Yes Virginia, there is a place where it is not over 100 degrees. If you read it in the Up & Coming Weekly it must be true. This is the annual “What I Did on My Summer Vacation Column.” In odd numbered years, the Pittman Cousins take a trip to a semi-exotic location. We rent a house for a week to get together at an occasion other than a funeral. This year, nine of us went to Yellowstone National Park to see the bears, geysers and French tourists. We stayed outside of West Yellowstone, which is a T-shirt selling town at the edge of the park. Montana is the Shoshone word for Land of Bat Sized Vampire Mosquitos.
Despite becoming gradually calendar impaired, our group maintained a very vigorous physical schedule. Mountain climbing, horse back riding and zip lining jammed the agenda. It was like being on vacation with the Kennedys except without the excessive drinking, loose women and impaired driving. Being on Eastern Daylight Time, which is the King James version of time, I would wake up ﬁ rst each morning. One morning I scraped frost off the car’s windshield. That’s right, real frost. The weather in Yellowstone is just like in North Carolina, except that it is entirely different. No heat, no humidity. While Fayetteville was on full broil, Yellowstone was frosty. The mosquitos must sleep in North Face parkas at night to keep from freezing.
There are lots of wild critters in Yellowstone. Bison, elk and bears abound. It was easy to spot the animals. You drive along until you see a bunch of rental cars stopped on the road and look for the tourists pointing cameras. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we would also pull off the road to photograph the local fauna. I was so good at ﬁnding bears that once I was the ﬁ rst one to spot a bear before the other tourists stopped. We got out and started taking pictures of the bear who thoughtfully remained still for us. Soon other tourists stopped and jammed the road behind our car. It was a bear festival. Eventually we realized that the bear was not moving because he was a stump. A bear shaped stump, but a stump nonetheless. I returned to the car ﬁlled with shame and heaped with abuse from my relatives.
Not being crazy about heights, I declined to participate in our zip-line outing. Montana zip lining consists of being hooked to a wire by a 20-something slacker and sliding in mid air between recycled telephone poles of questionable stability. My own personal wife, Lani, went on this adventure. All was well until the zip between the last two stations. Lani was the last zippee. Not being a person of signiﬁcant heaviness, she didn’t quite make it to the last station. She slipped back and hung out above a river. This sort of thing happens. The preferred procedure is for the zip guide in front to slide back out and pull the stranded zippee back to the stand. As she likes heights, Lani was happily hanging over the river pending rescue. She was waiting to be hauled in like a kite to the relative safety of a rickety telephone pole when trouble arrived.
As Paul Newman once said in Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” The guide behind her somehow failed to notice that she was dangling in a position of helpless peril over the river. Perhaps his mind was focused on the raising of the U.S. debt limit instead of his job. Who knows? In any event he launched himself out on the zip line, realizing too late that a customer was hanging out in front of him like a pinata. Much to Lani’s surprise, without warning he whammed into her back. Miraculously, he did not knock her into the river or break any signiﬁcant bones or organs.
She was shaken but not stirred as a result of the collision. Fortunately no permanent damage was done. She is small but wiry. We celebrated her near-death experience at Bugaboo’s saloon at the edge of a Montana lake with some Guinness stout.
The next day we went horseback riding. I admit to being the world’s worst cowboy. My hand was glued to the pommel the entire time to keep from falling off. Our trail guide was a cheerful psychotic named Stephanie who spent most of the ride turned around backwards explaining the scenery to us. At best, I was totally miserable during the four hours of the ride. Horses are large. They can make you sore where you would prefer not to be sore. The tour ended with a Dead Man’s Curve ride along a ledge that stretched hundreds of feet above a canyon promising death and destruction to anyone who fell in. I relied on my horse, Demon Seed, to know what he was doing and thus survived the ledge. I swore a mighty oath this was my last horse back ride..