- Maggie Allred, Content + Marketing Specialist
I woke up on orientation morning with puke in my hair and my shoes still on.
After the long haul, I had finally arrived in Whitefish, Montana, where Pursuit employees gathered for orientation. We were housed in the Grouse Mountain Lodge, incredibly confused and nervous. Most everyone stuck to themselves or whomever they were with, until the conference-room presentation.
The night prior was by far the funniest, most chaotic part of the trip. I ended up responding to a Facebook post on the team page and met many employees, most would be working on the East side of the park, but some would join me on the West.
We managed to sneak into some sort of dingy dive bar in downtown Whitefish via the employee shuttle, sang happy birthday to a strange, touchy old man, then sat around the fire with some people I’d later work with. Some of them I bonded with for one night through sharing past addictions and tribulations, but never saw again.
By 8 a.m., I was dragging towards the conference room, sustained by a tiny nibble of pineapple from the coffee cart in the lobby. Chairs were set up all over for a long PowerPoint presentation. I sat in the front row, fighting for my life through the multiple videos explaining what Pursuit did as a company, Glacier and all.
About an hour passed, and my nervous doodles and nausea continued. It was time for the small social hour as we awaited housing arrangements and ID creation. Small huddles began to form, everyone sneaking in whichever one they saw first.
I ended up in a group with a few of my future neighbors. Sam was a tall, skinnier guy with contagious nerves, naturally this led me to him. A short conversation about the anime Attack on Titan began, but was abruptly cut off when I was called for my housing assignment.
Socializing becomes a bit easier when you realize most of these people will all be temporary, six-month factors in your life.
As fast as we entered the room we shuffled out, all heading to our new summer homes. I was housed in what was called the “RV Park,” a small wooden cabin that could hold four people. I was the first to arrive, struggling with my key and heavy belongings.
Thrifted flannels, 50-cent t-shirts (“World’s Coolest Dad!), and too many pairs of mom jeans were neatly folded away in deep brown drawers under the bed or on the few hangers provided above a small (also wooden) bench. I claimed the bottom bunk, curious of how long I’d be in my abode alone, and fearful of whomever else would arrive.
Soon enough, the front door creaked open and a blonde, curly-haired girl with a beaming smile entered the room. Awkward waves and “hello’s” were exchanged as I picked myself off the floor and brushed myself off from unpacking.
She introduced herself as Krissy, and that was pretty much all of our exchange before I was headed out the door. This exit came earlier than planned, as my nerves got the best of me and conversation was something I was not necessarily prepared for, although expecting.
I had made arrangements to go out and visit someone I met through the Facebook group a few months back. We shared a couple of PBR’s and I received some advice about seasonal work. He lived in the housing unit deemed “Sugarhill,” a repurposed school.
It was quite the journey to find, as there was no address Google maps would accept. It turned out to be a place I typically avoided when I could, located in Martin City, about 15 minutes away, a town you’ll miss if you look away for a split second.
At the time of this exchange, there were about five people living there, but the group grew to about 25. It took on a co-ed, Montana-style, frat house role.
After my short interaction, my social battery had already begun to die. Not even a night in, I was already overwhelmed with fear and yearning for home -- the feeling, not the physical place.
Unfortunately for me, after many tries unlocking the door, numerous unfamiliar women occupied the chairs of my dining table. This became a routine occurrence I eventually became desensitized to, but a shock to the system on the first day. The anxiety was going to make me combust, as I already felt they wouldn’t think I meshed.
“Guys, this is my roommate, Maggie!” Krissy exclaimed, with me sheepishly smiling as I shut the door behind me, causing a loud squeak that was probably only noticeable to me in the moment. I took a seat on the cheap leather couch in the corner, holding my knees and staring down at my Doc Martens. I listened as they shared the best parts of themselves, playing up their past. Old boyfriends with motorcycles and their fine ability to not succumb to college party peer pressure. Clean and shiny.
I didn’t feel I could contribute to the conversation without sounding insufferable. So, eating and sleeping became my priority, as it was evening enough to check out and slink away to my bunk.
I ventured to the shower and ended up soaked just by turning it on. Water spewed rapidly and viciously from the shower head to the hallway. This drew lots of attention, as the shower was uncooperative when I tried to turn it off.
So, the bonding commenced. Gathered in my bathroom were four girls, each one laughing in the face of such unfortunate immediate failure. The following day, our sink leaked and flooded the cabinet below.
Just days after that, Krissy and I stared at the cold stove unable to solve its operational strategy. That led to a call to maintenance, who informed us there was a sign instructing us how to set it up right in front of our eyes! We can’t forget the missing toaster oven, either.
Cabin 122 was deemed the trashiest cabin following these events.
These mishaps, although inconvenient and stressful, made conversations come naturally and helped me to begin to grow relationships.
The days that carried no obligations began to feel intimidating, and simply existing was becoming increasingly difficult. I was indifferent about it all. Forcing myself to socialize outside of the work environment was not enjoyable, and I frequently watched as those around me grew together quickly.
For a while, the most I found myself doing was hopping in cars and soaking in the purple mountains at dusk as we headed to various locations to stargaze. I could listen to the others' conversations, and blame my lack of participation on the simple fact that I was marveling at the beauty of the land we were passing. I’d open the windows and hear the faint movement of the lake and the wind blowing the trees back and forth.
This soon became routine, and something I ended up loving. A small group would gather at Lake McDonald or the Belton Bridge near my cabin (aka “Wrath of God” bridge, due to my encounter with a man attempting to alter my thoughts on religion, offering me many hugs, and then saying he was the wrath of God and listing the Ten Commandments.)
The ritual began with Krissy and I joined by Lance and Mason, two guys we had met through training. As the months went on, it became tradition and the participants ebbed and flowed. After the first night I had written, “I need to honor the happy more often,” and scribbled tiny details of the stars and the intense conversations shared amongst the water.
Mason and Lance were friends since their adolescent years, growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas. Together, they had done seasonal work for years, and this was their second time working in Glacier.
We laid on the smooth rocks, staring at the sky and conversing for hours.
“See any wildlife yet?” Mason asked, to which I explained the warning I received of the mountain lion in my backyard upon arrival. This sparked memories for them, and they theatrically described a story of mistaking a ranger for a bear in the woods.
Casual conversation shifted once the “what brought you out here?” question was posed. Because of their warm and inviting nature, both of us were comfortable explaining our past and the decisions that led us to this moment.
We grew more comfortable alongside each other as we frequently checked to see the likelihood of finding the Northern Lights. Sadly, we didn’t ever snatch them, but the chase was memorable in itself.
The perfect way to attempt to acquire deep connections in a national park is to venture into the vast wilderness, and put all your trust in complete strangers. In Glacier, they warn you to never hike alone, bring bear spray, and just don’t be stupid. I followed most of these rules (aside from the hiking alone part, eventually.)
My first trek was supposed to be the Rocky Point trail with Krissy and the neighbors Lily and Sophie, however we got lost immediately and took a completely different path. It ended up going smoothly, but I’d discover later on when trying again, we got the much less scenic route.
Because we were already lost on some sort of road rather than a trail, we decided to just venture off and explore any small pathways we found along the way. A right turn led us to a sign warning that the area we were entering was even more likely to have Grizzly bears than others. We went anyway.
The rain began to drizzle and the narrow path forced us into a single file, with my asthmatic, weak-from-chain-smoking-right-before-we-left, lungs in the back. The surrounding trees were burned in a past fire, so a unique and frail forest encased us.
Relying on others for direction, I watched my feet take each step forward, as if I was walking on a tightrope. The way out was simply turning around and hoping we wouldn’t get mixed up on the way to the car.
I was a couple weeks in, and after a few hikes and stargazing sessions, I was beginning to feel a bit more accustomed to my environment. A routine had begun of working and writing music in the time I wasn’t. Wednesdays and Thursdays were my days off, and I’d use that time to go on hikes or horseback rides.
The only sports I had ever thoroughly participated in were equestrian sports, but years had passed since I had ridden a horse. The skill and terminology learned seemed to come back as soon as I climbed on the saddle.
I had missed the sense of strength and freedom that came with it, and the surrounding mountains and rivers only made it better.
Time away from the café was also spent driving almost an hour into Kalispell on Highway 2 for groceries or more exploration. The long drives into town allowed lots of time to discover new music. Jeffrey Lewis became an artist near and dear to me very quickly.
Making my way through his discography elevated the amount of time I spent jotting down each miniscule thought that entered my head, sometimes putting it to music, sometimes leaving it to rot alone on the page.
I continued to spend most of my time in my own presence, but I loved it. I didn’t feel alone, but rather that I was spending time with myself. I’d call my friends at home in the evenings and listen to them talk about how nothing’s changed and I shouldn’t come back; not because they don’t want me to but because I needed to stay away and learn what I truly desired.
They knew it wasn’t the whirlwind, blurry life I was living prior.
By the end of the month, I had managed to attend a party at Sugarhill. The last few times I had traveled over there, the numbers of the residents were increasing. Incredibly hesitant to go, the environment was not one I was particularly fond of.
I refused to carpool so my escape plan was guaranteed. Although a good idea to me from the get-go, it turned out to be incredibly smart as I was “kicked out” of the party about an hour or two in.
I say that in quotes because I put up a fight and managed to stay and flipped the switch. Anonymous, annoying man #1 was mad that I was simply talking to Anonymous #2.
#1 was incredibly inebriated and saw me across the hall and began to yell. It was a scary shock to the system at first, until I began to process exactly what he was attempting to communicate to me.
His voice bellowed, saying things along the lines of “I can’t stand to see you here,” and “Get out.” Along with many others, I whipped around, furious to the point of laughter, as I stared in the face of a guy I had only a few conversations with (that lacked any substance). I grabbed my bag, and started to the door, but stopped myself and began to yell right back.
An incredible ego boost was granted.
“You are pathetic, you know that?” I started with a scoff, to which he responded with simpleminded and slurred obscenities.
As he stumbled towards me like a zombie, some residents of Sugarhill began to usher him back to his room and some to see if I was OK. My mind in a daze and still containing some fury, I was insistent I was fine and unknowingly brushed off one of my future close friends. The room felt like it was surrounded with a vignette for moments afterward. The whole situation was hilarious to me as soon as it was over, leaving me with new and safe acquaintances.
In a swift motion, I stole the bagged wine off the counter and sat outside on a lawn chair, admiring the deeply dark sky riddled with billions of glowing balls of hot gas from the porch.
Although I longed for a difference sometimes, and missed the familiar, it was fair to say all of the experience was already beneficial. I was growing a backbone through these interactions and forcing myself into situations that typically make me uncomfortable.
I was also learning to be alone again, a skill I had begun to lose at home. I didn’t know it then, but Missoula and a string of incredibly bad luck awaited me in the month of June.
However it would also be the beginning of deep-rooted friendships stronger than many I’ve ever had. The transition remained rocky, but it was becoming more evident with each day that I was exactly where I needed to be.
Stay tuned for part 3.