Today has been a day full of the unexpected. I left the care and comfort of a friend in Missoula this morning (thanks again!), for what I considered to be the climax of my trip: a few days camping and hiking in Glacier National Park. I've always had a fondness for Montana. My great grandparents met here. There was once a family farm here. (We don't own the land anymore, but we still have the mineral rights.)
I battled nerves getting myself psyched for what would be my biggest solo wilderness experience. Mostly I was nervous about encountering bears.
Then, on my way up, I encountered my first setback- a traffic jam due to a car accident. I left later than I had planned to. Getting a campsite at Glacier is a competitive game. They fill up by noon on average. Getting stuck behind emergency vehicles clearing the road put me an hour behind when I was already cutting it close. I figured though, maybe this is good. If I had left earlier maybe that car accident would have been me.
Upon getting to Glacier, I found that the campsite I was aiming for, Two Medicine, on the east side of the park was already full. I shook it off and kept going north to get to my second choice spot that I was sure was a safe bet because it was a primitive site (no running water).
5 miles down a gravel road and I found that that site was full up too. At this point my spirits where hot and cranky. I figured the only choice at this point would be to keep going North to the main entrance of the park and get some advice from a ranger and maybe find a cheap hotel to hole up in for the night.
Continuing north I passed what looked at first like a plume of white mist- the kind you see at a waterfall. I wondered...but the air sort of smelled like smoke. Hmmm, I thought to myself, but kept driving because I just wanted to find a place already. Turns out I had passed it right at its genesis.
Not more than 10 mins later, by the time I got to the main visitors station at St. Mary's, Rangers were out turning everyone around. Yes indeed, a forest fire. The smoke cloud was getting big. They said the main road of the park was closed and they were evacuating nearby campsites.
I was smart and called ahead to a little motel 10 miles up the road: Thronson's Motel in Babb, MT. They had a room. It took me 10 more minutes to get here and by the time I did the smoke from the fire had dominated the landscape, billowing up from behind a mountain ridge.
Other hikers also came to find shelter here. Many stories went around: one guy was evacuated before he could retrieve his stuff. He even had to leave his car. One waitress at the (only) cafe was worried about friends who were being forced to hike 20 miles west to get away from the flames.
Now, maybe 4 hours have passed since this all started happening. The fire is said to be moving south east. I can't help but feel very lucky that I didn't leave earlier this morning, that I got stuck in traffic, that I didn't get space in those campsites, and I pray for all the Rangers, Firefighters, and Hikers that are having a much worse evening than I.
Now and forever Babb, MT will hold a special place in my heart-- with its one motel, one general store, one gas station, and one cafe. If only it were under different circumstances that I found this little heaven.
Now, wearily, I am looking forward to landing in Portland.