I'm so close, I can almost taste it. In fact, it was a shock when I rolled into Washington today because I realized that this physical journey is almost complete. Tomorrow morning I'll wake up and head west one last time for a short 5-hour jaunt to Tacoma; my final destination.
I traveled through Montana for most of today. Montana was, by far, my favorite state to drive through on this trip. First, it hits you with the wide open spaces that I wrote about yesterday, then it starts crushing you with mountains. I started getting a taste of the Rocky Mountains when I was arriving in Bozeman yesterday, which created an excitement to hit the road again this morning. By the time I got to today's midpoint, Missoula, I was fully immersed in the Rockies.
I love seeing college campuses, so I punched the University of Montana in my GPS for the Missoula stop. I was driving up and down around 8000 feet of elevation (probably higher at some point, but I didn't notice a sign). I thought the mountains would open up to allow Missoula to emerge, similar to other Montana cities, but it didn't. Instead, Missoula is situated right in the mountains, creating the most beautiful natural location for a university that I've seen.
The university was crawling with bikes. Students were riding all over campus and clearly have mountain biking opportunities because this was the model of choice. I got on my bike to ride around and take some pictures while I had plenty of time to kill. The U of M has about 16,000 students, making it a similar size to Pitt. The campus, however, is as different as can be. Their campus is set apart from the city of Missoula with breathtaking scenery thanks to its mountainous terrain. I asked the information desk girl where I could get a t-shirt (the book store was closed) and she told me Wal-Mart, but she also pointed me in the direction of the Oval as the best place to get a few good pictures.
The oval hosts the grizzly statue (UM's mascot) and University Hall, its oldest building. Behind University Hall is Mount Sentinel, which features the M trail; switchbacks leading up to an M near the top that is common for student hiking. You can see a picture of the scene here. The campus was fantastic to bike through because there were so many paths going in several directions, so there was plenty to see. I got a really great vibe from the campus and even feel now like this could be a stop during my career if I decide to venture away from an urban atmosphere for a while. A community of hiking and biking is something that I will encounter in Washington, so I may develop more of an interest when my career is ready for the next step after a handful of years.
Driving through mountains is one of those several things on this trip that simply cannot be adequately described with pictures or words. You'll see my pictures trying to tell the story. I can also tell you things like how many expletives I used per hour in simple amazement of my surroundings, or how when I was reaching the crest of the road in the mountains I started to wonder if there would be more road on the other side to catch me, or how terrifying I think it'd be to actually drive as fast as the speed limit coming down some of the winding roads in Idaho.
Like I said, the physical journey has almost concluded. This week has felt like an eternity in some ways. I've had so much time with just me and the road this week and it's felt wonderful. The road and Marie Antoinette (my car) have been my best friends this week, so every morning I've been excited to wake up and spend more time together. That time ends tomorrow, which I'm sure Marie is excited about so she doesn't have to drive 95 mph ever again.
It's sad to think about this trip ending. I've enjoyed being a vagabond this week, going with the wind and exploring the United States by myself. I've enjoyed being unemployed this summer and having time to do whatever I've wanted to do every day. That time ends and I'm sad to see this unique experience end. I'm also scared about actually doing exactly what it is I've wanted to do. There's a certain excitement and joy that comes with the anticipation of an event or major life change, so now that it's actually happening I have a lot of pressure for this experience to be exactly what I've hoped it to be. I've known that the grass isn't necessarily greener, just a different shade of green, but now it's up to me to make this experience in Tacoma exactly what I need it to be.
In a way that will be difficult, but in another it won't. This trip has given me a craving for the outdoors. I'm looking forward to buying some camping and hiking equipment and using it. I'm looking forward to spending some time on the Puget Sound on a kayak. I'm excited to bike around Tacoma and see how far I can go. All of these things I've daydreamed about can be done if I just get out there and do them. Life is what you make of it. Opportunities come and go, so we need to choose to take them. I've chosen to accept this inciting incident and make the move to the Pacific Northwest, so now I have to take the reigns and let the Lord lead me, as they say.