Every summer Saturday morning, Missoula holds a farmers market downtown. You can get all sorts of fresh &/or organic vegetables, meats, dairy foods, baked goods, plants, bulbs, arts & crafts, etc. There's usually music playing and everyone goes. The Black Cat Bakery, based in Missoula, sells their goods - including the best cinnamon rolls I've ever tasted - exclusively at the Missoula farmers market. Cinnamon rolls are just about my favorite thing. I've eaten them all over the country, and these ones are the best, hands down. I said goodbye to Ty and drove across town to the market. I get the brioche dough (other choices are white and wheat), with raisins, nuts, and frosting.
I bought some supplies and left town, heading east on interstate 90. I'd never visited central or eastern Montana. I crossed a couple short hill ranges and then the country opened up and I could see forever in every direction. They call Montana 'Big Sky Country' and I think the name is appropriate.
I continued east on highway 90 until I reached Butte, Montana. I'd heard about Butte and from the freeway it looked interesting, so I exited and checked it out. Butte is an old mining town of fairly good size. All the buildings are old and it looked interesting. I came across the mining operation, the hillsides harvested in staggered portions.
I was turning around to make a second pass through town when a cop pulled me over. Apparently my reverse lights were on when I was driving forward. I messed with my stick shifter and the light turned off. He asked what I was doing in town and I told him I was passing through. I guess I looked suspicious because he asked for my papers and spent quite awhile with them in his car. When they checked out he came back and was nicer to me and let me go. It was weird and after that I didn't feel like hanging around Butte anymore.
I drove on towards Bozeman, Montana. A good friend of mine, Troy Mattheus, went to school there and we'd been trying to get in touch with each other for a few days. I figured I'd just drive there and hopefully we'd be able to meet up. I drove there and called him and he was in Missoula. He was working as a forest fire fighter that summer and Saturday he had to drive to Missoula for training. Bummer! I drove through Bozeman and liked what I saw. It looked pretty similar to Missoula, lots of nice looking local cafes and resteraunts and stores. Lots of happy young people everywhere. Everyone outside on the beautiful Saturday. I stopped at a cafe and got some work done.
From Bozeman I continued on the 90 east for a few miles until I hit highway 89 south. There were lots of cool-looking mountains alongside the road.
I continued on highway 89 until I realized that the East River Road ran parallel and closer to the river. I crossed the river (I can't find the name of it) and it looked pretty neat from the bridge.
Soon I was in the small town of Gardiner, Montana. The north entrance to Yellowstone National Park is just south of the town. It was getting late and I took a road from Gardiner into the Gallatin National Forest. The tree line was very high and I couldn't find a good spot to camp for free, so I stopped at a campground a few miles into the national forest. It started raining by the time I had my tent set up, and fire wood was scarce. I hunted around in the bushes surrounding the creek that ran through the campground but found almost nothing. The sun set over the high mountains to the north.
Afterwards it was dark and even more difficult to find firewood. There were 'grizzly warning' signs and animal skeletons everywhere. I surprised a 700-pound elk in the bushes and decided to give up the search. I started chopping up the wood I had scavenged in the cold rain. My neighbor at the next campsite took pity on me and brought me some dry wood and a big axe. I thanked him and a couple minutes later he came back and asked if I wanted dinner. I must have looked really pathetic trying to chop the soggy wood in the dark rain with my little hatchet, but hey - whatever gets you free dinner.
His name was Mike, and his wife's name was Robin. They are from Kalispell, Montana - just southwest of Glacier National Park. Mike works in forest management and Robin works in a healthcare office. Robin is an amazing cook and an incredible person. She grew up on a farm near Browning, Montana - on the east side of Glacier National Park. Her family still runs the farm and she has some amazing stories. Mike grew up in the Whitefish, Montana area, and he is a full-blooded outdoorsman. He is full of great stories and wisdoms. He's the only person I've ever met who really truly has faith in nature, and it's given him some incredible experiences. I explained what I'd been doing the last couple months, that I loved being outdoors by myself, that I was a writer, that I wanted to have great experiences and write about them, that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, etc. Mike looked at me and said "I encourage you, no - I challenge you. If you really believe what you say, I challenge you to get a backpack and hike out in the middle of the woods. Don't take a tent, don't take a flashlight. Just go and trust your instincts, quiet your fear. If you that do you'll experience something great." When I go camping in the woods by myself, my car is right there. My bear mace and fire and flashlight and hatchet are right there. And if I hear something I paw for my flashlight and wave it around like a crazy person. I thought I was being pretty brave, but he's right. I'm just exchanging one set of comforts for another. I'm just one step past the campground people, two steps past the RV people, three steps past the people sitting on their couches watching television who have never camped in their life. It's all on the same staircase. All of those comforts are barricades in the way of really connecting with nature, and I didn't see that before. I'm not sure I'm ready to run into the woods alone, but I hope to be soon.
We ate dinner and had a few drinks and ended up staying up pretty late. They invited me up north to see the wilderness and the farm. I'm too far behind schedule to backtrack right now, but I will visit someday.
Really great people - that's really what this trip is all about.