“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!” ~ Dr Seuss
There is something about being around, near or on a mountain that stirs up a profound feeling inside me. They are so big, magnificent, stunning and peaceful. Growing up in the Midwest we didn’t always have the opportunity to see mountains regularly, so when we had the chance to, it was the best. My mom and dad gave us the opportunities to frequent Colorado and Montana for skiing trips. I’ve never been much of a skier, but the feeling of being so free gliding down a mountain, the breathtaking scenery and the winter wonderland on overdrive is incredible. Now being cold, lugging around a ton of gear and being left in the dust by your brothers, those are not my ideal experiences. But I guess you win some and lose some! I have to admit, I’m more in it for the post ski hot tub dips and après ski than the actual experience, but I’m almost always up for it -- being in the mountains is pure bliss. Even when I don’t have the gear…
Many Montana trips stick out to me, but one year in particular my sweet, life of the party grandmother, Bunny, (water aerobics instructor, old fashions, string dancing…If you know her you know exactly what I’m talking about!) rented a vacation home for a week in Montana for her children (she has 8!) and her grandchildren (now has 24!). Not everyone was able to make it, but we had quite the big crew out there. I must mention that my cousins also double as my best friends, so we were all beyond excited to be spending a week together in a mountain house. I of course, roomed with my Grandma. That’s because I’m the favorite, haha. In reality, she can deal with the endless amounts of crap I pack and I can deal with the snoring (sorry Buns)! The house had a few floors, an indoor pool, a hot tub, and was stocked with all the goods. We were in Heaven. Or as my cousin Christopher said when we arrived, "We get to be rich for a week!" The floor to ceiling windows throughout showcased the picturesque mountain scenery covered in fresh shiny white snow. We were all itching to get out on the slopes. As everyone got their gear ready, I returned to my room to look at my things. Matching belts, purses, shoes, heels, tanks (cause why not)—check, check, check. Hmm… but no snow pants, jacket, gloves, hat….those tiny little (essential) items had somehow fallen off my radar. I quickly ran into my parents’ room—cause moms always have backups right?? Wrong. My mom brought my younger brother gear, but I was not so fortunate. As I was starting to wallow in my sorrows over the idea of missing out on a day with the crew, dear Bunny began calling my name. “Oh Bridget, you can always wear my gear!!” I couldn’t, I would be so embarrassed wearing my Grandma’s gear. But as I watched all my cousins trickle into the car, one by one, to leave for the chair lift, I caved. I came out of the house wearing a big, bright purple, one piece—just a few sizes too big--think more or less a life size Barney. My cousins could not handle it. They got a good laugh seeing me fly down the mountain, or tumble down, like a big purple blob. We had some solid memories together the next few days, but I don’t think I will ever live down my purple statement piece!
Other Montana trip highlights in Big Sky, White Fish, and Kalispell include hiking with my brothers, exploring new towns with my cousins, staying up way too late telling stories and occasionally sneaking some brews, playing board game after board game, laughing/teasing endlessly, making bonfires and over-indulging in rest, relaxation, food and movies at all hours. On one trip, all the ladies went to a local “organic” type spa. We all had massages that some enjoyed and others not so much (sorry Grace!). The highlight of the spa was the “fassages”, aka make your own facials, aka make your own mush and throw it about your face. We weren’t quite sure what this entailed when we all signed up for it, but boy were we in for a treat! The woman who owned the “spa” brought us out several items you would find in a kitchen for baking a cake. She told us to add what we wanted to a bucket in front of us, mix it together and then liberally apply it to our faces. Afterward, we would let it sit on our skin while we kept our head under a towel and over hot water. The steam would help it soak in, she explained. She left the room to let us get to work. What she didn't know was that she was dealing with a bunch of people who could not take this whole process very seriously. We threw in sugar, flour, eggs, butter, I don't even know what else, but we mushed it, mixed it, and made non-stop fun of each other at the delightful creations that were baking on our faces. As our heads were under our towels during the steaming process, I don't think there was a dry eye in our fits of laughter. 1). We couldn’t get over how goofy we all looked 2). How any of these things could be benefiting our faces! We left the spa certainly feeling lighter on our toes, but I think we could have created this same experience at home with the same amount of fun, and a little bit more “cashola” in our pockets!
Not only has Montana been a place for us to visit, but some of my family members have lived or currently live there now. My brother and 3 cousins all attended the University of Montana- Missoula and my Uncle Marty has lived in Montana for most of his life. Montana certainly has had, and always will have, a special place in my heart. Not only for the beauty and peace the state encompasses, but for how meaningful it was and still is to people I love dearly. When I was little I wanted to be just like cousin Caitlin. Whether it was the latest dance move, coolest new overalls, the chicest new hair cut (bowl cuts not included), newest hit soundtrack (Ace of Base on repeat), I had to copy it because Caitlin knew what was “cool.” As I got older my idolization became more of a deep, important friendship, which I am so thankful for. But for some reason as we got older, we never could end up living in the same place! I moved to Madison, she moved to Chicago, I moved to Chicago, she moved to Montana, I moved to California, she moved to Chicago. Ha! But no matter where time and distance takes us, it is always as if nothing changes when we are together. She currently lives in Missoula, Montana and it’s probably safe to say (sorry Bunny!) she will always be there. The mountains have her heart. As I’ve gotten older and visited Montana, I appreciate it more and more. The pace of life is a lot slower, people are more present and one with nature, some have less than most, but it seems like everyone is making the most of what they have.
In the fall of 2012, I went to visit Caitlin. I was just having a hard season of life being away from family and the ones I love, while living in California. I needed a dose of family and those magical mountains. Cait picked me up from the airport and we headed to her “hippie hut,” literally the size of a hut. Haha. But it was perfect for Cait. She lived there with her sweet boyfriend Mike and her pup, Rosie. It was just the right starter place for them --close enough but far enough away from all the “action” in Missoula. We spent the next few days soaking up everything we possibly could that Missoula had to offer. We went to the grand opening of a Ski and Snowboarding movie, which also had a live bluegrass band and fully stocked bar all night long—a nice little added treat! The movies were out of this world, and also made me wish I had tried slightly harder at being a professional skier as a child, instead of Irish Dancing. Really think I missed my calling there! Anyhow, in the days to follow we explored new gems in the quaint, colorful town, shopped at some local boutiques, ate delicious food, sampled at the fresh Farmers Market, and of course, hit up a few local spots for drinks. First we visited the winery situated in a large spacious plot of land, surrounded on all sizes by peaks and valleys. We sat and inhaled that fresh mountain air, while tasting samples and bread – what could be better? Wine + Altitude = Makes for an even better time! In the few days there, we also toured a local brewery literally just a few stops from her place, which worked out nicely for us! My Uncle Marty also came down for a day and night. I do not get to see him nearly enough and it was so heartwarming to spend time with him, talk life, relationships, family, work, everything – I will always cherish that time we got to share. He joined us at the brewery and to really make sure we finished off the drinks tour properly (I swear I’m not a booze hound!), we made our way to the vodka distillery. The Moscow Mules – too delicious. Way too delicious. We finished off the night listening to a local band play with Caitlin’s old friends, my new friends, and we danced our hearts out.
On our last day all together, Marty and Mike took us out to the Hot Springs in Idaho. The drive there in and of itself would’ve been sufficient to cap off the much-needed getaway. The trees were like skyscrapers of all different colors. Within every break of the trees we could see huge lakes and surging rivers amidst the picture perfect mountains. Most of the ride and day we had no cell service and I couldn’t have been more happy about it. We all focused more on each other, talking, engaging, dreaming, thinking, listening to music, and consuming all that was around us. We arrived at the entrance of the hot springs and still had a ways to hike. We got our gear on, grabbed some snacks and refreshments, then made our way to the springs. It was a pretty chilly day, so we quickly took off the layers on top of our suits and jumped into the springs. They were SO refreshing and soothing. We were all slightly tired from the long car ride, hike (and night before), so jumping in was completely energizing. We spent the remainder of the day making friends, floating around, enjoying one others company, relaxing and letting our worries just melt away.
There is nothing like being in nature, being disconnected and being around people you love. It is the cure for the heart and soul. Being out in Montana was exactly what I needed. No matter how many times I see them, seeing those Mountains stop me in my tracks, make me feel so small, and make me appreciate this world and the people in it so much more. Montana will always be a significant place to me. From family vacations, to college visits, to cousins trips – I’m so grateful that I have been able to create memories there. I left Montana that weekend feeling rested, energized, and so thankful for family and that much needed mountain time.