It may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating (like all of the dictums we forget minutes after we hear them), road trips take you out of your life and plop you down into someone else’s – some other place, some other time, some other perspective. I didn’t do it enough with my kids in England – it’s not the same there. For one, the country is a lot smaller, though there is much to love, learn, and explore. Smaller cars and exorbitant petrol prices were prohibitive — not to mention, it was usually cheaper to hop a ferry to France or a flight to Spain or a Greek island. Only the truly intrepid with a few languages in their personal glove compartment road-tripped Europe. I had enough trouble trying to understand British.
Today’s ‘some other’ was going to take me to some other country – Canada – for the first time in a half century. That can’t be right on any count. I double-checked my passport was accessible before leaving the hotel in Great Falls. A US driver’s license will do at the border, but a passport seemed doubly sensible. Before I reached the border though, I wanted to visit Glacier National Park. I say wanted because technically speaking, I didn’t actually make it inside the park. The ride through Montana really dented my inner road warrior. Instead of hitting the road looking forward to a bucket-lister at the end of it, I found myself cowering as Buffy approached the intersection of Interstate 15 and Route 44 heading west toward Glacier.
The urge to carry on straight to Calgary was gnawing at me. This was another long drive ahead and a border crossing with a waiting time I could not predict. I had no idea what the roads would be like in Alberta, but I knew after yesterday’s haul through the Monster, I was not up for Little Deb on the Prairie again. Glacier’s Going to the Sun road was feeling more like Going Straight to Hell in my head. The internal sparring went something like:
Deb: “Keep straight. Keep straight. You’re tired and worn out from yesterday’s ride. These side roads are killers.”
Deb: “But what about Glacier? It’s a chance of a lifetime. What kind of cream puff are you?”
Deb: “An old cream puff…you don’t know if your heart will survive another drive like yesterday. The strain could cause the Big One…and there won’t even be vultures around to eat the flesh off your bones.”
Deb: “Oh shut up – I’m not dead yet. Just mildly terrified. “
Deb: “Okay. Do what you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you, Little Miss Death Wish.”
Deb: “F*ck off, you old hag…I’m heading to Glacier.”
So I did. Straight on one of those roads just like I travelled yesterday. My heart sank. I consoled myself that it was earlier in the day and there seemed to be a car whooshing by every half hour or so. And in defence of America’s gorgeous, sprawling west, I should also remind everyone that I am travelling off season and in some of these corners, it’s not unusual for snow to have fallen already. My luck to date has been amazing — crystal clear skies, warmth and sunshine everywhere, but not too warm that I had to worry about the Little Prius That Could passing out from heatstroke.
I cheered myself on. I could do this and get to Canada before dark. I could…until of course the intersection of Route 89 came up. I thought my map must be wrong because ahead of me was a gravel road – not the sweet little pebbly kind, the big chunks of granite strewn everywhere kind with construction vehicles that wouldn’t notice if they ran over a boulder. It was the first time I was introduced to the concept of a “Lead Car” – where the road gets so difficult to navigate, the construction workers designate a “Lead Car” to guide you through what they consider roadworthy. Two seconds behind the leader and I looked for an escape route back to Interstate 15. I was sure that Buffy was doomed to burst a tire here or bottom out irreparably, but there was nowhere to turn on what felt like the longest unconstructed patch of road known to man. Interminable doesn’t begin to cover it – it bumped and grinded for miles. And not in a good way.
I’ve never felt so relieved for Buffy and I to get out of a construction zone in my life, but Little Deb in my ear was really chipping away on the self-confidence.
Deb: “I told you…this will not turn out well. NOW look at the time… “
And she wasn’t half wrong. Not only were my nerves a little stretched, my time was also, and just like yesterday, the road I was traveling was getting more and more remote and less and less populated. The upside was that the closer to Glacier we drove, the more alpine it naturally becomes and I didn’t feel as alone among trees for a reason I’m still trying to figure out. I suspect it is as simple as not being frightened of what is familiar, and vowed to hug a tree as soon as I stopped in Canada.
In the end though, the lack of cell phone coverage and the almost complete lack of humanity got to me and I decided to give Glacier a drive by rather than a full on the floor inspection. There are times in your life when you just have to respect the fear. Driving along the eastern boarder of the park allowed me to glimpse the glory of Glacier and air kiss a promise to return when I have a crew in the car and a better plan to camp, hike, and fish (for those so inclined). For now, I just needed to push on to Canada and forgive myself for being what I was in the moment, afraid and in need of something a little easier so I could live to drive another day.