Wednesday, 5/30/01 - Thursday, 5/31/01 - A Few Days in Billings
On Wednesday, I rode my bike into town, stopping at the Billings Chamber of Commerce to pick up some maps. From the KOA to the Historic District was about three miles. I stopped off at a coffee shop for a decaf iced latte then walked around for a little while.
I realized that walking around a town alone doesn't always appeal to me. When I was in New Orleans recently, it seemed like a mysterious adventure. But in Billings it seemed aimless and I was getting self-concious, so I got back onto my bike heading for the KOA.
What was a leisurely coast into town was a steep hill back to the campground, and I tried to keep a casual look on my face as I gritted my teeth and strained to get up the hill, giving myself pep talks and gasping for air. Yes, I know, I have to exercise more. Reaching the Apache without having to stop and walk the bike was a victory, and I spent the rest of the day lounging around finishing the Pam Houston collection of short stories called "Waltzing the Cat."
On Thursday, I took care of some business during the day including lunch with some folks from the corporate offices of KOA, an interview with the Billings Gazette and then a photo shoot for the local paper. Then I took a taxi in the evening to the Barnes and Noble on the West side of Billings, the Berts in their black carry-bag. I signed books at the front of the store, then took a cab back to the campground afterward.
Friday, 6/1/01 - Welcome to Bozeman
On Friday, as I walked back to my campsite from using the modem line, a man I had seen with his wife over the last few days at another campsite ran up to me.
"Can I take your photograph?" he asked, camera in one hand and a copy of the Billings Gazette in the other. The article had come out talking about my book and my travels and there was a great, big photo of me and the Berts in front of the Apache. The Berts looked so dreamy and content.
I agreed to pose in front of the Apache holding my computer in one hand and the newspaper in the other. "I didn't know you were a writer!" the man exclaimed and shook my hand. After that, I ran to the KOA office to buy seven copies of the paper for friends and family.
Then I piled the stubborn Berts into the RV after they resisted, ran around the campsite, plopped down in the sun and basically said "We're not going anywhere, Mom. This place is nice." They were very upset to be leaving, but I was anxious to get to Bozeman. I even pulled out my tattered copy of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" before we departed.
The terrain was varied as I drove, still unable to pinpoint the "look" of Montana. Flat plains, green fields, jagged rock, sloping hills, clusters of pine trees, not all together at once, but slowly rotating from mile to mile like a scenic kaleidescope.
As I neared Bozeman, snow capped mountain ranges shone in the distance. At one point, it appeared as if I was driving straight into a mountain. Eventually, a mountain pass gently rose through and over it and I entered Bozeman.
What struck me first about Bozeman was that, as I drove along Main Street, it felt like a town. Not a city. A town. This was a good thing. And as soon as I was getting acquainted with the buildings along the way, the road opened up and led out of town. The Bozeman KOA was about 5 miles away from the western end of town and had trees, a grassy dog walk, and a view of part of a mountain range in the distance.
As I pulled into town, I had called a woman from the local county development center, Alicia, who had planned to take me to lunch before she left town that day. She met me at the Albertson's on the edge of town, one of the few places I had noticed that had a large enough parking lot to accomodate my RV. We had lunch at a downtown restaurant, sitting outside on this bright, sunny day.
Alicia proceeded to rattle off lists of reasons why I should move to Bozeman. "Do you have any questions? What are you looking for?" she asked. I had a short list - population under 50,000, a college or university so I could teach and take classes, easy access to outdoorsy activities - but the rest of my criteria for a place to live was all vibe, something I couldn't put into words. I would just feel it.
And so far, in my first few hours in Bozeman, I was feeling it. Later that evening, Duncan Bullock, my Bozeman host, met me at the KOA and brought me to a gourmet restaurant for dinner, giving me the short tour by car of the neighborhoods nestled against the downtown area.
Duncan Bullock had found me on the Internet, emailing me and asking if I'd come to Bozeman, then proceeded to book me two local speaking engagements - for the Montana State meeting of Business and Professional Women and for an evening event sponsored by RightNow Technologies where Duncan was a technical recruiter.
The entire time we exchanged emails - nearly 5 months - I kept thinking what a cool guy Duncan was and how grateful I was that he took such an interest in my work and in women's issues.
Last week, before I left Minneapolis, I got a call from Duncan and discovered that Duncan was a woman! I had good laugh about that.
Saturday, 6/2/01 - Sunday, 6/3/01 - Weekend in Bozeman
Saturday morning I drove to the GranTree Hotel and sat in on part of the BPW State meeting before I gave the luncheon keynote speech. I spoke about my upcoming book "PowerTools for Women in Business," using the 10 PowerTools in the book as a framework for encouraging women to pursue what they love.
Afterward, I drove back to the KOA, stopping at a natural foods market along the way to pick up some groceries. Then the Berts and I hung out at the campground, being domestic.
The plan for Sunday was that I'd go hiking with Bonnie, a woman who is very involved with local museums, the library and other cultural causes. The weather was cool and damp, the intermittent rain a welcome relief to a pending drought in the area.
Bonnie drove up into Gallatin National Park to Hyalite where we took an easy path up to a waterfall. I was excited to be officially hiking and listened as Bonnie described the area, the plants, the rocks and other geological features.
The air was thick with moisture and earth smells. At the waterfall, we couldn't see a clear path beyond it, so Bonnie ventured over fallen trees into a marshy area, water and mud sucking up around our hiking boots as we walked. We continued to climb over logs, rising above the waterfall and looking down at it.
Eventually, she decided we should turn around, explaining that it was still early in hiking season and paths would be clearer soon. Rain fell in bursts of droplets that seemed to dance away from our clothing and skin so we remained basically dry throughout our hike.
As we got back to the bottom of the waterfall, we rested for a few moments, both of us leaning against a log crisscrossed along the path. I took slow deep breaths, not because I was tired but because I wanted to smell this place and take it with me. I wanted to purify my insides and push out any remnants of city air and city thoughts. I wanted to be clean.
When I got back to the RV, I had a message on my cellphone from another woman I had met at the BPW event - Ami - who works at the local television station. She was having a "Sex and the City" party at her apartment and would I like to join them? She mentioned that I might be homesick for the city.
I was definitely not homesick for the city. But I did want to go because even when I lived in the city, I had never had or been invited to a "Sex in the City" party. Being able to hang out with a bunch of interesting women, watching a show that always seems to touch nerves, and laugh over pizza and beer sounded like a great time.
And it was. Ami was the perfect hostess and the women in the room all laughed and commented on the show as the two episodes aires. The first was about the main character - played by Sarah Jessica Parker - turning 35 and still being single. The whole thing was making me incredibly depressed so it was a relief to laugh about it through a sting of tears.
As Ami drove me back to the RV, I told her how much I appreciated her inviting me to join the party. It meant a lot to me. Being on the road, I've learned to be alone and it is a good place to be. But I'm also learning how to have friends in ways that never seemed possible in New York. There are a few women in the city who I do consider to be my friends, but I wish I could gather them all up and move them to a place like Bozeman where we could hang out at each other's houses, eat pizza, drink beer and laugh and cry over a dumb TV show.