3. Dude Ranching in Montana

About this episode:

Maddi Brown breaks up with her boyfriend, graduates college, and takes off for a summer in the Flathead Valley of Montana, where she experiences a new kind of freedom for herself, exercises her power, and gets a brand new perspective on just how many paths one can take in life. 

Follow her adventures on Instagram at @maddicbrown.

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Transcription of episode:

Leah Falyn: I’m Leah Falyn, and this is Wander By Proxy, where you’ll hear women’s travel stories that connect them more to themselves in the world around them.

 Maddie Brown graduated college and broke up with her boyfriend one day and hopped on a plane to Montana the next where she’d be spending the summer dude ranching. Don’t know what dude ranching is? I didn’t either. Here’s Maddie.

Maddi Brown:  I was going to community college in the suburbs of Minneapolis, and then I was transferred to the university of Minnesota and I was dating my then partner at the time, and he wasn’t really supportive of any of my decisions. And the relationship was just kind of coming to an end.

And so we were arguing, and I decided to kind of spite him, and I lied. And I said, Hey, I applied to this seasonal job out in Montana, which was a total lie. But I had been told about it via my aunt, who 30 years ago had actually worked at the same place. I always thought it was a cool idea, but he, was like, oh, well that’s too far away. It’s long distance. I don’t want to do long distance. And because I wanted to be with him, you know, I kind of put it to the side, but at the end of our relationship, I was like, you know what? I’m despite you, even though I haven’t applied for it yet, I’m an ally and you know, kind of, I guess a little rude to him.

And we eventually did break up. And so then I was like, well, might as well apply for it. Because I said, I’ve been doing it. I don’t know if it’ll actually happen. You know, what else? What do I have to lose? And so I actually did. I got accepted to the job. And I graduated from my community college one day and I left the next.

And so I took the Amtrak from Minneapolis all the way to Whitefish, Montana, which is in the North area of the Flathead Valley. my aunt and my uncle came and picked me up, got all my suitcases from the train. They brought me to their home, which is also in the Valley. And yeah, the next day they drop me off with the dude ranch.

Like it was, it was a very quick turnaround. A lot of big events were happening, and that’s when I decided I wanted to leave as soon as possible, as soon as I could. So yeah, pretty much graduated one day and then less than X.

Leah Falyn: I’m not going to lie. I love the spite part of this. Can you explain to me what a dude ranch is like? 

Maddi Brown: So a dude ranch, just kind of like a, I guess the best way to describe it as like a Western resort. So people from all over the country and all over the world can come to it and they can get kind of a quote unquote Western experience. So that could be like riding horses, having fires, like imagine a resort, but put a cowboy hat on it, I guess would be the best way to describe it. So I finally decided, I was like, you know what? Might as well, and just kind of took the leap. I had no idea what I was getting into.

I actually got there a few days early and it seemed like all the other employees that I first met knew each other already, so they already had a friendship going and I was new to the crowd, and so that was probably really hard. I think there was definitely an adjustment period. There was actually a huge culture shock for me.

I worked in housekeeping just because I didn’t know what else I would want to do. I didn’t know anybody really at first, like I said, because all my roommates came a little bit later. But it definitely, it turned around like after two weeks.

 I was actually in my room being all lonely and sad and upset. Oh, this is not going away. I thought it was going to go, and I was, you know, talking to my mom about it and she’s like, well, just go outside.

Go outside and see where the staff are and just immerse yourself. And I’m like, no, that’s weird. Who, who would do that? She’s like, no. He out there, I’m like, whatever. Fine. So I hung up on her and I could hear there’s like commotion outside the dorms and the storms are right next to the stables and like the arena.

And so I walked out and they were watching some of the boys practice rope. And so I just sat down and I watched them with these other people and introduced myself and I was like, hi, my name’s Maddie. And I mean, we started chatting and talking and it was actually going well. Then once the guys were done practicing, they were like, Hey, I want to go get ice cream with us.

And I was like, sure, of course. And one thing led to the other to another, and I actually got to go up to the house where the other staff stayed and I got to stay there. And have a bonfire with them. And I mean, you can see from the house, you could see the Lake that we were sitting on, it’s called Flathead Lake.

And then you could see the sunsetting stars. I mean, it’s just like this crazy like, Oh, okay. It’s going to be okay. You know, these people are also away from their homes. Yes, they know each other. But. You’re still in it together for the seasonal job, people were just starting to arrive ahead and you’ve met the entire staff yet. And so that was a really big train experience because it made it easier once you kind of had a base. And luckily for my first year working there, I feel like I had a really great group of supportive girls that were like.

You know, we will be your friends, like, you seem really great, we’re going to take you out. We’re going to go hiking and let’s go do stuff. Okay. So that was definitely a turning point, is just kind of truly had to throw myself out there and be like, okay, I’m going to become your friend. I’m gonna force you to become my friend. In kind of a funny way.

Leah Falyn: I’m so glad the first step of bravery paid off for you. I am sure that’s a hurdle most travelers have to jump over at first until it becomes more normal and natural to talk to strangers. So what happened that summer that stood out to you?

Maddi Brown:  I think that first summer, I mean,  like everyone says, the first summer is magical because it’s new.

It’s fun. You get to meet all these people all around the United States and the world, but looking back, I think my first summer, it really stood out to me. I was in the dorms and we had barn dance every Thursday, and so me and my friend were drinking for barn dance.

And I get a text from my ex-partner, and he would sometimes texting me throughout, I call it bread crumbing. He likes her, make sure that I still know that he’s there. So he likes to send me silly questions or say, Hey but this text, he said, Hey, How are the mountains treating you? And my friend who was drunk, she’s like better than he ever treated you! And I, I’m like, and I laughed along with her at that, but looking back and I’m like, you know, did the mountains, did treat me a lot better than he did. He was very close minded and didn’t like to do new things.

I never went camping before it went to this dude ranch ever. I never really had been hiking either, and we never went to like explore new opportunities. We never like broaden our horizons like when we were dating.

Looking back, I mean, I really broadened my horizons up for summer because I tried all these different things and I didn’t have a critic on my shoulder saying, well, you shouldn’t do that because of this, or you shouldn’t do this. Because of that. Like, aye had this freedom of not being. Talk down to like as a child and just meeting these wonderful people who are so open to doing anything.

I mean, we went whitewater rafting, we went hiking, we went horseback riding. We learned how to swing dance. Like it was just like this crazy, like there’s always a new opportunity for something and people wanted to do it. When I came home, I felt different because I knew what I was capable of and I could learn things and I wasn’t the small person who would never leave her town.

I was someone who had gotten to the mountains and rode a horse for like the first time in like a decade, which I was so excited about and got to hike and got to camp for the first time. Like there was just all these opportunities and people and great like instances of what a friendship. Or like what a person should like should be in your life, not being so critical.

And I think that was a huge turning point because I met so many open minded people from all walks of life and I mean, they were there with me too. We were all in it together. And so having. Support system for the new and the adventurous, like things that we did was probably a huge turning point, just because, I mean, my friend was right.

The mountains treated me a lot better than he did. Just because the mountains didn’t care what I did, they didn’t criticize where I look like my hair, my clothing, my university choices. I was just. I was able to be there and that was okay.

Leah Falyn: I love that. And I think it’s really fascinating that you kind of created your own parallel universe for yourself because you forced the hand, you lied, and then all this stuff unraveled.

I had to ask Maddie to tell me a hiking story. Here’s what she shared.

Maddi Brown: So like I said before, we work six days a week,  and so that means you only had one day off. So you kind of had like your day off buddies, everyone who had the same day off as you, and you would go on a hike. And everyone that I had on my day off. They love to go on hikes. And again, I had really never been hiking before.

So the first time we went, I was like, Oh my gosh, this is awful. Who wants to do cardio? And like climb, like, this is just, I don’t want to do this ever again. But when I got back, I realized how good it felt and how good it had been to see all those views. And there’s a few times where we had gone somewhat earlier in the summer.

Glacier park was like 45 minutes away from us. And so we went to glacier quite a bit to go on hikes in glacier, whether it can be kind of unpredictable. So I went on a hike with shorts on and a tee shirt and it ended up snowing on us like late June. The winds going sideways like we get to the Lake that we’ve been dying to see.

That’s kinda hard to see. It’s like. Mm. Below freezing.  it was so funny because it was such an awful situation, but all we had to do is laugh because we were still in the middle of glacier and it’s snowing and we’re just having a blast. Like, and we still made it there. Yes. We were soaked to the bone and freezing, but before the snow hit, we had amazing views and not a soul around.

But I definitely think one of my favorite memories was one of my friends wanted to go camp. And I’m like, okay, I’ve never been camping before. She’s like, Oh, well I have, I’m like, okay, cool, great. Let’s go. She’s like, well, we need backpacks and we need sleeping bags and we need a 10. And so we got to actually borrow quite a few of those things from other people that we knew that we worked with in the dorms.

And then we actually had to Go to REI and buy a tent and this was at probably five o’clock at night at this point. And she’s like, well, I want to go to this mountain in this area. It’s called  Jewel Basin and it’s in the national forest. And so I’m like, okay, well we better get up there cause sun’s going to set and like a few hours.

And so we have our new tent, we have all of our barreled things, and I’m like, okay, I guess this is, we’re going to go home, we’re going to, let’s go camp. And so where we wanted to go camp, it’s called mountain a as it’s one of the Summit’s within jewel basin, and it’s about. I’d probably say about three miles to get to the top and you have to drive up quite a bumpy road just to get to the trail head and it can be kinda rough in your car.

So we get up to the Trailhead car, stuff on, had these huge packs on, cause we didn’t know how to pack at all. They’re probably way too big, way, way too much stuff. We get up there and it’s like the sun is setting, like it’s getting dark. And so we finally like Huff it up to the top. Set up our camp, and when we were truly the only people up there, we start to look around because it’s dark now.

And there’s like a huge storm surrounding us except for right above us, which is just stars. And though I could see the lightning strikes, I could hear, I couldn’t hear the thunder. So as far enough away that we were safe. But the fact that just right above us was just to clear skies the prettiest hours I’ve ever seen.

And we’re like on top of this mountain all by ourselves. Like it’s, I’m like, Oh, this is, is this how camping is all always is? If so, I want in. And we had a bottle of wine up there and we drank that and went to sleep. And in the morning, we woke up and we heard footprints are not footprints. We heard footsteps outside of our tent.

And I’m like, Oh my God, there’s a bear. Cause you were right in the middle of grizzly, black bear and mountain lion country. So we have like the trifecta of all the predators that want to kill you. And so I’m sitting there in my, in my sleeping bag like, Oh, no. And so I quickly nudged my friend, I’m like, Hey, do you hear that?

And she’s like, yup, I hear that. I’m like, okay, well we should probably look and see what it is. She’s like, I don’t want to do it. You do it. I’m like, okay, whatever. I’ll do it. And so I unzip it a little bit, and I see the hubs of a mountain goat, and there is actually like a small, like, herd of mountain goats that come up to the summit and they were coming up from sleeping in the tent.

Oh, that’s a good word for it. They were, they were, they usually come up every day. Mmm. Wow. Can’t talk. they come from the forests every night and they come up to the summit during the day and then they’ll retreat back down to the forest for dusk. And so we see like the sea of like mountain goats and like the babies just coming up to like greet us on the summit and as they’re doing it, we have like

Well, like the prettiest sunrise that I’ve ever seen. And, and I mean, this entire sunrise is like reflecting against the Flathead Valley with these goats. And it’s just so beautiful and calm. And I mean, definitely, that was like a great moment because it was so last minute and so like on the fly, but it worked out perfectly.

Leah Falyn: That sounds magical. You painted an amazing picture there. So you’re like this new woman, you’re about to go back to school. What changes did you make coming back?

Maddi Brown: I felt free. I felt like I could do things that I knew he would be critical of. And.  I think that he was so critical of it because he didn’t want me to lead the same comfort zone that he was in.

I think he’s stuck in a very, very small comfort zone. And so by getting out of his comfort zone in mind, like I, I felt well, like I could tackle the world. And for sure I definitely like stumbled like transitioning from community college to university or like the four-year university. But I knew, I’m like, you know, if you can take the train, go to Montana, not know a soul except for your aunt and survive a summer with a bunch of strangers.

And housekeeping because housekeeping, and I’ll tell you, it’s hard and it can be real bad sometimes. I mean, you can, you can do it. And aye. I’ve when I’ve had some hard times and I kind of will equate it to, well, hiking can be really hard too, and you still made it to the top nine times out of 10.

So I think you can, you can get past whatever, whatever other obstacle you have in your life, whether it be grades or, you know, family issues. Like anything I’ve, I know I can come out in the other side. Yeah. I might have to stop a few times and kind of take a breather. Like, I went on a hike. But I can still make it to the top.

I can just go a little bit slower than everyone else and that’s okay.

Leah Falyn: That is a perfect metaphor. What do you think is next for you?

Maddi Brown: Oh, there’s so many possibilities cause it’s, I feel, and I’ve been told this a lot of like a lot, that since I’m single and my debt for school is pretty low, that, I mean, I could truly.

Be wherever I want to be. And I did spend, this last summer in Oregon, more specifically, central Oregon. And I lived in a cabin in one of the national forests. But it was kind of isolating and I just decided it probably wasn’t for me. So I moved back to the Flathead Valley because I know how much I enjoy it here.

And a lot of people are like, well, it’s snowy and it’s cold. And, and I’m like, yeah, I understand that. I’m from Minnesota. Like it’s, I totally understand what winter is, and I think I’ll be okay. But I really liked the small town feel of it. And there’s just, I like the community of people that are around here and that’s, I kind of need to, you know, kick myself to get out there and kind of socialize like I did that first summer and meet those people because currently I’m being a bit of a hermit and like just kind of laying low and taking it easy and I need to get back out there and just make myself go meet those people.

Leah Falyn: Yeah. Are you still in contact with the people you met that first summer?

Maddi Brown:  That’s like, it’s like the best. And the worst thing is meeting people, for seasonal jobs because they’re so great and you are with them 24/7.

So you get to know him really well and it’s just like, I can’t, it’s not like a real world, like working like a seasonal job like that because they’re like, I feel like there is no rules. Like it’s, you’re so on your own time, you’re not on the line. Real-world time, which is just crazy. But I am in touch with quite a few of them.

 When I left in October, I actually took a really, really long road trip from Montana to Minnesota, and so I went from, stay with me for this one. I did Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and then Nebraska and Iowa. I met my mom in Wyoming, but before that I spent about 40 hours road tripping by myself.

But because I have so many friends that I’ve made throughout the years working there, I had a place to stay in Washington. Campton and Nash are in a state park with my friend in Oregon. And then I stayed with one of my friends families, and like, I’m in Portland, Oregon. And so just the amount of connections that I still have and I still keep, has been so cool because I’ve gotten to explore all these different States.

With the people that I met just in Montana. And it’s cool because I feel somewhat more inspired because I do, that’s the nice thing about Social media is I get to stay in touch with them and I get to see their adventures. And some of them go from seasonal job to seasonal job. Some did it for a summer two and are in their careers.

And some are just kind of living life the way that they want to. And that’s so refreshing. And I think it’s, like I said, inspirational to have those people versus. A lot of people that I grew up with aren’t doing that. They’ve graduated college, they’re engaged, they’re having kids either, you know, or they’re in their profession that they want.

Okay. And I understand that that’s like, it’s a way of living. But I would have never known about this way, different way of living where these people are just living in loving their life. And it may not be the traditional way, but it’s a way that suits them best. And I think that’s probably one of the coolest things about making friends.

And. Staying in touch with some of these people that I worked with. Cause I like, I mean, some of them are currently in South America, some are in Africa, some are in Japan. Like they’re just like all over, whether they’re just traveling or volunteering with like the peace Corps, you know, they’re just spreading themselves out all over the world, which I just think is so cool because my world would be so small without the people that.

I’ve met throughout the three years. And like I said, they’ve really broadened my horizons, each and every one of them in a different way. And I do have a lot of, yeah, like long term friendships that I have with these people, and I really have really appreciated that. 

Leah Falyn: I love that you’re inspired to exercise your own power and to choose your own path, and now you’re kind of in this limbo stage where you can do anything and the freedom is probably a little overwhelming. How do you feel about that freedom?

Maddi Brown: Yeah. That you definitely like hit it on the mark. I, it’s definitely overwhelming. Like to be done with college, have your degree. And not have any true like anchors because my family  my family has always told me they’re like, wherever you are, as long as you’re happy, like. Go do it like you don’t like, they’re not.

No one’s forcing me to stay anywhere. And so kind of trying to figure out my own path and kind of figure it out. Okay, where do I belong in this period of my life? Because where I’d made along now may be different for where I belong later. And so that can be super overwhelming because I can do anything like I can join the peace Corps, I can join AmeriCorps, or I can try out like a quote unquote adult job.

 I’ll figure it out. And I have some wonderful friends who unfortunately are all across the world, but they’re here to support me and I know that they will have my back no matter the time zone that they’re in.

I mean, eventually I’ll get to the summit of it, so I’m not too worried about it.

Leah Falyn: Thanks so much for listening to wander by proxy to see more of a Maddie’s adventures. Follow her on Instagram at Maddie C Brown. For travel inspiration in episode teasers. Follow wonder by proxy on Instagram at wander by proxy podcast. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts.

Safe travels.

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