4 Aug 2009. Wheat Montana was a great recommendation by the ladies at the MSU bookstore. Like Panera but with corrugated metal instead of pastel overstuffed easy chairs.
"Those falls weren't that great."
"The real Great Falls is a few miles downstream. But there have been so many dams built on the Missouri that the falls today are only a fraction of the spectacle that Lewis & Clark encountered in 1805."
"Could we take a break from the interpretation, please?"
The horse-mounted ranger looked hurt. "Sure."
The young driver exhaled. "I'm sorry. After being abandoned by Alicia, I'm just ready to zone out for a while." He shifted on his seat. "And my butt's numb again. How do you handle it, uberglutes?"
"Yoga. Though I tell people cross country skiing."
The driver laughed. The ranger frowned.
"All right, all right. My lips are sealed. Cat claw?"
He foisted up an almond-studded pastry through the opening in his cage.
The ranger's horse flipped his neck right and grabbed the pastry with its frightening lips.
"Whoa! Look at those lips!"
"Oh! Bad Pompey! No sweets! Please do not feed my horse junk food."
"I have some 9-grain bagels."
"Maybe later. We still have 200 miles to go."
So continued the molasses slow journey of Otter, driving a miniature Bobcat tractor, and Ranger Redfeather, astride a pony.
Otter, senior biology major at Montana State in Bozeman, was not content to have his final report be based on mere library research. He did not want his findings on bobcat habitat conservation to exist in a vacuum; he wanted to have impact. A caffeine fueled brainstorm with his academic advisor yielded an original proposal: a fundraising journey from the continental divide in Glacier National Park to Bozeman.
The poetic synergy made Otter's loins tingle with glee: To save the bobcats, a student, whose school mascot is a bobcat, would drive a Bobcat skid steer.
Glacier National Park donated the dark green one-seat machine, retrofitted with a second seat over the shovel. This bumper seat was reserved for Otter to keep a video journal of the trip. He recruited a girl from the MSU conservation club named Alicia to drive. The small cockpit of the Bobcat was basically a Humvee for someone as small as Alicia.
As far as food, it wasn't hard to gather non-perishables for a nonstop three-day trip, but Wheat Montana stepped up anyway. The local chain donated loads of loafs from Kalispell, and also for his stops in Great Falls and Bozeman.
The only group that did not cooperate was Parks Canada. Otter wanted a greater audience for his message. He reckoned that since his starting point was Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park, the northerners would be interested. He reckoned wrong.
Even without Canada's help, Otter was packed and ready. Alicia was not. She was unprepared for inclement weather, and in a Teton County rainstorm, she caught a cold. She dropped out, her parents picking her up roadside in Great Falls.
This crammed Otter's long swimmer's limbs behind the wheel, taking the camcorder out of his hands and limiting his video footage. The shovel-seat was now used as an equipment shelf.
They ate up the road at 7 mph, swapping stories and making fun of Canadians.
"I still can't believe they refused to get on board on account of 'bobcats not being endangered enough'. That's not even the point! What, do you have a long list of college student fundraising slo-mo marathons?"
Ranger Redfeather concurred. "Canadians are small-minded."
"I would always defend them. I would always give them the benefit of the doubt. But if you can't even be bothered to send a maple leaf bumper sticker for the Bobcat, then what other conclusion can I reach?"
"I have known of their ways and now you do too."
"So the US Park System has to step it up and donate a Bobcat, a horse, and a ranger's time."
"Pompey is mine. And Glacier did not donate me. I am donating my own weekend."
"Are you serious? Why?"
"One: The bobcat is my totem animal. Two: Conservation is never a poor choice. Bobcats are numerous now, but so were passenger pigeons right before their extinction. Your cause is a good one."
The sun was setting behind the Big Belt mountains. The shadows of Otter and Ranger Redfeather merged and stretched twenty feet into the brush.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Redfeather."
The ranger touched the brim of his beige Stetson.
"And when I heard the Canadians wouldn't help, I had to! Ha ha ha!"
"Bozeman in view, Otter."
Otter strained his face to focus. He bit his tongue and slammed his head against the metal cage to wake himself.
"Finally! All I have left is 9-grain bagels. Awful. I think I was starting to see things in the road too."
"Hallucinations are common when not sleeping for two days."
"How are you and Pompey doing?"
"Why do you think we use the word 'workhorse'? He is fine. As for me, I have trained with sleep deprivation before."
"So you're a trippin' yoga Indian Ranger."
"Trippin' yoga Nez Perce Ranger, yes."
Otter and Ranger Redfeather puttered onto the MSU campus.
"Look, there's my parents. And some of my friends. And the conservation club I guess." Otter sounded disappointed.
"What were you expecting? A local news crew?"
"Actually, yes. It's not like much happens in - whoa!"
Otter and his Bobcat sunk out of view. Ranger Redfeather dismounted. Otter, distracted by the welcoming committee, had driven right through some yellow caution tape and onto a rain-weakened embankment. It gave way, sending the Bobcat tumbling into a natural gutter. The stream was only a few feet below, but the Bobcat had rolled upside down, sending cold muddy water into the driver's cage. Ranger Redfeather knew well that it took no more than a few inches of water to drown someone. He needed to get Otter out. Or at least set the Bobcat upright.
"Someone get help!" Ranger Redfeather yelled to the other end of the field. He jumped into the muck. His boots quickly got suctioned off. He pushed his weight against the Bobcat. There was no way he was going to pull it out on his own, or even set it upright. Otter struggled to turn himself rightside-up, but there was little maneuvering room and he was running out of air. Some of the crowd ran away, most ran towards the creek.
"HELP! Someone get a rope!"
Five ropes fell on Ranger Redfeather's shoulders. He looked up. Five stallions that dwarfed Pompey stood with ropes tied to their saddles. They were mounted by men in Red Serge and flat-brimmed Stetsons. Ranger Redfeather tied the loose ends to the back of the Bobcat cage. The horses turned tail and easily pulled the Bobcat up. When it was on steady ground, Otter kicked open the front of the cage and tumbled out. His family gathered around him as he spit and coughed, snotting out mud and gathering his breath.
"Otter, are you okay?"
"I'm ready for a hot shower, please. Thank you for coming everyone. Save the bobcats and so on. Alicia, you made it?"
"Of course, I'm still the historian. Say cheese!"
"Oh, man." Otter grimaced and shivered. He turned to the Mounties. Ranger Redfeather was talking to them.
"Looks like you used a bowline, Ranger?"
"Nothing works better."
Otter said, "Thank you all for saving me. But...I am surprised to see you. I thought Parks Canada didn't want to get involved?"
One of the Mounties addressed Otter. "I'm not privy to that information, but like Ranger Redfeather here, we are volunteering our time. When I picked up my daughter from Great Falls, she convinced me to be here to make up for her leaving early."
"Oh. Well...she couldn't help that she got a cold and...wait, wait...your daughter? Alicia, your dad's a Mountie?"
"Yep, we're Calgarians. Except for the constables, not sure where they're from."
Alicia's dad nodded and the other Mounties called roll.
"Constable Mackenzie, Banff."
"Constable Logan, Medicine Hat."
"Constable Rupert, Moose Jaw."
"Constable Fraser, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump."
Otter shook each of their hands. "Your towns have awesome names."
Alicia's dad said, "Bozeman has a unique ring to it as well."
"Couldn't tell you where it came from. But I'm sure there's a story behind it..."
Sleep deprivation prevented me from getting a better shot of Bobcat Stadium.