Sitting here at Ernie’s dinette table, I’m having a hard time focusing on composing this post. My eyes are drawn to the windows and the grand vista on the other side of the glass — a place I fell in love with when I first visited 47 years ago.
We took our time rolling away from that Missoula brewery this morning. We knew it’d be a short drive, under two hours, and we didn’t want to arrive at tonight’s destination before check-in time. Our path up US Route 93 took us over a pass right out of Missoula, then dipped and rose and dipped again, bending back and forth through small towns and ranch land. Jagged, towering mountains were ever-present and close by to our east.
By the time we were 50 miles into the day, we started looking for a place to stop and walk the dogs. I spotted a roadside inn, pulled off and parked in a nondescript gravel parking lot. Looking to the right, out Deb’s window, I saw a Montana post card — mountains and sky reflected in a tranquil pond.
We leashed the dogs and got out of the bus, pausing a good long while to take in the scene. A half-dozen horses walked up to the fence to investigate us and the pups. The stop was another unexpected pleasure of life on the road.
Maybe ten miles later I saw a sign warning of a 6% downhill grade. I smiled, knowing what was on the other side. I told Deb to get ready to take pictures.
As we crested the rise, the blue-green Montana jewel known as Flathead Lake suddenly appeared, spreading out across the wide valley. For people like Deb who’ve never traveled this road, it’s one of those views that comes as a complete surprise.
It took her breath away. I knew it would.
We did show up at our campground a half-hour before check-in time. Our site for the next few days already had been vacated, so our hosts didn’t mind. I followed a staffer in a golf cart up and around the perimeter of the terraced park, pulling Ernie into our assigned space.
I shut the diesel down and slumped, knowing we’d finally reached one of our goals. Looking through the windshield, I had an unobstructed view of this magnificent lake.
The splendor of northwest Montana surrounds us.
We pitched camp at the same leisurely pace that brought us here. We were in no hurry. When we were done we boarded the unhitched Mercy and drove into nearby Polson for a delicious Mexican dinner.
Margaritas were involved.
Later we watched the rays of the setting sun play on the foothills behind us and the rugged Mission Mountains across the lake. Changing light animated flanks and peaks, transforming their detail, shape and color.
Clouds, fading light and an incomparable landscape put on a show beyond compare, almost beyond imagination. It was mesmerizing, moving.
We’re incredibly fortunate to be in a place like this. We know that. We don’t talk much about coming back again someday — we’re here now.
Someday is now. We made it. And we won’t waste a single second.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.