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By Mark Neikirk

He pulled into the gravel lot in a van as decrepit as a vehicle could be and still be operational. It practically limped. It was one incident away from resting permanently on cinder blocks.The paint was some awful combination of yellows and oranges, faded to a tone of filth that seemed improbable for colors usually bright. Only the rust looked fresh.

He stepped out, looking as Pig-Pen might if he'd grown into adulthood, grizzled, grey and unwashed. He walked around to the back of the van to get something, bent over and there, for all to see, was his signature feature. His butt crack. As they say in text messaging, OMG! Asl they say in real life, "Damn, that's ugly."

I, comfortably ensconced on the shore the Flathead River casting a dry fly into a promising eddy, was shielded from the scene contemporanensously unfolding in the parking lot until I was urgently summonned to pack it in and prepare to depart forthwith. An ax murderer was in our midst. Tremidation!.Terror! Tumult! This wasn't a time to fish blissfully. It was a time to escape with our lives, lest they be lost to a man who, when he bent to swing the ax, would have to use one hand to hold up his drawers. This meant each of us would be dispatched by a fellow who couldn't put both hands on his instrument of slaughter. A one-handed axman might not be as accurate. Our beheadings would not be swift and sure, as if by a guillotine. We'd be hacked upon, in a manner only Dick Cheneyand Alberto Gonzalez would approve.

And so ended the start of another fine day of fishing in Glacier National Park. We got out with our lives. So did the Flathead trout, who lived to bite another fly.

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It's a fine thing to go out west with other men and backpack into the depths of a national park like Glacier, forgoing bathing and the comforts of domesticity in favor of  the odorous and course company of friends who sing like choked carburetors and who discuss high school football history in enough detail to achieve doctoral degrees in something, maybe fiction. Oh the joy of hearing the old joke one more time: "Can we take beer backpacking?" "Only if it's light beer."  Is there anything better than sitting around the campfire, quoting "Caddy Shack" and "Blazing Saddles" line for line for the fourteen hundredth time?

All good. No complaints. And the Patio Boys' trip to Glacier in 2008 was, by any measure, a life highlight. We saw grandeur, ate excellent pies, taxed our aging bodies on tall trails and our aging minds on tall tales. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

But listen up, Boys. I'm here to tell you. I'm here to testify. I'm here to offer every assurance to erase your reservations and reticences.  Sound the trumpets. Ring the bells. There's a simple truth to shout from the highest mountains (figuratively speaking, not topographically speaking). So tell it, brothers: It's every bit as good to go to Glacier with your wife. Maybe better. And a bed and breakfast is not a sin so long as you think about a tent while tucked tight beneath a blanket beside woman, warm and pleasant to the senses.

I returned to Glacier in July, 11 months after the Great Patio Boys Adventure (the GPBA, henceforth) - this time with Kate. We met another couple there and spent our nights in a B&B where the hosts couldn't have been kinder or more helpful, and they prepared for us each morning a gourmet breakfast that was as fine as any you could imagine. The portions were ample and the preparation exquisite - artistic even.

Our routine was simple: Have a bourbon or a glass of wine, go to bed, get up, eat breakfast at 8 a.m., pack the SUV and head out for a hike, then take said hike, drive back to the B&B and catch dinner on the way home (or carryout), get back around 9 or 10 in the evening, have a bourbon or glass of wine, go to bed, get up, eat breakfast at 8 a.m., go hiking, etc., etc. Great, great time.

Kate was more than sporting. Our Day One in the park was to hike the Highline Trail.  Our conditions were similar to early August for the GPBA, which is to say a couple of significant but not too dangerous snowfields. (By the way, unlike the men of the Patio Boys, I didn't hear a word of whining from the girls about the Big Drop-off at the hike's starting point. This observation is offered with complete neutrality, and should not be assumed to be a criticism of anyone's courage or manhood).

Also (or should I say, as Sarah Palin would, "also too" - because I know how much the Patio Boys love Sarah and her insights) at the seven-mile mark, or thereabouts, there was no, "Whew, I'm tired, let's not take the glarcier spur." Rather, Kate said: "What, there's a glacier up there? I came to see a glacier. Let's take that .8 mile spur that goes straight up the mountain to above 8,000 feet even if it is slick with scree and even if it is steeper than a street in Mount Adams." That's right, boys, Kate  led the way up that spur to see Grinnell Glacier. She may be asthmatic. But she's mountain tough.

Sometimes when told of women who perform more courageously than the male standard, men, Patio Boys included, feel compelled to draw on philosophy and the wisdom of ages. What may, in a shallow way, seem a braver performance by a female, bears a more probing explanation. Depth is summoned. And so, let it not be said that Kate exhibited courage above and beyond any of my Patio Boy comrades.

Courage, I'm told by a fellow Patio Boy, is not the absence of fear; it is the capacity to act despite being afraid. This particular Patio Boy is fond of neither high places or steep drop-offs, and he's especially unfond of finding the two of those in the same place, which is common in Glacier. Toss in some loose rocks or, worse, wet rocks and it's all the more unsettling to him. The 40 mph winds coming off the Triple Divide Pass Trail with its slippery, scree-strewn shoulders into an abyss were about as bad as it gets. And yet, he and the Patio Boys pressed on. They found the capacity to act despite being afraid.

I'll only say that Kate walked such places as if she were stepping happily into heaven, exclaiming in awestruck wonder, "Man!" at each new vista.

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And so our trip moved along in a fixed and satisfying pattern: Hiking. Eating well. Resting.

And on the third day, we fished.

It started out well. I followed a tried and true routine. Not being a wildly experienced fly fisherman, I like to stop at the local shop and ask what's hot. The attendant recommended three files, each with a bit of yellow tied into the hackles - and I bought one of each. Off we went to a recommended pull-off at the Essex bridge over the Flathead. I set up Mrs. Captain, who was fly fishing for real for the first time after practicing the public library parking lot back home, where the local fly fishing club gave lessons. I then headed for that promising eddy. First cast, a catch. Nice! I've now been to Glacier twice, fly fished twice, and caught a trout on the first cast twice. Wow! That's good fishing.

Being the good and generous husband that I sometimes am, I got Mrs. Captain and gave her the hotspot, then crossed the small rapids of the feeder stream into the Flathead where we were fishing so as I might work the upper side of the eddy. Beautiful day. A little rainy but not too. And here we were, fly fishing in Montana with a first fish already caught and released. Almost heaven.

And then Butt-crack pulls in.

Now I have my own theory about Butt-Crack. I'm assuming he was a fisherman who was ticked off that we commandeered the eddy.  He did come over once and have a look, sort of wistful as if to say he hoped we didn't stay too long. He'd like the hot spot.

Suffice it to say that everyone in our party did not ascribe to Butt-Crack such innocent intentions. Others suspected homicides of the most unpleasant variety. I suspect Pig-Pen would understand, having faced similar preconceptions. Maybe bathing has its merits if you value the views of the judgmental general public.

Whatever Butt-Crack was there to accomplish, he did not ax murder us. He did, however, get our fishing spot.

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Back home at the B&B, the erasable menu board that announced the next day's breakfast made mention of "snow grapes. Do tell. Snow grapes? We went to bed wondering. Curious. Anxious to know. That chalkboard had been our inspiration each evening, signaling as it did the next culinary adventure come morning.

Now I must digress to a fine moment -- a year earlier -- when the Patio Boys went to a National Park Service Lecture on animal scat. It was most informative and made naturalists out of each of us, at least in ID'ing poo. So we are now able to tell the uninformed that moose poo looks like a pile of soft, brown marbles. Very useful information. Let the record show that the Patio Boys where once startled by two sleeping mooses, but we were never caught so off guard as to be eaten or even attacked by a moose, mooses or mices. We owe that to the scat lecture, which educated us most thoroughly in this essential backwoods skill and taught us that, unlike while working in the suburbs with your dog, you do not have to carry a plastic bag in the woods and pick up poo, with all the attendant indignity that brings.

OK, flash forward one year to breakfast on Thursday morning.  Turns out  that when you dip grapes in sour cream colored with brown sugar and cinammon, you make delicious snow grapes. However, you also make something that looks very much like moose scat.

Among  our number was a culinary school student who, on one of our hikes, shared with us this knoweldge: We eat with our eyes.  Ah-hum. Well, we all looked at the snow grapes and said nothing. And we tried not to eat with our eyes, less we eat moose scat. Nothing was said, but a common thought abided in our minds - until finally, the unsaid was said: "I think I've seen this on the trail." The kind of laughter that results in spit made of just-chewed food resulted. Our culinary school attendee had to bury her face in a napkin to conceal and silence her laughing. You see, our gracious hosts were near enough and it was not our intention to offend them. But we could not help thinking the obvious. Nor could we clean our plates this morning.

Snow grapes, in case you are wondering, are quite tasty. Far tastier than moose scat, not that I would know. But a warning: When it comes to snow grapes, do not under any circumstance eat them with your eyes.

♠♦♥♣

So there you have it, dear readers. The story of Butt-Crack fishing and snow grapes, our 2009 adventure, replete with courage, camaraderie, and a single trout, along with limited consumption of snow grapes.

May it be said that every trip to Glacier is worth its weight in gold for the stories lived and later told, whether or not it is taken in mixed company.