Into Big Sky Country by Rail

By: Dan Trew

Dan Trew-First Image

My gallivanting about the big sky state first began outside of it. Indeed two states and time zone away. It also began with a long wait in the Spokane Intermodal Station as 2AM was a touch early to try to pick up my rental car. Eventually, that time came and pick up my rental car I did.

The first order of business was to grab some secondary equipment I would need (mostly food and fuel). One quick shopping trip later and I was on my way to Missoula.

The drive from Washington to Montana is quite stunning. The highway goes over several mountain passes and around a number of alpine lakes that make for breathtaking scenery. Unfortunately, there is little opportunity to pull over and admire these sights as the highway terminates generally in cliffs or thickly wooded regions to either side. The first leg of journey also held a surprising amount of traffic, perhaps because this was one of a handful of ways to get across northern Idaho.

Speeding over several thousand foot climbs and descents takes a good bit of energy and fuel both from me and my car. A fast stop in a small town that felt as though it had never left the late 50s provided the industrially refined products and gasoline that I needed to continue.

Dan Trew-second Image MT

I arrived late in the afternoon and was treated to a warm welcome from my friend and her dog. A delightful dinner followed the quick tour and I was settled down for the next nine days.

The following morning I was treated with a wonderful opportunity to sleep in a bit. This was quickly followed by a hike up a trail within a mile from my friend’s house. The weather was absolutely perfect and despite my lack of red blood cells, I was able to reach the top of this particular climb without too much pain and suffering.

That evening was not without its own adventure. My friend was invited to a potluck and I was given an option to tag along. I jumped at this prospect and was not disappointed. I was at a loss for where to dig in on all of the locally made Montana fare (which so far as I could tell was exactly the same as my local fare only with a different beer selection). After a couple hours of socializing I was brought along on a different sort of revelry, swing dancing. I had never been swing dancing in Montana so I had no idea what to expect. As it turns out it, is a hoot. It is equal parts fun to watch and fun to participate in. That night ended particularly late and required a little extra time the following day to be devoted to sleep.

When I concluded my rest, I situated myself for a long day trip to a Montana based distillery. Indeed it was a long day trip as I drove around 250 miles to get there, albeit across some stunning areas and over the continental divide. Upon my return home, I was invited out on a second evening of shenanigans.

Fully shenaniganed, the next day was devoted to simply extending further down the trail we had gone up the first day that I was there. As the only non-local and lacking my own dog, I did feel a tad out of the loop hiking with three cool, dog people. That would be three people with dogs and not three people of various percentages of dog.

Having not really stopped since I began this trip, I took a day off to center myself and give some time to recover from extensive socializing. The next day was right back at it, celebrating Tropical Tuesday the best way: hiking in unseasonable weather.

Rounding the horn of days spent to days left, my remaining time was spent with the friends I had before I got to Missoula and with the ones I had just made. I went to a film about bees being run by one of my friends. While very weird and confusing at points, it did make me want to start raising bees, severe allergies non-withstanding. I did continue hiking about the region covering several more miles on day-trips.

I can say that if I did not have an entire voyage already planned out and a set itinerary, I would have stayed longer. Western Montana, a place I had never been to or even thought about before, has truly captivated me. It is full of natural beauty and adventure that fulfilled parts of my soul which were running a tad dry at home. It is most assuredly a place I will return to, even if only to see my friend again.

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