- A little escape to Montana.
This is a chapter from a book I wrote back in 2010, "Tin Heads," which is a work of fiction and reminiscent of the many stories we watched on the "Twilight Zone." The book is still for sale as a PDF file, click HERE, or for a Kindle e-Book, click HERE. For more info on what is a Tin Head, see the INTRO. I hope you will enjoy it.
"Tin Head" - slang expression for the TN-2020 Personal Drone developed by TN Industries, San Jose, California. A "dumb" robot resembling human form with special sensors enabling humans to visit remote locations without having to leave their home location. Unit is distinguished by its domed head, hence the nickname.
Have you ever been engrossed in a job demanding your utmost attention to detail for an extended period of time? Harry Dobin knew it well. He was the lead architect for a major new system for North Carolina's Department of Transportation. The state had undergone a major upgrade of its highway infrastructure and, as part of the effort, wanted to revamp the highway's information system by studying and calculating traffic volume, accidents, and rerouting traffic to assure proper flow. This was no small task as it was a major system and had to interface with other state systems. The feasibility study alone took several months and, as point man of the project, Harry spent an inordinate amount of time studying the geography, specifying requirements, and designing the various business processes involved with the system.
It was not unusual for Harry to put in 70 to 80 hours a week on the project, sometimes more. Fortunately, Harry was still single so there were no family attachments to distract him. He loved his work and didn't mind the hours, but he tried to pace himself so he could keep his mind focused on the project. To do so, Dobin found solace in fly-fishing. He kept his pole and gear in the trunk of his car in case an opportunity presented itself for him to wade into a stream. As the project took him around the state, he knew just about all of the streams and rivers. It was the perfect distraction for him, as well as giving him an appreciation for the beauty of the state and an understanding of the needs of its citizens.
The highway system was now at a critical juncture whereby the data base was being constructed and specifications passed over to programming for implementation. Even though the system design was well documented, Dobin was concerned about the transfer to the programming staff, which meant he felt it necessary to hover nearby to oversee the staff and answer questions. This demanded more time than he had planned and he found himself working at the office night and day for most of July. When he grew weary during the day, he would close his eyes and think about climbing into a cool stream to fish, but knowing fishing was slow during this time of the year, it remained nothing more than a pipe dream to him.
One day over lunch in the government cafeteria, Harry happened to sit with a couple of the programmers on the project. He always wanted to keep track of the pulse of the project and found sharing lunch with the programmers a good way to do so, plus he could answer questions if necessary. On this particular occasion, Harry was introduced to a new programmer who had just joined the team earlier in the week, Wayne Tripplett.
"Where you from?" Harry asked trying to be hospitable.
"A little town out in northwest Montana, you've probably never heard of it, called Kalispell," Wayne replied.
"Montana? Really?" Harry had heard a lot of stories about fishing and hunting in Montana, but had never been west of the Mississippi River.
"What's the fishing like out there?" Harry asked.
"Actually, it's pretty good right now, "Wayne replied, "The winter runoff is over and the rivers should be relatively stable."
"What do you catch?"
"Mostly cutthroats (trout)."
"What's Montana like this time of year?"
"Actually, this is my favorite time of the year," Wayne began, "It's warm, but the humidity is low, making it a lot more comfortable to walk around than here in the East. Normally, I get up early in the morning, check out a section of the Flathead River and work it until midmorning. I'll then head home, work on something, then come back around 7:00pm for a couple of hours of fishing. Sometimes I'll take a book and a pipe with me and just sit and read for the afternoon. I might even close my eyes for a spell. The air and scenery is simply magnificent. If I stumble upon wild huckleberry, I'll pick some and snack on it, but you have to keep your eyes open for bears as they like it too."
"Bears? What kind?"
"Black bear and grizzlies. They generally keep to themselves but it's wise to give them a wide berth. The last thing you want to do is sneak up on one and surprise him. They don't have much of a sense of humor, if you know what I mean. Some people wear bells when they're hiking in order to let bears know they're coming, and they'll generally get out of the way, but you just never know what a bear will do."
"Something else, Kalispell is just outside of Glacier National Park. Have you heard of it?"
"Frankly, no," answered Harry, "I've heard about Yellowstone and Yosemite, but not Glacier."
"Well, Glacier is not as well known as those, but it is one of this country's great parks. It's in the northwest corner of Montana and extends down from Canada. The mountains, glaciers, and wildlife are beautiful and if you're into fly-fishing I would heartily recommend a trip up there."
"Sounds great," said Harry, "But I won't be going anywhere for a while until this project takes off. I simply can't get away right now."
"Hmm..., have you ever thought about a simple weekend getaway up there?" asked Wayne.
"Are you kidding? It would probably take a day just to get up there and another day to get back. No, I'm stuck here at least until the Fall."
"Why not rent a Tin Head instead? At least you could see the place and get in some fly-fishing. You might not be able to eat it, but you could at least relax."
Harry studied Wayne's face, "You mean, they've got Tin Heads up there?"
"Of course they do, where do you think Montana is, Mars? They've had Tin Heads up there for at least the last five years and I hear it's a booming business for them as people like you just want to getaway and visit the park. I have a good friend up there who is an outfitter and also has a Tin Head license. I can give you his number if you're interested."
"Yes, please," Harry said as his curiosity continued to grow. "This could be the perfect weekend escape," he thought to himself. And Wayne scribbled the name and number on a slip of paper for Harry.
Later that night, Harry went home and researched Kalispell and Glacier National Park on the computer. He quickly became familiar with the geography, the layout of the area, and the fishing. It all sounded great, but Harry felt handcuffed to the project and dropped the idea.
Harry worked hard the next week, putting in at least twelve hours at work each day. When Friday finally came along, Harry was pretty burned out. Just before lunchtime he found himself staring at his computer screen with a blank look on his face, seemingly mesmerized. Jeff Bondo, the Project Manager happened to walk by Harry's desk and noticed the blank look on his face.
"Harry, what are you looking at?" Jeff asked.
"Huh, what?" Harry said as he started to snap out of the trance.
"You've been putting in a lot of time lately. I can't afford to have you burn out on me. I want you to take the weekend off and recharge your batteries. In fact, why don't you quietly close up your desk and just take off right now?"
"Really?" Harry responded, "You're probably right. I think I'll just slip out and go home."
Harry drove home to his apartment where he thought he would close his eyes for a few minutes, but before doing so, he thought he would logon to the computer one last time to check the status of the project. Before he could turn on the screen though he spotted the card Wayne had given him for the Tin Head outfitter in Montana. He picked it up and paused to think about it.
"Why not?" he said to himself, and he dialed the number. He spoke to the manager who assured him he had Tin Head units available and could arrange a great getaway for him, complete with river rafting, fishing, and a tour of the park. He gave Harry his TN license number to use when making the Tin Head reservation.
Harry went on-line and booked the Tin Head reservation. The rental of the suit and the special outfitter package came to $300, but Harry used a coupon which brought the whole getaway package price down to just $250. Having booked the trip, Harry turned off the lights, closed the drapes and fell fast asleep in his bed. He slept through dinner and the night, nearly twelve hours in total. The next morning he awoke refreshed, ate some breakfast, and went on-line to check weather conditions in Kalispell. It was going to be a beautiful day with no rain in the forecast, and temperatures in the mid-80's.
He arrived at the local Tin Head outlet where his reservation awaited him. It was now late in the morning Eastern Time, but it was still early in Kalispell which is on Mountain Time.
Harry produced his identification card, along with the reservation number, all of which checked out with the local TN staff. He then got into a home unit uniform and sat in the prep chair. The unit then swung down from the ceiling on to Harry where he was then snapped in by the staff. The unit then hoisted him out of his chair and suspended him in the air.
"Equipment check Mr. Dobin, can you hear me?"
Harry gave a thumbs up.
"Okay, standby, your screens and audio will go live in 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1..."
Harry suddenly found himself sitting in the Glacier Outfitters store located just outside of the park.
"Mr. Dobin?" an attendant addressed Harry, "Are you okay? Does everything check out?"
Harry gave another thumbs-up.
"I'm Matt Stimson, I believe we talked on the phone yesterday. Welcome to Montana," and he helped Harry to his feet.
"Looks like we've got a terrific day today. Let me check on a few other arrivals. Make yourself at home and I'll be with you shortly."
Harry wandered around the store. His eyes were drawn to a vast collection of artificial flies for sale in the store which he examined closely.
Stimson made a general announcement to gather the group, "May I have your attention please? Welcome to our Glacier getaway package. Please come closer so you can hear me."
Six Tin Heads assembled near Matt.
"First, I want to thank you for booking your trip with us. We have been in this business for thirty years now and have extensive experience in and around Glacier National Park. My name is Matt, and I'll be your guide today. We're going to begin with a tour of the park, followed by some white water rafting, and ending with some fly-fishing on the Flathead."
"Before we begin, I want to mention the Tin Head suits you have on today have been slightly modified. Yes, they are normal Tin Head suits, but they have also been made water proof. You can get them wet and it won't hurt a thing, but like most Tin Head suits they are not indestructible. Remember, this is not a space suit, it is a Tin Head. Please act accordingly and think safety first."
"During the day, we will take some scheduled breaks so you can relieve yourself back at your Home unit or to eat. If you've got a special problem though, please see me and we will try to accommodate you."
"Since you are all dressed identically, we have put different colored tape on your arms and marked your name on the front of the suit and back of your helmet. Your fishing licenses have already been obtained for you and are in your top breast pocket. Any questions? Okay, great let's go outside and get in the bus."
It was just 8:00am and the sun had already come up casting long shadows. Waiting for the group was an old red bus with a black open top. This was no Greyhound, but rather a short, squatty bus which, they were told, was a classic trademark of the park for many decades. It was a good thing the roof was opened at the top, as the Tin Head helmets required headroom. When loaded into the vehicle, the group heads poked out of the top. As they traveled down the road, their heads jiggled like a strange set of bobble-heads sitting in an egg carton. Matt always found this rather amusing.
They entered Glacier Park through its west entrance and began their climb up Going-to-the-Sun Road which cut through the park. They passed by Lake McDonald and because of the Tin Head sensors in the suit, they could feel the cool winds coming off of the lake and smell the sweetness of the air. The bus continued to climb up through the mountains. People along the way would inevitably turn and laugh at the bobble-heads as they drove by, such as hikers and others on bicycle. The driver of the bus, whom Matt had hired, hated driving Tin Heads around as everyone would giggle and point at the bus as if they were crash dummies who had somehow come to life. Although embarrassed, he said nothing and raced to complete the trip so as not to prolong his agony.
The view from the Going-to-the-Sun Road was simply spectacular and showcased the majesty of the park, particularly as the bus ascended the mountain. At the summit of the road was Logans Run, over 6,000 feet above sea level and the destination for the bus. Matt instructed the group to disembark. Even though it was now late July, it was still chilly at this elevation and with the wind whipping over the mountain. So much so, there was a large sheet of snow uphill from them but within walking distance from the bus and Matt walked them up the mountain to it. Kids were sliding down the snow which gave Harry an idea; before Matt could catch him, Harry sat down on the snow pack, gave himself a push, and whoosh went down the hill on his back for at least 100 yards. Harry yelled "Yaa-hoo!" as he slid all the way down the hill and landed at the bottom of the slope near the bus where it was parked. Before Matt could stop the others, the remaining Tin Heads lined up on the snow and slid down the hill like kids. From afar, the sight of five screaming Tin Heads sliding down a hill covered in snow looked like space invaders run amok. It just didn't look right.
Matt walked down the hill and scolded the group as he was concerned about accidentally puncturing the Tin Head suits. Fortunately, no damage was done and the group found the experience exhilarating. They then re-boarded the bus and acted like giddy school children. The trip back down the mountain seemed to go faster than going up, maybe because the group was becoming more adventurous and stood up in the bus in order to call and wave at passerbys. "God damn Tin Heads," the driver thought to himself. Normally he would tell human passengers to sit back down in their seats, but because they were Tin Heads he hoped one or more of them would fall out of the bus and tumble down the side of the mountain.
It wasn't until noon before they finally returned down the Going-to-the-Sun Road, exited the park and made their next stop, a white-water rafting trip down the middle fork of the Flathead River. Matt instructed each Tin Head to put on a life vest. Even though the Tin Heads were waterproof, it was company policy for everyone to wear a life vest. He then introduced the group to Dave Franklin who would be their guide down the river. Dave provided them with paddling instructions and assigned people to specific seats in the raft and gave each a paddle. He then took his position at the stern of the raft where he would navigate from. Matt waved to them from the bank as the group departed. He then got back on the bus which took him to the ending point of the raft trip, down river, where he would await them.
The Tin Heads were in good spirits as they began their journey and kidded each other. In particular, Harry was impressed with the clarity of the water and he could see an occasional trout or whitefish swimming under them. He was starting to become anxious in anticipation for fishing later on.
The starting point of the rafting trip was smooth and the group paddled leisurely along thereby affording Dave the opportunity to explain the area and provide additional instruction in what to do when they came upon the white water later in the trip.
"Very important," Dave said, "You depend on each other. Keep an eye on your buddy next to you and don't let him fall out of the raft. Grab on to their vest if necessary. Second, do not let go of your oar; they are critical tools for us and we don't want to lose them. Third, stay off the rocks. This raft is made of some very durable material, but we don't want to get hung up on a rock or have someone fall out and hurt themselves. Finally, should you fall out of the raft, just turn over on your back and float along until we can pick you up."
Like the bus driver, Dave didn't particularly like Tin Heads as passengers. They didn't move as quickly as human passengers and tended not to take instruction well as they didn't show fear, and most acted like drunk louts. Bottom-line though, he saw them as nothing more than machines and just plain creepy.
Harry was particularly enjoying the ride. He had ridden over white water rapids in Tennessee and was familiar with what to expect. He was surprised though, how the sensors of the Tin Head suit allowed him to feel most of the bumps and rolls of the water.
The group approached their first set of rapids which Dave deftly navigated them through using his oar as a rudder. It was a small set of rapids which helped to indoctrinate neophytes who had never rafted before. All exclaimed their fondness for the ride and now wanted to try something a little stronger. Fortunately, they didn't have long to wait as they quickly found themselves in the second set of rapids, which dropped them down a couple of feet in the river.
"If you liked that," said Dave, "we've got a class II set of rapids coming up next. I want everyone to
be on their toes. It is now going to start to get interesting."
As they approached the next set of rapids, Harry could see the water speeding up and some nasty looking rocks in the water. He encouraged the group to paddle in synch. Again, Dave did a good job navigating the raft but this time it rode over a hidden boulder in the river causing one side of the raft to jerk up in the air. As it came back down, Harry's partner started tumbling backwards and at the last split-second Harry grabbed his vest and pulled him back into the raft. The rest of the crew was rattled and wet from the experience. Although the ride had been fun up until now, the Tin Heads realized this was going to be harder than they had envisioned.
"Is everyone all right?" Dave asked. All shook their heads affirmatively, but Dave could tell they were also becoming apprehensive about the trip. "Rookies," Dave said to himself, "this is nothing."
"Now, if you thought that ride was wild, we still have a class III set of rapids to go through in a couple of miles. Everyone relax for a while until we hit it." And the group calmed down as the raft slowly drifted down the river.
As they approached the rapids, Harry was the first to hear the whoosh of the rapids ahead and could tell this was going to be more intimidating than the rest of the rapids. As they got closer, Harry could see a substantial drop in the river, a lot of white water, and some tight spots in the rocks to maneuver through.
"Come on, this is going to be fun," said Dave to encourage his passengers, but as he looked at their faces, he only saw fear. "Oh, oh," he said to himself.
By this time, Matt Stimson had already made it back to the disembarkation point of the ride about an hour earlier, had a snack for lunch, and sat reading a book on the river bank while waiting for the Tin Heads to come out of the final turn of the rapids. It was a quiet spot for reading; very peaceful. In the distance, he thought he heard some laughing coming from upstream but, looking up, he didn't see anything. It must have been his imagination he thought.
The laughing sounded louder and as he looked upstream at the final bend, he saw a Tin Head come floating down the stream on his back with his life vest on. Then a second Tin Head shot out of the turn, then a third, fourth, fifth, and finally the sixth. All six were now resting on their backs lazily floating down the river like some kids playing hooky from school. It was a strange sight even for Matt.
"Where's Dave?" he shouted at them as they floated by.
"He's coming," they yelled back to Matt and pointed at the final turn. They continued to float down the river to the final station where they got out of the river.
Then, all of a sudden, out shot the raft down the final turn with Dave alone at the stern. As he got in earshot range Matt shouted, "What happened? What's going on?"
Dave guided the raft over to the bank where Matt awaited him.
"That's the last time I ever take a raft load of those Tin Idiots on the water," Dave said visibly upset. "You know what they did? They were a little shaken by the first few rapids. As we approached the last one, some panicked and started to back paddle and began to argue with the others. They then spun the raft around and around; I told them to shut up and start paddling together. They just kept bickering until I couldn't stand it anymore, so I maneuvered us over to the bank and I got out. I told them there was only two ways to get through the final turn, either the hard way or the easy way. Since they didn't want to do it the easy way, I flipped the raft over and told them to enjoy the 'hard way'. They of course started to bob around in the water like apples, then one-by-one they slid down the rapids. It was only then that they found out it was fun and splashed their way home. I hope they're all right."
"Thank God those suits are waterproof," Matt said and ran after the Tin Heads before they got into any more trouble.
After cleaning up the group and returning their life vests and paddles to the rafting company, Matt collected them and shuttled them off for their last stop of the day, fishing off another branch of the Flathead. It was now early evening, about six pm, and although the sun was starting to set, there was still plenty of sunlight left to fish.
Upon arriving at their destination, Matt assembled the group and inquired about their fishing proficiency. With the exception of one, all had suitable skill in using a fly rod. He then described the terrain around the river and where he wanted them to go. "There is basically two rules I want you to observe here," he said, "always stay in sight of another person, and do not wade into the water. The rocks are very slippery and we do not want anyone to fall into the river; it can be dangerous around here."
Matt then distributed the fly rods, nets, and small plastic kits containing extra flies.
"You're fly rods are all ready to go and we've got a good dry-fly tied on it for you. Should you need to change a fly, we've added special clips onto the tippet line which will be easier for you to handle with your Tin Head hands. Should you break a line, come and see me and I'll fix it for you."
"I'm going to take our rookie here over to this gravel shoal and give him some instruction. The rest of you can spread out along the river and we'll come down and join you in a little while. Good luck."
And with that, the group dispersed down to the river which was lined with gravel on one side where they would stand. In particular, Harry hustled along to find a good spot as this is what he had waited for. The river was only three-to-four feet deep, about thirty yards across, and was moving at a good pace. Harry had fished bigger and deeper rivers before, but he decided to heed Matt's advice and stay out of the water. The rest of the Tin Heads finally caught up with Harry and took up positions behind him along the river.
Harry spotted a good hole in the river behind a submerged rock which looked like a good place for a fish to hide and he cast into it. Nothing. He then started to work the river bank moving methodically upstream. Finally, snap, he had a hit and watched a cutthroat breach the water. It wasn't a big fish, maybe just ten inches, but it gave a splendid fight before Harry reeled him in. Harry was in heaven. He never thought fishing through a Tin Head suit could be so realistic.
After releasing the fish back into the stream, he continued to work his way up the stream. Now and then he would look back to see his companions slowly following him. They too were starting to get hits and catch fish, but they all seemed relatively small.
Harry kept moving upstream until he came upon a quiet pool of water laced with boulders. There were woods on the opposite bank where wild grasses and flowers grew, along with wild Huckleberry trees abundant with fruit. Harry thought it was a very peaceful and serene setting, ideal for fishing. Quietly, he moved toward the pool, let out some line and cast his fly behind a boulder. Snap! He had another cutthroat on the line, this time one that was respectable in size, at least a foot, maybe more. The fish gave him a good fight but was finally reeled in by Harry who estimated it was at least fourteen inches in length, a respectable-size fish. He held it up to admire it.
Only then did Harry realize he was not alone. There on the other bank peering through the grass was a grizzly bear who had been enjoying a snack of huckleberries when the sound of Harry's fish splashing in the water distracted him. Harry saw the huge head of the bear and instinctively froze like a statue hoping the bear wouldn't see him. His companions down river also saw the bear and did likewise.
The bear lumbered out of the grass and down the bank. It was actually a beautiful animal with a thick brown coat and muscles under a layer of fat. The grizzly then crossed the river directly across from Harry and headed in his direction.
If Harry had been there in person, he would have been terrified, but he felt somewhat safe as he was in a Tin Head which, of course, had no scent to it. He prayed the bear would leave him alone Nonetheless, he maintained his silence and froze like a statue with the fish still in the grip of his left hand and the fly rod in the other.
The bear came right up to Harry and studied him for a moment. It was rather imposing in size, but showed no open sign of aggressiveness. Perhaps it didn't see Harry as human as he had hoped. The animal seemed almost friendly, kind of like a dog sitting next to a table. Thinking he had nothing to lose, Harry dropped his fly rod and with his right hand slowly reached over and petted the bear on the head. The animal offered no resistance and seemed to appreciate the token. The bear however, was less concerned with being petted than with the fish still flapping in Harry's left hand and in what seemed to be a blink of an eye, opened its mouth and tore the fish from Harry's hand and Harry's hand from Harry's left arm.
Harry stood there stunned by the bear's advancement. Back in North Carolina in the Home Tin Head unit, his left hand was, of course, still attached, but he felt no sensation in his left glove.
The bear spit out Harry's left hand and began to eat the fish. Harry figured this was an opportune time to make his escape and turned to leave. Startled by the motion, the bear swiped at Harry with a massive paw thereby tearing his left arm from his torso. Harry froze and looked down at his arm on the ground.
"Oh shit," Harry said to himself, "and I didn't pick up the insurance rider for the Tin Head."
Harry remained frozen there while the bear finished its meal. Slowly he knelt down and quietly picked up the severed hand and arm as he wanted to return it to the outfitter. The bear finished the fish and sat there watching Harry who was now trying to inch his way away from the animal. As Harry started to move though, so did the bear in the same direction. Step-by-step he slowly moved away with the bear shadowing him.
The others had fled shortly after the bear took Harry's fish (and hand). They had gone to get Matt and tell him what happened. After Matt heard their story, he rushed back to the shuttle van and retrieved a shotgun from the back and went running upstream towards Harry. "God damn Tin Heads," he mumbled to himself.
By the time Matt reached the bank on the river, he heard Harry yelling "Get out of the way! get out of the way!", then saw him running pell-mell towards him with the grizzly now in hot pursuit. As the bear got closer to Harry, he would turn and bang the severed arm on its head, unfortunately to no beneficial effect other than to add to the animal's displeasure.
As they got about twenty yards away, Matt fired two rounds loudly near the animal to scare it. The bear was surprised by the shots and stopped quickly, sat up and looked at Matt who was quickly reloading his gun. The shots had not deterred Harry who ran by Matt on his way back to the shuttle. Matt then shot off two more rounds and the bear finally retreated back up the stream.
"God damn Tin Heads," he said.
Matt then searched around for any fly rod or equipment that may have been dropped before returning to the shuttle where the group awaited him.
The sunlight was now disappearing as Matt loaded the Tin Heads into the shuttle and took them back to the outfitters store where their adventure had begun. On the way back, the van was buzzing with talk about the fishing, the bear and, of course, Harry's severed appendage.
When they arrived at the outfitter's post, they thanked Matt for a memorable day, and tipped him handsomely. Harry paid heavily for the severed arm and hand but didn't appear too concerned about it. After all, it had certainly been a memorable day. The Tin Heads bid Matt good-bye before sitting down in their chairs to be deactivated and return home.
Harry was back to work bright and early Monday morning. His boss thought he looked rested and invigorated. "Did you do anything special over the weekend?" he asked.
"Not much really," he replied, "Just slid down a mountain, got a little wet, did a little fishing, and fought a grizzly."
Harry then thought to himself, "And next weekend, Alaska."
For more information on the "Tin Head" book in PDF format, click HERE. For Kindle e-Book, click HERE.
Keep the Faith!
P.S. - Don't forget my new book, "Tim's Senior Moments" now available in Printed and eBook form.
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Tim's columns, see: timbryce.com
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