Big Sky Country – Short Film

Our plans for Autumn’s first backpacking trip were foiled back in April, when she came down with a cold the day before our planned departure.  The Coast Camp at Point Reyes had been chosen for nostalgic reasons as much as practical ones.  Not only is it close and comfortable, but Jody and I took our first backpacking trip together there back in 2001.  The trip was on our calendar since she was in utero, and the decision to be responsible parents stung a little bit.

Looking at our calendar, the weekends through May and June were laden with events and trips, leaving little time to spend on the trail.  But one option held promise: Montana.  We were planning a trip to Billings for Doug & Jordan’s wedding.  It seemed like a no-brainer to tack an extra day on the trip and explore a bit of the Big Sky state.  So we did.  Doug and Jordan pulled together some great recommendations and we found ourselves blissed out in the Beartooth Mountains.  We spent just one night at the Woodbine Campground (along the Stillwater River), but the drive over Beartooth Pass and back along the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River rounded out an excellent little road trip.

It will come as no surprise that the occasion was well documented and captured a bit of the fun we had with Autumn’s first night in a tent.

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Suffering Coach

I have a pretty well-documented spirit for adventure.  I’ve climbed 14,000 foot mountains, negotiated Class V whitewater, swum with sharks, and eaten bacon-wrapped hot dogs outside of Mexican night clubs.  Every risk is calculated, but brings about a mild case of nerves.  Generally, it’s not more than a bit of butterflies in the tummy and a healthy respect for whatever I’m doing.  Perhaps fatherhood has made me a total pansy, but I was genuinely fearful of our first flight with Autumn.

A bit of background: I find commercial air travel to be one of the most un-dignified experiences to which we subject ourselves.  And to be clear, I separate air travel from the simple act of flying, which I love.  Without divulging any proprietary details, my billion-dollar idea looks something like [air travel] + [general anesthesia].  In my eyes, the average coach seat was designed for a smallish Pygmy with a penchant for self-abuse.  They simply do not design airplanes for someone who is 6′ 4″ and somewhere north of twenty stone.  I dream a little dream about the airlines someday offering a Husky Class seat.  Until then, I’ll just have to suck it up (literally).  Usually, I try to reach a quasi-meditative state where I transform the discomfort of my trappings into a soul-cleansing experience.

So it was with great enthusiasm that I approached our first flight with Autumn, a simple two-hopper to Montana for our friends’ wedding.  Our little girl has a lot of energy, not to mention a set of lungs that would make the Four Tenors blush.  Lately she’s taken to ear-piercing screams as a way of saying, “You’re boring me!”.   How was this possibly going to work?  Jody booked our flights using the GGMG-patented aisle-window technique, which bets the farm on an empty middle seat.  Worst case scenario: the seat gets booked, and as your cellmate approaches you pinch the kid’s leg, get a good holler going and scare the other passenger into taking the window.  It isn’t a tough sell, convincing someone to take a window seat when the alternative is having a crying baby passed back and forth across your lap like a bottle of Beam at a Skynyrd concert.

We three boarded our 7 a.m. flight from SFO with blankets, boppies and bottles in tow.  I had a pocketful of cash to buy our neighbors as many Bloody Marys as they could handle.  In the event that our row was fully booked, I had hopeful visions of a diminuitive Mexican grandma who wanted nothing more than to make googly eyes at Autumn throughout the flight.  No such luck was necessary, because Jody’s scam plan worked; an empty seat and sleepy baby.  Autumn was tired enough to sleep in Jody’s arms for the better part of both flights.  Despite a very tight connection in Denver, we arrived in Billings intact, if a bit tired from our 4 a.m. waking.

Our return five days later was a bit less pleasant.  We opted for an early afternoon departure to make our morning a bit less rushed.  Unfortunately, Autumn didn’t nap well that morning and was in a sour mood by the time we boarded our first flight.  The flight was fully booked so we squeezed three Pritchards into two seats, an ill-advised move at best.  Autumn suffered like a champ, thanks in no small part to an accomodating flight crew and Jody’s immutable spirit.

As a parent, I guess you find the right time to tell your kids about some of the inequities of life: goldfish die, friends move away, and pain—in all its forms—is an inescapable part of the human condition.  So at eight months we revealed to Autumn one universal truth: coach sucks.