdom, Montana. Many Nez Perce women, children and Warriors were slaughtered in a surprise attack by the U.S. Cavalry and numerous local volunteers. A successful counter-attack saved the day for the remaining tribe members. Their retreat continued. 

"I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
U-2 lyrics

From Glacier National Park,

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's Bigger than Rhode Island!

Well, so are some Super Walmarts. 

So how big is big? The Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness  can't be bothered to reside in one state. The big chunk lives in Montana. There's a slop-over portion in Wyoming. It takes three National Forests to contain it. In the big picture, it's part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. 

This wild expanse is made up of two distinct mountain ranges. 

The Beartooths are granite based, and occupy an above tree line topography. (That's more my style!) There's not much wild life since animals can't digest rocks. 

The Absaroka's are volcanic in nature. There's lots of trees (except for where I hiked today!) They are home to heaps of mammals, including Ursus horribilis. Better known as the Grizzly Bear. I am scared poopless of animals capable of making me a kosher appetizer.

I hiked two trails in the Absaroka's. They couldn't have been any different. 

My first hike was up to Pine Creek Lake. The payoff was worth the 3,500" of uphill in the five miles to get there. No complaints here. (See the photos). 

My second hike was along the South Fork of Deep Creek up to Davis Pass. There were no trees. In 2012, a careless human started a fire on private property which spread into the National Forest. The blaze incinerated an entire four-mile long valley of mature timber. There were no survivors. Instead of stands of lodgepole pine, spruce and fir, there's stands of fireweed. There's also berries, common Mullen and runty aspens, red maples and miniature lodgepoles. 

It's sad. 

All this devastation caused by one human pyro accident. I'm OK with lightning caused fires. That's Mother Nature, but I get upset over stupidity.

Don't hike the South Fork of Deep Creek for another 100 years. 
Smokey Bear is right. "Only you can prevent wildfires." 

Don't play with matches.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

It's said History is written by...

the winners.  

At the Little Bighorn Battlefield, there were no winners. 

The battle took place in June, 1876. This deadly struggle was the culmination of broken treaties, the uncompromising advance of Manifest Destiny, the clash of cultures who shared no common traits (other than being humans) and a few charismatic leaders. 

The White Folks were led by George Armstrong Custer. He was a Civil War General who led his troops from the front. He was fearless. He had eleven horses shot out from under him. He made great copy for the press. He might have been reckless and lucky. He was totally clueless on battling Indians who didn't follow standard military procedures. 

The Lakota,  Cheyenne and Arapaho were led by Chief Sitting Bull. He was more of a spiritual leader than an X's and O's military strategist. He called the Reservation Indians fools and suck-ups. He exhorted them to join him and his followers and return to their tried and true way of life. Many did just that. When you think about it, the Indians just wanted to be free to live their nomadic lifestyle. I can relate to that. 

Let the battle begin!

Custer's Crow and Arikara Indian scouts spot a large Lakota/Cheyenne/Arapaho  encampment on the banks of the Little Bighorn River. Custer didn't want this prize to escape. He divides his command. A tactic used often in the Civil War by General Lee. 

Major Reno led a surprise attack on the sleepy campers. When the Warriors woke up, Boy! Were they mad! The Braves rallied and chased Reno and his broke down command back across the river. The retreat was anything but orderly. Forty soldiers died trying to make it to higher ground. Captain Benteen's battalion joins Reno on the ridge top. They dig in with a siege mentality mindset. The soldiers hold on for a day and a half.

Custer and his battalion move north along the bluffs to get in front of the encampment.  About this time, the fog of war rears its ugly snout. Custer has lost contact with his beleaguered battalions. He and his 225 Cavalrymen were virtually on their own. No historian knows the moment when Custer realizes that the attackers were now being attacked. Many of his soldiers panic and try to escape the trap. They are cut down. About 41 horsemen and Custer make it to Last Stand Hill. There, they shoot their steeds to serve as breastworks. For a cavalryman, this is the final act of capitulation. The one sided onslaught is over in about thirty minutes. 

Now, all is quiet on this deceptively steep battlefield. White markers indicate the approximate points where the soldiers met their unexpected demise. Red/brown markers indicate where the Native Americans fell defending their way of live. 

The victory was a short lived one. The combatants would eventually end up on Reservations. 

Sitting Bull would die at the hands of his own people in 1890 on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota.

It's a place worth seeing and pondering over.

From the banks of the Yellowstone River near Livingston, Montana.
G' day!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Forty-one years ago...

I walked into Diamond J Bar in Lovell, Wyoming, and made my way through the cigarette smoke, country music and cowboy hats to the main bar. 

I leaned toward the bartender and asked, "KenIhaveapitcherofCoors."

He looked at me funny. 

I had made my request in a rapid-heavy-handed Bronx accent. I might as well have been speaking Swahili. What we had here was a complete failure to communicate.

I tried this approach, "Can-I-have-a-pitcher-of-Coors? Please?"

"Hell! Why didn't you say so in the first place!" 

Well, I sort of did. This was my first realization that things were different in the West.  
I learned from this experience. I needed to speak Western States English. I had to change. The West was where I knew I wanted to be. 

Back to the point of the story:

The next morning, I began my first seasonal gig with the U.S. Forest Service in the Bighorn Mountains of north-central Wyoming. I was assigned to a tree marking crew. This meant we painted many cords of Engelman spruce trees in preparation for a timber sale. The unfortunate ones were painted orange. They would eventually fall to a loggers chainsaw. We were called "Timber Beasts" by our cohorts who had jobs less stressful to the forest than creating small clear cuts. I envied them. My job wasn't fun other than the times we got to spray paint a cow who wandered within our range. 

When the weekend came about, stumbling through the woods was the last thing I wished to do. I was then 21 years old, brimming with testosterone and energy. The bright lights, big city of Sheridan or Story or Lovell or Buffalo, Wyoming beckoned. I visited bars, drank beer and looked at pretty cowgirls. (I still like going to bars and looking at pretty women. Somethings never change.) 

In retrospect, I never got the chance to notice the beauty that was all around me. I was in the freaking work mode. I'm now making amends. I spent over a week and many trail miles in the Cloud Peak Wilderness. It is indeed an amazing place. 

See for yourself. 

BTW: In a round about way, my first gig as a Bighorny led to my eventual career as a firefighter. 

Yes, the West is still the best part of America. In the next few months, I'll prove this with words and photos.

From Garryowens, Montana

PS. In case you missed my first post from Cloud Peak.

Thank You,  LBJ for signing the Wilderness Act of 1964

Thursday, July 14, 2016

It's a bad sign...

when you wake up and see your tent resembling an igloo. 

My plan for the Cloud Peak Wilderness was to hike to the top of its namesake. Easy enough right? The Weather Channel promised me nothing but skin cancer causing sun. In other words great conditions for summiting the 13,166" mountain. 

I went to sleep the night before my hike with no weather concerns. Then I heard the gentle drip, drip, drip sound of Wet Death. It was followed by a Ginger Baker drum solo beating down on my rip stop nylon. Hmmm.  If there's a cold rain at 10,100" then it must be White Death above me. 

Sure enough, from my lower vantage point the mountain was looking like a Ku Klux Klan gathering. One big white cap. I took the Polly Anna approach. Maybe by the time I summited, the snow will be melted off. Good idea except there was more gray matter in the sky than blue matter. It wasn't warm either. 

Cloud Peak is comprised of angular granite boulders ranging in size from toasters to refrigerators. None of the stones reside on a level plain. Add slick White Death and ice to the blend and it makes for a dangerous rock hopping experience. I split my shins a few times when I landed wrong. At least this time, there was no spurting blood. 

I persevered to within 100" of the summit. At this point I had been in motion for four hours. There were no obvious straightforward routes to the top. (Lots of snow!) the wind was in tantrum mode , my shoes and gloves were iced over and ominous clouds were gathering. I retreated. The Mojo wasn't right. 

I get to live another day.

BTW. My first gig out of Forestry School was in the Bighorn National Forest. That was 41 years ago. I've come full-circle once again.

Good night from Ten Sleep, Wyoming 

PS. Many of these pix were shot on the day I should have been on the peak.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Five Years Ago...

This event changed me. 

I'm now walking proof that waking up in a ditch can alter one's perspective about life and death. 

On the third anniversary of my accident, I posted the "what happened" blog. 

Last year I posted possible solutions to curtailing the quiet carnage on the bicycle vs. vehicle battlefield. 

This year, I'll post a story I penned right after the accident. Writing this story was a "no shrink" form of therapy for me. (Think of the money I saved!) In retrospect, I know I was damaged both inside and out by that wayward sedan.

I named the yarn "A Second Chance." This might also explain why I'm famous for my heavy metal hugs. 

     Late lunch? Bonus miles in Glacier National Park? Early Happy Hour?

     These were some of my random thoughts as I huffed up the final pull toward the summit of Marias Pass. I was en route on my bicycle from West Glacier, Montana., to East Glacier on what was supposed to be a mellow seven to ten day circumnavigation of the Glacier/Waterton National Park complex. I was a mere half hour from completing these decisions when I was thrust into a cave.

     Total darkness … no sound … no brakes screeching … no thud of my body smashing the sedan’s windshield … no noise as I went rolling and tumbling across 35 feet of asphalt and gravel. When I awoke in a ditch, a Good Samaritan was applying spinal traction to my neck. The peripheral vision from my left eye saw the drip, drip, drip of blood oozing from my nose. My right eye was swollen shut.

     “What happened?” I asked weakly.

     “You got rear-ended by a car. Don’t move!” she answered. She then called out, “He’s coming around. I’ll need some help here.”

     I estimated I had checked out of planet Earth for five to ten minutes. First responders in civilian clothes assisted me as they poked and plodded my body and took primary and secondary surveys of my injuries.

     “Can you move your feet? Can you wiggle them? Squeeze my hands. Are you having trouble breathing?”

     The questions came fast and furious: I passed the tests with flying colors. My spinal column was not severed. I was alert enough to pick up a distinct British accent from the crowd gathering above me. I got his attention.

     “Was it you who hit me?”

     “Yes. I was sightseeing and looking at the mountains and drifted into you.”

     I might have said a few choice words to him, but I don’t recall. I don’t remember much, although I remember he never said he was sorry.

     An ambulance from Browning arrived and I was placed on an unforgiving backboard and cervical collar. We raced back to the ER with the emergency lights on and sirens blaring. It was a bumpy, rough ride as we careened down the pass and through a construction zone. A paramedic attempted two sticks to get an IV into me and failed both times.

     “Please don’t stick me again. I hurt enough already. They can do that in the ER under better conditions. I promise I won’t die before then.”

     “OK. We can hold off on it.”


    At the ER, a doctor made her orders known. “He’ll need a CAT-Scan of his head. Get a set of X-rays for his neck, chest and spine. Set him up with an IV ASAP. We’ll need to monitor his vital signs.”

     The nurses and technicians efficiently carried out her orders. I was then in the hurry-up-and-wait mode of emergency medicine. A nursing student gently dabbed the grit, grime and dried blood from my many facial wounds and multiple areas of road rash. I even had road rash on the tops of my feet. Apparently, the force of the impact literally knocked me out of my shoes.

     The compassionate ER doctor came to my side to survey the carnage to my face. She held my hand as she said, “Those lacerations and avulsions will need the care of a plastic surgeon. I can stitch them for you, but they can do a better job. Would you like me to arrange a helicopter transport to Kalispell Regional Medical Center? We can have a plastic surgeon waiting for you.”

     “Please do. I am not a handsome man to begin with and I can use all the help I can get.” With that sad news, I knew my Hollywood contract as George Clooney’s double would surely be terminated. Shucks!

     “We’ll arrange it. The CAT-Scan of your head and brain came out with negative findings. That is a good thing. We are waiting now for the radiologist to evaluate your neck, chest and spine X-rays.”

     “Thanks for all the help. Can I get off of this backboard? It is really beginning to hurt me. I’m OK. I can move all of my parts.”

     “Please wait a few minutes until we get the radiologist report. This is all precautionary.”

     “OK. I’ll try.” The pressure point where my head contacted the backboard was starting to throb.

     A few minutes later, (which seemed much longer) the nice ER doctor came back. Once again she held my hand.

     “I have bad news. The radiologist found 11 fractures in your first 11 vertebrae. You have a broken sternum, too. There will be a neurosurgeon waiting for you in Kalispell, also.”

     “What? How can that be? I can move all of my parts. Are you sure those were my X-rays?”

     “Yes, those were your X-rays. You will get the best of care in Kalispell. I have a special place in my heart for bicycle riders. My son was killed by a driver 20 years ago when he was riding a bike. We will take care of you.”

     No wonder she was holding my hand.

     The helicopter flight crew came and checked me out. “We will hold off on the morphine drip until we get you to Kalispell. Jeff, we are going to give you a scenic ride over Glacier National Park. I am sorry to say you won’t get a chance to enjoy the views.”

     With little fanfare, I was loaded and airborne. They had placed painkillers in my IV, so I became groggy, blurry and disconnected. I remember taking a peek at the snowcapped mountains below. Alas, I would not get to enjoy my $11,000 taxi ride to Kalispell. This was all business.

     Upon arrival to my second ER of the day, a plastic surgeon went to work on my tenderized face.  

     “I will try to stitch you to minimize the scarring. However, there will be some scarring no matter what.” All in all, 20 stitches were applied to my eyebrows and right cheek. When she was done she asked. “Would you like to see my work in a mirror?”

     “Sure!” I steadied myself for the view. OMG! I was staring at a mini-version of Frankenstein. My mug was enough to make a child cry. Dating would truly be more challenging in my future.

     It was time to get past the cosmetics. A large neurosurgeon with sandy-colored hair and a stoic bedside manner approached me. “We won’t be operating on you. With all of your breaks, we would not even know where to begin. Your spinal column is intact and not being impinged upon. We will place you in ICU and monitor your X-rays. We will hope there are no radical changes or shifts in your column. Now it is time for you to go on a morphine drip." 

     “One question please. What is my long term prognosis?”

     “We don’t know. We don’t see many patients like you.”

     “Why is that?”

     “Because they are usually dead.”

     I whispered a lame, “Oh!”

     The next few days on the morphine drip were a haze of dreaming and snippets of reality thrown in. Concerned friends and family members phoned me. I have no recollection of the conversations. I do recall the nursing staff getting me up and out of bed. I even walked up a flight of steps under their watchful eyes.  

    Best of all, my older brother Mike arrived from New York City to take care of his “baby” brother. I wept shamelessly as he entered the room. He went on to prove once again why he is the best brother in the world.

     Four days after the impact, I was discharged from the hospital. My post-discharge orders were written out and terse. “Do Not Remove the Brace!” It looked like sponge baths and partial shampoos would be my method of hygiene for awhile. Gross.

     Mike and I began a 1,000-mile journey south to my old hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. He drove and I navigated. The plan was for me to get a second opinion from another  neurosurgeon in the "Choice City." I also was offered a place to stay in order to convalesce in familiar surroundings. 

     I told Mike a few times: “I always wanted to take a road trip with you, but this is not what I had in mind.”

     Eight days after the accident, Mike and I listened to neurosurgeon number two, a no-nonsense, no-sugar-coating doctor who calls it like he sees it. He does not believe in small-talk. I suppose after 35 years in the game, he has that right.

     “Your vertebrae fractures are mild. You do have a definite broken sternum. I believe you will heal OK. We will take another set of X-rays in a few weeks to see if there are any changes. I doubt there will be. I’ll see you again in three weeks.”

     In my former life, I worked for 28 years as a firefighter/EMT for the city of Fort Collins. In emergency services, the term “mechanism of injury” is bandied about to predict the outcome of an accident.

    A small, 138-pound man being struck from behind by a sedan traveling at more than 50 mph is an obvious assault upon the body. Humans are not wired to survive such an ordeal. During my career, I went on calls for three similar bicycle accidents. For those unfortunate victims, there was no tomorrow. The one and only thing that separated me from them was my use of a bicycle helmet.

     Now in Fort Collins, I meet former lovers, friends and acquaintances on the street. I smile grandly as I maneuver in to hug them. If the hug lingers long enough, I usually score a life affirming squeeze at the end. I make sure to pay back that squeeze in kind.

     Second chances in life are precious. I do not wish to squander this one.



Yes, that personal calamity led to this. See Photo Two.

My advice to you; figure out what's important in your life. Try and follow those trails where the final destination is happiness. That's my IPA philosophy in simple terms. 

Photo Three. Do you think I should replace Barley the Van with this? 

Cheers! I'm back on the road in Barley the Van.

Bighorn Mountains here we come!

I'm beginning a two month roll around the West. This ought to be a good one.

Please look in to see America the Beautiful on this blog.


PS. For further reading please check out:

Monday, July 4, 2016

And the Winner

Of the Great Wandering Wondering Jew Sweepstakes is….


Thanks to all who played along. 

The contest didn't quite turn out the way I hoped it would. I couldn't entice anyone whom I didn't know to come out of the closet and be counted.

Maybe next time I'll have a sponsor (Bissell Brothers Brewing! Are you listening?) and present a bigger carrot.

Have a Happy, Healthy and Safe July 4th,

Freedom is not free...

When the Second Amendment (the right to keep and bear Arms) was penned into the Bill of Rights in 1791, the United States consisted of the Original Thirteen Colonies plus one. There were less than four million citizens in all the States.

The Founding Fathers could never have imagined a United States spanning from Sea to Shining Sea (plus two detached states) with 324,000,000 citizens. (The term Manifest Destiny wasn't coined until 1845.) Yes, that''s an unfathomable amount of change in 225 years. 

In 1791, the weapons of choice were muskets (3-4 shots/minute) and single shot pistols. The Founding Fathers weren't Star Wars" visionaries. They didn't foresee a U.S. where ordinary citizens could legally purchase semi-automatic weapons capable of inflicting heavy casualties. These are Arms of mass destruction. 

Times change, people change and laws need to change. Semi-automatic weapons aren't reasonable under the guise of Second Amendment rights. AR-15's and other keep-pulling-the-trigger-until-you-need-a-new-clip weapons weren't the intent of the Second Amendment. 

The Founding Fathers were reasonable men. The U.S. Constitution  was written during the Age of Reason (or Enlightenment.)
From a West Georgia University article: a new age enlightened by reason, science, and respect for humanity

There's the kicker! Respect for humanity! 

It's time to find a common ground on the issue of gun control. Like so many Americans, I'm fed up with the NRA's unyielding stance concerning their sacred Second Amendment rights. 

What about the rights of the kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut?

What about the rights of the college kids at Virginia Tech University?

What about the rights of those popcorn eating movie goers in Aurora, Colorado? 

What about the rights of the nightclubbing adults in Orlando, Florida?

They can't speak up for their rights. These victims have been silenced forever. 

Back in the day when I was in the work mode, a fellow firefighter (who I hardly ever agreed with) opined.
"A well-armed society is a polite society."

In my world a well-armed society is one spiraling toward anarchy and chaos. It might be fun to watch a "Mad Max" movie, but I wouldn't want to live in it. 

Sometimes we need to give up a few freedoms just so others won't be denied theirs.  
I'm OK with that. 

America is still a great big beautiful country to live in. Come along this summer and I'll show you. 

Have a safe and Happy Fourth of July,