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Where in the World is Flathead Lake?

By Paul Trickel

On Oct. 12, 2018, I departed on vacation, driving my truck filled with personal items and the belongings of my wife, daughter and granddaughter (Barb, Kelsea and Josephine, respectively), as they would be joining me later. Some of those belongings included a playpen, stroller and other necessities for a five-month-old.

My first encounter with snow occurred on that first day in western Iowa where I was greeted by large, wet snowflakes for about an hour as I headed up Interstate 29. However, the roads remained clear and I made it to my first overnight stop in South Dakota later that evening. Thank goodness for transitioning into the Central Standard Time.

Within a few hours on the following day, I found myself in eastern Montana driving through the high desert plains of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Indian Reservations. As I traveled through this rugged portion of Montana, I encountered my second run-in with snow. Although the snow was heavy, the roads were still warm enough that the snow mostly melted upon contact with the asphalt. About 30 minutes south of Billings, the snow cleared.

I fueled my vehicle in Billings and turned west for the final four and one-half hours of my trip home. Yes, home. My mother and two of my brothers live within the beauty of the Bitterroot Valley. Just west of Billings I encountered more snow, and as I drove farther west and higher in elevation, the snow increased in intensity.

About 12 miles east of Big Timber (worth a stop if you are ever in the neighborhood), my truck fishtailed. After failing to gain control of my vehicle, the passenger-side, rear-quarter panel struck the ICC bar of an 18-wheeler that was parked on the shoulder while the driver cleared snow from the windshield wipers.

I spent the next three hours or so waiting for the highway patrol; watching other accidents happen; contacting my insurance company; calling family in northern Kentucky and western Montana; and waiting for a tow truck.

After I had been waiting about two and one-half hours, the Montana highway patrolman who investigated my accident approached me and informed me that he needed to leave the accident scene. He explained that the fire truck that had just left the site of my accident had been rear-ended. These were only two of the many of accidents that happened along a seven-mile stretch of road. About six inches of snow had fallen that afternoon.

I believe I was approached to write a story about my vacation because of the events that occurred on that second day, but to stop the story there would not share a true picture of my vacation.

My brother and I reached his home on that second day and we enjoyed the evening together. On Sunday, October 14, he drove me 40 miles south to my mom’s house in Hamilton where I stayed for more than a week.

October 2018 marked my mother’s 80th birthday. To celebrate, my family traveled to Flathead Lake, which is about two hours from Hamilton. We rented a large home on the lake, which we enjoyed for several days.

My mother is a great-grandmother many times over, but my family is spread all over the United States so she has never had the opportunity to meet any of her great-grandchildren until they were at least two years old. When my wife, daughter and five-month-old granddaughter arrived in Montana, that all changed. It was a blessing I’ll never forget.

The trip included many special memories, including sharing Cincinnati chili with my siblings – who managed to create their own variation by adding Fritos – a six-way I guess! More family joined us to celebrate my mom’s birthday in which we shared stories and ate too much food, including two types of birthday cake.

I flew home a few days later not knowing whether my truck would be repaired or deemed a total loss. In the end, my truck was a total loss, which meant that my wife and I needed to shop for a new vehicle. That’s not something we enjoy.

In retrospect, it might seem like Oct. 13 would’ve been the most eventful day of my trip, but when your family is as geographically separated as mine, spending time together is too precious to focus on anything but the love of family and the sharing of our lives. I look forward to the next time I create an opportunity to be with my family. It can’t happen soon enough.

Epilogue – Like Big Timber, Montana, if you are ever looking for a place to vacation, the Bitterroot and Flathead Valleys are worth some contemplation. By the way, Flathead is only about an hour from Glacier National Park, which should be on everyone’s bucket list. I would also recommend making these trips in the summer unless you are looking to snow ski.