A Few of My Favorite Things

People keep asking me “What was your favorite part of your journey?”  And I’m finding it such a difficult question to answer.  I can’t pinpoint a single experience or view or location as the favorite…but I can identify a few of my favorite things.  (Bear with me here; this is a long one…!)

Early on in my journey, I freaked out a little about the search for dispersed camping sites.  I didn’t have any experience at all just going into a forest and finding a spot…and the task right away proved much more nuanced and daunting that I ever imagined.  I’d made advanced reservations at a campground my first night in the Redwoods then figured I’d just wing it from there.  But “winging” it resulted in my first panicked break-down on the side of a road just 48 hours into my trip.  So, I made the decision to ease into dispersed camping and stay at some campgrounds along the way.  And all I can say about campgrounds in general is that they are hit or miss.  Seriously.  Some are quiet and quaint and forested and lovely; while others are everything but.  I found Mill Creek Resort on the Hipcamp website, and it was all the things good campgrounds are made of – great facilities, secluded sites, wooded surroundings, running water (faucets, toilets, creek, and laundry!), and fantastic people.  The owners are a young couple who live on-site and go above and beyond making the guest experience extraordinary.  And since the grounds are located in a tiny mountain community, locals wander in for breakfast and milkshakes and add to the uniqueness and character of the experience.  This is the first place I wanted to settle in for a bit..and someday, I’ll return.

Boondock experience
Once I settled into the “dispersed” camping routine, I feel like I nailed it, discovering some great spots!  My first foray into national forest camping was significant because it involved facing major fears (of potential animal encounters, of seclusion in a forested space, of physical vulnerability…), and I’ll always remember my site off a logging road in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, with a breathtaking view of Shasta’s snowy peak from one window and a reassuring view of Gma’s almost-moon from the other, glowing in on me most of the night.  This is where I first dug a hole for…you know.  And the next morning, I washed my face and brushed my teeth in a creek nearby, feeling like a true wild child for the first time on my journey.  It was liberating, and I felt a freedom having faced my fears and survived my first night boondocking in the wild west. 😉

National Park
My parents were less than thrilled about my trip, but for Christmas they gifted me a national parks book and an America the Beautiful annual parks pass, and this was the most lovely gift they could have given me.  I couldn’t wait to explore the parks!  I was most excited about Joshua Tree and Glacier, but Lassen Volcanic proved to be my favorite of all the parks I saw.  I’d never heard of it and honestly thought it was going to be a big pile of ashy after-volcano mess…but it turned out to be so much more extraordinary than that.  Hiking in some areas of the park felt like walking through a Pixar film.  It was so green and almost other-worldly.  It looked too pristine and felt too idyllic to be real and natural…but Mother Nature, I was reminded over and over again on my journey, is the greatest creator of all.

I did a lot of hiking on my trip, so it’s difficult to identify the one hike that moved me most, but when I look back, I can’t help but think of Mt. Shasta.  The drive up to the trailhead was an adventure in itself.  It was the first of many drives that gave my little Civic a real run for her money (and the first one to shake lose her ski plate, which would have to be zip tied or duct taped three times on my journey).  At one point in the climb, I was literally driving 1 MPH!  I hadn’t even known this was possible, but the climb was steep, and the rocks and ruts were big.  (A fellow hiker said to me “You climbed that hill in a Civic!?!”  Yes, yes I did – for better or worse!)  Unbeknownst to me, this particular trailhead is mostly used by backpackers climbing to the peak.  I may have been the only hiker on the trail without technical gear and skis for sliding back down the snowy patches near the peak.  And I was wearing hiking sandals…!  I had no intention of hiking to the top, but I laugh at myself looking back.  It was a challenging climb, and I lost my way coming back down and had to “Marco Polo” some hikers and tag along with them to relocate the trail I’d lost.  But I did it.  It was the first of many hills I would climb on my journey, literally and figuratively.

Of all the towns I visited, Victoria, British Columbia was my favorite.  A close second was Telluride, Colorado.  Then Jackson, Wyoming.  In each of these places, my experience was enriched because I was spending my time in the company of friends, new and old.

Leap outside my comfort zone
Shonda Rhimes wrote a book called Year of Yes, and it’s about her giving up resistance to living life to the fullest.  I bought it just before my journey and tried to incorporate her advice and life learning into my everyday, saying “yes” more than I said “no” to new experiences out on the road.  I remember one night in particular pushing the bounds of my comfort zone, and I smile looking back on it, even though I was close to miserable in some of its moments… I’d started talking to a guy at a bar over lunch in Telluride and wound up meeting up with him to let him introduce me to some local culture and experience later in the evening.  We went to a natural hot springs (my first time) where an old guy named Warren was sitting along the edge of the pool with a bathrobe covering nothing but his shoulders, doling out PB&J sandwiches and passing around his water bong to share with the group.  All the folks who eventually filled the relatively small tub were naked but me, and I got crowded out of my seat by a bunch of young hippies, one of whom didn’t even notice me and almost sat right on me with his bum in the buff.  I probably appeared a bit prudish in my swimsuit, but I’ll never forget the experience and staring up at the sea of stars in the dark skies above the pool of naked strangers.

Chance encounter
When I set out on my journey, I had no idea how many people I’d meet and get to know along the way.  I thought I’d spend most of my time in solitude, trying to figure out what the heck I’m gonna do with the rest of my life.  Perhaps I didn’t discover my “path” because I spent too much time accidentally meeting people…but I have no regrets about any of it.  I had fun with and learned something from everyone I met.  My most rewarding chance encounter happened in the Alabama Hills of California.  If I hadn’t met Dawid, I’d never have braved going to Death Valley on my own – and I wouldn’t get to say I visited the hottest place in America in the heat of summer and discovered a waterfall (and a friendly frog!) in a surprisingly lush area of the park.  I also wouldn’t have saved two lives, as Dawid tells the story.

Wildlife sighting
I didn’t see my first bear until 8 weeks into my trip.  Even then, it was from a very very long distance…and I could only sort of see it with binoculars (a cub, shaking berries loose from a huckleberry bush).  I actually began to think bears were imaginary creatures – and wonder why in the heck I’d spent $90 on aerosol sprays for warding them off!  I never once saw a rattlesnake, and that’s okay, but I do wonder why the most interesting (and admittedly intimidating) creatures seemed to evade me.  There must be some significance to that, right?  Thankfully, I did see buffalo – loads of them – and they absolutely amazed me.  They were my most favorite creature-encounter of the journey!  (The giant tarantula I spotted crossing a rocky road in front of me late at night outside Sedona was a close second.)

Nature moment
This one’s a toss-up between two very different experiences.  My initial favorite moment in nature was early on in my trip when I escaped the crowds of the Redwoods to curl up with John Muir (er, his writings) on the trunk of a fallen tree and watched the clouds pass slowly overhead.  There was simple, lovely, I’m-doing-this-thing-I thought-I couldn’t-do-and-this-is-the-stuff-it’s-made-of joy in this experience.  I felt at peace with the world in that time and place.  On the flip side, late in my journey, I explored a relatively out-of-the-way cave with Julie on a hike in the San Juan Islands.  It was pitch black inside, and she was terrified, but I felt alive, invigorated to have absolutely no idea whatsoever what might lie around the next turn, or even just beyond the few feet I could see in front of me by headlamp.  I felt brave.  I’ve chickened out of a lot of things in my life, quitting before making good on commitments, without following-through on this, that, or the other thing… But in the few minutes we were inside the cave, I felt almost altogether free of fear, and it was incredible.  In retrospect, this feels like a good blueprint for life, since we never know what’s to come but have the opportunity every day to forge ahead anyway.  I don’t always do this, but on that day, in that cave, I did, and it felt good.  Really good.

All-around experience
I met a lot of great people in my travels, and all of them made an impact on me and my journey, but my hosts at Lake Tahoe made an especially lasting impression (I’m certain I can’t put into words here all the reasons why).  I’d met and talked with the Liegingers for a mere twenty minutes when Betsy invited me to stay with them at their home.  When I showed up, I immediately asked “Does it seem weird that I’m virtually a complete stranger and I’ve come to stay with you?”  Her husband and brother answered unequivocally “Yes…but not to Betsy it doesn’t.”  She and I share the same name and birthday; we both collect heart-shaped rocks in nature; and we have the same dishes, for goodness sake.  I was meant to pick them up and give them a Lyft back in the spring, and we were meant to connect on my journey.  I’m not sure why, but I’m certain it’s so.  And I’m very grateful.  What lovely people they are, and what a lovely time we shared.

Spiritual awakening
It seems crazy to recall a single sunset and evening of stargazing, but I do.  It was outside Joshua Tree, California, and it was magical.  That night, I showered outdoors under a ginormous sky emblazoned with the colors of the setting sun.  Then I laid naked in the desert landscape under that same sky as it transitioned to night and filled with a million twinkling stars.  In those moments I was at once all alone and intimately connected to the entire cosmos.  I felt an incredible sense of calm and tranquility, at peace with my place in the world.  I don’t often feel like I really belong in this time and space (I feel like an interloper in a culture and society I don’t understand – and vice versa), but for one night, I belonged.  I felt like everything was going to be okay, and for someone like me that’s a really significant sensation (perhaps the intention of my journey).  I’m a perpetual over-thinker and a worrier.  As an empath, I often obsess about the feelings of others and try desperately (sometimes unconsciously) to align myself with their expectations, even though they don’t fit me.  But that night I got a reprieve!  Under that sky, in the middle of the desert, I seemed to sink into my truest self and accept all of her, to love her with my whole heart, and I got a sense for what it might feel like to live the life my soul intended.  It was incredible, and if I could jar up that feeling to sip on for all the days of my life, I most certainly would.  Until I figure out how to capture that essence of Universal alignment, contentment, and belonging once and for all, I will return to this experience over and over in my mind’s eye because to me it felt like coming home.

And those are a few of my favorite things. ❤
(It’s very interesting to me how many of these things happened in my first month on the road… Hmmm.)

Day 88: Coming Home

My next to last day in the wilderness of the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, I had some words with the Universe.  Right out loud I told her that I’m open and ready ready ready for whatever she has in mind for me and my life.  (I may have been a little impatient and frustrated…)  The next morning, when I woke to the pitter patter of rain on my tent, I heard her tell me it was time to return to Portland.  I have to say I was surprised by this.  I didn’t know I was…well, ready to go back just yet.  But I did know I was tired of being wet.  I love rain (the rainy seasons of the PNW have never bothered me; I’ve always found the rain cleansing and rejuvenating), but living in a tent in the outdoors in the rain is much different than occupying an actual home in a rainy place.  Raincoats and canvas tents, even with hard tops and bottoms, only provide so much protection from the elements, and wet clothes don’t take long to smell up a car.  So…I heeded the message.  I packed in my tent for the “last” time, shed some tears at the idea of bringing my journey to an end, and set my sights (and GPS) on Oregon.

I had a mix of emotions all of the five or six hours I had to drive – and I drove it in silence, without the radio.  I stopped a lot, paying extra close attention to all the sights and sounds and also my sensations.  I had so much to think about.  What a journey I’d taken!

It seemed to work out just right that I left Washington from the east side of the Cascades, as I got to re-enter Oregon in the Columbia Gorge and head to Portland on the route I’d come to the city just over four years ago.  That drive was beautiful then, and it seemed even more vibrant to me after my journey – the trees, the rocks, the cliffs and waterfalls, the river, the blue sky and fluffy white clouds… It made me feel so alive!  The sun and wind coming through my windows were exhilarating.  All over again, it felt like I was coming home.

The closer I got to Portland, the more excited I felt.  I’ve always loved walking along the riverfront, so I drove straight downtown, parked, and followed that path.  I probably looked like a huge dork with my big grin and teary eyes, walking amidst bikers and runners and all the motorized scooters people are suddenly riding (how Portland!).

When I embarked on my journey, I wondered if I’d come back to this place.  I’d never tired of the culture or atmosphere of Portland (I mean, hipsters are sometimes annoying, but you do you, boo; rock that skateboard with a cat on your shoulders!), and natural beauty abounds… Still the traffic and all the people were making me (and my headspace) feel crowded.  So I set out on my journey open to finding a new place to call home…but the only place that called to me in that way that Portland once did was Victoria (BC, Canada), and I’m not looking to change my citizenship status, so coming back to Portland feels right to me, at least for now.  (Who knows what the future might hold!?)

I’m boundlessly grateful for the friends who welcomed me back here and are opening their homes to me…and I love that, once again, I feel like If a city could give me a hug, Portland is what it would feel like.

Days 82 & 83: Sunshine, Poetry, & Tea

We loved the San Juan Islands and carried on adventuring in every way, despite the clouds and rain and overall gloomy skies.  As I told Julie, Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.  But it’s a little early in the year for all the bluster we experienced… The ferry rides back from the islands – first from Lopez to San Juan then on to Victoria – were foggy (what my mom would call “pea soup”).  But the fog cleared and blue skies came into view as we disembarked the ship to explore more of the city by foot.  Then sunshine colored our day grateful.

At risk of sounding like a true travel blogger, I’m going to skim through the high points of our last 27 hours in Victoria because they were nothing short of delightful.  The city is bursting with character.  Next to Telluride, Colorado, it’s by far the loveliest city I’ve experienced on my journey (the only one in which I could see myself living).  It’s quaint but not small, seaside but not fishy, and its British influence is painted all over its streets and sidewalks and eateries, giving it a true foreign feel without pretension.

But there was this… Folks said we had to do it, so we called to make reservations for royal (not high) tea (tuck that pinky finger, folks; raising it is actually rude and elitist!) at the famous Empress Hotel (the oldest in Canada…my friend Mindy’s family supplied the stone that built the place from their quarry).  That’ll be $78 each, they said.  What!?  We’re going to have to drink (er, I mean think) on this…!

In 1885, even before the 1910 opening of the Empress, the doors were opened to a bank at the corner of Government and Fort Streets in Victoria.  For 126 years the large stone structure housed one financial institution or another, and for some time one of them employed a man by the name of Robert Service, an Englishman, a wanderer, and a wordsmith.  Service seems to have laboured (see what I did there?) at the workplace just to afford himself the free time to explore his true passion – poetry.  For most of his life – in Europe and Canada – he penned and published verse, and he came to be known as the “Bard of the Yukon.  This storied “bard and banker” is said to haunt the building, and the public house now occupying the space is named in his memory – Bard & Banker.  The place looks just as I would imagine it to have looked at the turn of the 20th Century, with office space and teller windows replaced by booths and tables and a bar.  The drinks – Julie’s Gewurztraminer wine and the Old-Fashioned that the guy next to me at the bar let me sip – were delicious (my Coors Light was spot-on, of course), and the pub felt filled with a spirit of time passed (and perhaps Mr. Service himself).  We could have gone back again and again, especially to catch the live music featured nightly.

Julie wanted to visit the Craigdarroch Castle, a massive Victorian estate built by a coal baron in the late 1800s then converted to a military hospital in World War I.  It later served as a college and music conservatory before being partially restored to its original estate condition and designated an historic site.  I’m sure it was fascinating, and the pictures were lovely, but I decided to save $15 and check out the local library (because I love libraries).  I can’t say this one had any particular “wow factor,” but I’m so grateful for spaces that provide me with WiFi and a [relatively] quiet place to sit and read and write and don’t require me to purchase goods.  (I did learn the library offers a free app to members for reading magazines on-line.  I’ll definitely inquire about this back at my home library!)

Since most everything we owned was wet from the incessant rain of the previous few days, we treated ourselves to an Airbnb (with washer & dryer) our last night in town, renting a room in a large Victorian home a few minutes from downtown.  Owned by a Chinese family, the home was outfitted with Asian-style amenities – slippers provided at entry, a fancy bidet toilet, and peculiar but amusing color-shifting lights atop a canopy bed (which our kind and hospitable host suggested would be “more appropriate for lovers”).  With a faux fireplace and balcony overlooking the water, the room provided us the perfect resting spot (though who has time for resting when there’s so much to explore!?)

For our last dinner in town, we visited Clive’s Classic Lounge at the Chateau Victoria.  We were disappointed to find it attached to a hotel but reassured by its tasteful decor, ornate lighting, and swanky, comfortable seating.  (And the Greek place next door had a great menu, so we were not without options).  Clive’s won us over with a most delightful server, more amazing mixed drinks (for Julie), delicious tapas dishes (fried green beans – a first for me; beef sliders; ooey gooey grilled cheese “fingers”; and savory corn fritters) and an incredible white chocolate berry cheesecake for dessert.  It would seem Victoria is something of a foodie town, and we couldn’t get enough, wishing we could spend more time eating (and drinking!) our way through the city’s mouth-watering establishments.

To top it off (and send ourselves off with a treat), we decided to splurge on Royal Tea at the Empress – and we have absolutely no regrets.  What an experience!   I’m reading a book set in England in the early 1900s, and the characters have daily tea… This didn’t make much sense to me, but I deduced it was afternoon snacks with tea, probably something high-society.  Indeed, after some research, I learned that higher society English folks created tea as a “bridge” between lunch and dinner, which tended to be eaten later in the evening.  Technically, the menu of cakes and scones and breads is afternoon tea, while high tea includes a bit heavier fair – often vegetables and meat – and is typically eaten at a table (while afternoon tea is more likely enjoyed in low, comfortable chairs or on sofas).  As tea itself was expensive, high tea was dinner for lower-income (common) English folks, while afternoon tea remained more of a snack (and experience) for the higher classes.  In fact, the “pinkies up” image comes from the observation that higher classes tended to eat finger foods with their thumb, index and middle fingers, while lower classes ate the same foods with all five fingers (perhaps because they ate more for hunger than socializing!?).  I’ve since learned we broke a golden rule of tea by cutting our scones, which seemed dainty and polite of us… However, etiquette invites “breaking of bread” and spreading of jam on each bite.  How embarrassing for us.  Ha!  Guess we’ll have to go back again someday and correct our foibles.

Victoria was glorious, and how appropriate we experienced some of the same culture I’m reading about in my book.  Sometimes everything lines up just right.  I’m grateful for the time Julie and I shared on the islands and in BC, and I’ll definitely return again someday, lovely Victoria.  In the meantime, stay British.  It fits you so well.

Day 75-77: Banff, Driving, & Breathing

I was super excited to visit Banff National Park, but the time I spent there was almost all together disappointing (except for my hammock; there’s nothing disappointing about literally hanging out in nature.)

The weather was cold and rainy.  I spent most of my time in the car, driving around not seeing too much because of the clouds.  I went on only one hike, and it was miserable.  I’d reached out to someone on Instagram inquiring about where he’d seen a view he posted, and he refused to tell me since “people are destroying the natural environment because of Instagram.”  (Then why the heck are you contributing to it, dude!?)  Anyway, I found the place (no thanks to him) and, though the weather was blustery, the trail was indeed over-crowded and littered with trash, which I collected in the rain.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so far away from nature on a hike as I did on this one.  Too many people.  No serenity.  And sidewalks.  The park built a pathway with guardrails through a cavern.  (Mr. Instagram actually got me thinking about whether I and others are chasing a picture instead of an experience…and how nature might be affected by this – and also how national parks are catering to this trend.)

After that hike (and breakfast with a very grumpy server at a little spot in the park), I rushed back to my campsite to relax in the rain in my tent (and my hammock).  I read and watched Hulu and just chilled out.  It wasn’t what I’d hoped for in the very small window of time I had to spend at a place I’d heard and read so many incredible things about…but it gave me some time to think and reflect and plan and look forward.  I’d set my alarm to go off very early the next day so I could squeeze in another hike before making the ten hour trek to meet Julie in western British Columbia, but I turned it off.  Whose schedule was I accommodating?  No one’s but my own, I realized.  So why would I set myself up for losing sleep to squeeze another cold rainy hike into my “itinerary” before a long day of driving?  #nope

I left my campsite later in the morning relaxed (and well-rested) and looking forward to meeting my friend.  I took my time driving across lower British Columbia toward Vancouver (the views were incredible).  I stopped when I wanted to stop and just…took big gulps of the Canadian Rocky Mountain air.  I don’t love driving, but I settled into a groove early on in my journey (driving Lyft in the spring probably helped me prepare), and some of my best thinking (and listening to my intuition and the Universe) came to take place in the car.  And the driving proved to be great “down time” before my next adventure began.

(Someday, I look forward to coming back to Banff in nicer weather and taking my time, maybe taking pictures for Instagram and maybe not.)

Days 66 & 67: Libby

Yesterday I put on my big girl panties to brave a solo hike despite the gruesome stories I’ve heard about grizzly attacks.  Fred in Ovando says the bears are eating huckleberries right now and aren’t too very interested in humans, and I’m taking his word for it.  (I considered investing in a bike helmet so that even if my body gets mauled by a bear, I’ll still have my face and my scalp, unlike the unfortunate guy I saw pictured on a bear spray display at a mountaineering store the other day…)

At the suggestion of the handsome owner of a coffee shop I drove out of my way to visit in Columbia Falls, I headed south to visit the Jewel Basin.  I was excited the road to my chosen hike was well-maintained…but, boy did my 4-cylinder struggle making its way up the hill!!  Wowza.  At any rate, I made it and was in this case grateful there were several other cars at the trailhead (cuz…noise scares bears).  I was also grateful to the kind lady who shared her toilet paper at the outhouse…then strategic in following her and her family up the trail, figuring their conversation and noise-making would be my first line of defense against grizzlies.  (Smart, eh?)

Soon enough, we were taking pictures of each other at a viewpoint and then I was hiking with them (three cans of bear spray and five voices are way better than one!).  Turns out, the couple, in their 50s, had just retired to move to their family vacation home near Big Fork from, of all places, Illinois (Evanston)!  Their daughter and her boyfriend were in town visiting from Nashville, where they write music and he tours with up-and-coming country artists.  We hit it off right away, and next thing I knew, they invited me to spend the night at their house.  I love the way this talking to strangers thing works for me!

When I found out there was a town in northwestern Montana called Libby, I knew I had to visit, and the night of the full moon was perfect timing.  My grandma’s name was Carrie Elizabeth, but she hated the name Carrie (none of us quite understand why…), so she chose to go by her middle name and shortened it to Libby.  A few family members have called me “Lib” over the years, but no one outside the family ever really has – until Jim in Jackson learned of the family nickname…and he’s called me Libby every since.  Gma always called me her Libby 2 (Libby “two-two-two,” actually).  And when I told the Supellsas (Candus, Mark, and Ava from Evanston, and b.f. Jeremy from Texas by way of Nashville) the story of Gma and her moon and my plans to visit Libby for it, they called me by her name the rest of our time together, and my heart swelled every time.

As I drove two hours out of my way to the little town of Libby, population ~2,000, after an afternoon of strenuous hiking up the side of a mountain, I wondered if it was really worth the drive, if I’d feel Gma there or even see her moon at all, given my driving into more and more smoke all the way…but I couldn’t have been happier I took the time to make the journey.  The drive gave me all the evening to think of and remember her, and without a doubt I felt her presence with me in that little town.  I found a lovely local restaurant with delicious pizza, a delightful waitress, and friendly locals at the bar, and I took my time soaking in the feel and the flavor of the place before driving back to Big Fork…then sure enough as I drove a ways from Libby, I saw that most beautiful Gma moon shining down on me from behind the clouds, and all I felt was love (not coincidentally, one of the only words Gma muttered in her final days with us).

Candus and Marc were delightful, and I’m so thankful again to get to spend my time with really good people doing things that I love.  The climb up Mt. Aneus (not Mt. Anus, as I initially thought…) was so much more enjoyable with company, and we went all the way to the peak, which I might not have done on my own.  Plus, we didn’t get eaten by bears!  This morning, we shared breakfast, stories, conversation, and goodness, and I left Echo Lake with my love cup filled to brimming.

Days 61 & 62: Montana

Jim and I stayed up late into the night my last evening in Jackson planning the next leg of my journey.  Well, I planned; he chatted.  (Ha!)  Finally I said “You’re not very good at this planning stuff are you?”  (That was indirect for “Talk less; map more!”)  Of course, he was a good sport in the face of my razzing.

“Get ‘er done” was the theme of my Monday morning: groceries (check), laundry (check), fresh sheets (check), oil change and car wash (check, check), caffeine for the drive (check)…so I hit the road fresh and ready to go, grateful for my extended time in Jackson and with Jim.

I was eagerly apprehensive to head to Montana.  The grizzlies run wild here (unlike in Idaho and Wyoming, outside of Yellowstone), and the spaces are vast and scantily-peopled.  They’re wild in a way I haven’t really experienced alone on my journey.  And Canada will be even wilder, I expect… I’m a long ways from California; that’s for sure!

I drove through Yellowstone one more time on my way out of Wyoming (it’s the most direct route) and came into the state curious about the cloudy skies.  Was it smoke or ominous weather brewing?  Something told me to pull into a campground instead of venturing into the national forest at dusk…and I was right to listen to that voice because the rain started just as I popped up my tent – and my first night in Montana marked my first night camping in a thunderstorm.  It was scary for a bit…but the storm passed in less than an hour and I slept cold but soundly to the tapping of raindrops on my “roof.”  I can’t help but think rain is a very good thing up here right now, what with all the fires.  Thunder and lightning not so much, of course…

I wanted to catch-up on writing, so I made it as far as Bozeman this morning and settled in at a coffee shop.  I complimented a woman’s shirt (it reminded me of something my mom would wear), and before I knew it, Marj was sitting at my table and we were talking about all the things – travel and family, her rocky marriage and my journey – then next thing I knew we were planning to meet for dinner.  She treated me to BBQ at a local place – Copper (one of Montana’s nicknames is “Treasure State” because of its rich mineral deposits and extensive mining history) – and we spent the evening soaking in each other’s company, both knowing we’d probably never see one another again.  She actually thanked me for helping her make sense of some things…and we agreed we were meant to connect in that coffee shop.

Came “home” from dinner to the most beautiful sunset behind the mountains above my campsite.  It got me thinking about the enormity of the Universe and the tininess of me.  That same sun has risen and set over those mountains day after day after day for more time than I can even begin to fathom.  Regardless of me, regardless of you, regardless of any of us, it is constant.  It’s at once the same and different every day, and tonight, it really struck me.

These are the experiences that come from slowing down.

Days 55-60: Jackson Hole

Jackson is a town in Wyoming (there is also a Jackson in Mississippi, of course; I accidentally reserved a campsite there and never got a refund; grrr).  Jackson Hole is a valley that encompasses several towns and outdoor spaces between the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges, Jackson being one of them, at the south end of the valley.

After my visitors went back to Portland, I decided to settle in to the area for a few days.  I’ve found myself most at ease when I’ve gotten to know and explore a space for more than just a couple of days.  That’s when I’ve really learned about the culture and people (and gotten to know one or some of them too).  And, I crave that settled feeling in general in life, out here maybe even more than back home.

So I went to the library; I went to the movies.  I went to lunches and dinners with my new friend Jim.  I even watched some TV!  I hiked and camped and sat and read.  I explored…and did LOTS of people-watching.

I came to Wyoming with some stereotypes about the place and the people (newsflash: we all have them).  I also began my journey saying “If I decide to move away from Oregon, I bet it’s because I fall in love with the wide open spaces and big skies of Wyoming or Montana…” so those stereotypes were a mixed bag, certainly not all negative.  I did sort of expect I’d be walking into Trump Country, so to speak, and I’m not sure I didn’t, but it didn’t feel like I thought it would feel.

There was a definite small town, rural, country feel to most everywhere I went (not surprising, given the ranches and farms that dot the area).  I wish I could have plucked all the tourists out of Jackson and just observed the locals…but they were certainly easy to tell apart!  The locals looked like, well, home to me.  They wore plaid and flannel and belt buckles and work boots (not like the ones folks wear to country concerts to look the part but the kind that are steel-toed and well-worn; in other words, ones that are actually functional and worked-in) There were also a lot of cowboy hats.  Those were harder to tell fashionable from functional, I must admit…

I felt like I was surrounded (minus travelers) by hard work and common sense.  Parking in Jackson was free.  The rules of the road seemed…sensible.  I made a U-turn once and knew I’d never get a ticket for it.  It was safe and functional, and these people seem to appreciate function over form.  It was refreshing to not be surrounded by wanna-be-hipsters who mock me for drinking Coors Light (whilst riding skateboards with cats perched on their shoulders).  These folks get me (and I get them), even if we vote much differently…and I’m coming to appreciate that – commonality that goes above and beyond politics.  (Don’t get me wrong; I love Portland, but I also value common sense and pragmatism, some of which seems to be missing there…)

I could go on and on about the thoughts I had and observations I made and thinking the area and people and learning there made me do…but I won’t.  I’ll just say there’s good stuff and there are good people in every place I go.  That’s a beautiful momento for me to take away.

(The picture here features one of the four elk antler arches surrounding the town square in Jackson.  Jenna – the vegan – asked me “Do they kill elk for their antlers?”  I responded as best I knew how: “No, I’m sure they kill them for other things – meat, etc. – and the arches are a byproduct.”  I was wrong though.  Upon further reading I learned that elk in large refuge area near Jackson shed their antlers each year…and local boy scouts collect them to be featured in the arches, which have become a fixture of Jackson’s identity.)