Today was our first solo hike. Our, as in Lucy and myself. Lucy is our dog who lives for adventure more than Sam and myself. Sam will be in Alaska fishing for the week, so Lucy and I decided it was time to get into the Gallatin National Forest and explore on our own for a bit. Let’s be honest, Lucy will go anywhere as long as the window is down.
It started out relatively simple, fun and lighthearted. It was hike that we could do in less than a couple of hours, full of beautiful scenery, easily accessed from where we live. Sam gave me a list of easily accessible day hikes in the Bozeman area, before she left. Middle Cottonwood was one of those on the list and sounded the most exciting. After a bit of searching online, I discovered it to be easy, so easy in fact, that I thought it was be more fun for Lucy, seeing that there were multiple creek access points.
But somewhere along the way, I missed the point where Middle Cottonwood ended. And I just kept walking.
Lucy was running from creek access to creek access, thinking that she would love it was completely accurate. The dog loves water. Every time we approach a creek she trots over to the creek bed steps in and lays down. Just lays right down in the middle of the creek, I think she’s the happiest there. I was running with the camera from one new scenic view to the next, the scenes were incredible. No bend was like the other. It was breathtaking, and the further we went, the more incredible the scenery.
We passed a young family about 45 minutes in, a young mom, late 20’s and her daughter were leading the pack, followed by their son, who was about 11, and dad of mid-30’s, we’ll call him Randy, for relatable purposes. I greeted the family with a casual, “how is it up there?” Having no actual clue where up there was or if there even was an “up there.” Randy replied with a smile and a simple “it just gets more beautiful the further you go.”
Perfect, that’s what we needed. More beautiful. So Lucy and I keep jumping in creeks and taking pictures.
We really didn’t know how far “further” was and honestly didn’t care. We were out for a day hike.
I say I didn’t care about how much further, further was, but I still kept finding myself saying “maybe we should just turn around.” But Randy the Dad was right, it just kept getting more and more beautiful the further up we went. The mountain goats were unexpected, i’ve only seen those on higher elevation hikes, which is when I knew we were going further. The view of *Saddle’s Peak with a peripheral view of Sam’s favorite, the Spanish Peaks, the zen-like sound of gravel crunching under my feet, the creek crackling next to us and a clear, inviting sky as we walked in to the day made going further more like therapy than physical exertion. At one point, the smell of the forest was so overwhelming, that we stopped, I closed my eyes, stood in the middle of the trail and took it in. It was the scent of pine trees mixing with the breeze of the mountain air, that picked up with it, the scent of berries that surrounded. I had a moment with Gallatin National Forest.
I’m guessing we went around at least 18 different bends, that included me saying at least 18 different times that we were just about there. We weren’t. We came around one corner and there at the end of that stretch was a beautiful cluster of boulders, that I assumed signaling the end of the trail, offering a place for us to drink our water and eat our snacks. You know what they say about assuming.
I walked up to the boulders, that offered a spectacular view, and peered over my shoulder, there was still more trail. “SERIOUSLY?” So we walked out on the boulders, snapped a few pictures, and kept walking.
The further we went, the more beautiful it became.
I didn’t really know how far it was at the time, but I wasn’t expecting “far.” But I knew if we kept going, we were going to continue to be greeted by beautiful scene after beautiful scene. So we continued.
We eventually made it to the top. Lucy had to stop in the shade of a pine tree, since there was little shade on this trail. Once we got to the top, it was evident we were at the top and Randy the Dad was right, it was more beautiful at the top, although I highly doubt Randy the Dad and his family went the way we went.
The view, the thoughts, the elation of sitting under this pine tree’s shade with Lucy while I write this, along with a couple of Bruk’s Bars (thank God I brought these, they were serious fuel) could not be met by any other feeling today.
Today, we went further. Today, we pushed ourselves. Today, we encountered beautiful.
Today, I will take solace in the face that we went further and it kept getting more and more beautiful.
Today, Go Further.
Today, Find the Beauty.
*We made it to Saddle’s Peak, turns out it was a 10 mile hike, not that far in the grand scheme of things, but our longest, with a quick elevation gain of roughly 3,000 feet. It was a solid day’s work.