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Clearly, my internet connectivity has been intermittent throughout the trip, but upon reaching Salt Lake City I was able to log-in to civilization for a day and a half. I received an interesting chain email that I had never seen before from my friend, Katie, in Texas reporting six random things in her life. It was fascinating to me that for as well as you can know some people, there are still surprises. I had no idea she had joined her church’s women’s choir. If this life detail hadn’t come up in our frequent phone conversations, what exactly were we talking about all those unlimited minutes? Come to think of it, we’ve had hour-long conversations about the most effective ways to clean the bathroom. Fascinating. Clearly, our conversations need to get more random, as that seems to be where the meat is about our goings on. So, this post is dedicated to Katie for her random and faith-based inspiration.

Six Random Things (I did) in Salt Lake City:

Deluxe serivce at Gateway Mall in SLC

Deluxe serivce at Gateway Mall in SLC

1. While hanging out with Edna, my sister’s ma-in-law, at Gateway shopping center, we got a personal door-to-door escort via golf cart from Chico’s two blocks down to Anthropologie. For a minute there I thought we were on Rodeo Drive, not in Salt Lake City (given this is one of the new, flashy parts of the city developed for the Winter Olympics in 2002).

2. At Anthropologie, while cruising the sale racks I ran into two girls from my hometown high school, Erin and Abby, who I haven’t really seen since graduation (yes, eight years ago). Randomly, I had a dream that night before about being at our Grant High School reunion.

How glamorous, er, "Julious"

Who parked my car down here?

3. Down in the parking lot below Mormon central (a.k.a. Temple Square) I spotted my own personal license plate on someone else’s car. Apparently, there is a network of LDS-only tunnels down there from the Temple to the other buildings. Word is they have their own Mormon golf carts to get around (maybe the one at the shopping center just couldn’t handle all the rules here and escaped to the civilian life).

4. I rode the glass elevators at the Salt Lake City Public Library, which is now officially my favorite modern library. While I hold a deep love of traditional, hard wood, dimly lit libraries that make me sneeze, this one is truly impressive. The elevators glide through the open mezzanine that separates the stacks and the balconies of study spaces, and contains one of the most creative installation pieces I have seen in years. A cluster of butterflies perched “reading” mini open books all suspended from the ceiling in the form of a head. I even pushed through my new-found fear of standing on suspended structures to venture down the primarily glass stairs for a closer look.

5. I used the fanciest outhouse ever at Edna’s cabin. We’re talking framed pictures hanging on a white painted interior, even a latch to hold up the white seat for you! Jim, Edna, Daisy (some kind of four-pound lap dog) and I traveled the eight miles from their home above the city to the mountain cabin in the Mill Creek National Forest to roast nitrate-free sausages over an open fire pit for dinner.

International Mormon missionaries and Jesus

International Mormon missionaries and Jesus (no pants allowed)

6. The most random thing of all: there are no male Mormon missionaries at Temple Square. Yes, not only did I notice there was a disproportionate number of hand made skirts walking around, but I asked about it. The nicest missionary, Sister Choi from South Korea, told me that they tried having both genders back “then” (1950s?) and people were intimidated by the “security personnel-looking” young Mormon men in their uniform suits. Thus, there are only male Elders there. I appreciated the PR spin, but it still smelled a little fishy. While I can’t identify with their lifestyle specifically, I did find it incredibly impressive to be in the presence of people so very devout and very focused on their way of life. The acoustics of the Tabernacle meeting hall is pretty darn insane too – you can hear a pin drop. Seriously, during the tour a Sister dropped a pin on the podium and you could hear it from the back row of the hand-painted simulation Oak pews.

6 1/2. Speaking of painted pews and transporting tons of granite via wagon over 40 years to build the Temple – Mormons are industrious! Hence, its nickname as the “Beehive State,” which I inquired about due to the honey hives icon for all the highways. I guess, a Jell-o jiggler isn’t as obvious on a road sign. I’m sure you already know Utah consumes the most green Jell-o in the country. Clearly, too many random things in Utah to stick to six, good thing I’ll be passing back through after my next stop in Colorado.

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My first sunset - Priest River, Idaho

My first sunset - Priest River, Idaho

Reading the signs as I passed through Sand Point, Idaho, around 5 p.m. I learned that I still had a ways to go until Priest River. As I kept passing other camp sites along the winding lakeside road my mind was in knots…just pull off and settle for one of these sites or push through to my pre-decided destination which could very well be full for the night? Risky business, this push/pull of fear and faith. Things worked out – amazing well, in fact. A case of “chance follows design”? Not only did I get a camp site as soon as I pulled up, but I was able to set up camp, see the sunset over the river and make some friends with a neighboring family from Spokane in the first hour. After a great birthday dinner of salmon and sauteed veggies, salad, beer and Toberlone for dessert (a real b-day splurge!) I sat by the fire thinking about faith and fear. How easy it is to be scared and worry…and how testing it is to have faith that things will not only work out, but for the best. Turning off my headlamp after dinner it was amazing to see the difference that light makes. It is easy to be confident when you can see everything in front of you. Whereas in the darkness, with only the flickering light of the Alder burning fire, fear easily wraps around you.

As I sat by my dying fire, I was spontanesouly serenaded with the “Happy Birthday” song by my neighbors who then invited me over to spend the evening roasting marshmellows and makings Jiffy Pop over the fire. For all the safety concerns from family, friends and myself (a tiny bit) I couldn’t have felt more safe that I was not only staying next to friendly folks with a big dog, but the camp site gate locked down from 10 pm to 7 am. Rising early, I made eggs and then started to pack up camp. The Army Corps of Engineers do an incredible job of upkeep here – not only was there firewood, but a kitchen prep area and HOT showers, which I couldn’t resist. Best quarter I ever spent!

Swinging Bridge over Kootenai River, Idaho

Why do we get more fearful as we age? Is fear an offspring of knowledge? Not book knowledge, but knowledge of what getting life is worth and attachment to that life? On the road to Glacier, I made a pit stop along Highway 2 and ended up at the historic Kootenai River. Not planning to hike, I found my trusty Teva flip flops leaving the john and heading down the trail to the breathtaking Kootenai Falls. As I hiked over to the other sight – a Swinging Bridge across the river – a little voice kept fearfully nagging about all my gear in my car as sitting prey in the parking lot. Is this our protective instinct or just paranoia? I was surprised to be overwhelmed by fear going down the grating of the stairs crossing the railroad and then crossing the suspension bridge. Two 10-year-olds gleefully bounced across the bridge, which made me quiver as I looked down through the narrow wood slats into the rushing river beneath. I’ve never thought of my self as having a fear of heights, or really a fear of anything except scorpions, great white sharks and treading water in the bottomless ocean. Is this a fear of heights? or of falling? or of death? If I truly have faith, then isn’t any fear futile?

Swinging Bridge over Kootenai River, Idaho

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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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