Not all who wander are lost

My retirement bucket list is extensive. Trails to hike. Mountains to climb. New friends to meet. My husband and I are busy working our plan to create the best retirement possible.

But it all changed this spring when I read one line from a Mary Oliver poem.

“Listen — are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

Just one sentence re-ordered my life.

So here’s the new plan. I’m going to spend a few months hiking those trails and climbing those mountains while I still can. Best of all, I’m going to be making new friends on the Montana Hi-line and collecting their oral histories.

No job. No family responsibilities. No financial retirement plan. And probably not very many showers.

You can come along for the adventure too! Follow this blog and my Instagram account @the.open.gate.

We’re going to live this summer like someone left the gate open!

sigjb

P.S. Just in case you’re wondering, here are the answers to the three questions that my friends are asking.

  1.  No — I’m not getting divorced.
  2.  No — I’m not sick.
  3.  No — I didn’t get fired.

Go Griz!

I was raised on big time college football. In our family, Saturday afternoons wetr spent watching our beloved Ohio State Buckeyes on television.

Nothing was more exciting than hearing ABC college football commentator Keith Jackson say, “It’s a wonderful day for college football in Columbus Ohio!”

I love the pomp and pageantry of college football. So each fall, I visit one college football stadium to enjoy the traditions of college football. In recent years, I have attended games in South Bend, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Miami Florida.

And this year, my game of choice was in Missoula Montana!

I know. I know. How did a person who chooses games in the Big Ten and ACC end up watching a Big Sky conference game?

Sure, maybe the caliber of the football isn’t the same as the power conferences. And none of these guys will be playing on Sundays.

But I can assure you that the level of excitement and the pomp and pageantry is on par with any stadium in America.

And at Washington Grizzly stadium, the tailgates are so close to the front gates that you can sneak out at halftime for a little added refreshment. And more than half of the fans do. Take that Ohio State University!

Go Griz!

sigjb

 

Primal Thoughts

atlas

I find myself thinking about different things in Montana than I do at home in Ohio.

My thoughts here are very primal. So basic that they align with the classical elements that the ancient Greeks used to define their world: earth, water, air, fire and aether.

Earth—getting lost: When you arrive in Montana, swing by the first gas station you pass and fork out $25 for the Montana Road Atlas. Since cell service is hit or miss out here, you can’t count on Google Maps to get you to your destination. The Montana Road Atlas will even help you navigate gravel and dirt roads that will help you find the best Montana off-the-beaten-path locations.

Water—being thirsty: At home in Ohio, I never worry about having access to enough water. In Montana, I never leave the house without a full water bottle. With the humidity hovering around 10 percent and high temperatures in the 90s, staying hydrated is a must. And there are no guarantees that one will be able to find a place to buy a bottle of a water or refill an empty bottle.

Air—flat tires: This summer I have thought about tire pressure a lot. My tire air pressure gauge has seen more use this summer than in the last ten years.  It started when my low air pressure light went on near Many Glacier Lodge in Glacier National Park.  In Ohio, I could zip to a gas station or, as a worst case scenario, call AAA. At Many Glacier, we were 50 miles from the nearest tire air pump and there was no cell service.

Fire—smoky air: Fire is on everyone’s mind in Montana. It’s a severe drought season. The worst ten forest fires in the U.S right now are located in western Montana. In Great Falls, the skies are smoky which makes for great sunsets and terrible air quality. My prayers include the firefighters and those who are losing homes and ranches to fires.

Aether—big skies: I will never cease to be astounded by the beauty of the big skies in Montana. And if the skies alone aren’t amazing enough, they are often filled with eagles, hawks and even a solar eclipse this summer. I never take a sunset or sunrise for granted here.

bigskies

Soon, I will be back in Ohio and buried in a busy life full of deadlines, responsibilities and goals. And I will long for a time when my existence was simply defined by the classical elements of ancient Greece.

sigjb

Blackleaf Canyon

In an effort to escape the forest fire smoke in Great Falls last weekend, we headed for the Rocky Mountain Front. We decided to explore the Blackleaf Canyon near Bynum, Montana.

And we discovered an amazing hike that follows a creek through steep canyons!

Best of all, we had the canyon all to ourselves! We couldn’t quit thinking about how crowded a trail with equal access to Montana beauty would be in Glacier National Park.

Our adventure was a win on all fronts!

  • No smoke
  • No other hikers
  • Easy trail
  • Majestic views

Directions: From Great Falls, take Hwy 200/89 through Choteau to Bynum. Once you pass a life-sized dinosaur, take a left on Blackleaf Canyon Road. Follow well-marked gravel roads for approximately 20 miles. There is ample parking and a restroom at the trail head.

sigjb

P.S. Don’t forget to stop at the Log Cabin Family Restaurant in Choteau on the way home. And save room for a piece of pie!

Montana’s Best Kept Secret — Lost Lake

After a beautiful Sunday morning spent exploring Fort Benton, Montana, we decided that we were up for a real Montana off the beaten path adventure. Something simple. Hmmm, what could we do?

What if we visit the geological epicenter of the end of the last Ice Age? Yep, you can really do that in central Montana!

Everyone in Montana has a Gazetteer (detailed local atlas) under her car seat, so we pulled it out and found Lost Lake on the map. We headed down 20 miles of stone roads through a pastoral landscape. Along the way, we saw antelope, trophy whitetail deer, golden eagles, and wheat fields as far as we could see.

Since this is such an important geological site, I expected that we might at least find a sign explaining the history that had happened here. In most places, this would be likely be a state park, or maybe even a national monument. But no, we found a tiny sign from the rancher who owns the land, sharing his land with us and telling us to be careful. This is what makes Montana so special.

I’m no geologist, but I will never forget what I saw at Lost Lake. This is the site of a dry falls that was the catastrophic overflow of a massive glacial lake that happened at the end of the last Ice Age (~80,000-200,000 years ago).

“As Ice Age succeeded Ice Age, the ancient Missouri River — which flowed north to Hudson Bay before the continental glaciers pushed its channel ever farther south — was dammed at different points, forming lakes of various sizes and shapes.*”

Imagine drying up Niagara Falls and seeing what sort of massive destruction it has created to the bedrock below. That’s Lost Lake!

“To imagine that volume of water, consider this: given the depth of Lost Lake, the falls probably dropped 300 to 350 feet when the Shonkin Sag was brimful and water poured over the top.  At 300 feet deep and half a mile across, the Dry Falls would have been just about double size of the largest cataract at today’s Niagara Falls.*”

The ancient igneous rock that also forms the nearby Highwood Mountains and its interaction with a cataclysmic event at the end of the Ice Age forms an otherworldly landscape, one that you have to see to believe.

And all of this sits quietly in a rancher’s field in the middle of central Montana.

sigjb

P.S. On our way home, we found Elmo’s Highwood Bar in Highwood, Montana. Great food. Great people. An authentic Montana experience. Don’t miss it!

*All quotes from Montana’s own Niagara Falls, Last Best News, February 15, 2014

Directions: We think the easiest access is from Great Falls. Take 87/200/3 east. North (left) on Montana 228 past Highwood. Right on Shonkin Road W (gravel). Right on Shonkin Road (gravel). Left on Lost Lake Road (gravel). You will pass a large alkali lake on your left and soon after you will see a small pull-off on the right for Lost Lake. It has a small white handmade sign: “Private property. Walk from here. Enter at your own risk.”

 

 

Fear is temporary

angus

Fear is temporary. Regret lasts forever.

If I were to explain this summer in a strategic plan, it would look like this:

Objective: to take risks that I would not regularly take

Impact: to overcome irrational fears

Output: take solo hikes that I previously wouldn’t have done alone.

This morning I set out for the Lewis and Clark National Forest to tackle three fears.

Fear #1: Driving on dirt roads without cellphone service.

Fear #2: Fear of heights.

Fear #3: Getting lost in the woods.

I faced down three fears today.

I drove over 20 miles on dirt roads into the Highwood Mountains.

I made it to the top of the mountain.

I completed the whole trail without a hitch.

It sounds like my day was a success, right? Well, not actually.

I added a new fear to my list. There were free range cows on the trail. The Black Angus mommas and their babies weren’t too amenable to sharing the trail with me. And those mommas are BIG!

Even though I completed the hike, I left my dignity on the trail. I tried clapping my walking sticks together. I tried acting assertive. I even tried having an in-depth conversation with the cows. Finally, the lead momma conceded a couple feet and allowed me to pass.

As I walked by, she gave me the stink eye. And when I finally felt like I had made it, she bellowed out a loud moo—probably just to see how high I would jump.

Once I was sure I was safely around the herd, I told the lead momma cow that I was going to eat a revenge steak for dinner.

(Lucky for her, I don’t like red meat.)

sigjb

Best Four-Mile Lewis & Clark Hike—EVER!

I am always interested in seeing the places that Lewis and Clark mentioned in their journals, but usually they are many miles apart. Can you imagine my surprise when I learned that I could take a four-mile hike near Great Falls, Montana and see two important landmarks from the Lewis and Clark adventures?

This morning, I laced up my hiking boots and set out to explore the Sulphur Spring hiking trail just north of Great Falls. There I found:

  • The encampment where the Corps of Discovery first reached the rapids at the beginning of the Great Falls of the Missouri. Until this point, Lewis and Clark had hoped they might be able to complete the journey to the Pacific and back by year’s end. Once they realized there were five falls and an 18-mile portage ahead of them, they knew they wouldn’t be finishing the journey in 1805.
  • The Healing Sulphur Springs that Captain Lewis used to treat Sacagawea who was very ill. Her survival was critical to the success of the entire journey. She had been kidnapped as a child from the present-day Three Forks, Montana area and was able to speak the languages of nearby tribes. Sacagawea would be needed to trade for horses to get the party over the Rocky Mountains.

When I finished my hike, I found an elderly gentleman who couldn’t believe his good luck in finding so much Lewis and Clark history in one place. We agreed that this is a must-see for Lewis and Clark aficionados.

Trail conditions: The easy trail is clearly marked and lightly traveled. Since the trail follows the Missouri River, there is little altitude change. The view of the pristine river is beautiful. If you don’t want to hike, there is a beautiful vista near the parking lot.

How to get there: Drive north on Montana 87 from Great Falls. Turn right at Morony Dam Road (paved). Proceed 12 miles to the trailhead that is located near the Missouri River. There is a pit toilet and an informative wayfinding sign there.

What to bring

  • Long pants. There are many prickly pears along the trail. I wore shorts and have the scratches to prove it.
  • Bottle of water. There is no shade along the trail.
  • Bug spray. I was there during a gnat hatch in early August.
  • I didn’t see any snakes, but it does look snaky. If you see a rattlesnake, give it wide clearance.

sigjb

Ringing Rocks of Montana

This is Montana off-the-beaten path at its finest. While the crowds are in Glacier National Park and Battle of Little Bighorn and Yellowstone, you can have a solo Montana experience that you will never forget. You have to hear the ringing rocks to believe it!

At first glance, the ringing rocks look like a pile of brown boulders nearly 100 feet tall. They are actually a unique geological structure full of sonorous rocks that produce a bell-like quality when tapped with a hammer.

Scientists don’t understand why the ringing rocks make these sounds. Their best guess is a combination of the composition of the rock and the stacking patterns that have developed as the rocks have eroded away.

What is the biggest mystery about the ringing rocks? A boulder will no longer ring if it is removed from the pile!

What to bring

A metal hammer or crescent wrench, hiking boots, sunscreen, water, and bear spray (just in case)

Directions

I-90 Exit 241 (Pipestone)

Please note that there are no services at this exit.

After exiting, you will have the choice of three dirt roads north of I-90. The hard part is choosing the right one.

You want this road that parallels the highway and heads east. It looks like this.

right road.JPG

Do not choose this road that parallels the highway to the west. We made that mistake for about 10 miles. Oops!

wrong road.JPG

Continue on the unimproved dirt road for five miles. A vehicle with high clearance is preferable, but we made it in my Subaru Outback on a dry day.

When you come to a rail fence with a wooden sign and a spot for parking, stop here. You will notice that road curves to the left and becomes very rough ahead.

Now it’s time to grab your hammer and water bottle and start walking up the road. The good news is the boulder field is only 100 yards ahead!

sigjb