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Our Longest Campfire | Montana in May #4

May 28, 2018.

We slept soundly until morning - it was our first night of the trip with calm weather and little-to-no wind. That, combined with the fact that we were in a stand of tall pines are the excuse I'll use for not getting up to enjoy the sunrise! It was glorious I'm sure, given the morning hours that followed - those I did get up for, and I shot a few photos of camp, everyone else still toasty and warm in their beds after our great camp fire the night before.

As usual, it wasn't long before everyone else started to climb out of bed and enjoy the warm morning. We explored around camp a bit - a morning tradition for us, given our usual in-the-dark-arrivals - checking out the babbling brook, nearby recently-thinned areas of the woods, and a yellow cabin on the hillside above camp. Our respective breakfasts were also eaten - the last of the strawberries for @mrs.turbodb and I, some mini sausage croissantwiches for Monte (@Blackdawg) and Devin (@MissBlackdawg), and coffee for Mike (@Digiratus).

I wonder if Mike ever eats food for breakfast?

Eager to get some more dirt miles under our tires, we packed up and headed southwest through the Boulder Range of the Rocky Mountains. Having passed the "major destination" for the road the evening before, the road almost immediately got more fun - it wasn't hard or technical, but it wasn't a two-lane gravel road anymore either. Still, going was relatively easy, if a little wet.

Early in the season, it was clear that we were the first trucks through a few sections - some smaller trees still on the road that were easily cleared by an axe or hand saw. We never did have to break out the chainsaw, the many of the larger trees having been cleared already - likely by snowmobilers over the course of the winter.

As we slowly climbed in elevation, we wondered how far we'd get on our route - would we make it through to Deer Lodge? Would we be turned around by snow? Did our route, created using satellite imagery even exist anymore? It was at this point that Mike remarked about how little snow there was - proven once again to be a good idea as we rounded a corner to a drift.

But it wasn't bad, and we made our way through it with little fanfare - just a few opportunistic photos to capture the moment.

And then, much like @mrs.turbodb and my luck just two days earlier, the snow gods laughed. As we continued up the road and across the edge of a high mountain meadow, a six-foot snow drift blocked our path. We got out, took a look around and knew that was the end of the road for us. While only about 30 feet wide, the drift was impassable for sure, and there was no obvious path around in that particular location, so it was time to turn around and find a re-route.

A re-route we found, along with two more - when we hit snow and a downed tree again. Each re-route afforded us the opportunity to shuffle positions in the caravan - a fun way to switch up the view a bit on our trip through the woods and valleys, flooded with spring runoff.

Eventually, we headed down in elevation - away from the snow, and into what could only be called civilization - passing several houses deep in the woods, their residents out and about taking care of spring chores (perhaps, visiting for the first time since last fall). The roads in this area were a bit more maintained, but there were still plenty of places to go fast and have fun.

Mike took this stretch a bit slower, apparently.

Eventually, we were spit out for a short stint on I-15 near Basin - a small town "famous" for it's smelter, built by the Glass brothers in 1903. As we were pulling out of town, Monte came over the radio to let us know that Devin had discovered that the smelter ruin - which towers above the town even today - was never once used by any of the many mines in the area!

photo by Monte Nickles on flickr

As luck wold have it there was a dirt frontage road from Basin to our next turn into the Boulders - an option that suited us much better than jumping on I-15 for five miles with our aired down tires. And it wasn't long after we were back in the woods that we took a wrong turn on our track. Rather than turning around and heading out, we decided it was the perfect opportunity to grab a quick lunch.

Quick not because we wanted to keep moving - the pace this trip was a leisurely one! - but quick because about 15 minutes after sitting down, a heavy rain shower came through, hurrying us all back into our trucks.

It was at this point that we realized our wrong turn before lunch was due to the fact that the track we'd planned on taking no longer existed - long lost to overgrowth and the surrounding woods. So we continued on the trail, hoping it'd reconnect with the track a across the valley, few miles ahead.

It didn't. For a while it looked hopeful, but eventually Mike - who was leading at this point - came over the CB to tell us that the road was getting very mushy and seemed to "just end." Luckily, @mrs.turbodb found a re-route while we were out of the trucks discussing next steps, so 20 minutes later and a bit of backtracking and we were once again on our way towards Deer Lodge.

Speeds picked up again - the road from this point forward was well-maintained, and the views too were nothing to scoff at. We zoomed into town, speeds topping 65mph - and with plenty of room between our rigs to let the dust settle.

Eventually, we hit Deer Lodge - a huge success (we'd made it almost entirely on dirt roads despite the early time of year), but also a bit sad (since we were essentially done on dirt for this trip). We found a local gas station to refuel and air up and then headed out of town on the highway, bound for Philipsburg where we'd look for a spot to camp for the night.

And this is where things got unfortunate - not for any of us, but for an older couple in a full-sized pickup, on the way back from a Sunday BBQ. As we drove through town, this couple shuffled past our caravan several times, and we past them as traffic flowed down the street. Then, as we were leaving town, they drifted from the left lane to the right lane (right in front of Monte and Devin) and continued drifting right into a series of parked cars, boats, and trucks parked along the side of the road.

The devastation was massive - three vehicles, two boats; one of the boats even flying off the trailer and up the front walk of a nearby home - luckily no one was outside! The only injuries were the older couple - both had hit their heads during the course of the accident, and were being tended to by the paramedics who showed up shortly after the incident.

We spent some time checking on the wellness of the couple, gave our contact info to the police in case they needed anything from us, and headed out - remarking how lucky the whole situation was: none of us were next to the truck as it started drifting, no one was in any of the parked vehicles, and no one was standing in any of the yards when the collisions happened.

By 5:30pm we'd reached Philipsburg and were headed north on the highway looking for our camp site. It was still early, but our goal for the trip was not to get as many miles under our belts as possible - it was to enjoy the time together, so it wasn't long before we identified a dirt road off the highway that looked promising and headed up into the National Forest to find a spot to spend our last evening.

As is typical for us, as the road forked, we split up to cover more ground and look for a good spot to camp - three trucks can cover a lot more ground quickly than one big caravan, and CB radios make quick work of getting everyone back together once a good spot is found.

And a good spot we did find.

With a 270° view of the mountains around us, plenty of flat ground, and a warm breeze, there wasn't much more we could have asked for in a site. We set about making camp and getting a fire going - what would turn out to be a 6-hour campfire marathon, as we used up all the wood we'd brought and some that we scavenged from nearby deadfall.

It was glorious, and so was the sky. We nearly missed sunset - so wrapped up in our campfire discussions - but as the blues gave way to oranges and purples, we did grab our cameras to snap a few quick photos.

But then, it was back to the campfire - so much to talk about and so little time to get it all in. A fleeting moment in time, so it seemed, though of course we hope there will be many more.

The next morning we were up early - all of us ready to go by 7:00am, a long drive ahead. Monte and Devin headed east, Mike, @mrs.turbodb and I caravanning west. We'd had a great time, as usual. And we were ready to do it all again!

catch up or keep reading BIG SKY AND GREEN HILLS - MONTANA IN MAY 2018

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