The Night I Fell in Love With the InterMountain West

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Now that I am officially not guiding anymore, and my bike trip is over, and I’m back in the gentle rains of Washington, I find myself thinking hard about where I’m going to call home. Home has been just about anywhere the last six years. I’d stumble over my words when asked where home is for me on my bike ride. Saying Washington only used to be true, and saying Wyoming felt off too, if only because I was so in between at the time. Which is still true.

And now that I am back home, in the wet dirt and low grey skies with the bulk of those I hold near and dear, I toy with the idea of staying. The drawback: the development, the growing towns and populations. I find myself back in the Intermountain West of big, open places and massive elk herds and carnivores and hearty souls. The small, spaced out towns and sense of community and support. Knowing your neighbors. Here is soil so fertile I could spit the seeds from my pear out and expect a tree there next year. There, there is a slower pace and sense of real purpose to the days.

I think back to the night I first fell in love with the Intermountain West. I was 25, heading back from Alaska via BC and Alberta. My friends and I were camping just outside Banff, and after a night of ciders in town, tried and completely failed to find a ride back to our tents. My friend Claire was aggressively hitting on the bartender in an attempt to get us a place to sleep that was warmer than the 18 degrees the night called for, in a place that was closer than a four mile walk away. Clara was useless in the corner, texting her boyfriend. And I remained equally useless, only talking to old men who could teach me about resident grizzlies.

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We started walking back about 2AM in what felt like just as many degrees. We howled back at the wolves we heard, had surprise encounters with a moose and her calf, and a small elk harem. Even there, on the outskirts of a fairly populated area, wild lived in it. Up until that point, I only knew wild or not, country or urban. I didn’t know there were entire towns coexisting with the wild around them. Or trying to.

As I lay my head down, snug in my sleeping bag, the wolves’ calls still echoed in the valley. The near-full moon hun fat and bright through the trees above us. Tired as I was, I lay awake in my sleeping bag that night, listening to the wildness where anywhere else on earth, on the outskirts of a town, it might have been honking horns or the distant bass of a stereo. But that night, I might as well have been days deep in the Rockies. I fell asleep with a smile on my face, my spirit alive. Even there, hardly touching the edge of the wild there, I felt part of the ecosystem. The land sucked me in. And now that I know it’s there, I can’t turn my back on it.