Adult Spring Break
One could argue that the older you get, the better you are at holding your alcohol in public situations, avoiding embarrassing moments as you pass the mid-century mark, beholden to kids, a solid profession, and a mortgage. You'd assume that at this point, 30-40 years out of college, you'd have grown out of these inebriated habits.
I kindly present Chico Hot Springs as the counter argument.
It all started when Emma and I somehow snagged a night at the fabled hot springs thanks to my boss, Heather, who'd made reservations but had to change her plans. Chico is located about half an hour south of Livingston, which in turn is located half an hour east from Bozeman, which is itself 1.5 hours from Helena. It was time to hit the open road with Rex (yes, I've finally named my Rubicon and none of you should be surprised by the name).
Emma and I started that Saturday early. And by "early" I mean that the two of us, perpetually late in starting our trips, got on the road within a half hour window of when we intended to. We drove to Bozeman, through intermittent flurries of graupel, a form of hail/snow that I'd never heard of before moving here. We wanted to fit a hike in, along with beers, before hitting up Chico and the debauchery that supposedly awaited us. So we hit up Hyalite Canyon, not Highlight Canyon, as I so incorrectly assumed. It was a nice meandering hike, an inch or two of snow covering the trail and lake that abutted it. Of course, this being me, even hiking in wintry climes, I sweat right through my flannel and backpack; my metabolism will always act like it's a fat kid at summer camp.
After the arduous 4 mile hike along Hyalite Canyon lake, it was time for beers and pizza at Bridger Brewing back in Bozeman. Then, after a short detour at a combo gas station/liquor store (God, I love Montana) to fill up gas and grab a liter of Old Forrester Whiskey, we were on our way to Livingston. Once there, we needed to stay hydrated, so we popped into Katabatic Brewing Company for a beer. A katabatic, by the way, is cold, downslope wind that is often severe. Didn't think you'd be learning so much about Montana's unique weather in this post, did ya?
And then, Chico.
(Well, it was first preceded by a drive through the breathtaking Absaroka Mountain Range. It wasn't so breathtaking at the time due to low cloud cover, but the drive back the next day, under clear skies, was stunning. Just check out the cover photo and you'll get an idea.)
For the history buffs out there, here's a quick blurb about the hot springs:
"The first written record of the hot springs at Chico was in the diary of miner John S. Hackney, dated January 16, 1865. Then in the late 1890’s the hot springs flowed into two wooden tubs about four feet deep inside a small wooden building located where the hot springs come to the earth’s surface. The Main Lodge of Chico Warm Springs Hotel was opened in 1900 and a larger hot springs pool was built. The pool was 44 feet in diameter and six feet deep, and there were also private baths and baths for ladies only. By 1902 the 'Plunge' was doubled in size and there were two large oval shaped pools, one six feet deep and one nine feet deep, which were completely enclosed in a wood building. Between 1917 and 1919 the 'Plunge' was changed again – one large rectangular pool took the place of the oval pools, a pool lobby was built (the current saloon) and additional lodging rooms were built as a second floor over the top of the pool lobby. The 'Plunge' and building housing the pool went through further changes prior to the 1950’s. In May of 1957 the rounded roof over the 'Plunge' collapsed on approximately 70 swimmers. Only two swimmers had minor injuries while everyone else walked away unharmed. The open air pool became popular with soakers and swimmers and the roof was never rebuilt over the large pool.
The 'Plunge' was popular not just as a swimming pool, but as healing waters in the early days of the resort. There was advertising promoting the curative powers of the natural mineral hot springs pools for everything from kidney troubles to blood disease and skin disorders."
For the HBO buffs out there, it was pretty much Westworld: old wooden cabins, horses out to pasture, iron-framed beds, copious amounts of whiskey, and inebriated patrons making questionable decisions.
Speaking of said decisions, the hot pool. Emma and I dropped our things off in our room and dashed down to the pool to do some prime people watching, some of whom included:
- an inebriated older woman sidling up to a group of college bros who'd parked themselves next to the heating vent. Awkward flirting ensued.
- a couple being "that couple" in the middle of the pool, flirting with each other and whispering to each other while they drank their Miller Lites. Oh wait, that was Emma and me...
- what we thought at first was a man and his "daughter", though I can reliably say that no father would go to a hot spring with his daughter wearing a thong bikini. I guess love does know no age. Or, more likely, money can indeed buy love.
The hot spring is aptly named, though, and it sure does make you a bit loopy after "soaking" (it's the term they use and I hate it, reminds me of vegetables in a crock pot or trying to get a stain out of a shirt by putting it in your sink). Emma and I had only had 3 beers each and we didn't feel drunk, per se, but as stated earlier, loopy. Can't say the same for many of the guests, though, who'd unfurled all their sheets to the wind and were on the verge of breaking out the beer bongs. No, I'm not talking about the college kids but rather the parents with kids.
Like I said, this was adult spring break.
Emma and I rallied for the night, breaking out the Old Forrester after a quickly-induced hot spring nap. Everyone told us we needed to eat at the high-end restaurant, so we simply looked at the menu posted outside and quickly made our decision; the cheapest item went for $35 and the beef wellington for $70. Bar food it is. I then proceeded to get my ass handed to me in foosball by my girlfriend who, unbeknownst to me, is a semi-pro at hitting a mini soccer ball around; took a tequila shot for the loss; met two women from Helena, one of whom invited us out water skiing with her kids; and called it a night early because we felt that someone at least had to act like adults at Chico.
We got a late start the next day, par for the course. This was also the day that I learned a valuable lesson about driving in Montana: always top your tank up, no matter where you are. If you see a gas station, just assume that it's the only one left within a hundred miles. I mention this because Emma and I went exploring in the nearby mountain range, on the hunt for a supposedly awesome waterfall hike. But anxiety started to set in as we got deeper and deeper into the valley and the gas gauge got lower and lower. We could push through and risk it, or turn back and not stress out. We decided on the latter. So I turned Rex around, dejected, Emma consoling her MT-newbie boyfriend as we made our way back to Livingston for gas and then to Bozeman.
But our day was far from over.
Thirsty yet again, we swung by MAP Brewing, by far one of my favorite breweries in Montana. Fairly new to the scene, they somehow have their recipes down pat. And not that I'm biased, but it does help that I have a beer exchange set up with one of the founders, PK, whom I'd met at a party that Packy's dad and stepmom hosted awhile back. I bring him Blackfoot Single Malt IPA, he drinks it, then sends me back with whatever I want from MAP. It's not a bad deal.
Emma and I were itching for a hike, though, and the one we picked was right in front of us, though the main windows of MAP Brewing. We hit Sypes Canyon, what we thought would be a simple 6-mile up-and-back but eventually turned into a steep 8-mile one. We began the hike a bit winded, Midas Touch brew and killer nachos weighing us down a bit as we climbed up the steep inclines that constitutes the beginning leg of the hike. About 3 miles up we hit the panorama, the view of Bozeman and the surrounding valley. We could have called it there but Emma looked over at me, a knowing look in her eyes. Let's keep going. So we did, hitting another ridgeline that seemed to obscure a knob behind it. We stopped for a second, taking it in. I looked at her. Let's keep going. So we did, hiking up some pretty precarious inclines until we hit two feet of snow covering the trail. We felt good, accomplished, especially since we made it further than the trail runners that passed us coming down. Granted, they were running and we were not, but that doesn't matter.
Then it was four miles back to Rex and home to Helena to enjoy some Midas Touch, courtesy of PK and our growler exchange. We'd survived adult spring break and lived to tell the tale.
Song I (re)heard: Come Back by Foo Fighters