Moving to Hawaii • Driving through Smokey Montana • Exploring Idaho’s Panhandle • September 9 & 10, 2017
Once our tire was patched, we packed up the Jeep and took off heading West. The only agenda for our Saturday was to push through the worst of the fires across the Rockies in Montana, then camp in Idaho’s panhandle. We were still a long ways from the fires when we started in Billings, but the skies were still very hazy. After one last search online to be sure that the interstate was open, we were on our way.
We are very aware of all the beauty that Montana holds, especially in the Western part of the state, and it broke our hearts to hear about and see first hand the effects of the wildfires all around. Some had been burning since July and were still 0% contained. We heard that they weren’t expecting things to improve until the snow starts flying. As we drove into the midst of it, radio stations were continuously sharing updates about the clean up efforts for Hurricane Harvey in Texas and the impending Hurricane Irma in Florida, and here we were driving through a part of the country that hasn’t seen a drop of rain in months. While these fires were a mere inconvenience and disappointment for us, we felt for those whose homes, jobs, and livelihood were actually directly impacted by these fires, and prayed for them as we drove through.
However, we just couldn’t leave the state without doing something, so we exited the interstate at the continental divide just to drive around and attempt a letterbox. When said letterbox turned up missing, we decided to stop at a rest stop later on so we could at least find one box in the state. As we neared Missoula, the smell of smoke became stronger and stronger. Once passed the city, the haziness seemed to disappear and the air quality improved. Dusk was setting in as we arrived in Idaho, and we exited the interstate and found a secluded campsite along a river.
The next morning was bright and the sky was clear, so we packed up and made our way to Couer d’Alene. We accidentally took a longer route getting there, but naturally weren’t disappointed when it took us around beautiful turquoise-colored lakes. We decided to go for a short hike we found thanks to letterboxing right along Lake Couer d’Alene. It turned out that the hike was no secret — we were just thankful to get an early start and beat the traffic on the roads as well as the trails.
We hiked the 3 mile loop to Mineral Ridge and back; we took every short spur trail we came across for more secret views and loved every part of the hike. The trees, the air, the trail, the views — everything about this had us in such a good mood. At one point though, we started to question ourselves — why was this so much better than every hike we had done in New England this summer? I mean, the trail was pretty busy, the highest elevation we reached was still under 3000′, and we were mostly walking through the woods and never had a 360º view of the surrounding area — so why were we so happy? The answer: we just were. I think we’re meant to be Westerners. We don’t even care where, we just want to be “out West”. 🙂
Once finished with our hike, we drove to Spokane to grab lunch. Crossing the border into Washington for the first time was bittersweet — This is the state that we had wanted to be stationed in for 5 years. We had dreamed of this for so long, and had made plans and bucket lists when we received our first orders and thought it was going to happen. Now we knew it wasn’t happening — at least not for now. Besides those sad feelings, we were also starting to become more stressed about what lay ahead. Moving to Washington would have been so easy, we could have finished the drive that day to our would-be hometown and began searching for a home! Instead, we were still dealing with logistics of a complicated move to Hawaii.
Thankfully we still had some time to figure out the details. We had two full days left to travel across Washington. After lunch, we decided to head North to camp for the night, and picked out a couple of letterboxes to find on the way — and some Krispy Kremes Doughnuts, of course! We drove through some cute towns and stopped to see different attractions along the way, such as the old schoolhouse in Loon Lake and the train station in Kettle Falls. We briefly considered continuing North into British Columbia just to say we’ve been there, but eventually opted out, instead ending the evening with camping in Colville National Forest. Someday…
There was an interpretive trail right next to the campsite, so we went for an evening stroll and learned about the history of the logging industry in the area, and about a historic massive forest fire. We knew that there were more fires across Eastern Washington today as well. We had yet to see any evidence of them, but for tonight all that meant to us was a warmer night of camping.