We rattle down the road in the chase truck toward Spotted Bear. It's so early in the year that the road is still closed, and the ranger station is deserted. It's only 55 miles, but the drive takes almost 2 hours. Our mission today is to transport a radio technician to a remote generator site and sling down empty propane bottles.
We do this project several times a year, but three of the four men with me have never been a part of it. We are happy to get out of the office. In only a week, the seasonal employees will start work again, but today it is just us. We watch as the helicopter circles the airstrip and lands softly in the grass. It has come with snow pads, but when we approach the high ridge we can see that we won't need them.
It takes a long time for the radio technician to fill the large propane tanks, so there isn't a lot to do. The inevitable snowball fights begin. We run around like little kids, ambushing each other. I lie on the snow in the sunshine, making a snow angel. At 7000 feet, it is warm enough to wear t-shirts. Up here, it smells like summer.
We roll empty propane bottles, 75 pounds each, into cargo nets, and one by one they are plucked off the mountain. We hate to leave, because leaving means this perfect day is over, and back in our offices things like personnel actions, aviation safety plans, and conference calls await. But the shadows are lengthening, and the helicopter has to get back to Missoula. We wave as Mike takes off in the L4, and talk and laugh on the long drive back. For me, this is the best part of my job: a helicopter flight, friends and sunshine. All the paperwork, computer problems, and bureaucracy doesn't really matter. What matters is this: these days, each one running into the next, but still separate, unique, each one perfect.