A Walk Thru Lolo
The Year was 1990
Clark, a friend of mine who lived in the apartment across the hall, and I packed our frame packs, and put on our hiking boots early one friday afternoon in November, and decided to walk a three day tour of the countryside of Montana.
Before hitting the fifty mile trek south down the Bitterroot Mountain Range, through the towns of Lolo, Florence, and Stevensville, we stopped at Buttrey's to stock up on Hormel chilli, Top ramen, and a few dollars for truck stop dining.
We left when the sun was high in the sky and the November chill gave us a boost to keep moving. We left Missoula on the highway and headed south on the train tracks. It was eight miles to Lolo, our first destination.
The Montana Moon
The train tracks reminded us of the movie "Stand By Me." We hummed tunes from the movie as we crossed over the first train bridge. The sun started to set on the countryside. We could see the brown and yellow colors of fall as the Bitterroot Range cast it's shadow on the valley and the full moon started to saunter up overhead.
We glanced over to the east at the Sapphire Mountain Range, where an M was tattooed on the hillside. We stopped for a snack and some water and then proceeded on into the Montana Moon.
The serenity of the land reminded me of a folk song by Cat Stevens and I began to sing:
"Miles from nowhere, not a soul in sight, but it's alright
I have my freedom I can make my own rules, the ones that I choose.
Lord my body, has been a good friend but I wont need it when I reach the end."
Through Lolo at Night
The first town we walked through was the town of Lolo. By now the night had fallen upon us. We stepped into town and stopped at the Town Pump gas station to stock up on corn dogs and coffee. We walked a short distance out of town and set up our below zero sleeping bags off the side of the road in a grouping of pines.
The next morning we walked into Lolo. Lolo seemed to be a small roadside town built more for the truckers than for the locals. Right in the middle of town was a truck stop named Og's. Clark looked out from under the brim of his hat and proclaimed that he never missed a good truck stop breakfast.
So we entered Og's and ate the most terrific breakfast we ever had. We left Lolo with full stomachs and coffee-glazed eyes. We also left with pleasant memories as we headed out of town and into some wooded regions on the sides of the road.
The walk to Florence covered stretches of plainland that seemed to go on forever. Clark and I fixed our eyes on the road. We put ourselves into a walkers trance to avoid the monotony of the walk.
Florence sits in the woods about eight miles outside of Lolo, and like Lolo it is a small roadside town. Clark and I stopped for coffee and walked on into the thickening woods towards Stevensville.
We camped that night two miles outside of Koutenai Canyon. We trespassed onto a cow pasture off to the side of the road. The night chill was below freezing. Snow had covered our sleeping bags, and we had to cover our faces in the bag as we slept. The cold made it really hard to sleep, but after our muscles relaxed a bit, sleep came with ease.
We awoke to sunshine and the snow had melted. Reveling in the sun, we cooked Hormel Chilli for breakfast and packed up around noon. The two mile walk to Koutenai Canyon gave us the spectacle of summers last dying colors.
The barren trees formed thickets that surrounded fields of yellow. We walked queitly through Koutenai Canyon to the Y that split towards Stevensville.
There we met Vagrant, a purebred retreiver puppy without registration, and took him on as a hiking partner.
A Short Time With Vagrant
Vagrant followed us into Stevensville and waited patiently outside when we entered a small restaurant called Donna's. The restaurant was the ideal place to rest our legs and grab lunch. We were drunken with fatigue when we left Donna's.
Vagrant looked up at us with his sad puppy eyes and waited for us to go on. We knew we couldn't take him home with us, so sadly we said goodbye and dropped him off with a lady we met in Donna's, who said she would take good care of him.
The sun had begun to set when we headed down Highway 203 paralleling the Sapphire Mountain Range. We passed the Stevensville airport and stopped for some water at a slaughterhouse outside of town. We began our trip home.
A Cold and Tired Return
Snow started to fall heavily around us. The road hit bare wilderness and then branched off into some secluded ranch homes. My knee gave out and the chill froze much of my spirits, so once we made it back to Florence we stopped for our last cup of coffee.
We received a free cup of coffee, since we had met the owners on the way through the first time, and headed towards Lolo again. Once we exited the trees and hit the flatlands before Lolo, our spirits dragged behind us.
We said goodbye to the road and hitchhiked back to Missoula, our end destination. Once my head hit my pillow I fell asleep for what seemed to be days. My dreams where filled with wonderful scenes of the Montana moon.
Both Clark and I agree, though, we felt like we had reached down and touched America with both hands.