It’s a little counterintuitive to pack your bags and leave home when last weekend looked like this:
And your quick tour after work on Tuesday looked like this:
But yesterday evening, I watched the Tetons glow pink and stark against the Idaho farmland through my rearview mirror, then disappear.
As is my tradition when leaving Driggs, Idaho, Josh Ritter’s cover of Blame it on the Tetons fills Freja, my overloaded Scion. Named after the viking goddess of fertility, she always looks a little “large with child,” and this time, it’s a precious cargo of unreviewed ski gear she’s carrying.
I’m headed north with skis from Kitten Factory, boots from Fischer, outerwear from Mountain Equipment, and a backpack from Thule. I’ve also got a few pounds of bacon, gummy worms, and chocolate chips with me, but there aren’t currently plans to subject them to in-depth reviews.
This trip won’t really start till Friday, when I hop the border with a group of skiers I don’t really know yet and head up to the Jumbo Glacier hut near Golden, BC. While none of us have visited the area, I once heard it described as “what would happen if Chamonix had a baby with Alaska,” which sounds just fine to me. The area also recently was the subject of a film by Patagonia and Sweetgrass.
For now, I’ve got a nine-hour drive from Driggs to Moscow, Idaho, which has led me to a gas station in Anaconda, Montana.
The turn-off for Anaconda happens to lie exactly at the point in this journey where I start to realize I’m almost out of gas. Unfortunately, while the sign mentions a gas station in Anaconda, it fails to state that that station lies a solid 20 minutes from the highway.
Inside there’s a hotdog bar with vegetables of an unknown age, gallon-sized bags of popcorn for 99 cents, and a Mountain Dew slushy machine.
Thus equipped and refueled, I’m ready to hit the road again, until, as I sit back down in Freja, the stereo booms out with Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York. Again.
It always does that, actually, because the sorority girl I bought Freja from left Swift’s 1989 CD in the car—an unexpected bonus from the sale that has blessed me in countless ways.
Still, after two months of listening to that album everywhere I go, I am ready for something different.
Back inside the gas station, I ask the lady at the counter if she has any CDs?
Her nametag says Jocelyn, and she’s got a tattoo peeking out from her sleeve of what looks like a constipated cat eating a snowman. Or maybe it’s a rose surrounded by thorny hearts.
She reaches below the stand of smutty magazines behind the counter, says, “We’ve only got two,” and pulls out Adele’s 25 and Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller.
I know just enough about the people that I’ll be in Jumbo with to be sure that there will be plenty of Adele hollered out on the skin track, so I reach for Underwood.
It’s clear Jocelyn doesn’t think much of Adele.
“Track five is mah favorite” she continues as she takes my card.
Track five is called Smoke Break, and as I pull back onto the highway Jocelyn is taking hers.
It turns out that I’m partial to track three, which chronicles a young lady who poisons her abusive husband, then goes to church. All the Carrie Underwood songs I’ve heard before have had this sort of theme, so I appreciate the familiarity.
Miles later and halfway into my fourth time through Storyteller, my bladder and the gas gauge dictate my final stop, St Regis.
St Regis is home to the St Regis Travel Center, Casino, Gift Shop, Restaurant, and Live Trout Aquarium.
It’s also home to my favorite photograph in the world. Amid a mishmash of mountain goat paintings and sunset photos sits this masterpiece:
It’s been there for at least three years now, probably longer. Beyond the unique visual quality of the thing, the backstory intrigues me: How did the photographer convince the model this was a good idea? Who is the prospective customer for this photo? And does the target audience have $179 (marked down from $199) to spend on this work of art? Why is it called “Soft Touch”?
But maybe that’s not the point of art. Maybe it’s not supposed to give us the answers, maybe we’re just supposed to take in the softly backlit belly fuzz, cut off from any face or identity, and move on with our lives as changed, better people.
Regardless, the St Regis Travel Center, Etc. has the Johnny Cash Greatest Hits CD and hopefully the Man in Black will be enough to pull me through to Moscow.
Tomorrow, we’ll turn up the Adele, make sure our skins are folded neatly and our probes are packed, and head to the Great White North.