Almost four weeks ago (how does the time fly like that?) we road tripped to Great Falls, Montana to spend five fun-filled days with my brother Shane, his wife Quenby, and my three awesome nieces: Kayla, Maggie, and Sydney. I can't believe it's taken me this long to write about our adventures with them, but better late than never, right?
According to google maps, it's 736 miles from our driveway to theirs and takes a minimum of 12 hours (without stops) to traverse that distance. We cut two hours off our trip on the front end by meeting them at a campground near Seeley Lake, Montana (a mere 622 miles from our house). The kids traveled well. If only the same could be said for their parents who both had adult temper tantrums along the way.
We picked Spokane, Washington as our stopping point for lunch and planned to spend an hour at Riverfront Park where, according to my brother, there were play structures and a spray park if it was hot. We watched the temperature outside climb to over 100F and approached signs for Spokane at 12:15 p.m. on a business day. We followed the interstate signs for Riverfront Park, not realizing until we exited the freeway that Riverfront Park is in the heart of downtown Spokane. The kids were adamant that they must have Sonic and nothing else for lunch, but getting to the Sonic involved crossing multiple lanes of traffic and navigating one-way roads. Curt was crabby before we even got there and about blew a gasket when he saw every pull-in spot full and the line for the drive-thru wrapped around the building and almost spilling out into the street. He muttered, "I'm not sitting in that," drove around the building and out of the parking lot which instigated much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the children. We eventually circled back to Sonic and by the time we re-entered the parking lot, we'd wasted 30 minutes. A sweaty manager was running around the parking lot directing traffic and looking frazzled. When he found out we were first-timers, he decided to give us the royal treatment. He had us park in a non-parking spot and promised to hand-make all our food which took an additional 15 minutes of waiting in the hot car with four hungry kids and two crabby adults.
We snatched our piping hot, deep fried food and headed back toward Riverfront Park which was teeming with half of Spokane's population. Street parking was nowhere to be found and in our haste to find something close, we TWICE turned too soon and had to re-circle the entire downtown shopping area. We spotted a parking ramp and decided to go that route, but as we pulled under the yellow height limit bumper we heard a massive crash and thud. Oops. Forgot about Grant's bike strapped to the top of our mini-van (some day we'll get a bike rack). We eventually did find some parking and ate on wet grass, our now cold and greasy food. The entire fiasco wasted a hour and a half of our day and only 15 minutes of it was spent in the park.
We repeated a similar fiasco hours later in Missoula when we drove through the entire town, parts of it twice, looking for the elusive Target store to purchase stuff that was on my "to pack" list and didn't make it in the van. While I was checking out, my brother called to tell me the campground was full and they were driving down the road to start touring campgrounds to try to find a spot. He'd call or text when they found a site which may or may not be when we had cell coverage. For now, we could just follow the original driving directions and hope to stumble upon his massive truck at a campground!
One thing Curt and I learned, as we groused at each other and were finally able to laugh about it and reconnect, was maybe we aren't as cut out to be Amazing Race participants as we thought. We certainly would have given the producers some good buffoonery coverage with our temper tantrums that day.
We eventually make it to a campground and found my brother and his family. We camped at Alva Lake located in the heart of the majestic Rocky Mountains. It was breath-taking beauty and so different from the Pacific Northwest. I wasn't anticipating Montana to be so arid, but good parts of it are very desert-like with scrubby brush and who knows how many rattlesnakes (shiver). Each night right around bedtime for the kids, we were treated to a mountain thunderstorm complete with lightening, thunder, downpour and hail. While the storms were an awesome display of God's power, they were not so great for the kids sleeping on the dry, dirt ground of Shane's hunting wall tents. Water flooded in under the edges and we giggled as we crammed six Stilp's onto two camping cots and waited for the flood to die down so we could wing it with sleeping arrangements that didn't involve water or mud.
One day we drove to Holland Lake and hiked up and in about 2 miles to a hidden waterfall in the heart of one of the mountains hemming in the lake. Paige was insistent on wearing her hot pink light-up cowgirl boots to hike and on maintaining a grouchy attitude for hiking. She pouted the entire way up the mountain, but fortunately for everyone on the trail, decided to have fun on the way back down. The waterfall was powerful and frigid with a swimming pool at its base. Shane tried to convince the kids to come under the falls with him but they refused to venture out on their own. Eventually he picked each of them up, wrapped his strong arms around their shaking shoulders, and carried them into the heart of the furious waterfall. Sheltered in his arms, they experienced the storm in the confines of the safety of his embrace. I took a bazillion pictures and I still can't look at them without being moved to tears. It's such a beautiful picture to me of all the times God has scooped me up in His arms, sheltered me from the storms of life, and endowed me with enough courage to endure them.
We headed back to Great Falls after two days of camping and FINALLY got to see all the things we've heard Shane, Quenby and the girls talk about all these years. We toured their home and got to see how beautifully all their renovation projects have turned out. Shane took Curt and Grant to the fire house where he works and enlisted Grant's help to roll up some hoses. Quenby and I snuck away for a girls afternoon and she gave me a tour of all her favorite places in town. We went to the tea store, the consignment store and a darling little boutique where we both scored cute sundresses. The boys spent an afternoon at the shooting range sighting in Curt's gun and doing man stuff. The kids played together non-stop and needed very little parental intervention to get along. Shane drug me out of bed at 5:30 in the morning to take me on a sunrise run on his favorite running trail. He hasn't run in two years so it was really cool to be with him for his inaugural run without pain. We ran three miles out and walked back, giving us time to talk and catch up. It was a highlight for me.
Sunday morning was the much-anticipated kids triathlon. Grant, Kayla, Maggie and Sydney all participated while Katie, Alli (somewhat begrudgingly because they wanted to compete too) and Paige cheered them on. It was a legitimate tri complete with body marking, timing chips, bib numbers and transition areas. Grant was visibly nervous and I fought back nervous mom tears. Even though I just swam a mile in a lake, I find everything about swimming to be unnatural. Breathing underwater and purposely subjecting yourself to a swim or drown environment is enough to makes me a mass of hot nerves. Kayla and Maggie had to swim a complete lap while Grant and Syndey (since they're younger) just had to swim one length of the outdoor pool. I screamed myself silly cheering them on and breathed a sigh of relief when all four of them made it safely out of the water. Syd beat Grant out of the water and while they were transitioning to the bike she confidently said to Grant, "I smoked you on the swim." Grant was determined to beat her and was heard shouting, "C'mon Dad. Get me on my bike. Can I do it barefoot?" In spite of Syd's athleticism and her best effort, Grant came in just ahead of her on the 2-mile bike and 1-mile run. All the kids did great and it was so fun to cheer them on as they raced.
We got to worship with them in their church home. We met their friends and stayed up late playing dominos. We sat around in our jammies drinking coffee and talking. We laughed a lot. Played a lot. Ate a lot. It was wonderful. I think the best part for me is how our relationship with Shane and Quenby has developed into intimate friendship. It warms my soul.
The drive home was much less eventful than on the way out. We traversed 4 states and one time zone over 14 + hours and I've had trips to the grocery store that were more stressful. We all got a little slap-happy around lunch time and had a blast introducing the kids to Perkins, an old college haunt from back in the day. It was a great cap to a wonderful vacation. Thanks Shane, Quenby and girls for your hospitality and for a wonderful time. We can hardly wait for next year.