Day 183: Bert on Beartooth

Red Lodge, Montana was originally a coal-mining town. Today it’s mostly a resort town, strategically located near ski slopes and the picturesque Beartooth Highway, which leads over 10,947-foot Beartooth Pass to Yellowstone National Park. The town has a number of historic buildings, some of which were present in 1897 when the Sundance Kid tried to rob one of the local banks.

Laetitia hired a local driver with a van to take her group over scenic Beartooth Pass. While they were stopped at an overlook, a tall Native American man and a blonde woman went by on a motorcycle. They waved at Laetitia’s driver and he waved back. “That’s Bert and Jo Ann; they’re a fun couple,” he said. “Two of Red Lodge’s finest citizens. Bert is in his upper eighties. He’s had almost every adventure a person can have, including being a rodeo cowboy. He still flies his own airplane. Jo Ann is a retired radio astronomer.”

While she was talking to the driver, Laetitia noticed that Bert and Jo Ann had dismounted from the motorcycle and her group had gathered around Bert to listen to his stories. He was telling them about growing up on a reservation in northern Montana, riding empty boxcars of the Great Northern Railway to a Native American boarding school on the West Coast, and the time the boxcars were all full, so he rode on top of a boxcar through the 7.8 mile Cascade Tunnel, which was filled with smoke from the steam engines pulling the train.

Laetitia had asked the driver about places for dinner, and the driver had mentioned the Grizzly Bar, an eating and drinking establishment outside of Red Lodge. Bert’s last story before he and Jo Ann sped off on the motorcycle was about driving by the Grizzly Bar and seeing a black bear peering through the window. Laetitia wondered if the bear was a voyeur.

As it turned out, Laetitia had met Bert and Jo Ann on one of the Mind’s Eye tours she had conducted in Hawaii. It had been a small group, and she had given a limerick toast to each of the group at the end of the tour.

Here’s to Bert, hiking octogenarian
Who to some folks may seem a contrarian
He’s a Maori chief
And would rather eat beef
Than tofu, that food vegetarian.

Here’s to Jo Ann, who likes to hike early
When the dew on the fern fronds is pearly
While we’re waiting to have a
Second cup of Java
To make us a little less surly.

Bert is Dakota, not Maori. Jo Ann and He were on a tour in New Zealand that included a staged encounter with a group of Maoris, the Polynesians who once ruled those islands. The tour group had to select a chief to negotiate with the chief of the Maoris, who was making threatening gestures and facial expressions. They chose Bert as their chief, presumably because of his commanding presence. Bert’s negotiation was successful, and the tour group was able to pass on to their destination.

That afternoon Laetitia took her group on a brewery tour of Red Lodge Ales. She discovered she was especially fond of their porter during a brew tasting at the end of the tour. They had dinner that evening at the Grizzly Bar. An overheard conversation gave Laetitia the limerick of the day.

Ladies shun Mel, who lives in Red Lodge
When he asks them to ride in his Dodge
He’ll say, “We’re out of gas,”
And then make a pass
Before they have left his garage.