Friday, 14 August 2015


I write this on a sunny day in Portobello, Edinburgh. 

I'm home.

My last blog from Jackson, Wyoming, was the day before I traveled to Missoula in Montana to meet my friend Jennifer and her husband Rob. I had said then that Jackson was my kind of town, due to its sporty atmosphere mixed with wild west charm, albeit manufactured. But I push it down the scale now for Missoula to take top spot in small towns.

Maybe under the influence of where Adventure Cycling has its US headquarters, it is a very bike friendly place. Then there's the micro breweries, coffee shops and independent restaurants. One of the micro breweries is called Highlander, and I spotted a studenty guy sporting a baseball cap with the brewery name on it. On the back was embroidered, "If it ain't Scottish, it's crap". Not sure that I concur entirely, but it certainly started a conversation.  The University of Montana, with its 10,000 students, is also here in Missoula giving the town a fun student vibe. My home city of Edinburgh has a strong university vibe as well, and many of its streets are lined with mature trees with a backdrop of the Pentland hills. And so it is in Missoula, with its wide streets also lined with trees, and with a backdrop of densely wooded hillsides, six to eight thousand feet high.

So I fell in love with Missoula, as I tend to do with most American landscapes, but this place just has that little something extra.

Rob met me at the airport with a fun sign he'd spent hours making, which said "Limo for Graham Kitchener", together with an accurate Scottish flag! Immediately I knew we were going to get on well.

I'd corresponded with Jenn for almost five years but we'd never met. Apart from one brief phone call a couple of weeks ago, I didn't even know what she sounded like!  Instantly we met you'd think we'd known each other all our lives, it was that easy and comfortable. Jenn's mum was visiting too and the four of us spent a happy three days together. There was one family member who gets the most attention, still to meet: Tiika the dog. She and I seemed to be instant friends, and I received the seal of approval.

My first visit into the town from Jenn's house in the suburbs, in an area alarmingly called Rattle Snake Ridge, was to the local weekly farmers market. I run a monthly one back home in Portobello, and I was very jealous of the size and variety of the Missoula one, and how well supported it was. Right in the middle was an old steam locomotive from a bygone era, and just over the perimeter fence was the familiar sight and sound of the bright orange BNSF, mile-long freight trains, that I fell in love with on my 2011 cycle.

On one of our days together we went on a road trip, first to visit a Buddhist garden where they have made a design from creating 1,000 Buddha statues. It was very impressive. From there we set out for the huge Flathead Lake, and at first glance, when we stopped at a viewpoint, I thought it looked exactly like the southern view of Loch Lomond, which was a nice coincidence. The lake is 30 miles long and 16 miles wide, and lies southwest of Glacier National park. After a very relaxing lunch on the side of the loch, with a cool breeze, we returned, directly south, the 70 miles to Missoula.

In the evening a work colleague, and friend, from Adventure Cycling, Arlen, joined us for dinner and brought along a bottle of Dewars. I think it was a surprise for him to meet a Scotsman who doesn't like whisky!
I had one more friend to meet, who had moved to Missoula not long after we first became friends in 2011, when I cycled into Havre, Montana. Luke is the son of Kathy and John Donaldson, who generously gave us a place to stay at the time. So we had lunch at The Shack, together with his partner Stella, and caught up.

The day before my homeward journey was to start, a violent thunderstorm passed right through town, bringing down powerlines and trees, causing havoc, but everyone just got on with it, clearing up the mess and continuing with life unabated. In the UK that would have been headline news!

I had a nice treat at the end of my stay; a tour round Adventure Cycling headquarters. And despite not making it by bicycle I still managed to get my photo on the wall of fame. 

Eventually it was time to go home, and apart from problematic flight delays, being re routed through London and lost luggage, it passed quickly and soon I was home to friends and all that is familiar. Once again my friendship group has grown, albeit some 4,000 miles away, but I know I will return in the not too distant future, and finish what I started.

One thing I know, is that once again I proved that the most important thing in life is friendship and the memories you make together that last a lifetime.

On one memorable occasion in Missoula, while we were all out for a woodland walk with Tiika, two mountain bikers whizzed past us. As is usual we greeted them with a friendly "hi, how you doing?", when one replied "living the dream!"

I would echo that, especially when soon I will get back on the bike for the next adventure, but maybe this time with protective padding!

As before, photos on Flickr (please scroll down the Flickr page to see the latest).

No comments: