The first thing we noticed in Montana was that gas was sooooo cheap. We thought we had been getting good prices in Alberta, but just across the border you could get gas at $1.79 USD/gal, or close to $0.63 CAD/L!!! Jackpot! I don't even have memories of gas being that cheap before. Great place to fill up.
The second thing that greeted us in Montana was a dead fawn :( Don't read the rest of this paragraph if it will upset you; I took a photo but it will be at the very end of this post, so you can skip it if you like. We spotted a vulture at the side of the road going to town on something, and pulled a U-turn so we could try to get a better look. Unfortunately, the vulture got scared off while I was getting the camera out. We waited a good 15 minutes to see if it would come back to finish its meal, but it didn't show, so I went over to investigate. It was a fresh kill, there was blood pooled inside the rib cage still. Tufts of fur lay about; its tail had been ripped off, its eyes eaten. The poor thing. I felt like retching or crying, but managed to do neither. Seemed like the work of coyotes or some other predator. This would be the first of much wildlife we would see stateside!
We didn't have a solid Montana destination in mind -- Mike's foot was still bad, so we stopped at Whitefish to get a glimpse of it, but we didn't stay. We made it over to Glacier National Park, which was supposed to be a beautiful place to explore -- and I'm sure it is -- but we were just greeted by a big wall of white. It snowed nonstop, big fluffy flakes piling all around Trucko. Perhaps one day we'll actually get to see the park, but for now we kept moving.
We did make time to play by the railroad though, as a fun break from long days of driving.
FYI if you're ever in Great Falls, MT, you should stop by Ford's Diner -- burgers and shakes: cheap, greasy, tasty :D
We took smaller highways to avoid traffic and get a more intimate encounter with the state, making a few fun side trips along the way. At one point we came to an open area of land that seemed to have a few odd tire tracks running through it offroad, and we decided to follow suit and go exploring. Bumbling over the hills, we passed an old cemetery, some abandoned farm machinery, a frozen lake, and in the distance... a single horse. All by itself. In the wild.
When we approached, two other horses camouflaged in the trees nearby came out to investigate us. At first we were too scared to get out of Trucko, but once they seemed to approve of us, we were able to get out and be nearer them -- but not too near of course. The mare looked to be pregnant, and we believe her to be the mother of the younger horse, who was full of energy and frolicking about. We spent a good half hour or so observing each other up close, careful not to make any sudden movements, and finally left when they got tired of us. An awesome experience for sure.
It turns out there are a ton of horses in Montana -- both wild and tame. We were captivated by our close encounter with these three, and had no idea how many wild horses there were, until we continued driving. Soon we were coming across multiple herds, who would curiously stare at us as we passed by, skittishly running away if they thought we lingered too long. We also saw horses being led by cowboys :D
That night, we camped in the middle of nowhere on government land, between farmland. It was the warmest night so far -- no snow on the ground even! We chose a spot surrounded by trees to shield us from the wind (which was pretty strong), and had deer coming to check us out every now and then as Mike prepared dinner. I had been making him food while he nursed his foot, and he decided to repay me in kind, so I could just sit back in my PJs all bundled up, and get hot food delivered right too me. Such luxury.
On our way south, we decided to camp out in the Lewis & Clark National Forest, driving through the 4 wheel drive sections. There was some snow on the path, but nothing that looked too worrisome, so we decided we'd try it. About 5min in, Mike started getting a little more skeptical, as the snow seemed to only worsen. I, being naively optimistic, was sure that Trucko could manage it, so we decided to keep going -- just in time to turn a corner and see another 4 wheel drive truck stuck, spinning its tires, and trying desperately to see if they could get cell signal.
We were lucky they were there so we didn't go farther and get stuck ourselves; they were lucky we were there because we could try to get them out. A chance for Mike to test out his Maxtrax!
They were a young couple with a one year old son in the back seat -- and they hadn't planned on being out for long, without any food for the boy. We dug through the snow with our hands and the Maxtrax pads, trying to get them out, sticking branches and rocks under the tires for added traction. We pushed the car to give it extra oomph. We changed tire directions, we put the car in reverse, we did everything we could think of for three hours -- and only moved the car about a foot. It was pretty disappointing. The Maxtrax pads were supposed to make things like this a breeze!
Eventually, we had to give up. We weren't making any progress, and the sun was starting to set. The wife had signal on her phone, but almost no battery left, so we stayed with them while they called for a wrecker to come (think tow truck, but super sized, meant specifically for hauling people out of situations like this out in the middle of nowhere). We left them some cookies and a phone charger, and ensured they had basically a full tank of gas to keep warm until the wrecker arrived, and that was about all we could do. It even took us a while to get out, backing up in the snow since there wasn't enough room to turn around immediately (not shown in the photo is the steep drop off to the left). And now we were a little less certain of the Maxtrax pads. Sigh.
By the time we found a place to park Trucko for the night, we were exhausted and cranky, and didn't feel like doing dishes or cooking out in the cold again. It had also been 5 days since my last shower, and Mike had been promising a chance to get clean for a while, so we started Trucko up again and went on to White Sulfur Springs where we stayed in a nice little cabin motel and got delicious, delicious Western Swiss Burgers. Interesting fact: if you order the salad instead of fries for your side, the server will bring you your salad first... and then fill your plate up with Doritos when your burger comes out. Unexpected, but I'll take it! After a long and exhausting day, these burgers tasted AMAZING. And the shower was oh so heavenly!
We made a supply stop in Bozeman to REI where we replaced my camp spoon which already managed to disappear. I also got running shoes because living in a truck and sitting on my butt all day, combined with a diet heavily based on pasta and rice, was making me feel gross. We also stopped at a Sportsman's Warehouse, which specializes in outdoor gear, but is much more focused on hunting than athletic endeavours. It was... an interesting place. With animal busts lining the walls all the way around. Kind of creeped me out -- I understand hunting for survival, and if the animal will be used. I eat meat, I know steaks don't magically appear. But hunting for sport? That doesn't sit well with me.
Mike's foot was getting better by the time we got to Big Sky, so he spent a day on the mountain. Big Sky is predominantly steep terrain that I wasn't too excited for (or super flat runs, no in between), it had hard packed snow with no recent inches in the past week, and it had the biggest price tag yet -- so I skipped it for a day of catching up on paperwork and emails, as well as catching a yoga class in the village. Tip: The business center in the village is free, open 24h, and has the fastest internet we have come across!
We finished Montana off with a stay in the Gallatin National Forest. It was the coldest night ever. We thought we were constantly moving towards warmer climates, and didn't expect this sudden drop, but here we were sleeping through our coldest night yet. -14°C. It was a terrible night. I was warm in my sleeping bag, but the bits of my face that were exposed were cold, even in insulated Trucko. I cinched my hood down around my face to keep warm, but my warm breath made the bag wet, and then turned to frost. All through the night I would be getting water dripping onto my face, sometimes directly into my nose (ick), as the frost grew until it was in the path of my hot air and then melted again. The windows were covered in frost so thick that Mike was using the ice scraper on the inside in the morning.
We were done with winter. After this we would be moving on to warmer places, or at least not sleeping out in the cold anymore.
But while we were in Gallatin, we at least went hiking for the day! We even saw a lone wolf running in the distance, a rare sight that we only witnessed thanks to Mike's sharp eyes.
Warning: Dead deer picture below