Day 7: What I learned.

I typically do a sweet little recap titled “What I learned” after each trip. This adventure’s summary is a little different but I think it’s still legit:

PSA: The anxieties and situational depression that made itself quite comfy and at home the last few months has been all sorts of real.

Quarantine, the world falling apart, innocent people being killed and being confused on how to be the best ally.. Masks. So. Many. Masks. Working from home, feeling guilty that I even still have a job, missing my family, canceling trips, avoiding people, slacking off in all areas of life.. it’s all so real and tough and shitty.

Making a very active effort and a conscious decision daily not to allow myself to fall into that neverending pit of “poor me” isn’t easy. I’ve done a lot of good in the last five months since our lives have changed.

I taught myself how to embroider, I called my grandparents, I wrote people letters, and organized all my family photos. I spent more time with God, found a really awesome gym, and went tubing. I met people virtually, try to live life with intention, and spent time with family.

But I’ve also cried a lot and felt sorry for myself and wondered wtf is going on and why does it not feel reassuring that at least the whole world is in it together and not just me?

I haven’t been the perfect example for what to do during a pandemic. My circle of people I see physically is quite small but it’s probably larger than some people feel comfortable with. Masks make me break out and I’ll complain about it but I’ll still wear them when required and I generally just avoid stores these days. I did just cross state lines and interacted as safely (social distancing) as possible but it wasn’t always exact.

I needed to do something different though. I was more in my head than normal the last few weeks after feeling really great for about a month and in order for me to be the best version of myself for those I love, I needed a restart button. I needed to go where I feel the most at peace; nature.

Over the last week, I’ve traveled 2500+ miles further west than I’ve ever been. I went white water rafting, hiked alone at dusk (10/10 do not recommend), met some really incredible people, read a book, came face to face with a snake and almost fainted, felt the crisp Montana air breeze through my hair, and traveled down some sketchy roads that my dad might lose his mind knowing I ventured down.

If only for a short time though, I was reminded this last week that it’ll all be okay. It sometimes feels like the world is falling apart all around us and let’s be real, it kind of is but it’ll also be okay. I don’t know when and none of us have the answers right now but I think it’s okay to take a mental break, press pause, and restart.

Get out of town, or don’t. But if you’re stuck, do something about it. For the sake of your sanity and well-being, address whatever you’re feeling when you feel it. Don’t let the anxieties and sadness and wtf-is-going-on-ness control your life. Because dudes and cuties, we need you.

And for the record. I’m good, I’m cool, I’m chill. But some people aren’t. Some people don’t have the tools or people or support to pull themselves up and out of the shit cards they are dealt or the feels they are feeling.

Check on your people and thank you for reading!

Day 6: Admiring God’s handiwork.

As I write this in my travel notebook that I’ll later transcribe, I’m soaking my feet in Lake McDonald a ways down from the noise. Kids and parents alike are skipping rocks in the distance giving the water the pretties of dimples. Life is good in this moment.

Tomorrow I’m heading back home and am already pre-emptively missing the view and the feels terribly. It’s wild how quickly we adapt to our surroundings.

This week, I’ve felt so alive and so small in the world, admiring God’s handiwork. I’ve felt like I could take on anything; I’ve made lists of lists of dreams and goals. I’ve read and spent more time outside than inside. I’ve felt refreshed and keep thinking that maybe I’m beginning to understand what inner peace felt like, though, I do think it’ll be a lifelong search.

I hope one day I won’t have to take a “vacation” from life like this one. I hope my wandering spirit can be found all along this earth in a repurposed VW van or school bus or something cool like that surrounding myself with people who feel like sunshine under starlit skies making wishes and roasting marshmallows.

Dream big, dudes. Pray or manifest or meditate or call Bill Gates. Whatever you gotta do to make your dreams happen, do it.

P.S. Here is a photo dump of today’s relaxing vibes. ✌

Day 5: A bear, a raft, and a lake all walk into a bar..

Yesterday, I physically pushed myself past the point of exhaustion so I started the day out pretty easy breezy by sleeping in. Note, I went to bed around 8:00 last night and didn’t get going until 10:00 today. Whoops! It’s vaca though, right?! So it’s fine. It’s fine!

I made my way to Polebridge, MT this morning in search for the legendary huckleberry bearclaw, a local favorite. The 24 miles or so wasn’t too bad, a bit easier than the twisty-turny Going to the Sun Road yesterday and much less crowded.

Polebridge is the cutest little middle-of-nowhere pitstop. Their mercantile store is the highlight; full of locally sourced goods and bursting with country warmth. There’s a saloon to the left of the store but it wasn’t open when I stopped by today. Damn though, would I give anything just to live up here; it feels like it would be the definition of “the easy life.” A small community, good neighbors. Locals hit up the saloon on Friday nights, church on Sundays. Families pile up on a four-wheeler to find themselves a lake for the day soaking in the sun and unknowingly counting their blessings..

I digress.

The huckleberry bearclaw was an absolute delight and I enjoyed every last crumb as I watched a bunch of kiddos playing in a sandbox nearby while I sat at a solo picnic table. It’s like it was made for me. It’s quiet here and while I sometimes don’t like quiet. I like this kind of quiet. It’s not really quiet I guess, I’m quiet. (How many times can she use “quiet” in a paragraph?) I’m an observer of all that’s going on around me; watching the kids play, the couples enjoying their time together, the friends laughing over something I’ll never know. It’s interesting to recognize this type of alone and not actually feel lonely. The ping of loneliness still stings, it’s always there, but it doesn’t feel as painful when you can see how much life is around you.

After hanging out in Polebridge for a bit, I decided to venture to another local sweet spot a waitress told me about the other day, Bowman Lake.

Bowman Lake is located in the most remote place that I’ve ever been. The drive is not for the faint at heart and my car took a beating! The 6 miles aka 45+ minute drive beyond Polebridge on a narrow gravel road with more potholes than rocks and loads corkscrew turns had me thanking God for all my angels today. The raised heart rate and scratches to my Rav were so worth this view. Such a peaceful way to spend the afternoon.

Guess how the day ended, ya’ll?! WHITE WATER RAFTING. Yup. When I tell you my stomach was doing summersaults, that was a gross understatement. I decided on my way back down from the treacherous Bowman Lake road that I was going to frickin’ do it. I’d seen signs for rafting all week but told myself I couldn’t do it. Screw you negative-self-talk, right?!

The rapids were level 2 & 3, which, if you know anything about rafting, that’s not too bad. Pretty chill. But I didn’t know! There were 5 other people on the raft with me including our guide, Dusty. It was such a fun experience, kind of challenging, but so thrilling! I can’t wait to go again someday, somewhere and if you ever have the chance to do something adventurous but are afraid you can’t do it, just do it. What’s the worst that’ll happen, really?

Day 4: Going to the Sun Road.

Its 7:30 pm. I left my rustic little cabin over 14 hours ago to head east on Going to the Sun Road. Many a miles were hiked today and I may be suffering from a minor heat stroke so this is a short journal entry but filled to the brim with the most wonderful of views.

Wild Goose Island: A birds eye view of Wild Goose Island and Saint Mary Lake gave me all the feels. I sat here at the top of this landing for awhile just to listen to everything around me. Not many people were stopped here so it was a perfect opportunity to be in nature, alone. All I wanted to do was nose-dive into the water to see what was up on WGI. Next time!

Fireweed Forest: It’s hard to imagine this incredible area was engulfed in flames just a few years ago. While the impact of the burn is still clear, fireweed flowers flourish everywhere you look. Life after death is so hard not to believe in when walking through this. God is so good.

Going to the Sun Road: The amount of pull-offs, sites, and things to see today were immeasurable. I’m so tired that I don’t even recall the names of everywhere I stopped at and my photos far exceed the few that I’ll post here. I’ve come to find peace in traveling alone but this adventure is one that would have been just incredible to witness with another soul.

St. Mary Falls: SMF was worth every single step of the 4.2 mile RT hike from Sun Point. That might not seem like much but it was my furthest solo hike and the climb back up was brutal but I met so many fellow adventurers along the way! If I would have died climbing back up to the top, I would have died so happy. Such an unreal experience to see this place in real life!

Goodnight from the Montana mountains. 💙

Day 3: Trail of Bravery.

A Dirt in my Shoes itinerary started my morning.

First up was Trail of Cedars. It’s a short .8 mile loop and most of it is on a well-maintained boardwalk. When I pulled up, I was the first and only car. No biggie, I thought. Then I saw a sign noting that the connecting trail to Avalanche Lake (that I had planned on taking) was closed due to grizzly sightings. Gah!

Bear spray clutched tightly in my hands, I started along the path. Trees as tall as I could see covered the skyline on both sides of this gorgeous boardwalk. It was eerily quiet and the rustling of a squirrels gave me goosebumps. Why did venturing down this perfect-in-every-way path give me more anxiety than my entire trip to Iceland just 10 months ago? It couldn’t be the threat of bears alone. I think this is what being cooped up in isolation does to a person; makes them afraid. For the entire trail, I channeled my inner-self, proclaiming positive affirmations aloud, reminding myself of my guardian angels and imagining my niece saying “Be brave. Just be brave” like it was no biggie.

I’m so glad I did. Every step I took, I felt like reverting back and taking ten steps towards my vehicle. I wanted to give up on this silly little trail more than I wanted to complete it at first but I also wanted to be brave. One of my biggest faults is to worry. It’s been much more apparent over the last few months than ever before in my life. I worry about all of the things all of the time. The worst possible outcomes impair my thinking and I need to remind myself daily, momentarily even, not to let that (aka anxiety) put me into a corner. Because, it will. Fear and worry and isolation will indefinitely put me into a corner if I allow it.

The TOC did not disappoint. The highlight was a crystal clear, bright blue waterfall surrounded by moss covered rocks and bright green foliage! Can you imagine if I had given up and not had the opportunity to see such a sight?

Next up on the DIMS itinerary, I briefly stopped at Sacred Dancing Cascade and McDonald Falls; both quietly loud in their own right. These waterfalls were easily accessible and relatively unknown according to the downloaded guide I was following. I spent a good bit of time at Sacred Dancing Cascade. There’s a bridge to cross breaking up the entrance of Going to the Sun Road and the wilderness. I found a spot on a rock below the bridge to put down my backpack and watch the water quite literally cascade. No one was around for what seemed like hours and it was such peace. Fresh mountain air to breathe in was so refreshing.

The late afternoon consisted of exploring the tiny town of West Glacier, grabbing a few souvenirs (because ya girl cannot get enough of travel magnets) and indulging in a Sweet Peaks double scoop of a Chocolate Love & Huckleberry waffle cone from Luke n’ Duke’s Ice Cream Shop. Huckleberry FTW, ya’ll.

And GUESS WHAT! The evening ended in the best of ways; a scenic float down Flathead River. The weather was absolutely perfect and the skies were as clear as the water. I’ve never seen water so clear in my life as here in GNP. I can’t believe this trip was just a bucket list item only a week ago, virtually unplanned and so unlike me in all the ways but here I am; floating on a blow up raft in the middle of God’s country all alone but surrounded by so much.

I could write for days about today alone but my eyes are heavy and my penmanship is trash. I have zero reception up here in the Montana woods so I’ve been journaling while I’ve been away with the hopes to transcribe once I return home. If you’re reading, my wish for you is to find yourself in Glacier as soon as humanly possible. It’s so much more magical than it looks. Thank you for reading!

Day 2: Judith Gap, Mont.

I’m officially dubbing lil’ Judith Gap the cutest town name in America. Not only does it now hold this world renowned title, but it’s flippin’ picturesque to boot. Judy G, as I like to refer to her, overlooks the rolling hills full of hay bales and way off in a far away land, you can see the beginning of some mountain peaks that I don’t know the name of. Just outside the town, are fields of windmills hugging both sides of the road towering over the highways like I assume redwoods do in California. 

Getting to Glacier National Park in the northwest part of the state was my goal today. Between Browning and Glacier is 60 miles or so, so an hour but it took me well over two because I stopped at so many pull-outs along the way just to admire all the vastness that is here. I could see mountains for quite some time but there is this really special area where a train track begins to outline the base of the peaks. The trees tower like green skyscrapers in a metropolis and all my little girl dreams come alive. A train was passing through at the exact time I witnessed all of this while driving. I felt my heart stop. It reminded me of a story a grandfather might tell around a fire talking about the setting of the good ol’ days. Ugh, it was literally idyllic and a memory that I hope lives in my mind for all of time since I wasn’t able to snap a photo.

I had booked a lodge overlooking Lake McDonald just two days ago. I landed on this place because I’ve been daydreaming about the brightly colored rocks, the crystal clear water, and the mountains for longer than I can remember. I didn’t do much research, a new thing for me. So, I thought my cabin came with a kitchenette. Silly girl. Before I arrived at GNP, I stopped at a small grocery store along the way. Surprise surprise, my studio lodge was not a kitchenette; no fridge, no microwave. The host peeps were cool though, they gave me a cooler with ice. When’s the last time you ate cold hot dogs for a week? Because same.

After a long day of driving, unpacking most of my stuff and throwing my grub in the cute little cooler full of ice, I explored Apgar Village a bit. I decided to walk along the shore of Lake McDonald; a view I’ve seen countless times online and always added it to the miles long bucket list in my mind. But, let me tell you.. not a single photo on the internet or any that I post could do this place justice. Not one.

I walked a ways in quietness and took a seat on the shore, sitting on the colorful rocks I’d daydreamed about for years, toes in the ice cold rocky water right next to a fallen down tree. I had ventured far enough away from the village so that I was away from the hustle and bustle of the other visitors. The laughter and families singing are now just distant sounds a half mile away. This. This feels like home. 

Day 1: World’s Longest Car Karaoke Ride.

Okay, NoDak, I see you! I’ve lived in the Red River Valley off and on for quite some time but never ventured much further west than Jamestown which really isn’t that far. Like, Paul Bunyan could skip a rock from Minnesota to Jamestown. Today, that changed.

I made it to Jamestown pretty quick but nearly had a heart attack when I saw the World’s Largest Buffalo out of the corner of my eye. I’d seen it before and visited it up close but apparently forgot about it because I was legit startled by it’s presence.

And speaking of world’s largest, I also viewed Salem Sue off in the distance a couple hours later. I’m sure it’s not intentional but anytime I come across anything that is the “world’s largest,” I just cannot help but laugh. Like, at what point during city council meetings throughout the history of time (or whatever) does someone say: You know what we need? The World’s Largest [insert something completely normal only giant-sized here]. Let’s do it just for funsies!

Anyway, everyone told me that the drive from Fargo to Bismarck (and maybe even Dickinson? I can’t remember) is a drag and then again for a stretch of Montana but the nearly 9-hour drive today really wasn’t that bad. Lazy Susan flowers hugged the edges the roads the entire way, windmills and sunflowers spotted the landscape, and the weather couldn’t have been better. I took a page out of 2008 and rocked my CD collection that hasn’t been updated since at least then and just enjoyed the drive. I may have a bit more “trucker” in me than I’d like to admit. Thanks, dad!

But, what we really need to focus on right now is how TF pretty western North Dakota is! What the heck, guys?! I’ve heard people talk about the Badlands and describe it as God’s Country but dang girl.. It’s like a mini-Grand Canyon and no one has described it as such to me. I was wow’d to see that THIS is in the same state I’ve lived in for over 5 years.

There were so many incredible sights and I hope to stop at more throughout TRNP on my way home next week but today I was able to pull off at the Painted Canyon overlook and this photo just doesn’t do it justice.

Later, I stopped at a rest stop to stretch my legs but a sign caught my eye: Rattlesnakes have been observed. Please stay on the sidewalks.

All the nope;s. Ya girl did not exit the vehicle.

I eventually made my way to destination number one, Billings. It was a long day of racking up the miles and tomorrow will be just as long but then I’ll be able to stay put for a handful of days and explore so much more of this incredible state they call a treasure; Montana.

I didn’t get a chance to take many photos today because you know, I’m by myself and someone needs to keep their eyes on the road, so I did want to make a point of venturing out a bit in Billings now that I had finally arrived. I found Four Dances Natural Area by doing a quick Google search of the best sunset views in Billings. It did not disappoint! I made my way a little later than I should have based on sunset time so I didn’t get a chance to hike the entire trail that overlooks Yellowstone River but I did peep some still-incredible views of the setting sun. Enjoy!

Pre-Trip Feels.

Oye! I’m about to sound like a broken record so buckle up, guys!

As the years progress, each “Pre-Trip Feels” post gets more and more frantic and is filled with more and more anxiety than the time before. You’d think the opposite would be true but it’s not. Is this what getting older feels like?

I’m writing this pre-tripper during the one o’clock (in the morning) hour on the day of this next adventure. For Emma by Bon Iver is streaming on my TV in the background and the cats are chillin’ in my unpacked suitcase while I try to figure out if it’s worth sleeping tonight or if I should just power through and pack. Yeah, I know. I can’t believe I haven’t packed yet either!

This time last week, I had zero days off with zero intention on taking a solo road-trip out west but here we are. I began planning this Pandemication (I might change the name) on Wednesday morning and I’ve never been more disorganized in my life. At the start of the week, I was like “I’m just gunna wing it” and then over the last 24 hours or so, I was like “yeah, no.” So, to live up to my last name, as one does, I whipped up a sort of, kind of, I think it’ll be okay, itinerary. So. Many. Commas.

Thank the Lord for the incredible last-minute advice, must-see’s, and absolutely-do-not-travel-on-that-road guidance from a group of like-minded adventurous souls I found on TikTok (Outdoorsy Gals) and to a co-worker who gave me two of the greatest tips of all; bear spray and to invest in a Dirt In My Shoes itinerary. #blessed

About six months ago, I had initially planned on visiting our beloved neighbor to the north this month and exploring all the wonder that is Banff National Park in Alberta but our friend ‘Rona had other plans. The summer has already come and nearly gone without having gone as far as home to roast marshmallows with my brother and niece. I have ventured out a couple of times besides that to partake in a few socially distanced outdoor, clean-air-breathing activities but I just feel like this summer is still so incomplete, as I’m sure many can relate to.

And before we get too far, I do know that going on a “vacation” amidst a worldwide pandemic is likely controversial. BUT, situational depression is a real thing, yo. I need to press pause on the stagnate atmosphere of living and working home in solitude all day every day to reset and be able to be the best person I can be for the people in my life. While this trip is also solo, it’s outside of here and I’ll be surrounded by all the love that mother nature has to give even if that makes me sound like a flower child of the disco era.

I do have every intention on abiding by all the COVID-19 rules in place. I’ve been reading up on all the updates this week. I have many a’ masks ready to be packed, I’m stocked up on hand sani, I managed to track down some Clorox wipes after MONTHS of looking, and I’m pretty introverted to begin with so socially distancing myself shouldn’t be a problem. I also plan to get tested once I return and quarantine to make sure I’m keeping all the peoples safe from my human germs. You know, just in case.

You won’t end up seeing this but I have at least five half-written paragraphs typed out below and I doubt they’ll make it to publish. I have so many things I want to say but I don’t think I’ll get to it tonight. I’m just generally tired and I’m scared of venturing off into unknown land alone. I’m excited too. I’m excited to spread my wings and explore. I’m grateful to be healthy and I’m full of anxiety that I’ll get lost. I know in my bones my spirit is full of wanderlust adventure and I’d love to just kick it in a cool restored VW van with my cats and a cute bearded guy by my side for the rest of the summer but that’s just not in the cards right now.

So, this is the next best thing! I think.