Day 24: Missoula, MT to Riggins, ID

Tuesday, September 22

I had never heard of the C’mon Inn chain before researching hotels in Montana, probably because I’d never been to Montana. Its name made me smile, and I thought its faux lodge decor would be an amusing contrast following the legitimately rustic Belton Chalet, so I decided to stay there for my stop in Missoula.

It would have been amusing, maybe, if I’d been in a different mood. But by now I was on my tenth day of being alone; I was getting lonely, I felt cranky from being sick. My room was adequate but stale, a relic of mediocre ’90s design with its polyester comforter and mottled beige wallpaper. Then there was the goofy mountain goat water feature in the center of the hotel, conjuring the desperate playfulness of a themed casino. If I were a kid, I would think it was cool until I realized I couldn’t play on it, that there was no roller coaster or sliding board. Why go to the trouble of building such a thing if it isn’t interactive?

I was in a state in which every observation exacerbated my loneliness. The world is fake and sad and not for you, proclaims the mountain goat.

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Still, the early-morning breakfast scene of grown-ups in suits sitting on porch furniture and eating bad eggs around this ridiculous structure cheered me a little.

This was to be my longest day on the road, and it was also the day on which I had the least human interaction. The drive was particularly isolated, mostly through national forests. My loneliness lessened once I got on the road, though. The stuff of Earth is real.

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Welcome to Papyrus

In Idaho I felt that the quality of the daylight shifted, that the sun shone whiter and harsher there. It cast a forlorn glow on the world, like a sunny day on the beach in January. The image of a white lace curtain in the window of an old woman’s house came into my mind, also forlorn, connected with the white sunlight. I made myself remember the image because it felt meaningful in a way I couldn’t articulate and still can’t.

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White light

Early on that day, I often seemed to be driving toward a wall of very tall trees, stacked up behind each other on a mountainside. I kept trying to get a good photo of it, but the road would always curve before I had a chance (and, you know, I was driving). I hadn’t ever experienced anything like it; it was like being in a maze: a little scary, a little cozy.

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This doesn’t really illustrate the wall of trees, but it’s the best shot I could get

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Fire somewhere

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I eventually entered a driving trance after realizing there might not be an opportunity for a rest stop. For most of the way no towns could be found on this stretch of Route 12, only nature, and by the time towns did start showing up I just wanted to push on and get to the hotel and rest.

But the nature was just glorious — the words “trees” and “mountains” and “rivers” feel too common to describe what I saw. It was the most beautiful drive of my life.

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In my trance I found it very hard to stop to take photos, even though there were many pull-offs. But I forced myself to stop for this view, which in person was genuinely sublime.

Some stray memories:

  • I almost got into a head-on collision when someone was idiotically passing on a curve in the opposite direction. I calmly slammed on the breaks, came to a full stop, and let the guy get back into his lane.
  • I spent about an hour in the Pacific Time Zone. It surprised me to cross into it and I was excited to be gaining an hour, but soon enough I was back in Mountain Time. The time warp aspect fit with the tone of the day.
  • For most of the drive I couldn’t get either a radio signal or a phone signal to stream music. But the classic rock radio station around the Nez Perce Reservation, which came in for about three songs, was remarkably bad, playing squealy hard rock non-hits from the ’80s. (Of course I can’t remember any of the songs now, but I kept thinking, “This? Seriously?”)
  • My hotel room, which was not nice, had the outline of work boots on the carpet from someone spraying himself down with some kind of chemical.

Riggins was a tiny but friendly-seeming tourist town whose season had just ended. Only a couple of other people were staying in my hotel. After my long day of solitude I felt inward and vaguely uneasy, and the idea of finding a restaurant and chatting with strangers seemed like too much of a strain. I had a slice of leftover pizza for dinner and watched dumb TV in bed, thinking about how soon enough I’d be watching dumb TV with Steve.

This was the westernmost point of my journey. From here on out I would be on the way back home.

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Smile

Hotel Art of the Day

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Idaho scenery
~24″x16″
Print of a photograph with a paintbrush Photoshop filter applied
Salmon Rapids Lodge

Hotel Art Score

4/10. The composition feels lazy. With a local landscape that invites stunning photographs, why would this be the one you choose to print? Also why blur it up with a Photoshop filter? Whatever, guys.

Art Art Score

2/10.

4 Comments

  • Brian

    Every single one of your outdoor photos in this blog is amazing! Awesome scenery and colors! Thanks!

  • Nancy Sullivan

    Even though it did not happen, learning about your almost head-on collision frightens me. The scenery is truly breathtaking.

  • Steve

    I love your mom’s post.

  • Emma B

    Wow. I made a “hmm!!” sound out loud at every one of these photos. While I’m sorry the drive was lonely, I’m so glad you had the most beautiful drive of your life. That’s one of those times where, had I been there, I would have just kept remarking out loud about how beautiful it was, as that seems to be the way I assure myself that I’ve truly ‘appreciated’ something.

    Also, that indoor goat structure is really wacky.

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