I left out an important story from my experience at Glacier National Park because I realized it was part of a more important blog combining a couple of experiences the following day. And part of a huge breakthrough in my journey.
Rewind to Glacier National Park. I arrived well before my 8:45am Red Bus check-in time. As I walked into the rest rooms, a young 6 or 7 year old girl came rushing out. “Well, good morning, Little Bitty!” I greeted her with a big smile. She smiled back and said hi. She was followed by another girl around 9-10 years old, who also looked at me and smiled and said hi. I thought, wow, they have to be sisters, they look so much alike! I said “Are you excited for your day here?” and she replied with an enthusiastic “Yes!”
When I returned to the Red Bus stop, the two girls were intently looking at something in the bush around the bus circle. The littlest girl ran up and exclaimed “A bird, we just saw a bird!” At that moment a very fit and trim man in his 40’s walked up and said to the girls “Was it a bluebird?” The little girl replied “I don’t know Daddy!” I turned to the man and smiled and said “I think I’ve seen about 1 or 2 bluebirds in my entire life,” and we started up a conversation about bluebirds and their color, etc. Sitting on the bench just next to us was a woman with another young girl. She looked at me with a smile and said “Are you taking this 9am tour?” and I replied “Sure am!” and she introduced herself as Anna, and said, “Well, looks like you’ve already met my husband Paul.” She proceeded to introduce me to the two youngest girls that I’d run into previously, Erin and Kimi, yet another daughter Josie, and their teenage sons Sean and Nolan. What an entourage! We shook hands all around (yes, all the kids did, very politely and enthusiastically!)
When Bill the bus driver pulled up the big Red Bus, the older boys cried out “Shotgun!” The girls argued back playfully and the boys laughingly teased them back – it was obvious to me that these kids had been raised with much love and respect. When we all loaded ourselves into the bus, Bill decreed that since I was the only solo traveler, I would be awarded the shotgun seat! I looked at the kids and playfully gave a victory yell “Shotgun is mine!” “AWW!” the kids replied, although with much good humor. (I will note that I actually did NOT retain my shotgun seat – I gave it up to an older gentleman with much longer legs and an artificial knee).
I sat right in front of The Adams Family on the bus tour and had a wonderful time with them. When we arrived at the halfway point at Rising Sun, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant there. As we walked in all together, Anna turned to me and said “Please have lunch with all of us! Then you don’t have to sit alone and it will make a perfect 8!” So, I sat in the midst of this big loving family and had a wonderful time. Sean showed me all the pictures he’d taken already, and we challenged each other to win the little Cracker Barrel type peg game. Anna and Paul asked me about my journey, so I told them how it had all come about. I found out that they live in Batavia, a Chicago suburb not far from Naperville! We also discovered a mutual love of music – I told them about my background and training in horn, and Anna gestured to two of the kids and said “well, horn players right there!” And the rest of the kids all play musical instruments! Sean told me all about his oboe, and how he recently got a new, non-plastic one. Paul asked where I was going next, and I told him that I was headed west and would be staying that night in Libby. Anna exclaimed “Well, you have to stop at Kootenai Falls and the Swinging Bridge on the way out of Libby the next day.” She explained that it’s a spot of Falls and rapids along the Kootenai River (it’s actually the spot that the movie “The River Wild” was filmed) and that it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. The kids all piped in about the trail, the swinging rope bridge, and how they had actually come across bear scat on one of the trails that they’d ventured off on! “Bear poop?!?!” I inquired a bit fearfully. “Yes!” they all exclaimed excitedly. They all related the beauty of the Falls and I assured them that I would stop to experience it.
So that’s one back story.
After the day at Glacier, I spent the night in the little teeny tiny town of Libby, MT. I stayed at an old but very well kept motel called the Caboose Inn. When I checked out the next morning, I was standing at the desk next to an older man who was chewing the fat with the desk guy. I waited for a lull in the conversation and I greeted them with a hearty “Good morning gentlemen! If one were driving to Spokane, what would be the prettiest route to take?” They looked at each other and proceeded to chat and discuss. They both agreed on one particular route and gave me the details. The older man standing next to me said, “I’ve lived in Montana my whole life. I just came from that direction yesterday. When you go, make sure you stop at Ross Creek and see the Trail of Cedars. Be careful you don’t miss the little sign for it. Once you turn in, it’s about a 4 mile drive off the road, and the trail of Cedars is about a mile long. Don’t miss it!”
So I now had a gameplan for the day – I would stop in Kootenai Falls, which was only about 10 miles out of Libby, and then stop later at the Trail of Cedars!
I began my drive – it was going to be another spectacular day. Not a cloud in the sky and already nice and warm. After just a short drive I saw the turnoff at the side of the road with a small parking lot. I had arrived at Kootenai Falls – the largest undammed falls in the state of Montana! I grabbed my camera and started the short ½ mile hike to the Falls.
As I sat there enjoying the view, I saw a family approaching. An older man, his son, and his two grandchildren. They walked up the rocks to the very tip of the rock overlooking the Falls – much further than I had dared! I thought to myself, wow, that’s pretty gutsy, and I pointed my camera and took a great shot of them.
Family on the Falls
When they came back my way, I called out to the younger man. I said “I snapped a great pic of y’all on the Falls – if you give me your number I’ll text it to you!” He did so, and I said although it won’t send now since there’s no service, I’ll make sure to send it once I get a signal. He thanked me and joined his family and walked on.
Just downstream from Kootenai Falls, accessible from the same parking area and path, is the swinging bridge, which crosses the Kootenai River, offers a great view of the Falls, and connects to other hiking paths. I was determined to walk across it, even though it is high up, and swingy, and unstable! When I walked up the ladder to the bridge entrance, I saw a young woman standing there, looking across at her family on the other side. I could see it was the same family I’d snapped the picture of. I said, “Kinda scary huh?” She replied “Yes, and I’m kind of afraid of heights.” And I said, well, we’re in good company cause so am I! And she said, well, then let’s walk across together – I’ll be right behind you! We made it across and we gave each other a high five on the other side. She walked down to her family and I heard her laugh and say “Waiting much?” They laughed as she joined them.
Walking the Bridge!
View from the Bridge (haha)
I returned to my car and resumed my drive along the route suggested by the man at the Caboose Inn. I remembered to text the picture of the family on the Falls. Immediately I got a reply:
Smiling, I headed south on 56. I barely saw the sign for Ross Creek on the right hand side of the road. I turned and began a very secluded but beautiful winding drive, shrouded by unbelievably tall pine trees. It appeared completely isolated and empty – I wondered if I would be the only person there! Finally I got to a very small parking lot, filled with cars – I barely was able to find a spot. The Ross Creek Cedars is a grove of western red cedars, part of the Kootenai National Forest. In 1960, the Kootenai National Forest set aside the Ross Creek Cedar grove and established it as a scenic area protecting it for scientific and recreational value.
I started the short, .9 mile trail and was amazed. I have NEVER in my life seen such huge trees. The entire trail was enclosed by trees of such size that barely any sunlight could come through.
After walking the trail for about an hour, I made it back to the parking lot and headed west to Spokane.
So, now to get to the point of this long story. I am now acutely aware of how I have lived my whole adult life. When confronted with strangers or with situations with which I’m unfamiliar, I’ve kept my head down, not looking at nor talking to them. I have insisted that it’s because “I’m shy.” Well, I realize now that that is not true. It’s not shyness. It’s fear. I”m afraid that for some reason people won’t like me. I have been told that often when people first meet me I appear unapproachable and intimidating. And I have fretted about that, wondering why in the world people have thought that. And now I realize it’s because my fear has kept me from interacting with others in an authentic way, and it has prevented my true spirit from being seen. And the unapproachable vibe that I’ve put out has kept others from being comfortable with me. It’s because YOU GET WHAT YOU PUT OUT TO THE UNIVERSE. If you don’t smile, people won’t smile at you. If you put up your guard, others won’t let their guard down. If you put out distrust, others won’t trust you. If you appear unapproachable, people keep their distance.
However, throughout this journey the past 7 weeks, I’ve made a choice to look people in the eye with a smile and greet them before they greet me. I’ve done it at gas stations, at rest stops, at restaurants, on the trail at all the parks – every single place I go. And because of that small change that requires no real effort (and now I”m not even trying!!) I am getting a COMPLETELY different and wonderful response from the Universe and everyone in it. Many of you who have known me for a long time know what a change this is for me, but because of this – truly amazing things have happened:
Because I smile at little kids and greet them with a friendly hello, they approach me enthusiastically and without fear – and I met the wonderful Adams Family, who invited me wholeheartedly into their family for the day, surrounded me with love, and told me about an incredibly beautiful spot that I otherwise would have completely and obliviously driven past – Kootenai Falls.
Because I saw an opportunity to take a beautiful picture of a family against the stunning background of the Kootenai Falls – knowing that they could not capture that shot themselves and would appreciate the beauty of it – and asked them for their number so I could send that memory to them – I received a wonderful heartfelt thank you in reply that made me smile and feel happy throughout the whole day.
Because I sidled up to a couple of old guys at a local hotel in a very small town as they drank their morning coffee, and asked them to tell me the prettiest drive to my destination, I had a wonderful interaction with a nice old man who gave me a tip to see the grandest most majestic sized trees – the size of which I’d only heard stories of – and of which I would have sped past without even a second glance.
Because I am living my life on this trip with a wide open heart, I am having the most authentic and loving experiences with the Universe and everyone in it. Prior to starting this journey, I thought it would be about finding or creating a new Alise along the way. But what I’ve discovered is that there is no need to “create” anything new at all. Each day, with all my courage, I am peeling back layer after layer of fear, hurt, anger, and unhappiness that has weighed me down. I am discovering that underneath all of those layers that I mistakenly thought were protecting me, I’m finding my real true self, and I’m so much lighter and happier and grateful, more than I have ever been in my entire life. And discovering that the Universe and all those in it are kind and generous and loving. This is a life changing realization for me – having the courage to let go of my fear, and to let go of the old habits that I’ve had in the past – is allowing me to live the life I’ve never thought possible – a happy one.