There was a clearing in the rain about half past four in the morning. After one last sleepless night in our sublet apartment, we got up at set our plan in motion. Up and down and up and down, we schlepped all our possessions down to the car, which somehow, by the grace of the parking wars gods, was nestled in front of the house. With each trip I scanned the neighborhood for suspect behavior. There was none. And less than an hour or so later of light-as-possible runs up and down hundred and some year old steps, we were through. All of our possessions packed snugly, really snugly, into our VW Beetle.
Luke slipped the keys under the rickety door as we said we would and we were off. We turned onto route 76 West and as I’d fantasized about for a long while, kept going. I remember the surreal scene of Philadelphia passing us by: the buildings, the art museum, Boathouse Row, all masked by fog. The memories.
Less than two months before, we sold our first home. Even today, my throat swells as I think about the day we left. It was a warm night in May. We had spent hours transporting our things from one side of the city to the other. I spent some time alone in our little house walking from room to room, reliving the memories and bidding my goodbyes. I wanted to knock on our neighbors’ door but the tears were at the ready and I felt embarrassed. Eight years is a long time I think.
The windshield wipers worked in overdrive as we drove through areas of Pennsylvania we’d never seen before. Then Ohio. Then Indiana. Then Illinois. Oh, Illinois! Oh, Chicago! Rush hour traffic is like rubbing salt in your wounds after many, many hours of driving. Then, at last, just over the border into Wisconsin. A great many states in one day, I’ll tell you what. But even still, our excitement was palpable.
The next day was the highlight, aside from arriving of course, crossing Wisconsin then Minnesota. The landscape rich in endless fields and lakes and wetlands. We stopped at a rest stop in Minnesota (side note: The rest stops along route 90 are outstanding. Areas of grass to play and stretch in, picnic tables) and picnicked once again, before setting out across North Dakota.
With North Dakota came a real taste of plains and that big sky that is always attributed to Montana but in fact is shared by its neighbor to east. Then, when my mind was focused more on just getting there, we hit Theodore Roosevelt Park and the most otherworldly landscapes I’ve seen anywhere, the badlands.
From the NPS website:
Imagine traveling east to west across the Great Plains of North America. You see flat, rolling, grass-covered land for miles. This is pretty easy to travel through. Then you come across canyons of loose rock and mud. There is no more grass and the land is not flat. Strange landforms and hills make it hard to get across this area. This stretches on for miles. There is little water and not much to eat. What was an easy journey is now very difficult. You are in a bad land!
So often over our journey I think of the folks one hundred plus years ago making the arduous journey across the country. We complain of discomfort–the heat, my back, tiredness– when in reality, the ability to zip across the country in a gas-powered vehicle in less than three days is nothing short of magic. I think our ancestors would think so, anyway.
I waited for the sign and when it came, I gave a yell…Montana! Big sky country indeed, as the sun began to set and it turned an explosion of red and yellow and everything in between. The air was thick with midsummer heat as we unloaded our valuables for the last time. Before exhaustion hit, we drove into downtown Glendive to find a supermarket to restock our provisions (another luxury). If ever there is a quintessential western town, this is it. The speed limit is 15 and there are no cars to be seen. There is hardly any noise other than those mystery summer sounds one associates summer nights. If I could have stayed awake, I would have loved to explore; another time.
Day three we set out to cross the entirety of our new state. I was stunned by how vast and empty it is. Perhaps this is part of the reason for a speed limit of 85, when there was one at all. The plains were humbling in their expanse. At times we drove for hours without seeing a soul. The sun and the heat cause us to see the mirage of water on the road constantly. I sip coffee as much as possible to avoid the daze that is so unavoidable. When, at last, the mountains peek over the plains and the state transforms. Eastern Montana is very different than Western Montana.
We drive through the Blackfeet Reservation before entering the winding road that will take us to familiar territory. This part was at once the most exciting and the worst. We zipped along route 2, soaring and dipping on this road that parallels the famous route through Glacier Park. My motion sickness overwhelmed me and took away from the joy of our arrival (for the next three days, in fact). But, so it is.
A couple hours later, coming up to over forty in total, we emerged from the forest and found our way home, to an apartment we’d never seen in person. We were greeted by a lovely woman, our landlord, whose hug was so needed. We toured our new house, furnished, thank goodness, and met a neighbor (soon turned friend) and so we began our life in Montana.