Friday, August 15, 2008

Meet Me in Montana

The group as of Saturday Morning, August 2nd, 2008
Taken at St. Regis Montana (Fuji disposable camera)
Kevin and I are front row on right behind dogs

Won't you meet me in Montana.
I wanna see the mountains in your eyes.
Woah, woah, I had all of this life I can handle.
Meet me underneath that big Montana sky.

--Dan Seals

A bit of history. In 1982, I rode (a horse, that is) in the Grand Entry of the Reno Gay Rodeo. I made a pair of leather chaps from a dyed red hide I purchased at Tandy, had a friend make me a cowboy shirt with a blue bandana print on the cuffs and yoke, and put it all together with a pair of blue 501s, a Resistol Silver Belly hat and Tony Lama boots. Did I look like a cowboy? Probably not, but I was dressed to the nines and carried the Montana flag proudly. Joan Rivers was the Grand Marshall that year, and I got to be real close to her in her pre-botox days.

By the late 1980s, a group of guys living in the Billings area started the Big Sky Gay Rodeo Association for Montana and northern Wyoming. I joined the group and got their t-shirt. In 1995, a friend and I traveled to Phoenix with the intent of buying a business. The purchase fell through, but my friend and I attended the Phoenix Gay Rodeo and had a ball. That is the sum total of my gay rodeo experience. Until the first weekend of August, 2008, that is.

In 2006, Jeff Taylor and John Tomes opened their Cowboy Up Ranch near St. Regis, Montana, for a weekend of camping, dancing, floating the river and making good friends. The weekend was called “Meet Me In Montana,” and was sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Gay Rodeo Association. Somehow I managed to get on their mailing list and read about the gathering, but as I was in California looking after my mother, I was not able to attend.

The second annual gathering happened in 2007 as I was getting ready to set out on the 6,000 Mile Sunday Drive. Again, circumstances did not allow me to attend, but I was determined to make it to the 2008 weekend.

With that goal in mind, Kevin and our friend Mike spent a Sunday afternoon in late July putting the camper back on the pickup. The camper has been sitting up by the cabin for quite some time. (I unloaded it from the pickup long before I headed to California.) The camper was dirty inside; some of the expected gear was missing, and one jack had lost all its hydraulic fluid and would not support the weight of the 11 foot long beast. While I went into Stevensville to look for hydraulic fluid, Kevin and Mike managed to get the camper off the ground, onto the pickup, and off the mountain. I’m glad I wasn’t there to watch.

There were, of course, other problems with the camper, but Kevin assured me that we could get it fully functional, and by cracky, we did—almost. OK, the air conditioner needs to be recharged, and the heater isn’t working properly, but all the water lines are now good and we can use the sinks, the toilet, and the showers. Yes, it has two showers: one inside and one outside.

Friday, August 1st, we drove west on Interstate 90 heading toward St. Regis and the 2008 Meet Me In Montana gathering. It was a beautiful day to be heading into the country, and all went well until we passed a motor home near Superior. For you history buffs, the very first Gideon Bible was placed in a hotel room in Superior, Montana way back in 1908. One hundred years later, as we were nearing the town, our truck began a bump and grind that had me grabbing the door trying to hold it in place. A roadside inspection showed that all tires were fully inflated, and the tread all looked good, so we weren’t suffering from a flat. Kevin assumed that we had lost the balancing weights from the front passenger side tire, and appeared relatively unconcerned as we drove the final fifteen miles to St Regis at a reduced speed. As for me, well what do I know? Kevin is the one with the CDL and the big rig driving experience. If he wasn’t concerned, why should I be.

Once at the Cowboy Up Ranch, we found a relatively level spot in the area set aside for trucks and trailers. Having claimed our spot, we walked over to the only other vehicle parked in the area—a truck and horse/camper trailer rig from Moscow Idaho. Three men and two women from the Moscow/Pullman area were happily sipping cocktails while their horses were pastured in the next field. We introduced ourselves and settled in with them.

Over the next few hours, more guests arrived, setting up tents on the ranch house lawn. While we expected folk from Washington, Idaho and Montana, we learned just how wide a circle Jeff’s email reached as we gathered at the fire pit for the early evening Meet and Greet. Joe was from northern Louisiana. Kirk from Boston. Carlos from Barcelona—yes the one in Spain. All told there were folk from eleven states, Canada, Spain and Switzerland. Were they all cowboys? Hardly. But it was a great group of men and women.

It became obvious that many of the people present were old friends. I was able to reconnect with some friends of my own—men I hadn’t seen in years. Abe and Dave drove down from Bigfork with their four dogs. Roger came from Missoula. Tim and Bill drove over from Heron. I hadn’t seen any of these men since before I went to California. I was pleased to be able to introduce them to Kevin, and he now has several more friends than before.

In talking with Kirk from Boston, I learned that he was interested in geocaching but had never actually been out hunting for hidden treasure. I had done my homework and I knew that there was one (just one) cache in the St Regis area. There was no way I was going to move the pickup, but since Kirk had a rental car, I asked if he’d be interested in finding the cache. According to my Garmin GPS unit, the cache was just about two miles from the ranch.

On the west side of the town of St Regis, there is a nature trail that winds through a swampy area. As Kirk and I hiked, we came to a dead tree on the ground just off the trail. Kirk informed me that he was not about to put his hands in that mess, and I assured him that the cache was almost certain to be exactly where he was loathe to venture. Sure enough, I was right. We found the cache easily, and I reminded myself once again that I should always carry heavy gloves with me for just such a find. Hey, I’m not all that keen on putting my bare hands and arms into dark, dank places where a cache is likely to be guarded by all manner of creepy crawlies.

The Barn where we danced
Taken at St. Regis, Montana
August 2nd, 2008

Back at the ranch, we dined on excellent chicken enchiladas, then gathered in the barn for an evening of dancing, story telling, and catching up with friends. We began by learning a round dance mixer—the Barn Dance. Some two-stepping, some line dancing, and a waltz or two followed, but most folk stayed on the sidelines chatting with old friends and making new ones. It was sort of like the old junior high school dances where no one actually danced.

I have no idea how late things went on. Kevin and I headed for the camper and our bed long before midnight. Saturday was going to be a full day and we needed our beauty rest.

Saturday morning dawned gray and dreary. We had heard some raindrops on the camper roof during the night, and while the ground was relatively dry, the sky did not bode well for a day spent on the river. Nonetheless, after breakfast some thirty men and women boarded an old school bus for the ride to our put-in point on the Clark Fork.

There are three major rivers that carry water out of Montana. The most famous are the Missouri and the Yellowstone, both of which flow east from Montana into North Dakota and then continue on to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. The Clark Fork of the Columbia flows west into Idaho. It has the largest volume of the three and there are places between Missoula and the Idaho state line where the river is a raging torrent.

I had signed up for the river float, but I was not sure which stretch we would follow. Accordingly, I left the Nikon in the camper and brought along a disposable water-proof Fuji. There was no way I was going to risk losing my gear to the river rapids. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The river we rode that Saturday was remarkably flat.

Pushing the bus off the road
Taken at St. Regis, Montana
August 2nd, 2008 (Fuji Disposable Camera)

Getting to the river turned out to be the biggest adventure of the day. Shortly after our bus left I-90 at the Sloway exit, it began losing power. Less than a mile down the road, our driver/guide pulled the bus over and stopped. A few people got off the bus for a cigarette break, and the owner of the home in front of which we were parked, came out to see if we needed help. Well, actually, we did. We were still two miles from the rafts, and the bus wasn’t going to move another inch. Our knight in shining pickup truck (two points if you recognize that line) loaded us in his truck’s bed and ferried us to the rafts.

Once at the water’s edge, we divided ourselves among three rafts, three inflatable kayaks and a large inner tube. Several of the rafters had water cannons and I have to admit, had the day been bright and sunny, the prospect of getting soaked would have been fun. Instead, I was more worried about hypothermia than heat stroke. August 2nd, and we’re wondering if Summer is over.

To add to our fun, the wind came up, and was blowing from the West. There were places on the river where we had to paddle continuously just to keep the rafts from blowing upstream. We began to wonder if we’d be home in time for supper.

The various misadventures and the uncooperative weather didn’t dampen our spirits however, and as we floated we saw osprey, hawks, a golden eagle, a group of bald eagles, geese, mergansers, and several smaller birds. Had I had the Nikon and a long lens, you’d be seeing these birds as well. Alas the Fuji wasn’t up to the task.

Eventually the St Regis bridges came in sight and we knew we’d be back at the ranch soon. As the bus was still out of commission, Jeff and some of the guests who hadn’t floated the river met us on the bank and drove us home—again in the back of pickup trucks. It was just like being a kid again, getting to ride in the pickup bed.

Camping on the lawn of the Cowboy Up Ranch
Taken at St Regis, Montana
August 2nd, 2008

Saturday’s dinner was steak, after which we adjourned to the barn where we danced the Barn Dance once again. We two-stepped to Marie Osmond singing “Meet Me in Montana,” and the band played on into the night. (Click on the link to see and hear Marie singing.) I watched handsome men moving in sync to “Dizzy,” but try as I might, I couldn’t get the choreography down to dance with them. “Dizzy” is a line-dance that everyone assumes you know, so no one ever teaches it. Once home, I went on-line and found the directions. Next time I’ll be able to dance with those handsome men.

Once again, Kevin and I turned in early. I heard no raindrops over night, and Sunday we awoke to a beautiful, clear blue sky. Jeff served up a scrumptious Sunday brunch, and we said our goodbyes. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was a happy camper. Kevin and I had a great time and we look forward to next year’s gathering. And yes, we’re going to join the Pacific Northwest Gay Rodeo Association. Ya never know when you’ll need a cowboy around.

By the way, I took along my kite bag, and was able to get five of my stunt kites into the air at one time or another. Here’s a picture of truck, camper and kites as set up on the Cowboy Up Ranch grounds. Oh, and the bumpy ride, it turned out, was caused by the belts in a fairly new Michelin radial which were in the process of separating. We got home and bought a new tire. Problem solved.

Our Home Away from Home
Taken at St. Regis, Montana
August 3rd, 2008

To see all my pictures from the weekend, go to my Picasa on line gallery here.


hotproof said...

What an enjoyable read! The words flowed like a river.

I can vouch thru experience the enjoyment of being a spectator at gay rodeo events. I've been to the rodeos in Phoenix (3 times), "Albuquirky", and Palm Springs. Also,I once drove to attend a Windy City rodeo, which for some reason, didn't materialize that particular year. But I still had a good time in Chicago (other diversions).

And then, multiple moons ago, I had attended two-step & line dancing practice at a local "watering hole". I was okay with the less complicated dance moves, but after drinking too much "water", the complex dance steps wouldn't register with me. Alas, I gave that up, both dance & drinking of the fire water. But its really all about the fun socializing, eh?

I especially liked the colorful photo of your "home away from home" with grounded stunt kites. I did notice the flag on the back of the camper. At initial glance, I thought maybe that's the Montana State Flag, since you mentioned that flag earlier on in your story.

But, on enlarged inspection of that photo, and my having been around the block too many times to count, I gathered the "black and blue with love" details. Has anyone ever figured what the single white stripe represents on that flag? No "oro y plata" on that flag!

Lastly, I'll divulge here that I'm "secretly fond" of certain cowboys, being that they make my heartbeat giddy up! (wink)

redwinecarl said...

Great read Bryan! Sounds like a fun time and you made me feel like I was there for part of it.