The Intrepid Journey 2018, Denver: Culture shock!

My bus is so late arriving that I seriously wonder if it’s meant to arrive at all. It finally pulls up half an hour late, and the same driver who got me to Cheyenne is taking me on to Denver. He asks if I want to get off downtown or at Union Station; my ticket says Downtown, but he leaves the choice to me. We get hung up in traffic and arrive at Union Station 45 minutes late. At this point, I want OFF the bus, so I grab Jenny and my backpack and head in to the station.

 

This building is HUGE, and Jenny flawlessly takes me to a flight of stairs, where I ask a security officer where to go to get to Gate B8. He sends me up the stairs, and I find myself on some kind of platform. Jenny guides me somewhere… and next thing I know my arm is being gripped by two closing doors! Thankfully, Jenny had made it all the way in to the train, and didn’t get caught herself. Other commuters help me and make sure I’m OK. Another security officer agrees to walk me downstairs, to Gate B8; I had previously been directed to TRACK B8. My #15 bus arrives, and I show my pass to the driver (I’d purchased it from my phone on the bus). My first impression of Denver: it’s loud, it’s big, and oh boy I know I’m not in Montana anymore!

 

My friend Aziza has invited me to stay with her and her boyfriend, Ellaun. Ellaun meets me at the bus stop – after a brief period where we had no idea the other was there – and we head over to their apartment. We all sit around and get acquainted, and Jenny makes fast friends with Marna, Aziza’s guide dog. During the course of the evening, we eat, laugh, watch Forrest Gump… I turn in early (11:30 PM) while the others continue to watch movies. I want to join them, but I am SOOOOOO tired…

 

Saturday morning, I’m awake early. Aziza is dog-sitting a gorgeous puppy named Bernie, and he arrived earlier. He’s hanging out in Marna’s crate and Jenny’s chilling in the guest room. Aziza and I try and get the Keurig machine working, but it refuses to brew coffee; this leaves more counter space for Aziza! Instead, I enjoy a hot cup of coconut coffee and a buttered bagel.

 

A couple months ago, Aziza met a personal stylist, and found the experience of learning new ways to match clothes, accessorize and dress in a way that flatters her to be incredibly helpful. It’s something I’ve considered in passing, but never knew where to start. When I heard about Aziza’s experience with Sandi, I just knew it was something I wanted to try while I was in town.

 

Aziza and I leave the house late, and the Uber has a hard time finding us. We finally make it to Cherry Creek Mall, and ask directions to The Loft, where Sandi is meeting us. No fewer than six people offer to help us, but have no idea where the store is. After a frustrating 20 minutes of getting conflicting directions, Sandi meets us out front of The Loft so we could better locate her. The next two hours are spent trying on clothes, different sizes, different cuts, and taking some new but not outrageous risks in clothing purchases. Aziza loves some of the clothes Sandi has picked for me – particularly a gorgeous silver-gray cardigan I fall in love with at first touch. Sandi is attentive and observant, and her philosophy “If it’s not a LOVE, it doesn’t go in your closet.” In the end, I walk away with two pairs of pants (one forest green, one navy), two shirts (one navy, one cream with some navy stripes and a slight sleeve ruffle) and that cardigan. The whole store is on sale, and Aziza has discount cards that will expire next week, so I save more than 50% on my purchases… AND I have learned a lot about coordination that I didn’t know before… And I never once felt judged for not knowing something, or not wanting to fiddle with anything remotely fussy. The time has flown by and I’ve walked away with more than just a bag of clothes – though the clothes are nice!

 

We grab a coffee and light lunch at Nordstrom, then browse for a while before heading to Lush. The scents at Lush are starting to overwhelm me, so I step outside before I get a headache. Jenny guides us to Urban outfitters, where the closest exit is, and I’m so impressed with how well she and Marna are working together; we even ask a Nordstrom employee to snap a picture of Jenny resting her head on Marna’s back! Once outside, Aziza says there’s some local shops she wants to take me to. We struggle to find the Artisan Centre, and once we locate it we can’t browse too long because they’re closing soon. I purchase something I just know one of my friends will love, and Aziza calls an Uber to get to downtown.

 

Jenny and Marna

 

Our first stop is Dog Savvy, where we browse all kinds of dog supplies and dog-themed merchandise. Jenny is offered a treat, but she’s allergic to so many things that I have to decline, much to Jenny’s disappointment. From Dog Savvy, we head to Aillea, where I purchase a tiny container of shea butter for a spot on my arm that bothers me particularly in the fall. From Aillea, it’s just a quick jaunt to the 16th Street Mall, and that’s where we walk next.

 

The 16th Street Mall is a pedestrian mall in the middle of downtown Denver. Shuttles take shoppers up and down the mall, musicians play on most streets, and there’s lots of local businesses to explore and enjoy! There’s the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Where the Buffalo Roam, and more coffee shops than I can count. We even manage to find a bunny rabbit just hanging out on a patch of grass, not seeming bothered at all by all the people and dogs in its immediate vicinity. Jenny found the bunny when I told her to “find something fun”, and she finds her fourth coffee shop of the day (I think I drink too much coffee!)

 

Bunny Rabbit in Denver

 

Ellaun meets us at 5280, where we sit in a massive booth meant for eight people. I get a burger and salad, and enjoy the music from the ’90s and early ’00s being pumped through the speakers. We talk politics – which with Aziza and Ellaun is a lot more fun than it sounds – growing up, changing perceptions, tipping, supporting others’ decisions even if you wouldn’t make them yourself… it’s incredibly rare that such a deep conversation can be so humorous!

 

We call an Uber back to the apartment, and the driver is terrified that Marna will do something to him and his car. He seems unsure of the directions Aziza and Ellaun are giving him, and then Jenny tries to rush out of the car, trapping Aziza in the back seat. The driver then offers to hold my dog for me. NOOOOOO! Aziza holds her leash while I come around and get her out, and we’re both really really glad to b out of that Uber!

Bernie, the dog Aziza and Ellaun are dog-sitting, needs a run! Aziza and I are both exhausted, but we know our girls need a free run, too. Elon is heading up the stairs while I’m giving Jenny a chance to relieve… and my Loft bag rips, spilling smaller items onto the grass. I’m gathering things up, and Ellaun asks if I’m OK, then hauls the ripped bag upstairs while I finish with Jenny.

 

We make our way to the dog park, each holding the leash of a dog. Aziza stteps in a puddle and asks why I didn’t warn her. I laugh, though I probably shouldn’t; its a little puddle! What is NOT little is the amount of mud in the dog park. The dogs are running and chasing each other, and the humans are trying – mostly in vain – to keep out of it ourselves. we’re being sprayed with various levels of mud, and we all know we’re gonna have to clean off three sets of doggie paws, if nothing else.

 

I have more mud on me than Jenny does. My sandals are caked with it, and I’m speckled with it from toes to knees. Jenny’s got it on her paws, but just needs a brief wipe-down of her back leg and belly. Finally, as clean as we can be, three humans and three dogs head inside and call it a night.

 

Sunday morning, I get up early and start to pack. Now that I’ve decided to retire my sandals, I’ve got more room in my backpack. I thought I’d rolled my running clothes… until I make a concerted effort to roll them this morning. WOW! How many things can fit in one tiny packing cube! There’s hope for me to fit everything in and be able to fly home tomorrow.

 

Aziza has to work this morning, and so does Elaun. I’ve decided to hang outu at a coffee shop while Aziza is at work for the morning. I order a coffee and a burrito, and sit down to enjoy the ambiance of a LOCAL coffee shop. When I’ve had my fill, Jenny and I walk around the neighborhood to see what we can see. I turn down residential streets, and discover a quiet pocket of space right inside this bustling city. I’m reminded of my own neighborhood, and I miss it immensely. In just over 24 hours, I’ll be home!!! A resident is mowing his lawn and stops to chat, and points me to the park up the street. I don’t have time to visit, since Aziza is on her way back to the coffee shop, but it sounds like some kind of event is taking place near the park. Back at the coffee shop, Aziza and I sit in large comfortable chairs that we don’t want to leave… ever! But leave we must. We’ve got a craft show to attend!

 

Handmade in Colorado is just like it sounds. We stumbled across a vendor yesterday tearing her table down, and she told us about the event at the 16th Street Mall. We browse through pens, dog collars and leashes, a lot of jewelry, and some beautifully carved jewelry boxes. There’s a lot of people, and it is HOT. Jenny flops down on the ground at every table we visit. At one of our last stops of the small show, we find some cool massage pillows, and humans and dogs alike are glad to get out of the heat. Then we relax in hanging chairs, like hammocks, and the craftsman/salesman calls me “touchy” when I firmly tell him to please not touch my legs to put them up on the footrests. The chairs are super cool, though!

 

Our budgets are stretched, but we hop the Mall Ride trolley and hop off two stops later, where we stop for lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I have a deluxe burrito with carnitas (seasoned pork). Our water glasses are constantly being refilled, and we talk about language, family, and music, and then head out to I Heart Denver, a fun artsy shop that consigns work from local artists. I buy a few things, then try and find a gelato spot Jenny showed us yesterday. We find it easily, and eat our gellato from paper cups with little spoons that look like spatulas. Then it’s time to battle the heat and make our way home.

 

We both doze off on the bus ride home, but we make our stop and get back to the boiling apartment just after 6:00. We feed the dogs, then watch them play, show each other souvenirs and important pieces of jewelry. Aziza shows me the wonder of vacuum-sealed bags; everything gets squished into a tiny package! I manage, with some mad Tetrus skills I didn’t expect to need again, to get everything squashed into my poor, long-suffering backpack. When Ellaun gets home, we take “twin pictures” of Aziza an me in our matching outfits, eat pizza and chat for a while before I sadly have to call it a night.

 

 

We are wearing matching dark green leggings and cream-coloured sweaters

Aziza and I are long-lost twins!

 

I wake up early, make sure I have everything I need, and play another game of “Backpack Tetrus.” Aziza asked me to wake her to say goodbye, so I do. We chat drowsily, pet each other’s dogs farewell, and hug goodbye before I head down the stairs. We had hoped to go to the state capitol together, but life had other plans. Instead, I’m doing my last part of my trip alone.

 

I get lost coming out of the apartment complex, but I make it to the bus on time. The bus, however, is late. When I arrive at the state capitol, Jenny takes me to a door that happens to be closed. It’s not her fault! When I get into the part of the building that is open, I am asked in a sickly sweet voice to please go through security. So I do. I make it up the stairs and start exploring the building. Unfortunately, the internet is spotty and I am not able to get too much visual information. Also, I find it a little bit creepy to be going into a building that, while public, is still somebody’s workplace. It’s kind of an interesting feeling that I didn’t expect to feel. The capital of Colorado has a lot of marble. It’s a very nice building, and I wish I could stay longer. But I have one more stop. The airport.

 

My bus arrives on time, and I relax for the few minutes until I head back to Union Station. After my experience when arriving there, I am a little bit concerned about making it to my train on time. However, the bus driver gives good directions for the train, and I manage to hop on in plenty of time to be able to make my flight. I have a lot of thoughts going through my head as the train makes its way along the tracks. Who was I when I left? Who am I now? What will I carry with me when routine sets in? Home will have those answers. And as amazing as this trip has been, my next adventure starts at home.

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Cheyenne: Wild Wild West

My alarm rings at 4:30. I turn it off; I’m wide awake.

 

AAAAAACK! It’s 4:54!!!! Jay, who’s driving me to the bus station, will be here at 5:00. Thankfully, I’m mostly packed, so I quickly brush my teeth, throw my cosmetic bag into my backpack – more like playing an impromptu game of Speedy Tetrus – and do a quick check through my little room. I’ve got everything; if I don’t have it, I don’t need it.

 

We make it through the bus station doors just as the bus is loading. Jay and I hug goodbye, and Jenny and I nearly fly to the bus. It’s so early that no one is chatting to anyone else; I wonder if, like me, they haven’t had coffee yet.

 

The bus travels into Wyoming, and there’s either no time to stop for coffee, or no coffee to be had. Even when we change buses at Buffalo, WY, my body is screaming for coffee. The drivers of the Jefferson Lines bus and the Express Arrow bus are having some kind of personality conflict involving the transition of bags from one bus to another. I’m interested, but a rancher in the seat behind me engages me in conversation (which, now that I think of it, is probably a more gratifying use of mental energy). The rancher behind me is Neil, and he tasks himself as my “helper” on this journey; in Casper, he insists on running across the street to the Starbucks for coffees. I’ll take that kind of help any day!

 

The coffee doesn’t last long, but we reach a meal break stop in Wheatland. Arby’s isn’t my preferred fast-food place, but they have wraps, curly fries, and passable coffee. Once we board the bus, it’s just a straight shot to Cheyenne. Another passenger is heading to Salt Lake City, and their connection is more pressing than mine; we’re the only two getting off the bus, so I wait for them before Jenny and I take off.

 

Right by the bus station, there’s a Loaf ‘N Jug convenience store, and I pop inside to confirm the location of the city bus. Turns out, it’s right around the corner! After nearly nine hours of travel, I see the light at the end of the tunnel… I hope!

 

The city bus pulls up a couple minutes late. I pay my fare and settle in to a nearly empty bus. The bus announces the stops! I do a little happy dance at the clear, easy-to-hear voice. When I tell the driver how glad I am of this, he seems surprised that I’m so happy about it. I tell him briefly about what I’ve experienced in Montana, and he makes a joke about Montana being behind the times. Just a few minutes after hopping on, the driver pulls up to the side of the street with sidewalks to guide me. After a brief, rather circuitous route, I make it to my AirBNB, where one of my hosts hauls my backpack down the stairs, shows me around, and leaves me to get settled.

 

I am TIRED. But my time here is so brief that I have to make the most of it. Browsing Facebook, I find a Hops and Henna event at a local brewery, and I decide to go. I hop the bus to the transfer centre, swing by a local Chinese restaurant where I grab beef and veggie fried rice to go, then walk to the crowded brewery.

 

The doors open, and immediately my ears are assaulted by sound. Caitlin, an employee, helps me sign up for the henna tattoo an gets me settled at the bar. Over the next hour, I eat my fried rice, and encounter several patrons. Most notably of these is Mike, a sweet, harmless, and a little creepy retired Air Force man. Callie, the henna artist, decides to play “wing man” and rescue me from Mike. She draws a whimsical, intricate design on my right shoulder, and we talk about work and creativity and travel. When she’s done, she hands me a token, and I order a beer.

 

Other patrons have witnessed my interaction with Mike. He’s pretty well-known, apparently, and it seems their general impression matches my own – he’s nice enough, but doesn’t quite pick up on social cues, but overall he’s pretty harmless. I’m having a wonderful conversation with another regular, and I would love to stay, but I am exhausted and need to get back to my AirBNB. It’s raining lightly as I step outside and order an Uber, which arrives in less than 30 seconds. My driver says that Jenny is his first service dog; I think he’s got a great first one! He drops me off, and I meet my other host at the back door. After a brief chat, I call it a night, having already fallen in love with Cheyenne and its people.

 

I wake up early, having had a great sleep. Just for fun, I drink far too much coffee before figuring out a game plan for today. At 8:30, I leave in plenty of time for the bus to take me back to the Transfer Station. Twenty minutes later, I’m back in the historic district, and off in search of breakfast. Lots of people have told me about the Paramount Cafe. It’s only two blocks from the Depot Museum, where I will catch my trolley tour. Jenny flawlessly “finds coffee”, and we enter, order a black bean burrito and a honey raspberry green tea that I am told is addictive. It is So good… I wish I could take some home with me!

 

At the Depot, I pick up my trolley ticket, board, and get jenny situated. A few minutes later, our guide, Val, hops on board and is cracking jokes about everyone’s home towns, and starts talking about Cheyenne’s early days. We hear that Cheyenne was the first territory to give women the right to vote, and the right to hold public office, and had the first woman female governor. History came alive over the next 90 minutes as we toured through the historic district, stopping at various points that I’d like to see later. Unfortunately, we can’t stop by the Capitol Building because it’s been closed for renovations and won’t reopen until sometime next year.

 

After a thoroughly enjoyable ride through the Wild West, I pop in to the Depot museum itself. The main floor has all kinds of audio displays, showing how the switches worked, and the gear the rail dispatchers used. Up a flight of stairs is a model train set, a fully-operational scale replica of 55 miles of Colorado train track from the 1930s. A couple of folks from my trolley have come up, and they live in the area and are absolutely blown away over how accurate the setup is. As more guests arrive, I head back downstairs, check out a couple more displays, and head outside.

 

Over the next half hour, I pop in to a couple of small museums. The Cowgirls of the West museum has movies playing about the early women who participated in rodeos, some of whom could be considered early feminists for their desire to earn the same wages as the cowboys on the same rodeo circuit; others weren’t bothered by unequal pay and thought that’s just the way it was. After the movie snippet, I walk down to the Nelson Museum of the West. When I ask if someone can show me around, I’m directed to a chair “out of the way” and am given the phone number for the audio tour. While audio tours are nice, I don’t feel particularly welcome. So I listen to the audio tour – which is being offered to everyone who enters the museum – and then get up and leave.

 

The Historic Governor’s Mansion was a stop on our trolley tour, and I look forward to exploring it – since many of their tours are self-guided, I wonder if I will need to use AiRa, or if there are other ways to experience the home as it was in 1905. It’s a few blocks’ walk, and there’s construction on House and W 20 Street, but the construction crew helps me out by stopping their work and making sure I get on to the sidewalk safely. When I reach the Governor’s Mansion, Jenny takes me up a long ramp to a door… that’s locked! I’m about to head back down the ramp – oh, no, is this someone’s house? – when the door opens, and Christina introduces herself and welcomes me inside. She asks if I’d like to explore on my own, or if I’d like a tour guide. If someone’s available,, a tour guide would be excellent! We’ve made our way to the front foyer, where I wait for James, who’s super excited to show me around.

 

Over the next hour, I receive a completely described tour of what each of the rooms look like. You can only physically enter a handful of rooms, but in those I am able to feel the original furniture from 1905 – much of which was sold at auction in the ’30s – and play at the concert piano. With the latter, I am shy, but you don’t get an opportunity to play these every day, so I take them when I can. The rooms behind barricades are described extremely well, and James and I play word games to try and figure out what to call “that big black suitcase that you’d use to haul around your stuff.” There are beautiful, well-appointed rooms, and there are “hideous” rooms – like the gaudy 60s-themed room complete with Beatles records and beads. The laundry room is bigger than my house, with all kinds of machines that would have been used as time and technology progressed. Right by that is the fallout shelter that was mandated everyone build in the 1950s, including the types of canned goods, games, and things that would have been used at the time. More than an hour after I enter, Jenny and I step out into the sunshine. James thanks us for coming and “making him work” to describe things. I thank him for his descriptions and his obvious enthusiasm; he’s a natural.

 

Jenny and i meander over to the Wyoming State Museum. It’s an interesting place to spend some time, with some tactile displays, but not a lot to explore on my own. I consider using AiRa, but my phone battery is low, and it uses a lot of battery power. Instead, I pick up a couple mall Wyoming themed gifts at the gift shop and ask for recommendations for somewhere to eat.

 

Lots of people have mentioned Two Doors Down, so I head over there. Somehow I end up talking with a tourist from Colorado who offers me a ride there. It’s only a couple blocks from here, and I’m not quite up for company, so I choose to walk it on my own. When I enter, one of the waitresses reads me the whole menu with the patience of a saint. I love the burger I order, but I’m really REALLY starting to miss home-cooking!

 

It’s been a long day, and its time for Jenny and I to relax. We walk to the transfer station, where all of the buses are lined up in a row so that passengers can make their connections; all buses start and end here, only doing one loop and not providing quick service if you have to go to the previous stop (you have to do the WHOLE loop again); this is about the only thing I don’t like about the transit system here. We find our AirBNB, run some laundry, make plans for our next destination and just lay low. Jenny is so tired after her long day that she curls up into a tiny ball and tries to get as close to me as possible.

 

I don’t sleep well, but I’m too restless to stay put. My host has given me the OK to leave my backpack and pick it up on my way to the bus. But I think about it; my backpack is manageable, if clunky, and I decide to take it with me and walk back toward where we were exploring yesterday. I plug a gift shop’s address into my GPS, take a windy route to stay on the main roads… and the door to the gift shop is locked.

 

It’s EXPLORATION time! This is an exercise I sometimes enjoy, where I pop into businesses along a particular street. Immediately, this pays off, and I find myself enjoying a breakfast sandwich and a coffee for an hour, chatting with locals and tourists and the business owner himself!

 

The next half hour is less productive. I’m not near anything super interesting… Jenny decides it’s a great idea to hang out and rest near the Depot Museum, where we were yesterday. I’ve got some time to kill, so I meander over to the Crooked Cup. On my way there, I end up at Electric Sabbath Tattoo, where yesterday I asked directions to the Nelson Museum. I’m starting to wonder if I was meant to stop in there… maybe I’ll get a tattoo next time I’m in town. Jason, who gave me directions yesterday, asks how the Nelson Museum was. When I tell him about my experience, he is frustrated and disappointed on my behalf. Apparently, it’s a really interesting museum!!

 

We have a wonderful chat about tattoo culture in Cheyenne, which is thriving (unlike similar towns of this size). I ask for a Crooked Cup smoothie recommendation and I’m on my way. I order something else – pineapple and coconut – and I am enjoying it when my host calls me. Apparently I left a few things at the AirBNB. Thankfully, she’s close by, and is able to drop them off for me at the cafe. I stuff the bag into my backpack, sling it over my shoulders, and wave a fond and wistful goodbye to the city that has unexpectedly stolen my heart.

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Billings: Run, Run, as Fast as You Can!

My Bozeman host gives me a ride to the bus. Our lunch has been fillling and enlightening, and I’m grateful for the company and the lift to the station. As we approach the bus, he’s told that “she needed to check in.” I’d rather be spoken to directly, so I walk toward the bus and hand in my ticket. The driver wants to put my backpack under the bus, but I want to keep it with me. It takes some convincing, but I get to keep it with me.

 

No one knows what the fuss is – the bus has six occupied seats. Other passengers chat, I read, and the bus arrives in Billings two hours after it leaves Bozeman. When I leave the bus, the driver insists on taking my bag, and insisting on carrying it myself does nothing to change his mind. I make my way to the package pickup counter – my gloves were sent here by my Butte host – and I sign for my package.

 

Jay, my guide runner for tomorrow’s race, meets me at the counter. Jenny’s restless and unfocused, and acts like she’s never heard the “steady” command in her life. As we make our way to Jay’s truck, Jenny is determined to get wherever we’re going as quickly as possible. Jay makes his way to my AirBNB, and after a brief period of confusion – how to get to the back door – we haul my backpack downstairs, along with a couple of packages I had shipped to Jay as preparation for race day.

 

Jay and his daughter Emily have both agreed to guide run tomorrow – and both are running with me tonight to iron out some wrinkles. The sun is bright, and it’s quite warm outside, and I’m grateful that today’s run will be short and easy. Emily apologizes for the shape of the sidewalks, and I laugh; I’ve run through Helena and walked through Butte, and these sidewalks are smooth in comparison. Jenny, after a brief period of poor focus, settles in for the run. We figure out placement, lead time for information, and actually run the finish line. We are ready for tomorrow. Back at the AirBNB,, I eat a light meal of snacks from my backpack, and head for bed early; tomorrow will be here before I know it.

 

My alarm goes off at 5:00. I wake up with a headache, and swallow an Advil. The old-school coffee pot sizzles and pops as the water heats up. I down one cup of coffee, unsuccessfully scour my room for my deodorant, pour another cup of coffee for the road, and almost leave the house without my race bib. I calm my nerves, grab my race bib, and mentally run through everything I’ll need for the race. Today is the day… and now I am ready.

 

Jay is waiting at the back gate, and we walk over to the bus. Its 6:30, and the bus is making its way to the start line. There’s a runner from Atlanta who wants to run in all 50 states. She’s easily the funniest passenger on the bus, marveling about the sunrise, expressing surprise at the cows on the side of the road, asking where the police are – the standard response to everything: “This is Montana!” We are all laughing and preparing and cheering for each other’s goals.

 

The bus drops us off, but the start line is nowhere in sight. We walk past the porta-potties, which someone has tipped over – an amusing alternative to cow-tipping! The sun rises, and the air heats up. As start-time approaches, we all breathe, mentally prepare, and wonder where that start line is. With fifteen minutes to go, we finally locate the start line, and start moving toward it. I leave my windbreaker in Jay’s drop-bag; I doubt I will need it, and it will only slow me down. Jay congratulates me for making it to the starting line, and I realize how profound that is; you can never finish unless you start.

 

The gun goes off, and half of us don’t hear it. When we do, we start running. I hear a “beep” as I cross the start line, and from that point on the clock is ticking.

 

The first three miles, I can only describe as “magic.” I run them each as 10-minute miles, something I have never done before. My first 5 km are run in 31:28, another first. Whatever happens today, I can take immense pride in how I’ve started this race. We hit a snag with traffic on the road, the air heats up, and my race pack is starting to rub against my back. I’m still overwhelmed by the speed I am running, and how easy it feels. Jenny’s keeping the pace and watching for cars, ignoring the dogs that are accompanying their owners who are cheering us on.

 

7 km in, we’ve hit the subdivision. Emily joins Jay and I, ready to step in if Jay’s not able to. We hit a water station at the 5-mile mark (8 km),, and Jenny drinks straight from the paper cup. We’ve slowed slightly for the water break and the traffic in the subdivision, but I’m still thrilled with our pace. The pathway we encounter next (9.66 km, or 6 miles in) is crowded with runners and walkers. Jenny ignores the groundhogs that make noise right beside her, weaves around as many people as she can, but we’re slowed down in this crowd.

 

We settle in for the mid-run slog – the part that’s always been a mental struggle for me. Water stations are conveniently located on sidewalks, but so are their extra supplies. After another period of straight road running – where I shout encouragement to “Atlanta” from the bus – we make our way into the city, where high curbs, traffic, and sidewalk supporters slow us down even further…

 

But I have to finish! I can feel that finish line as the kilometers click by. Jenny insists on running the sidewalk, rather than the road, and I spend some time redirecting her; eventually, I follow her lead, an she guides me around water stations, mailboxes, and other obstacles on the sidewalks. Every mile, Jenny and I are offered water, but after mile 11 we’ve hit something of a groove and have to keep going. After 20 km, I hit another milestone on my running journey – my longest run ever! The hill we ran yesterday approaches, and I’m moving! My feet cross the finish line, I hear my name called… and I run right past my medal. Jay and Emily – who’ve done an amazing job – retrieve it for me. It is done!!!

 

A volunteer grabs me a water – and one for Jenny – and some fruit for my lightheadedness. Now that the hard work is done, it’s time to relax and rebuild. A band plays pop medleys as runners and supporters cheer as more names are called at the finish line. Emily grabs a sticker with my finish time (2:36:01) and sticks it on my race bib. We are all happy and a little emotional, buut it’s now time to walk it off. Emily has a ride home, but Jay walks me back to my AirBNB. As we walk, we are both overcome with what has been done today – we’re still talking about those first three miles.

 

Jenny and I relaxing in the grass

 

Jay and I, with medals, arms around each other

 

Jenny is exhausted! She’s worked so hard, and she needs to recover. Within three minutes of unlocking the door, she’s sprawled out on the tile floor. Thirty minutes later – as I’m fielding congratulatory messages and phone calls – she curls up into a tiny ball on the carpet and sleeps the afternoon away.

 

My body is in surprisingly good shape, though I have blisters on at least three toes. That area on my back that was in contact with my running pack has a nice 4-square-inch raw patch. But there’s no major injuries to myself or Jenny; another victory in a series of victories today.

 

Monday morning… THAT’s when I hurt. My blankets are so comfortable that I am reluctant to get up in search of coffee. I don’t want to know what muscles will be angry with me. But coffee! Immediately, I feel stiffness in my ankles, calves, and thighs, and funny twinges in my toes and arches. And I’m walking a kilometer for coffee. This had better be good!

 

After Bozeman, I wonder about my ability to travel confidently and safely in this state. Thankfully, I get to the Ebon Coffee Collective without incident,, even traversing an angled crossing easily (Jenn gets credit for that one). Jenny “finds coffee!” and I meet Ty behind the counter. He says he saw me cross the finish line yesterday and thought Jenny was awesome! I order a coffee and pull up a chair beside Ryan, whose young daughter is fascinated by “the puppy!” Over the next two hours, I drink two cups of coffee, eat a baked oatmeal, and chat with Ty, Ryan, Ryan’s wife Ana, and three American missionaries who are performing missions work in all 50 states. Ty seems to know everything and everyone in this city, and has never met a stranger. I’m absolutely enchanted by him and the vibe of this coffee shop.

 

A question I get asked a lot: “What brings you to Montana?” or “Why here?” One of the missionaries – Derek – asks this question during our conversation. I tell him about the Epic Road Trip of Awesome, describing it as “four introverts and a dog.” We laugh about that trip becoming a book on the best-seller list (Derek, here’s your google search result!!) When Derek and his friends leave, my second coffee is gone, and it’s time for me to take off.

 

I make my way to Straight N Arrow, a shop that sels Native American art, jewelry, clothing and other items. At first glance, the shop is small, but as I work my way through it continues to expand. After a pleasant 30 minutes, I leave with a slim bracelet, an promise to come back tomorrow and make a final decision on a piece of art.

 

I’m getting hungry, and I had wanted to go to Red Robin yesterday to celebrate a successful race. But I was so tired last night that I ordered from an Italian restaurant and had it delivered. So today, I’m heading to Red Robin! The transfer point for the bus is just a couple blocks away, so I make my way over there… and find all the buses running, doors closed, no drivers inside and no passengers to ask what route the buses are. Despite arriving early, I miss my bus, and am waiting for the next one when a woman approaches me. She stands right in front of me, grips my arm, and asks how much vision I have. Startled, I tell her that’s a personal question, and can she please not touch me like that. She says she needed to touch me so that I knew she was addressing me, and by the way she is the bus driver. I board the bus and ask for the Red Robin, and can practically hear her wringing her hands while asking me how I will ever find my way there from the bus stop. No explanation will allay her concern, and I half-expect her to go off route and follow me there when I get off the bus.

 

After enjoying some fried food I haven’t allowed myself in weeks, I leave Red Robin happy, full, and a little bloated. It’s a beautiful day, so Jenny and I walk back to our AirBNB along a busy road, take a wrong turn when we approach our street, but find the AirBNB with ease. Tomorrow will be a jam-packed day, so we lay low for the evening, connecting with friends, family and husband, listening to pre-season hockey, and enjoying the quiet of a Billings Monday evening.

 

I don’t sleep well. Tuesday comes early, and I make my way over to Harper and Madison, a very well-known breakfast stop. I’m only a few blocks away, and I look forward to trying them out. For an hour or so, I sip coffee, eat a “hash”” with potatos, eggs, pork belly, and arugula, and enjoy the vibe of the restaurant. It’s charming in its way, and the staff is attentive and the food excellent, but it doesn’t have the openness of the Ebon Coffee Collective from yesterday. When it’s time to hit the road, I’m glad I spent some time there.

 

Jenny’s got that massage booked today, and I can either walk there or take a calculated risk on the bus. The bus gamble pays off – you stand at any corner along the route and the bus stops for you – and pulls up five minutes after I arrive on the corner. For the next hour, Jenny’s muscles get treated to some TLC, and I’m given a couple more stretches I can do at home. Just as I suspected, her right hip is stiff; to my surprise, so is her left shoulder. She gets up from the mat, relaxed and happy, thrilled to enthusiastically greet everyone. I pay and leave, knowing she’s been in excellent hands.

 

We gamble with the bus again,, and this time, too, it works out. The driver from earlier is headed downtown. When I get off the bus at the Transfer Centre, I walk the few blocks to Straight N Arrow. I choose a sand painting, pay for it, and make my way to the Moss Mansion to meet my could-have-been AirBNB host.

 

My could-have-been host? Yup! I booked her place, corresponded with her for months,,,,, and then life intervened. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to stay with her… and this all happened the week before departure! There was no hard feelings, but we had hoped to meet, and here was a perfect opportunity!

 

We tour through the Moss Mansion for a little while, and I take a rare opportunity to play a grand piano. We walk through formal and informal rooms, and I’m amazed at the display of old wealth in front of me.

 

It’s lunch time, and we decide to head to the Burger Dive. It’s a casual burger joint, with unique – and award-winning – burgers. I eat an excellent burger with bacon, bleu cheese, onions, and spicy sauce. It’s delicious!

 

We spend the next couple hours chatting, walking, looking through antiques… I feel a sense of sadness that I could not spend mmmore time with this warm and interesting woman. But I am also glad we’ve been able to connect at all. When she drops me off at the back gate, we hug goodbye and promise to keep in touch.

 

I spend the next little while tidying up and getting ready to go. It’s hard to believe my time here in Billings is almost over already. After fighting with technology, packing as much as I can, making arrangements for my transportation to the bus in the morning, I mmake my way downtown for dinner and a beer. I spend a pleasant couple hours on a patio, with the bar door open behind me, music and conversation over my shoulder. My beer is paired with a spicy Mac & Cheese, and when I’ve had my fill, I walk out into thhee Billings night, sorry to see this town behind me.

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Bozeman: Chaotic Zen

I’m running late for my bus. Joe’s Pasty shop is such a friendly, casual hangout spot that I lose all track of time. I have less than 25 minutes to find the bus station, give Jenny a chance to pee, retrieve my backpack, and board my bus. Thankfully, Butte isn’t that big, and I accomplish all this – along with delivering bite-sized pasties to the staff at the bus station – with plenty of time to spare.

 

I am the only passenger departing at Bozeman; if it weren’t for me, this bus wouldn’t stop there at all. The trip is smooth and quick – less than 90 minutes – and I disembark and order an Uber to my AirBNB. My host gave me excellent directions, and will be back later this evening. He says to make myself at home and help myself to beer, coffee, or fruit in the kitchen. I’ve had so much food and coffee – and it’s too early for beer – but I’m grateful all the same. The house is spacious, the room large and comfortable, and I could just sink into the carpets.

 

My plans tonight are wide open. I’ve toyed with the idea of a run, but when I look at Facebook, I notice that there’s a jazz show at an Indian restaurant. They still have space, so I make a reservation and plan my bus trip.

 

How things go sideways, I am not sure. I either cannot locate the bus stop, or the bus doesn’t come, or there’s no bus stop to find. I decide it’s close enough to walk (residents of Helena wouldn’t think twice) and load up my GPS. It tells me to go north, but the more north I travel, the further away my next turn is. It’s happier as I travel south, then east… and I walk for over two miles before finding a spot I can turn right. I keep going, then find a busy street to my left, and somehow turn right instead of crossing left. No problem, there’s another four-way stop ahead. I turn left and wait for traffic to stop, and cross when they do. Relieved, I step on to the sidewalk, only to learn it’s a median… on the middle of a highway! I quickly weigh my options: (1) I can try and cross either forward or back, or (2) I can stay on the median and hope I can cross at the other end. I choose option #2 and start walking in the direction I hope will take me safely across. The median narrows at the other end, and I realize I’m stuck. Fighting panic, with cars on either side, I walk to what I hope is another end to this island in the middle of a highway, to where I hope I can get across – in any direction – safely.

 

Then I hear a voice ask, “Excuse me, did you mean to be on the median?” I sputter some frightened, nonsensical answer about yes but not really and how do I get off? The voice belongs to Leesa, who is driving down the road with her daughter and two dogs, and they pull over, put their flashers on, put their dogs in the back so Jenny and I can sit up front. I’m only a couple of blocks from the restaurant, and they drop me off, with Leesa offering any assistance she can while I’m in Bozeman. I give her my number, and she texts me, so I have her number if I need anything.

 

My nerves are still rattled, but the jazz is mellow and soothing, and exactly what I need. The staff at Saphron Table are attentive, the food is good, and I’m relaxing by the minute as the music, the food, and the atmosphere sinks in deep. I realize how much I need this, and how I don’t think I would’ve changed a thing; I appreciate this more because of the long walk and the incident on the highway. My shoulders relax, and I sit on the blustery patio as the music swirls around me.

 

I order an Uber back to my AirBNB. There are other guests sharing the upstairs space, and we chat for a few minutes before we all turn in for the night.

 

I come downstairs for coffee in the morning – after the best night’s sleep I’ve had on this trip – to find a plush squeaky dog toy sitting on the counter. I’d like to personally thank my host before letting Jenny put her teeth on it, so I leave it there for the moment, then start figuring out the bus schedule for where I need to go today. Wanting to thank Leesa for her help yesterday, I text her and ask what her plans are today, she says she’s out and about and do I want to do coffee? YES!!!

 

Leesa picks me up, and we head to Farmer’s Daughter, a quirky restaurant with unusual breakfasts. Leesa wants to pay, but I’m quicker with my card. We sip our coffees and chat, and the food arrives so artfully presented that Leesa mmentions it, and I almost don’t want to eat it! For the next hour, we share our stories of intuition, or just knowing something without knowing why it’s important, and being open to circumstances that will change your life. We’ve both experienced this, and we realize that sometimes something grips you so strongly that you you just need to follow it to find out where it goes. We talk about Bozeman and travel, and she invites me out tonight with her family to the Ellen Theater for PechaKucha, whehre everyday people talk about all kinds of things (like a shorter TED Talk). I don’t know how much energy I’ll have, but promise to call her later and let her know, thanking her for the invite, and pretty sure I’ll come.

 

I have a massage appointment at noon, and Leesa would feel better driving me there. It’s a longer walk than the couple blocks I think it is, with more busy streets with medians and no pedestrian controls. We drive. She gives me excellent directions to the bus stop (she sees the bus leave the stop) and tells me to call if I need a ride.

 

While I wait for my massage, I call around to find a canine massage for Jenny – probably in Billings. Two phone calls later, I’ve booked an appointment for Tuesday morning. My massage therapist is running late, but that’s fine by me; my bus leaves just after the hour, and goes once an hour, so he can be really late and I’ll be happy. For the next hour, the tension is removed from my back, neck and shoulders, and I find teeny tiny angry muscles I never knew existed. When I walk out an hour later, I’m so relaxed that I feel ready to figure out the strange bus system here.

 

It’s starting to rain as we walk down the sidewalk. I put Jenny’s rain poncho on her, and she hangs her head in a display of self-pity. She finds me a bench to wait for the bus, but the bus doesn’t come. Where DO the buses stop here? We walk up an down Oak Street and cannot locate the bus. I finally ask a fellow pedestrian – the first one I encounter in over twenty minutes – for directions, and he has a hard time locating the bus stop – which is a pole, facing the road, in the middle of the grass. Relieved, I wait for the bus, thinking I’ll be waiting nearly 30 minutes, but the bus pulls up almost immediately. When I hop on, I ask if the driver is late or early; he says he’s on time. It’s only then that I realize I will be going the LONG way around the loop. I don’t care, at least I’m moving.

 

Jenny in her rain poncho, head down

 

I pull the cord too late, so I get off one stop later than I wanted. This means we’re taking a LONG way to the shops on East Main Street. Whatever… we’re moving, we’re off this crazy bus system, and I am fairly sure there are no highways involved. We walk down residential areas, get lost, get unlost, and browse the shops and bars and restaurants on East Main for a couple of hours. I buy souvenirs, get ID’d before I realize I’m in a bar that doesn’t serve food yet, then stop for appetizers next dor. THIS is the Bozeman I remember.

 

Leesa and her daughter meet me at a high-end clothing boutique – it turns out to be one of Leesa’s favourites. We walk next door to Sweet Chili, where Leesa’s husband meets us for supper – seafood soup for me. The Ellen Theatre is just a couple blocks away, so we make our way there, get through the crowd, and sit down for PechaKucha.

 

I am enthralled. The stories are personal or funny or informative – sometimes all three – and cover all kinds of topics. We laugh, we cry,, we cheer, we learn… and I know I will be finding a PechaKucha in Edmonton. At intermission, Leesa offers me a ride back if I’m tired (she’s seen the second half before), and while I would love to stay, I am absolutely exhausted. When we get out of the car at my AirBNB, Leesa gets a chance to greet Jenny, and then my host comes outside.

 

Jenny is wiggly, wagging her tail, turning in circles, thrilled to get some greeting time. I ask if she can run up to greet my host, and he brings out the squeaker toy. Jenny runs around the house, upstairs, downstairs, squeaking squeaking squeaking merrily. The squeaker lasts about twenty minutes before it falls silent. We’re all amused. Jenny sprawls out with her silent squeaker toy, then discovers and takes over a dog bed. After a half hour chatting with my host, I wake up Jenny and take the dog bed upstairs, where Jenny claims it again, and we both fall asleep.

 

The morning dawns cool and crisp, and I layer my clothes. Months ago, I booked a tour with the Yellowstone Safari Company, and Ken, my guide, pulls up at 7:00. Within fifteen minutes, I already feel like I’ve received a crash course in geography, geology, cartography, American history, and plant biology. The tour has already paid for itself.

 

We stop at the entrance to the park at Gardiner, and take pictures at the arch. There’s writing engraved into the arch itself, and I feel the letters one by one. More learning, more driving, the raiding of energy bars in the front console. Along the way, I ask what a cat tail is,, and we pull over so I can feel the seed pods. It’s going to be THAT kind of tour, and I’m loving it.

 

Me in Front of the Roosevelt Arch, the Entrance to Yellowstone National Park

 

A ranger has several pelts and is about to do a demonstration. He says we can pick up the pelts and feel them, and Ken points out their unique features, the different types of fur that protect the animals from the harsh winter. Jenny is extremely interested in the wolf skin, and I feel the bushy tail as Ken describes the black spots on the gray coat. The bear skin is sleek and smooth, and the bison is massive! We head back to the car just as the ranger starts his presentation.

 

We take bathroom breaks wherever possible, and I swing into a gift shop for a new patch for Jenny’s blanket. We pause beside an antelope eating along the side of the road, and try and hear an elk bugle – we find elk, but they’re silent.

 

Ken points out characteristics of the landscapes – grasslands, mountain ranges, rivers, trees – and stops the car if we’re close enough to hear wildlife. We come across a herd of about 40 bison, get out of the car and keep a respectful distance. A bull is trying to get the attention of a cow (female bison). This is uncommon, as the breeding season (rut) ended more than a month ago,, but late-born calves are born when bison breed this late in the season; Ken feels bad for them, because the later they are born the harder time they will have in the winter. The bull nudges the cow in the shoulder, grunting at her, trying to get her attention. We’re not sure if she’s interested, but Ken notices another bull who keeps an eye on the flirting bull. Fights between bison can and do sometimes break out, but these bulls do nothing more than observe each other.

 

I'm standing in a grassy field with a herd of 40-ish bison in the background

 

Ken is really hoping to get an elk to bugle for us, but we may have to wait until later this afternoon – it’s not uncommon for elk to sleep during mid-day. We drive past a small heard of elk, many of whom are sleeping, but a couple are moving around and eating. I can hear their footsteps and their chewing the grass, and I’m amazed at the industriousness of all of these animals, and while there is generally consistent animal behavior, there are exceptions – such as two young bison bulls hanging out together, away from the cows (something you see more frequently with older bulls).

 

Along the way to our picnic site, we stop to check out aspen trees, lodge pole pine, and I feel animal tracks in the dirt and hear the sound of a river flowing through a canyon. Lunch is filling and hearty, and it’s so cool and quiet that I’m grateful for my layers of clothes.

 

We head to the brink of the falls, starting with the winding path to the Lower Falls. I can hear the river, and can smell the slight scent of a hot spring – something a the base of each waterfall in Yellowstone. Jenny wows everyone – including me – with her excellent guide work on the twisty uneven path to the lower falls.

 

It's a long way down to the brink of Lower Falls

 

Normally, the path to the Upper Falls is walkable, but it’s currently closed so we have to drive the short distance. The Upper Falls sound bigger, but they are actually shorter than the Lower Falls. Water rages constantly, and you can feel more mist from the Upper Falls.

 

It’s getting late in the day and we still need to drive back to Bozeman. Ken suggests heading to Fountain Paint Pot Hill, a landmark Ben and Sarah got to experience last year but I did not. Along the way, we stop to feel some of the volcanic tuff (ash that’s been compressed together into its own formations). They’ve used it, along with other minerals like rhyolite, to make the roads and barriers and walls and railings around the Park. For someone who’s “not a geologist”, Ken does an excellent job at describing how these are formed and what they physically look like. Back in the car,, Ken is thrilled to see a flying squirrel – a rare site in itself, but unheard of in the middle of the day. Ken is so excited that he’s nearly shouting with joy!

 

At Fountain Paint Pot Hill, it truly is a multi-sensory experience. You can hear the bubbles of the mud pots, which sound different from a hot spring, which sound different from a geyser. If the wind blows a certain way, you are able to feel and smell the sulphur from the geysers. There’s one geyser that continuously erupts, unless Fountain is active. The 1959 earthquake changed the behaviour of this geyser; it used to erupt every five minutes (to the second!). It’s amazing to me how these animals and springs and rivers can all coexist, and how humans can impact them or be impacted by them.

 

It’s been a full day, but it’s time to head back. Ken is constantly talking about history, politics, wildlife… I feel like I’ve taken six college courses today, and want to take more. We make sure I have everything – like the braille guide book I was given when entering the park – and I thank Ken for everything as he drives away.

 

It’s only 7:00, but I am exhausted. I shower, catch up with Ben, read a while, and join Jenny for a well-earned sleep.

 

Even if I don’t need to be, I am up early. I enjoy a good book and a cup of coffee, and greet my host when he gets up. We chat a while, and I run a load of laundry. My host brings out a new toy for Jenny, and she runs around the house with it while we eat breakfast and I fold clothes and shove everything in my backpack.

 

Leesa and her family come by. They have generously gifted me with a portable phone charger, and a collapsible water bowl for Jenny. Again, I am overwhelmed by their generosity and am so grateful our paths had the chance to cross. Leesa’s family, myself, and my host squeeze together for selfies, and we laugh at how shy everyone is and the phone cameras that have minds of their own.

 

Leesa and her daughter are crouching with me. Jenny has just surprised me with a HUGE kiss!

 

Everything is packed and my host and I grab authentic Mexican food. It’s hearty and messy, and it hits the spot. I get a chance to pay it forward and treat my host to lunch, like I promised my companion in Whitefish I would. He insists I don’t have to, but I want to.

 

Bozeman hasn’t been anything like I expected, or hoped, or remembered it would be. It nearly broke me emotionally, but it healed something in me, too. I’ve seen boundless generosity, learned a lot, experienced natural wonders, and I am eternally grateful. As I board the bus for my next destination, a part of my heart is sorry to leave. But a bigger part will rest easier tonight.

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Butte: Functionally Nonsensical

I get off the bus just after noon, and am faced with an immediate decision: get lunch, or find my AirBNB. This is easy – I am still full from the bread samples, so AirBNB it is. The Blue bus comes before the Green, and since both get me to within a couple of blocks of where I need to go, I hop on the Blue bus and settle in for the ride. It’s empty for about five minutes, then a couple of seniors hop on; This bus services the seniors homes and doctors’ offices in the community. At my stop, I disembark and start walking.

 

The directions my host gave me seem solid enough, but I find myself unable to find the landmark she pointed out. After fifteen minutes of wandering around and – I am sure – frightening the neighbours – I load up AiRa for more help. The agent doesn’t see the landmarks either, but pulls up a Google map and is able to give me directions – which include stepping off a HUGE drop-off from the sidewalk to the street. The connection drops, but I am across the street, and Jenny seems to know what we’re doing – we find the landmark no problem, and after a momentary panic we’ve broken in to a neighbour’s property, I find one more defining landmark, and know we’re in the right place. The key is where it’s supposed to be, and I let myself in.

 

The kitchen and bathroom are easy to find, but the bedroom? Not so much. There’s no hallways in this place, but all the rooms feed off each other… like open concept, but with doors. Finally, I figure this out, put my backpack down, then go hunting for water glasses – which also take an embarrassingly long time to find. This apartment seems to be a lot like the town – it all works, but it doesn’t always make sense.

 

My host arrives and helps orient me. She brings up coffee and a basket of snacks, and shows me all the little nooks and crannies and little shelves and drawers in this apartment I’ve decided is charming. Since neither of us have dinner plans, we hop in her car and head for the new Cajun restaurant in town, only to discover it’s closed on Mondays! My host is a vegetarian, so this somewhat restricts our options. But she tells me I have to try a Wop Chop (a breaded and fried pork chop) and a pasty (pronounced past-ee) while I’m in town. For dinner tonight, we end up at Sparky’s, which has a car mechanic theme – including “rags” for napkins. We split an order of sweet potato fries and each order a salad, and my host insists on picking up the tab.

 

After everything settles, Jenny and I join our host for a walk through part of Uptown Butte. The sidewalks are treacherous, many with tree limbs across them. At points, Jenny decides it’s safer to walk on the road; I trust her judgment. My host points out landmarks and street names, and is excellent at describing how they all relate to each other. After nearly three miles of walking – and huffing and puffing in the high altitude – we detour to the closest coffee shop so I know how to get there in the morning. It’s a cold and blustery walk, and I have fallen in love with this complicated city that makes no sense to me.

 

I get a solid night’s sleep, and by 7:30 I am ready to hunt for coffee. My journey starts out the way I remember, but I can’t seem to cross the busy street across from the coffee shop. I backtrack almost ALL the way back to the house, and double back. Jenny finds the streets we need and points out uneven sidewalks – of which there are many. We get to the parking lot… and cannot find coffee! I ask for directions, but am given nothing really useful (“Go straight, then left” is only part of useful directions). AiRa comes to the rescue again. The coffee shop is in a tiny house, and once we figure that out, Jenny finds it perfectly. I buy a coffee and a muffin, put the muffin in my purse and carry the coffee back to the AirBNB. I juggle Jennys leash, the coffee, the keys and the doors, and I clearly need an extra set of hands.

 

Most of the next hour, I spend on the phone. My feet have been hurting somewhat awful, and I need a new pair of sandals. All the shops seem to have packed their summer stock away, but the staff at Murdoch’s agrees to check the back for me; I tel them I can stop by later this afternoon. I call the Chamber of Commerce to see about trolley tours, and they run one at 12:30 daily. Since I want to do the tour AND try a Wop Chop AND head to Murdoch’s all in one trip, I get a pretty good game plan in place, and hit the road.

 

We get to a street corner and three dogs rush the fence. Jenny ignores them, but I’m worried. We cross the street and try to find the bus stop, which is marked by… nothing – no poles, no posts, no benches, nothing. Jenny makes me laugh by finding me the row of bicycles parked outside… but the location of the bus stop eludes us. I ask another pedestrian for directions, and she waits for the bus with me, asking everyone around if they know where the bus stops. No one does. The bus doesn’t come, and my fellow pedestrian (Diana) is headed to the highway, and offers me a ride. I accept, and we chat on the way to the Freeway tavern, where my Wop Chop awaits.

 

If you can't find a bus stop, Find a bike rack!

 

The Tavern is empty of other customers. I order my Wop Chop with fries, and am told that service dog handlers are always sat in booths “just so nothing happens to the dog.” I observe the empty bar, pull up a stool, and say that I’d rather sit here. When they try and insist, I tell them that ADA law says they cannot require that I sit in a particular location, and if something happens to my dog in an empty bar, that’s my issue, not theirs. They relent, and I enjoy my Wop Chop at the bar. It’s a filling sandwich with all the extras, but I would probably like it more if I didn’t have to add mustard or mayo to it; I prefer sauces and condiments being cooked IN my food, not added later. But, still, it’s great to enjoy a Butte tradition. Nothing happens to Jenny.

 

I exit the bar, and have a great chat with the waitress. She’s had service dogs get badly injured at the bar when it’s busy. I smile and tell her that it’s no problem. If it were busy, I wouldn’t have said anything, but a quiet bar… I like my bar stools. She gives me directions to the Chamber of Commerce and says it’s a “scary walk.” Thinking she’s being overly concerned about a blind person crossing the street, Jenny and I start walking.

 

There are no pedestrian-controlled street crossings. I go past George St, where I need to turn right, and wait a full three minutes at the crosswalk, and nobody stops. We backtrack almost all the way back to where we started, cross the street, walk under the highway, and FINALLY make it to George Street… which has no sidewalk. Jenny hugs the side of the road, forcibly pulling me onto the grass when big trucks come up behind us. After quite possibly the scariest ten minutes of my life,, dodging cars and trucks and long grass and weeds, Jenny guides me over the grass and straight to the Chamber of Commerce building. I praise her and give her some kibble, which she eagerly accepts as my shoulders relax and my heart rate slows.

 

I book my ticket and board the trolley. We learn about both active and historrical mine facilities, stop at the Berkeley Pit, and discover Butte’s ghosts of the past and hope for the future. The more Butte residents I meet, the more they remind me of East Coast Canadians both in accent and in their friendliness. It feels like I’ve been transported to Nova Scotia, and I love all of it.

 

When I get off the trolley, I call the Butte Copper Company; the folks at the Berkeley Pit gift shop said The Butte Copper Company has more souvenirs, and they can ship them to me. I place an order, then go to the Chamber of Commerce counter and ask for bus directions to Murdoch’s. Another customer says she’s heading to Walmart, which is right by Murdoch’s, and offers me a ride. Her name’s Nadine, and she’s originally from California. She drops me off at Murdoch’s and says she’ll wait for me and drop me off at my AirBNB on her way out of town.

 

Murdoch’s doesn’t have sandals in my size. My feet hurt SO much that I want to cry, but I leave the store and hope to find some new ones in Bozeman. Nadine has just pulled up, and drops me off at my AirBNB. I wave and thank her and tell her she’s made my day; she tells me that helping me has made HER day. I think I got the better deal.

 

I get a call back from the Butte Copper Company, giving me a shipping quote, When I mention taking an Uber to their location, they offer to drive my order to me on their way to run some errands, free of charge. When I meet them at the gate, they refuse any reimbursement for their gas or their time, and I am overwhelmed by their generosity.

 

My host seems to know everyone in Butte. She knows I’m training for a half-marathon, and has reached out to the running community to find out where they run tonight. She even offers me a ride out there, and introduces me to Ozzie, who’s the only runner out tonight. The first mile is brutal; Jenny is distracted by Ozzie’s dog. Ozzie and his dog run ahead, then keep pace with us as we hit our stride. I am surprised how quickly we’re going, given the altitude, and even if the run isn’t as long as my training plan has me do, all the walking I’ve done the past few days is putting enough stress on my legs. At the 2.5-mile mark, I take a tumble. My pants hold up nicely, but my left knee is bleeding. I pull a bandage out of my running belt, put it on, and keep on moving. After three miles in thirty-three minutes, we’re all done for the day. If I can run this speed in this altitude, Billings will be beautiful! Ozzie is running the full marathon and says he’ll say hi if our paths cross on the course.

 

I get back to my AirBNB, and my host offers to run a load of laundry for me. I’ve got enough clothes to make it worthwhile, and with my knee bleeding into my running pants I figure it’s a great idea. While the laundry runs, I meet one of my host’s new kittens – his sister is too shy to say hello – and I think of my own three fluffballs at home. I relax for a while, and play “guess the vegetable!” with my freeze-dried veggies from the Natural Grocers in Helena. Once the clothes are dry, I fold them, then start packing my backpack. Every new destination has me packing it differently; in theory I have less stuff, but my bag is still as full as ever.

 

I wake up early, and make sure I have tidied up and packed everything. Miraculously, I catch the Green bus on time, rent a locker at the Greyhound station, and head over to Joe’s Pasty Shop. A pasty is meat and potatoes wrapped in pastry dough, sometimes served with gravy. I order a chili pasty with onions and cheese, an apple turnover, and enough coffee to float a small boat. I love the pasty, and think it’s well worth the high praise I’ve heard from residents and tourists alike. The staff is attentive, and lets me know I can stay as long as I need, so I’m not hanging around the bus station. I almost stay too long! But I walk back to the station, pick up my bag, and bid a fond but complicated farewell to this warm and confusing city.

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Helena: “It’s not far, you can walk it!”

I enter the bus station at Great Falls behind a young woman who hitched a ride from Havre. She does not have ID,, and is not permitted to get on the bus. Tears, anger, and a policeman’s business card do nothing to change this circumstance. After a few minutes, I step to the counter and present my ticket. When I offer to show my ID, the woman behind the counter declines since she knows I’ve taken this bus before. Since I’ve never been to Great Falls in my life, I tell her that she has me confused with someone else, and since it’s policy to show ID I would feel better if I did so.

 

Ticket and ID presented, I board the bus with a handful of other passengers, freeze my toes off while reading my book, and disembark less than 2 hours later in Helena, Montana’s capital city. After a couple missteps, a wrong turn, and an overshoot, I make it to my AirBNB hot, tired, and already in love with the city.

 

My host is thoughtful in ways big and small. A fresh pitcher of water with a glass as a “lid” sits on my nightstand, and a basket of snacks is on the dresser. She taps items to indicate their space in the room, and gives me great directions to get to the Capitol. After a rest, I harness up Jenny and get ready to explore, anticipating a cool trolley ride once the Capitol building closes at 3:00.

 

I quickly learn that “not far” for Helena residents is REALLY far for many people. I’m used to walking a kilometer or more to get somewhere, but it’s nearly three to the State Capitol. Along the way, I relieve Jenny, and lose the Newtrix (head halter) along the way. I use up precious cell phone data, battery power, and AiRa minutes to help locate it. And then I realize we’ve overshot the state Capitol by a good two blocks. I’m hot and tired, and Jenny is panting, and we make it to the Capitol’s door… which is closed for construction. Thankfully, someone sees us and directs us to another entrance. I am given a general outline of what’s on each floor, and Jenny and I choose our own adventure.

 

We climb wide stairwells and pass marble pillars, balconies overlooking the floors below. A hush falls over the building that’s almost spiritual in its peacefulness. When other visitors try and open the doors to the House,,,,,,. they are locked (contrary to what we’d all been told). The building has public WiFi, so I hop on and call AiRa for more visual information. Over the next 40 minutes, the connection cuts in and out, but I get some great visual description of the old Supreme Court, as well as the Senate chamber. I don’t have enough battery power for much more, but I got the things I had come for, and they were well worth the trip.

 

A View of the Senate Floor

 

Jenny flawlessly guides me through the building, then across the street to the museum. The trolley is about to take off, so I try and flag it down. There are no empty seats on this trolley, and there won’t be another one until after I leave on Monday. I’m so disappointed that I start to dejectedly walk back to my AirBNB when I remember the museum and their gift shop! Turning around, I walk the two blocks back to the museum and find a few fun souvenirs for myself, friends and family back home.

 

A friend has told me about The Parrot, an old-fashioned soda fountain and candy shop. Even though I’d planned to visit that area of town tomorrow, I call The Parrot and they tell me they’re only open Monday to Saturday. If I want to go, it’s got to be today. When I ask for direction from the museum, I’m told it’s “not far… only a mile and a half.” I’m done walking for now… I will call an Uber.

 

The Uber driver I call sounds like he’s going to spit tobacco on the trip, and he has no idea where The Parrot is specifically. I want out of his truck, even if I have to find the place myself. Thankfully, he finds the place, and I order a half a pound of candy from their candy counter. Since I’m hungry, I order a coffee and a bowl of their chili whose recipe is nearly a century old. It’s all excellent, and I leave much happier than when I arrived.

 

I think I left my running visor in Great Falls. Failing that, it’s hiding in some obscure corner of my backpack. In any case, I’m only 200 feet from Tread Lightly, the running shop in town. Since the shop doesn’t have a street address, but is located like a bunch of other businesses on Last Chance Gulch, I only have a vague idea of it’s location. Uncertain, I bring up Google Maps… only to discover that I’m pretty much right in front. Them. Instead of a new visor, I purchase a pair of running sunglasses (at a slight discount because I am paying cash). Purchase in hand, I put my candy from The Parrot inside the Tread Lightly bag, then walk back to my AirBNB.

 

My GPS doesn’t like this city, Either that or the city’s naming conventions are confusing. Both seem likely. But who needs a GPS when you have a Jenny? Not only does she decisively make the correct turn at a street crossing we’ve never been at, but she finds the house on the first try! I am so proud I could cry! But she and I are both exhausted, and it’s good to get back for a rest.

 

Our host has a cat. He’s not a fan of dogs on a good day, and is definitely not a fan of them when they try and drink out of his water bowl. He hisses and spits and growls, jumping from the counter and knocking two shot glasses into the sink. I feel it’s my fault, but I am quickly reassured that nothing was broken, and Jenny did nothing wrong.

 

Jenny and I are both exhausted after our long day, so we relax for a bit and make plans for tomorrow. I buy a ticket for a play called “Every Brilliant Thing,” read the book I started yesterday, then turn in early.

 

I don’t want to get out of bed this morning. But I wanted to squeeze in a light run before breakfast, and my host and her daughter invited me to IHOP with them. It’s early enough for me to squeeze in a light 6km run, but the blankets are soooooooo comfy! But then I channel every running motivation I’ve read these past few months, and get ready to go.

 

I have zero expectations for this run. In fact, as this is the start of “taper week” (when you slow down and conserve energy for the race), I SHOULD have no expectations for this run. Jenny and I start as we mean to go on – very, very slowly. The route is convoluted, kind of like a toddler drew it with crayons and squiggles, and I’m spending a TON of excess energy focusing on where we are and how to get back to our AirBNB. I almost fall several times on the uneven pavement – you CAN walk everywhere here, but running? not so much – and I do fall once. But I prove something to myself that I never thought I needed to – I can just take Jenny and go running in an unfamiliar city. It’s not a pretty run, in any sense, but it matters, and it gives me strength and confidence I wasn’t aware were uncertain commodities.

 

After my first cup of coffee and a shower, we head to IHOP, where we chat over breakfast. My host’s daughter asks if dogs are allowed in the restaurant, and we explain that I am allowed to bring Jenny because she’s a working dog. There’s lots of hot coffee and crispy bacon and delicious fruit, and I feel like I’m ready to face another day.

 

After running a couple of errands, my host drops me off at the Good Samaritan thrift store, where everything is 50% off. It’s a huge store, and I could spend hours browsing the clothes. Instead, my path continually crosses with a family from Idaho. The child, about four years old, asks about Jenny, and the parents do an excellent job of describing what she does in a way the child can understand; their uncle uses a wheelchair and has a dog that picks up dropped items, so the concept is not a foreign one. After over an hour of seeming to stalk each other through the store, we introduce ourselves, then go our separate ways. I pay $0.50 for two brand new pairs of socks, then zip across the street to the Natural Grocers. A grocery bag is filled with Clif Bars, different types of jerky, freeze-dried fruit and vegetables. These will become my “traveling food” over the coming days.

 

I stand outside, wearing the sunglasses I purchased yesterday – which I decide I do really like – and try and call an Uber. There are no Ubers available, so I try again… and again… and again. Another customer, named Vicki, asks if I need help. When I tell her I am trying to order an Uber and there are none, she offers me a ride to where I need to go. When I tell her where I’m going, even she acknowledges that THAT’s “not in walking distance.” We chat during the ride, and she drops me off at the Grand Street Theatre, where I have two hours to kill before the play starts.

 

I walk down Last Chance Gulch, and Jenny very decisively takes me up a set of stairs into a coffee shop. Since she’s THAT insistent, I order a salad and a coffee, then walk back down to the theatre, where I receive my ticket and enjoy the play. It’s a one-person show, with audience participation, and it handles sensitive topics with compassion and – where appropriate – humour. There’s a certain amount of cheesiness – it IS community theatre – but I have a ton of fun, while Jenny takes up as much space as she possibly could.

 

Everyone at the theatre, it seems, has been talking about the Big Dipper ice cream shop. I get lost along Last Chance Gulch, but eventually end up there, where I order a cherry chip cone. It’s OK, but I had hoped for real cherries rather than flavoring.

 

Just like yesterday,, Jenny and I are done. It’s eben a very long day, and we take our aching feet and weary bodies back to our AirBNB. I start the packing process and run a load of laundry. I had hoped to pack my dried clothes tonight, but my eyes are so very heavy… I allow them to close and decide to leave it for tomorrow.

 

The morning stretches before me, and I fold my clothes, pack up, and get ready to go. My host’s cousin is at the breakfast bar, and we chat for a few minutes. She offers me a ride to the Great Harvest Bread Company, where I can grab a coffee on the way to the bus station. we are offered huge samples of bread or muffin, and I get a turkey bun and coffee. We chat about my next destination, and then she gives me a ride to the station. My ticket is checked, and I bid a fond farewell to the capitol, which has treated me so very well.

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Great Falls: Playing By Ear

I board the train, which departs 20 minutes later than scheduled. I follow other passengers to an open car, when I am stopped by a car attendant and told that I have to wait “because you’re disabled.” I say nothing, but wait until the access is clear before directing Jenny forward. The attendant grabs my arm to “direct” me, and I ask her not to touch me. She lets go, then follows me on to the train car. When I struggle to find a seat, she remains silent, then says “I would help you, but you asked me not to touch you.” I sit down, situate Jenny, and thank her anyway.

 

The train travels through Glacier National Park, stopping briefly. When it stops at East Glacier, I ask the attendant for directions to the cafe car. She provides them and offers assistance. I decline. We make it to the cafe car without incident, up the narrow stairs, through the dining car, then back down again. A passenger is panicking about catching the bus from Shelby to Great Falls, and the attendant doesn’t know what time it leaves. As this is the bus I plan to take, I tell her what time it leaves, and I am thanked by three people – the passenger, the attendant, and the guy behind the cafe counter. I order a coffee and a fruit and nut medley, and am considering going back to my seat to finish my book when I am asked if I might enjoy some company. Why not?

 

My companion, John, is 80 years old, and his late wife was totally blind. We talk about athleticism, autonomy, family relationships, travel, and so much more. We swap contact information, and he gives me a small charm that was part of his wife’s signature jewelry designs. When the train leaves Cut Bank, we go our separate ways, believing there are no coincidences in life.

 

The train pulls in to Shelby at 11:45 – 20 minutes late, but with enough time to make my bus connection. A massive weight is lifted from my emotional shoulders, even as my backpack weighs down my literal ones. How is it possible to have less weight in a backpack but have a harder time filling it and hauling it around?

 

It is HOT outside the station – a far cry from the cool morning that necessitated a hoodie. I tie the sleeves around my waist, then hop on the bus. We change buses in town; the bus connecting from Browning was full, so I hop on that one and settle in for the ride. The bus is so packed that the driver has to turn away a group at Conrade,. An elder sings a Native American song to calm a fussing child. I’m tired but content, and have no earthly idea what I’m doing in Great Falls.

 

My host picks me up at the bus station in her truck – she’s already got Jenny’s approval! We pull in to the driveway, then head around back to meet Lucy and Bella, a 2-year-old yellow Lab and 6-year-old chocolate Lab, respectively. Jenny is interested in their stuff until we take all the bones away from her… and then she meets Lucy. It’s non-stop mayhem and wrestling. We all have a ball!

 

I get settled in to my room. Matthew, one of my running partners in Whitefish, has put out the word that I am looking for runners along my journey. One of them has written back. Jeff and I correspond through email and agree to meet tomorrow for a run. It’s technically a rest day tomorrow, but I can consider today a rest day…

 

I make one final phone call, hoping against hope that SOMEONE has a Bluetooth keyboard. Miraculously, a cell phone carrier has one. I head downstairs and ask my host for directions. She says she’ll give me a lift, and we can pick up a pizza along the way. I purchase the keyboard, and pay for the pizza in exchange for the transportation. My host wishes everyone worked that way, and I’m surprised more people don’t. We chat over pizza and soda (she’s from the south, so it’s “soda”) and retreat to our separate quarters. I use AiRa to help set up my new keyboard, then enjoy a bubble bath with a good book before heading off to dreamland.

 

I take a while waking up this morning, but my host has prepped coffee; all I have to do is turn it on. I write for a while as I drink the coffee, and learn a few quirks about my new keyboard – short course: I need more pinkie finger strength. When I change in to running clothes, I discover I left half my socks in Whitefish. Thankfully I have packed more.

Jeff meets me for our run. He speaks like he writes – with expression and feeling. We pull in to the parking lot at the dog park, walk past Jenny’s happiest place on earth, then start running. The heat is already intense, and it feels much more humid than the 34% Google says it is. Jeff gives great information, and we talk about sight and art and running. It’s supposed to be an easy run today… Jenny has other plans. We finish our 8 km at a personal best of 56:20. That included crosswalks, stopping for traffic, and slowing down for a water break. For the first time, I am not only confident in my ability to run the half-marathon distance, but maintain a steady goal pace as well. NOT an “easy” run… but something better.

 

Since we’re at the dog park, and Jenny killed that run, we enter the gates to walk off our running and let Jenny play for a while. Another dog approaches me and Yanks the water bottle out of my hands. I get it back No harm done, but I alert the handler of what her dog has done. She doesn’t seem to care, and I tell her it’s my race gear, not her dog’s property. Jenny’s ignoring everybody and everything else. This same dog comes up behind me on our way out and shows too much interest in my running pack. I tel it to back off three times before it’s handler – thinking this is “cute” – giggles and calls her dog back.

 

We leave the dog park and make plans for another – ACTUALLY easy – run bright and early tomorrow. After showering and guzzling three water bottles, I’m ready to see some museums! Since the bus service is complicated – you go to a corner and flag down the bus at some infrequent schedule – I take an Uber to the history Museum. Dana shows me around, let’s me feel the exhibits that aren’t behind glass, and helps me take pictures of old coffee servers and telephone operating consoles and scale replicas of buildings that now only exist in history.

 

 

I leave the gift shop with a couple of small souvenirs, then make my way to Al Banco. I have no clue where this restaurant is, specifically, but I ask Jenny to “find the food! and she takes me right into the alcove, up the steps, and inside. My quiche, salad, and coffee hit the spot, and I read a while before calling an Uber back to my AirBNB. I had wanted to visit another museum, but I am tired and just want to relax.

 

No sooner do I get inside and lock the door behind me than the thunder booms outside. There’s no rain, but I am glad to be inside. My host arrives, and we are able to grab a quick bite at Jimmy John’s for supper. We eat on her back porch while the dogs sleep by our feet. We are all exhausted by the day and turn in early.

 

I don’t sleep well, waking up frequently. Once I get up, I make the coffee and start packing. Jeff meets me right outside the door, and we meet with his friend Dan for a run. It’s a steady, slightly easy run, past one of Great Falls’ many waterfalls. After a quick selfie, we get back to the AirBNB, where I shower, change, clean up, and get ready to head to my next destination.

 

Me and Jeff Selfie

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Whitefish: Open Hearts, Open Hands, Open Minds

I boarded the train a few minutes ago and struggled to find my roomette. I know there must be labels somewhere, but I cannot locate them. I get some assistance, and I am told that I’ve put my heavy backpack into room 5, not Room 3, which has been assigned to me. Jenny and I struggle to fit into the tiny space between the roomettes, but we get settled into our roomette right as the train departs Seattle. I’m thrilled to be shown the dining car – which is right at the back of our sleeper car – and there’s a small washroom in our car as well. Jenny lays comfortably between the two seats in the roomette that will later become a bed, and I relax and enjoy the journey.

 

My neighbor across the pathway from me asks if I know braille. When I tell her I do, she shows me the braille and large print number identifying the roomettes; it’s at my forehead height. Now that I know where it is, I’ll be able to find my space easily. The car steward is in the roomette right next to mine, and I joke that I’ll bang on the wall to get his attention. He laughs, and makes sure Jenny and I are comfortable, and advises me at which stop we can get out and stretch.

 

I’m hungry, so I make the earliest possible dinner reservation – 6:00 p.m. I’m seated with Tom and Catherine, from a small town in Washington off the Olympic Peninsula. The conversation is fluid and easy. We laugh, and eat, and talk about trails and running and coffee and lots of other things. The food is good, and Chris, our server, is chatty and personable, and we can tell he loves his job. As we ride through the mountains, the sun filters through the trees. The strobe-light effect hurts my eyes, and I lower my running visor to block much of the sun. When it’s time to clear away dessert, I stand up and sway with the train back to my roomette.

 

We’re going through tunnels, and I’m just enjoying the quiet hum of the train – a surprise to me given how loud a train is from the outside – and the din of conversations around me. Tom, my dinner companion, comes to find me and says that Ben and I and Jenny are welcome to visit him and Catherine if we make it out to Washington. I hand him a business card and he’s surprised I make jewelry. We talk a bit, and it sounds like everyone in his home town has some sort of artistic hobby or intense interest – one neighbor roasts his own coffee beans, another makes wire-wrapped jewelry. I smile as he nearly skips back to his roomette and exclaims to Catherine, “She makes jewelry, too”

 

At our stretching stop – which I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell, but it’s in Washington State – Jenny and I descend the narrow stairs to the main floor. The doors open, and Jenny lets out two loud barks. I’m startled by this unusual behavior, and I learn that there’s another dog that just appeared out of nowhere and startled her. I’m not thrilled with the behavior, and will monitor it, but she redirects quickly and doesn’t bark again. We make our way to a gravel pad where Jenny takes care of her needs quickly. I’ve stashed a tug rope in my back pants pocket, and we play tug for a couple minutes to get rid of some excess energy. A calm, contented dog climbs back up the stairs with me and waits patiently as the two chairs in the roomette are converted into a bed.

 

I haven’t even closed the door yet before Jenny jumps up onto the bed and uses my backpack as a pillow. As this is against AmTrak policy, I try and coax her down. There is no room for her. It takes nearly twenty minutes before I have put her blanket on the floor and convinced her that there’s enough room to fit snugly on the floor. She’s not thrilled, but she sleeps on the floor, with her head on my hand at times the train jostles a little too much.

 

SOMEHOW Jenny fit into this tiny space!

 

My sleep is… complicated. It’s fractured and restful at the same time. I am awake when the train reaches Sand Point, Idaho, and I smile at my only other memories of Idaho – from last year, sleeping under the stars. I drift off to sleep again, and I wake up to the smell of coffee as we pass through Libby, Montana. I open my roomette and ask if the coffee is for passengers; I’m told that, yes, it is! I drink it gratefully, as Jenny sticks her nose out into the pathway. I stuff my pajamas and blanket into my backpack, and get ready for breakfast.

 

I choose the bumpiest moment to enter the dining car, where I sit with two other travelers from two different tours. We spend most of breakfast riding through a tunnel, and we go our separate ways after eating.

 

The train pulls in to Whitefish about fifteen minutes late. I get disoriented from the station, and my GPS gives me complicated, contradictory directions. I walk back and forth, my backpack weighing me down, and I come to an intersection that has absolutely no through-traffic. Every time a vehicle travels in a direction that normally means it’s safe for me to cross, another three zoom through the intersection where I would be walking. I decide to backtrack, and ultimately make it to my hostel, where I’m greeted and allowed to store my backpack.

 

One thing that is surprising me is how unsteady I feel on my feet – like I’ve spent a large amount of time on a boat. I’ve got WiFi and can charge my phone, so I relax for a bit, drink some water,, and go exploring. I end up at the Great Northern Brewing Company, where I enjoy a massive salad before heading back to my hostel and changing in to running clothes.

 

Garrett, my guide runner, has brought a friend and his daughter with him. Turns out that the two owners of the hostel know each of the guys who are running with me. We adults (and dog) run, and the little girl rides her bicycle. It’s a hot afternoon, and my interrupted sleep is definitely catching up to me. I’m given great directions and excellent visual information – since my guide dog was SUPER unhelpful in not telling me there were turkeys and deer along our path. By the end of out 6 km run, we’re all hot, and some are more tired than others. Jenny drains an entire bowl of water, and gets an opportunity to greet people after her great run today.

 

My bunk is ready, so my backpack gets hauled up the stairs, and I grab some clean clothes and hit the showers. Once I’m cleaned up, I head back upstairs and settle in on a lower bunk for a brief nap. No one else has checked in yet, so I pretty much have the place to myself. The quiet is relaxing after the chaos of travel and navigation and hauling a super heavy backpack all over the place.

 

I wake up 45 minutes later, well-rested. Everyone I have talked to today has told me about the farmers market in town, and I am super excited to go! Jenny and I follow our earlier path past the Great Northern Brewing Company, and we find the park (after first encountering a couple of dogs). There’s a wide pathway between rows of booths, and I sample tons of local food. I eat so much – bread, cheese, fruits and veggies – that I can safely call that “dinner.” I buy a small watermelon, a cucumber, some beans, and a small pastry to take back to the hostel. Nearly an hour after arriving, I’m feeling exhausted, and even though Jenny’s been pretty amazing around all the other dogs I can tell she’s also had enough. We make our way back to the hostel, accompanied by one of the owners’ husbands. It’s that kind of town, where the degrees of separation are very very few.

 

There’s another guest in the bunk across from mine. We introduce ourselves and talk about food, culture, work, life, and travel. After nearly an hour, I feel like I’ve made a new friend; we’ve agreed to go out for beers tomorrow night when she gets back from Glacier National Park; we both hope her train doesn’t run too late. Tomorrow will come early – her train to Glacier and my run in the morning – mean we both need a good night’s sleep. I store my valuables in a locker I claimed earlier this morning, take Jenny out for one final outside break, and introduce myself to a couple from Boston who have a really early flight in the morning. The conversation is easy, and we all laugh a lot, but we are all well aware of the clock that tells us all that it must end much sooner than any of us would like. I wish them good night, climb the stairs, and fall into a contented sleep.

 

I don’t need an alarm to wake up. I am wide awake by 6:30. I check my roommate’s train schedule, and I realize it’s running late. When we are both downstairs for breakfast, I let her know of this so she doesn’t have to rush to the station. After a strong cup of coffee and a couple cubes of banana bread, I’m ready to get running. Garrett, my guide runner from yesterday, is here again, and we start flying! We’re parallel to a highway, which I find both kind of scary and kind of cool – it’s no different from any other busy road. I’m given only basic route information; this is new for me, as often guides will talk about all kinds of things about the terrain. Instead, Jenny does all the “terrain” work, and Garrett tells me when we make turns, and if there’s anything (cyclists, dogs, people) in our path. I think about this – when the higher altitude isn’t affecting me so much – that it’s a lot like the difference between using a cane and traveling with a guide dog. They both have excellent benefits, but the “guide dog” style of guide running is probably my preference, and one I hope to incorporate on race day in just eleven days. We talk about running first races, what to expect, what’s normal “soreness” and what’s an injury to stop for. Less than an hour after we began, another run is in the books, and I wave goodbye to yet another runner who has given so selflessly of their time and their experience.

 

I get back in to the hostel and chat with another guest. She’s also got plans in Glacier today, but now I’m the one whose time schedule has me cut the conversation short. I shower, change, and head down to the Stumptown Art Studio, who I contacted three weeks ago to sign up for a pottery lesson. Their response to my desire for a lesson, and their open acceptance of Jenny, made me all the more excited to try my hand at it.

Everything is ready as I walk down the stairs and into the pottery shop. I’m offered a brand new apron, and am told I can keep it as a souvenir. Ray, the instructor, is an excellent teacher who asks great questions about how to teach me. We throw, turn, shape, break, and repair (Ray repairs; I control the wheel), two little pots. We aren’t sure how they will turn out, but I had so much fun and laughed a lot. We had some more time, but not much, so we did a few tricks of hand-forming clay. I got to roll it out and squish it with a big roller, then shape it using a plastic bowl. This one turned out to be more like a big slightly-lopsided shallow dish, and we stamped some cool fish into it (the flowers didn’t stamp at all). After some of the most fun two hours I’ve spent in a long time, we walk up the stairs and into the afternoon.

 

Me in the Pottery Studio

 

This pottery needs to be fired and glazed, so it's very unfinished

 

Since neither Ray nor I have had lunch yet, he asks if I want company for lunch. I am up for it. We head for Amazing Crepes – the only restaurant I have ever been to before in Whitefish. I order a root vegetable crepe and add bacon, as well as a coffee. The orders are sent from the front counter to the kitchen on some kind of pulley system, and you can hear the “fweeeeew” as it flies away. I am mystified by the coffee pot that appears to be out of coffee. Instead of a dispenser, you have to pump the top up and down to get any coffee out of it. This amuses me far too much, and my amusement amuses Ray. We eat our crepes, talk, swap business cards, then head back to Stumptown to try and get selfies – my phone doesn’t cooperate on the selfie, though.

 

Ray's phone worked for a Selfie!

 

I leave the studio and take a wrong turn somewhere. I end up in a residential area, but I turn around and get back on track quickly. Jenny decides she doesn’t want to go back to the hostel, but would really rather enjoy meeting a neighbor who’s painting his house and playing music in the front yard. We both laugh at Jenny’s personality shining through, and I head inside the hostel so that both Jenny and I can get some rest.

 

More guests arrive,,, and I am re-introduced (by name this time) to my conversation partner from this morning. We wish each other well in case we don’t see each other tomorrow morning, when I need to catch the early train. The realization I am leaving in just a few hours hits me hard. I love this town, or maybe I love the hostel life… but I’ve received something incredible here these past coulle days, and I will never forget it.

 

The evening train is late, so I do laundry, pack, and hang out with the hostel owners and their crowd as they pick their fantasy football team. My original companion for beer isn’t here yet. The pub closes at eleven, and another guest agrees to go with me. He recommends his favourite Montana beer, and I agree to try it, along with a cheesy pretzel. We talk about running and hiking, and how he gets similar things from hiking that I do from running. We meet some amazing people along the way. He’s brave enough to hitch-hike through the park, and was super thrilled hikers gave him a ride into town this morning. When we get up to leave, he insists on taking care of the bill, since he’s been shown so much kindness today, and asks me to pass it on. I promise I will.

 

We walk back to the hostel and promise to keep in touch. When heading for the washrooms, I come across my bunk-mate. She had a ton of fun in the park, but is tired and wouldn’t have been up for a beer in any case. We hug goodbye and also promise to keep in touch. I marvel at all the people I’ve connected with, and all the stories I’ve heard today, and I want to hear more, to listen more, to share more.

 

I drift off into a contented sleep, and wake up long before my alarm. The train is only a couple minutes late, according to the tracker online, but I get everything ready to go early.

 

I’m the first one up, so I am the one making the coffee this morning. I overfill the caraf and spill it everywhere, and I feel absolutely horrible about this. I enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee, grab my things, and head for the train. Jenny is mildly distracted by a deer on the side of the road. This bodes well for our future excursion in Yellowstone Nationnal Park, which we will take next week; I at least know she can handle herself.

 

The train leaves only 30 minutes later than planned, and I hope more than anything that it doesn’t run much later. This is the only part of my journey that has truly caused me to worry. But I can’t worry now… I have another destination to make, and more people to meet. Hopefully the connection works. If not…?? That’s why there’s emergency funds!

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018, Seattle: A Journey Begins

My alarm goes off bright and early – 5:00 AM. I forgot to turn it off last night… but who am I kidding? I want as much time as possible to enjoy the last little while before both Ben and I take off for our respective journeys. Ben and I make our coffees, and do last-minute pre-trip “checklists” )”Do you have….?”) and remind each other of gaps in our packing lists.

 

Ben leaves for work, and we wish each other much success and a ton of fun, and whatever other amazing things will come out of this trip.

 

For a while, I have the house to myself. I take out all the little things that will later be clipped to my backpack when I need to make room for dog food; for now, they’ll fit inside my trusty backpack, and I marvel a my audacity of thinking I can fit 13 pounds of dog food, in addition to my running gear, street clothes, and other stuff for Jenny, into one backpack. I make sure all my liquids and gels fit into a freezer bag, make a couple of last-minute phone calls, lock up the house, and hit the road.

 

A friend has agreed to drive me to the airport. We’re early enough that we have time to take our service dogs for a run in the park. Hope is much smaller than Jenny, but we quickly learn that they play well – in addition to working well – together. We laugh as the dogs chase each other, wrestle, go off and sniff separate quarters, then go back to chasing. After half an hour, we’re fairly convinced that the dogs have all the “puppy” played out of them.

 

The conversation on the ride to the airport is deep and personal, and my friend wishes me well as she lets me off at the Arrivals gate. Jenny wanders a little, slightly distracted, then stands and stares for a full minute at the revolving door as though asking me what in the world THAT thing is. Ultimately, she decides to go through the manual doors, and we step inside the airport… and have to walk ALL the way to the far end to check in with Alaska Airlines. The counter agent moves me to a seat with no one beside me so that Jenny will have more room, and I don’t protest. Another agent assists me to security. I had hoped to use AiRa, a service where a blind person can receive visual information from a sighted agent, to go through security, but the counter agent insisted on calling someone to personally assist me. I don’t argue, and Jenny does a flawless “Follow” to security.

 

My backpack is fine. My purse is mostly fine (I forgot to take out an 8ml hand sanitizer bottle I’d put in there last week). Jenny’s harness pack is fine. I have a brief exchange of words about protocols for security agents and my guide dog (they can ask me to walk separately from my dog through the detector, but THEY cannot separate me from my dog). I go through no problem, Jenny is visually inspected, and my hands are swabbed for contact with chemicals. My liquids are NOT fine… I’ve brought too much! I have to leave a half-full bottle of shower gel and a nearly-empty shampoo bottle behind. My backpack already feels lighter!

 

After security, I make it through customs in a matter of less than two minutes. Jenny continues her flawless guide work as we make our way to our gate, then to quisno’s for lunch. I purchase a mesquite chicken sandwich and eat it at my gate – the part that doesn’t explode all over the wrapper, that is.

 

The flight is bumpy and turbulent, and there’s a steady stream of cold air that blows on Jenny and I. We’re cold, we’re tired, and this flight is NOT fun. I drink coffee and read, and Jenny lays down in the ample space we’ve been provided. When we land, I get off the airplane, hoping to use AiRa for free to locate my Mom (SeaTac Airport is a Sight Access location, so anyone can use it free of charge), but there’s already a helpful airport staff person waiting for me. I tell him three time that I have no checked bags to pick up, but he insists on taking me to the baggage claim area. Mom has a similar experience, and is told to meet me at baggage claim. We are finally able to connect, though we’re both less than impressed with the staff’s unwillingness to listen – there are NO bags to pick up.

 

We pay for parking and drive through the slightly congested streets to our AirBNB. The setup is clean and comfortable, and there are two dogs in the back. We take Jenny off her leash and harness and let her take care of her biological needs, then settle in for a while.

 

In finding places for dinner on a Friday night, we learn two things almost immediately: It’s almost impossible to find parking in this area on a Friday night during dinner, and drivers appear out of nowhere and do REALLY crazy things.

 

We make it back to the AirBNB, turn in early, and talk for awhile. Neither of us sleeps overly well in a new place, but we get up bright and early to meet Kevin, my guide runner, at MOHAI for a 20-km run. It’s slow, but steady, and I’m happy with my pace, especially given that I’ve never gone this far before. But I made the mistake of doing this run without first having coffee, and I vow never to do this again. But for the first time, I feel that a half-marathon IS achievable. It may not be pretty, or as fast as we’ve trained for, but the distance IS something that both Jenny and I can do…

 

We wave goodbye to Kevin and head for a Denny’s for food. It’s chaotic, but we get our food, water and coffee, and already my sore hips are thanking the universe.

 

After a quick trip back to the AirBNB for a shower and some rest, we head out to Walmart to do some shopping. For less than $70 uS, I purchase about twice the amount of items I could buy back home, including a hoodie that I specifically needed to buy. I is asked if Jenny is a service dog, and when I say yes, I am asked no more questions. Some of the customers stand and stare at us as though Jenny were a unicorn, but we are able to make our purchases with no issues.

 

We’ve made arrangements to meet my friends Chris and Sabrena for dinner Saturday night. I’ve known Chris through online spaces for quite a few years, and I am excited to finally meet him and his wife. The conversation is easy, the food is good. Mom provides a running commentary on what Chris and Sabrena’s 4-month-old kitten is doing in relation to Jenny… they both pretty much ignore each other. The four of us talk about Seattle, dogs, life, love, and relax as the older bluesy music plays through the speakers. The evening ends almost too early, but Mom doesn’t want to drive back in the dark; I don’t blame her. We hug Chris and Sabrena goodbye and contentedly make our way back to our AirBNB, where we chat with the caretaker for half an hour, until little blood-sucking bugs force me inside. We’re contented and exhausted as we turn in early again.

 

Sunday morning comes early. We’re both wide awake long before the alarm goes off. My body is slightly stiff from yesterday’s literal near-half-marathon, but I’ve got another guide runner lined up, and I’m itching to log some miles. We grab coffee from a gas station on the way, and when the man behind the counter hears that I’m running, he stops and says, “You’re running? But you’re blind!” I laugh and tell him that both statements are absolutely true. He wishes me good luck, and I smile and I drink my coffee and head back to the truck.

 

We meet Margot, my guide runner, in the parking lot. The pace is quicker, but the road is quite bumpy, so I’m not risking injury. Margot gives great directions perfect lead time, and thinks Jenny is awesome! The conversation continues both during and after the run, and it’s fluid and easy. Margot wants to keep in touch and hear more about this trip I’m on. I smile and tell her to add me on Facebook. She does.

 

We head back to the same Denny’s for similar post-run food to yesterday. The staff is more relaxed than yesterday, the food is solid, and the atmosphere is relaxed. We decide, since we’re so close, to pattern Jenny and I through the train station I’ll need tomorrow. I’m glad we made this decision, as the building is big and cavernous with a couple of parallel hallways. Jenny finds what we need – and things that we don’t – and we hit the road again.

 

Mom has brought with her a 6 kg (thirteen pound) bag of dog food. I thought I could fit an unopened bag in my backpack, but realized last week after packing my clothes that this is not likely to happen. We start putting food into plastic bags and start loading up the backpack. We start with twelve days of food. There’s more room, so we add another five. we THINK we might be able fit the next five days in… and we do. I shove clothes and packing cubes in where I can, but I need to do laundry, so the actual packing configuration will look different. But I am fairly confident that I can carry the food and my clothes and not have to worry about things being shipped to me on the road… fairly confident. Mom hugs me goodbye and heads back to Canada, and I rest, relax, and do some laundry. Once my clothes are clean and dry, I start what I affectionately dub “Operation Packing Cube”. I have more clothes than I started with, so I make a couple snap decisions. i’ll clip my pajamas and change of clothes to the laundry back on the outside of my backpack so I’ll have easy access while on the train. My running clothes can go in the main backpack, and my street clothes can go in the back compartment with a couple bags of food on top of them. Two more bags of food will sit inside my purse, in addition to her needed food for on the train. I zip up the backpack… and everything fits. I’m blown away!

 

My friend Robin invited me out for seafood tonight, and I’m so excited I could burst. I LOVE seafood, and the vibes of seafood restaurants. I’m able to get a ride from the caretaker of our AirBNB, since he’s headed that way. Robin and I get seated almost immediately on the patio, and the staff offer Jenny some water while they pour our glasses. Our food comes rapidly and is extremely good. Robin and I talk and laugh and go on rabbit trails for nearly an hour before we’re asked if we want dessert. We both do. Once our dessert plates are cleared, we continue the conversation until one of us notices the time and thinks we need to get back to our respective places. I’m disappointed to leave the relaxed and cheerful vibe of Duke’s Seafood Bar, but I am tired and should probably get back. Jenny leads the way through the crowded restaurant, through the tables, and up toward where we got dropped off. Robin thinks we might need to go another way, so we turn around and Jenny flawlessly and carefully makes sure we know where everything is. Robin gets to meet Jenny before her ride arrives, and we hug goodbye and thank each other for a super fun evening.

 

Robin’s Lyft arrives before my Uber, and my driver tries to call me several times but can’t hear me (I can’t hear him either). He drops me off what what we both think is the right house, but he can’t see the numbers of the houses. As I walk down the driveway, I’m asked abruptly “Where are you going?” Thinking this is the upstairs rentor, I say nothing until he asks again. When I tell him I’m looking for downstairs, he says I’m at the wrong house. The Uber driver waits as this man (the next door neighbor, as it turns out) walks me next door, introduces himself as my neighbor, and calls me “baby” as I open the gate. I’m by turns grateful for his kindness and a little creeped out about being called “Baby.” But I’m back, and I’m safe, and I fall asleep quickly.

 

I wake up on my own, and I’m suddenly super grateful that I have to pack almost nothing. I can enjoy the morning with a coffee and a keyboard to update my blog, and can make my way to the train station when I’m ready. My host is up at 6:00 making coffee, and we chat as it brews. I finish packing the last of my things, and my backpack seriously can’t hold another thing… and then I shove my windbreaker into it. It’s so heavy that I wonder if I can carry it around Montana, but then I remember the time I spent an entire day hauling a backpack and a beading kit through Victoria. If I can handle THAT, with the uneven weight distribution, I can handle this monstrosity.

 

This backpack is big!

 

I check out of my AirBNB,, call an Uber and arrive at the Amtrak station with time to spare. My heavy backpack is checked behind the counter, and I sit and enjoy a coffee and a wrap from a food truck outside the station. After exploring the station and chatting with my dad and stepmom, I get ready to head to the closest drugstore, where the food truck operator said I could find a new bluetooth keyboard (the one I am currently writing on sometimes doubles up letters, and some of the keys don’t work right). I’m given really bad directions to the T-mobile store,,, who doesn’t have a bluetooth keyboard either, and get advised to head to Target. I walk for over 30 minutes (dodging crazy drivers and navigating weird intersections with medians in the middle)… only to find that Target, too, doesn’t have any bluetooth keyboards! The definition of pointless errand!

 

I make it back to the station,, where I retrieve my backpack and chat with a couple of other travelers on my train. Before I know it, the train arrives, we climb on board, the whistle blowss, and the train drives off into the Seattle afternoon.

 

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The Intrepid Journey 2018: Today is the Day

Today is the day it all begins.

After nearly a year of dreaming, planning, panicking, revising, panicking, revising, panicking again, revising last-minute, packing, unpacking, panicking, repacking, double-checking my packing…

The Intrepid Journey 2018 starts today!

In just a few hours, Jenny and I will be leaving on a jet plane, headed south of the border. We’ll meet new people, try new things, and do things we never thought possible.

Over the past month, transportation has mostly sorted itself out, and I had to locate new accommodations in both Bozeman and Billings, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. My training for my half-marathon has been completely blown out of the water, so I’m going to have to improvise on race day.

Sounds like a lot of this trip, actually.

Fasten your seat belts, folks… it’s going to be a wild ride!

 

 

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