Three Perfect Days: Montana
Story by Jacob Baynham | Photography by Brad Torchia | Hemispheres, August 2017
Montana is a story best told outside. It's a place where people measure the worth of their weekends by the mud on their boots. Those who were born here know what they have. Those who visit will dream about finding a way to stay. But no one is indecisive about living in Montana. If you're here, you're all in. You're outside and getting up early, as Norman Maclean wrote in A River Runs Through It, “to see as much of the Lord's daylight as is given to us."
In which Jacob drinks espresso with a pop star, does some vicarious surfing, and fulfills his dream of owning—ok, renting—a 1986 VW Van
I'm standing 620 feet above Missoula, beside a giant white “M" branded onto a mountainside. Fifteen thousand years ago, I'd have been underwater. During the last ice age, a glacier dammed the Clark Fork River, creating a lake that was 2,000 feet deep and larger than Delaware. Beavers the size of grizzlies roamed its banks. Then the dam broke and flushed the lake out to the Pacific. I'm looking down at the aftermath, which is now the midsize college town where I live.
The sun hasn't quite crested Mount Sentinel behind me, but it's light enough to see the maple-lined streets and the Clark Fork unspooling through town. Somewhere to my right, in the shadow of Mount Jumbo, is my house. It feels good to linger in the cool air and listen to the meadowlarks, but few moments are as heavy with possibility as a Montana summer sunrise. So when the University of Montana clock tower chimes the hour below, I'm already jogging down the switchbacks toward another kind of pick-me-up.
I find it at Drum Coffee, a new café owned by John Wicks, the drummer for the indie-pop band Fitz and the Tantrums. Wicks's wife, Jenna, grew up in Missoula, and after the couple had kids they moved here from Southern California. He's tall, with thick-framed glasses and a peacoat with notebooks in the breast pocket. Over a café cortado, he tells me how Montana won his heart.
Surfers on the rushing Clark Fork River
“In Los Angeles, I got the sense that people were trying to make their lives as easy as possible," he says. “That's not a goal here. People want to see the benefit of their hard work. I really love that about this place."
Before he moved here, Wicks felt jaded, toiling away in a cutthroat industry. But now, when he's not on tour, he spends his days managing the café, giving drum lessons to kids, and running up the mountains behind his house. “The topography of this place plays a part in the humility here," he says. “These mountains don't care what you do. They're going to be here when you're gone. That plays a big part in people's priorities."
One of my immediate priorities is brunch at Scotty's Table, an Art Deco–inflected bistro downtown. I order a burger made from cattle that graze a pasture along the Bitterroot River, south of town. It's topped with a farm-fresh egg and bacon, and it's a tribute to sustainable beef.
From here, I cut through Caras Park to the Clark Fork, where surfers are playing in a standing wave. The river is high and brown, but the surfers are out anyway, paddling furiously into the froth, then springing to their feet, suspended by the roaring current. I feel a vicarious thrill.
John Wicks, musician
A hundred yards upstream is the Clark Fork Farmers Market, where locals wander among stalls bearing homemade jellies, morel mushrooms, beeswax lip balm, and kombucha. At Ninja Mike's breakfast stall, a man in a mechanic's jumpsuit works the griddle, flipping egg sandwiches to old-school hip-hop. Farther down, a sandy-haired kid in a Nirvana sweatshirt strums Green Day on an unplugged Stratocaster.
The day is getting on. I've spent weeks planning these three days, but I'm most excited about the driving, which I've arranged to do in a 1986 Volkswagen Westfalia Weekender Camper—a personal dream. I collect one at the airport from Dragonflyvans, where Scott Quinnett introduces me to a van he calls Lizard King—named both for Jim Morrison and for the lizard that was living in the engine when he bought it. The vehicle has a beige interior, the aerodynamics of a brick, and no power steering. I'm smitten.
Quinnett walks me through Lizard King's particularities (take hills slowly) and hands me the keys. “I can almost guarantee you a blast," he says with a smile. The van purrs to life, and I crank its large steering wheel homeward to pick up my family.“Montana is one of the few places where the far right and the far left coexist and want the same thing: to preserve what's here." —John Wicks
A few notes on my family: My wife, Hilly, gave birth to our second son, Julian, three weeks ago. Our other son, Theo, is 3. But Hilly is a fourth-generation Montanan, and game for adventure. So is our 10-year-old niece, Salome, who's along for the ride. We pile into the van and head to Tagliare Deli for sandwiches, all of which are named after rock bands—I order the Megadeth, with spicy capicola, soppressata, and mozzarella. We roll out of town through a notch in the hills on Highway 93.
Our next stop is for candy, at Hummingbird Toys and Treats in Arlee, on the Flathead Indian Reservation about 30 miles north. The Hummingbird is a local fixture that sells 60 varieties of black licorice from around the world, and there is much deliberation before we can set off again.
Scarcely 10 minutes up the road is another mandatory stop: the Windmill Village Bakery in Ravalli, where owner Nancy Martin sells fresh doughnuts the way her mother made them. She chops one up for Salome and Theo, and hands me one on a square of wax paper. It's warm, soft as a marshmallow, and gone in a few savage bites.
Martin was born and raised in Montana. “When you live somewhere else, people don't like you until you give them a reason to," she says. “In Montana, people like you until you give them a reason not to. And you can't beat the scenery. The day we crest that hill and don't gasp, we need to reboot, because something's off the rails."
Strolling North Higgins Ave. in downtown Missoula
She's referring to Ravalli Hill, and when we crest it, minutes later, we do gasp, as always. The Mission Mountains rise straight from the valley floor here, a blue-green wall of peaks. They're distractingly beautiful.
We drive beneath them to Polson, a small town where the trees outnumber the houses on the shore of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the West and one of the cleanest in the country. We travel up the west shore, past cherry orchards, to Tamarack Brewery in Lakeside (our lodgings are nearby, and I'm ready for a drink).
We sip our way through a comprehensive flight of beers and nibble on fish and chips. Everyone's tired. The West Shore State Park campground beckons. We pull into the site and I pop the top of Lizard King while Salome builds a fire. We can see blue water through the trees below us and snow on the mountains beyond. The campground is quiet.
At 10 o'clock, it's still light. Salome and Theo are asleep in the upper bunk; Hilly, Julian, and I are stretched out below. I go to sleep thinking there's no place I'd rather be.
In which Jacob cooks a campfire breakfast, boats to a lake island, and cycles to the sun in Glacier National Park
All right, the night wasn't total bliss. Hilly elbowed me awake to say, “You're doing that breathing thing again." The kids were restless. But by 6:30 the birds are singing, and I'm rested enough to slide open the van door.
Lizard King makes camping almost effortless. I pull a propane burner from the cupboard, along with a kettle and a French press. Minutes later, I hand Hilly a cup of coffee, and she hands me Julian, to burp. Salome and Theo help me cook eggs and sausages on the fire.
After breakfast, we walk down to the lake, which is lined with moss-green rocks and clumps of purple flowers. The sun is warm, and I decide to take a dip. It's a brief one. This lake used to be a glacier, and it hasn't warmed much since.
Amy Grout, the Flathead Lake State Park manager, has offered to take me to Wild Horse Island, a 2,163-acre park and the largest island in the lake. The Salish and Kootenai used to swim their best horses out to the island, to foil thieves. It's still home to five wild horses, about 100 bighorn sheep, 50 mule deer, and a handful of coyotes—plus a black bear and a mountain lion that swam out there.
While my family plays on the shore, I wobble aboard Grout's motorboat, alongside a middle-aged couple named JoAnn and Glenn, who spend their summer weekends as volunteer guides. They're the sort of intense, competent types who can wield a phrase like “Drop the stern anchor." I fasten my life vest, happy they're aboard.
Grout steers away from the dock and points the bow toward Wild Horse. “This is a little gem of Montana," she says. “It's a pretty special place." Waves splash against the aluminum hull, and after some engine trouble—an opportunity for JoAnn and Glenn to cheerfully connect the backup motor—we make landfall.
JoAnn and Glenn stay with the boat as I follow Grout up the hillside. We wade through a knee-deep, bright yellow sea of arrowleaf balsamroot. Grout has short chestnut hair and the disposition of someone who gets paid to do what she loves. She still remembers her first visit to the Flathead. “I fell in love with it," she says. “It was like the valley where I lived in Alaska. I was 13 years old, and I told my parents, 'I'm going to live here one day.'"
Jackie Kecskes, cattle wrangler
She leads me past a century-old homestead and an abandoned apple orchard. The trail is redolent of horse dung, but we don't see the horses. Grout does spot a giant bighorn sheep through her binoculars on a ridge above us. “That's a world-class ram," she says. Four others filter out of the trees around it.
We finally drop back down to the shore through a glade of old ponderosas that smell of butterscotch. “This is where I was meant to be," Grout says. “I love the landscape and the people. Montanans, we're hardy. We'll do anything to help someone out. We can be very stubborn, but we love the place we live."
Back on the mainland, I rejoin my family to continue our caravan northward, past the strip malls of Kalispell and the lumber mill in Columbia Falls. In the town of Hungry Horse (population 757), we pull over at Willows' HuckleberryLand, a roadside gift shop that's said to serve the area's best huckleberry milkshake.
Inside, Buddy Willows himself is behind the counter, eating a buffalo burger. He's surrounded by shelves of huckleberry everything—honey, syrup, jam, barbecue sauce. “We use Montana huckleberries," he announces. “I'd say they have about 15 to 20 percent more twang." He hands me a copy of his self-published autobiography, The Wild and Crazy Buddy Willows. It's not a dull read.“You get the beauty of a state like Colorado—the big mountains and the beautiful forested areas—but without the huge population. You don't feel crowded." —Jackie Kecskes
We leave with a lunch of huckleberry shakes and huckleberry pie—don't judge—and drive 10 miles to the entrance of Glacier National Park, where we all go quiet at the view of the peaks rising behind Lake McDonald. Two mule deer cross the road in front of us.
Soon, we're checking in at the Lake McDonald Lodge, a chalet on the north shore that was built as a hunting lodge in 1913. The lobby has a stone fireplace, cedar beams, and game animals mounted on the walls. Lampshades decorated with Native American pictographs hang from the ceiling. Outside, a colony of ground squirrels scurry and chirp. “People call them whistle pigs," a lodge employee tells me. “They own the property. We don't."
It's time to leave the family again, as I'm not sure the kids would enjoy my next adventure: a steep bike climb up the Going-to-the-Sun Road, on which the winter's 80-foot snowdrifts aren't fully cleared until midsummer. Tyler Schmittel, of Glacier Guides, arrives to accompany me. We get off to an awkward start when I ask him if the bearded man tattooed on his leg is Fidel Castro. “It's Edward Abbey," he replies. “The writer and conservationist."
On that note, we start pedaling. Schmittel recently cycled from Los Angeles to Guatemala City, so he's not at all out of breath as he reels off the names of the wildflowers we pass. The white trillium look like fallen stars on the forest floor.
The author in his beloved VW van
We climb and weave alongside McDonald Creek, which is an otherworldly shade of blue. “It gets that color from glacial silt," Schmittel says. We pass two piles of bear scat on the road. I notice my guide keeps a can of bear spray in his bike's water bottle holder.
We're surrounded by mountains, some of them giant domes of snow, others sheer rock faces that fall from their ridgelines like the cheek of an ax. We stop at Haystack Creek, a lovely spot a few miles from the pass. But looking around at what the Blackfeet call the Backbone of the World, it's hard not to feel sad. In the mid-1800s, there were about 150 glaciers here. Now there are 26. Some scientists project that within 15 years they will all be gone.
Later, back at the lodge, I meet up with my family, who spent the day walking the Trail of the Cedars. With a broad view of shimmering Lake McDonald, we dine on smoked Columbia River steelhead and tender local lamb smothered in a fennel demi-glaze. I wash mine down with a locally brewed Going to the Sun IPA, which only seems fitting.
As a woman plays “Edelweiss" on the piano, Theo passes out over his fruit plate. Salome informs Hilly and me that edelweiss is a white wildflower that grows in Switzerland. She's an uncommonly bright kid. Maybe someday she'll figure out what to do about the glaciers.
In which Jacob frustrates an intelligent horse, glamps on the Blackfoot River, and lands a memorable brown trout
After a huckleberry pancake breakfast (rich in antioxidants!), we decide there's time for a 5-mile hike to Avalanche Lake. Marsha, at the front desk, tells us a grizzly sow and two cubs were on the trail recently, so we pack bear spray, although we'll soon learn that Theo melting down over a lollipop is an equally effective deterrent.
The trail is well traveled. When I stop to take a picture of Theo and Salome in a hollowed-out tree, a lady walks by and says, “We have that same photo with our daughters, 20 years ago!"
At the lake, people eat granola bars and gawk at the enormous picture postcard in front of them. In the center of it all is a waterfall that begins at Sperry Glacier and crashes hundreds of feet down the mountain, too far away to be heard.
We have more driving to do. Back in Lizard King, we exit Glacier and follow the verdant Seeley Valley down the backside of the Mission Mountains. Two hours later, we enter another, wider valley, where we find The Resort at Paws Up, a dude ranch on the Blackfoot River. We check in and are led to the River Camp, where we'll spend the night in a canvas tent. Paws Up claims to have invented the term “glamping," and I wouldn't argue. We are met at the tent by two butlers, who look more like outdoor sportswear models than coat-and-tails types. One of them points out a bald eagle's nest overhead. We're also shown the pavilion, where we'll dine, and the fire pit, where we can toast gourmet s'mores afterward.
My first activity is a cattle drive. In a wide meadow, I meet wrangler Jackie Kecskes, resplendent in white leather chaps and with an elk-antler knife on her belt. She introduces me to my horse, a tall paint named Kid. We set off through the sagebrush with three other wranglers, and Kecskes talks me through the basics: A tap of the heels makes a horse walk; pulling the reins makes him stop; pressure on his right side makes him turn left, and vice versa.
“I always say, you work with a horse the way you work with a man," she says. “You know the outcome you want to achieve, but it has to be their idea, otherwise it won't stick." I recognize the principle from parenting.
Amy Grout, state park manager
As we reach the cow pen, the animals look up as if to say, “Oh no, this again?" Kecskes swings open the gate, and I try to help the other wranglers herd the cows toward her. But I keep messing up my turn signals, applying pressure with the wrong foot. Kid is confused. Then he seems to realize I'm inept and takes the lead. Evidently, he knows the outcome he wants to achieve.
Kecskes developed a love for horses in California when her parents let her adopt a half-blind pony at age 5. She came to Montana via Colorado and never wants to leave. “I love the pace of things here," she says. “We still brand our cattle on horseback, and the local sheriff comes out because he's handy on a horse."
By now we've driven the cows to an open pasture. The wranglers teach me how to cut a cow from the herd, as real cowboys do. I find it's a lot like parallel parking, except the curb keeps moving to join the other curbs, and my car has lost respect for me. I manage it once or twice, and then we drive the cows back to the pen. It's not exactly Lonesome Dove, but I've got a little swagger as Kid walks me back to the stable.“I've stopped to help people fix a flat on the side of the road, and they'll try to pay me. I say, 'No. This is who we are in Montana. This is what we do.'" —Amy Grout
We have some time before my next activity, so I watch the kids while Hilly—who, let's not forget, gave birth three weeks ago—gets a massage. She does this at Spa Town, a row of white tents on the forest's edge that looks like a place a soldier might have convalesced after a Civil War battle (or where a mother might convalesce after a postpartum road trip with three children). As the masseuse kneads the knots from her back, she listens to a whistle pig nibble on the tent. There's no escaping nature out here—it's an immersive experience.
With Hilly suitably relaxed, I head out for some fly fishing with Jason Much, a friendly Midwesterner with a man-bun and Muck Boots. Much came out to Montana six years ago to fish for fun, and now he makes a living doing it. “The rivers brought me here, and I think they're keeping me here," he says as we drive to the boat launch.
The Blackfoot is running high with snowmelt, and I don't expect great fishing. But Much knows a few slower spots. He hands me a rod rigged with a big streamer and pushes off the raft. Now and then, he offers guidance. “Try in that slack water," he says, or, “That's brown town in there!"
A cattle wrangler at Paws Up
He's right. Suddenly there's a tug on the line and a swirl of yellow. I've fished long enough to know that it's a big brown trout. Slowly, I work it toward the boat, and Much slides his net underneath. And then he lifts from the water one of the finest fish I have ever seen. It's a golden slab of a trout, with black spots and a hooked jaw. Its tail is reddish and the size of my palm. I ease the hook from its mouth and it swims powerfully away. Much lets out an open-mouthed laugh.
Around the corner we see a pair of geese with goslings and a sandhill crane stepping through the reeds. Much is explaining his theory of the philosophical progression of fly fishing. First, you just want to catch a fish on a fly. Then, you want lots of fish. After a while, you want to catch the biggest fish. “The final stage," he says, “is when you want to catch the most difficult. That's when you start to see the soul in a fish."
We're in fast water now, aloft on the waves as swallows hawk
mayflies over our heads. We fall silent, and the only noise is the creak of the oarlocks, the rushing water, and the clap of ducks taking flight. Tall ponderosas lean toward the river from both banks like crossed swords at a naval wedding. In places, a cliff rises from the water, the rocks mottled with lichen in shades of purple, orange,
and gray. The sky gets all the credit, but everything's bigger in Montana—the mountains, the trout, the sheer sense of being.
Our tent is a mile downstream. There will be a cold beer there, and a fire. We'll eat dinner outside, and afterward we'll climb
into heated beds within earshot of the river.
“Did you catch anything?" Hilly will ask.
“Yes," I'll say. “I did."
Missoula-based writer Jacob Baynham likes to compare owning a VW van to owning a boat, although his wife reminds him that he has never owned either.
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To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month — recognized nationwide from September 15 to October 15 — we're highlighting the extraordinary impact of Hispanic Americans on our nation, starting close to home with our more than 13,000 Hispanic colleagues at United.
As part of our festivities, we're showcasing the stories of a few of our Hispanic employees, who were nominated by their colleagues as rock stars. In addition to their personal or professional achievements, these employees were selected because of the significant contributions they've made to United by going above and beyond to help our customers, their fellow colleagues, and the communities we serve, thrive. Whether donating their time volunteering for a worthy cause, leveraging their unique perspective to address a critical business challenge or helping foster an inclusive culture, they make United a better place to work. Let's get to know them better here.
Captain Gabriel (Gabe) Vaisman, based in Houston, has been part of the United family for over 34 years. As a native of Argentina who immigrated to the U.S. with his family at a young age, Gabe faced multiple challenges during his school years, including financial struggles and learning a new language. However, with discipline and determination, and even working two jobs in high school, he was able to obtain his commercial pilot's license and multi-engine rating at the age of 18. He quickly moved up the ladder and landed his first job at United in 1985, where he continued to move up and became a captain for our Boeing 737 fleet 22 years ago. When he is not busy flying customer to their destinations, you can find Gabe visiting children hospitals as part of his volunteering efforts with the Pilots For Kids organization in Houston. For the past 14 months, he has also served on the board of Lone Star College, acting as an advisor for their professional pilot degree program and inspiring a new generation of pilots.
Gabe pictured at a lecture at Lone Star College (LSC), with LSC students, and at one of our recent events for Girls in Aviation Day.
"All the volunteer work I do has helped change one life at a time, and I hope that my career story inspires anyone who feels hopeless with no way out of their current situation. The message I always try to leave with young people is that no matter what career you choose, you will have to sacrifice time and maybe give up a few good times with your friends to accomplish what you are pursuing."
Vania Montero Wit
The daughter of Bolivian immigrants, Vania earned her law degree from Harvard University and joined United's legal department 20 years ago. Throughout the years, Vania Montero Wit has advanced to become one of the key leaders of United's legal department as vice president and deputy general counsel. As one of the highest-ranking Latinas at United, Vania represents a crack in the glass ceiling for Hispanic women in corporate America. Despite the heavy demands of her job, Vania is very generous with her time, serving as executive sponsor for uIMPACT, a business resource group supporting women at United, and has given career advice to employees as a panelist for UNITE, United Airlines multi-cultural business resource group. She has made a positive impact in the community as Chair of the legal department's Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, where she even took on and won an asylum case. Vania's compassion for others and continued support of the company's diversity-and-inclusion initiatives make her a role model for both Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike.
Vania (center) speaking at a leadership event at United.
" As a working Latina woman, I strive to be a role model for any and all who are working in a corporate environment and struggling to find their voice or simply looking to make connections and expand their network. My long tenure at United has afforded me a range of experiences and teaching moments all of which I am happy to share with others."
Katherine Gil Mejia
Katherine Gil Mejia is a human resources representative for United Ground Services in at New York/Newark. A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. only 8 years ago, she joined United shortly after at the young age of 19. With her work ethic and drive, she quickly became a go-to-person for many departments offering assistance or guidance when needed. Katherine never hesitates to step in and translate for customers or colleagues that are struggling with a language barrier, and she does so while providing amazing customer service. Katherine's knowledge of United — as well as her caring and friendly personality — have earned her the trust and respect of her colleagues. Katherine also has a passion for helping others, giving back, and making a difference in the community. She always offers to volunteer during United Airlines Fantasy Flights, and when she can, she also takes the time to bring Ben Flying bears to kids at hospitals.
Katherine in Newark.
"I know the language barrier for some employees can play a role in potential miscommunication. I often put myself in their shoes and try to relate. My upbringing in Dominican Republic taught me to work and trust my neighbors, community and family. It was natural to bring that trust mentality into work with my colleagues and employees. I believe that is what makes me successful in HR."
Antonio (Tony) Valentin has been working as a ramp service employee at Chicago O'Hare for three years. He's earned the respect of his colleagues by going above and beyond and always stepping in to help both colleagues and customers alike. It's not rare to find him around the terminal translating for Spanish-speaking customers and helping them find their ways to their gates. Tony's caring personality shines beyond the airport in all the volunteering work he does in the local community, especially in the Chicago Humboldt Park area, and in the work he has done as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, including his deployment to Puerto Rico where he assisted with relief effort after Hurricane Maria.
Antonio at Chicago O'Hare.
"I've always had a passion for helping people and I truly believe that being a good person is equal to being successful. As a prior educator, I am always encouraging members of RSE (ramp service employees) to return to school and to live their lives as lifelong learners."
Sylvia Gomez is the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents that moved to the U.S. in 1960. At the age of 5, her family moved back to Mexico so they could build strong connections with their heritage and culture. They eventually returned to the U.S. in pursuit of a better education, as her father believed that education was the key to success. The move back to the U.S. was not easy, but it gave Sylvia the opportunity to understand two different cultures, which has been instrumental in her career. She recently celebrated 30 years at United, where she currently serves as managing director of IT Infrastructure Program Management. Sylvia has been making a mark in the company with her efforts to pass forward her experience and knowledge, and she spends a great amount of her time mentoring United employees. She is currently mentoring five young women, and she also makes sure to stay in touch with previous mentees to make sure they are still on a path toward success. She is also an active participant on the planning committee for a Women in Technology group and volunteers with Junior Achievement USA, mostly working with inner-city high school students.
Sylvia (center) pictured with Digital Products managing director, Francisco Trejo and Security Technology managing director, Diego Souza at the HITEC San Jose Summit.
"Always look for people that have been there and learn from them. And, always look to see who you can help. Never underestimate the power of having people around you. Have the confidence to take risks and celebrate your successes."
Carlos Palacio, a lead customer service representative in Houston, has been part of the United family for 20 years. When speaking to Carlos, you can clearly see how passionate he is about his job and about United, and embracing his Cuban heritage has been instrumental in delivering excellent customer service at the airport. He even takes extra time with Hispanic customers that cannot speak English, making sure they have all their travel documents and that they have all they need for their journeys. On his spare time, the new father often travels to Latin American countries like Colombia and Cuba to visit children's hospitals and to donate schools supplies for children in need. Seeing the smiles of the little kids he helps keeps Carlos motivated and pushes him to continue his efforts to help others.
Carlos pictured in the cockpit of a United aircraft (left) as well as donating school supplies to children (right).
"I want young people to know that this is a great country … to go to school and make a career and pay attention to mom and dad who want the best for them, and one more thing, never forget we are all human. My culture is very fundamental in my job. I help people every day who need help in Spanish. Speaking Spanish at work helps many of our customers."
Roberto Hernandez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. His passion for travel and customer service ultimately led him to the airline industry four years ago, when he joined United as a flight attendant. Roberto worked as a purser for a while, displaying excellent leadership skills and customer service. He now works as a base supervisor at New York/Newark and is also the local chapter director for EQUAL, a business resource group at United. In his role at EQUAL, Roberto has been focused on fostering diversity and inclusion at United, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, he recently played a great role organizing this year's company celebration of Pride in New York and was there front and center representing our company in Pride Live's Stonewall Day on World Pride. Roberto really values his heritage and culture, and is very proud of where he comes from, which is why he did not hesitate to help with the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Roberto, posing in the engine of one of United's aircraft.
"I bring my true, authentic self to work each day, ready to assist in whatever way I can. When I say 'true, authentic self' I mean the person I was raised to be. A kind, caring and patient individual who is ready to assist in any way I can. I think the most important piece is to respect each other and to learn from one another. Be proud of who you are, no matter where you're from. We're all different, but if we all integrate together we can make things happen. That's what I love about United. We're doing that."
In their own distinct way, these rock stars exemplify the many ways our company is enriched by our differences and unique journeys. When we create an environment where people feel valued, this influences how we treat one another and our customers across the globe. In the words of our chief executive officer, Oscar Muñoz: "This month is also an opportunity for us to think about our efforts to build bridges between cultures and communicate authentically to all the communities we serve," he said. "By becoming more culturally aware, we can be more effective ambassadors for United's values around the world and embody them in the way we serve our customers and one another."
We hope you're as inspired by this group of dedicated, passionate and talented rock stars as we are.
Yirlany Moya, a United aircraft move team employee in Los Angeles, is nothing if not an eternal optimist. Which is part of the reason why, for the longest time, she wasn't too concerned about the lump that had formed in her right breast. It couldn't be serious, she reasoned. After all, she was young and healthy.
One afternoon, while talking with her neighbor Cari, Moya joked about the "little ball," as she called it. Cari shot her a serious look and urged her friend to get it checked out. Moya's sister, Joscelyn, did the same after hearing about the lump, but, for weeks, Moya stubbornly refused.
"I kept telling them, 'It's not cancer, stop being negative.'"
Finally, the pestering got to her and Moya called her mom, Esther, who is a retired nurse, for advice. Over the phone, Esther told her daughter not to worry, but talked her into coming to Costa Rica, where she was living, so that they could see a doctor together just in case.
There, a physician examined Moya. When he finished, he asked her to get dressed and meet him in his office. With a grave expression on his face, he said there was a fairly significant chance the mass was cancerous. Her mother broke down in tears, but Moya took the news in stride, not yet ready to consider the worst-case possibilities. It wasn't until she was back in Los Angeles a few days later, after a mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that she had stage-3 cancer, that reality set in.
In March of 2017, Moya underwent a double mastectomy, followed by a difficult three months of chemotherapy. By that fall, she was cancer free, but she wasn't physically able to return to work until October 2018. When she did finally get back to the airport, it was a welcome return to normalcy and a long-awaited reunion with her colleagues, many of whom are like family to Moya after 23 years with the airline.
They welcomed her back with open arms and she, in turn, talked openly about her cancer with them, hoping that it might help someone else. There's nothing wrong with assuming the positive, Moya says, but she tells other women to get checked out immediately if they notice a lump or anything else out of the ordinary. She also reminds them of the importance of yearly mammograms. And recently, when her supervisor was diagnosed with a form of cancer, she guided him through his treatments with encouragement and advice.
Sometimes, she's certain that she went through her ordeal so that she could be a beacon for others in that way. If that's the case, she feels it was worth it. Cancer gave her an ironclad resolve to spread goodness and hope. Her tattoos say it all: Inked across her chest, where her breasts once were, is an anatomically correct heart wrapped in bright pink swirls, with the words "Life doesn't allow you to be weak." On her right calf is a cancer awareness ribbon, with splotches of pink exploding out of it, symbolic of Moya's unbridled joy, which stems from her feeling of unending gratitude.
Moya's Tattoo across her chest: "Life doesn't allow you to be weak."
"I'm in a good place in my life," Moya says today, two years removed from her last round of chemotherapy. "I have a great job, and I'm blessed with a great family and great support system. I wake up every day and give thanks to God. I think there was a bigger purpose for what I went through. Ask me what it is, and I can take a guess, but I haven't figured it out yet. One day, though, I know the dots will connect."
Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.
Go apple picking
Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.
Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years.
Visit a pumpkin patch
If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.
If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.
Enjoy a harvest festival
An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.
For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.
Hit the trails
Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.
On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.
Roll in the hay
Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.
In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!
Up, up and away
Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.
If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.
Pitch a tent
Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.
For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.