In every hike, there is a paradigm shift, a moment when the exhilaration of your solitude fades and the open trail becomes not a symbol of freedom, but the enemy standing in the way. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there too, though perhaps you haven’t admitted it yet.
In late September, Mel and I (and Costello, too) hiked a beautiful trail through the Upper Beehive Basin near Montana’s Big Sky Resort. We purchased our bear spray and hit the trail, ready for a day of fresh air and that big Montana sky, of physical activity, of the scent of pine and scat, of mirror lakes and frigid streams and the kind of views you stand still and whisper for, animal clouds and mountain silhouettes and the weight of distance, that inkling of insignificance one feels staring at a faraway horizon.
The day was growing short, and eventually, after five or six miles of a steep, uphill climb, we decided to turn around, unsure if or when the trail looped back around. We’d filled our water bottles and packed a few snacks, and before heading back down the trail, we replenished ourselves. Costello jumped in the lake and rolled in the dirt. The hike was more beautiful than we could have hoped for, both of us noticing details on the way back we hadn’t noticed on the way up. But then it hit us, with four or fives miles still to go before reaching the trailhead and climbing back inside our vehicle.
We were thirsty, and not for water. We needed beer. We needed it now.
Suddenly, all those things we stared in wonder at became terrible burdens, a litany of obstacles between us and an ice-cold farmhouse ale. The pine trees blocked us from walking a straight line to our destination. The switchbacks now struck us not as architectural highlights – we’re often amazed by the ingenuity of trail designs – but cavalier and gratuitous, adding whole minutes onto our departure from the mountain. The views were no longer revelatory features, but guilt-inducing distractions. We would stop but damnit, we didn’t want to. There was beer waiting down there! Kolsches! Lagers! IPAs! Saisons! Beer! Beer! Beer!
This shift in perspective during our hike was not novel to Montana. Time and again – from Nebraska to Arizona, New Hampshire to North Dakota – we’ve both secretly pivoted, keeping our longings for beer to ourselves, trying our best not to spoil the splendor of our surroundings, to appear disinterested in nature. And it is not that beer trumps nature. It is that nature compliments beer, places it on a pedestal above all other terrestrial concerns. A cold beer after a good hike is, simply, nirvana.
And the very thought of that moment – that first sip of High Life after a sweaty 10 miles – well, it’s enough to change the game. So here’s to beer, and here’s to nature, and here’s to their long and happy marriage.