May 24, 2018. Eastward to Adventure!
We were packed and ready to go by 8:00am Thursday, having been looking forward to a Memorial Day trip with Mike (@Digiratus), Monte (@Blackdawg) and Devin (@MissBlackdawg) for the better part of a month. Still early in the season, we weren't sure what we'd find from a snow perspective, but we had a couple extra days to explore before everyone else showed up, and we had plenty of routes and re-routes to keep us busy!
The drive east was mostly uneventful and one of our easiest to date - get on I-90 and keep driving. With only a few pit stops for fuel and food, we found ourselves in Montana soon enough, and even then we only ran into a single delay - a 30 minute stop on the freeway near Tarkio, waiting for an accident to clear several miles up the road.
With good weather and plenty of CB traffic to listen too (CB channel 17 and 19 are fun to listen in on) the delay wasn't bad and we were soon on our way - our destination the Lewis and Clark National Forest near Great Falls. So, it was in Missoula that we exited I-90 for MT-200 towards Lincoln, where we planned to pit stop for the evening in the Flathead National Forrest.
For history buffs out there (like @mrs.turbodb), Lincoln is a pretty interesting place - it's where the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski holed up in a remote cabin without electricity or running water until he was ultimately captured by the FBI. For us, it was a great place to get a glimpse of the great outdoors and our first sunset!
As the sun was setting, we hit our first dirt, looking for camp. It was a bit of a crap shoot into the woods, and when we finally reached the end of the road (or rather, the road block that created the end of the road), it was on the edge of the previous years burn and soupy-thick with mosquitoes! Definitely not a place we wanted to stay, but without a plan, I wasn't sure we'd find anything better.
Not to be deterred (or bitten), @mrs.turbodb insisted that we head back to town, fill up on gas, and look for another place - so that's what we did. Ultimately, after following a few more roads that promised "National Forest Access," we found our spot. It wasn't in the forest, and it was just off the road - but it was on the edge of a beautiful valley; green grass rolling on (and on and on).
As the last of the sunlight faded away, we setup the tent and broke out the grill - it was homemade cheesburgers for dinner. Delicious! And then, after a long day of driving, we crawled into the sack. Little did we know that sleep would be fitful - the valley home to some of the noisiest sand hill cranes, elk, cows, coyotes, and Canada geese that you could imagine. Oh, and the nearly full moon shining right into our tent!
@mrs.turbodb broke out her earplugs and sleep mask. And I set my alarm for 5:00am, hoping to catch a spectacular sunrise.
May 25, 2018. We Never Expected to Make It
Western Montana being just at the edge of the Mountain time zone, a 5:00am alarm meant that I could catch the orange horizon and enjoy the entire sunrise. Of course, the fact that it sounded like a wild circus outside the tent meant that I'd been awake for 30-minutes anyway by the time my alarm went off.
I was immediately not disappointed. The orange horizon. The lush green meadow. The distant, snow-covered mountains. And the windmill.
I set out into the meadow, a cool crisp night having left the grass covered in a heavy dew, towards the windmill. To my surprise, just over a crest, two old log buildings and a creek - jewels in the morning, just as the sky was starting to light up!
From there, it felt like I couldn't snap pictures quickly enough. I found myself running through the meadow - from the windmill to the truck - several times, sure that the light now was better than it had been just a few minutes before. This continued for an hour or more until @mrs.turbodb climbed down from the tent.
Even then, as we walked through the fields again, the early morning sun was working it's magic, sparkling through the dew on the grass, lighting up the trees and windmill.
Cereal with fresh strawberries, and we decided we'd continue up the road to see what we could see - which turned out to be a few more good camp spots, and a trailhead into the forest, all along the route that Lewis and Clark had traveled many years earlier.
Eager to get on our way, we backtracked to MT-200 towards Great Falls. As we ticked off the final miles, we knew it was a special time in Montana. Much like our trip a couple years earlier to Owyhee Canyonlands in Oregon, we'd hit Montana at just the right time for everything to be green, and it was breathtaking. We stopped, and we took it all in.
By mid-morning, we'd passed through Great Falls to fill up with fuel and propane and we headed south towards the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Having called the local ranger station just a couple days prior, our plan was to simply to explore a few roads as far as we could make it - I'd been assured that every trail I wanted to run was impassable at higher elevations due to snow.
But that didn't detract from the beauty. As we crossed over and passed through creeks, we continued to climb - up and up - past the elevations where I'd been told the roads were closed. Onto roads where ours were the only tracks. Through high mountain meadows teaming with wildflowers.
And then, to our surprise, we made it to Monument Peak Lookout. At an elevation of 7,395 feet, we'd left the ranger-reported snow line of 6000 feet in the rear view mirror, and we had the lookout all to ourselves. Excited, we set about opening the shutters so we could look inside.
It turns out that the lookout is rentable on a nightly basis - a cool experience if you can get it, I'm sure! Over the winter, with noone around, the mice had gotten in and had found the paper towels. The first visitor with a key is going to have some cleaning to do!
Still early in the afternoon, we were at a loss for what to do - see, we'd never expected to make it this far, but we were clearly in one of the better (if not the best) camp sites we were likely to come upon. Ultimately we decided that closing up the lookout, a bit of exploring, and an afternoon nap would solve the timing issue.
So, we opened up the tent and snoozed in the warm Montana breezes. We need to do that more - it seems that we're always in a rush to see more and get where we're going - but really, a nap in the wild is worth every second.
When we awoke, two things were different: first, it was no longer sunny - thunder clouds were rolling in; second, we were hungry - it was dinner time. So we moved the truck into our camp-for-the-night position along the ridge and set about making dinner, hoping that the rain and lightning would pass to the north, given our exposure at 7,395 feet!
A dinner of steak, mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus hit the spot just as the first drops of rain started falling, and as the sun started going down. As we packed everything back in the truck to keep it dry(er) in the rain, I hoped that the sun would break below the clouds just as it hit the horizon - if it did, it was likely to be an amazing show!
We were not disappointed.
As the last of the light left the sky and clouds took over the evening, we watched the lightning in the distance, hoping that with any luck, it'd remain distant through the night. We read our books and reveled in the day we'd just had - out on an adventure, in a place we'd never been before.
At some point we climbed into the tent and continued to read - but only for a short time until we fell asleep, excited for what and who the next day would bring. Assuming we weren't struck dead by lightning...