I’m standing waist deep in shimmering emerald waters. All around me, along the edges of this serene and secluded lake, towering coniferous trees populate the hillsides. Beyond them, rising high into the hazy Montana sky, lie the craggy peaks of the Bridger Mountains. I close my eyes, let the midday sun caress my face, and feel immediately at peace.
“You look like such a tool,” my buddy Justin shouts from the shore. “I can’t believe you’re making me do this.”
What Justin is doing—apparently against his will—is shooting photos of me wearing a handsome new pair of Bathers. It’s a Sunday in early September, the third and final day of our friend Jeremy’s bachelor party in Bozeman, Montana. A few weeks earlier, I’d brazenly suggested to Kyle, the amiable owner/designer of Bather, that I bring some trunks with me and capture the trip for the brand’s Journal. “There are plenty of amazing places to swim in Montana,” I had told Kyle, based purely off a 15-second Google search. “It’ll be a snap.”
It was not a snap.
On Friday, our first day in Montana, we did not stay in Montana. This was entirely my fault. Selfishly hoping to take some epic shots for Bather, I’d looked up swimming spots in Yellowstone National Park, which I knew was close to the Airbnb we’d rented in Bozeman. I sold all eight of the guys on going for a dip in Yellowstone’s Boiling River, so named for its temperate, hot-spring-heated waters. We piled into our rental SUV and hit the road.
What I didn’t realize, however, was that Yellowstone National Park is fucking massive. So fucking massive, in fact, that it stretches across three states. In order to get to the entrance closest to Boiling River, we had to drive nearly two hours into neighbouring Wyoming. Again: we had eight grown men packed in a single vehicle. Not exactly the most comfortable arrangement for an extended car ride.
Thankfully, what the drive lacked in legroom it more than made up for in mind-blowing scenery. As we cruised along the mostly empty highways—windows down, Ma$e and Cam’ron cranked high—we marvelled at the vast mountainsides and lush valleys, the rushing rivers and soaring skies.
When we finally reached Yellowstone, our jaws dropped even further. It was unlike anything any of us city folk had ever seen. This wasn’t just nature; it was nature turned all the way up to 11. Every which way you turned—toward the canyons or the mountains or the meadows or the pinewoods—you’d catch a glimpse of something so remarkable it just about broke your heart.
We were so astounded by our surroundings that we forgot all about swimming. We never made it to Boiling River. Instead, we hiked up the Mars-like Mammoth Hot Springs—a geothermal wonder of dusty reds and ashen rock sheathed in a thin layer of steam. Then, we drove deeper into the park, creeping our way up terrifyingly steep mountain roads, before finally turning around and heading for home.
Jeremy, the groom-to-be, had a singular objective for Saturday: he wanted to shoot some guns. (Holding out faint hope that maybe, after the guns, we’d go for a swim somewhere, I chose to wear a Bather suit for the second consecutive day.) We searched online for the closest gun range open to the public, loaded the address into our GPS, and then all crammed back into the increasingly smelly SUV.
Where Friday’s drive to Yellowstone was majestic, this one was just plain scary. Everything felt eerily desolate—even for a state as sparsely populated as Montana. About half an hour in, the paved road ended, and we swerved off onto a dusty path that felt straight outta No Country For Old Men. I was roughly 97 percent positive I was about to die.
Arriving at our destination did not assuage my fears in the least. Gallatin Sporting Clays, the range we’d chosen, consisted of a one-room shack and a barn-like storage shed on a barren plot of land. The sound of shotgun blasts rang out in the distance. As we pulled up, an older man with a scraggly white moustache stepped out of the shack and peered intently into our SUV, giving off some serious get-off-my-lawn vibes. I nearly didn’t get out of the car.
Turns out, I was very much judging a book by its (overtly murder-y) cover. Everyone we met at Gallatin—moustache dude included—was warm, inviting, and surprisingly non-judgmental about a bunch of liberal city slickers showing up unannounced and asking to fire shotguns. Sure, I’d had some serious reservations beforehand about even handling a firearm. After a couple of rounds, though, I realized that skeet shooting is a lot like bowling or bocce ball: a fairly weird, relatively innocuous sport that is mostly played by white people but is actually pretty fun. Guns are still the absolute worst, imho, but I can’t deny that I enjoyed myself.
Which brings us back to Sunday. Earlier this morning, half our group departed for home, leaving just me, Jeremy, Justin and our buddy David. Given that it’s the last day of the trip, I’m forced to put my foot down: we gotta go swimming somewhere. I Google “dope places to swim near Bozeman, Montana,” see that a spot called Fairy Lake is relatively nearby, and we set off toward it in our trusty SUV.
Again, we’re let down by my careless research. Yes, Fairy Lake is only a short distance away, but I neglect to realize that we have to travel most of that distance via a super rough, unpaved trail up a canyon and through the woods. Our oversized truck is not exactly the ideal vehicle for these conditions, and we inch along bit-by-harrowing-bit, taking well over an hour to travel a matter of miles.
Finally, we arrive. We amble out of the car and follow a short path down a tree-covered hill and then wham—the lake appears as if from nowhere, as if it’s the first goddamn lake we’ve ever goddamn seen. The water is so pristine and calm it hardly looks real; the mountains loom grandly in the background like a group of parents chaperoning a middle school dance. We’re awed, and then I momentarily ruin that awe by forcing my friends to take photos of me and endure the many, many insults hurled in my direction.
When all the pictures are taken and all the jokes have been made, we realize another dumb oversight: nobody packed lunch. We did, however, remember to bring a half-drank bottle of bourbon, which seems appropriate enough. The four of us float out into the cool, crisp water, pass the booze back and forth, and make toasts to Montana, to poor decisions, to one hell of a trip.
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