We studied our road map to find a halfway point between North Cascades and Yellowstone. Missoula seemed like a short enough drive, and yet close enough to Yellowstone, we wouldn't be wiped out from driving the next day.
We booked a room, solely for the purpose of showering and laundry, although sleeping on a bed instead of in a sleeping bag sounded inviting, too. Then when we had fleeting phone signal, I searched for things to do in Missoula.
Smokejumpers didn't top the list of 25 things to do in Missoula, but it drew our attention more than any other item on the official list. A tour the following morning would put us on the road to Yellowstone a couple of hours later than we would have liked, but how could we NOT go?
After 8 solid hours of sleep that was just too good to be true and a load of laundry in a washer that actually worked (our first coin-wash of the trip was not as pleasant), and reading about Paul McCartney's concert the night before over a light breakfast, we arrived at the Smokejumper Visitor Center right as the first tour, as advertised on the internet, should have begun. Fortunately or not, the web site had not kept up with the current schedule, and we would have to wait a full hour for the actual first tour of the day. (You mean we could have slept another hour?!?)
I stewed momentarily because that one-hour delay would put us well beyond midnight in the heart of Yellowstone, which I wanted to see during the day. We'd done a hotel room search prior to leaving Colorado only to find anything still available on the south end of the Park way out of our financial reach.
The Lizard, however, announced he would be willing to drive straight through to Colorado in order to take the Smokejumper tour. How could I deny him that after he took us out of the way to visit the Portland Temple and North Cascades just for me???
The Smokejumper Visitor Center lies within the Missoula airport, and, The Lizard being a huge fan of aircraft of all kinds, there would be no bouts of boredom waiting an hour for our tour to begin.
Sure enough, views of Smokejumper aircraft through the fence provided the perfect entertainment to keep this photographic couple busy and shooting.
EXCEPT, my little Nikon would not power up!!!
I'd attempted charging the little camera via the DC adaptor and the car battery while we were in North Cascades, and the adaptor kept whining and whistling. It had never made such noise before. It's pretty old, almost as old as one of my adopted kids, so I thought maybe it was nearing obit status.
But then when I tried to charge the camera at the hotel in Missoula, it never fully charged, even though I had it plugged in all night.
I snapped a photo with the iPhone, because that was the only other camera I had with me, and told The Lizard to keep shooting. I was going back to the car for my big gun, the D300 Nikon, for which I had successfully recharged all the batteries the night before.
At the car, I decided to try the little Nikon's backup battery, which had not been used in longer than I can remember. I didn't know if it would hold a charge that long, but I had to know if it was the charger, the battery or the camera that was kaput. Battery or charger, I could stomach. Camera -- that was a different emotion. I do have another camera to use, but this little, lightweight, all-in-one camera has been such a blessing during Ride the Rockies and the MS-150. It is a breeze to use at work when my photography skills are called upon there. Losing it would be like losing a best friend. All my cameras, even the iPhone, are like a piece of me, and it hurts to lose one. Physically. Emotionally. Devastatingly.
I popped in the backup battery and turned on the camera, and it went right into action!
The relief I felt is indescribable. I've already ordered a new battery, which just happens to come with a replacement charger as well as yet another backup battery, all for less than the cost of the original battery when the camera was brand new, and soon I'll be back up and running just like before. Whew!
Meanwhile, the aircraft The Lizard had been watching took off, and another took its place. It's a busy season for firefighters.
When the visitor center tour began, we learned how each Smokejumper sews his own jumpsuit and what an intern must do to qualify as a master parachute packer. We saw Smokejumpers preparing for the next call, we saw sewing Smokejumpers, and we saw returning Smokejumpers preparing their parachutes for their next jump. We learned what it takes to become a Smokejumper, and then...
WE GOT TO MEET ONE!!!
He invited us onto the plane that would be transporting the next crew to the next fire because we were in the right place at the right time.
Everything during this vacation had been falling smoothly into place, and this stop, this tour, had been the best of all so far. The Lizard was having the time of his life, and I got to be there to see it!