Friday, August 24, 2012

The Wall in Missoula

Sorry folks, got busy with The Wall That Heals in Missoula, a quick mountain trip and getting caught up back at the office. This post will be a little less travel centric, but it was an amazing week spent with wonderful people and veterans in Montana.

Our trip to Missoula with TWTH was amazing and a huge success. I had been really hoping it would be since I went out on a limb to make it happen.

Dan Gallagher, with the American Legion Post 101 in Missoula was a wonderful host and such an ally in this project. He really came through in a pinch and is someone I will be forever grateful to. Same goes for the other members of his post, all of those who helped during the visit, the press and the entire community that supported the stop.

Set up on Wednesday was crazy with high winds and it was actually cold. A day out of the ordinary, the locals told me. ROTC students from the University of Montana came out to help and spent the entire day with us, we couldn't have done it with out them. Dan and I agreed it was great to see the future military officers (some are already in the Reserves) chatting with the Vietnam vets. Both groups enjoyed that interaction throughout the week.

I spent a bulk of the day dealing with press, but I was overjoyed at the amount of coverage we got. All of the major networks showed up the first day, as well as public television and radio and the paper. I couldn't have asked for better coverage. The day included my first on camera interview as a comms person. I did alright, but it is a bizarre experience to be on the other side of the questions for sure.

Thanks to the Osprey game exposure, people started coming on Wednesday to see TWTH even though we weren't completely set up or officially open. The planning team picked a wonderful location in a quiet, shady area, so TWTH was nestled under a row of trees with mountains as a backdrop. There was also steady foot traffic since there was a popular walking path across the field.

By Thursday, the amazingness was happening. I'll tell you a few of those stories.

One man was a Marine in Vietnam. He had been to the Wall in D.C. and also seen the traveling memorials about a dozen times. But when he walked up to our museum truck, he saw two photos of men he was with when they were killed in Vietnam. He broke down in tears. Dan, who travels with TWTH and runs the merchandise stand with his wife Pattie, saw the man as well and walked over the hug him. Dan is also a Vietnam vet and they didn't have to say anything, they just understood.

Later, I was standing at the Wall, helping someone else find a name location, when the man walked over to me. We got to talking and he told me about why he was crying earlier and then he told me about another friend of his on the Wall. In 1967, author Bernard Fall was revisiting the road he had immortalized in his 1961 book, Street Without Joy. The Marine had just come in from 10 days in the field and was exhausted, but he was given the assignment to escort Fall on a patrol that was about to leave. The Marine's buddy spoke up and took the assignment so the Marine could rest.

The author and Gunnery Sgt. Byron G. Highland was killed by a land mine in Thua Thien, South Vietnam on that patrol.

The Marine looked at me and said, "It should have been me."

There were tears in his eyes and it was all I could do not to burst into tears. He then told me he had been a combat correspondent and so we talked about that since I was a journalist. I talked to him about sharing his story with us on our blog and I do hope that he does. Dan and I both got the impression that he wanted to talk about the things he saw, the sadness and that it helped him cope as it does for so many. Dan would know better than me, having a common experience as them.

After we talked for awhile, he thanked me for bringing the Wall to him and to the area veterans, hugged me and went home. I stood still for quite awhile, held back tears and took several deep breaths to compose myself.

Not long after the Marine left, I was telling one couple about the history of the Wall and talking about veterans issues with them when another man asked for my help to find a name.

I walked him to the panel, then asked the name to find the line. I pointed to it and then turned around. The man was in tears looking at the name. I think it was his first time to see it. He walked up to the Wall, touched the name and just knelt down in tears. I hung back a bit and waited for him. The woman with him asked me about name rubbings and I told her I'd gladly do a name rubbing at The Wall in D.C. if he wanted. She was sure he would want to talk to me about that, so I waited. He left a patch that he had found from his unit at the Wall and came back later to stand by the name of his friend later that day. The next day, I saw him back in the same spot and he had brought another patch. We stood quietly for awhile and he told me stories about his time in Vietnam and both of us cried. I told him I would take those patches back to D.C. with me and place them at The Wall near his friend's name, take a photo and send that back with the name rubbing. He hugged me and thanked me and stayed for the ceremony Friday night. He hugged me again when he left.

A former military chaplain and I also spent a great deal of time talking about the nightmares from Vietnam, the coping, the stress, the pain and the healing. We talked about PTSD and suicide and the veterans who came home to so many more years of pain. We also talked about ways to do more to help Vietnam veterans and current veterans. We promised to stay in touch and many ideas for programs are now in the works.

The Friday night ceremony was incredible. Easily more than 100 people came out to hear veterans speak, including Dan Gallagher, the Montana attorney general and the former commander of the Montana National Guard. The state officer who heads veterans affairs also attended and those three laid special object at the Wall. During songs from the era, remarks and moments, there were smiles and tears. Family members laid flowers at the Wall, including one woman who lost her husband to the war. Her and I talked for awhile and then she shook my hand and said, "I have to go see my husband now." She came back to me later and asked me how she could support our effort to build the education center that will feature photos of all the names on the Wall. Families, veterans, state officials and others also read the names of Montanas on the Wall and also those from the area killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was an incredibly moving two hours.

Those are just a few of the extraordinary moments that happen at TWTH and they are the same in small communities nationwide as they are at The Wall in D.C. All of them are amazing. So many times that week, I just stood, took in everything and was just so glad to be a part of it all.

I can't do much to take away their suffering, or erase the painful memories of Vietnam or the loss of their friends or the anger. I can't undo the war or anything that happened when they came home. I wasn't even born when the war ended, I don't have the perspective they have.

But, I can bring the Wall to them. I can connect them with other veterans and supporters. I can talk to them, listen to them, do everything I can to help them.

Most importantly, I can tell their stories. They will not be forgotten.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tourist Town

Okay, not really.

I went to drop off some files for the baseball game but the guy I was meeting was stuck in another meeting, so I decided to walk the 2.4 miles to the hair salon and take in the town. It was beautiful out, but a little hot once I got going and in direct sun.

But, loved it. By the time I got to Cowgirls, a salon I randomly picked from a Google search, I was a hot mess, but that's what haircuts are for.

I walked in and instantly loved the place. And they gave me water in a Mason jar! I love Mason jars!

Obviously, it has a western theme and was really fun and friendly. Plus, much cheaper than a comparable experience in D.C. that is usually less fun anyway.

Forty-five minutes later, my hair looked better than it had, well, ever, and I was a happy camper. Funny how a haircut can instantly raise your spirits. If you're ever in Missoula, I highly recommend Cowgirls! Heck, I might come back just for the haircuts!

Then I started the long haul back to town, another 2.4 miles that didn't seem to take as long on the way back, though I'm pretty sure by the end I was walking slower.

Cooled off in the car for about two seconds and headed over to the Osprey stadium to meet The Wall That Heals.

Jared, with the Osprey, was amazing. He let us park the truck, which opens into a museum, right at the entrance of the stadium. They did a special military appreciation night for us, played our PSAs and made announcements that we are in town for the week. Gotta love when you just say hi to someone and things turn out amazing. They will be getting a major thank you card from our office. Not sure if it's a Montana thing, or if they're just great people, but the Osprey staff/team and the whole town so far has been incredibly supportive of this visit and it makes me love this place that much more.

Alright, off to pick up coffee and get to the site for set up! More updates and photos coming later!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In the Zoo

A friend from Montana mentioned that's what they call Missoula. Makes total sense.

Arrived around noon local time after a very early morning. Grover refused to get up at 4 a.m., and who can blame him really. But poor pups was looking out the window as I drove away. Always miss my bud when I travel. But he's in good hands.

Of course it started pouring as I was headed to Dulles well before dawn. Managed to check my bag with about 8 minutes to spare. But then the machine printing the boarding pass jammed up and ate into my very precisely calculated time table. The security line was a bit of a mess so I was starting to get antsy, but a very nice TSA man let me go through a shorter line. Maybe he sensed I was in danger of missing a flight or I just looked pitiful. Could go either way. Not sure I was awake yet.

Made it to Chicago with no problems and realized I've never been in the O'Hare airport. That place is massive. And only had Starbucks coffee. Turns out, I don't love Starbucks so much anymore. But, coffee is a necessity.

Lots of people watching in gate F11 before boarding with a massive family group. I was sitting behind two siblings and the others were across from them and I felt like I was in the old station wagon on a cross country road trip with my sisters when we were kids. Rough.

But, made a dent in my new book, Forces For Good, about best practices for nonprofits. It's a work trip after all, might as well make good use of my time. So many ideas!

Got the car, a midsize Subaru that I am in no way used to driving, but I love it. This is the first time I've driven in Montana since Mark has a manual Subaru and well, I can't drive it. One day I'll learn, but probably not any time soon. Have to say, I love driving and seeing mountains all around. Love it a lot.

Missoula is working for me right now, this week should be good times!

Alright, I'm off to meet the ops manager of the Missoula Osprey, the local minor league baseball team. They're going to play one of our PSAs at the game tonight against the Ogden team (I think!), which is also funny to me since I almost took a job in Ogden after college. Went to Alabama instead.

We're also parking The Wall That Heals truck and museum outside the stadium tonight and they've put together a military appreciation night for our visit. I'm pretty excited about this and love watching things come together when it all started with an email that said something along the lines of "Hey, we're coming to your town, any way we can partner?"

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Montana 4th

Sometime in mid to late-June, my boss said "Are you taking any time off for July 4?"

Well, boss, since you asked, yes, I would love to take some time off.

I booked a flight to Montana for nearly an entire week to take advantage of the holiday and since Mark had to work a day that week, I just worked remotely, which can be extremely productive it turns out.

Think I left on the Tuesday before the 4th, working from home for the morning, again, very productive and then left early for Dulles Airport since I was taking public transportation...good thing I left early, everything was running late. Side note, did you know the airport is named for John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state under Dwight D. Eisenhower?

Actually got into Great Falls at a decent time for once, though I did almost miss that flight. The weather was terrible that week and my mom had said, "Oh, I hope you can fly out with all the storms?" Me: "It's supposed to storm tomorrow?" Mom: "Oh, I don't know." Ha.

Well, it did storm and we were delayed getting out and rerouted, but the pilot made up lost time. In Denver, I was frantic that I wouldn't make my connection and though I knew there was another flight out that night, I despise being stuck in airports (since it happens to me with scary regularity) and time with the boyfriend is limited. But I made it to my gate with time to spare so I make a quick trip to the restroom. But, in true Jenn style, I made a wrong turn out of the bathroom, went to what I thought was my gate and the plane was gone. I almost started crying as I looked out the window when I looked at the gate number on the jetway and realized I was in the wrong place. Yeah, I'm ridiculous.

Made it to my gate with time to spare and managed to have a row to myself for the flight to Great Falls. We even landed a few minutes early.

Seriously, I usually have terrible travel luck, so you learn to go with the flow, and every now and then, it actually works out right.

Anyway, on to the actual trip.

Mark had researched some great hiking and outdoorsing for us and had bought a kayak so the next morning, off we went. We thought about kayaking the river to watch the fireworks in Great Falls, but figured it would be too crowded to actually be fun.

We headed out to Gibson Reservoir, a few hours out of Great Falls. We scoped out the water, picked a camping spot and got ourselves situated then headed to the water to take the kayak on her maiden voyage.

We're getting better at our supply shopping and packing and made it out the door a bit quicker than the last time. One day, we'll have this down.

The kayak is inflatable, making it so much easier to get around, though it took a few minutes to inflate. Once we got the hang of it though, we were good to go. We grabbed the water bags with snacks (you know we brought the fruit snacks) and such and carried the kayak to the boat dock. The thing is awkward to carry, more for me than for him, but we got it there and got ourselves afloat.

Currents are weird in the reservoir apparently and Mark is much taller than I am, so it was a bit comical watching us get going, I'm sure. It took us several hours to realize we had the drip rings in the wrong place, but at least it was only our first trip.

I kept scraping my thumb on the side of the kayak and it was killing me after a while, so we may adjust out seating arrangement next time.

Couldn't tell you how deep the water was and I didn't want to find out, but it was an incredibly perfect day. The weather on the water was perfect. Sunny, warm, the water was freezing, but the combo was just great. We paddled ourselves across the reservoir and started checking out the alcoves along the coast. I love kayaking and it was so great to be on the water in the mountains. To me, that's just the perfect combo.

At one point we went to explore an alcove and he wanted to check the air in the kayak. He wondered off for a bathroom break and though it wasn't raining, I dug out the fruit snacks. He came bearing a handful of of those sweet moments. Air levels lifted in the kayak, we were off again.

Cruising around in a kayak is some serious bonding time and though our paddling still isn't quite in sync, since he's about a foot taller than me, it was one of the best days.

We considered going even further down the reservoir, but it was getting late and we had paddled a few hours out, so we knew we had a few hours to get back. He thought he saw a hiking trail on one side so we paddled over there and then decided to get out and stretch our legs. It was then we realized how soaked I was and then standing in the share, realized I was freezing. We stood on a downed tree for bit and took in the view, but I was just getting colder as we stood there and there was nowhere to hike, so we were ready to go. Mark dug my rain jacket out so I could warm up a little bit as we paddled back, which seemed oddly easier on the way back. We were calling ourselves an Olympic team at a few points and then nature would beat down our hubris by throwing us a wave or getting us completely off. But, we did see a fish, we think.

With the kayak turned upside down and rigged to the top of the car, we headed back a few minutes to the camp site. We were undecided on whether we'd kayak the next day. Actually, we had grand plans to get up super early and do a sunrise trip, but when we got back, it took us awhile to dry out and warm up. I was freezing and that night it was ridiculously cold, especially since I came from 100+ temps in D.C. so it was a rough adjustment. We tried to dry out our clothes without setting them on fire, made dinner and went to bed. Good thing we brought extra sleeping bags since it was about 40 degrees overnight and just plain cold. My bad habit of stealing the covers remains it seems.

By the next morning we were still cold and didn't really feel like kayaking, so we packed up and went exploring. We thought about hiking, but didn't find a good spot for that so we drove back toward Great Falls on a park service road. A few times, Mark decided we'd go off roading, which is usually when I turn into my mother and hold on for dear life, but it's actually kind of fun. Along the way, we saw two bears, we thing a Grizzly and a black bear, which is weird. Also saw coyotes, deer and some sort of ground squirrels. It was a long ride back on dirt roads, but I love the mountains so I was happy with the view and I don't think I fell asleep this time.

Back in Great Falls, we cleaned up and had a night at home. It's a small town, but I love it. Sort of reminds me of Alabama in some ways, which is where Mark and I met in the first place.

Friday morning, Mark went to work and I slept in a bit and then went for a run along the river. It was one of my longer runs and I felt fine, meaning I just loved the break from the heat and humidity that we have here in D.C. this summer. I worked from home that day, with a break for lunch with the boys.

That weekend, we considered a hike in Glacier National Park, but decided we didn't have time to get out there, do the hike and get back, since it's about a 5 hour drive. Instead, we headed for the Sluice Boxes, a park about an hour from Great Falls.

It was a great drive out there and a nice day. But it had been raining a lot and though we knew we'd have to cross a creek or two, it was a little more than we anticipated. We had the dog with us and ran into a family from Texas. We came to a pretty big river crossing and the water was frigid and sort of deep and fairly fast moving. I had my new water shoes to test out and we went for it. Some of the Texans were struggling across and I was doing great until I completely wiped out almost entirely across. Totally fell, and then slipped while trying to get up and fell again. Good thing Mark only saw me fall once. Ha.

On the other side of the water, I was soaked and losing interest in this particular hike, probably because I just fell in a river and it took a few minutes before I noticed how much it hurt. We couldn't find the trail and kept going and I noticed how much it hurt. I looked at my leg at one point and wow did it look bad. I still have a bruise, not kidding, more than a month later. Guess that's what happens when you hit your shin on rocks and then hit it again.

It was beautiful out there, but then we came to another river crossing. This one was deeper and had a faster current and was just more challenging than the first. Mark had carried the dog across the first time and I wiped out, so I didn't have high hopes for this one. The water came up to even Mark's waist or so and he's quite a bit taller than me. At this point I called uncle and we turned back, so did the Texans.

We stopped for a minute to get some water and adjust shoes when I really realized how much my leg hurt. Mark said I seemed sad and all I said was that my leg hurt, but I was good. He looked at me with a little bit of "don't be a wuss," but we kept at it and went exploring in some other area not far from the park. It wasn't until we got home and we're sitting on the couch that he actually saw my leg and said, "Why didn't you say anything?!" Told you I'm no princess. He was concerned that something was more wrong, but I bruise easily and so I was pretty sure that's all it was. I totally passed out early that night.

Alright, the laptop battery is about to die and I've got to get ready for this week's trip to Montana. I'm headed to Missoula for work this week with The Wall That Heals, our traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Then Mark is meeting me and we're hopefully going to get some time in Glacier National Park. I'm also really hoping to see my friend Kelly, an Air Force wife I know from Alabama. She's from Great Falls and for once we'll both be in Montana at the same time.

This trip promises to be very busy and very excellent. Expect lots of updates!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

This One's For the Girls

This post has been on my mind for weeks and am finally getting to it, with a much needed glass of white wine.

A few weeks ago, when Sally Ride passed away, I posted a photo of her on Facebook and mentioned that she is the kind of woman little girls should want to grow up to be, not reality television stars. More of my friends liked that post than most others and agreed.

Then, that week, it was Amelia Earhart's birthday. Another woman little girls should aspire to be.

So many things make me concerned for woman in our society. It's 2012 and yet, we often find ourselves fighting over the same things, but we do have so many more opportunities now than we did less than century ago, when women were granted the right to vote with the 19th Amendment in August 1920.

Plenty of inequality still exists, but what saddens me most is when I see a girl, or a woman, who thinks she doesn't deserve a good job, a good man or a good life, or thinks Paris Hilton or Emily Maynard is a good role model.

But, all of that disappointment was somewhat taken away this last week when I heard commentators refer to this as the "Year of the Woman" at the Olympics and what we have seen from those ladies this summer has been amazing.

And as I was thinking about this post, I came across more amazing stories. Not because I was looking, but because they are happening everywhere.

(Also check out Brave. No, not the movie.)

There's Rachel.

Last year, the 8-year-old girl decided she wanted to help kids in Africa get clean water to drink. She created a fundraising page through charity: water and asking her friends and family to donate $9 for her 9th birthday instead of giving her any present. She wanted to raise $300 to give 15 people clean water. She raised $220, and planned to do more the next year.

But she didn't get the chance. A month later, she was critically injured in a car crash in Seattle and on July 23, 2011, she was taken off life support.

Rachel's story spread and people began donating through her page. A month after her death, 30,000 people had given more than $1 million. Read more of Rachel's story.

Then there's all the work being done by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton for women. Say what you will about her (full disclosure, I didn't like her for president) but the woman has become one of the most  globally influential and strongest secretaries of state and she has taken up the cause of the woman. She and her small band of crusaders believe that by helping women, we help the world and I'm inclined to agree with her. Listen to her ask us to be fearless.

To remind inspire me daily, I have walls of quotes. This one is mostly made from pages of a quote calendar my friend Abbie gave me last year. She shares my love of travel and adventure and quotes. She's a journalist too. We can't help ourselves. We're word people. My favorite is the bottom part of the one top middle: "Self made, or never made."

I still have my bracelet with "fearless" etched into the metal plate and though it's very worn, I love it now as much as ever. I still wear it on days when I know it will be tough or I have big things to accomplish just as a reminder to always do what I need to do and worry less about the silly things. I'm still not sure if I bought it because I thought I was fearless back in 2007, or if I wanted to be fearless. But either way, it's my all-time favorite piece of jewelry. I'll be so incredibly sad when it finally disintegrates.

But, I have this card from my dear friend Jeannette that will likely last longer and because I'm a pack rat, I promise I'll have this card for decades. And I love it. She knows as well as I do, that to truly live your life, sometimes you have have to go big, sometimes you get hurt, you have to do what's hard and sometimes you crash and burn, but that's how you become the best version of yourself.

Women are changing the world on so many levels and yet there are so many horrible things that continue to happen to them. At home, in the U.S., where we often claim to be morally superior to every one. But there's an incredible proudness I feel for women brave enough to speak up. Like those that have made and been interviewed for The Invisible War, a documentary about rape in the military.

Poster from Fresh Words Market.
Get one.
And there are three teenagers in New Jersey who are making a national splash with their petition to have a woman moderate one of the presidential debates. I'm very impressed with these three girls for taking a stand and being able to move the conversation to the public spotlight, but I also have to wonder, where are the rest of us that it took three teenagers to make us talk about it? (P.s. go read about them and sign the petition here.)

So, this post isn't exactly about travel, but I think the things we learn from travel fit with this. Go adventure, go move in the direction of your dreams, take in the world, live in the world, come home and make your world better.

Ladies, you are extraordinary. All of you. Know that, live that and be that. From one of my favorite authors, Chris Guillebeau, a thought sticks with me: you have talents and gifts that the world needs, and you owe to the world to use those talents and gifts to make it so much better.

So forget Paris Hilton and Emily Maynard or whoever, go be remarkable and you might just change the world. The world is counting on you to do just that.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Motivation Monday

Borrowing an idea from my roommate and her blog over at Delighted Studio.

I love quotes and I love travel, so I'm going to start posting them here each week.

Came across this one this morning as I was looking at something else entirely on Pinterest, since I'm learning how best to use it for social media strategy and if we should keep it at work.

I love it because getting lost is how I learned to drive and often how I travel. Especially in Venice. It's actually one of the recommended ways to experience the city and how I found so many treasures and met great people. For a flashback to that trip, we venture to the blog archives.

It's a big world, so much beauty, wonder and awe. So get out there and take it all in.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Into The Woods

After two chaotic months at a new job and gearing up for events at breakneck pace (Obama was our keynote for one national stressful) I headed back to Montana for some time away from the city lights.

This time I flew into Great Falls for a long weekend. I flew in on a Thursday night, so Mark went to work for a few hours on Friday while I hit the trails for a run along the river.

We grabbed some lunch in town then were off to collect supplies. In time, you'll realize that this takes us forever.

Initially, we planned to hike in and camp, but we fell behind schedule (while shopping for supplies) and so decided to find a place and just camp for the night. Setting up camp and making a fire around sunset in Montana is pretty great, though the sun doesn't set until late, 9 p.m. maybe, and so it was a late night.

En route to the Highwoods. Love it.
The next morning our plan was to pack up the car and hike into the Highwood Mountains and hike somewhere in there that night. But, it started raining. At first, just a bit, but then it poured. And didn't stop. We weren't sure what the weather would do and the dog was getting antsy, so we took her home, repacked our bags and hit the road back to the Highwoods. They're about an hour out of Great Falls so it's an easy day hike or longer, depending on what you're up for and/or the weather.

We picked up a trail that was fairly hilly going up and crossing a few streams, but it was beautiful. We found a rock formation known as the Throne and Mark made me climb on it for a picture. I'm a bit of a klutz, so climbing near the edge of rock formations can be a bit dicey, but he got his picture.

As we were reaching a peak and had just come to a clearing, the sky opened up.

Just before the rain
We'd packed rain jackets and had dug those out just in time, but they didn't do much good. We were drenched and the rain wouldn't let up. About this time, I was less excited about being in the woods, on a mountain in a thunderstorm...there was lightning too if I remember right.

The wind was picking up and the rain was cold and after awhile I was freezing. Finally, the rain let up and Mark dug my fleece out of one of the bags. A genius REI purchase. I was freezing and soaked. Did I mention I hate getting rained on?

Right after the rain
Mark pulled out the fruit snacks we bought on our supply run. I had seen them, then thought we had enough in the snack department, when Mark said, "If you got rained on, what would make you happy?" We bought the fruit snacks. And sure enough, they helped. It's the little things.

Mark turned it sideways, who knows why
We carried on up the mountain and took a beautiful view, including rainbows. We were literally in the clouds at that point and the rains had brought in more clouds, making it seem hazy. We kept going and followed a few random trails to see where they went. I was fine with that until I saw more rain clouds rolling in and it was getting later in the afternoon, so I was less inclined to wander. We headed back down the mountain and made good time, not even getting rained on again. Though, there were a few spots that were tougher on the way back since the rain had added more water to the creeks, made climbing across fallen trees a bit slick and the trail was muddy.

All in all, a great hike. We'll probably do it again.

Totally Missed This

In writing that last post and looking for the link to the Continental Divide Trail Alliance, I discovered that the organization closed early this year. I was so looking forward to finally doing one of their trips and had always love the work they did.

Not sure what happened there, but glad to see that another group is filling the void. Especially glad to see that they're in Montana.

The Montana Wilderness Association is taking a larger role in preserving the trail and you can bet I'll be out there helping sometime soon and most definitely supporting this effort.

Check them out on Facebook too. If you're in the area, get involved. If you're not, consider a volunteer trip with me next year!

Big Sky, An Introduction

I've long been obsessed with Montana. Let me tell you why.

One day, during my senior year of college, I read an article, in The Economist I think, that said 10 of the 20 poorest counties in America were in Montana. So, I thought, there should be tons of stories to report on and less competition for newspaper jobs since recent college grads weren't looking to run off to the Wild West from Virginia. But I was.

Ended up with an internship in Fredericksburg, Va., that I was more or less recruited for, so the adventure in Big Sky country was put on hold.

I had planned to take a trip out there in 2007 with the Continental Divide Trail Alliance to help build trails and such, and been accepted on the trip and everything. Then, I accepted a job in Alabama.

Again, my Montana love would have to wait.

Fast forward five years and I'm back in Virginia, living and working in the D.C. area when a guy I used to know reappears in my life. Now he's stationed in Montana and in March, I finally made it to Big Sky.

First trip: Glacier National Park.

If you think I was obsessed with Montana, you have no idea how much I've wanted to go to Glacier. Of course, in March, it's freezing and blanketed with a few feet of snow.

No problem. I wanted to go hiking in Glacier, and hike we did. I flew into Kalispell after some rough times in the airports since that was the weekend United and Continental merged and it was a mess. My bag got lost of course, because the gate agent didn't know where Kalispell was and wasn't especially friendly. So it goes. I'm used to it.

Sans bag and hiking boots, we stock up on the essential items, check out the fantastic cabin Mark found and explore a bit. We drove into the park to check it out and figure out our game plan for the next day. We were going to do a guided snowshoe tour with a park ranger, but a ranger in the visitor center told us we could make it without snowshoes so we decided to go on our own.

We probably should have taken the snowshoes.

At first it was fun, then it was challenging then it got downright annoying to trudge through snow that was up to about my knees in most places. But, we'll call it a bonding experience and we didn't kill each other, so that's saying something. And the scenery was spectacular. And we built a mini snowman. We're those people.

We stopped at a lookout point over Lake McDonald and then noticed the weather was changing. Mark says that storms can pick up out of nowhere, especially in the mountains, and he's right.

I'm no big fan of being rained on, in case I hadn't mentioned that, but I refused to freak out. It started sprinkling a bit, but we were prepared with all kinds of gear. The man is always prepared. But, I have to admit, as the wind picked up and it got dark, I did have a brief internal panic attack. I did not want to be trapped in the mountains, in the dark, in the snow. But, then went back to my normal self when I reminded myself that the only solution was to keep trudging if I wanted out of the woods.

When we turned a corner and could see some lights from town, it was absolutely beautiful and I was relieved. We'd been out for something like eight hours.

I'm pretty sure I fell asleep in the car on the way back to town. What can I say, all that mountain air wore me out. We cleaned up and warmed up a bit and went in search of food. We found Mexican and margaritas, always a great end to a hike (it's also my post-half marathon tradition). I honestly can't remember the name of the place, but it was pretty great.

Next day, we played a game of hide and seek with my bag since it had finally arrived, but when we stopped by the airport to check, they had just sent it to the cabin. Eventually, I was reunited with that orange rucksack that has probably logged more miles than I have. The woman at the North Forty Resort, where we stayed, was nice enough to loan hiking boots in case I needed them and gave me extra coffee. We love that place.

Bag in tow, we headed back toward Great Falls. It's about a five hour drive and we took the scenic route through the mountains and along Flathead Lake. I am in love with this lake, love, I tell you. We found a piece of property for sale up on a big hill overlooking the lake. I am in no way opposed to living there one day. No surprise that the lake was featured in summer issue of National Geographic Traveler. I have it turned to the page about Flathead on my desk right now.

There was also a stop in Missoula at the REI, because Mark can never pass that place without stopping, and I'm not opposed to it either. Eventually we made it back to Great Falls for a mini-tour in the dark and I flew out the next morning.

First trip to Big Sky was a great success.