I suddenly realized that I was peeing on a chicken, the ball of white feathers clucking disapprovingly at me as I urinated on her in the middle of the night. Incredibly embarrassed, I offered her a half-hearted whispered apology and moved my stream back to the concrete. I finished my business and walked back into the shack, trying to contain my laughter.
"You'll never guess what just happened," I told Emma.
Emma and I were in Salt Lake City for the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show. Well, I was there for MWA, Emma was tagging along to get a vacation out of my work trip. She's a smart one, that.
The OR, as it's called, has always been hosted in SLC. However, due Utah's desire to move public lands into private interests, those who organized the committee decided that the state doesn't live up to their mission anymore. So this will be the last year that it's hosted in SLC, with the 1,000+ vendor show that attracts more than 20,000 people to the city moving to Denver for the next three years.
But you probably want to know how I ended up peeing on a chicken.
I strove to keep this trip as cheap as possible for MWA, booking the cheapest flight, renting the most bare bones car, and finding the best option to shack up while in SLC. And shack up we did, at the SugaShack, a frat-bro hippie commune that Emma and I still are trying to parse out and understand.
That description of our lodging is very accurate. Not only did we come to the realization that 10ish people lived in the house, but we felt that we met a new person every day we came back to freshen up for a night out. The guys (and I think two girls, but we weren't certain) were all laid back and welcoming, but we weren't sure if any of them had a job outside of selling shirts on Craigslist and staining the dining room's wooden floors. But at $30/night, renting a shack with simply a bed, TV with VCRs (Star Wars! Iron Giant! Back to the Future!), and no bathroom was what we got.
It's the lack of an attached bathroom that got me into trouble.
See, Emma had walked in on whoever lived there doing some shady dealings. This would most likely explain why, when I walked from our shack in the backyard to the main house to go pee in the middle of the night, that the bathroom was occupied by an inebriated (to put it mildly) dude, door locked. I repeatedly tried to explain to him that I had to go to the bathroom, that I couldn't hold it anymore, and got nothing but a mumbled response in return.
Well, I'll just pee outside, I thought to myself as I walked back along the concrete driveway to the chicken run that surrounded our shack. And that's how it happened. I thought that the chickens were at the other end of the run, not clustered in the corner that I intended on relieving myself against.
Oh, and then there was the time that Emma and I were leaving for dinner and there was a koi fish the size of my forearm flopping on the driveway, gasping for breath. A koi. On the driveway. By himself. It's always tough to explain to random strangers that there a is $500 fish flopping on the driveway, but I somehow pulled it off and helped them continue whatever koi fish deal was going down.
We couldn't make this stuff up.
As to the rest of the trip, it didn't disappoint either.
OR, at first glance, is an overwhelming sensory overload when you first walk into the conference room. Mountain Hardware had a full three story structure, Keen brought one of their sandal-making machines, and Alex Honnold and Conrad Anker were just casually hanging out at the North Face community area. It was amazing, busy, and unlike anything I've experienced before. I loved it. I met most if not all of the companies that I not only use but also respect: Garmin, Mammut, Marmot, Outdoor Research, Osprey, Thule, Kuhl, Cliff Bar, Buff, Columbia, Gerber (the knives, not the baby food), Leatherman, and a host of other companies (Patagonia and Arc' Teryx were conspicuously absent from the show as a sign of protest against Utah's ill-fated decision to sell off public lands). I really fell into a groove interacting with the reps, pitching MWA, setting up meetings, and hopefully clinching partnerships, all while accumulating a ton of stickers that now adorn the laptop I type this all out on.
I even managed to get Emma in on the second day of the conference. We'd taken a Lyft back to the frat-bro commune the night before, describing to our driver how we intended to sneak her in, at which our driver pointed out we wouldn't have to do if Emma had her own pass. Lucky for us, a media rep named Tyra had left hers in the ride. We were set.
"Tyra" had a blast with me the next day, except when people actually thought that she was a media rep. I'd wrongly assumed that if she flipped her badge over then no one would notice. Little did I know that personal space doesn't really matter at OR when people are interested about who you work for; they won't hesitate to reach out and flip your badge around. One poor guy was even so excited to get an article out about his anti-funk spray for gear and shoes that he gave his card to Emma and absolutely ignored me while I stood next to her. It was probably because she's absolutely stunning, but Emma likes to argue that it was because of her media pass. Sure.
I could go on and on about how amazing Salt Lake City is. The best way to describe it is that it's what Montana could be if it had a larger population. It's a "small" city with an amazing food scene, great bars, and nature right at its borders. Emma and I kept on saying that if Montana ever starts to bore us, which it probably won't, then it's time we moved down to SLC. Emma, a girl from farm country Illinois, even felt like a bit of a "city cat", as she put it, though the night that she left a wad of bills on the bar gave this jaded city boy a mild heart attack. It also helped that we made two new amazing friends, one of whom we'd met the night before and was our much-needed guide to nights out in SLC.
To keep things short, here are a few events from our five days in the city that Young founded:
- In a state that doesn't allow draft beer to be over 4% ABV, the breweries sure do churn out some flavorful brews. I give them a lot of credit for keeping the flavor while being so hamstrung, especially the guys at Fisher Brewing Company, four dudes who were only five months along and had so few staff that they manned the bar themselves. As a cool point of history, one of the founders' great-grandfather was the founder of the original Fisher Brewery; they were acting to resurrect the name and they're doing a good job at that. Wasatch Brewery also had some legit beers (one of which is called the Polygamy Porter), as well as the well-known Uinta Brewing Company.
- But what got Emma and me was 2 Row Brewing. I should specify that while taps have to stay watered down, bottles and cans can hit whatever ceilings they want. Hands down my favorite beer of the trip, mentioned below, is 2 Row's Feelin' Hazy. Sad to say that they don't even distribute; bars have to head to the brewery to pick up more if they're running low.
- We didn't run into any Mormons, which was a bit of a disappointment. Then again, we were hanging out at bars a good majority of our trip, so that could explain it. These bars, it should be mentioned, surround The Tabernacle like an army at the gates (one of them is even named The Tavernacle). Emma and I did interact with a good amount of former Mormons, from the girl we met at the speak easy who worked as a cheese monger to our Lyft ride whose first drive ever was with us. While neither them nor the others we met were quick to bash CLS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), we got the impression that none regretted their decision of leaving it and being stuck in the suburban purgatory where many of the Mormons live.
- Nawleans food and 300 beer list at The Bayou. Mexican at Red Iguana 2. Burgers at In-N-Out. Sushi at Takashi. All a bit of a step up from what Helena offers in terms of cuisine.
- Beerhive Pub: the one we visited the most thanks to its knowledgeable beertenders where we stumbled across Feelin' Hazy. Whiskey Street: a close second with great cocktails and really cool atmosphere. Lots of mahogany. Bar-X: a speakeasy with even better cocktails but terrible lighting, as usual for places like that. I like to see the person I'm talking to. Beer Bar: our final stop for our final night, this one was a bit hazy but I do remember the communal style benches.
- The Moose Lounge. A club. A clerb. Either way you pronounce it, my personal hell. I'd been under the impression that Emma wanted to dance and go to a club one night, so I swallowed my utter loathing of clubs and said that we should go. I should have been honest with her and filled her in about how my time in DC made me hate these cesspools, with their expensive covers, watered-down drinks, creepy frat bros, questionable women, and even more questionable music. But I did it for her. And I still hated it but she had a blast, at least. We even got on the website. Woo. Hoo.
- My favorite stop of the trip had to be the High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City, a half hour drive outside of Salt Lake that is the only distillery in the US that you can ski down to. High West makes one of my favorite whiskeys, Campfire, and I didn't even know that it was made so close to SLC. In fact, if it hadn't been for our new friend Justin pointing this out while we were at Whiskey Street as I ogled at the bottles lined up on the shelf, we wouldn't have made it in the first place. But man, was I glad we did. Not only was the saloon one of the more unique drinking spots I've been to, but Emma had hands down the best beer cocktail that we both will strive to recreate now that we're back in Big Sky country with our own bottle of Campfire whiskey.
Finally, Emma and I learned that hiking in the desert of Utah is a lot different than hiking in the high plains of Montana. We'd intended on getting out on the trail to Mt. Olympus, a 7.5-mile up-and-back, at a decent time on our last full day in the city now that the conference was over. Per usual for us, we made it to the trailhead two hours late, in the middle of the day as the heat blasted us like a furnace. As anyone who knows me can attest, I have a very low heat tolerance; I sweat walking to work on a balmy spring day. Hiking straight up switchbacks as the noon sun beat down on me, Emma by my side, almost did me in. We'd gotten 2.5 miles up when we ran into a group of four coming down. When asked how much further we had to the top, one of them actually laughed at us, explaining that they'd started at 6am and were just on their way down at noon.
We turned back at that. Why waste a full day hiking when beer and whiskey were calling our names?
Onward to the distillery.
Beer I drank (a lot): Feelin' Hazy by 2 Row Brewing (bumped its way into my Top 10)
Song I heard: Mountain to Move by Nick Mulvey