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Trip wouldn’t be an adventure without a glitch

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Getting there is half the fun, or so they say.

"So, you loaded all your gear into the truck and got all of your boats onto the trailer, then you got in the truck to leave town and, finally, you decided to check to see if the trailer lights were working?"

That was Ross over at Hellgate Conoco when our two-vehicle caravan pulled into the station just as he was preparing to close up one recent evening.

"I guess you could say that," Walleye replied.

I have come to expect that no big river trip is complete without a vehicular glitch, usually occurring in the middle of the night on a lonely stretch of road, far from a tow truck and a mechanic and often out of cell phone range. So this was not a big deal.

It paled in comparison to previous experiences.

There was the alternator one night on the way to the Green River. There was a fuel pump on the way to the Smith. There was a fried transmission on top of Monida Pass at midnight on the way to the San Juan River. Each with a load of boats and gear and companions waiting for us at launch sites sometimes hundreds of miles away.

Our plan was to make a late afternoon start for the Yampa River in Dinosaur National Monument on the Colorado-Utah border. Walleye had drawn one of the coveted float permits for the Yampa. Anticipation had been steadily building among the six of us who were able to carve out time for a weeklong adventure.

We had it all planned.

Gudrin of the Nile and Borghild of the Sea would join our two-vehicle caravan from Missoula. Friend Itchy would drive in from San Francisco to meet us at the launch point. The erudite Scratchy would arrive from Minnesota in time for our planned departure.

Everything was ready, except, as it turned out, for the trailer lights.

We knew that heading off into the summer night with a loaded truck and a trailer stacked high with floatable craft without working trailer lights would not do.

Ross was kind enough to size up our situation.

"You're right. Those lights don't work. It will take an hour, maybe more," Ross estimated.

We didn't have a choice. We already had companions heading toward the launch site from east and west.

We had hoped to have dinner in Dillon, and get into Idaho to camp for the night. We ate in Missoula. Ross fixed the lights. We made it to Dillon and called it a day.

Light was fading in the canyon country of Colorado when we got to the launch site the next evening. Itchy was already there. Early the next morning, Scratchy appeared.

"How was the trip?" Scratchy queried.

"Except for a little deal with the trailer lights, it was smooth as silk," Walleye said.

I will tell you another time about the wonderful adventure we shared on the river, but for now I will only say that we were tired and happy and well-satisfied when our little caravan headed up the steep incline from the take-out point six days later. I was even feeling a little smug about how smoothly it had all gone. After a while, our two vehicles headed for Missoula became separated. Walleye was ahead with the truck when my cell phone rang.

"I think it's the transmission," Walleye announced glumly.

It took us the rest of that night and the better part of the next day to get the truck and boats towed to the nearest town and find a mechanic who could diagnose and fix the problem. It took two more days to get it done. It took another day and a half to get home.

I am here to announce that if getting there is half the fun, it does not follow that getting home is the other half. But Montana has rarely looked as good as it did last Sunday morning when we topped Monida Pass with the motor purring. When we pulled to a stop in Missoula, I noticed that the trailer lights were on the fritz again, but it didn't bother me a bit.

We'll be sure to take care of that before the next trip.

Greg Tollefson is a freelance Missoula writer whose column appears each week in Outdoors. He can be reached at

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