Earning It

Because Montana doesn't come free.

"Enthusiasm releases the drive to carry you over obstacles and adds significance to all you do." –Norman Vincent Peale

Lightning flashed on the horizon as we launched into the Gallatin’s winding current. A post–Sweet Pea impulse had put seven of us on the water at 6pm—just minutes before a late-afternoon thunderstorm laid siege to our five-boat flotilla. Raindrops the size of Lima beans pelted our exposed torsos; driving winds sent the canoes spinning. We beached our boats on a sandy bank and took refuge underneath. Ten minutes passed, then twenty; the storm raged on. Soaked through and shivering, we stared at the impenetrable wall of black to the west, then back toward the put-in a scant quarter-mile away. A quick hike and we’d be back in the comfort and safety of our vehicles.

But this wasn’t our first rodeo. We huddled together for warmth and stayed put, determined to ride out the storm. The skies stayed dark but eventually the wind eased up; we slid the canoes back into the water and paddled hard to generate warmth. Rounding a bend, we saw a band of light beneath the clouds. And then, just as suddenly as it had come, the storm was gone: the sky cleared and a beaming tangerine sun erased our goosebumps. Fluttering insects shimmered in the angled light, the birds renewed their serenade, and before us lay the most beautiful summer evening anyone could remember.

As celebratory PBRs landed in outstretched hands, a sense of satisfaction passed silently among us. We’d made the right decision. We’d stuck it out, resisting a strong urge to acquiesce; we endured adversity and discomfort and that steadfastness had been rewarded. I thought about what an old rancher told me, years ago, when I complained about the miserable weather: “Montana don’t come free, son,” he said. “You gotta earn it.”

And so it is: we get what we pay for. Montana can be brutal, no doubt; but it’s also beautiful, and for those of us willing to run the risk and ante up, our investments are repaid in full.

This issue of Outside Bozeman pays homage to those reluctant remunerations we all must make, at one point or another, for the glories we seek. Torn tendons in the Crazies, an emergency bivouac atop the Beartooth Plateau, a lengthy swim in frigid Yellowstone runoff, a sprained ankle under the shadow of the Taylor-Hilgard mountains—these are the costs of playing hard in the Rocky Mountains. But that’s okay. Because the ensuing benefits, those hard-wrought successes of summer, remind you that there’s no place on Earth you’d rather be.

So no matter how awful the weather, uncomfortable the pitfall, or painful the injury, remember to let it ride—because around the bend, redemption awaits. A glorious season awaits. And like anything of value, the more difficult it is to make happen, the more you appreciate it, and the more meaningful it becomes. And in the end, it’s a small price to pay for the splendor of a Montana summer.