Day 14 – Smoke, Inspections, and Bears, Oh My!

Today began with picking fresh blueberries before leaving Idaho, and deciding to head in the direction of Flathead Lake in Montana to see what I could see. As I set out, this was the first time I didn’t have any plans for where I was going to spend the night. While that made me nervous, I knew I had options, they were just new, and I needed to woman up to embrace them!

What should have been about a three hour drive quickly took most of the day because I took a meeting, stopped again to handle a bunch of emails, and well, I just had to take the scenic and inquisitive route.

There was also that time I had to slow down for a bear who was deciding if it was going to cross the road in front of me or not. I didn’t have time to grab a camera, but my friend Kerin sent this via text so it will have to suffice. I will say that the bear I saw was a bit darker brown, and not quite as tall as this one.

At one of my stopping places a gentleman started asking how I liked the van. I showed him what I had done with it, and he recommended I stop at the forest ranger station about 10 miles up the road to get information on dispersed camping. On a side note, did you know this is National Forest Week?

The person at the station wasn’t familiar with the area I was headed, but she gave me some resources and suggested I stop at the next ranger station for more help. In the meantime, I took a bunch more pictures!

As I got closer to the next ranger station the air became hazy with smoke from the forest fires. I could sorta smell them at the first station, but they were quite evident at my next stop. It smelled like a campfire. Everywhere. While it is sad and concerning that there are fires, I have to remind myself that the ones started by nature are part of the natural circle of life, and an important part of the ecosystem.

At the second ranger station I ended up talking with a gentleman who had been fighting some of these fires and he had a lot of information to share. He was very familiar with where I was headed as he had been assigned to that area previously. He said that the Flathead region was in pretty good shape and that I should be able to find camping. He also asked if I had any bear repellent, which I did not, so he suggested I pick some up at the Mangy Moose Mercantile just up the road. I got the last one.

Idaho and Montana are having trouble with the introduction of invasive mollusks in their waterways, so everyone with a watercraft has to stop for an inspection. I stopped in Idaho and they only asked a few questions, but in Montana they inspected my paddle board which meant I had to do a bit of unpacking. The inspector said it was very clean! I try, thank you, and then he issued me an inspection receipt. If I put it in the water, I still need to get a permit, but I couldn’t get it without the inspection. You can get in a LOT of trouble if you bring extra critters to Montana’s waterways.

I still didn’t have an overnight location settled, so I headed on to Flathead Lake. Along the way the smoke became more dense so the rest of my pictures have really subdued color.

After driving around the lake, which took well over an hour (a beautiful hour), I headed into Flathead National Forest to find a place to call my home for the night. You can stay in a National Forest, anywhere you like, as long as you adhere to current restrictions related to not disturbing the natural area and fire precautions. For my stay I had to be no more than 300 feet from the road, and I could not have a camp fire or open flame cooking. Additionally I had to park in a dirt only area, not over any vegetation since it is so dry and subject to catching fire with little provocation.

The difficult part was keeping my nerves at bay as I looked for an access road to enter the forest but I couldn’t find one. I contemplated several Plan B, C, and D options because I am THAT nerd, but all of a sudden a sign appeared directing me up a gravel road into the forest! This was a logging access road, but I decided it was to be my driveway for the night. I then proceeded to drive about 20 minutes before landing on paradise.

Welcome to my home away from home!


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