I’m running late for my bus. Joe’s Pasty shop is such a friendly, casual hangout spot that I lose all track of time. I have less than 25 minutes to find the bus station, give Jenny a chance to pee, retrieve my backpack, and board my bus. Thankfully, Butte isn’t that big, and I accomplish all this – along with delivering bite-sized pasties to the staff at the bus station – with plenty of time to spare.


I am the only passenger departing at Bozeman; if it weren’t for me, this bus wouldn’t stop there at all. The trip is smooth and quick – less than 90 minutes – and I disembark and order an Uber to my AirBNB. My host gave me excellent directions, and will be back later this evening. He says to make myself at home and help myself to beer, coffee, or fruit in the kitchen. I’ve had so much food and coffee – and it’s too early for beer – but I’m grateful all the same. The house is spacious, the room large and comfortable, and I could just sink into the carpets.


My plans tonight are wide open. I’ve toyed with the idea of a run, but when I look at Facebook, I notice that there’s a jazz show at an Indian restaurant. They still have space, so I make a reservation and plan my bus trip.


How things go sideways, I am not sure. I either cannot locate the bus stop, or the bus doesn’t come, or there’s no bus stop to find. I decide it’s close enough to walk (residents of Helena wouldn’t think twice) and load up my GPS. It tells me to go north, but the more north I travel, the further away my next turn is. It’s happier as I travel south, then east… and I walk for over two miles before finding a spot I can turn right. I keep going, then find a busy street to my left, and somehow turn right instead of crossing left. No problem, there’s another four-way stop ahead. I turn left and wait for traffic to stop, and cross when they do. Relieved, I step on to the sidewalk, only to learn it’s a median… on the middle of a highway! I quickly weigh my options: (1) I can try and cross either forward or back, or (2) I can stay on the median and hope I can cross at the other end. I choose option #2 and start walking in the direction I hope will take me safely across. The median narrows at the other end, and I realize I’m stuck. Fighting panic, with cars on either side, I walk to what I hope is another end to this island in the middle of a highway, to where I hope I can get across – in any direction – safely.


Then I hear a voice ask, “Excuse me, did you mean to be on the median?” I sputter some frightened, nonsensical answer about yes but not really and how do I get off? The voice belongs to Leesa, who is driving down the road with her daughter and two dogs, and they pull over, put their flashers on, put their dogs in the back so Jenny and I can sit up front. I’m only a couple of blocks from the restaurant, and they drop me off, with Leesa offering any assistance she can while I’m in Bozeman. I give her my number, and she texts me, so I have her number if I need anything.


My nerves are still rattled, but the jazz is mellow and soothing, and exactly what I need. The staff at Saphron Table are attentive, the food is good, and I’m relaxing by the minute as the music, the food, and the atmosphere sinks in deep. I realize how much I need this, and how I don’t think I would’ve changed a thing; I appreciate this more because of the long walk and the incident on the highway. My shoulders relax, and I sit on the blustery patio as the music swirls around me.


I order an Uber back to my AirBNB. There are other guests sharing the upstairs space, and we chat for a few minutes before we all turn in for the night.


I come downstairs for coffee in the morning – after the best night’s sleep I’ve had on this trip – to find a plush squeaky dog toy sitting on the counter. I’d like to personally thank my host before letting Jenny put her teeth on it, so I leave it there for the moment, then start figuring out the bus schedule for where I need to go today. Wanting to thank Leesa for her help yesterday, I text her and ask what her plans are today, she says she’s out and about and do I want to do coffee? YES!!!


Leesa picks me up, and we head to Farmer’s Daughter, a quirky restaurant with unusual breakfasts. Leesa wants to pay, but I’m quicker with my card. We sip our coffees and chat, and the food arrives so artfully presented that Leesa mmentions it, and I almost don’t want to eat it! For the next hour, we share our stories of intuition, or just knowing something without knowing why it’s important, and being open to circumstances that will change your life. We’ve both experienced this, and we realize that sometimes something grips you so strongly that you you just need to follow it to find out where it goes. We talk about Bozeman and travel, and she invites me out tonight with her family to the Ellen Theater for PechaKucha, whehre everyday people talk about all kinds of things (like a shorter TED Talk). I don’t know how much energy I’ll have, but promise to call her later and let her know, thanking her for the invite, and pretty sure I’ll come.


I have a massage appointment at noon, and Leesa would feel better driving me there. It’s a longer walk than the couple blocks I think it is, with more busy streets with medians and no pedestrian controls. We drive. She gives me excellent directions to the bus stop (she sees the bus leave the stop) and tells me to call if I need a ride.


While I wait for my massage, I call around to find a canine massage for Jenny – probably in Billings. Two phone calls later, I’ve booked an appointment for Tuesday morning. My massage therapist is running late, but that’s fine by me; my bus leaves just after the hour, and goes once an hour, so he can be really late and I’ll be happy. For the next hour, the tension is removed from my back, neck and shoulders, and I find teeny tiny angry muscles I never knew existed. When I walk out an hour later, I’m so relaxed that I feel ready to figure out the strange bus system here.


It’s starting to rain as we walk down the sidewalk. I put Jenny’s rain poncho on her, and she hangs her head in a display of self-pity. She finds me a bench to wait for the bus, but the bus doesn’t come. Where DO the buses stop here? We walk up an down Oak Street and cannot locate the bus. I finally ask a fellow pedestrian – the first one I encounter in over twenty minutes – for directions, and he has a hard time locating the bus stop – which is a pole, facing the road, in the middle of the grass. Relieved, I wait for the bus, thinking I’ll be waiting nearly 30 minutes, but the bus pulls up almost immediately. When I hop on, I ask if the driver is late or early; he says he’s on time. It’s only then that I realize I will be going the LONG way around the loop. I don’t care, at least I’m moving.


Jenny in her rain poncho, head down


I pull the cord too late, so I get off one stop later than I wanted. This means we’re taking a LONG way to the shops on East Main Street. Whatever… we’re moving, we’re off this crazy bus system, and I am fairly sure there are no highways involved. We walk down residential areas, get lost, get unlost, and browse the shops and bars and restaurants on East Main for a couple of hours. I buy souvenirs, get ID’d before I realize I’m in a bar that doesn’t serve food yet, then stop for appetizers next dor. THIS is the Bozeman I remember.


Leesa and her daughter meet me at a high-end clothing boutique – it turns out to be one of Leesa’s favourites. We walk next door to Sweet Chili, where Leesa’s husband meets us for supper – seafood soup for me. The Ellen Theatre is just a couple blocks away, so we make our way there, get through the crowd, and sit down for PechaKucha.


I am enthralled. The stories are personal or funny or informative – sometimes all three – and cover all kinds of topics. We laugh, we cry,, we cheer, we learn… and I know I will be finding a PechaKucha in Edmonton. At intermission, Leesa offers me a ride back if I’m tired (she’s seen the second half before), and while I would love to stay, I am absolutely exhausted. When we get out of the car at my AirBNB, Leesa gets a chance to greet Jenny, and then my host comes outside.


Jenny is wiggly, wagging her tail, turning in circles, thrilled to get some greeting time. I ask if she can run up to greet my host, and he brings out the squeaker toy. Jenny runs around the house, upstairs, downstairs, squeaking squeaking squeaking merrily. The squeaker lasts about twenty minutes before it falls silent. We’re all amused. Jenny sprawls out with her silent squeaker toy, then discovers and takes over a dog bed. After a half hour chatting with my host, I wake up Jenny and take the dog bed upstairs, where Jenny claims it again, and we both fall asleep.


The morning dawns cool and crisp, and I layer my clothes. Months ago, I booked a tour with the Yellowstone Safari Company, and Ken, my guide, pulls up at 7:00. Within fifteen minutes, I already feel like I’ve received a crash course in geography, geology, cartography, American history, and plant biology. The tour has already paid for itself.


We stop at the entrance to the park at Gardiner, and take pictures at the arch. There’s writing engraved into the arch itself, and I feel the letters one by one. More learning, more driving, the raiding of energy bars in the front console. Along the way, I ask what a cat tail is,, and we pull over so I can feel the seed pods. It’s going to be THAT kind of tour, and I’m loving it.


Me in Front of the Roosevelt Arch, the Entrance to Yellowstone National Park


A ranger has several pelts and is about to do a demonstration. He says we can pick up the pelts and feel them, and Ken points out their unique features, the different types of fur that protect the animals from the harsh winter. Jenny is extremely interested in the wolf skin, and I feel the bushy tail as Ken describes the black spots on the gray coat. The bear skin is sleek and smooth, and the bison is massive! We head back to the car just as the ranger starts his presentation.


We take bathroom breaks wherever possible, and I swing into a gift shop for a new patch for Jenny’s blanket. We pause beside an antelope eating along the side of the road, and try and hear an elk bugle – we find elk, but they’re silent.


Ken points out characteristics of the landscapes – grasslands, mountain ranges, rivers, trees – and stops the car if we’re close enough to hear wildlife. We come across a herd of about 40 bison, get out of the car and keep a respectful distance. A bull is trying to get the attention of a cow (female bison). This is uncommon, as the breeding season (rut) ended more than a month ago,, but late-born calves are born when bison breed this late in the season; Ken feels bad for them, because the later they are born the harder time they will have in the winter. The bull nudges the cow in the shoulder, grunting at her, trying to get her attention. We’re not sure if she’s interested, but Ken notices another bull who keeps an eye on the flirting bull. Fights between bison can and do sometimes break out, but these bulls do nothing more than observe each other.


I'm standing in a grassy field with a herd of 40-ish bison in the background


Ken is really hoping to get an elk to bugle for us, but we may have to wait until later this afternoon – it’s not uncommon for elk to sleep during mid-day. We drive past a small heard of elk, many of whom are sleeping, but a couple are moving around and eating. I can hear their footsteps and their chewing the grass, and I’m amazed at the industriousness of all of these animals, and while there is generally consistent animal behavior, there are exceptions – such as two young bison bulls hanging out together, away from the cows (something you see more frequently with older bulls).


Along the way to our picnic site, we stop to check out aspen trees, lodge pole pine, and I feel animal tracks in the dirt and hear the sound of a river flowing through a canyon. Lunch is filling and hearty, and it’s so cool and quiet that I’m grateful for my layers of clothes.


We head to the brink of the falls, starting with the winding path to the Lower Falls. I can hear the river, and can smell the slight scent of a hot spring – something a the base of each waterfall in Yellowstone. Jenny wows everyone – including me – with her excellent guide work on the twisty uneven path to the lower falls.


It's a long way down to the brink of Lower Falls


Normally, the path to the Upper Falls is walkable, but it’s currently closed so we have to drive the short distance. The Upper Falls sound bigger, but they are actually shorter than the Lower Falls. Water rages constantly, and you can feel more mist from the Upper Falls.


It’s getting late in the day and we still need to drive back to Bozeman. Ken suggests heading to Fountain Paint Pot Hill, a landmark Ben and Sarah got to experience last year but I did not. Along the way, we stop to feel some of the volcanic tuff (ash that’s been compressed together into its own formations). They’ve used it, along with other minerals like rhyolite, to make the roads and barriers and walls and railings around the Park. For someone who’s “not a geologist”, Ken does an excellent job at describing how these are formed and what they physically look like. Back in the car,, Ken is thrilled to see a flying squirrel – a rare site in itself, but unheard of in the middle of the day. Ken is so excited that he’s nearly shouting with joy!


At Fountain Paint Pot Hill, it truly is a multi-sensory experience. You can hear the bubbles of the mud pots, which sound different from a hot spring, which sound different from a geyser. If the wind blows a certain way, you are able to feel and smell the sulphur from the geysers. There’s one geyser that continuously erupts, unless Fountain is active. The 1959 earthquake changed the behaviour of this geyser; it used to erupt every five minutes (to the second!). It’s amazing to me how these animals and springs and rivers can all coexist, and how humans can impact them or be impacted by them.


It’s been a full day, but it’s time to head back. Ken is constantly talking about history, politics, wildlife… I feel like I’ve taken six college courses today, and want to take more. We make sure I have everything – like the braille guide book I was given when entering the park – and I thank Ken for everything as he drives away.


It’s only 7:00, but I am exhausted. I shower, catch up with Ben, read a while, and join Jenny for a well-earned sleep.


Even if I don’t need to be, I am up early. I enjoy a good book and a cup of coffee, and greet my host when he gets up. We chat a while, and I run a load of laundry. My host brings out a new toy for Jenny, and she runs around the house with it while we eat breakfast and I fold clothes and shove everything in my backpack.


Leesa and her family come by. They have generously gifted me with a portable phone charger, and a collapsible water bowl for Jenny. Again, I am overwhelmed by their generosity and am so grateful our paths had the chance to cross. Leesa’s family, myself, and my host squeeze together for selfies, and we laugh at how shy everyone is and the phone cameras that have minds of their own.


Leesa and her daughter are crouching with me. Jenny has just surprised me with a HUGE kiss!


Everything is packed and my host and I grab authentic Mexican food. It’s hearty and messy, and it hits the spot. I get a chance to pay it forward and treat my host to lunch, like I promised my companion in Whitefish I would. He insists I don’t have to, but I want to.


Bozeman hasn’t been anything like I expected, or hoped, or remembered it would be. It nearly broke me emotionally, but it healed something in me, too. I’ve seen boundless generosity, learned a lot, experienced natural wonders, and I am eternally grateful. As I board the bus for my next destination, a part of my heart is sorry to leave. But a bigger part will rest easier tonight.


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