I have found myself on the open road. Traveling westward in Stella, during what has been coined the “Friend Immersion Tour” of 2013. I have been friend hopping my way across the US, with the destination of northwest MT on my mind. Eureka, MT to be exact and my nearby old hometown of Whitefish. And like all the old friends I was visiting, I was excited to submerge in the familiar and to see what parts of me connect along the way.
Heading out this way, at this time, was not my initial intention. My initial intention was to jump back into life here without testing the waters. By doing so, I would have moved back out in January, after the Holiday craziness that accompanies any beautiful, touristy mountain town. But … one thing leads to another, plans change as time frames vary, and I knew no matter what the new year brought I wanted to spend some time with a dear pal in this worn in place of mine. So I as started to consider different options as the life-here stories came flooding back with the aid of old contacts. Their conversations forced me to consider what jumping in blindly might be like. I was surprised, to put it mildly, and so my plans evolved. The decision was made somewhere in Wisconsin to go ahead and make the venture westward. The choice was swayed by a line somewhere between wanting to be inspired by my bad-ass friends scattered across this state and testing these waters for what would be in store upon my return.
I was in no rush. I try not to, consciously, as I have a tendency to move fast and this time I had no detailed agenda. I spent various amounts of time with folks, relishing in the stimulating conversations their different perspectives offered. Whether is was hours or weeks with this handful of topnotch peers the duration proved irrelevant. I was re-becoming, open and trusting, shedding layers of watering down parts of my personality back in the Midwest.
I decided last minute to drive rather than hop a train to get back out to Whitefish. I was feeling a bit nostalgic, as I usually do for all things past, and had visions of replaying my initial move on the Empire Builder some 7 years ago. However, I may have a slight addiction to the freedom my four-wheeled home allows. The images of hot springs and trail runs were too enticing to pass up.
So I packed up the car, gallons of water, buckwheat hull mattress and my winter sleeping bag. Clothes organized in a way to ease getting dressed whilst in the back of a Forrester. Music was loaded onto various devices, speaker’s charged and food meant to satisfy. The one thing I do not have would be a handy GPS, or any one of those fancy phones that allows you to not think about how to get from point A to point B. I do not, in fact, have any sort of relationship with Siri and her all encompassing wisdom about the best pizza places, coffee joints, etc … that any of the towns I was passing through may have contained. What I did have was an Atlas. A well-used, ends-frayed, old-fashioned atlas … that honestly is probably not up to date. So I set out, which makes me giddy, always, and I end up dancing to newly acquired music blindly, with no regard to how ridiculous I may seem to the logging trucks and locals that I pass by.
I never even thought much about my use of the atlas. I am generally on unknown roads, in unknown places and her existence and guidance has always been welcomed. But after a couple of weeks on the road I was heading out of Missoula, on a wet and snowy day, merging onto 93N, I no longer needed to look at the map. I knew how to get to every place of interest all the way to the door step of two amazing organic farmer’s in Eureka, MT. I knew the curve of the road as it hugged Flathead Lake, the turn – off’s to hotsprings or Somers where the only sailboat I have helped crew was docked. I had a smile on my face as I realized that it really did feel like I was coming home. More so than any other place. I was unsure of my response, but as Big Mountain loomed higher, the memories poured through my bones, seeping through the skin, I realized I felt hyper-alert. It was new, after-all it had been 4 years, I was a slightly different, slightly older me, with a different life and different motivations, but I was back. As I navigated the roads, I drove by the familiar businesses and eased into a parking space on the main drag. My heart was pounding with excitement and anxiety.
Walking down the familiar street, my past came back to me. Past relationships, past mistakes, past ambitions and dreams, after that much time I couldn’t help but wonder what the next few weeks would bring. So I wandered into my two favorite spots, the ones with the most ties, unsure of what to expect. As I walk in filled with nervous excitement, I realize that I recognized no one. I pick up some food up at Third Street Market, smiling at the guy behind the counter, remembering working there myself. Noticing the new paint on the back door which I had opened to so many local farmers as they dropped off produce. I try not to be totally obvious as I walk around with my wide-eyed amazement. I pay and head out, walking awestruck down the main street to Coffee Traders. Again, unsure if I will know anyone, but excited at the prospect as I open the door to replenish my bean stash for the following week. I honestly feel slightly relieved by the lack of friendly faces and am grateful that I get a chance to ease into this homecoming. I get back into the car as I send a quick message to my soon to be neighbor.
“I’ll be there in 45.”
Slowly pulling out of the parking spot, heading up 93N. I glance down at my atlas shrugged in it’s home between the seats. With all the dust a homecoming can bring, it still feels good to be able to navigate through, and I know eventually it will settle.