“You may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here?” – Talking Heads
If you are like me, you don’t stop to ask yourself this very often. It wasn’t until losing my mother on July 2019, that I really stopped to assess my life and think back on how I chose this path. Or, how it chose me.
I spent much of my life working seasonal jobs in the ski and travel industry. I have always loved the mountains, so never ventured far from the Rockies. In 1994, I met my future wife, Veronica, in Glacier National Park, where I was a Jammer (antique red tour bus driver) and she was an intern at the Lake McDonald Lodge. We spent years traveling and enjoying jobs like whitewater rafting guide, snowboard instructor, and of course every position available in the lodging industry. For us, it was about the location and being where we wanted to be.
In 2006, Veronica and I created Highline Adventures, LLC. We formed a company because we purchased a laundromat and needed an entity to operate it. The name came from our first hike together, shortly after meeting in Glacier National Park. We always knew we wanted to do more than run a laundromat, but at the time, it was just something to make ends meet. Over the next 13 years, it grew into a hospitality management company specializing in unique guest and employment experiences around our most special locations. We now employ over 100 people and serve guests from all over the world. We find joy in creating connections and offering our staff and guests individual attention and a passion for their adventure.
What does this have to do with my mother?
My mother was an amazing person who, like most mothers, cared deeply for her family. This was certainly seen by all who knew her. But she was unique in so many ways. After she passed, I took time to reflect on her life and truly understand what my mother meant to me, and how she shaped my life. I think it can be summed up in two main lessons that she taught me through her example.
Understanding takes effort, which is something many people avoid. It means being truly present in conversations, being willing to get dirty when the moment requires it and being open to conversation, new foods, religions, and experiences when traveling. Through this effort, one can better connect with the other person or culture. Understanding builds trust, friendship, and a deeper appreciation for life in general.
I grew up in the apartment business. This is a crash course in understanding. It would be easy to be soured by this experience and make assumptions about other’s lifestyles or motivations. My mother chose the harder path. She chose to trust and work with people no matter their background. Yes, sometimes she got burned, but she didn’t let this harden her. While others might hold someone’s past actions against future dealings with someone else, my mother just went right on trusting everyone. This allowed her to connect with so many people on a deeper level. People that looked to her as someone they could trust.
Eventually, my mother became a travel agent. It would be easier to count the countries she did not visit, rather than the ones she did. Whenever possible, she chose to stay in people’s homes with organizations like Friendship Force. She wanted the opportunity to experience the lifestyle, art, and culture of whatever region she visited. She made many friendships and memories this way. People trusted her and chose to share their humor, food, art, and culture with her because she was genuine and truly wanted to understand. We could use more of this spirit in the world.
Throughout her life, my mother lived in the moment. She loved adventure, and you could count her in if one was to be had. It didn’t have to be exotic, though sometimes it was, it just had to be something new and exciting. It didn’t matter if it was a spontaneous visit to a new art exhibit, a weekend snowmobiling in Cooke City or jet-skiing on the Yellowstone River. She loved 4-wheeling in her monster truck, helping on a ranch in Two-Dot, or learning to macrame. But most of all, she loved travel and seeing places that few ever do.
This spirit of adventure and connection has been passed down to me, and it has shaped my life. Accepting every opportunity and challenge, with a desire to appreciate and understand it. This has made me the human being that I am today. This is a priceless gift from my mother. One that I hope to pass down to my children like an heirloom.
We move through life making hundreds of choices every day. Each of these choices’ layers on top of previous ones, and eventually they add up to a lifetime. Hopefully, one can look back on a lifetime of joy. Only the individual can define this though.
As I look back on my lifetime, there is one common thread…Adventure. In fact, Veronica and I unwittingly used this notion when we created our company, Highline Adventures, LLC so many years ago. In a way, this is a legacy from my mother. Her example shaped a young boy’s choices, and eventually, these choices added up to a lifetime of adventure. In this way, our company has become a celebration of my mother’s life. A way to carry on her trusting, adventurous soul, and share that spirit of adventure with all those who work and stay with us.
I encourage everyone to reflect on their lives from time to time. Reflect on what inspires us to make the choices we do, and how these choices stack up to shape our lives. We all have different inspirations and define adventure in our own unique ways. By spending time in reflection, it allows us to identify these inspirations and make choices that allow us to feed our own need for adventure and joy. Then we will be able to better answer the question “Well, how did I get here?”
Thank you for these gifts mom. I love and miss you so much, but know you’ll be right there with us on every adventure.