Jed is a musician first and foremost. I could tell from his CS profile, and you can tell almost upon meeting him. He met me at his house, where I deposited my stuff in my tiny, cute, peculiar guest room. He had band practice that evening, which I was invited to, but first we were off to the Top Hat, where his [main] band plays regularly. It was one of those situations where he knew everyone we passed, and we stopped to chat with quite a few of them. The majority of our time was spent talking with Tom, a recent retiree from New York who spends his summers in Montana. We made plans to have pizza and beer with him the following day. Sitting in on band practice was a delight. They play bluegrass, I suppose. I’ve never been good at determining genres. It reminded me often of Irish music, and old English folk songs. We spent a good three hours there, and I enjoyed it immensely.The first day in Missoula I spent, typically, wandering. Objective number one was breakfast. I chose a place with ‘Brazilian fast food’, which is a bowl of epic deliciousness. I got the large size and it was enough for three meals (which is pretty much a backpacking win). I walked all of the downtown area, stopping in wherever looked interesting. Despite not generally being into museums, I popped into the Missoula Art Museum, which was free. There was a fantasticly haunting photo exhibit. Definitely one of the better museum experiences. It was becoming a quite warm day, and I felt that tingling need for ice cream. So I scouted out the place with the most locals hanging around, saw the words ‘chai’ and ‘milkshake’, and my day was made. I actually got a dirty chai milkshake, at the recommendation of the cashier. And it quite officially wins Best Milkshake I’ve Ever Had award. I had one the following day as well. Should’ve had one the last day as well.
After a stroll through the University of Montana campus, I met up with Jed and Tom for the aforementioned pizza and beer, and spent a few hours talking life. Jed had music practice with a different band, but instead of joining again (I was tempted) I chose to hike to the top of the “M” for sunset and stars. Which, was a great choice. I made it just as the sun was dipping behind the mountains, and stayed until well after it became dark. I remained in Missoula an extra day for ‘first Friday,’ which is apparently thing, though I had never heard of it. Jed’s band, Dodgy Mountain Men, was playing for a good portion of the evening. But before I settled myself in for another night of fantastic music, I followed Jed’s advice and peeped into shops, and saw a bunch of local art. It’s such an interesting event, most places serve free alcohol, and so people just wander from shop to shop with their beverages. Which, apparently doesn’t happen anytime except for first Friday. It felt like a tight community. At least on this night. I found Tom again, when I finally returned to the parking lot where music was happening. I was definitely ready for dinner, and Tom happened to mention that the venue in front of which they were playing had one of his ‘favorite menu items in the world.’ Which, pretty much sold me on it. It’s a couple of huge corn cakes, topped with fried eggs, black beans, cheese, salsa, and other delicious and flavorful sauces and such. Duh. I stayed for most of the music, but went in and out of listening carefully, because people in Montana are friendly. I was drawn into several conversations with the fun and fascinating individuals who inhabit Missoula.The following morning I was planning on catching a ride with Jed partway to Bozeman. But his plans got pushed back until late afternoon. So, at 11, he dropped me at the same interstate ramp at which I had arrived a few days before. I forewent the sign and just thumbed it. A car pulled over and offered to take me one exit, which seems funny to me. But I appreciated the gesture, of course. There wasn’t a ton of traffic, on this Saturday morning, but I got a ride within fifteen minutes. A giant blue truck stopped right in the middle of the road, and blocked all of the oncoming traffic for about thirty seconds while we talked. After determining that he was, indeed, going through Bozeman, I waved apologetically/gratefully at the line of waiting cars and hopped in. He was part of a two car caravan, and his friend was pulled off waiting for us on the on-ramp. They had just taken a mining course in Missoula, and were headed to Wyoming to lay tracks. Jack met both of the most common reasons-for-the-lift markers: used to hitchhike back in the day, has a daughter my age. We had a three hour drive together. Part of it covered diverse topics such as motorcycles, hitchhiking tales, ghost stories, surfing, Washington being the best state (he lives about an hour from Olympia)…I was surprised to hear a funny beeping sound at some point, and enlightened when he gave a long breath into it. I’ve seen breathalyzers before, but it’s still disconcerting when your ride has to use one every twenty minutes. Disconcerting perhaps, but a surefire way of knowing you’re not riding with an inebriated driver, which I have (in Ireland). About ten miles before reaching Bozeman, we were on the topic of self defense. He was explaining how he had taught all of his kids to use firearms for their protection, when his whole face lit up. “Actually, you should take this!” he said, nonchalantly, as he pulled some giant brass knuckles out of his door. I laughed, and declined under protest of unwanted weight. Oh, weaponry. As soon as my personal caravan dropped me at my exit, the sky let loose. We had seen the dark sheets of rain for miles, but finally, now, it arrived. My couchsurfing host was potentially going to pick me up from the exit, but I hadn’t heard from her in a bit. I sat under the overpass for a bit, until the rain lessened. And then started walking. I made it perhaps a mile before Pam pulled up ahead of me, apologizing profusely for making me walk in the rain. I never did mind rain, and Bear Canyon makes for a beautiful walk under a thunderous sky.