If It’s Summer, This Must Be Montana

by jdroth on 25 June 2015 · 1 comment

On Monday, after a week in and round Ketchum, Idaho, Kim and I packed up and headed north. We enjoyed our time in Ketchum (and nearby Sun Valley): Kim relaxed one day at a spa, we sampled local beer at a brewfest, we biked the extensive network of multi-use paths, we visited with Kim’s father and his wife, and we enjoyed an evening (and morning) with two of her favorite friends.

Goofing around with Monica and Kelly in Ketchum, Idaho.
Goofing around with Monica and Kelly in Ketchum, Idaho. [photo by Kelly]

But as is always the case, we were glad to get back on the road. We’ve come to enjoy this nomadic lifestyle. As much as we like getting to know the areas where we camp, we’re just as excited when it’s time to move to the next location.

In this case, that meant driving north into the Sawtooth Mountains. Once again, we stumbled upon a spectacular scenic route: For several hours, we wound our way through the lovely Salmon River Valley along highways 75 and 93. Kim got more time behind the wheel of the motorhom on this leg, gaining experience on the tight and twisting mountain roads in the Bitterroot Mountains that separate Idaho from Montana.

A very small town in northern Idaho.
A very small town in northern Idaho.

After nearly seven hours of travel, we stopped for the night at the Blodgett Canyon Campground outside Hamilton, Montana. To our surprise, all seven of the spots were already taken (maybe because camping there was free?). We stopped to talk with the camp host, Chris.

“Do you mind if we park just outside in the day-use area?” I asked.

“Nah, I don’t mind,” he said. “There are a couple of other folks out there already. Just be considerate.” He stooped to pick up a fluffy cat that had been rubbing against his legs.

“You have a cat out here?” Kim asked. Some full-time RVers have cats, but they’re usually on leashes and live inside the motorhome. Chris’ cat was roaming free in a wild, wooded area. It seemed a little risky. Weren’t there lots of critters that would want to eat it?

“This is Cinco,” Chris told us. “I’ve been on the road full-time for the past five years. I took my cat with me, cut she died last winter in Tennessee. I came here in early May. On May fifth, this cat showed up outside my trailer. He adopted me, so I named him Cinco.” I scritched Cinco on the chin, then we set up camp in the parking lot.

Boondocking at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains.
Boondocking at the base of the Bitterroot Mountains.

I didn’t sleep well. For whatever reason, I woke up groggy and grumpy. When we stopped to get fuel in Victor, some bozo parked in front of me, blocking my exit. Like a fool, I chose to let that make me grumpier. We ate lunch on the road, and my sandwich upset my stomach. I grew grumpier yet.

Note: I like to think that, in general, I have a positive outlook and a cheery disposition. I don’t get grumpy very often. But every once in a while — maybe once a month? — I have an off day. This was turning into an off day.

We drove through Missoula, then took 93 north to Polson. (It’s PoLson, not PoIson as I’d originally thought after looking at the map. “Put on your glasses, John David!” Kim laughed when I told her about my mistake.) From there, we skirted Flathead Lake to the east, looking for a campground.

The state parks were more expensive than we’ve seen elsewhere: $28 per night. (Generally, an expensive state park costs about $17 per night.) Still, the RV parks were even more expensive. We’re used to seeing prices between $30 and $40 per night. One RV park in Bigfork costs $65 per night! WTF?!? I was already in a bad mood, and our inability to find a place to camp wasn’t helping.

We leafed through our Free and Low-Cost Campgrounds book, which has become an invaluable reference on this trip. “Let’s try the Swan Lake Campground,” I suggested. “It’s only fifteen bucks per night.” We drove another half hour to find the place.

“This place looks great,” Kim said as we scouted the campground. “It’s clean. It’s quiet. It’s easy to access everything. It’s drycamping, but that’s okay. We’re stocked enough to stay off the grid for a week.”

We parked and set up camp. As we did, we discovered one downside: Flies! The little buggers swarmed everywhere. “Wow,” I said, brushing them away. “I haven’t seen this many flies in one place since growing up in rural Oregon. They used to fertilize the fields with silage. The smell brought swarms of flies. Just like this.” On our next trip to town, we bought a variety of fly traps. They snagged a few, but didn’t really make a dent in the overall population. As you can imagine, the flies made me even grumpier.

“We should build a fire tonight,” Kim said. “It’s supposed to get hot over the weekend — near one hundred. Besides, maybe the fire will help us cope with flies.” She went into the nearby forest to gather woord.

A few minutes later, I heard her calling for me. “J.D.! J.D.! Come look! See that deer? It just charged me. I didn’t know they’d do that.”

“Maybe it has a baby,” I said. “Wait. Let me get my camera.” I dashed back into the motorhome to grab my SLR.

“Look,” Kim said. “It does have a baby.” We stood back from the pair and watched. Mama Deer wasn’t pleased with us. She stamped her hooves — clomp! clomp! — and snorted loudly, warning us not to come any closer. Her cute little baby wobbled along behind her. I tried to get a few photos, but they were too far away and there were too many trees blocking my view. This was the best I could do:

A fleeting glimpse of a mama deer and her baby...
A fleeting glimpse of a mama deer and her baby…

“That was awesome,” I said as we walked back to the RV. Kim cooked dinner — steak and potatoes — while I finished setting up camp. I started the fire, pulled out our camp chairs, inflated the bike tires. Since we were next to a lake, I also pulled out the floating tubes that had been sitting in storage unused since we left Oregon three months ago.

“How do I inflate these?” I asked Kim. They didn’t have any sort of standard valve.

“You’ll have to use my hairdryer,” she said. I did so, but the process was awkward, frustrating. In my grumpy mood, I could have let the frustration make things worse. Instead, I paused. I took a few deep breaths. I did the best I could.

Steak and potatoes and whisky and wine...
Steak and potatoes and whisky and wine…

Dinner was delicious. While we ate, we listened to classic rock on our portable radio. I could feel my mood lifting. After dinner, we sat around the fire for a while and enjoyed the silence. Then we rode our bikes half a mile to Swan Lake.

“How’s the water?” Kim asked the kids playing on the dock. Their black lab bounded and barked and splashed in the water.

“The water’s warm,” one girl told us. But it wasn’t.

I dipped my foot in and found the water was about as cold as you might expect from a Montana Lake on the summer solstice. “I’ll give you five bucks if you jump in,” I told Kim. I’m always offering her five bucks to perform minor dares. So far, my money has been safe.

“No way,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow when it’s hotter. You go in.”

I looked out at the lake, at the sunset, at the trees. Everything was beautiful. I didn’t feel grumpy anymore. Plus, I had a bit of buzz from the wine we drank with dinner. I hate cold water, but what the hell…I ran and leaped from the edge of the dock, diving under. The water was cold, yes, but refreshing too.

“This is awesome,” I spluttered as I swam back to the dock. Kim laughed. (We later learned from some boaters that the water was 68 degrees Fahrenheit.)

The cold, cold water of Swan Lake in northern Montana
The cold, cold water of Swan Lake in northern Montana

After a few minutes in and around the water, we climbed on our bikes. We laughed like little kids as we zipped around the campground, riding in circles, darting down dirt trails.

Later, as I drifted to sleep, I realized I was smiling to myself. I was happy. I’d started the day grumpy, but had ended it on top of the world. It was summer in Montana, and everything was awesome.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 June W. 25 June 2015 at 17:24

As they say, “Cool Down Poppa, Don’t You Blow Your Top”. I love Montana, a glorious and beautiful place. Love your adventures. Aunt June


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