Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Roundup

We're all still recovering from another crazy week at The Wall. On Wednesday we held a ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony for the Education Center and even though we didn't really move any dirt, we had Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Panetta, and Jimmy Buffett came to sing. Kind of a big day.

But, since we're all still exhausted and struggling to focus, I found myself reading a bunch of travel articles. 

Instead of sharing them all over Facebook and Twitter, figured I'd round them up for you here. 

1. Awesomeness in Cairns from Hostel Life. It's not where I stayed, or what I did there, but I have a love of Cairns. I had flown in from New Zealand by way of Sydney and honestly can't remember the name of the hostel I stayed in, but I'm sure I have a photo of it or name of it somewhere. I headed straight out to the Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef
That's where I got one of the worst sunburns of my life, despite loads of sunscreen. I also had a run in with a shark, that I later learned could have killed me. When I first saw it, I inhaled so quickly I swallowed a lot of water, as I was snorkeling. But once I could breath again, I started following it to get a picture with my handy dandy underwater camera. Genius, I know. But I have that picture somewhere. The guys on the boat said business was up thanks to the movie Finding Nemo. They were irritated by it, especially when a large group of oblivious tourists asked if they would see Nemo on the reef. But, when I got to the Sydney Aquarium a week or so later, Nemo was their main marketing campaign. Craziness. 

2. Running abroad. Something I want to do soon. My friend Ally ran her first half-marathon in Rome this year and I'm determined to do some of the races in a variety of places. 

3. Missoula! One of my favorite places in Montana made a Top 10 list for winter vacations. Have no doubt, I'll be back soon. 

4. Less about travel than about a great reporter using his pen and social media to change the world, one story at a time.

5. Fun story about Montana wines from my new friend at the local paper. We're already planning a Montana wine tasting for the next time I'm back. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wander Wednesday

I went to London right after Thanksgiving in 2006 and have loved the city ever since. This photo of St. Peter's Basilica and the Millenium Bridge is one of my very favorites, makes me want to hop over the pond for the holidays again.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Go Jump Off a Bridge

My mom always used to use the "If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too," response to "other kids do it!"

Well, turns out I would.

We were in the New Zealand embassy for a Veterans Day event listening to the amazing Irish tenor Anthony Kearns. The event was a fundraiser for VVMF and the USO and I loved chatting with some Kiwis, our veterans and being back, technically, on New Zealand soil. 

I found myself looking around and thinking of my time there. 

Somewhere around the time I was standing in the back of the room, struggling to keep my eyes open from what had already been an exhausting week and was nowhere near over and fuming about the red wine my boss had spilled on my white scarf, I started chuckling to myself.

Why? Because I somehow made the mental leap to the time I jumped off a bridge in New Zealand.

We had a study break during the semester at the University of Canterbury and I had a plan to do a two week tour of the South Island. As I finished booking my trip with Stray, the tour company, I got to pick from a stack of envelopes for a free adventure of some sort. I was hoping for a free North Island trip, but I did get it.

The voucher was good for nearly $200, and yet I was disappointed.

It was for bungy jumping.

I had no intention or desire to jump of a bridge. But, by the time we got to Queenstown, I figured, better not waste it and do it anyway.

We were going for a Tri-Nations game--NZ All Blacks vs. South Africa Springboks--in Dunedin and stopped in Queenstown on the way. We found the bungy place, AJ Hackett, and I was off. 

Since I didn't pay to jump, I bought a DVD. I'll try to get that posted tomorrow. Photos at least.

My jump was off a bridge, over a river, in a canyon. 

On the bridge, there was a girl getting ready to jump and then a kid next in line.

The girl was having a heck of a time jumping and while I was mildly calm to start. I was starting to lose my mind by her third or fourth balk. Eventually, the guy said, either you jump or you get off the bridge. I really love Kiwis. 

The boy jumped as I was being rigged up. Got my safety instructions and a little other info and then it was my turn at the edge. The jump off the Kawarau Bridge is 43 meters....kinda high and yet not the highest. Heart pounding started at this point.

The guy said not to over think it, to just fall. Little bit of shaking now.

He started the countdown. It went something like this:

Bungy guy: 5...4...3..2..

Me: uhhh, no, no. Not ready...

Bungy guy: know what order these numbers go in right?

Me: No! Not ready...Start over. I'll be ready, just start over!

Bungy guy: Are you sure? Don't be like that girl.

Me: I'm not, I'm not, I'll do it...just start over!

Bungy guy: 5...4...3...2...

I close my eyes and accept that I'm about to do this...

Bungy guy: 1...

Deep breath and I more or less, just lean over and fall off the bridge and keep my eyes closed until I've hit the bottom and start bouncing back up. Turns out, that was not the best idea, because then I was upside down, still being jerked up and down, hanging from a bridge, over a river canyon.

Then it was kind of fun to just swing, even if all the blood was rushing to my head.

When you're done bouncing all over, they lower you a bit, a raft comes out to meet you and a guy holds a pole out to you. Once you have a grip on it, they pull you over the raft, lower you a bit more and then just drop you in.

While you untangle yourself from the bungy, they get you to the bank of the river, you scramble out on shaky legs and then walk all the way back up the side of the canyon.

At the top, you can't really breath, but you watch your friend's video and realize the whole time they were shouting "GO USA!" I was with a Brit, a German and two Irish folk. High fives all around, though I was still shaking a bit.

Can't say I'd ever do it again, but I can check it off my list. 

What I actually remember most about the whole thing, is that as we walked back to the car, the Brit said, "Jenn, you are a constant surprise."

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Motivation

Friday, November 23, 2012


Instead of spending yesterday writing a blog post about being thankful, I spent it with family and friends and mostly steered clear of the computer, other than Skyping with my sister who is in Sweden for nine months, but arrived in England yesterday.

So now that the turkey's been demolished and the subsequent 5-mile walk/run completed with the dog and my parents today, it's time to take a moment and give thanks.

I'm thankful for:

My family. Living in Virginia again has given me more time with them and it's always time well spent. We don't always get along, sometimes we don't even like each other, but we always love each other and family always comes first. They have made me the person I am today, taught me so much, supported and encouraged and are always, always there when you need them. As a kid, I was precocious and difficult I'm sure and as an adult I have immense appreciation for the parents who have been together 31 years and somehow managed to let me be myself, encourage me to be myself while also teaching me to work hard and be good to others. Can't say I'm always successful, but again, always have my family to keep me in check when I need it. My parents raised three girls, who are all very different and have taken different paths in life. One is married, the other is in Sweden and going to sail to Australia next summer. They're both engineers and I'm the writer who leaves the country on a whim and has no problem packing up and moving to new states. Somehow, we all turned out alright and it's never dull at the Rowell family table.

My friends. The are all over the world and are all so different, but I love every one of them. The old hometown friends, the new work friends and all the ones in between. A girl couldn't ask for better friends.

My dog. Grover makes me nuts sometimes, like when he jumps the fence, eats my clothes, irritates my roommate or barks at the wind, but I love that sweet little bud. He's not quite 3, so he's still learning to be a good dog, but he knows when you need him to just cuddle with you because you've had a bad day, or you need him to run 5 miles at o'dark thirty because you have another half marathon coming up, or when you just need a little unconditional love and he's always, always happy to see you when you come home. Awful as he can be, he always seems to find a way right back into our hearts (me and my roommate).

My job. Sometimes, it's absolutely infuriating, but I spend my days working with and for veterans. They are incredible people who have been through so much and to be a part of their story is truly humbling. There's so much to learn, lots of challenges to overcome and lots of room to grow. It's incredibly rewarding on most days.

My boyfriend. It's taken a lot for us to get where we are and I'm so happy we ended up together. He puts my heart at ease, is patient and giving, and also lets me be my crazy, globetrotting, book-obsessed, wine-loving self.

My hometown. It's a small place with not a lot to do, but I absolutely love it. More importantly, every time I come home I'm reminded of how far I've come, of who I am and the person I want to be.

Travel. Every day life can make the world seem so small and like everything revolves around your little part of it. Travel gives you the chance to meet so many people, experience different cultures and ways of life and just broaden your perspective. It's also a chance to learn so much about yourself as travel can test you and wear you down, but it can also inspire, motivate and change you for the better.

Peppermint. I know, it was serious until now, but I love peppermint. It makes me happy all the time (AND science says it actually does give you a mood boost!) and it's just so simple. As my roommate says, I sweat peppermint.

What are you thankful for this holiday season?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wander Wednesday

A park off L'Avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris. I had a long layover in Paris on my way to Slovenia and hopped on the train and explored the city while I waited for my flight. I only had about six hours and was exhausted by the time I got to where I was going, but it was totally worth it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Spokane for a Minute

Because we are the champions of the random roadtrip, we decided to head west to Spokane, Wash.

Initially, we were going to check out Bozeman, but some things came up at the base so we stopped in Missoula en route to Spokane, in case Mark got called back. Missoula is about an hour closer to Great Falls and I'm a big fan. Plus it has an REI, a store we seem to spend ridiculous amounts of time.

We drove to Missoula a way we've both gone many times, but in the winter, the route takes on a whole new feel. Several feet of snow had recently fallen, but it has also been warm and sunny enough to melt most of it and make the roads perfectly clear.

Getting into town a bit late, we opted to just do dinner and crash. Since Great Falls isn't exactly a mecca of dining options, Mark wanted some international food. Winging it, we decided to try Sa Wad Dee downtown. Their website gives me a bit of a headache, but Mark predicted that meant good food. And it was. Noisy college kids were next to us when we sat down, but much to our (and the rest of the restaurant's) relief, they headed out shortly after we settled in.

I was feeling like something sort of bland for some reason, but the waitress poked fun and I ended up with a basil chicken dish that turned out to be fairly simple and incredibly filling.

The next morning, I found a bagel shop that made decent coffee (critical morning staple for me) and we headed out. Neither one of us had driven the stretch of road through the rest of Montana, part of Idaho and into Washington. The Montana part was beautiful, though the curvy mountain passes started giving me a bit of motion sickness. Idaho was less interesting to us, but there was a huge lake near the border I liked. Didn't seem as picturesque as Montana lakes, but I still love mountains and lakes.

Once we're in Spokane, we have no plan. Kind of my style, but I usually pick out a few things to do. We stopped by the Mitsubishi dealer to check out a few things for our new car, since it's the closest dealer to his house. From there we started making a plan. First up, lunch.

Again, we went for an international theme for Mark and headed to a sushi place, though that was after we found a Turkish place that no longer existed. Again, the waitress was making decisions for me, but I had pretty much decided on that dish anyway, so it worked out.

Of course we had to stop by the hardware store in the next shopping center, but managed to not spend too much time there. In the car, I worked on picking out things to do. Mark found a hotel that turned out to be sketch so he went to plan B, an awesome place called Hotel Lusso.

We settled in and then headed out for a walk around town. We missed the street we wanted by a block or so, but it was great to stretch our legs for awhile. We swung through a North Face store, but were unimpressed by the sale and carried on. Mark made jokes about going into the Apple Store, but I couldn't handle the crowd anyway. We made a pass through the mall at River Park Square. They were setting up for Santa's arrival later, which we also got stuck in that chaos. As much as I love Christmas, mid-November is too early for me and Christmas music.

More wandering and we found the river, Canada Island, the park, an ice rink, mini golf and carousel. We saw so many parking enforcement officers that we decided we can't live in Spokane ever, because we couldn't afford my parking tickets (I have issues with parking meters, as in, I refuse to pay them.)

After wandering most of downtown, we were out of ideas, so we saw the new Lincoln movie, which I loved. Most of it was filmed in Virginia and places I recognized so that was fun and it was surprisingly funny. Plus, waaaayyyy cheaper to see it in Spokane than D.C.

Then we finally went to the wine bar I wanted to check out, Nectar Tasting Room and I loved it. They're a co-op with five area wineries and offer tastings and bottles of their wines. They were having a wine festival the weekend we were there and so there were special deals and we tasted eight wines for $5. Mark isn't much for wine, but he tried them all. We even found some he would drink and so we bought a few bottles. The live music was a bit rough. We loved the songs the duo was covering, but they were sort of butchering some of the songs we love. But, if you're in Spokane, I highly recommend the place!

We grabbed dinner in the hotel restaurant, which was pretty great and cheap. By then, it was late and we were spent.

The next morning, we visited the adorable cafe across the street at Brews Bros Espresso. Somehow Mark had noticed the coffee shop that I hadn't. They even did a peppermint mocha, my mini treat. Then we were back on the road home despite overcast skies and some rain.

By Missoula, I was exhausted and feeling a little car sick, but we stopped at REI and picked up a handful of useful things and grabbed lunch. Back on the road, the mountain passes were getting to me and it was getting dark, so I tried to sleep through some of it, but with little luck.

We took a route neither of us had done and took the interstate into Butte where we saw an interesting landmark. At first we thought it might be a giant star or Christmas tree on top of the mountain. Then maybe an angel. Maybe a weird military site that was well lit. Turns out, it's Our Lady of the Rockies, the second tallest statue in the U.S., after the Statue of Liberty and a monument to women. Nice gesture, but I told Mark to never, ever build a statue in my honor, please, please be more practical.    

Darkness and mountain passes were making me dizzy, but we pressed on with a quick pitstop in Helena and then were on our way home. Sadly, we didn't see any of the meteor shower, but it wasn't for lack of me staring out the window!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Motivation

Photography Images

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Soundtrack to Life

We did a random roadtrip this weekend from Great Falls to Spokane, Wash. It's about a six to seven hour drive and we had no plan for what to do there or along the way, we just went along for a ride. I'll write more about the actual  trip and things we saw long the way shortly, but for the moment, wanted to share one of the songs we put on our roadtrip mix.

The mix included a lot of Sugarland (huge fan!), Carbon Leaf, Mumford and Sons, Hunter Hayes, few random songs mixed in and also a bunch of Rascal Flatts. Mark has one of their albums that I also have but haven't listened to in quite awhile and it was great to hear them again.

This song, though not one of their actual videos, but a decent enough video someone put together, is one of my favorites. It's a concept that I try to apply on all days, but some days I do better than others. It also goes with travel, as in when you have the chance to go, go!

My favorite line is: "Love with all of my heart, make my mark, I want to leave something here. Go out on a ledge without any net, that's what I'm gonna be about."

It seems an appropriate reminder and motivator from some of the projects and life changes I'm about to take on! Enjoy!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Broken Bowls

Apparently, Montana is a great place to write. There are no D.C. distractions or stresses and it's just calm.

As I'm sitting in the kitchen, I stopped mid-sentence on something else and looked around. And saw a bowl sitting on the counter. I see it every time I'm here and every time it makes me smile. They say we're become stuff obsessed, but I think everyone has a handful of things that really mean something. The sentimental value. And this bowl has a story.

The view of Cusco from my hostel balcony. Not too shabby
for a disposable camera since I had killed my camera battery
and square batteries are hard to come by in Peru. 
It's a clay pottery kind of bowl, hand painted in Peru. I had gone to Peru in 2008 and was wandering around a market in Cusco looking for gifts for family and friends. The market was tables and tables of pottery, jewelry, carved wood, foods and alpaca sweaters. And the Plaza de Armas is just beautiful. I sat for awhile in a coffee shop just starting out at the cathedral, the square and surrounding mountains one day while I read theory for a international relations grad class. Note to self, do not take your biggest textbook and lug it all over Peru. Just don't do it.

Eventually, I found a mug that I loved, carved and painted by hand and for probably less than you'd pay for a cup of Starbucks coffee in D.C. That was for me or my mom, since I had somehow acquired another mug along the way,  I think it was from the hostel. But, finding something for a boyfriend is tougher.

After combing through everything I could imagine finding in the market, I finally settled on a bowl. Handmade in Peru, so it was an authentic souvenir, but also useful.

Happy with myself and my thoughtful gift buying, I walked to the cathedral to sit on the steps and just watch the market and take some photos.

The steps were stone, worn and the edges a bit slick. Stupidly, I was wearing mule-like shoes that were great for sleepy walks to class in undergrad, less great for traveling. The soles of the shoes are some sort of rubber that, turns out, are incredibly slick on a variety of surfaces.

Going down the steps, not paying attention, slipped and came crashing down, with my bag of carefully chosen pottery.

My hostel was practically at the top of
these stairs. The first time I climbed
them with my 50ish pound rucksack,
I thought my heart was actually going to
explode, or I'd just topple backwards.
Somehow, the mug survived unscathed. The bowl, on the other hand, was shattered into a few large pieces and the rest was practically dust. I almost burst into tears on the spot I was so upset. Sure, I could get another bowl, but I wanted this one. The bowl had been in my possession for not even an hour and I was attached.

I trudged back to my hostel, up about 200 absurdly steep steps, and cried a little. But, I packed up that bag of smashed pottery and took it home with me.

When I got home a week or so later, I showed it to Mark and he said not to worry.

He spent I don't even know how long, glueing that bowl back together. Every time I see it I remember Peru and all the good times and that beautiful plaza. Oddly enough, I mostly forget about the falling down the stairs and the crying part.

Breaking it might have made me cry, but seeing it whole now, always brings a smile to my face.

Take a Hike Alone...Kinda.

My friend Ally and I want to do this. Though, we'd do it as a duo instead of alone, but still. Go for adventure friends, it's good for you!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Meet Me in Montana

In case you were wondering why I keep coming back to Montana. Just came across this music video. Great song, even more amazing photos. Seriously, it's a great place. And I'm here now (with snow!), so it seems a fitting post for the day.

And, funny story. I almost took a job here after college. Things changed and I stayed in Virginia. To get my Montana fix, I signed up to do a volunteer trip fixing trails along the Continental Divide Trail. But, then I took a job in Alabama and had to move at the same time as the trip. It was in Alabama that I met Mark, who is now stationed in Montana. And lookie lookie, my life has come full circle...again. One of these days, I will do that volunteer trip on the CDT. Count on it.

Wander Wednesday

The plaza in Huaraz, Peru with the Andes in the background. Really loved the time I spent in this town. The markets were amazing and I bought so many pieces of handmade jewelry here I was done with gifting in just one day, for less than $30 USD.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Happy Things

Just a little pick me up post.

This movie is one of my all time favorites. It a classic, no. But is it great, yes. Maybe it's the journalist in me. Maybe it's the redhead. Maybe it's just that I love Rachel McAdams. But oddly enough, this is the movie I watch when I want to reboot by motivation or inspiration. I never worked in television, I was a print reporter, but the idea of being the underdog and making everything come together into something great truly resonates with me. It's kind of my style. Sometimes I take on too much and other times I get to a point where I don't want to care anymore. But at the end of the day, I will always care enough to fight for the things that matter.

And, I really love the soundtrack. It's definitely on my iPod for longs runs, flights and a little dose of normal life when I'm away from home.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Those Who Serve

This post will be a departure from travel adventures, but near and dear to my heart.

Sunday was Veterans Day, though many have the day off today for the observed holiday. It's always November 11. That stems from the end of World War I, when an agreement to end the war was signed at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month.

I've mentioned that I work for the man who built the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and this month we celebrated the 30th anniversary of The Wall. Our week was packed with events, ceremonies, activities and very special moments.

We began November 7 with a ceremony to open the Reading of the Names. It was only the fifth time this has ever been done and for four days, families, friends, veterans, celebrities, writers, politicians and more read all 58, 282 names etched on the black granite. It was incredibly moving to listen to people read the names of those they loved, those they lost and those they never knew. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was a speaker that day and after I roped him into all kinds of media interviews and photos, he was kind enough to meet with a group of students from Lincoln, Nebraska who happened to be at The Wall that day.

My boss, Jan Scruggs, also shared his story with the Library of Congress as part of the Veterans History Project. If you aren't familiar with the project, please learn about it and encourage veterans you know to share their stories.

Our benefit gala included special guests Tom Ridge and Cardinal Edwin O'Brien. They both received awards from our organization, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The Cardinal was previously the archbishop of the military archdiocese and confirmed me when I was in high school. He was also a military chaplain at West Point and served as a chaplain in Vietnam. His support of the military and veterans has not waivered. It's also very special that he was here the day a woman from the military archdiocese came to read the name of Father Vincent Capodanno. He was a Catholic priest killed in combat in Vietnam. The woman is currently leading the charge to make Capodanno a saint, which is a major undertaking.

Staffers from JPAC also came to be with us for the event and they were wonderful. The JPAC mission is incredible, if you aren't familiar. They are the ones who search, find, recover and identify the remains of missing servicemembers from all conflicts, but their organization was created because of the Vietnam War one of them told me. They were so nice to talk to, knew so much about the recovery efforts and the veterans and families were so happy to have them on site as some of them were family of those still missing in Vietnam or troops who didn't know what happened to their friends. They invited me to visit them in Hawaii, an offer I think I will take them up on!

I was so lucky to meet Joe Galloway, one of my all time heroes in life. He was the journalist who was embedded with Hal Moore during the Battle of Ia Drang. He wrote the book We Were Soldiers and the story was turned into a movie with Mel Gibson playing Moore. If you haven't watched it, do. But, I don't recommend watching it right before your boyfriend deploys to Iraq for six months. That was a major mistake on my part a few years ago. I still cry my eyes out in some parts.

Sunday was truly a special day. Thousands gathered at The Wall to honor all of our veterans, but especially those who served in Vietnam. In so many cases, they never received a welcome home and were treated terribly. Many of them have worked hard to ensure that our returning troops now are never treated like that again. Secretary of the VA Eric Shinseki was our keynote and as a Vietnam vet himself, his remarks were particularly poignant.

If you have never been to The Wall, I highly suggest a visit to D.C. to experience it and the other war memorials. It's often overwhelming to me, the magnitude of the sacrifice so many made and the loss their families continue to cope with. There are 58, 282 names currently on The Wall. They are the names of those killed in Vietnam or died later of wounds sustained in combat. That number doesn't include those who died later of Agent Orange, post traumatic stress, or other war related issues later. We are currently losing Vietnam veterans at a rate of about 390 per day. Only about one third of all those who served during Vietnam are still living today. Sometimes I stand at The Wall and can't help but tear up knowing how many were lost, how young so many were, the tragic stories and the stories of heroism. You can't help but be moved.  And inspired by their willingness to serve. To serve their nation and each other.

Being surrounded by veterans on their special day and knowing that I was a part of it all was incredibly humbling and it always has been and will continue to be an honor to serve those who served.

Monday Motivation

Posting this having survived our Veterans Day events with many successes. Not quite the same as climbing a mountain, but a solid comparison to what the last six weeks have been like. So, taking a moment to appreciate what we've accomplished and relishing the view from the metaphorical mountaintop.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wander Wednesday

Sumner Beach, outside Christchurch, New Zealand. I miss this place. And every time I look at this photo I'm amazed, both at how beautiful the place is and that I'm the one who took the photo.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Uhhh...There's a Bear

Toward the end of our family adventure in Montana, we wanted to go for a big hike.

Mark and I were going through hike options trying to find the best one based on hiking with a toddler, the time constraints and so forth. I found one that looked good, but maybe too much for the little person, but it was decided we would go for it.

The hike: Grinnell Glacier Trail

It's about six miles beginning in the Many Glacier Valley. We were staying near Kalispell, so it was a 2-3 hour drive to get to the East Glacier entrance and the trailhead. 

The drive over was beautiful if a bit unsettling with sharp turns and steep inclines on a windy, two lane road that was gravel in many spots and huge dropoffs to one side and not to mention livestock crossing the road at a leisurely pace. 

Once we got back into the park and Mark just kept looking at me and waiting for me to yell, "Stop, we need pictures!" 

At the trailhead, it was cool, but the sun was shining right on us so we spent some time organizing our bags, supplies and gear and hit the trail. 

We didn't get far before a couple stopped us to tell us they had seen a bear along the lake. Good to know and we kept going. The beginning of the trail is an easy, flat walk along Swiftcurrent Lake and then you pick up the shoreline of Lake Josephine. 

Pretty sure I took a ton of photos along the lake and found a little cabin right on the shore of the pure blue lake, at the bottom of a mountain, tucked into a peaceful forest. I told Mark that we should live in a place just like that. He suggested we build a house on top of the mountain instead. "Works for me," I said and we kept on. 

Still on fairly flat land and still along the lake, we took a snack break after an hour or so. Some of us were standing, some were sitting against a tree. 

Then there was a sound.

It was coming from the brush up the mountain behind the tree.

The sound got louder and closer. 

The sound was huge.

Mark's sister said, "Mark, I think some people are coming down the mountain."

"Those aren't people," Mark said.

He handed me trash and told us to pick up our things and back up quickly and to talk loudly. 

He took a few steps toward to bend in the trail and came within a few feet of a mamma bear. 

Somehow, he still had half a granola bear in his hand. 

The bear just looked at Mark for a few seconds (it felt like minutes...lots of them) and as he was backing away, the bear just kept going across the trail and toward the lake. Following behind her were three cubs.

Mark told me to come toward him and there were the bears just drinking water. I snapped a few quick pictures and mamma bear turned to look at us and it was time to move out. Quickly. 

We kept walking and at this point, I was leading our little caravan. 

Before the bears, I'd heard a rattling sound all over and was losing my mind thinking they were rattlesnakes. I was so paranoid about the rattling that bears hadn't even crossed my mind before actually saw one staring down my boyfriend.

So while I was leading the pack, I was still hearing the rattling, but then I heard a rustling. Then I saw the brush moving. A lot.

Then there was a bear on the trail looking at me. Walking toward me.

As it turned on to the trail, I said, "Heeeeyyyyy Maaarrrrrkkkk. There's a bear."

"Okay, stop, walk balkwards, slowly, talk loudly."

The bear was still walking toward me, and then there was a cub behind her. 

I was mostly calm until the mamma bear stood up on her back legs. 

But then she reached up and went for berries on a bush. Heart racing. Internal panic.

At this point, I thought they were the same group of bears.

Turns out, they weren't. 

So for a time during the hike, we were essentially bookended by bears. Lots of bears. 

The second group of bears kept going up the mountain, but they took their time, so there were a lot of stops and starts for awhile.

We kept going and about five minutes later, a park ranger was right behind us. We stopped to talk to him for a few minutes and told him about the bears. He hadn't seen any. Amazing how that happens. 

I asked him if bears were more active during certain times of day since we were continuing up the mountain and would be coming back around dusk. I refused to be hiking in the dark with bears in the area. The park ranger said they were just around all the time since it was late September and they were prepping for the winter. Comforting. 

We were not in agreement on what kind of bears they were, but Mark decided they were probably cinnamon bears. Yes, there is such a thing. 

After parting ways with the ranger, we took the fork in the trail and up some steep stone steps. That's when Mark told me if he became a park ranger, he would change his name to Bob so he could be Ranger Bob. I could be Mrs. Bob, he so generously offered. I reminded him that I liked my name just fine. 

Up the steep, rocky section, there was no more rattling and no more bears. Wonderful. The view continued to be breathtaking. As we ascended, we could take in more of the mountains and then the Lower Grinnell Lake. 

The little one was still chugging along, our little explorer. She was a big fan of drinking water out of a CamelBak and so that helped things along. But, about 3 miles in she was getting tired and it was getting late in the day. She wanted to see a "snowy mountain" but it was too warm to find one without actually climbing a mountain, so we had a bit of a meltdown toward to top of the hike. Turns out, as we looked at maps later, that we still had a ways to go to get to the lookout, but we could see Grinnell Glacier from where we were. 

On the way back down, we sang songs, chatted, and just made ridiculous noise for fear of running into bears again. Mark carried the little one down on his shoulders most of the way. He's got a little bit of Superman in him. 

We also caught a glimpse of mountain goats on the way back, they were on Mark's "nature to see" list. Passing the lakes again, I just wanted to sit and stare at the water and mountains for hours. But, again, the bears.

Back at the car, we ran into some campers who had spotted bears on the mountains on the other side of the road. They offered their binoculars to see them. Cool, but after coming face to face with bears, seeing them through binoculars was less enthralling. 

All in all, a beautiful hike, tiring but not brutal. But, we also read later that the area is known for high bear activity and is often closed due to snow. The week after we were there, it snowed. 

We might do it again to find the lookout, but we'll be more on the lookout for bears. Or maybe we'll just build our house on a mountain. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday Motivation

Fly as high as you can.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Montana, in Photos

Following our moonlight kayaking excursion, the next day seemed tame. I had a work event in Kalispell (love that town a lot) and then we headed into Glacier again for a short hike on the Trail of the Cedars.

I hadn't been yet, and Mark promised I would love the gorge. He was right. It's an easy hike, mostly just a walk. Perfect intro hike for his family and the little one. Her and I raced the whole way back. She wanted to run and would take off shouting, "Jenn, Jenn, let's go!" So, off we went, racing to the next sign about the trail, flora and fauna. We made games out of reading the signs too.

With that, I give you photos.

Getting artsy on the water across from the Trail of the Cedars

Sunset over Bowman Lake, moonlight kayaking

Sunset at Lake McDonald, very hazy from wildfires

The gorge

Friday, November 2, 2012

On The Road Again

After a few relaxing days in Great Falls, we hit the road to Missoula. Mark drove his car, loaded with kayaks and stuff, and his mom. I drove the the new car, dubbed "my car," with the little one and Mark's sister. Such a beautiful drive and while little one enjoyed her movies in the backseat, we took in the scenery and chatted the whole way. There were stops at outdoor stores, which reminds me, there's a green scarf I saw that I really want!

We got to Missoula and stayed in the same hotel I stayed in when I was there for work in August. It's a wonderful place and I highly recommend it if you're even in town. The little one played in the pool while Mark and I went off to run a few errands. Happy hour was most definitely in the cards that night, his mom and I bonded over a love of coffee and wine.

We were exhausted and fell asleep early and were up and at em again early the next morning. We hit the road again to Glacier, another two hours or so in the car. But, that stretch is my favorite part. We went around Flathead Lake again. I fell in love with the place the first time I saw it and love it more every time. His sister and I joked that Mark should be a cherry farmer so I can live on the lake, we even found a cherry farm for sale. You never know!

Then we hit the mountains. The smoke from the fires was intense and takes away some from the views, but it's still spectacular.

The little one wanted nothing more to see a "snowy mountain," so we were working on it. Turns out, we were just a week too early for that.

We went back to our favorite cabins about an hour out of Glacier and I'm pretty sure I could live there forever.

The first day out there, we decided to head out on the lake for the afternoon, so we went back to Bowman Lake. We pitstopped in Polebridge again to grab lunch and snacks. It was fun to be back and have time for loads of photos.

Bowman is breathtaking every time. Mark and I assembled the kayaks, he got me a new single one, which I love and he had the double we had, and we rented another one. The rented kayak was pretty terrible and it was getting late in the day so Mark towed his sister and the little one in that one. We made it as far as we did last time and stopped at a special point for us and his family.

But then it was getting dark and paddling faster wasn't really in the cards for poor Mark who was paddling for four people basically. I was cruising in my single kayak and loving it. It gave me lots of time to take photos and I could finally paddle in a straight line, so that's a plus.

Totally on accident, we ended up kayaking by moonlight, something Mark and I had been talking about for months. It's nothing short of amazing. We had an almost full moon and it was so quiet and still and just peaceful, I loved it. Minus the difficulty getting to the shore, since we didn't bring flashlights, I could have spent all night out there. Well, also more likely if I'd brought gloves, it started getting pretty cold. Deflating the kayaks and packing up in a hurry cured that though and by the time we got back to the cabin, everyone was exhausted and off to bed.