I enter the bus station at Great Falls behind a young woman who hitched a ride from Havre. She does not have ID,, and is not permitted to get on the bus. Tears, anger, and a policeman’s business card do nothing to change this circumstance. After a few minutes, I step to the counter and present my ticket. When I offer to show my ID, the woman behind the counter declines since she knows I’ve taken this bus before. Since I’ve never been to Great Falls in my life, I tell her that she has me confused with someone else, and since it’s policy to show ID I would feel better if I did so.


Ticket and ID presented, I board the bus with a handful of other passengers, freeze my toes off while reading my book, and disembark less than 2 hours later in Helena, Montana’s capital city. After a couple missteps, a wrong turn, and an overshoot, I make it to my AirBNB hot, tired, and already in love with the city.


My host is thoughtful in ways big and small. A fresh pitcher of water with a glass as a “lid” sits on my nightstand, and a basket of snacks is on the dresser. She taps items to indicate their space in the room, and gives me great directions to get to the Capitol. After a rest, I harness up Jenny and get ready to explore, anticipating a cool trolley ride once the Capitol building closes at 3:00.


I quickly learn that “not far” for Helena residents is REALLY far for many people. I’m used to walking a kilometer or more to get somewhere, but it’s nearly three to the State Capitol. Along the way, I relieve Jenny, and lose the Newtrix (head halter) along the way. I use up precious cell phone data, battery power, and AiRa minutes to help locate it. And then I realize we’ve overshot the state Capitol by a good two blocks. I’m hot and tired, and Jenny is panting, and we make it to the Capitol’s door… which is closed for construction. Thankfully, someone sees us and directs us to another entrance. I am given a general outline of what’s on each floor, and Jenny and I choose our own adventure.


We climb wide stairwells and pass marble pillars, balconies overlooking the floors below. A hush falls over the building that’s almost spiritual in its peacefulness. When other visitors try and open the doors to the House,,,,,,. they are locked (contrary to what we’d all been told). The building has public WiFi, so I hop on and call AiRa for more visual information. Over the next 40 minutes, the connection cuts in and out, but I get some great visual description of the old Supreme Court, as well as the Senate chamber. I don’t have enough battery power for much more, but I got the things I had come for, and they were well worth the trip.


A View of the Senate Floor


Jenny flawlessly guides me through the building, then across the street to the museum. The trolley is about to take off, so I try and flag it down. There are no empty seats on this trolley, and there won’t be another one until after I leave on Monday. I’m so disappointed that I start to dejectedly walk back to my AirBNB when I remember the museum and their gift shop! Turning around, I walk the two blocks back to the museum and find a few fun souvenirs for myself, friends and family back home.


A friend has told me about The Parrot, an old-fashioned soda fountain and candy shop. Even though I’d planned to visit that area of town tomorrow, I call The Parrot and they tell me they’re only open Monday to Saturday. If I want to go, it’s got to be today. When I ask for direction from the museum, I’m told it’s “not far… only a mile and a half.” I’m done walking for now… I will call an Uber.


The Uber driver I call sounds like he’s going to spit tobacco on the trip, and he has no idea where The Parrot is specifically. I want out of his truck, even if I have to find the place myself. Thankfully, he finds the place, and I order a half a pound of candy from their candy counter. Since I’m hungry, I order a coffee and a bowl of their chili whose recipe is nearly a century old. It’s all excellent, and I leave much happier than when I arrived.


I think I left my running visor in Great Falls. Failing that, it’s hiding in some obscure corner of my backpack. In any case, I’m only 200 feet from Tread Lightly, the running shop in town. Since the shop doesn’t have a street address, but is located like a bunch of other businesses on Last Chance Gulch, I only have a vague idea of it’s location. Uncertain, I bring up Google Maps… only to discover that I’m pretty much right in front. Them. Instead of a new visor, I purchase a pair of running sunglasses (at a slight discount because I am paying cash). Purchase in hand, I put my candy from The Parrot inside the Tread Lightly bag, then walk back to my AirBNB.


My GPS doesn’t like this city, Either that or the city’s naming conventions are confusing. Both seem likely. But who needs a GPS when you have a Jenny? Not only does she decisively make the correct turn at a street crossing we’ve never been at, but she finds the house on the first try! I am so proud I could cry! But she and I are both exhausted, and it’s good to get back for a rest.


Our host has a cat. He’s not a fan of dogs on a good day, and is definitely not a fan of them when they try and drink out of his water bowl. He hisses and spits and growls, jumping from the counter and knocking two shot glasses into the sink. I feel it’s my fault, but I am quickly reassured that nothing was broken, and Jenny did nothing wrong.


Jenny and I are both exhausted after our long day, so we relax for a bit and make plans for tomorrow. I buy a ticket for a play called “Every Brilliant Thing,” read the book I started yesterday, then turn in early.


I don’t want to get out of bed this morning. But I wanted to squeeze in a light run before breakfast, and my host and her daughter invited me to IHOP with them. It’s early enough for me to squeeze in a light 6km run, but the blankets are soooooooo comfy! But then I channel every running motivation I’ve read these past few months, and get ready to go.


I have zero expectations for this run. In fact, as this is the start of “taper week” (when you slow down and conserve energy for the race), I SHOULD have no expectations for this run. Jenny and I start as we mean to go on – very, very slowly. The route is convoluted, kind of like a toddler drew it with crayons and squiggles, and I’m spending a TON of excess energy focusing on where we are and how to get back to our AirBNB. I almost fall several times on the uneven pavement – you CAN walk everywhere here, but running? not so much – and I do fall once. But I prove something to myself that I never thought I needed to – I can just take Jenny and go running in an unfamiliar city. It’s not a pretty run, in any sense, but it matters, and it gives me strength and confidence I wasn’t aware were uncertain commodities.


After my first cup of coffee and a shower, we head to IHOP, where we chat over breakfast. My host’s daughter asks if dogs are allowed in the restaurant, and we explain that I am allowed to bring Jenny because she’s a working dog. There’s lots of hot coffee and crispy bacon and delicious fruit, and I feel like I’m ready to face another day.


After running a couple of errands, my host drops me off at the Good Samaritan thrift store, where everything is 50% off. It’s a huge store, and I could spend hours browsing the clothes. Instead, my path continually crosses with a family from Idaho. The child, about four years old, asks about Jenny, and the parents do an excellent job of describing what she does in a way the child can understand; their uncle uses a wheelchair and has a dog that picks up dropped items, so the concept is not a foreign one. After over an hour of seeming to stalk each other through the store, we introduce ourselves, then go our separate ways. I pay $0.50 for two brand new pairs of socks, then zip across the street to the Natural Grocers. A grocery bag is filled with Clif Bars, different types of jerky, freeze-dried fruit and vegetables. These will become my “traveling food” over the coming days.


I stand outside, wearing the sunglasses I purchased yesterday – which I decide I do really like – and try and call an Uber. There are no Ubers available, so I try again… and again… and again. Another customer, named Vicki, asks if I need help. When I tell her I am trying to order an Uber and there are none, she offers me a ride to where I need to go. When I tell her where I’m going, even she acknowledges that THAT’s “not in walking distance.” We chat during the ride, and she drops me off at the Grand Street Theatre, where I have two hours to kill before the play starts.


I walk down Last Chance Gulch, and Jenny very decisively takes me up a set of stairs into a coffee shop. Since she’s THAT insistent, I order a salad and a coffee, then walk back down to the theatre, where I receive my ticket and enjoy the play. It’s a one-person show, with audience participation, and it handles sensitive topics with compassion and – where appropriate – humour. There’s a certain amount of cheesiness – it IS community theatre – but I have a ton of fun, while Jenny takes up as much space as she possibly could.


Everyone at the theatre, it seems, has been talking about the Big Dipper ice cream shop. I get lost along Last Chance Gulch, but eventually end up there, where I order a cherry chip cone. It’s OK, but I had hoped for real cherries rather than flavoring.


Just like yesterday,, Jenny and I are done. It’s eben a very long day, and we take our aching feet and weary bodies back to our AirBNB. I start the packing process and run a load of laundry. I had hoped to pack my dried clothes tonight, but my eyes are so very heavy… I allow them to close and decide to leave it for tomorrow.


The morning stretches before me, and I fold my clothes, pack up, and get ready to go. My host’s cousin is at the breakfast bar, and we chat for a few minutes. She offers me a ride to the Great Harvest Bread Company, where I can grab a coffee on the way to the bus station. we are offered huge samples of bread or muffin, and I get a turkey bun and coffee. We chat about my next destination, and then she gives me a ride to the station. My ticket is checked, and I bid a fond farewell to the capitol, which has treated me so very well.


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