Karla Theilen shares about summers atop a mountain, and her first experience with Redbull.
In 2002, Karla Theilen got a fortune cookie on an accidental road trip through Missoula that said, "Soon You Will be Sitting on Top of the World." Weeks later she happened into a fire lookout job on an 8,000 ft peak in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness. She has been sneaking in and out of the backdoor to Missoula ever since.
This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on December 8th, 2015, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. 8 storytellers shared their story based upon the theme “Illumination/Revelation”.
Today’s podcast comes to us from Karla Theilen and is titled "Revelation: Powered by Red Bull". Thank you for listening.
My fear when I found out that we were doing this at the Wilma was that I'd look out and I'd see like seven or eight people, and now the fear has changed to be like exponentially larger.
So, taking it back to 2002 I happened upon this–probably the biggest stroke of luck in my life, which I didn't realize at the time. But I was practically handed a job on a fire look-out, and I later hear all of these people saying, like, "How did you get that Job!" Like they had been trying and they had been scheming, and their parents had been like breeding the genetic components to, like, make this child that can get a fire look-out job. And All I did was go to a potluck in Darby, MT. And that was–I mean–that was probably the most challenging part of this all happening. But There–you know–I was in the right place at the right time, the right people.
And months later, you know, I'm trudging up this mountain, and–you know after a 64-mile drive from Darby, and a 9-milem hike–and I've got my dog Bandit with me. And, you know, we're post holing through these four-foot snow drifts. And then I started to have a feeling about just how special this thing was that was happening. And originally, I was just like, wow I have a place to live for the summer–no rent no utilities–I mean there actually are no utilities, so no bills. And, it was wonderful.
And I was actually a terrible look-out for the first bit. You know I unrolled all of the maps, and I you know, looked through the binoculars, and did everything I was supposed to do. And I had my concerns when I first started. I asked my supervisor–I said, "Well am I qualified?" and he was like, "Can you read?" and I said, "Yeah." You know, but the problem might have been that I read too much, and I was often reading. And I remember one time specifically I was–I had my nose in a book. And I heard, "Spot Mountain this is Bitterroot Air Patrol," and I looked up from my book and I could see this column of smoke that like–I could probably reach out and touch. And the plane is circling it, and so I got on the radio and I said, "Oh, Air Patrol I was just working up a smoke report for you for that smoke over there on–you know, it was like Bad Luck Ridge–of course, it's called Bad Luck Ridge.
So, the other thing I really wanted to do while I was on the fire lookout is–I thought I would write a book. And I think later–I'm like about what? Like, I wasn't–I was just like, I'm going to write a book. You know, don't ever tell anybody you're going to write a book, keep that a secret. And I didn't write a book, in fact, I didn't even come close. I did a lot of journaling, and I had these composition books, and I would write endless descriptions of these things about my days that at the time I thought were just really tedious. And usually it would just be prefaced with at least three pages of, you know, self-flagellation about, like you're not writing, you have all of this time, you have all of this space, you have your muse here–you know Bandit the dog, and you can't even write a book. And then I would write some description about like–I don't know–making green jello that I found in the cabinet that expired in 1985, and it actually worked. And, you know, things like that.
And I had this brilliant summer, and then I actually was asked back for another summer, and another, and another, and pretty soon I had spent three seasons on this fire lookout, and did not write a book. But I managed to fill thirty-seven composition books full of journaling, and as before mentioned the self-flagellation. I mean I am also a midwesterner, and this comes very easily and naturally to us.
So we can now–this scene is closing the curtain drops the lights go down and when the lights come back up again it's 2011, and I'm in Billings, MT which is nothing like being on top of a mountain. And I am–I'm in a professional job, I'm a public health nurse, and I have an office. Of course, it's a county job so there is no window in the office, but I know the Beartooth Mountains are close. And I'm feeling a little bereft of adventure at this point. You know I thought I'm going to be a public health nurse, and I'm going to go save people. I will go under the bridge, deliver the baby, whatever it takes, I'll do it. But it really–it amounted to a lot of work behind a computer, and in an office.
And this as it happens, like at the end of the day when it just starts getting darker and you don't notice it because it was so incremental, and it's like a dimmer switch. And then all of a sudden–you know it's like the gaining of weight too–you know, a little bit, a few pounds at a time, a few pounds at a time, and then all of a sudden it's dark, and none of the pants fit. And it's just–It was just this big flat change in my life. And I unearthed this box of said journals the thirty-seven composition books written on Spot Mountain. And I had this fear that I would lose them, and I–you know–to a fire or something. And incidentally, this is very true the apartment building we lived in Billings did burn down. Not while we lived there but later, so I must've been feeling something.
And so started typing, and typing, and typing, and I would come home at night and just type, type, type, type, type. Wake-up in the morning five a.m. type, type, type–before work–and that is not my natural way. I don't like spring out of bed and go work out. But I kept typing, and typing, and typing, and I thought, "To what end?!" And here comes the pop culture reference–I hope most of you get it. I started feeling like you know in the Karate Kid, you know, when Daniel is like–you know Mr. Miyagi is his sensei, and he's having him like paint the fence, you know, wax the car, and you're like–and he just starts feeling like he's Mr. Miyagi's bitch. And he's like, "Whats happening?" And that's kind of how I felt.
And one weekend my boyfriend Kris was going to the Gorge. That's in Washington, right. We're in billings–to go see Rush, and I opted out. And I stay at home, and it's like that fantastic thing that happens sometimes when you stay home alone, and you just let yourself just sort of go feral. You just eat whatever you want, and you stay up late and you don't shower. And I thought I would have this–it was almost like binge watching a Netflix series because I was like I can go back to the journals and I can work on the journals. And at this point, I had become really attached to these journals. And in a different way like, it was almost like there was enough distance between me and this young courageous woman–so full of life and so wide open, that I found a fondness for her that I didn't have for myself at the time. And I went to these journals eagerly.
And this evening–particular evening–I had just given a talk to a bunch of school children about the dangers of energy drinks. And I thought I've never had a Redbull. I should try it! So I went to the holiday store by our house, and I found Redbull. And the cans were really small so I bought two. I did I bought two, and actually Redbull–most of you probably know this–it's not red. I imagined I would like pour this glass of like the color of this Poinsettia plant, but it's not. And I started drinking the Redbull, and I just started like getting so engrossed in these stories. And you know there was this part where, you know–a friend had brought me these pot brownies, which I'm not even into. But I wanted to eat them so badly–not because I wanted to be stoned, but because I had nothing sweet, and nothing chocolate. And I ate them. I kept cutting these little pieces, and I deeply regretted it later. But I ate the pot brownies, and then I'm reading more stories about–like reading the art of happiness by the Dalai Llama and just throwing it against the wall. And then smoking a cigarette that the packer left behind, you know like.
And you know I was just reading all of these stories remembering my dog Bandit who you know, was at that time sitting in a seat or box of ashes on my desk. And I had compassion for this woman who felt so angry with herself for not writing this book. And I was writing–typing up this part where I had taught myself how to knit, and I'm knitting tirelessly. And it's like you know, one of these seven-foot long scarves that nobody's ever going to wear. And I had this Petzl headlamp and I'm just knitting through the night. And in the story, I look to the east and I see this red glow and I panic, because I'm thinking how could I miss that Fucking fire. I mean it's like open flames. It's not just smoke, but then I realize, it's the sun coming up.
And I'm typing this story on my Redbull manic, you know, mania. Redbull mania. And in real life you know seven years after, I'm in my apartment in Billings, MT, and it's getting light. And I look outside and I realize, it's morning. And I think to myself, this is it, this is the book. The book–it was already written. The book was already written. And I looked at those thirty-seven notebooks, and I thought about that courageous woman and her beloved dog. Who spent all that time together, and spent all that energy writing down experiences. And–just made me think whatever it is that we think we are pinning our hopes to. You know, something we're going to accomplish, or our lives will be perfect when this happens, or once we reach this point. And it made me realize then–as it does now–whatever that thing is, you might already be doing it. So, thanks