I went on a 50 mile hike in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (Montana) the week before last. The trail is called “the Beaten Path”. That doesn’t really mean much. It wasn’t rock climbing or cliff scaling, but it wasn’t far removed at times. Or at least it seemed that way with our heavy backpacks and the average of ten miles we covered each day. Two good friends (from Cheyenne, Wyoming) and I camped below the mountains on Saturday night (August 3rd). A $9 fee and the roads on the way there were still super-crappy. What gives? Wasn’t that supposed to be one of the things governments were good at?
Add to that my $26 fishing license (right in the middle of the year-long season, and just past the height of that season) and we’ve already been taken for 35 Federal Reserve Notes. I understand the need for wise management, but does licensing really solve it (to say nothing of the natural right to catch fish)? I’m not so sure. Charging everybody the same fees for what end up being different costs imposed by them can’t be anything but inefficient. In my case, it incentivizes me to go out and fish more than I otherwise would, imposing more costs, just to make it worth getting the license. Considering that I never catch anything, I have a lot of fishing to squeeze between now and the season’s end.
Just how bad is my fishing? I brought a nice little pole that comes with a cast reel and a fly reel. I stimulated the local economy by purchasing several fancy new lures (having temporarily misplaced my other good ones). What could go wrong? Well, within the first five casts my lure got snagged on a rock at about 6 feet depth. I had to wade out to three feet of depth and alternately jerk and loosen my line from several positions to get it unstuck. Nothing I hadn’t had to do before.
I should have quit while I was ahead. Maybe another five casts later I outdid myself. If it weren’t for the fact that my reel had become loosened from the rod I know it would have been my farthest cast yet. Instead, the entire reel went flying out into the lake and the rest of the line hung up on the rod. Not wanting to lose my reel, I panicked and dove in after it. I figured, “8 feet? This will be a cinch!” After going head first to the bottom (the sun was behind the clouds and I was stirring up the mud, so I couldn’t see it) four or five times I decided it would be best to pull on the line until it was completely unraveled and hope that it was tied to the reel. Luckily it was. I was happy to recover all my gear, but I was soaking wet and the sun wasn’t out. Luckily no one witnessed my floundering. No doubt my friends would have gotten a kick out of it.
On my way back to camp, dripping, shivering, holding my tangled line and my dismembered pole I was stopped by some ranger chick (the US Forest Service is an agency of the US Department of Agriculture). Just what I needed. She detained me for about five minutes to ask me where I was from, where I was going, how far away our campfire was from the lake, whether we knew not to burn our soup cans, etc. She was at least nice about it (heck, she didn’t even mention the Glock 40 belonging to my friends’ brother, strapped to my belt, or ask to see my fishing license) and eventually realized how uncomfortable I was and said she would come to our campsite later to finish her lecture. Which, of course, she did. She had no problem telling us that we were her worst demographic, three young men. Can you imagine a police officer saying that to a black teenager in a large urban area? I’d say that’s profiling, but I digress. She told us she was going to be off for the next two days but when she came back she would be checking up on us. Add to the profiling some harassment. We had yet to be told or to admit that we had broken any “rules” (which, of course, we had). Luckily we managed to evade her the rest of the hike, but we made sure not to have any extra fun lest we incur her wrath.
So I was basically done fishing on the first day unless I wanted to fly-fish or untangle my other line. I did try a little fly-fishing at one lake a few days later but didn’t catch anything. Luckily, four or five gentleman from Chicago (with thick former-Soviet bloc accents) whom we camped near saw I had no luck and offered us some of their surplus. Five fresh trout. Of course, we had to gut them ourselves, but it was worth it. I wrapped them in aluminum foil and seasoned with lemon juice, garlic, dill, black pepper, red pepper, and salt. Then I put them on our grill over our camp fire for 20 minutes. If I swallowed any bones, I didn’t notice. As a courtesy, in the morning we gave them a package of noodles we would have otherwise eaten the night before. Does that qualify more as reciprocal gifting or as barter? I hope for their sake those boys had their Montana fishing licenses (better yet, that they didn’t have them but managed to dodge the rangers), though as out-of-staters it would have cost them an arm and a leg.
We camped again the night we got back down. Another $9. 46 FRNs total. Roads were still pretty bad. No hand sanitizer or lights in the bathroom facilities. Almost no good firewood other than some dead, dried pine boughs and a giant old stump which we put set aflame around 7:30 PM. It took two of us to drag it to the fire and all three of us to lift it into the fire. A lot of the weight came from the few large stones that the root system had wrapped itself around. It was 3:30 AM before I decided to douse the fire. The stump was still there. It was a lot smaller, and in two pieces, but still could have burned another hour or two on its own. My one friend had turned in around 11, the other one was up with me until about 2. I knew if I went to bed as early as they I would be awake, tossing and turning after only a couple hours’ rest. Plus, being a night owl, I couldn’t help it.
I’m not sure what our backpacks weighed, but even a week after we got back (on August 9th), my shoulders were still a little stiff, and even now, two weeks later, my right knee aches when I straighten my leg out. Even with all this, I had a great time.