By Jamie Balke Explorebigsky.com Contributor

I love Montana. I love this place for its wild beauty, the constantly unraveling opportunity for exploration and for the sense of belonging that I feel. I love that I arrived here slightly battered, bruised and heartbroken, and have slowly created a home and a place in the community.

My brother is a guide on the Gallatin River, and over the past couple of years this has afforded me the opportunity to occasionally get my raft on. By that, I mean sometimes he allows me on one of his boats, we exchange friendly insults, and I flail around incompetently while he does all the work.

The last time I hopped aboard in summer 2010, my brother placed me in the front of the boat, probably to avoid my commentary on the various hilarious rafting accoutrements such as neoprene onesies and booties. I felt immediate dread, especially as it was early in the season and the river appeared to me as a raging torrent.

We set off, plunging into the current, and my fears eased. It wasn’t a commercial trip, and there was another guide seated next to me in the front, who I wagered would probably keep me on the proper side of the boat.

This feeling evaporated the moment we hit a feature the wrong way. We both flew into the river, and after that, it was all bubbles, rocks and ice-cold water. I resurfaced. No big deal, someone will save me, I thought. And then there went the raft.

Thus ended all conscious thought. In an adrenaline-fueled frenzy, I swam like the possessed until I found myself clinging to the side of my original boat. The waterlogged guide who also went for a swim found his way onto another raft. I was eventually hoisted back into the boat, where I spent the rest of the ride in a futile attempt to convince my fellow passengers that I wasn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Once home, I rounded out the evening by curling into the fetal position in my bed and whimpering incoherently at my mom on the phone. Although I had, as they say in the rafting world, “aggressively self-rescued,” this wasn’t the triumphant experience I had planned, and I know I must face the river again.

I’m hopeful that this showdown, along with many other wonderful adventures of different varieties, awaits me this summer. I look forward to sharing them. Stay tuned.

Jamie Balke moved to Bozeman in the fall of 2009. She can generally be found behind the cover of a book, meandering down a trail or desperately trying not to kill houseplants.