I arrived in Missoula physically exhausted from BRRAC. I was also mentally and emotionally spent. The prospect of getting back on the bike was not appealing in the least. Even still, my initial plan was to stay for 2-3 days, get my bike fixed up and hit the road. Well, the best laid plans are bull shit.
Bike parts weren't there, and it took a few days to figure out where they were, incomplete items were shipped, and before I knew it, a week had already passed. I went backpacking. I eventually fixed up my bike. And then I lingered. For quite a while. I saw people around town who remarked, "You're still here?!" when they saw me. It started to feel like a place I could stay.
I met Tucker, aka Big T, about 4 years ago at a hostel in Maine. He was finishing a through hike, I was in the middle of an attempted assassination by bees. We drank some beer, then passed each other on the trail the next day, complaining about the heat and hangovers. And that was about it. I told him I was going to be coming near Missoula, and he said I could stay and send anything to his house I needed, so I took that very liberally and sent about 43 packages.
A few facts about Tucker:
He really, really prefers to be called Big T. He almost bit my head off when I greeted him as Tucker.
Dude loves to hike "The M". Like, holy shit, bro. If I have to listen about how it's (his words here) "A classic Missoula hike, with incredible views, surprisingly technical and devoid of people for being so close to the city." one more time I'm going to explode. He continues, "It's literally, not joking, my favorite hike I've done, anywhere. Ever. So legit. A Proper Hike". Worst part is he wouldn't even take me on it because I "wasn't ready for it" and he didn't want me to make him look bad or some shit.
Only allows photos from the head up without EXPRESS WRITTEN PERMISSION. Seriously, it's easier to get permission from the NFL to rebroadcast a game for commercial profit.
Loves gear. LOVES it. Even talking to another gear hound, when he gets going on the relative merits of Tyvek vs Silnylon and pulls out PRE-MADE CHARTS AND GRAPHS on this specific subject, it's a bit much.
Subsists on celery, coffee, and macaroni and cheese. Velveeta, if you're reading this, SPONSOR THIS MAN'S LIFE.
Big T is also an all around great dude. He opened up his home to me, basically a total stranger. Despite not really knowing each other, it immediately felt like we'd been friends for ages.
Despite his penchant to see you walking around town, not say hello, and then mention casually later that he saw you but deliberately didn't say hello, he's super friendly, hilarious and kind. Sitting around and shooting the shit, mostly in the form of Seinfeld quotes, may have been some of the most fun I've had on this entire trip.
I actually stayed with his sister, Cameron, because she had a spare bedroom. Obviously, I'd never met her before showing up in my custom tie dyed Columbia PFG shirt and smelly "Do Epic Shit" socks. Killer first impresh.
A few facts about Cameron:
Doesn't own a trash can. Seriously, stayed there for a month. Never found one. Puzzling in many respects (see below).
Obsessed, OBSESSED with bars. Of any type, but mainly Lara Bars. Not sure where the wrappers for the 84 daily Lara Bars go, unless she also consumes them.
Prefers instant coffee. No more commentary necessary on this absurd, wrong, disgusting preference. (But srsly, really?) I'm guessing the lack of a trash can has something to do with this decision? No leftover grounds to throw away? But it seems that getting a trash can would allow one to:
1). Make regular coffee and dispose of the grounds in your refuse container of choice.
B). Not have to eat 234 Luna bar wrappers a day.
But what do I know, I'm just the guy on the couch.
Once sat still for 12 minutes straight. It was remarkable.
Can't get enough of the river walk. 2, 3, 4 times a day, minimum. It's like walking the mall, but for a slightly younger crowd. Like Big T with gear, capable of waxing poetic for hours at a time about sundry minutiae related to river walking until one's eyes glaze over.
LOVES a deal. Has a real zeal for the deal. Once contemplated driving 6 hours to return a set of $80 knives. Probably spends 22+ hours a day perusing Craigslist. For deals.
She's also incredibly kind, generous, and intelligent. She let some random guy basically move into her apartment for a month, let me try some instant coffee (I'm good, though, thanks), chauffeured me around and acted as tour guide for a month. I almost bought her a trash can in her return for the kindness, but I was too nervous to ever broach the subject.
I stayed in Missoula for such a long time because it started to feel like home, and in large part that was due to the hospitality and kindness of Big T and Cameron. They both made me feel welcomed, at a time when I really needed to have a few friends around. I'm not sure if I've ever connected quite so quickly with people before, but there was an immediate bond of friendship. It is experiences like this and meeting people of such high quality and character that make traveling worth it.
Neither one ever expressed any desire for me to leave, in fact it was quite the opposite. It started to feel like I was being recruited by the cult of Missoula. When I finally announced that I had decided to leave, a quiet, weak, "No. Stay!" echoed around the room.
I owe them both more than I could possibly ever repay. Without a doubt, my time in Missoula was a highlight of this trip and I very much look forward to returning. We had some good times and adventures, but it's (hopefully) just the beginning. After all, I never did get to do a river float, nor hike "The M" with Big T (hopefully one day he will deem me worthy (fingers crossed)). Also, I think I left behind a rim, part of a micro fiber towel, and a set of antlers that I need to return for. A classic leave behind maneuver.
Thanks a million. It was the perfect place and group of friends to allow me to regroup and continue cycling. I doff my cap to you, Wellses.