The Two Rivers Rendezvous east of Libby July 14 brought in folks from all around who like to live and camp a bit like those who once explored this region during the time of the fur trade.
But everything has levels, and some like to take it to a whole other one.
Rod Douglas said he enjoys coming to events such as the Two Rivers for the camaraderie and enjoyment. That connection and fun atmosphere is about more than simply being like minded and sharing interests.
“There’s a totally different heart to these people,” he said.
It’s part of why Douglas enjoys shooting muzzleloaders as well, he said. The people he meets at muzzleloader events, they take things seriously, but not too seriously.
“We’re serious about our shooting, but we play,” he said.
And whether it’s someone who shows up in a full mountain man outfit, geared and packed up, with everything handmade, or someone with a basic rifle and bluejeans, everyone is welcome, he said. “We accept the fact that everybody has their own level of interest.”
With the opportunity to engage at different levels also comes the opportunity to take on new and different challenges, and that is another draw for Douglas and some of his compatriots at the Rendezvous.
Of course, for Douglas and his fellow American Mountain Men Association members Sean McQueen and Nathan Blanchard, the challenge is integral to their definition of “fun.”
“He can build a fire faster with a bow drill than you can with a match,” Douglas said of McQueen, who is 18 and has been doing this kind of thing since he started napping flints around the age of eight.
Douglas also started taking an interest in the outdoors when he was a young boy, and it just grew from there, he said. He compared some of the camping trips the Mountain Men take — such as a seven day hunting trip in an authentically constructed hide canoe on the Missouri in the late fall — to a kind of Scouting for grownups.
Douglas does all his hunting with a muzzleloader, relishing the challenge and reveling in coming within five yards of a deer before taking it.
Is the appeal similar to bow hunting?
“Yeah, except your second shot on a bow is easier, It’s a lot faster,” he said with a laugh.
The trio are 75 percent of the Kalispell chapter of the AMMA, a group started in the 1960s as a way for veterans returning from Vietnam to get out in the woods and “in their own heads,” Douglas said.
Both Douglas and Blanchard said it’s different from other groups that may focus purely on survival skills.
“It’s about being comfortable in the outdoors,” Douglas said. “It’s not about suffering through and surviving.”
But the Men go out on their camping trips -- or hunting trips where they challenge themselves to eat only what they can harvest — in gear no different in principle from what was used over a century ago.
“You’re never more comfortable than you are when you are in natural fibers,” Blanchard said.
He insists that, properly used, the equipment they pack into the woods is better and provides more comfort even under the worst conditions than many modern and expensive materials.
For them “car camping” means a canoe or a pack animal, Blanchard said.
Still, comfort comes in levels as well, Douglas said.
“You learn how to make yourself as comfortable as possible with as little as possible,” he said.
“If you’re an outdoorsman, it’s kind of the pinnacle of being an outdoorsman, I think,” Douglas said of being in the AMMA.
“We’re challenging ourselves because we want to be as (good) as our founding fathers were,” Blanchard said.
But there isn’t really an end point, Douglas said.
“You constantly are trying to improve a little bit. I’ve been doing it for 40 years, it’s still an education every time I go out,” he said.