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Montana is not what I expected. Glacier is practically Canada, so it’s no surprise that it’s cold and mountainous. But the mountain ranges didn’t stop all the way to Missoula and Bozeman. I was expecting Texas – brown, flat prairie nothingness. The only thing similar between Texas and Montana that I saw is that everything is BIG here. Big sky, big mountains, big lakes (Holy Flathead lake!!) and big letters. What is up with all the big letters? As I drove on I-90 into Missoula the first thing I saw in the middle of the rolling mountain range was a giant white “M.” I learned from my friends, Charlie and Rachael, who I stayed with that night that the M on Mount Sentinel marks the University of Montana, Missoula. The following day I hiked up to the M to see the Missoula Valley. Hardest mile I’ve ever hiked – straight up in the blazing sun. Can’t imagine that UofM students have been doing this since 1909. While I had to stop to catch my breath at every switchback (elevation or not running for a week or both?) it was a sweet view of Missoula.

Indie-Portland designers for sale in Montana

Missoula definitely didn’t feel like a city to me, especially since I drove from Charlie and Rachael’s cute house to go downtown which ended up being all of about eight blocks. The first shop I stopped at was Betty’s Divine. I was looking for some distinct “back to school” clothes (at least that’s how I justified shopping, wait, I don’t need justification – I’m on vacation!), but everything seemed like something I could buy at home at Urban Outfitters. I even came across a top from a Portland-based designer (talk about globalization) which definitely doesn’t count as something distinctly from Montana. I was this close to buying a yellow t-shirt with the state outline and an Elk that said: “Monfuckintana,” but then I realized I couldn’t handle walking around dropping the f-bomb everywhere. I continued to shop buying organic bubble bath for sore muscles at a cute herb shop, books to add to the “to-read” pile (such as “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben who also wrote “The End of Nature”) at the funky Shakespeare and Co. book store and an awesome letterpress stationary store (where had the store clerk gone to college? Oh, Lewis and Clark in Portland, of course). It must be a small world, especially when Missoula is such a hip place

Merry-Go-Round Carousel at Missoula Riverfront

After many fun purchases on main street Missoula I ventured down to the river that cuts through the city/town. There’s a sweet man-made wave by the main street bridge where a kayaker was practicing in the rapids. I walked on the beautiful promenade along the riverfront and came across an old fashioned carousel which was hand crafted by volunteer community members 15 years ago and is allegedly the fastest carousel in the West. I bought some tokens and buckled up on my horse, Midnight Rose, joining the other three- to five-year-olds on an awesome five-minute, hair-blowing ride. When your face doesn’t know what else to do but smile – that is pure joy. Seriously, why do we seem to have less pure fun as we get older? Do we forget how to play because life is a serious matter

Is this what real firefighters use?

Well, I still like to play, even if 26 is supposed to be too old for that! After exploring Missoula and hiking the M, I got back in the car for a hot, stinky drive to Bozeman, passing a giant T and L on the way (they’re big-letter-crazy here!). Bozeman also has an M (Montana State Univ.), which I did not hike. One letter is enough for this trip. That night I had my first Bison burger, which really didn’t taste any different than a hamburger or mean a heck of a lot to me until seeing them in Yellowstone, but that’s another story. My friend from Willamette, Mike, did a consummate job as a tour guide. I’m pretty sure I saw every part of the city(?)/town, including the outlying areas when we ventured to his fire house and to hike to Grotto Falls in Gallatin National Forest. At the fire house I got to pretend to be a firewoman trying on all the gear (including gas mask!), “driving” the fire truck and pretending to put out fires. According to Mike, I’m a “big dork,” which may be true, but I’d rather be a dork than boring

The fun continued that night when we went to see Pineapple Express at the movie theater. I haven’t laughed that hard in months. While I’m not saying it’s Oscar worthy, it does makes reefer into a hilarious plot line. Afterwards, we had a flashback to college by going with Mike’s roommates to a house party complete with PBR and homemade Mojitos (when I say “homemade” I mean there was a variety of alcohols and whole mint leaves = yuck). It was a quick flashback, because after an eventful day this old lady was beat. We biked home through backwoods bike trails, which was quite the adventure avoiding hitting something because of no lights on the bike or the street. What is up with no street lights in Montana? People don’t need to see here or is it to make driving more “fun”? Maybe that’s why people swear, “Monfuckintana.”

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26 was a defining and adventurous year for Julie Williams, a Portland, Ore.-based communications consultant.

This blog chronicles Julie's crossing of the quarter-life threshold and coming of age on her solo road trip across seven Western states from Aug.-Sept. 2008.

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