Chapter 22 - "long underpanties"

We decided to journey beyond the foothills into the mountains to see if we could spot some elk, mountain sheep, or bear. It’s funny how the really wild animals only live in the rustic and rugged terrain of the Rockies. They don’t roam in the tame flatlands where the deer and the antelope play. They make their home where homes cannot be built. They find their comfort in discomfort. They are most alive where the risk of imminent death looms large and hovers like a brooding demon poised to pounce on the soul of its unsuspecting victim. These animals live where man only dares visit. This is what magnetizes a man like me and sucks me out of same ‘ole, standard, stationary living into the dicey deep of danger. Something feral instead sterile. Something wild instead of mild.

As we retraced our tracks back into town, I felt my heart surging in my chest cavity. Heaving and hyperventilating. My nostrils were flaring. My fingers where tapping the arm rest. My eyes were darting erratically trying to take in the virgin landscape. Part of me still couldn’t believe we were finally here and that we were beyond the alleged to the actual. No more talking about. No more hoping for. It was time to step out of the flight simulator and into the cockpit of the F-16. Out of the data into the drama. Out of the statistics into the story. I could feel the right of passage from knowing about into knowing. The difference is visceral.

We rolled into town mid afternoon and hit the General Store again. Due to the inclement weather, I needed long johns, thermal skivvies, elongated under-panties so to speak. I’ve grow up in the snow belt all my life, so nasty conditions have never bothered me much, but something was telling me that my running sneakers and a pair of Old Navy jeans weren’t going to cut it when the wind howled down through the valleys like the violent force of air being blown through a straw. I’d heard of the unannounced shift in weather patterns in the mountains and the casualties caused by egotistical ignorance. So wearing fairy pants under my slacks was not a mountain I was going to die on that particular day.

As we opened the thick, old door to the store, bells rang to alert the employees of our arrival. Doug walked over to the checkout counter and asked the owner whether they had any long johns. He smirked and shook his head while squinting his left eye. You could tell he was almost sure they had sold out during the worst of the winter months. They were starting to stock late spring and summer clothing. He humored us by taking us to the place where they typically were hanging in all their glory. Sure enough, the rack was vacant. I found myself starting to wonder about a Plan B. Just then, the unthinkable occurred.

“I think I’ve got some upstairs in my dresser drawer that you could borrow.” I wasn’t sure if I was hearing this or if my mind was making this up due to an overwhelming sleep deficiency. Did this 70+ year old man just offer to let me “borrow” his long underwear? “They are a little worn out, but they will do the trick.” Did he just say they are a little worn out? Who offers their underwear to perfect strangers wanting to take a hike into the mountains? I couldn’t help but think of my wife’s response to this offer if she were standing by my side in that moment. It would go something like this… “There isn’t a snowball’s chance in H-E-double hockey sticks that you’re slithering your lanky legs into someone else’s used, worn out, long underpants and planning on sleeping next to me for the next six months!!” This only made the desire to actually accept the offer more titillating. Without a second thought I said, “If you don’t mind I’m cool with that.” And with that he went up to his apartment above the store and found a top-and-bottom set of thermals. Minutes later he threw them down on the counter and said, “They have some holes in them, but it’s the best I got.” I nabbed them off the counter and moments later we were heading west toward the dam that fed the Sun River.

We stopped off the side of the road as we moved out of civilization and I slipped on the threadbare long johns. I was imagining this old man’s scaly and crusty legs occupying the same space only days prior to my leg’s alien occupation. The thought honesty did make me dry heave once, but I overcame that reflex in time.

I have to admit, they were soft and warm.


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