Navigating the Wilderness: A Personal Journey of Resilience and Adaptability

Delve into the captivating story of Eustance Pack and Tack Outfitters, where resilience and adaptability have been the guiding principles on their extraordinary journey. Join us as we explore the winding paths, unexpected challenges, and triumphant moments that have shaped their wilderness adventure.

Delve into the captivating story of Eustance Pack and Tack Outfitters, where resilience and adaptability have been the guiding principles on their extraordinary journey. Join us as we explore the winding paths, unexpected challenges, and triumphant moments that have shaped their wilderness adventure. From humble beginnings to overcoming obstacles like 9/11 and wildfires, their story is a testament to the importance of perseverance and the transformative power of embracing change. Embark on this unforgettable journey and discover the invaluable lessons learned along the way.

The Journey

It’s not always as important where you end up, as the paths you choose to get there and how you make your way.

2020, by all accounts, has been a year to remember. With all the turmoil and storm clouds raging in the world, a moment of quiet reflection is a silver lining in an otherwise hectic day. Seems like a lot of people have some unprecedented time on their hands lately to ruminate. For good or bad, it’s got me to thinking about Eustance Pack and Tack Outfitters and just how far we’ve come.

For those that know us, it won’t come as news, that we like to take the road less traveled. We’ve even been known to, on occasion, cut out the trail as we make our way along. Sometimes the going’s easy and we ride down the trail like a song, and sometimes it’s been bushwhacking all the way. Life is like that. It makes for lots of memories and good campfire stories. When a person’s going through a rough spot, it can seem disagreeable at the time, but when you look back, it made for a wild adventure and strong character. Seems like this is a year like that.

I’ve been using some of my enforced time at home to just slow down and look around. We’ve been so busy that we haven’t taken any time off in 27 seasons. I felt like it was time to update our business front to better represent where we are now. And it’s a great time to reach out to old friends that helped us get where we are today.

I remember when we started, it was also a time of dramatic changes, and it looked as if most roads that lay before us were going to be a dead end.  We were young, and probably not smart enough to know just how tough a trip we were in for, when we decided we wanted to make saddles and work with horses in the woods. That was the chosen direction, the basic plan. It had a long way to go to be called fine-tuned, but we had the bloom of youth and lots of enthusiasm.

We sold or gave away anything that wouldn’t fit into our four-horse trailer and moved to the mountains of Lincoln, MT. We squished our little family into a ten by thirty-foot mobile home that was older than the lot of us combined. It was a tiny house before they were posh. The view was amazing! The big Blackfoot River, the “Road to the Buffalo”, a few strides from the front door. This would be the first of many steps that began the wild track of our journey.

We were getting serious about starting our own business, but we needed more than just an old bucking horse and a wild-eyed appy mule. I worked at the library and sewed tack in my off hours. Neil worked local ranches and logging crews until the fall packing season began, and then worked for a few outfitters. Gathering gear, livestock, and knowledge any place we could, it seemed like we were making saddles and breaking stock as we went down the trail. We had the rangiest bunch of mules and broncs to be found, but we loved our four-legged family and before long they were legends of the trail. They were renowned on both sides of the divide, as outfitters bought our tack and wanted our packing services. We were stepping right along.

Our pack string had outgrown our little four- horse trailer, but we were on a very, limited budget. I was coveting the shiny aluminum horse-trailers lined up at the trailhead, trying to wish one out of thin air. Sometimes when you feel lost and don’t know which way to turn, the answer finds you. An old school bus that was converted to a stock truck was for sale at a farm auction. It wasn’t much to look at, faded safety yellow with a double decker hog rack, it didn’t hardly get a bid. But its motor was strong, and with a few modifications, a full string of eleven head could ride comfortably. Its roof was tall, and it was bright and airy inside without the racks. The critters learned to walk up a ramp into the wide back door. With all the windows of a school bus they would each have their own vantage, their big eyes watching traffic go buy on one side, while their tails blew out the windows on the other. It was the christened the “Mule Bus” and it was perfect. Tourist would take pictures whenever we stopped at the gas station. It would have been hard to find better advertisement. It was an amazing time, but as I look back, it holds an important lesson as well.

Sometimes what you want, isn’t what you need. If you don’t take your blinders off and really look at the situation, you risk spinning out in the mud when there’s a solid trail within reach. When you’re walking with your head down and it feels like there’s too much resistance tugging at your lead rope, maybe it’s your horse trying to tell you you’re on the wrong trail.

We began to grow as a family and a business. We had a saddle shop on main street and a three-season tour operation. Things really seemed to be going so well. We were really headed somewhere. The Dot Com boom meant people had money to spend and they wanted to go on vacations. It was exciting, but stressful. Neil and I both worked double overtime, but we were committed to making the most of our business while raising our young family.

Then, an abrupt turn of events that made the world change course, 9/11 happened. We had bow hunters already in a back country. They would call base camp on the radio every night when done hunting to give an update or a request packer. When Neil tried to explain what little we knew that first night, one of the hunters told us his wife flew as a stewardess for United. Through several tense moments of radio relay, he learned it wasn’t her flight, thankfully, but we felt the intense shock, along with the nation. Several of clients were already in route for the September 14 opening rifle hunt. Planes were grounded, luggage and guns were lost, it was difficult to find a rental car. Several hunters got together and rented a U-Haul truck to drive the rest of the way to Montana. We still managed to operate that season, but it was crazy. We learned to roll with the punches and adapt.

We learned that often things are beyond our control, and you just need to keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, until you’ve managed to walk through the bad stretch. We made it through, but we had more lessons in store. The fires of 2003 not only shut down the back country, we had to evacuate our home with the fire’s raging line in sight of the house. The animals were terrified as we tried to load them, the air full of orange-tinged smoke and a deafening roar. Fire season became another of Montana’s annual seasonal changes, from winter to spring, from summer to fires, then with any luck, to fall.

And still we kept going and made it through, solidifying our resolve to be the best at what we do and to do it on our own terms. That perseverance helped when 2007 crashed so many people’s hopes and dreams. Some of my friends wondered how we could keep at it. So many people lost their livelihood and some even their homes. We learned how to make each step the most efficient and to keep our eyes on the horizon for any opportunity that may come. Like the animals of the forest, survival required no wasted effort, we worked smarter, not harder.

The obstacles in our path were only a small part of this great adventure, just a few rough patches to make our way over. We’ve had so many good times and made so many friends, a life full of lasting memories. For those that have become part of our forever wilderness family, I hope you feel the love and gratitude we have for you joining us on the trail. I wish you safe travels, and the fortitude to forge ahead through whatever lies in your path. For those we’ve yet to meet, remember to keep looking at your back trail, take your bearings often, and plot your true course. When you see how far you’ve come, you can use that knowledge to have the strength and confidence to continue. That high shale ridge is indeed within reach, you just have to keep going.

Through the years, that’s just what we’ve done. We’ve kept moving, adjusting our course as needed. We’ve learned life has a way of steering you this way and that, and it’s seldom a straight line. Now, like the old-timers talking about harsh winters past, I catch myself telling and re-telling the stories that recount our origins and take heart. I think wistfully about all those bumps in the road.

All those lessons and hours on the trail bring a kind of confidence that can only be gained through experience. I think about the journey we began so many decades ago, not that much about where we were headed, but how driven we were to make the trek. And it turns out, that where we now stand, at this place in time, seems right, and kind of earned, a landmark achieved. So, with a true transcendentalist ideal, we know what we can do, and we’re ready for what comes. We will face the unknown with courage and vicissitude. The top of that mountain may seem too far away, but we can make it, together. We’ve done it before.

 Remember the law of the wilderness, to help those you can, when you can. You never know when it might be your turn to be on the receiving end. Can’t wait to see you on the trail.