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.

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 🙂

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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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!!

Tongariro Northern Circuit: 3 days on Mt Doom

It’s been a while since I posted. To refresh: Before setting out on a 3 day circuit that crosses the shoulder of what is known in Nerdom as Mt. Doom, I had high tea at the Chateau Tongariro. It was delicious, made it so I could pack one less meal, and also made me slightly nauseous because apparently hiking an hour after you’ve had enough sugar for 4 people isn’t the best. #WorthIt.

Day one was glorious. I was the only person I saw on trail until I hit the Mangatepopo Hut and Campsite. There were moments when I was literally crying because I was so in love with life, and also probably all of the sugar loosened my leash on my emotions.

164.JPGI met a Canadian named Kate, and we nerded out a bit over the fact that we were camping at the base of Mt. Doom. The Hut Warden was also from Canada, and told us a bit about her job.

“In North America, my job in conservation is to save the animals. Here, if it’s a mammal, I’m pretty much trying to kill it.” She asked us to please pack out our trash, “Unless it’s an apple core. We’ll roll those in a cinnamon-poison mix and it will make a possum very happy for their last meal.”

So that was cool.

I woke up early the next morning to try to beat the 2,000 people who do the Tongariro Crossing each day. The Crossing is a 5 hour-ish long section that crosses some of the lava fields and craters of Mt. Ngauruhoe (Mt. Doom) and doesn’t require a permit. Because of its popularity, there were many times when I could have reached out my arms and formed a conga line with the people in front of me. But I try not to get mad at other people who are enjoying the same thing that I do, and in the end, it was still a fun day.

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177.JPGThe descent is about a quarter-mile of volcanic sand covering a steep slope. It took a long time and I was passed by a lot of people, so I was grateful to reach the turn-off where the Crossing splits from the Circuit.

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I descended into a plain covered with dozens of fins of black pumice. The trail wound through these, so I ate lunch in the filming site of the Emyn Muil. By the end of the day, I was feeling very sorry for the hobbits, as it was hot and I was tired even without the great burden of the One Ring. Luckily, when I reached my campsite, I found a spot just feet away from a little creek that had been dammed enough for a bath.

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I was just beginning to be sad that I only had a few days left in New Zealand, when I woke up on day three and found my whole view shrouded in gray clouds. I hiked out, waved goodbye to where I thought the mountains must be, and headed north for one last adventure before my plane took off.

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 😉

Mail drops on the PCT: Putting the Pro in Procrastination

Considering I leave this week for the Pacific Crest Trail, I thought it might be fun to, ya know, figure out what I’m going to be eating on the trip. Here’s the problem: I’m a lousy cook, even in the best of circumstances.

Case in point: I once was in charge of making macaroni and cheese for some high school boys at church. High school boys.

“Surely I can do this,” I thought. “High school boys will eat anything!”

Then, midway through his first bowl, one of them turned to me and asked, “Did you put sour cream in this?”

I had not, in fact, put sour cream in it. Yet despite his raving starvation just before lunch, he didn’t finish his bowl, and we threw away over half the batch of Mac and cheese.

Luckily, Campbell’s makes a wide variety of delicious soups that are almost idiot proof, so I’ll just eat those for the rest of my life.

Except for when I go on long backpacking trips that necessitate higher calories and also lighter foods. What to do?

The answer, of course, is simple:

1) Go to Winco and buy every container of food that looks like I might be able to prepare it on a backpacking stove, or, even better, without a stove;

2) Take the food home, thinking the while drive about what you really should have gotten;

3) Toss it all in a heap on the living room floor and stare at it for half an hour just in case it suddenly decides to prepare itself;

4) Grab random items from the floor and take them to the kitchen to test, while singing madly like the chef on The Little Mermaid;

5) Realize Mom is pulling into the driveway and run outside to ask her to brace herself for the mess inside.

I did all of these. She came in, saw kitchen littered with small pots, spilled couscous, and half-filled bags of trail mix and said, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.”

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She then walked into the living room and said, “Oh, this is bad.”

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Fortunately, after four kids and three grandkids, she’s developed a calm in the face of disaster. Just another reason she’s the best mom ever.

I ended up discovering that I have an affinity for couscous and not cooking anything, so my game plan at this point is to go stoveless for the first 200 miles, at which point I’ll be so grateful for hot food that I won’t even care if my Mac and Cheese tastes like sour cream.