The long-awaited post is finally here: just how amazing was my soul-searching road trip to Montana? How did I keep my sanity across 2,300 miles with two high-energy dogs crammed in my vehicle? What kinds of epiphanies did I have during the trip? All these and more will be answered today! Warning: it's a long one, folks.
One girl. Two dogs. 2,200 miles. 7 days. One amazing journey.
Talk about spontaneous. I made the decision to take Labor Day weekend off from work and drive to Montana only ten days before leaving. Was I excited? Absolutely! Was I also a little unsure about traveling that far by myself and camping in the wilderness? You bet. Was it worth it? Definitely.
My goal was to see Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. I was sparked to add it to my bucket list after seeing a cool documentary on Netflix by 2 guys from Minnesota: Rock the Park. It seemed like a great way to see the breathtaking sights of Glacier without much risk of bear encounters or other dangers. Bonus – my dogs could come with! The only thing holding me back from making the trip was just how far I’d have to travel to get there.
1,100 miles by car or a fairly expensive plane ticket on top of hotel and transportation costs. Neither option seemed very appealing. I’ve done multiple 1,000 mile trips by car, but they were all one way. The thought of getting there, enjoying the views, and then climbing back in the car to drive 1,000 miles back was daunting.
So, what prompted me to JUST DO IT? It will sound ridiculous, but you only live once. I had the opportunity to cross off an incredible experience from my bucket list, and the only thing standing between me and my dream was a little discomfort. I told myself to get over it! It didn’t hurt that I had a new vehicle which was much more comfortable and dog-friendly. I was gripped by the compulsion to LIVE and go seek adventure!
Planning On the Fly
I’d say about half of the experience was planned, but only 1/3 of that plan actually played out. The majority of the trip was delightfully spontaneous.
Here’s what I knew I wanted:
Mostly camping and only some hotel on the return trip
Hiking with scenic vistas and low threat of bears
Driving Going-to-the-Sun Road (Bucket List!)
Here’s what I needed to figure out:
Nearby National Forests or State Forests for camping (dogs are allowed only in some National Park campgrounds)
Stopping points on the trip out and the trip back
Total number of days for travel
General itinerary by day
“Safe” places to hike (scared of bears!)
Resources I used:
Google Maps (duh!). Honestly the best tool for calculating drive times. This helped me establish stopping points for the trip out and trip back based on amount of drive time and sunset.
Air BnB. I found an awesome place to pitch my tent the first night in Montana. Not only can you find rooms for rent, but there are also plenty of people who will let you camp on their property. Yes, it is safe! Just use your own judgment on where you feel comfortable staying.
Roadtrippers.com. Awesome resource for finding cool, unique places to stop along the way. I chose to search for state parks and outdoor activities, but you can also find eateries, lodging, and many more attractions. The neat part is that you can search on a varying radius from your route. Highly recommend!
National Park Service All the info I needed on Going-to-the-Sun Road.
National Forest Service Not the easiest to navigate at times, but they do provide information on campgrounds, amenities, and some trails. Maps need to be purchased online before you go (OOPS!) or from a Ranger station upon arrival (which only operate during normal business hours). Overall, I was pretty frustrated by the lack of information, but I was able to find enough to make the trip doable.
Recreation.gov Good source of pictures for campgrounds and some campground reviews. Cross-referencing source for information.
Step 1. Pack the car.
Seems simple, right? My advice is to pack bottom to top in order of what you will need to use once you get to camp. Tent, tarp, and tools on top. Bedding, sleeping bags, clothes on bottom. Keep dog supplies near the dogs so they are readily accessible during stops. Also, don’t forget road food! I had one reusable bag about half full with crackers, tuna, fruit, and granola bars so that I had something handy when I was hungry and didn’t have to stop.
Doggie Go Bag
High visibility leashes
Popup dog bowls
Full water bottle just for them
Dog food and measuring cup
Chews! Antlers, bully sticks, etc. They need entertainment during the ride and something to keep them occupied in the tent.
ChuckIt (much needed exercise during pit stops)
Step 2. Hit the road!
I gave my parents a copy of my itinerary with phone numbers, addresses and pictures. I checked in with them regularly as well as 2 other friends. When I was going to be out of cell service, I let them know in advance that I wouldn’t be able to check in.
I kept things really simple: drive when you feel like driving, stop when you feel like stopping. Or when your Border Collies start getting restless. By doing this, rather than sticking to a rigid “get to my destination efficiently” routine, I was able to feel freedom to enjoy my trip.
I stopped at some popular places, and I also stopped at completely random places. The random ones were just as memorable, particularly because they were usually in the middle of nowhere. I could climb out of my car, let the dogs out, and take a walk or simply sit in the sun and breathe in the fresh air. There are a LOT of places to do that on Montana back roads! Not a soul around.
Step 3. Stop for the night.
Since I was tent camping, I made sure to stop before dark. I did cut it close a couple times, though, with only about an hour of daylight. Since I packed effectively, I could easily grab the tent and set up, then throw the bedding inside. First priority is always set camp and make sure things are ship shape. Then, I had time to enjoy the sunset, get ready for bed, exercise/feed/potty the dogs, and go for a walk or just relax before climbing into the tent.
No matter where I was staying, I always kept my belongings and purse in my locked car at night. I only kept what I needed in the tent with me. Though tempting, I did not keep ANY FOOD in the tent with me. This helps prevent wildlife from getting too interested. After crawling in, I’d turn my lamp on and read for a good hour, just enjoying the sounds as night descended outside. Finally, nice and cozy, I’d turn out the lights and watch the stars overhead until falling asleep.
What’s it like tenting with two active dogs? Well, a little like controlled chaos. Being a dog trainer helps to maintain some sense of order. Mica is a pro and also naturally very good at settling. River is a wee pup and is still learning. She did great, though, and was happy to snuggle in with me and bed down for the night. 45 degree nights encouraged cuddling for warmth!
Reaching My Destination
At long last, I reached Montana. I went from Minnesota, across all of North Dakota, and across nearly all of Montana before arriving at Glacier National Park. It was worth the drive! Going-to-the-Sun Road was everything I had hoped it would be. Even though I ended up driving it on Labor Day, it wasn’t too crowded. You can read more about the jaw-dropping, adrenaline-pumping adventure of driving Going-to-the-Sun Road in my post here.
After that big day, I stopped to let the dogs stretch their legs at a magical spot in the park. Then, I camped in the park itself at Saint Mary Campground, which was the cherry on top of an amazing day. Up until this point, I had things pretty well mapped out. Goal accomplished, I was at a crossroads the next morning. Do I go back over the mountains to a hiking destination I had planned? I hate backtracking of any kind, and it was a gloomy, slightly ominous-looking weather day. I decided to head back towards home.
Big Sky, Deep Thoughts
I did choose to take a trip to get away from it all, seek clarity, and hopefully find some answers or at least a pull towards a new direction in my life. It wasn’t until I started the return trip, though, did anything marginally profound strike me. I had decided to just allow myself to be open. Drive when I want to drive, stop when I want to stop. Enjoy my time with the dogs on the open road. I didn’t have any deep thoughts on the drive out, but that was ok. I was pretty focused on reaching my destination. Just clearing my mind was enough.
It’s hard not to eventually have some profound thinking when driving across the entire width of Montana, though. Lots of open sky, open land, and not a body around. It tends to prompt a person to let go and open your mind. During my return trip, I must have stopped at least three times in one day just to sit in the grass while the dogs wandered as did my thoughts. Seeing my dogs happy and free brings me so much contentment. They are fulfilled, and thus so am I.
During the wandering of the thoughts, some important things did manage to find their way into my mind. The first of which was what I already mentioned: Seeing my dogs happy and fulfilled and free brings joy to my heart. How could I do more of that? How could I focus on that? More hiking, of course. But also, letting them do what is natural to them. I decided that it was time to get both of them on sheep. Mica is beautiful when working sheep, but he has only had a few opportunities. River has boatloads of natural aptitude, and I couldn’t wait to see her initial reactions to working stock.
Decision: reach out to a sheep herding contact I had in Minnesota as soon as I got home to schedule time with her on the farm. A weight immediately lifted from me.
It was this reconnection that eventually spurred me to create The Adventure Dog Blog. I love writing, and I love adventuring with my dogs. They feed each other with this blog! I must adventure to have more new things to write about, and writing itself excites me to seek new adventures. Each time I go to a new park, trail, or campground, it is fulfilling that need to reconnect with nature and let my dogs express themselves in a natural, instinctive way.
I had some other, lesser revelations during my journey home, but that one resonated the strongest. I was excited to get back home so that I could start putting some plans into action. It was an incredible trip, and certainly being far from civilization and getting to set my own agenda was liberating. I never felt fear as a solo traveler; instead, I felt completely empowered.
So, I share this empowerment with you: Go! Explore! Take the road, to the trail, to the water. Bring the dogs! Get away from it all, unplug, and see what inspiration comes your way. Be open, and you’ll be amazed what life chooses to share with you!