Thursday, July 29, 2010

And then I forgot the name of the mountain

Expectations are an interesting thing. A collaboration of past experiences and future hopes, expectations cast such a strong light on the present that no single experience can really stand on its own. But when experience surpasses expectations, those "ah-ha" moments of discovery stand as singular mileposts on life's winding roads. Take moving to western Montana, for instance. A nice place, I expected, but certainly lacking in the varied terrain of Utah or the vast sweeping wilderness of Alaska. Then I came to Montana, and I saw great gray monoliths towering over the prairie, I watched bears amble through the spruce forest and I stood on the edge of rocky ridges overlooking vast tracts of rippled mountains. And I thought, "ah ha."

That simple realization that Montana is in fact an expansive, wild and beautiful place has been continuously jolted by six weeks' worth of small discoveries. And still, my expectations remain low. Take the Bitterroot Range. Straddling the Idaho-Montana border, the Bitterroots are a largely undeveloped range, cut off by a wide tract of wilderness protection. From Missoula's low perch on the northeastern edge of the range, I pictured soft, rolling hills with lots of spruce forest. I thought someday I would plan a long bikepacking trip on the Bitterroot periphery, but for now, there was too much else to explore.

Then, Dave suggested for our weekly Wednesday night endeavor that we go for a hike instead of a bike ride. He's in heavy taper mode for the Butte 100 this weekend; I'm in light taper mode for TransRockies the following week, and I think we're both starting to wonder, "what next?" As I seem to do every late summer, I'm already glancing deeper into the mountains for quieter adventures and more distant opportunities. Wednesday evening seemed like a good day to walk into the Bitterroot.

Thunderstorms and humid heat followed us out of town and into the Bitterroot Valley. We thought lightning would chase us out of the high country but we went there anyway, climbing into the white pine forest and the cool air and the barren ridge. Clear sky opened up around us and Dave pointed out places that seemed impossibly far away — the Pintlers, the Swan, and the beautifully sculpted, unexpectedly rugged mountains of the Bitterroot. We spent at least an hour on the windless summit, 9,300 feet in the sky, watching warm light flicker across a wild expanse.

These peaks are called the Heavenly Twins.

It's these quiet moments when expectation shifts toward possibility, and an entirely new experience opens up. It's an experience anchored in neither the past nor the future, only the extreme present, when "ah-ha" is nothing more than a deep, satisfied, "ah."


  1. You hiked to St. Mary's Lookout!! I haven't done that hike in forever. I hope that it was amazing

  2. Wow. That last line is so brilliantly penned. Hats off to you on your new life's adventure.

    I hope for a moment when I can look around and graduate from an 'aha' to a deep, satisfied 'ah'.

    Cheers :)

  3. Hey Jill!
    Another impossibly wild part of Montana is up by the Yaak Valley. It is just your type of place.
    Next time you get up to Glacier, visit the Park Cafe in St. Mary's (the eastern entrance to Going to The Sun Road) for homemade pie and milkshakes and great food!!!
    Glad to read about you doing so well in favorite place besides Alaska.
    Deb in Juneau

  4. I loved your post, and the pictures are beautiful!

  5. Jill, you really must stop posting photos like these. They are physically painful to look at here in the flat lands... ;)

  6. sometimes while reading your blog, i have to stop to tell you how much what you write resonates with me.

    love it!

  7. I have to echo William. Love your refreshing and uplifting outlook on life's adventures.

  8. Holy cow do you manage to get any work done? My wife saw your pics and now she wants to move to Montana when we retire.

  9. Your Montana blogs entries are so much more enjoyable than the Alaskan entries. If your writing is any indication, you are a great deal happier in Montana. You might "like Alaska more," but you seem happier now than when you lived in AK...

  10. I'm so glad you're finding cool and beautiful places to adventure.


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