Some of you have asked about the wildlife we’ve seen on this trip thus far, if any. I’m delighted to report that Kevin saw a prowling fox at Grand Teton National Park that actually hopped up on the trail and on it for a time. On the same day, we saw a moose grazing in the tall reeds by a river from afar. And yes, in the high elevation of the Teton range, we saw countless yellow-bellied marmots, who are more mischievous than they appear. I woke up the first morning on the Teton Crest trail, got out of my tent, and found that my shoes, as well as Scott’s and my sandals, were ravaged by the buck teeth of devious marmots. They were probably attracted to the salt residue from our sweat. They’re still wearable, the shoes, but it’s amazing that they ate so much before realizing that the shoes weren’t edible… revealing much to us the limited intelligence of such creatures.
But I begin to wonder if we should include humans in the category of wildlife. On the week of July 4th, Grand Teton NP was packed, the parking lots overflowed to the road, and the trail crammed like a LA rush hour traffic jam. On the idyllic Teton Crest trail, our companions included the fox, the moose, the numerous idiotic marmots, and very few people. We were left in our solitude to meditate and take in the beautiful scenery. (If I could say one thing about the Teton Crest trail, it would be: where else in the world could you find a snowfield and a field of fresh yellow wildflowers flourishing side by side?)
But as we approached the visitor center, other human beings were all we saw and could think about.
We finished up at Grand Teton on Thursday, and the plan was to go to Yellowstone, right up north, on Friday. The mother of all National Parks, on the weekend after July 4th? If Grand Teton was crowded, what would Yellowstone be like, Times Square during New Year’s Eve? Fahgeddaboudit, man.
So we swung to the west, to Idaho. There were some stuff we wanted to see, like the Shoshone Falls (Niagara of the West, some people say), and the Craters of the Moon National Monument (so closely resembling the moon that astronauts visited it in preparation for their ’69 expedition to the actual moon). En route, Kevin was hungry, so we pulled off I-15 in pursuit of lunch at Wendy’s in a small town called Blackfoot. Lo and behold, on the door was a flyer proclaiming a 3-on-3 basketball tourney the very next day, at a local park. Basketball.
The poor man’s Niagara Falls and the moon landscape replica could wait. We were gonna show the people of Blackfoot how the game’s played in DC.
The following morning, after registering, we surveyed the competition lounging around the outdoor basketball courts. Over there, a trio of middle aged men in plain t-shirts and plaid shorts. At another corner, several group of Native Americans. Near us, a quartet of white, clean-cut college boys with names of various colleges emblazoned on their shirts, which were cut off at the shoulders.
And… right here were us, clad in twenty-four dollar Wal-Mart sneakers and uniform royal blue tank tops with Kappa Gamma stitched on. Deaf frat boys with matching sneakers. Our synchronization must have impressed the people of Blackfoot.
The first game, played at 11 but the way the sun blazed, it could easily have been midafternoon, was a shock for us. We played a team of Native Americans, and they kicked our ass. It was a streetball court, we realized, and we were playing their game. They outmuscled us for rebounds, and knew how to shoot from long-range in the outdoors. The games were decided when you scored up to 21, or by the score at the end of 20 minutes. 13-9, we lost.
Luckily, it was a double-elimination tournament. Next up, we played against a team of earnest, pimply-faced teenagers. The kid guarding me couldn’t have been more than 14. We were learning the streetball style fast, and we put them away 11-6.
The white college boys were next. We watched them play earlier, as we sat in the shade steaming over our loss, and they were good. Their tallest player, six foot five, had it all- a post-up game, a nice handle, and a beautiful shot. Scott said, “I got him. You two take care of the others.”
Scott stopped that kid, taking him like Mark Madsen took Shaq in the 2004 Western Conference Finals (albeit with much more success) and Kevin and me took care of the rest. We exploded to a hot start, and maintained the lead, and made free throws in the end to put the game away.
This put us a game away from entering the finals. In front of us was another team of Native Americans, led by a tall, gangly man who had a ponytail that dropped nearly to his waist. His playing style was unorthodox- you couldn’t predict what he was gonna do next, but it always seemed to work out in the end. We kept neck-to-neck the entire game, but they eked out the victory, edging us by one. Scott worked hard, but the ponytailed kid kept making circus shot after circus shot.
Damn. The (somewhat) magical run of the Wal-Mart sneaker frat boys was over. However, we can now say we played streetball in a tiny town at the edge of a Native American reservation in the middle of Idaho.
But what’s an experience in Idaho without their world-famous potatoes? Ah yes, spuds had a part in this day. In between games, we noticed a sign on the front of a nearby sheltered picnic area. It said: FREE BAKED POTATOES. It might as well have said: WE GROW A WHOLE LOTTA POTATOES HERE, SO MUCH THAT WE CAN GIVE SOME AWAY FOR FREE! The unabashed pride of the world famous potato-growers of Idaho shone from the poster, reinforcing the idea that you cannot separate ‘Idaho’ from potato. (That rhymes doesn’t it?) But you know what? They came with sour cream, chives, butter, and crispy, thick slices of bacon. Now from my perspective, I think Idaho should be known for its supreme ability to raise hogs and cook strips of bacon so thick and fine that it makes you forget that you’re eating baked potatoes in the first place. Indeed, a fine effort, Idaho.
Note: At the end of the day, the sole of one of Scott’s sneakers started to come off. Wal-Mart, the quality of your products never cease to amaze me.
We were too busy playing ball to take pictures, but Kevin took this one, to give you an idea of Blackfoot’s basketball court.