The light in the mountainous bowl shifted so tenderly, dusk seemed to last for most of the afternoon. After three months of being on the road, putting on my backpack for a trip into the subalpine terrain of Glacier National Park felt like a welcomed break. The hours of yellow and white road paint streaming by had coaxed me into the recesses of thought that sometimes linger a bit too long for comfort.
But wasn’t that really the biggest reason for this journey?
A quest. A simplistic lifestyle. A time in my life that would seem so long, yet be so short, all in the hope that I would come out on the other side wiser and with some kind of answer.
By the time the border of Montana was crossed, questions filled the
windshield of my perspective much faster than any answers seemed to come. I was homesick, relationship sick, identity struck, and tired. Beautiful places and experiences, people and memories had filled the days leading up to this moment – but my supposed lack of expectation had led me to a greater hope for the outcome of this trip than I ever knew.
A short hike up a horse trail, I nodded and smiled as a handful of other tourists made their way down the trail. Passing another hiker who was only making a day of the destination, Cracker Lake, I pushed my pace for a bit of distance.
“Is it worth it?” the heavy-set man would ask other hikers as he puffed up the mountain trail. I came to resent that question when I heard it asked in the wilderness: if a person didn’t want to find out, then why had they started?
This was an apt question as I wavered in my resolve to finish six months of a US road trip. All the doubt and frustration that I’d met at times in the journey’s preparation were trying to creep into my mind when I wasn’t keeping watch. If I didn’t want to find out what the path held, why had I even started?
After settling and setting up camp, Cracker Lake turned into a wild playground. The frigid turquoise water of the glacier-fed lake reflected the sky and numbed my aching feet. Glaciers held tight below the lip of the mountain bowl, trickling its ancient waters over cold stones that gathered into echoing cascades. The sun dipped low, casting a yellow-orange radiance over that jagged lip, showing off the iconic strip of lighter and darker granite that rolled along like a banner announcing “I am Glacier National Park and I know you will always recognize me.”
My eyes wandered to a mountain goat who skipped and hopped effortlessly on a seemingly vertical cliff. He picked his way around half of the bowl to meet another goat grazing on the invisible ledge plants before turning on a point and going back. This stuck me as quite the effort to simply say hello. He walked below the glow of the setting sun and everything became still – except for a shimmer in the sky.
I squinted and turned to face it, not quite able to make out the cause. The camera lens was barely strong enough to see these tiny sparkles clearly: seeds. From the next valley to the west, the wind came sweeping up and carried the cold scent of autumn. The grasses from the sunny side were exploding with seed pods ready to disperse and the wind happily caught them for the ride. They drifted up 1000 feet or more to burst across the ridgeline and into the air above me, only noticeable because of that moment of setting sun at a perfect angle.
I sat mesmerized by the rare and awesome sight. Knowing that this unique moment was a reflection of my journey as a whole, I knew that traveling the path I’d chosen was worth every moment, every emotion, every ache, and every joy… even if I didn’t find all the answers for my questions. Gratitude for the entire journey stood in the spotlight instead: time in nature, time with myself, experiencing life in its uncertainty and sweetness, and everything that made it possible in the first place.
I think of it every day and I would do it again in a moment.
About the Author: Cristen Jester is a Writer, Biologist, Life Coach, Medicine Woman, and new Mom. She resides in Nixa, Missouri, and thrives off of time with her family, the outdoors, and travel of any kind. Say hi or learn more about Cristen on her Facebook page, or her blog, Adventure + 1