Big Miles in Montana

Today we drove 300 miles north to East Glacier, where we had a room at the Whistling Swan Inn. My mom and I took a different route than we took on our way down to the southern part of Montana last week. It’s a heck of a vacation- bouncing from Glacier to Yellowstone Park and back, but what’s 300 miles when you have a brand new rental car, with the wide open spaces calling us out again?

The sparse population of Montana stunned us today, and we were traveling on some of the more frequented highways in the state.
“Montana is ranked 4th in size, but 44th in population and 48th in population density of the 50 United States. The western third of Montana contains numerous mountain ranges. In total, 77 named ranges are part of the Rocky Mountains. “ – Wikipedia. I’d add that three of my favorite big National reserves are in the state, with the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument following up on Glacier and Yellowstone ( which is mostly in Wyoming).

It would be very difficult for anyone from the eastern US to really appreciate the feeling of vastness without visiting Montana.

I have been here several times now, and today’s drive found me startled with the vastness of the countryside, a term that is not restricted to any particular part of the state.

Montana plains
Montana plains

Sure, the western portion of the state has all the mountain ranges, including the two National Parks, but huge visual expanses of green vastness were omnipresent as we motored north today.

The highlight of the day was revisiting the tiny community of Augusta, MT. I backpacked as far as Benchmark, MT, some 30 miles up and west with Train, and Dick Wizard last September 3. We had a most difficult time with getting to Augusta in order to buy food for the next 130 mile segment through the Bob Marshall Wilderness. You can read about our most interesting adventures in Augusta here, on my Trailjournal. I loved reuniting with Aimee today, the owner of The Bunkhouse, who did so much last year when we were in Augusta. She remembered my name, and even asked about Train and Wizard.

We had the rental car until 8 PM, so after we checked into our room at 5 pm, we hightailed it from East Glacier up to St. Mary, here we went as far on the Going to the Sun Highway (GSH) as we could, with our ride stopped at around the 10 mile mark. The the middle section of the GSH is still not fully plowed at the highest point around Logan Pass and the Big Drift. Two weeks ago, Glacier was reporting 50-70 foot snow depths around that area.

Here are some photos of the park from our evening ride.

West into GNP
West into GNP

The drive back was quite exciting, with no guardrails on the outside lane of the extremely twisty, uneven, and elevated roadways through that portion of the Park. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It got so bad that my mom, who was sitting even closer to the edges that I was, resorted to closing her eyes, and faintly whispering her Hail Marys as she pointed her clasped hands to heaven.

Souvenirs from Montana

Flying above the midwest plains, coming into Chicago, some souvenirs come to mind:
$5 breakfast at Red Lodge Cafe, Beartooth Highway with zero cars, marmot families, bushy foxes, Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley before 10 AM, small flock of mountain sheep, hundreds of buffaloes, and a double espresso in Gardiner, MT.

Past the ancient iconic Northern gate into Yellowstone, I received one exclusive souvenir, the greatest $10 deal in the country-my very own lifetime National Parks and Recreational Senior Pass.

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1,100 miles today- road trip over

On the road this morning at 5 AM. We’ve turned over 1,100 miles today and are just about to finish in Livingston, MT.

20120527-174605.jpgThe logo on the beer mobile reminds us of how far we’ve come.
My biggest challenge last night was escaping the locked bathroom in our room at the Econolodge, in La Cross, WI. It was 3AM when I groped my way in to pee, and closed the door so that I wouldn’t wake up Andy when I flushed the toilet. Then I couldn’t get out! The inside doorknob spun around, and no amount of pushing, pulling, and cursing got that door open. Earlier, I had woken up Andy once already when I grabbed the wrong card off my nightstand last night, thinking it was my room key/card in a trip out to the truck. I thought to myself, what if I were alone in this room? I had no shoes on, so I would cut up my foot on the luan paneling of the door if I kicked my way out, and there was nothing in the room but a toilet and a tub, so I couldn’t pry the lock open. Ten minutes of my rattling and increasingly loud knocking got a pissed Andy out of bed.
“Now what, ” Andy grumbled when he released me from my toilet captivity. He tried from behind the closed door, and couldn’t get out either.
It was still dark out when we hit the drive-thru at McDonald’s. I gave Andy his first lesson on how to order from a drive-in window.

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After reaching the border, Wisconsin was easy.
But, South Dakota ground us down. Andy was in the driver’s seat and clicking the cruise control to 75 failed to remedy the mind- numbing highway hypnosis of I-90’s straight track west across brown and green farmlands that stretched to the horizon on either side.
Andy told me, “At home, I fuel up this truck once every two weeks. I will fuel up five times today . ”
At 4:45 PM we crested an uphill in Wyoming at 5,340 feet elevation and had our first view of the Absaroka Range, with some peaks above 13,000 feet . We were silent, undoubtably feeling both majesty and fear as we took in the snow covered crests.
We can’t go over them, so I-90 veers right, heading north into our last and final state today, Montana.
We started riding at 5 AM and should end by 10 pm, soon. 17 hours on the road. Andy might have to do that some day soon, and more than once, on a bicycle!

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44 degrees and raining in Montana