From Pennsylvania to Montana and Back

by | Dec 13, 2017 | 27 comments

Early August in Montana, 2007. The afternoons burned hot, but the mornings were bitter and covered in frost. Our days swam together until neither the time nor the day of the week mattered at all. Dad and I had two weeks and more, long enough that the internal nagging and questioning about how long before all this had to end were sent away. We watched no television and kept the radio off. We visited no restaurants and no bars. With two coolers and a camper-freezer full of food, we restocked at a grocery store only once.  It’s as far away from everything and anything as I’ve ever been, for as long of a time as I’ve ever known. There were timeless, surreal moments, and they were fantastically long.

Dad and I towed his small camper from Pennsylvania, 1900 miles in 32 hours, with no stops — just gas fill-ups and bad fast-food to go. A long road trip done that way seems fast, because your progress never stops. You burn through states and cross county lines at 80 miles an hour. And yet, you’re not doing much besides holding a steering wheel and drinking coffee, as the wide highway passes in slow motion.

Traveling west and chasing the sunset is like driving toward the past. Night falls and weariness creeps in, begging for sleep. But when you make it through the dark, your sails are hoisted with the dawn. You feel the sun push from behind as it rises again. And then on the other side of a second day, at the next sunset, the orange fire pulls you like a friend into the gentle darkness. And your headlights cut through the dewy space again, speeding west at 80 miles per hour.

Dad

The rivers were big, full of wide water like I’d never seen. The rivers were fast, tumbling down mountains taller and steeper than I’d ever known. The rivers were hard, full of huge granite boulders that dwarfed the soft limestone of my home. And I felt small. I remember the first phone conversation with my wife. I told her all of this, how Montana was a gorgeous, incredible place, but that it was so big that I somehow felt half-sized. The valleys were rugged, jagged and wide, not like the comforting green shadows and protective arching limbs of my own familiar waters.

Within two days, I lost the small feeling, and I found a balance with the land around me. And I fell in love.

Old School

Dad and Dylan

We fished morning into night until it was habit. We explored and waded large rivers and back country feeders, with few breaks in between. Dad and I sometimes lost track of the day and the hour, enough that we felt at home in a place that wasn’t our own, if just for a while.

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Two weeks. Then we packed up and burned back down the highway with the sun pushing against us. It resisted us from the east, and when the shadows shifted to the road ahead, the sun pulled us backward toward the setting horizon. The time zones and clocks added to our travel, contesting our progress eastward, until we finally crossed the Pennsylvania border, back to the familiar. In the last three hours of travel, the wheels felt like we were slogging through mud.

Then, in the final stretch, the thoughts of home warmed me from inside. Dad and I were both ready. Sixteen separate days was enough, and at last we were home. The embraces, the smiles, the stories and the laughter shared with family was welcome because it was missed.

I remember being restless on the first night home. And I walked outside at 3 A.M. to feel the summer breeze, to smell the familiar scent of oaks and maples. I stared forever at the truck and the hitched camper, motionless, until my own legs were stiff and needed sleep.

I still daydream of those miles. I remember the cross-country travel with Dad as much as the fishing. I remember the lonely campsite atop a windy knoll. I can smell the burned-out sagebrush. And I can feel the wonderful emptiness of just me, Dad and our Border Collie. I remember the nothingness and the peace that came with it. I remember it all.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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27 Comments

  1. I made one trip there in August. It snowed the first day and warmed gradually as the vacation progressed. What sites! Three grizzlies on the banks of the Lamar River delaying our fishing that morning for nearly an hour before ambling back into the foothills. Buffalo, coyotes, wolves from afar and huge black Mormon Beetles, all breathtaking to a guy from Pennsylvania. Montana has what we lack, but we lack for nothing. Our Pennsylvania offers a unique spectacle of its own.

    Reply
  2. Love it!

    Reply
  3. I WOULD BE RETIRED IN MT. EXCEPT THAT IT SNOWED ON MY WIFE WHILE I WAS FISHING AND IT WAS THE FOURTH OF JULY!
    GREW UP IN PA. THOUGH AND UNDERSTAND HOW YOU CAN LOVE IT.

    Reply
  4. Sounds like a great trip! Can’t go wrong, fishing with Dad. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  5. The nut didn’t fall far from the tree, you look like your old man!

    Reply
  6. Loved your story. Family, road trip, fishing and a good dog. I grew up in N.J. and worked 5 summers in Yellowstone in the 70s. Have been in Atlanta since and I direct everybody in the local fly fishing club to follow your blog.. Was trying to see if you were using a fly line in 2007.

    Reply
    • Ha. Yeah, I’ve been fishing a Mono Rig for a couple decades. But on those MT trips, I fished almost all dry flies — and big ones. It was summertime, and the trout had the feed bag on. So we fished a lot of Humpys and Hoppers. It was fun.

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
  7. a great story —well written and heart felt —must have been great with your Dad !!!
    troutbitten is a teriffic site.
    joe gallagher

    Reply
  8. Enjoyed story bout your trip with Dad. Thanks

    Reply
  9. This story reminded me of a fishing trip I took with my dad years ago. At the time I had no idea it would be our last time to fish together. At the time, I was in the military and was on a 30 day leave before heading to VietNam. I had read about a new lake, on the Texas/Louisana border, Toledo Bend Reservoir, that had just filled to pool level. Very few accommodations on the lake at that time, but we found a little store/bait shop/fish camp and settled in. Spent three weeks catching lots of bass and crappie. Over the years there were many hunting and fishing trips with my dad, but this is the one fishing trip that I will cherish the most. Not quite a year later my dad died and I lost my best fishing partner.

    Reply
  10. You’re a lucky man. My dad didn’t have the patience for fishing.
    I am a lucky man – my sons love fly fishing.

    Reply
  11. That was a great story, and I love how the sun pushed you around the great American highways to and from the Big Sky. I’ve done that trip a few times and it always gets me. I work part time in MT and live in VA so I can get in some great fishing. I’ve taken a few fly trips with my dad but he’s taken me to the Bahamas for reef/deepsea with his high school buddies. It’s been good father son time. He won’t be able to fish from a drift boat due to infirmity and he’s not really a fly fisher but maybe I can chaperone him back to the Bahamas one more time… He and his dad were outdoorsman and it rubbed off on me. They were hunters and its not my bag but they instilled the love of the outdoors. Great story. You ought to write a book, really!

    Reply
    • Cheers. Thanks for the kind words.

      Books are in the works. Thanks again.

      Dom

      Reply
  12. Plan to be there soon to fish with my son and grandson. Nothing better!

    Reply
  13. My young family used to go to a dude ranch in Livingston, Mt. in the early ‘80’s. I would fish and the family enjoyed the trails. I spent 2 days each year on the DePuy Spring Creek and fished the Yellowstone River other days. Mission Creek outside of Livingston was full of Cutthroat. So many that the locals stopped at a bridge and catch dinner many evening. Memories of those days will never be forgotten. Dan Bailey’s fly shop and the smell of fresh cut hay will always be with me. Doing with your dad has to be very special.

    Reply
  14. Great story……..great memories.

    Reply
  15. The gravitational pull of Montana is even stronger the closer you live. Think that’s in a Gerach book, and it’s so true…. I daydream of summer and fall days on the Bighorn, Madison and Yellowstone rivers through the winter….I’m only a short 10 hour drive away with great fishing in my own state, but Montana is a gem! Awesome story Dom.

    Reply

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