Early October in northwestern Montana. The aspen leaves are flaming yellow and the tamaracks just starting to turn. The Flathead River is cold, especially high up where we are on the South Fork. All the bull trout are down in the main stem, looking for deeper water that won’t chill so fast. Our tents are tucked up into a corner at the head of a bend in the river, where a wide cobblestone bank butts up against cliffs at the bottom of a high bluff.
We’re here to shoot five short Facebook videos that’ll catch the attention of families who camp. And who might also want an ATV. The shoot is sponsored by Yamaha, a vehicle for their new Wolverine X2.
The videos are a set of basic camping and fishing tips. Simple, useful, and maybe a little surprising. The ones we’re shooting include how to make a brownie by baking it inside an orange, how to sharpen a knife using a paper airplane. There’s also a bug seine hack, and a simple video on how to make a keyhole fire for cooking. Later, a former chief ranger from Glacier National Park (where you can’t carry a gun) will give us a demonstration on how to quick-draw and shoot bear spray.
Videographer Stephen Maturen is behind the camera. He’s from Minnesota and has shot Field & Stream video projects on everything from a traditional deer camp in Wisconsin to the best recipes for morel mushrooms. Our host is Eddie Nickens, Field & Stream Editor-at-Large and about the most well-rounded sportsman on the planet, a passionate, hunter, angler, camper, canoeist, naturalist, and adventure traveler. Also on camera on this trip, my 9-year-old son, Jonathan Matthews.
The weather forecast is not great, a day of heavy rain followed by a cold snap, which a chance of snow. So we’ve set up close to the forest road, where a high bridge crosses the river just upstream of where we’ve pitched our tents. Some shelter from the rain will make shooting these videos a whole lot easier. And it’s not like there’s much traffic. The bridge is about 55 miles of dirt road from the nearest town. An occasional outfitter will rattle overhead, towing mules, and tents in a trailer. But we’ve got the whole place to ourselves.
So Jonathan bakes his brownies, and learns the right way to sharpen a knife, helps us build a keyhole fire for cooking, watches Eddie use a paint strainer to turn his landing net into a cheap and easy bug seine, and learns how to pepper spray a bear in the face. His favorite part of the trip though is when I teach him how to drive the Wolverine.
It’s not easy camping, the kind of trip where it rains for two days straight and 40 mph wind gusts pull the stakes up on your tent in the middle of the night. It feels pretty great to get him up into the mountains. Away from the Long Island hustle. And that god damned Nintendo Switch.
On the last morning we wake up to clear sky and a dusting of snow on the ground. Just in time to pack everything up for the long road back to Kalispell.