Day #9: Lethbridge, AB to Butte, MT

This slideshow of pics is a new trial. Tell me if you like this or the grid of pics better. If you click just on the arrows, it will scroll by and show you a caption for each photo. If you click on this center picture it will open them in a new window - your choice.

We got up early, ate breakfast, threw our growing pile of junk in the car, and left Lethbridge excited that we would cross the border soon and be back in the great U.S.A. As we passed all the fields that were being harvested, the kids were in shock at how large the fields are. In my position as Invasive Species Coordinator at Salcha-Delta Soil and Water, in Alaska, I would inspect fields just before harvesting to ensure they were weed-free. If so, the farmer could sell the crop as "Certified Weed Free" and that's very important (those details are a whole other story). To inspect a field, I had to walk it and note/map any invasive species of vegetation found. Well, the kids went with me and so they know these weeds and they know what it means to cover 600 acres on foot, so when they saw this sight in Alberta, it took their breath away. Garrett asked Ellie, "Wow! How would you like to certify THAT field!?!" When he asked that, it made me think of how lucky I was to be able to have my kids with me at work; and how lucky they are to have this experience at such a young age. Usually, a biologist would not get this training until college, and sometimes not even until they got a entry level job; but these kids have learned things that they won't appreciate until they are older. What a blessing that I could give them that edge. That comment also made me miss Alaska because harvest season will be coming up soon I'll miss walking fields, soaking up sun, eyeballing fresh grizzly tracks, seeing combines run, and helping that great state clean up it's invasives.

We were near an hour away from the border and I'm glad we got there when we did because traffic behind up piled up (like 20-30 vehicles). I was so nervous to go through because I have my plants in the car. You are allowed to bring houseplants in, if they are on the approved list and if they are inside of a bag so that no weed seeds can be transferred from your soil to outside of your car. But these aren't just any old plants. These are plants that were given to me when Ellie and Garrett were both born, and a Christmas Cactus of Ellie's that came from a cactus I gave my momma. So at both borders, I told the truth and I was ready to deal with having to throw them away, but I didn't and that made my day! Will doesn't really share my anxiety over the plants but he has been so sweet to help me deal with them, pamper them in the car, water them, and he was sensitive to my anxiety at the gate.

We crossed the border at a new gate for me -- Babbs, Montana. Several miles from the gate, the town is on both sides of the road and about 100 yards long, just waiting for tourists to stop. We all had to use the bathroom so we found a cafe but also found the sign, "only for customers" and since the kids saw the sign we HAD to honor it (being the exceptional parents that we are haha) and so Will bought a BLT. We had no idea that would set us back 45 minutes but it gave me time to buy a t-shirt. I love t-shirts and I love hippies, and this was a t-shirt with a hippy on it -- a no-brainer. We left and headed to Browning. Will was busy reading, so I just followed road signs to Browning. About 20 min later, he looked up and said "Where are the mountains?" We were travelling through rolling prairies and I didn't know there were two ways to Browning, so we backtracked and then took the other route south. Oh. My. Goodness!! If ever I could rewind time, that would have been rewinded and erased from my life experiences all together. I love mountains but to be VERY specific, I love to LOOK at mountains. Never, ever, ever, will I enjoy being ON a mountain. My hands are pouring sweat as I type this now because I truly thought I would have a heart attack on this road. I will get out and walk before I EVER get on this road again and that is no exaggeration. People who drive big trucks and especially with RVs in tow are just death chasers, on roads like these. So, we took Hwy 89 south from Babbs, through St. Mary, Kiowa, and east to Browning. It took hours because I drove around 20 mph. Will was trying so hard to be helpful. He asked to drive but my hands were cement-gripped to the steering wheel; plus, the thought of him driving (he still looks around and will sightsee WHILE he drives) was unthinkable to me. I was truly in "survival mode" through every hairpin curve with no guard rail, and death-defying cliffs just millimeters away from my tires. They should close those roads! We finally made it to Browning and when I found out that when we turned around and backtracked earlier, we were only a few miles from Browning, and that all these hours of panic and near-death were JUST so Will could see a stupid mountain drop-off scenery, I thought I was going to cry without stopping. I had to remind myself that this is also his vacation and that everything can't be "my way", but I would have liked some heads up on that one.

I could not calm myself down even though we were back on straight, pretty flat roads. I was praying and begging God to take away my fears, my stress, my apparent lack of faith that my day was in His hands. Nothing was working. I came over a small rolling hill and the road sloped down (very gently but a long slope) and I felt my peripheral vision getting smaller and smaller. I pulled over real quick and got Will to drive us. I have never had that happen before today and I know that I'm fine, except I was having some kind of anxiety attack. It felt like the effect of the stress of those roads just waited to hit me until I was out of the "survival situation". Isn't that weird? Before I got out of the driver's seat I just started bawling. Will never even asked what was wrong, because I'm pretty sure he was waiting for this eruption. I was so angry at myself for letting that get to me; I was embarrassed; I felt like I must have no faith in God to protect us; I felt like a wimp; I felt out of control; and I felt like a failure, not showing my kids how to have faith during stress. Will was so sweet and uplifting to me, and he kept telling me "it's okay. You had a fear and you faced it, and came out the other side just fine. You did awesome today and you overcame a fear. It's okay to take a break now. You didn't crumble." It took a bit for his words to sink in but he's right. This was another one of those times when I listened to those negative voices in my head and I believed them -- that I stink and something is wrong with me, and that I disappointed God by not having faith. I can't listen to those lies anymore. God (through Will) reminded me that I am an overcomer. 1 John 5:4 says, :for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." The king of lies loves to plant doubt and self-loathing, but God only wants us to LOVE ourselves like He does. We are all overcomers of the world because we are His, and this includes those lies that slip into our minds telling us that we are unworthy of the purpose that God gave us. My purpose is to be a loving wife and mother; to be transparent to my family so that they can see how to make a mistake and then come back from it; and to share burdens with my spouse and allow him the blessing of helping me, instead of shutting him out and dealing with it alone (and probably resenting that later). I accomplished that today. I overcame.

We got take out from Dairy Queen and had a wonderful laugh to end our day on. The sign in their doorway is intended to read, "Welcome to your Butte, Montana Dairy Queen". However, our moods were ripe for misreading this sign entirely. "Welcome to your Butt" is exactly what it looked like to us and now this phrase has become our new "go to" when the mood gets serious. When we get ill with each other, one of us will whisper under our breath, "Welcome to your Butt" and we'll all giggle. The jokes just get crazy from there as I'm sure you can imagine. Some were "Ellie, your butt is in DQ" ; "oh no - I lost my butt -- I think I left it in DQ" ; "nobody wants to think of butts and hamburgers" ; "welcome to Montana's butts and burgers" and many many many more that I'll spare you. Butt...haha ... if you can think of others you can put them on the comments and I'll share them with the kids!

In total, we drove 364 miles and were in the car for 8 hours.