Up north, down south, out west or back east, America hits the road for Thanksgiving weekend. With TSA goons doing more groping at the airport than a hormone-addled teenager on his first date, more people than ever are driving to their Turkey Day destinations rather than putting up with the increasing hassle and indignity—not to mention the horribly bloated expense—of flying. It's the biggest travel weekend of the year, and according to AAA auto club, 94 percent of those travelers will be doing so in passenger vehicles. That's 39,668,000 people—almost as many as you see on Reserve Street every Friday afternoon.
"It's not about the destination. It's about the journey." So said Jackson Pollock, among others (including the father who forgot to reserve a room at the War Bonnet Inn in Miles City, only to drive 400 miles with his family and discover that the joint was booked solid). A road trip, by its very definition, is the opportunity to experience the landscape and soak up the local flavors in a way you never could from 36,000 feet. Montana has 73,202 miles of public roads to carry you over the river and through the woods, and the Independent is here to provide you with tips and advice for road tripping through the wide-open spaces of our sprawling state, as well as point out several interesting stops along the way. So open up that Montana Atlas & Gazetteer and twist the cap off a fresh highlighter, intrepid reader, as we provide the cure for white meat, er, line fever.
Rules of the road
First off, you're traveling in late November? What are you, crazy? Road conditions are sure to be dicey, and with a series of arctic storm systems blowing through the Northwest this week, you have to be prepared for anything.
Do not give up on your turkey and mashed potato dreams, though. A four-wheel-drive, or all-wheel-drive vehicle improves your chances of arriving at grandmother's house alive. The ubiquitous SUV or Subaru wagon seem to be the most popular mode of transport in our rugged state, so most of us are already equipped. Of course, who's to say it's not possible to cruise from Hamilton to Plentywood in your Mercury Grand Marquis? Enjoy the drive. I'll start looking for you in the barrow pit around, say, Ovando.
Seriously, when the rubber meets the snow, you want to have the grip and assurance of that four-wheel capability. Just know that it might help you go, but it doesn't help you stop. So when the roads turn slicker than a two-year-old's handshake, ease up on the throttle there, Jimmie Johnson. Wildlife, livestock, and the occasional confused medical marijuana enthusiast are a real danger on Montana roadways, so you need to be able to stop in time. And it goes without saying that with so much distance between service stations, especially in the eastern part of the state, you need to be sure you're outfitted with all the regular common-sense stuff like jumper cables, a good spare, extra fuses, tire chains, anti-freeze and road flares. Add a little peace of mind by throwing in a couple of blankets, a working flashlight and some bottled water. Believe me, it's no fun spending the night broken down in a mountain pass rest stop, trying to keep yourself warm by wrapping up in your free Visitor's Bureau state map and eating the owner's manual.