I have been lucky enough to visit big sky country for over 10 years. The first was a very emotional time for my friend Chad’s memorial service in Red Lodge – and the adventure began when the plane touched down in Billings.
I rented a Subaru Forester and started the drive towards Red Lodge, which was around 60 miles south. My destination was to meet Chad’s family at a place called Medicine Flower Lodge – which books itself as “a great getaway spot for retreats of all types and other group gatherings”. The lodge and various vacation cabins are situated on a 12 acres bordering Rock Creek.
I was greeted by Chad’s mother and the family. It was bittersweet. On one hand I was there for the service which was very heart-wrenching. On the other, I was in the midst of fantastic scenery. I could see why Chad loved the area so much. But I was glad I made the trip in his honor.
I spent a few days there at Medicine Flower hearing stories about Chad’s adventures and remembering my days spent with him in our youth. You could feel his spirit everywhere and I knew he was in a much better place.
The day of the service, after a ceremony at the lodge, we headed to the Gardiner Headwall – a favorite snowboarding location of Chad’s. After a few words were said, I gently took a handful of Chad’s earthly remains and tossed them over the edge of the peak. Others did the same. Chad’s spirit was free, without pain, without sickness, and in a place he cherished so much. It was a tough experience.
After a nice wake back at the lodge, I said my goodbyes, boarded the Subaru and headed towards Yellowstone. In my naivety I hadn’t booked a camp site. That turned out to be a bummer later as I drove through the park in awe. The mountains, the wildlife, the tears, the sky! It was awesome. I had an interesting run-in with a herd of bison that I thought for sure would demolish the Subaru as they crossed my path.
Eddie Vedder’s Into the Wild album became the soundtrack of the trip. As it played I thought of Chad. I envisioned him tossing flies to wild trout in the backcountry. Or lead climbing a rock face with his buddies in tow. Or packing for another surf trip to Panama. It was like I could feel him there and hear him saying, “pretty rad place, huh?” That was Chad.
I ended up driving through the park looking for a place to crash for the night but everything was booked. I was beat, and just wanted a piece of grass to pitch my tent. As I left the park through the west gate, I stopped at the visitor’s center. I inquired about lodging and a very nice older woman who worked there called a friend who lived close by. She told me that I was free to stay there and gave me directions.
I never found that nice person’s place. I kept driving. I drove further north and eventually found an RV park near the Madison River. It was late and the proprietors were crowded around a table in the main office playing cards. I knocked and one asked me my business. I explained the day, told them I just wanted to sleep and would sleep anywhere they could have me.
They gave me a little grassy area. It felt like heaven after I pitched my tent and climbed into my sleeping bag. I was exhausted after one of the most emotional days of my life. But it was so worth the effort.
I fell asleep to the sound of the Maddy flowing in the distance. ~Drifter07