For the two of you that have been following us along this journey, you’ll notice that we missed a day or two on this blog. Did we make it home? Did we get lost in Montana? Did we find the ultimate brewpub and decide to stay there forever? At this point, you’ll just have to wait and see what happened to our intrepid travelers. We have Montana to talk about– So hold on to your…!
When last you saw us, we drove through South Dakota and the Badlands, said “hi” to four presidents and finished a 14-hour day in Gillette, WY. As an aside, we stayed at a Country Inn by Radisson, which Lisa really liked. They had one of the best breakfasts on our trip, they were super clean and really had a “country inn” feeling that Lisa liked. Jim liked that they were attached to an indoor water park, like Triple Play in Hayden. Sadly the pool was closed when we finally arrived so he didn’t get to strap on his speedo and scare the little kids in the splash pool.
Subie was crammed to the gills and we hit the road early, knowing that Montana is a BIG state. For the last few days, we’ve been selecting the “Go Home” button Subie’s GPS to see how long our drive was in the direction of CDA. Today, that time was 10 hours. That meant we could actually make it home in a day. But were we ready? Ready to end this grand adventure we’ve been on? As Jim says, we were both “smelling the barn” and going home sounded good. But staying on the road and learning more about this great country of ours has become a lifestyle over these last five weeks. As we got back on I-90, we were quietly contemplating what today meant to each of us. We more than likely we will be home tonight. But maybe something will happen today that keeps us on the road, at least one more day.
As we entered Montana, Jim actually realized where the phrase ‘Big Sky Country’ comes from (“Stop. Sign. Stop sign!”). The skies really are bigger! We wanted to check out the Custer Battlefield. Maybe it was part dragging our heels through Montana, or part feeling that we needed a history lesson, or maybe part Jim wondering why he remembered it being near Mt Rushmore in Wyoming. Either way, we entered the hallowed grounds of the prairie on a cold, gray, windy morning, and tried to channel what it must have been like on that hot, miserable June day in 1876, when Custer’s men attacked, then retreated, then ultimately overcome by Crazy Horse’s men.
In the visitor’s center, there is a timeline of events leading up to and after the battle. There is a 5-mile driving tour that we drove on that has stops along the way with a phone number you call for an explanation at each stop. Most striking are the stone markers where soldiers and Native warriors fell around the hills, some in groups like on Last Stand Hill with Custer. Some all alone in a coulee or on a hilltop. Some in pairs. With the wind blowing and the quietness of the site, you can feel how scary the event must have been for those involved in the battle. Ghosts were definitely among us.
Driving away from the battlefield, we got to think for a while. Then we were hungry. If you look up Billings in TripAdvisor, the #1 lunch place is a joint called The Burger Dive. “Don’t even think of NOT eating here” said one of the reviews. Ok, so we had to check it out. It’s a family-run restaurant, led by chef Brad, with his artist father, Gary, whose burgers have won national championships. Since this was potentially our last day before we diet again, we had to go all in! Lisa had the Jim Beam and Coke burger (yum!) and Jim had the Juicy Lucy (stuffed with cheese). Two big thumbs up from both of us! It was fun meeting the owners and hearing stories about celebrity visits (like Jay Leno and Henry Winkler — of COURSE we had to share our picture with the Bronze Fonz taken a few days ago).
Now that we were thoroughly powered up for the rest of the trip, we headed west again on I-90. We ran into the rain that had been hitting home for the last few days. We finally were among mountains again, having missed the big rocks and granite peaks. We drove through the beautiful Livingston valley, then Bozeman, following the steps of Lewis and Clark. Then Butte and its big mine. Then Missoula. It was a beautiful, quiet journey for us. We tried to find side trips to extend our trip. How about Quinn’s Hot Springs? We would be there too late. Wanna check out downtown Butte? Remember that used bookstore in Alberton? We were now getting into day-trip country for us. Places we’ve been before. It was time to go home.
As day turned into night in St Regis, we dialed up the Final Championship game on Sirius and listened to another hard fought battle, this time between Texas Tech (Boo–they beat the Zags) and Virginia. It’s a whole new experience listening to games while traveling through the northern Rockies. The game went into overtime when we entered the Silver Valley, then started to cut out as we went through Fourth of July Pass. We stopped at the top of the pass to keep reception and cheered on as Virginia won the game.
With the excitement over, we pulled into Coeur d’Alene after 9pm, drove down the Sherman drag, considering what one last thing we could do before going home. Milkshake at Paul Bunyan? Dang, they just closed. McDonald’s sundae just doesn’t sound right. So it’s to The Porch we go, for a celebratory drink with Josh and the gang.
As best that we can figure, we traveled about 11,000 miles in five weeks (we accidentally reset the odometer in NY). We hit 31 states (way off of our guess of 13!). We stayed in five family homes, one friend’s home, two Airbnb’s, countless motels of various shapes and sizes, and one Hotel California. We more than paid off our National Parks Annual Pass with visits to national parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments and grasslands. We consumed countless calories in non-chain restaurants and the same number of local beers across the country. We only experienced one day of “disagreements” (in Kitty Hawk) and arrived back home still smiling and in love with each other. Even Kim at The Blue Plate yelled across the room when she saw us — “YOU’RE STILL MARRIED!!”
But in all of our travels across this GREAT country, Dorothy was right. There is no place like home. People have been asking us our favorite place on this trip. We would say right here.