Montana Misadventures: Mistakes We Won’t Make Again

Let me preface this Montana misadventure by saying that our family obviously lived to tell about the experience. However, it was touch and go throughout the day (if you ask me!)

If you ask my husband, he “had it under control” the whole time!

Our family also has different ways of remembering the fateful day. My daughter recently shared with a group that it was her best day ever. But she quickly followed up with “but it was probably my mom’s worst day ever.”

So here goes- our spontaneous, disaster of a day in the great state of Montana…

Last fall we took a trip to the Pacific Northwest. Based on the time of year and area, we opted to plan our trip spontaneously day to day. In other words, we checked the weather and made our plans.

One morning we woke up to gorgeous sunshine and high temperatures in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Knowing we were only an hour from the Montana border, we toyed with the idea of taking a day trip. This was a completely rogue thought that we’d never even considered entertaining prior to that morning.

While the kids were still eating, I strolled over to the front desk and began asking for advice.

Two of the girls recommended a hot springs that was about an hour and a half drive from our hotel. They offered rave reviews and agreed that it was a “perfect” weather day by Idaho standards. I left without committing because I wanted to double check with Brent and the kids. (This is a fairly important detail, in my opinion.)

As I’m sure you’ve guessed- we decided to make the trip.

With zero research, we hopped in the car with our bathing suits and headed east.

The drive over was incredible! We stopped several times to take pictures. And we even commented on our lack of service (another important detail.) However, since the address of the hot spring was already in our navigation- we could follow along on the map without too much interruption from the lack of service.

The hot spring itself left much to be desired.

If I’d done some proper research, I’d have probably concluded that it wasn’t something of interest for our family. We were expecting to be one with nature. And this was pretty much like going to a really expensive hot public pool.

We left the hot springs somewhat disappointed and very hungry. At that point, we had two options:

  1. Drive about 40 minutes to the closest town on route back to Coeur d’Alene for lunch
  2. Drive 20 minutes north (the wrong direction) to the closest town for lunch

Wanting to explore more of Montana and always up for adventure, we went with option #2.

After stumbling on the cutest little Amish restaurant and then an absolutely breathtaking photo spot- we felt thrilled about our decision.

But then things took a turn for the worst.

Following our GPS (which lost its signal when we pulled out of the restaurant parking lot) we came to a turn. Unfortunately, Google Maps directed us down a dirt road. And it wasn’t just for a mile or two. It was 19 miles!

We stopped at the beginning of the road and debated our options. We could backtrack 30 miles to the town where we’d eaten lunch and use internet service to find a new route. Or we could continue down the dirt road. Our third option was to continue heading in the direction we’d been traveling before the turn. But we had absolutely no idea where that road would lead.

Ever up for an adventure, my husband thought we should forge down the dirt road for 19 miles.

I was not a big fan of his plan. But there really wasn’t a great option.

For the first 5 miles everything seemed to be going smoothly. The road wasn’t THAT bad. But then we started going up. Like straight up a Montana mountain. The temperature began to drop. At mile 9 we realized we were at the snow line. And before mile 10 the road turned into a solid sheet of ice.

With no other option, my husband had to back down this mountain road.

Scariest. Moments. Ever.

Not only did we not have any cell service to call for help. But we were also aware that not a single person in the whole world knew we were in Montana.

If we backed off the cliff or the car got stuck, I assumed that no one would ever find us.

After about a mile, Brent decided the safest option was to try to turn the car around on this one lane dirt road. Using a cluster of trees (which would hopefully have stopped the car from rolling down the whole mountain) he did a 30-point turn around. We prayed A LOT!

At this point we thought we were in the clear. We cheered as we reached the paved road. But then we had to make a decision about whether to head left or right.

Right would eventually take us back to the town where we had lunch. We knew, for sure that it was further into Montana and NOT in the direction of Idaho (where we needed to go.)

So we decided to go left…praying it would get us out of Montana, sooner rather than later.

We drove forever. It began getting dark. We hadn’t passed a single car the entire time we’d been on that road. We also realized that we were getting close to the point of not having enough gas to get back to the last town we’d been in (Over 90 miles in the other direction.)

We kept praying we’d come to civilization soon.

Sometimes the compass gave us hope- we’d be heading west which meant we had to eventually hit Idaho. But then we’d go around a curve and be heading north. And occasionally east.

I was honestly beginning to think we’d end up sleeping in the car that night, when we saw a sign for a Tavern 14 miles ahead.

It was truly the first sign of life we’d seen in Montana in over 3 hours (there is a LOT of National Forest in this area of the country!)

My celebration was, once again, short lived. The Tavern was a whole new level of adventure. It was also a down a dirt road. And…let’s just say I don’t know what was scarier: being lost in Montana, or Brent going into the establishment to ask for directions.

Thankfully, we were told that we were only 21 miles from the interstate!

Best news all day!

We eventually filled up our gas tank, and made it safely back to our hotel in Coeur d’Alene. We also discussed a few lessons we’d learned that day:

  1. It’s never a bad idea to travel with a paper map. The next time we travel through more remote areas, we will definitely bring a Road Atlas with us for safety.
  2. We will also be more cautious using GPS Apps (Google Maps, Waze, etc.) without previewing the route.
  3. Always tell someone where you’ll be traveling and when they can expect to hear from you.
  4. If you are in an unfamiliar location, always get gas when you have the opportunity.

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Believe it or not, we’ve had some other wild adventures while traveling. You may enjoy reading these posts too:

The Time I Had To Jump Out Of An Airplane

Stuck on the Road in A Blizzard: Not Quite What We Planned

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