Like a lot of other people, the main reasons why I moved to Montana in the first place is the sheer number of things to do outside. Shortly after fulfilling my educational obligations, I hit the pressure relief valve, jumped into my buddy's 1990 Subaru Outback, and hit the road west. Twenty years later, and I can still hear the Clapton's lyric "Keys to Highway" echoing in my ears.
I was in my early 20's and the first years in Big Sky country I scraped and saved to purchase my first boat--The Shredder from Airtight Inflatables. Living at the 48 parallel in July means daylight begins around 5am and ends just before 11pm. This equates to almost an entire day for activity after you get off of work. We'd load up our trucks, which had lesser value than the boats they carried, and sped east to Kootenai 'boater access' on the middle fork outside West Glacier. The next day we'd do it all over again. Work hard, play hard. It's the Montana way.
Fast forward to the present day, it's winter 2017 and like every parent of young children during a Montana winter, by the end I was hanging on by a thread. Powder days and Stube apres ski days of old replaced by magic carpet rides and the base lodge shuffle. It's still fun, rather you make it fun. It's 'type B' fun, as my friend Corey puts it. There's a denial thing that is always in the back of your mind...rage, rage against the dying of the light. I moved to Montana for adventure, and as I chase my two year old trying not to awake the baby in the front pack, I hear something new echoing from the walls of the base lodge. Is that life over?
An unseasonally long and cold Winter eventually loses its grip to spring. The rivers begin to rise, days get longer, and caravans to Kootenai of the new 20-something’s commence. One particularly hot day in July, a friend calls me up. "Let's hit the north fork tomorrow", he suggests. "Bring your boys along too. We'll do the flats to Blankenship. I got a big raft you can borrow." The notion of taking my kids out rafting hadn't occurred to me up until it now. Three year old's in a boat on freezing cold whitewater just never seemed to be a 'good idea' to me. I was also afraid of taking our family rafting because I couldn't see how I would ever be able to relax.
Our childless friends are always very welcoming, and try to be accommodating, but the whole theme of the trip is different for families with young children. However, the opportunity to get out on the water with other rafting families means I have a larger pool of parents with me who are walking the same line. Collectively, we will have the necessary wisdom and experience to keep everyone safe. Right? Another plus is they know when to step in when my kid is being a little shit. I'm paraphrasing a bit, but I think this is how I justified it to my wife.
So was it worth it? Hell yes! Our kids, for the most part, hung out in the bow and laughed hysterically as when plowed through the wave sets. We pulled off on a beach to enjoy a swim, long lunch and a caddisfly hunt. This may not sound like a lot to some, but those moments of peace, soaking in the world with your bum in the sand and a cold beer in you hand are powerful restoratives.
Each day my wife and I strive to spend as much time with our family outdoors, teaching them to love the land and the rivers. With 7-8 months of cold Montana winter, our summers serve as powerful antidote to the doldrums of indoor parenting. Building lasting memories and helping your children put down roots in the 'last best place' is constant hard work. By starting young, our kids' norm becomes the rhythm of outdoor life, and through repetition,I think we will find our family norm in places which can be enjoyed equally by parents and kids alike. A river side camp under stars. Howling at the moon and listening to the echo from the canyon walls.