Greetings from Banff National Park in Alberta Canada. The grand mountains in the near distance are shrouded in heavy mist and I am sitting next to the fireplace in the bistro lounge of our hotel with a glass of wine. My husband is tinkering with technical mumbo-jumbo to figure out how to move this blog to a more powerful platform. Meanwhile, I want to tell you how my solitary week-long trip in Montana went.
After I dropped off my husband at the Great Falls airport last Sunday(he had to go back to work last week), I continued the journey on my own towards Bozeman. My husband and I had been interested in checking out Bozeman ever since we read this New York Times article, dubbing Bozeman as Boz Angeles because of an influx of Californians and celebrities.
On the 3.5-hour drive there through wide open plains, I made a resolution: while in Bozeman, I would do at least one touristy activity taken from Tripadvisor’s top five recommendations, one physically challenging activity (Bozeman is very outdoorsy), and one activity more catered to Bozemanians to get a local feel. Not having a travel partner to batter ad hoc ideas around, I wanted to put in place some structure and guidelines on what to do. After all, I am a goal-oriented checklist type of person.
So early in the morning the next day, I visited the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, the top “Things to do in Bozeman” according to Tripadvisor. For a relatively small museum, its dinosaur collection was impressive and educational. Just as I was trying hard to internalize the idea that these huge creatures once dominated the earth hundred of millions years ago, flourishing for tens of millions of years — a mind boggling length of time — I heard a man’s booming and authoritative voice say “remember, kids, this is all a lie”. I looked over to see a tall man wearing a Big Sky Bible Camp t-shirt instructing his pre-teen children.
As I was waiting for a presentation on dinosaurs to start at the planetarium, I spotted an ad for a medicinal marijuana dispensary called Soul Tonix while flipping through travel brochures. I had never been to one and was curious about it, and it fit my idea of a local establishment — not to mention a good antidote to the “blasphemy” I just overheard. So I decided to check it out after the show.
On a Monday afternoon, Soul Tonix was fairly empty. The front desk clerk was initially skeptical but soon relaxed after she ascertained I was completely clearheaded and just wanted to learn about the system. She then patiently went through the benefits of marijuana, how to get a prescription, the difference between Montana’s regulations and those of other states such as Colorado, Oregon and California. She also eagerly described the different tastes and effects of the various strains of marijuana that the company grows on the premises. Among other things, some are apparently more “buttery” than others.
It was a fruitful and educational day.
The next day, I decided to check out Big Sky, a well-known outdoor adventure resort town about an hour south of Bozeman. I have always been an adrenaline junkie despite — or perhaps because of — the fact I get scared easily and am totally uncoordinated. I wanted some physical challenge, so I chose to do a high ropes course, requiring a bit of athleticism. I’ve always had a moderate fear of heights, so the idea of tackling various obstacle rope courses 20 to 30 feet above the ground was thrilling.
It turned out to be thrilling all right — and then some.
After hiking to the location of the course and seeing how high the ropes were dangling in the air, I started to regret the decision to challenge myself.
There were five people in our group, including two 13-year old local girls and a mother/daughter team from New York. The girls and the mother quickly climbed up the ladder like spider monkeys, leaving me feeling embarrassed standing fearfully on the ground below. Gingerly, I climbed up the ladder, trying not to look down and gripping the handles so hard my knuckles turned white. Finally, I reached the platform, my legs shaking and my hands clammy and sore. I was not having fun at all.
As an attempt to allay my fear and to confirm the security of the safety harness, I made the unusual request — only a lawyer would make — that the instructor demonstrate what it was like to fall from the platform. He happily obliged, adding the drama of screaming while falling. It is always good to know the worst case scenario.
So while mentally I knew the risk of injury was remote, physically, I was still overtaken by fear. Even though my mind instructed my legs to jump onto the first hanging block a few feet away from the platform, my legs wouldn’t move and my hands instinctively grabbed onto the support beam for dear life. My body froze.
Then I saw the other people moving methodically and fearlessly across the blocks, further and further ahead of me. I took a deep breath and scolded myself: “Damn it, Jennifer, you are going to jump! If the 13-year olds can do it, you can do it!” (My exact language is not suitable for a family-friendly blog.)
Well, I didn’t exactly jump onto the first block, but I did find a way to move forward. I sat down on the platform, inching my butt towards the edge and reaching out my legs for the block. Once my feet got a good enough hold on it, I used all my might to stand up, pulling on the harness rope for help. Thank god for all the squats I did at the gym before vacation. At last, I left the security of the platform and stood on a small wooden block at the start of the ropes course dangling what seemed to me to be hundreds of feet above the ground.
One foot ahead of the other, I made it across the first course. I might have looked idiotic stumbling across the course, but I was proud of myself for taking the challenge and overcoming my fear. I did a few more stages of the course, including the most difficult one. Afterwards, I was exhausted but happy. I was reminded that overcoming the inertia of the comforting status quo — and taking the plunge into the unfamiliar — is the most terrifying step in starting something new.
I spent the next two days in Missoula, Montana’s other college town, before driving back to Great Falls on Friday. I did whitewater rafting for the first time, which was fun. I also spent some time composing thoughts about quitting law that had been marinating during my solo long-distance driving. Part I of the series was posted on Friday and I now have a good idea how the rest of it will shape up.
I picked up my husband from the airport Friday night and we headed the next morning to Banff. After a stressful five days at the office, he was eager to pick up where he left off, while I felt like I had experienced weeks of adventures by myself under the big sky.