Jumpers on the Belton Bridge

Ethan looks a lot more excited before he swings his leg over the railing, before there’s nothing but a breeze between him and the river’s surface 20 feet below. At 10 years old, he’s the youngest of his crew–a gang of brothers and maybe cousins (but certainly no parents) out for an evening swim on the border of Glacier National Park. They’ve been here for hours. Most have already jumped. But the terror is fresh for Ethan.

“I’m nervous!” he shouts as his pack turns to goad him into the jump.

“Know what’ll help that?” his cousin calls. “If you jump.”

Ethan takes a deep breath. The sunset sparkles on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River below him. Sure, the river is deep here, but the Belton Bridge feels high when you’re planning to jump off it. There’s plenty of space under its concrete arch, enough for rafting tours to pass beneath and feel dwarfed by the bridge, slapping their paddles against the water to hear the echo. Put another way, there’s enough space for a group of gift shop employees to set up a barbecue under the decking, hammocks slung between the piers.

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My friends on a hammock under the bridge 🙂 The concrete below the hammock is the arch on which the bridge sits.

Would living be worth it if it involved the shame of turning back? Ethan’s not sure. “Three!” he calls. “Two!” His knees bend. “One–”

The final number of his countdown ends in a groan as he turns his face from the river. His hands clasp the rail, knuckles white.

“It’s easy,” his brother yells from the riverbank.

Their cousin frowns between sips of his Corona. “Teegan, go do it with him,” he orders the nearest heckler. Without waiting for agreement, he shouts, “Teegan’s gonna do it with you!”

Ethan nods eagerly. “Teegan, we can die together!”

“I ain’t dying,” Teegan responds, pushing himself to his feet. In seconds he’s scrambled up the riverbank and onto the bridge. “Just don’t look down.”

“I kind of have to look down,” Ethan replies, casting a suspicious glance at the water sliding calmly below him.

Yes, the river is calm today, like the bridge above it. You could almost join with the middle school boys in taunting Ethan (right up until they invited you to jump with them). While the Belton Bridge used to be the main entrance to the park, it closed in 1938, surrendering that duty to the New Bridge, as locals still call it, a quarter-mile downstream. The New Bridge starts rumbling with traffic an hour before dawn and sometimes hosts a traffic jam of people trying to get into the park. The Belton Bridge suffers no such crowds. It presides over the water like a grandpa in a rocking chair, watching the kids jump and maybe, if needed, springing into action.

The last time it was needed was nearly half a century before Ethan was born. In 1964, the Belton Bridge had been quietly fading for 26 years. Then, the worst flood in Montana history destroyed the New Bridge, cutting off access to the park and leaving tourists and employees stranded inside. Over the course of 36 hours, the area received as much as 14 inches of rain, which combined with snowmelt to flood the Middle Fork with 39 times the amount of incoming water that they would expect in a typical 50-year flood. Inside the park, tourists woke up in the middle of the night to find water lapping at the door of their RVs. A wall of water washed out the fireplace at Lake McDonald Lodge, leaving taxidermic animal heads poised on a chimney over a hole in the wall. Water poured into Lake McDonald from the Middle Fork despite the fact that it usually flows the opposite direction.

The economic impact for Montana was staggering. Nearly 20% of the state was impacted, with the damages totaling an estimated $62 million. On Highway 2, 20 miles of road were wiped out, along with sizeable chunks of the Great Northern Railway’s tracks. The park’s heavy road equipment, which would be critical for the cleanup effort, was parked 16 miles east of (and 3,000 feet above) Lake McDonald at Logan Pass, having just been used to clear the narrow Going to the Sun Road of snow.

And yet—

Within days of the flood, reports started to circulate, insisting that this crisis wasn’t unbeatable. Helicopters took men to the road equipment at Logan Pass. They drove it down to the rest of the park, clearing the famous Going to the Sun Road of mud and debris as they went. Another helicopter took a doctor throughout the park, inoculating people against typhoid as they began cleaning the park. Lodge employees busied themselves with work they never imagined would be part of their contract, like setting up a gift shop in a room with a missing wall. Ten days after the flood, the United States Secretary of the Interior visited the park and urged people across the nation not to cancel their plans to vacation there that summer.

Of course, if visitors were to come, they needed a way to get into the park. The New Bridge was a total loss and needed to be replaced. But a quarter-mile upstream, mostly ignored for the past two decades, sat the skeleton of the old Belton Bridge. The decking of the bridge had been swept away, but the concrete arch had somehow survived. It was time to bring the old bridge out of retirement.

Within 15 days, park officials had laid a new trestle atop the dependable arch. For the next two years, the Belton Bridge once again served as the main entrance for the park until workers finished the New Bridge.

Today, a plaque stands next to the bridge commemorating its history and service during the flood. While a strategically-placed row of boulders now blocks the bridge to motor vehicles, it’s still maintained as a footbridge and bicycle path. As summer progresses and the normal swollen waters of spring recede, the riverbanks emerge to welcome picnickers like Ethan’s family and other people who seek a calm place to watch the water and air turn orange with the sunset.

“He’s not going to jump,” Teegan announces after emerging from the water. Despite all the countdowns, the encouragement and disparagement from the riverbank, despite even his vows to his brother that if Teegan would jump, he would jump, Ethan has still not let go of the railing for anything more than to tap a nervous beat on it.

“Ethan. Let—go—of—the—railing.” his cousin orders. “Just jump forward, and you’ll do great.”

“He’s shaking too much to jump,” another cousin says, loud enough that a cluster of teenage girls on the opposite bank can hear.

“My toes are tightening up for some reason!” Ethan shouts.

“Because they want you to jump! Come on, man, you’ve been up there for five minutes.”

“Is that all?”

His cousin turns away for a moment. Ethan takes a breath. His cousin turns back just in time to watch him arc through the air. A collective cheer instinctively rises from the riverbanks. People on both sides of the river leap to their feet, shouting and applauding. Ethan emerges from the water, takes a breath through his grin, and frog-kicks his way to the shore. The arch of the Belton Bridge smiles down on him.

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Strangers cheer as Ethan destroys his fear.

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A plaque next to the Belton Bridge shows what it looked like originally, and what it looked like after the flood.

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Montana sunset over the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Siyeh Bend to Sun Rift Gorge

First of all, I’m kind of digging the name “Sun Rift.” What a great word pairing.

Anyways, a few weeks ago I hiked 10.3 miles, beginning about 2 miles to the east of Logan Pass. I chose it because my friend posted a photo of it the other day, and also the shuttle stops there so I wouldn’t have to find parking. I hate looking for a parking spot.

The first three miles or so were nice. It felt really good to be on a hike, and there were a ton of flowers carpeting the ground between the pine trees. Every so often I’d get a glimpse of the mountain face above me, but mostly I just keep walking and enjoying the sunshine.

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I stopped for lunch at Siyeh Creek, in part because it was pretty but mostly because it was the first place with enough of a breeze to keep the biting flies off me. Pro tip: bug spray that you leave in the car does you no good.

After Siyeh Creek, the trail goes up a series of switchbacks. This is where the trail gets glorious. I was almost regretting hiking it in that direction, as the view behind me got better every time I glanced back. I could see the mountains above Logan Pass behind the forest I’d just walked through. To the left, a bare mountain slid into a cirque with a pair of lakes in the base. I could hear a group of people laughing as they swam in them.

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The trail narrowed as I crossed Siyeh pass. There was a woman and an eight-ish-year-old girl crouched against the uphill wall. “We’re not used to this sort of hike. Please don’t go near the edge,” she said when I asked her to take my picture.

From there, the trail was all descent. It was not a bad descent, though–my legs feel a lot better after that than after the Highline, to be honest. The sun was starting to hide behind the mountains on the opposite side of the valley, streaking the air with sunlight. There’s a glacier-fed river running the length of the valley, with a few sparkling waterfalls as well. Basically, I stopped being sad that I hadn’t hiked the other direction–my way was both easier and prettier.

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Due to me oversleeping that morning, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t make it to the shuttle. However, I got to the Sun Rift Gorge shuttle stop an hour before the last shuttle arrived, and got to Logan Pass in time to stand in line with some really fun retired people. Yay, travel friends!!

Home in 4 Days!!

In case the title of this post was too obscure, I’m going to be home in 4 days!! Based off my past adventures, here are some answers to questions I know I’m gonna get asked.

Wait, you were gone?

Yeah! I left May 8 and got back (or, at the moment, plan to get back) September 6. I spent the summer in Glacier National Park, working at a gift shop as a barista and t-shirt putter-outter, and also serving with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.

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The best ACMNP team I could have asked for. Also, I couldn’t figure out how to flip this image so that it actually looks like we’re spelling out “ACMNP.”

I thought you were supposed to be back at the end of September?

True! I was originally supposed to work until September 21, but it turns out that is a ton of time to be away from home, my family, my super cute boyfriend, Burgerville milkshakes, etc.

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Was it just amazing?

Just amazing–that’s a really high expectation to put on any 4-month period.  So no, not exactly. There were some really awesome parts, and also some really sucky parts. Overall, it was a good experience.

Are you glad you did it?

Absolutely! This had been a dream of mine for seven-ish years, and I don’t think it would have ever left me alone if I hadn’t gone and tried. Also, Glacier is gorgeous and there were so many days when I stepped out of my dorm and thought, “I can’t believe I get to live here for a summer!!”

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A view from my evening walks. This was about a 4-minute walk from my house.

So what happened? Why are you home early?

Okay, this question maybe falls on the “questions I know people will want to ask but will probably be too polite to actually ask” list. Honestly, July happened. I cruised through June with only a few homesick days, but then I hit July and thought, “Wow, I’ve been here two months………and I’m not even halfway done yet. Crap.” July was one of the loneliest months I have had in the last 7 years. That was my own fault–I didn’t make a huge effort to go out and meet people. I get pretty stressed out of I don’t get time alone, and when I’m working retail 5 days a week and spending Sunday doing worship services, the thought of taking someone I barely know on a 2-hour car ride, then a 6-hour hike, then another 2-hour car ride back home on my only day to myself seemed like a bit more than I could handle. And it didn’t help to be thinking that I was also missing out on my first summer of dating Marc because we were in separate states.

Then, in the middle of July, I decided to Skype my mom. She was with my sister’s kids, so I got to talk with them. I was in my car so as not to disturb my roommate. The conversation went like this:

Pearl (my 3-year-old niece who loves to point out the obvious): Auntie, you are in your car.

Me: Yep.

Pearl: Good. Now you can come home!

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Pearl, umm, helping me in the garden last spring before I left.

And I thought, dang, girl, you have a point. I might have started the car right then and been home by dinner the next day, except my favorite books were in my dorm at the time and there’s no way I’m abandoning them. In any case, that got the idea in my head, and a few weeks later I found out that one of my co-workers was staying later than she had originally planned, and they were hiring another person who would stay until my original end date, so I asked if I could leave and my manager looked at the schedule and asked if I could stay till September 5, which was reasonable.

So, basically, I’m home early because I took advice from a 3 year old. But, like, a really cute one so it’s okay. #auntielife

Did you get to go on some great hikes?

Oh yeah!! I loved my days hiking.

Did you see some cool wildlife?

I saw mountain goats, marmots, deer, foxes, and a billion squirrels. I didn’t see any moose, and I only saw bears from the car, which I was honestly okay with. I usually hiked alone, so I wasn’t all that interested in seeing things that might decide to kill me.

You hiked alone! Insanity!!

Shhhhhhh……I was usually on well-traveled trails, I had bear spray and an emergency locator, and I didn’t spend four months away from home, family, friends, nieces, nephew, and boyfriend to not hike. It worked out fine. #NotDead

So what’s your next adventure?

There isn’t one! At least, not a long-term travel adventure. That’s kind of a new experience for me. I started dreaming of the PCT in middle school, and that dream took me through college. Then six months after I got back, my sister and I started planning our trip to New Zealand, which took me through another two years, and then a few months after that I got to come to Glacier, which is another dream I’ve had for a long time. I’m gonna go ahead and stay put for a while. I’m excited to not constantly be living a few months ahead of myself. I think it’s gonna work out just fine 🙂

Hiking the Highline 😃

Yes, that’s an emoji in my blog post title, because this trail was awesome. I first hiked this trail in 2015 with my dad and sister, Olivia. It’s kind of the reason I started dreaming about Glacier and wanted to come back. It’s pretty gorgeous.

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The view near the Granite Park Chalet. Heaven’s Peak on the right, Mount Oberlin on the left.

It also takes a while for the snow on it to melt, so it wasn’t open until early July. Then, the day before i planned to hike it, there was a grizzly bear hanging out on the trail, so they closed it for a few weeks. I finally got to hike it a week and a half ago, on a glorious sunny day in which I remembered both my sunscreen and my hat. #rare

The trail starts at Logan Pass, and quickly goes out on a ledge in the middle of a cliff. There’s a steel cable along this length, to which a family of 5 desperately clung. However, the trail is pretty wide even here, so I was able to pass them without feeling like I would die.

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Not great for people who are afraid of heights.

One of my favorite moments happened a few hundred feet after that section, on what’s called the Garden Wall. Steep fields of flowers stretch above and below you, the trail the only interruption in its descent. The vastness of the valley masks the true height of the mountains around you, making them seem somehow huge but also not that far away. As I came around a corner, there was a little boy kneeling in the dirt, his grandpa walking a few steps ahead of him. His grandpa turned when he heard me coming and looked down at the 4 year old.

“What are you doing?” he asked, confused.

“Drawing,” the little boy replied.

Because, ya know, what better place to draw than in the dirt of the most gorgeous trail around?

Grandpa sighed. “Move aside so she can pass.”

The boy stood up, the seat of his sweatpants as dusty as his cuffs, and scampered out of the way. He was adorable.

The rest of the trail was also nice. I saw another goat, marveled at the flowers, and took a billion pictures. At the Granite Park Chalet, I stopped to make a sandwich on the porch. A squirrel tried to steal it from my hand. Some Canadians laughed at that. I ate faster.

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The Granite Park Chalet with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

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Me at the Granite Park Chalet.

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I wonder why they call it the Garden Wall?

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Name that flower! (Refer to my previous post from Iceberg Lake for a hint 😉 )

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McDonald Creek flowing towards the Lake.

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Looking up!

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Towards the beginning of the trail. The Going to the Sun Road is on the right side of the picture.

The last four miles are pretty lame, but they’re made worth it by the 7 or so that you’ve already done. The trail ends at The Loop, a hairpin turn in the Going to the Sun Road. From there, I caught one of the last shuttles back to my car at the Apgar Campground, got some ice cream at the Cedar Tree, and finished the day cooling my feet in Lake McDonald. Not bad for a Friday 🙂

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Indian Paintbrush on the trail back to the Loop.

Iceberg Lake

About a week and a half ago, I picked up my friend from work, Cindy, and we headed over the Going to the Sun Road with two possible destinations in mind: Grinell Glacier or Cracker Lake.

We did neither of them.

Instead, we decided to go to Iceberg Lake, which was in the same area but has actual icebergs in it. I figured seeing icebergs floating in the lake would be pretty cool.

It was, but that wasn’t even the highlight of the trip. The highlight was the walk there. The trail makes a quick ascent right at the start, then levels out to a more gradual incline so that the last few miles let the gorgeous views take your breath away, instead of the hills. As I approached Iceberg Lake, I had the distinct feeling that I was about to happen upon Rivenedell, with the river flowing over small waterfalls and wildflowers everywhere. Bear grass covered steep hillsides above me. The trail looked forward to the mountains and back at the valley we’d just climbed through, so both the walk in and out were beautiful. This is my favorite hike I’ve gotten to do this year.

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Iceberg Lake

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Bear grass and the cliffs of insanity!!

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Bear grass along the trail leaving the lake

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More bear grass

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Also bear grass

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The Rivendell-esque approach to the lake, feat. Bear Grass

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Cindy dipping her feet in some super warm water. There was bear grass behind us.

Cobalt Lake

Today I had the day off, and since I was pretty sure I didn’t work until 2 tomorrow, I thought, “Hey, I’ll go for a hike on the east side of the park, camp there, and then take the Going to the Sun Road back tomorrow.”

Luckily I checked my schedule before I left and discovered that I actually work at 11. So, instead of a camping retreat, I just drove an hour and a half to the Two Medicine area and hiked to Cobalt Lake.

Honestly, it wasn’t my favorite hike ever. It’s pretty, but not spectacular like so many of the hikes in Glacier are. Still, I think it was exactly the hike I needed to be on today. Just being outside, on a trail that wasn’t crowded and was full of my favorite wildflower (Indian Paintbrush) and shallow water crossings was perfect.

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The whole hike was full of meadows like these.

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Like a trampoline, but sketchier.

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Rockwell Falls.

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I also met another solo female hiker, which is always fun. She was probably a few years younger than me and starts work in the park on Monday. She’s headed to New Zealand in October for a year, so we chatted about that for a while. After she left, I ate my dinner and watched the lake for a while. A marmot crossed the creek and walked within 10 feet of me to nibble some bear grass.

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Hello, friend!

It started raining just as it was time to leave. Luckily, I’d packed my warm jacket and leggings, and the rain was intermittent anyways so I didn’t get even a little uncomfortable. It did make the mountains look really cool with the shadows from the evening sun. It also gave me a great excuse to stop for hot chocolate on my way back home. Oh, darn 🙂

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Two trips to Avalanche Lake

One of the things I love about working the day shift in Glacier is that you almost get two days in a 24-hour period. You get the day that you work and get paid for, and then, if you don’t spend too long on dinner, you get a second day to go for a 5-6 mile hike.

Monday, my ACMNP team (almost–sorry you had to work, Claire!), one of their roommates, and a few other friends who work for our company decided to use our second half of the day to hike to Avalanche Lake. It’s one of the more popular hikes in Glacier, in part because the beauty-to-difficulty ratio is astounding.

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Logjam and the Lake

This is from my first trip to the lake.

I had hiked it about a week ago. It was the perfect way to spend my day off. I got to the top and, attempting to escape the 5th-grade field trip on the near side of the lake, circled around it and found quiet refuge on a gravelly beach on the opposite side. It was close enough that you could practically whisper to the mountain above us. There was just me and a few other adults seeking quiet, including a man watching mountain goats with binoculars and two guys fishing. I sat for half an hour listening to the waterfalls ringing down the mountain and the birds calling in the wind.

This time, we found a really peaceful beach at the near edge of the lake. Still, I liked how the other beach was so close to the foot of the mountain and suggested we go to it. Everyone agreed. I fell a bit behind on the way, until I got to the spot where the trail ends and you have to cross a little creek to get to the beach.

Except it wasn’t a little creek. The snow melt from the mountain has increased significantly in the last week, and there was no way we could pass.

But, we were undeterred. A small path ran just past the “End of Trail” sign along the edge of the creek, so we followed it through the woods until we found an opening. It was perfection. At least six waterfalls tumbled off the mountainside, splitting up as they hit what looked like a staircase for giants. There was a rainbow caught in one waterfall, and I sat on a log with my friend, Faye, and watched it inch higher and higher as the sun started its descent. It was the perfect way to spend my last night as a 26-year-old.

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Team photo!

Me and three members of my ACMNP team. Camden to the left, Jackie to the right, and Ethan floating on the log in the middle of the lake.

Avalanche of waterfalls

I really couldn’t decide if I liked watching the rainbow or the stairstep waterfalls more.

Photo cred: Faye Rogers 🙂

On the way down the trail we passed within a few feet of a doe and her baby. Also a bunch of the girls jumped into the lake. I was tempted, but I also love not being cold, so I stayed dry and lame, but man, I’m proud of them 🙂

Surprise! I’m becoming a barista?

I started work Monday, setting up children’s clothes and the Christmas section. We have super cute ornaments, if anyone was wondering.

Our gift shop also has a coffee shop in it, but the barista won’t be here until the middle of June. Because of that, our manager asked me and my friend, Claire, to learn how to make coffee.

I’ve never actually had a cup of coffee. The closest thing I can remember was when my sister took me to Starbucks in high school and got me a caramel frappecino. “There’s no coffee in it,” she assured me.

I took two sips before saying, “I think they forgot to clean the blender, because this tastes awful.” Thus her malevolent plans to trick me into liking coffee were thwarted.

Anyways, turns out making coffee is kind of hard, but also pretty fascinating. Our trainer went into a bit of the science behind it, and how the milk temperature needs to be about 160 degrees if it’s cow milk but 145 if it’s soy or almond, and the water is forced through the grounds at an exact pressure (9psi) (jk, actually 9 bar, which is more like 350 psi. Thanks to my friend and co-coffee-maker Claire for straightening me out 😉 ) and humidity and weather can make it so you need to change the coarseness of the grounds. A lot of it went over my head, but he left a cool manual showing how to make espresso so I’ve been reading that a lot.

So far I’ve worked 2 shifts. I always seem to be throwing out half the milk I steam, even though I swear I start with the same amount that our trainer told us to. Yesterday a guy ordered a 16 ounces chai and I ended up giving him an extra 8 ounce cup because I didn’t realize how much I poured in. I’ve been watching YouTube tutorials all morning to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Pretty sure I’m getting over-excited about the foam part of the drink. Kind of like how today I forgot to turn off the steam wand before taking it out of the pitcher of half and half I was heating up. I ended up wearing half and half all day. There are worse fashion trends. By the time the summer crowds start coming in, I should be competent at it!Also, while I may be the least qualified barista ever, the shop also has an ice cream stand with 12 flavors. I’m extremely qualified at loving ice cream and handing out samples, so it balances out.

To Glacier I go!!

Wednesday I leave for the summer, so I figured I should write a blog post about it instead of clean my car or pack. Here’s a direct transcript of every conversion I’ve had for the last couple weeks:

Wow, Glacier?! Where’s that at?

Montana, right where the Rocky Mountains meet Canada.

How far of a drive is that?

According to Google, 11 hours. But I feel like I remember it being more like 16. In any case, I plan to stretch it out over 2 days.

And you’ll be a ranger, building trails and doing other…rangery… stuff?

Actually, I’ll be selling souvenirs at the Cedar Tree Gift Shop. I’ll also be volunteering with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks.

How did you find that job?

About 7 years ago I found out about the ministry and thought, “Wow, I’d love to do that.” I’ve actually filled out the application several times, but due to student loans, being in wedding parties, and other family things, it’s just never been the right time. Then I quit my job in January for my New Zealand trip, I figured I’d do this this summer as well.

*Interested sound* That sounds cool. So you’re not getting paid?

I will be getting some mula, no worries. The ministry will be volunteer work. My team of 5 people will host 5 worship services (I’ll be at 3 of them) every Sunday in the campgrounds of West Glacier. I’ll be playing the violin and doing some preaching as well. They seem like awesome people and I am so excited to get to know and serve with them this summer!! However, ACMNP partners with concessionaires in the park to help us get jobs. I’ll be working in the gift shop, for which I will be paid.

Where are you going to live?

They have employee housing there for us. I don’t know what it looks like–dorms, cabins, other–but since I just spent 2 months living out of a van, tent, or hostels, I think I’ll be able to survive 😉

What hours are you working?

No idea. I’ll find out when I’m there.

Have you been to Glacier before?

Yep! I was there July 6 and 7, 2015. I’m sooo excited to go back and hike the trails there!

How long will you be gone?

I’ll leave May 8 and return September 23ish.

What does your boyfriend think of this?

He’s the best ever. He’s okay with it and even plans to visit me a few times 🙂

Well, cool. Have a great summer!

Thanks, you too!!

Two Months at Home

In the immortal words of Samwise Gamgee, “Well, I’m back.”

I’ve actually been back almost a month, but have been so busy getting used to the fact that YouTube now puts ads at the end of videos (among other tiny changes in the world) that I haven’t gotten around to writing a blog. Also, I wasn’t sure what to write. I came home almost 2 weeks earlier than I’d originally intended. I had a great time those two weeks at home and honestly wouldn’t have traded them for another 12 days of getting rained on in New Zealand, but I think I still felt a bit of fear that I would be perceived as a failure, even though I don’t feel like one. You feel me? (Sorry, had to get the word feel in there one more time. #writing.)

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Anyways, any posts you see from here on out about New Zealand are actually being written from the comfort of my room. Or possibly the library. It depends on whether I want to channel my inner hobbit or inner Hermione that day.

What now? Glad you asked. Until May 8, I’ll be hanging out mostly at home, doing freelance editing and writing work. (If you have a project you would like help with, let me know!) On May 8, I’ll be driving to Glacier National Park, where I’ll spend the summer working in a gift shop, helping lead worship services, and maybe doing a bit of hiking. If I feel like it 😉