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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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DISCLAIMER: Considering I’m two weeks into the trip, clearly I’m not in Glacier anymore. Starting this travel blog I underestimated how much internet access I would have, how much energy I would have left after days of exploring and how much time it takes to upload and blog. Speaking of time..

Still a little shaken from the Swinging Bridge I made it back to my car with a growling stomach. No wonder I was hungry, my phone said it was 2 p.m. Curiously, I had left the camp site at 9:30 a.m. and had only traveled 50 miles. Surely, the three-quarter mile hike hadn’t taken 3 hours? Had it? Something was fishy, but since I was apparently behind schedule I hit the road and cruised to Glacier National Park. When I got into West Glacier, I stopped at the Montana Vortex to take pictures. Clearly, this was not the only vortex I had entered. How was time flying by? Checking my phone again it was 2 p.m. And then it hit me, time zones! My “satellite” oriented phone was futilely trying to keep up with time. Hence, I have come to rely upon my internal clock and asking locals.

With a snow advisory for the evening, I set up camp at Sprague Creek (a 20 tent site) and then took off to tour Going to the Sun Road and Logan Pass before any potential weather. If I had to describe the word immense in an image, it would be the glaciers that even dwarf 500 foot tall waterfalls that miraculously spring from their rock faces. While it’s summer, it is still shocking how little snow comprises these “glaciers” (I am still not clear if that term includes the ice or the ice and underlying rock). Glaciers are known to move achingly slow, yet their recession has been stealth. This is how global warming hits home, which was reinforced by the park ranger presentation I saw that night at Lake McDonald Lodge. Now, if we could only bring everyone here, so they could truly understand the immensity of the environmental shift/crisis we are undergoing.

A moment at Avalanche Lake in Glacier.

A moment at Avalanche Lake in Glacier.

I fully entered the vortex of the outdoors on my hike to Avalanche Lake. Nature truly is a different world. A world where time seems to become irrelevant. If it’s still light out, what does it matter if it’s 11 a.m. or 3 p.m.? I was easily sucked into the timelessness of the present moment along the trail. One moment paused to look for a place to take a leak. The next moment I’m staring at a mama-sized black bear 75 feet down the trail. Run? Photo? Stay? Talk? Shouldn’t I be more scared? Something is wrong when my immediate thought is to get closer for a photo of a WILD animal, when just yesterday a bridge scared my pants off!

We parted ways and I eventually made it to the serene lake. Now, this is what I picture Eden like. How could you not “be present” in this world? That is all there is – a series of moments – unlike my life at home. Isn’t it amazing that we let our lives be dictated by this abstract constriction we created, called time? It has been hard to turn off that calculated, proactive, “efficient” part of my brain on this trip. I could only spend 30 minutes at the lake before needing to head back, check out of the campsite by noon and head to Missoula. Unfortunately, my human, time-constrained schedule beckoned.

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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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