Missoula was not on our radar. In all honesty neither of us had ever even heard of the city before. We messaged a handful of craigslist hosts in 3 or so cities in Montana and one host in Missoula responded. Our host, Troy, was living in a house in downtown Missoula with 3 other young working singles. Troy moved to Montana several months ago from a very small town in southern Texas. We really enjoyed our great conversations about the political leanings of his upbringing.
One of the housemates told us about the two times she encountered a grizzly bear first hand. On one occasion she and her friend were hanging out in an abandoned teepee in remote Glacier National Park when a grizzly bear started clawing at the fabric trying to get in. She and her friend peeked through a hole and ‘sprayed bullets’ at the bear. They killed it and her mom has the pelt in her home till this day. The second time was when a bear started approaching (charging) her. She defended herself by deploying bear spray. She told us these stories as if it was nothing unusual. People in this part of the country see nature and wildlife much differently that I’m used to. Oh, and everybody eats at least 517 portions of meat a day here!
We wandered the streets of quiet Missoula wondering where the 75,000 people where. Considering the city is home to the University of Montana we were perplexed why city was so sleepy on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We were lucky to stumble upon the Roxy Theater during the last day of the Annual Montana Film Festival. We got free tickets to the movie, “I am Not a Witch”—a Zambian fictional satirical film about folk witchcraft and the corrupt Zambian political system.
The downtown area of Missoula was very small and was populated with mom and pop shops. We spent half an hour venturing in and out of the establishments before running out of things to do. The leaves were in full “autumn colors” so we hiked up to a mountain and gazed over the entire town. I read that the city culture shares more similarities with the Pacific Northwest than with Montana or the Rocky Mountains.
Glacier National Park
We decided to go up to Glacier National Park last minute just to get our own room and rest from the two weeks of sleeping on strangers’ couches. I found a miraculous last minute deal on airbnb. We rented a 2 bedroom suite with a large kitchen and even larger living room with a fireplace, which we used all three nights. The house was in an upscale city, called Whitefish, on the outskirts of the national park.
Each evening when Sylvie and I would go for a brief walk, before the temperatures dropped too low, we were quite surprised to discover 2 dozen wild turkeys ‘hanging out’ just 20 feet from our our front door.
Glacier National Park - The park was disappointing to say the least. Let me preface what I’m about to say by stating that we only saw the first 16 miles of the infamous “going to the sun road” due to the road being closed because of a winter storm that hit a week ago. Before heading into the park we called around for bear spray rentals. Every rental place was closed for the season and our only apparent option was to purchase a can for $45. That seemed like too much as this was the last park that has grizzlies and $45 for one day was out of the question. Sylvie had a great idea and called some lodges. We found one lodge that said they would lend us a few bear sprays for the day. We picked them up on our way into the park. They told us they have so many extras because their guests buy them but can’t bring them back on the planes so they leave them at the lodge.
Shortly after entering the park we turned off to the side of the road to take a look at a map. No less than a minute after pulling over a car or two pulled up behind us. I could see both drivers and passengers looking out of their windows in desperate hope to spot some wildlife. After 30 seconds they pulled back onto the road. I laughed to myself thinking that whenever a person pulls off a main road in any national park every car lagging behind immediately assumes that that first car has spotted something so they pull off as well.
Our hike to Avalanche Lake was nice but the scenery was not world class. I think Patagonia and the Himalayas spoiled us, but who knows. Perhaps the park is better before the winter storm hit.
We spent each night by the fire and eating home-cooked healthy meals.
One of the more interesting observations I’ve made during our cross country road trip has been the political ‘hot topics’ that various regions seems to focus on. Between Hulu, Youtube, street-side advertisements, and radio placements, I’ve been inundated with political messages about key Montana (and other regional) voting points. It seems that the largest issue up for debate in the 2018 November elections is the republican party wanting to privatize public land. The use of public land is huge in that part of the country. People use the lands for hunting, fishing, hiking, and a handful of other recreational purposes. I’m a firm believer that there should be land designated for public use. What a horrible place to live where everything is ‘owned’ by a private entity. The thought that a person (or company) can own a piece of land that has existed before humans could even wipe their own asses makes me cringe. As if our land is not part of a more complex ecosystem and we can just parcel it out for our endless (and mindless) consumption. Well I won’t be part of that!
On a lighter note Montana does not have sales tax!