West Yellowstone to Ennis and The Rope Swing

Today was all about one thing: the rope swing. That treacherous, creaky, taunting old rope swing that hung over Ennis Lake. I'm not sure how this inanimate object got so in my head, but it did. It got way in there and it totally called me out. And I, unable to get a grip on my wild side, answered that call.

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I got another early start today. By 6:15 am I was on the road, by myself, en route to Ennis. This first ride in the state of Montana was rather eerie. For the first hour or two I was riding through a dense mist. But this mist was not formed of precipitation, it was a smoky haze left over from the forest fires which had burned all night. The smoke clouded my vision, making it difficult to see objects in the distance. I ventured forward despite these sub-par riding conditions.

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The ride was beautiful. First there was the mountain-lined Hebgen Lake. While riding along its shores I spotted both a Bald Eagle and a Pelican, two of my favorite animals. Then there was Earthquake Lake, named after the fact that it was formed by an earthquake-caused landslide which jammed a river and overflowed into the valley. Skeletal trees, drowned half of a century ago, oddly protruded from this accidental body of water. Once I was beyond the Lakes I came out to the endless yellow flats of Montana. For a good 30 miles I enjoyed a steady tailwind, propelling me across the valley. The sensation was blissful, making me feel like I could ride forever. After a speedy 70-mile ride I had arrived in Ennis and it wasn't even noon yet.

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This is where the whole rope swing saga begins. Very coincidentally, my friend Lilly, a new resident of Bozeman, was planning on making a day-trip to the Ennis Lake on the exact same Sunday that I was going to be in Ennis. We took advantage of this rare opportunity to link by deciding to meet at the Lake around 2:00 pm. After hanging around Ennis for an hour or so, I made the 10-mile shlep North to the Lake.

At the Lake I was met by Lilly and four of her friends in her Montana-approved Subaru wagon. They found me hanging out by myself with the entirety of my possessions at the Lake's Kobayashi Beach. Lilly instructed me to follow her to a secret spot up a little river towards the dam. I followed her for an extra two miles to the location. We settled at an elevated portion of the road just next to the river. I followed them down to the freezing river where we swam to the other side. What was I getting myself into?

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It was there that I was confronted by that damned rope swing. The terrain on this side of the river was a steep mountainside which fed directly into the river. There were some stones arranged so that fellow adventure-seekers could scale the dirt slope. Crawling up these stones for perhaps 40 or 50 feet took me to the platform from which the rope swing was intended to be used. Well, you had to use this platform because it was the only place you could reach the thing from. Everything about this rope swing felt so sketchy and amazing all at the same time. Some adventurous Montanan with way too much time on their hands had scaled a couple of terribly tall trees to secure a cable and hang the rope swing. The apparatus was suspended so high-up that a feeder rope was connected to the actual handle which required a branch to reel in! The rope swing was extreme, to say the least.

The rope swing

The rope swing

There were six of us in total. Five of us were petrified by the rope swing. Nolan, the brave one in the group, went for it. Well, to be fair, he had done it before, but, in all honesty, I don't think the swing ever gets any less intimidating. We helped Nolan secure the swing and...WHOOSH! He soared into the river. My jaw was on the ground. Nolan was raised about two stories above the river when he released himself. Holy crap...

We spent that afternoon nervously glaring at the death swing, I mean, rope swing. No one besides Nolan wanted a piece of it. He encouraged us, but we all diplomatically declined. Me, being on my whole "risk management" trip, explained to the group that doing a cross-country bike tour subjected me to enough risk on a regular basis, so I chose not to take on any additional risky activities. In hindsight I realize that I sounded super smug and was just trying to come up with some convoluded excuse to avoid admitting to the fact that I was horrified. I was. I was frickin scared of that thing.

The afternoon drew on. I enjoyed nice conversation with Lilly and her friends. They had some really fascinating stories about their job with the Montana Conservation Crops. When they go to work, instead of checking in to a cubicle, they embark on seven to nine-day expeditions into the wilderness. Pretty wild. I was intrigued by their tales of bull moose and ram sightings. Around 4:00 pm, after much good hangout time, we were all about ready to call it a day.

In all honesty I didn't know Lilly very well and thus didn't realize that she may be a bit of an instigator. I think she perceived that I was torn over the rope swing. Being a caring friend, she wanted to help me face my fear of this damned rope swing. Lilly turned to me and spoke, "Colin. How are you going to feel tonight if you don't ride this rope swing?"

I laughted, "Ha. I mean, I'm going to sleep just fine, regardless. But I would be a little more stoked if I did go for it...DAMNIT." Her question had struck a nerve. I couldn't help but to reveal my desire to conquer that damned rope swing. Screw it. I was going for it. I called on Lilly and Nolan to help me out.

I stood atop the man-made platform. Everything about this was horrifying. The platform was shoddy. The rope swing was sketchy. This felt like a bad idea, so much so that my knees were shaking. Nolan pulled the feeder rope tight. I had to get on my tip-toes to reach the handle. My pointer finger hooked this nearly out-of-reach device. It was at this moment I realized that in order for me to get both hands on the handle then I would have to commit to the jump. Grabbing the handle with both hands would distribute my weight over the cliff, well beyond the point of no return. I had to commit. 

I grabbed the handle with my second hand. I was locked in. I counted down from three. "Three, two, one!" I jumped. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh! The swing drew me out over the water. Uh-oh. My body was beginning to spin. That never happened to Nolan. I held on for dear life. My momentum propelled me up, up up! As a matter of fact, it propelled me way too high. I arrived at the highest point of the swing. I was petrified. The voice of Nolan chimed in my head, "Whatever you do, do not come back with the swing. LET GO!" I had no choice. Holding on would be the end of me. I let go.

*SPLASH*

My blood rushed. I'm not sure if it was from the adrenaline or the freezing cold water. It didn't matter though. I was safe! A huge smile overtook my face. After a few celebratory screams, I b-lined it to the side of the river with the car. I had no need for a second swing. Once was more than enough.

I'm not going to lie, I was really pumped. Had I not gone on that rope swing a very little (but important) piece of me would have been totally bummed out. Lilly and her friends were thrilled that I had made the swing. They too must have perceived that I really wanted to do it. After a little more conversation, we loaded up the hippie-wagon and began making our way back. Lilly was kind enough to give me and my stuff a ride in the VIP seat of her wagon (aka the trunk). Once back at the highway, I bid 'adieu' to my new friends with a smile on my face and a sense of accomplishment in my heart. Everyone needs a perceptive friend like Lilly who knows how to pull their strings juuuuuust the right way.

View from VIP seat (aka the trunk)

View from VIP seat (aka the trunk)

MCC Hippie Wagon

MCC Hippie Wagon

That night, after nearly 90 net miles of riding, I slept by msyelf in a tent behind a whiskey distillery in the quaint town of Ennis. On five separate occasions I was aroused by something stirring around my tent. Each time I stuck my head out I was met by hungry deer, rummaging through the bushes for dinner. What can I say? I wanted to be in wilderness so this is what I get. Cheers to having a wild side!

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