I used to listen to a motivational speaker who loved to say, "The best time to use a map is before you get lost in the woods." It was supposedly an expression used in his native Montana; a claim I questioned each time I heard it.
So it was strange when those bulky prose were the first I thought of when I booked my ticket to Missoula.
A few months back, a good friend and I decided to take a trip together. Individually we'd had our passports stamped the world over and could even boast to have seen nearly every state. But this was the first time in a long time each of us had chosen company over solitude to see the world.
How we decided on Montana is still a mystery to each of us but I can tell you there are undoubtedly far worse places to be. The landscape is dramatic here in Missoula. Mountain peaks capped in snow surround you like an invading army. No matter which direction you head in you feel as though you're racing towards some great summit.
So far, the most eventful part of my journey has been the journey itself. After an uneventful flight from Oakland to Seattle, I nearly missed my connecting flight to Montana because of a late arrival and gate change. I half wondered if they'd throw in some hot coals I needed to walk over. I was literally the last to board a plane whose durability I questioned as I slid into my seat in the rear of the plane.
"We're gonna have some bumps on the way up and a few on the way down," the pilot told us.
And boy was he right.
The last 20 minutes of our descent were by far the most frightening in all my life. Neither weaving through the rugged mountains en route to Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong or dropping 25 feet on a 15-seater in Birmingham measured up to the helplessness I felt as 30 of us got tossed around like some compost. For the first time ever, I finally understood what "white-knuckling it" meant.
When we landed I overheard a woman say, "I wonder how many people were praying with me."
Right here sister! I felt like shouting.
After grabbing my bag at a nearly deserted carousel, I wheeled my trusty bag to the arrival curb where I met my friend Tonya. To say an African American girl sticks out in these parts is only slightly less of an understatement than saying an Asian American one does. We might as well have been wearing neon.
"What are we doing here?" I asked before we both broke out in laughter.
On the way to the house Tonya pointed out streets and suggested places to eat. She'd been in town for 6 hours but already sounded like she could run for mayor.
Once we pulled up to the house I was once again validated of my knack for picking lodging. I'll be the first to admit there's a lot I'm not good at. It's probably best to have someone else cook anything more elaborate than an omelette or put together that new dresser you bought, but the hell if I can't pick a good place to hang your hat on AirBnb.
That evening we sat on a pair of comfy sofas speaking easily as we always do. We talked about anything and everything until our eyes grew heavy and it was time to dream.
At around 11:30 pm we called it a night and headed to our rooms, wondering no doubt what lie in store for us in this strange but beautiful land.