Saturday, August 6, 2016

How to Singlemoon: A Breath-taking Journey Part 1

I'm not a travel writer. I'd like to be, travel writing sounds like the world's most perfect job: seeing new places around the world, eating delicious food, and I assume doing all of my writing from cute little cafes with tall, sweating glasses of beer, a beaded curtain blowing in the slight breeze, and a view over-looking hills that look like white elephants, wait this seems familiar. Maybe that illustrates what I'm trying to say. I'm not a travel writer because every time I try to write about travelling I get cliche and gushy, I am so overwhelmed with the experience of travelling it's hard for me to make sense of it. This is why I've been avoiding writing about my singlemoon. It was too perfect. There were whales and dogsleds and bears and also things other than animals, but those were the highlights, obviously. Every time I sit down to try and write about it it's all flowery verbs, a sudden uncharacteristic need to use the word "breath-taking", and a stream of epiphanies that read like a self-help book about finding my inner woman. But I did write about my plans to take a singlemoon in this blog already, so I feel like it's my duty to follow through and let you know I did it and that now I have found inner peace and released the woman within and also saw a lot of whales.


My first piece of advice if you are going to take a singlemoon is to take along with you somebody who is willing to hide wine juice boxes in their bag and sneak it onto the Amtrak. My friend Katie came with me to Montana on the train and she did just that. She's a chemist so her reasoning was, "If we order one glass of wine on the train and then just pour our own wine into that glass after we drink it, there is no way for them to prove it is not the same wine they served us unless that train has a mass spectrometer aboard, which I highly doubt it does, but I will check." It didn't, so that's exactly what we did. We got on a train in Ann Arbor at 6am Saturday and by 6pm Sunday we stepped off the train in East Glacier, Montana, our bellies full of boxed wine and both overwhelmed by the breath-taking scenery.

You guys, Glacier National Park is great. It's like, amazing. I'm a really good travel writer. We spent three days hiking through mountains that looked like a set of what someone thinks Montana looks like. You can hardly even tell from our pictures that every time we went on a hike there were like 400 other people packed around us doing the same hike, probably in flip flops. It was 4th of July weekend and while I totally think its great that people are interested in seeing the National Parks, it did often take away from the majestic beauty of the wild mountains of Montana to look over and see a family of tourists attempting to take a selfie with a mountain goat, even if the mountain goat was kind of into it.

We did hike one trail that was empty, right outside the first visitor center we got to while we waited for a boat tour to start. This was about ten minutes after we drove into the park and we immediately ran into a black bear. I was eating trail mix, it was sitting five feet away from me in some bushes, and I didn't know if like, bears liked trail mix but I didn't want to stop eating my trail mix, so I just kept eating it and slowly tip-toed past the bear while Katie and I made silent terrified faces at each other and then inevitably decided walking past the bear was a dumb idea because we were already late for our boat tour and now we would have to walk past it again to get back, except this time it was just sitting in the middle of the trail eating berries and although I know black bears are the less aggressive bears I wasn't about to tap it on the shoulder and be like "hey do you mind moving over so I can take a boat tour? I have trail mix if you'd like some." In the end, we waited, it moved off the trail, we went on the boat tour and finished the trail mix. When I think about it, though, seeing a bear that close up was breath-taking. But it spooked us a little. Not enough to buy bear spray, though, despite park recommendations. That stuff is 50 dollars. 50 dollars! I'm not made of money.

We took one other hike that was a little bit harder and out of the way, which brought us up to a chalet on top of a mountain where four people live all summer to man a general store and can't come down, but don't worry people hike up to bring them whiskey, I asked. The view was breath-taking. There weren't as many people on that hike, although we did run into a fairly fresh pile of grizzly bear poo pretty much five minutes in. The 50 dollars we could have spent on bear spray was starting to seem less of a financial inconvenience. We ran into a hiker a few minutes later we told us we'd just walked past a grizzly bear cub. "Should we be worried about that?" we asked. She laughed. "No, you're fine, as long as you have bear spray." But it was 50 dollars! 50 dollars!

The last day in Montana while we waited for the train to take us to Washington I wandered over to the East Glacier Park Lodge, the nice hotel a block form the hostel where we were staying. It was this giant log-cabin style hotel, built in 1913 right off the railroad to attract tourists to Glacier. It was breath-taking, the main lobby opens up three stories, held up by huge lodge-pole pine trunks up to the ceiling. I wandered around, pretending I belonged while a teenager played Let it Go on the communal piano and the guests gasped. There was a display there about the history of the hotel and one section was devoted entirely to a girl who had worked there in her twenties in the early days of the hotel. There were entries from her diary about riding horses, rock climbing, hiking through the park and canoeing through the lakes, all before there were any roads or even really many trails in the park. At some point her and her best friend hitchhiked all the way back from Glacier to Ohio where she was from, by themselves. She wrote in her diary about the boys she danced with at night and the walks they took, where she swore nothing out of the ordinary happened. There was a picture of her feeding a black bear from her hands. This girl, her whole life was a singlemoon, it seemed. It made me feel like my little jaunt on an Amtrak train with secret boxed wine and spending a few days hiking around some well-worn trails was not enough, that sinking feeling that even if I traveled the whole world, maybe nothing would ever feel like enough. But it was beautiful there. Some might say breath-taking.

In the end, I think I learned all the inner-peace, self-discovery things you're supposed to learn when you go into the wilderness like that I am small and the earth is big, everywhere I have been, there were people before me, and I successfully never bought bear spray. I have not yet been eaten by a bear at the time of publishing. Montana was breath-taking.

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