Exploring the Experience

There was a time, where all I could imagine was living in New York City, San Diego or San Francisco, in the concrete jungles “where dreams are made of.”  I saw those cities as having power and being a place where everything you could ever imagine was possible. It was a status symbol, if anything. I perceived these cities to provide me a lifestyle of luxury and importance, but for me, there was something missing.

Then something happened. My friend D’art and I were craving something new and started a tradition. We would to pick a city that we could drive to in one shot on Friday night. We would spend the weekend exploring that city, and be home in time for work on Monday. Often, that meant rolling into the driveway Monday morning, hitting the shower, and going straight to work. While this appeared to be a fun, crazy weekend getaway to most, this was the start of something for me. I had discovered my love for road tripping. I became insatiably driven by the intense stories of Jack Kerouac and the need to say “yes” to any opportunity to take the open road. A new version of the concrete jungle.

I was addicted and I have been chasing the endless miles of open road ever since.

There are those of us that have a sincere passion for traveling abroad and visiting remote islands and those that enjoy following world history through Europe and the Safari’s of South Africa. Don’t get me wrong, this all sound incredible and one day, I hope to experience these adventures. But for me, the thrill and excitement that I crave, comes from a two-lane US Highway somewhere around Colorado or Tennessee and stumbling across the old general stores where the hardwood floors creak with stories.

The past year has been filled with an array of these trips. Some took a number of switchbacks through mountain towns, while others were on the US Highways of San Diego that swept past the border of Mexico. There was a Thanksgiving route that led from Houston to Tennessee, and the one that topped them all and inspired a series of life-changing events, the drive across country from Charlotte, NC to Bozeman, MT.

It was adventure we were after and story we craved.

My girlfriend and I packed up our houses, loaded up a storage unit, crammed everything we would need for the summer into our Subaru WRX, and hit the road, bound for Bozeman, MT. With stops in Nashville, Kansas City, Boulder and Jackson Hole, we found ourselves steeped in new adventure and excitement for the new experiences that we would share.

To my surprise, it wasn’t the road trip itself that challenged me at my core.  It was living in Bozeman for five months, that caused a stir I couldn’t escape.

There was one thing I immediately noticed upon our arrival in Bozeman…the conversations. I had just moved from a town of hustle and intentional growth, to a town that sat in the valley of a mountain and boasted of their small population.

As I sat in Rockford Coffee Shop, I began to listen local conversations. What I heard, was the beginning of the change. In Charlotte, and all the major cities, coffee meetings typically began with “How have you been?” followed by the almost automated, “busy.” I began to notice, these automated responses and expected answers I was used to hearing and articulating were not leading me to the story I hoped my life would tell.  

As the I studied the foundation of these Bozeman conversations, the answers were not what was being worked on or hustled for, but what they were the details of life and passion and… the elements of a better story. The answers were those of adventures: a guy responded with “I just got back from doing a 50 mile bike ride through the canyon,” a woman had taken her family camping for the weekend somewhere near Yellowstone, and a businessmen shared his tales of a recent fly fishing trip.

They were sharing stories of the life they were investing in.

Life means something different here in Bozeman. It is something the people invest in, it’s the reason they hold jobs here and they work to play. It’s evident everywhere you look and in everyone you listen to. It’s evident in people’s practical clothing, the dirty cars on the roads and the campers and trailers you see frequently heading out of town, off on the next adventure.

After months of trekking through woods and rivers, seeing the milky way for the first time, and countless trips into National Parks, our summer in Bozeman was over. I was offered a job in Nashville, so once again, we hit the road. I was back to the major metropolitan city life. The problem was, I had become desensitized to the “lifestyle of luxury” that I once thought a major city would provide me.

I craved the lifestyle of adventure and access to the greatest playground I have experienced. I wanted to invest in the life of wild adventures filled with backpacking trips, Big Sky skiing, Yellowstone fly fishing, and the experiences that can only come by hurling yourself into a community that does the same. To me, this is what Montana is all about.

So after 9 months of being in Nashville, TN we set out on that same road trip, but this time things were a bit different. My girlfriend is now my wife and while the Subaru made the trip, so did a 26’ foot uhaul. I still crave new experiences and adventure but, they take on a different meaning now. I have learned to take on each new day with a true sense of what it means to explore and to live a life worth investing in. I am fortunate that my job allows me to travel and visit places like New York and San Francisco, and satiate my desire for the great American road trip.

We now make our home here in Bozeman, MT because it truly is the ‘Last Best Place’ and allows to live our days chasing the adventures we crave.

So, the next time you take that coveted road trip, remember to take in more than just the local culinary scene, or the touristy stops, take in the full experience of where you and let it matter. Explore the experience and let it challenge everything you know. It might just end up changing you.