We should have known better than to attempt this.
This picture was taken Wednesday morning outside of Livingston, Montana.
We had seen snow for two days.
We’d thought it was beautiful, something we’d never seen on our June road trips in the past.
I drove for a couple of hours Wednesday morning and then we stopped on the west side of Livingston for a quick pit stop. When I paid for my coffee the woman at the register wished me a good day (as they do in Montana) and I thanked her and said we were heading to Missoula.
She winced, then said, “Be careful. I’ve been hearing the visibility is bad.”
That should have been my first clue. I double-checked my two weather apps on the phone and there was nothing happening. Cloudy, temperature dropping, a chance of rain in Bozeman (which was on the other side of the mountain range we were about to traverse), nothing to worry about.
Banjo Man took the wheel and we stupidly headed west, into the mountains and toward the Bozeman Pass.
It wasn’t long before we realized we were in a snowstorm. A giant flashing sign told truckers to put on their chains. We couldn’t have turned around at this point. Surrounded by slowly moving cars and semi’s, we had no choice but to keep going.
This was before it became bad., just the beginning of the storm.
Soon we were engulfed in white-out conditions. The only way to know we were still on the steep mountain pass was when–thankfully–a gust of wind blew snow off the road for a few seconds and we could see the pavement and the line marking the lanes. We cautiously followed the tail lights of the car and truck in front of us and hoped they could see better than we could.
After ten minutes of this, all the vehicles came to a stop. We assumed there’d been an accident. We realized we could be stuck on the pass for hours, so we turned off the car to conserve gas and saved the charges on our cell phones. I knew we would be fine–we had extra jackets and a couple of blankets, along with the space blankets I’d tucked into the glove compartment for emergencies like this–but it was a very uncomfortable situation.
After an hour and fifteen minutes, the traffic began to move. Eventually it turned into one lane and then we passed several trucks and a couple of cars who had been in some kind of accident, causing the blockage. Another blockage further along stopped traffic again (we were only going about 10 mph, but eventually we were over the mountain and into Bozeman.
We stopped at the first gas station to fuel up and escape the car. I asked the young man for a restaurant recommendation, which turned out to be across the parking lot and attached to the Best Western we’d stayed at last fall. It was time to reconnoiter.
It was snowing. I checked the weather apps again. They had no clue there was an issue.
As we waited for our food to be served, we decided we would stay in Bozeman overnight and wait for the weather to clear. We had two more passes to go over before getting to Butte. I was in no mood to risk crossing the Continental Divide. Banjo Man agreed, but was disappointed to be stopping at 2:00 PM. He even whined about it. A lot.
After lunch I went to the ladies’ room and ended up having a conversation with two young women there. One told me there were “cameras” she was checking as she was about to head east, over the very same pass we’d just driven. I advised her against it.
In the meantime, Banjo Man had talked to our waiter and asked how to get information. The two women at the hotel reception desk had checked and pronounced the next two passes wet, with possible icy patches, but crossable.
I begged to differ. I started to sweat. Since the whole breast cancer experience I do not get myself into any remotely scary situations. I used up every ounce of courage in my DNA in 2019. I am now a sniveling coward, and I am not ashamed to admit it.
My husband, on the other hand, is his usual invincible self. He wanted to know how many towns were between Bozeman and the next pass. The snow stopped. He promised to stop if the bad weather returned.
I was not happy.
The women at the hotel had told me about a Montana website that had hourly camera footage of points along the passes. I checked the site every fifteen minutes. They looked clear enough, but a storm could come up suddenly and then what?
Banjo Man kept driving. We climbed the first pass. I clutched the door handle and whimpered the whole way. Son Will called during this climb, which was a good distraction.
We climbed the second pass a little bit later. By this time I was not speaking to my husband. Unless it was to give curt directions, I would not speak to him again until later the next day.
My determined husband wanted to drive another two and a half hours to Missoula. The roads were dry, but that would mean we would have been in the car for twelve hours. And for what reason? We had all the time in the world to get to Idaho. There was no reason to push this hard.
I voiced my opinion as to his sanity, but Banjo Man was undeterred. Getting to Missoula would mean an early morning start the next day and an arrival at the lake before noon. I silently took the wheel for an hour and cursed him under my breath.
We crawled into Missoula at 7 PM. I was asleep before 9.
Lessons learned: check “www.511MT.net” before driving into the mountains.
And don’t give in to Banjo Man ever again if he wants to have a 12-hour travel day.