*to the tune of The Twelve Days of Christmas
♪♫ On our trip to Montana, we were so grateful for ♩ ♬ ♩ :
♩ ♬ An overnight getaway ♪
Farmer Fred and Lucinda blessed us in so many ways. They opened their home to us, trusted us with their dearly loved animals, mentored us as future farmers and growing Christians, and allowed us dwell time during our family’s current nomadic chapter. Their gifts were so substantial, and the icing on the already decadent cake was a kid-free night away. Old Man and I drove up to Missoula, talked at length without interruption, sat through a meal without having to get up for any multitude of kid-related needs, and got to wake up in the morning and not instantly be ‘on’. We returned to a warm and welcoming home to find our benefactors relaxed and of sound minds and our children rosy-cheeked with twinkling eyes of contentedness.
♬ ♩ Two milking goats ♪♫
Our time in Montana was special for many reasons. One of those reasons is the satisfaction of drinking milk that traveled only the short distance from the barn to the house and was procured by our own hands. The kids had such a sense of ownership and responsibility for the care of the entire herd, but also a personal sense of pride for providing the labor that later nourished our brood.
♩ ♬ Three repairs done ♪
We dropped our bikes off for major maintenance and repairs the day before we departed for Montana, and mailed a deteriorating air mattress and a tent with a defunct zipper back to their respective manufacturers for repairs a few days later. Not having any one of those things refurbished and returned in time for our tour resumption would derail our ability to depart (and keep to our budget!). Like clockwork, everything was done and in place waiting for us when we returned to Virginia. The air mattress and tent manufacturers even replaced our well-used items with new ones!
♬ ♩ Four tourist sites ♪♫
Even with our ambitiously long days of driving, we made time to still stop and smell a few roses along the way. Over the course of the bike tour the kids and I read the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series. We sympathize with Pa’s itchy wandering foot, and after visiting De Smet, South Dakota, we have an even greater respect for the harsh weather that defines that part of the country. We stopped to see the homestead claim shanty and school houses and were shivering from the frigid wind cutting through us, only to have the grocery store clerk inform us that the current weather was incredibly mild for this time of year. Brrrr! We also stopped in Mansfield, Missouri to see the houses in which Laura wrote her books and view other treasures mentioned in the books (Pa’s fiddle!). We made a detour to check out Mount Rushmore and see what vision and dedication can achieve, in terms of the monument’s creation and the lives led to earn spots on that rockface. Our final stop in American history tourism was visiting President Jefferson’s beloved Monticello. The view from the top of his hill was splendid and the details present throughout his home demonstrate his brilliance.
♩ ♬ Five thousand miles ♪
We made it over five-thousand miles roundtrip through areas known for their winter weather and during a time of year known for its germ-sharing with dry roads and not so much as a sniffle. That is a small miracle in and of itself, for which we are tremendously thankful!
♬ ♩ Six big-hearted friends ♪♫
Six friends split between two coasts thoughtfully and generously sent us two care packages filled with toys, activities, notes, and gift cards to occupy us during our Montana stay. The looks of delight on the kids’ faces matched that of Christmas morning. How blessed are we to be so utterly rootless and absent, but still have committed friends supporting us from thousands of miles away?
♩ ♬ Seven hotel stays ♪
Without a second tent, camping was out of the question for us. Although, campgrounds that were open in the northern climate were few and far between. We spent a few nights with family and friends along the way, but the remainder of our nights were spent in hotels. Sadly, our days were too long to enable our use of their pools, but as we headed further north and the mercury dropped, we were ever so grateful to be indoors and to have a hot breakfast in the morning. Also, we are now Diamond Elite status within one family of hotel brands, which I find funny because we so clearly do not fit the bill of this coveted milestone (we walk around in patched pants, or pants with a seat stained from breaking in a leather saddle, hair cut by our unskilled hands, we wear socks with our sandals, sometimes we stink….). For comedic purposes, I would love for our ragtag bunch to pull up on our bikes Beverly Hillbilly style and park in the reserved front spots denoting our preferred status…
♬ ♩ Eight Christmas pastimes ♪♫
Our Montana escapade afforded us opportunities to do some of our favorite Christmas activities, many of which we could not have facilitated otherwise. We made Christmas cookies; attended a tree lighting ceremony accompanied with caroling; listened to Christmas music along our drive; oohed and awed at Christmas lights along the way; and even watched a few Christmas movies, A Charlie Brown Christmas among them. The most heartening of the Christmas fun was the kids’ gift making and subsequent wrapping. Each of them has been buzzing with thoughtful and secretive industriousness, very similar to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s accounts of their Christmas gift preparation, specifically during their lean years. Our resources are limited, as is our storage and towing capacity, but the kids are dedicated to creating a Christmas bounty for each other.
♩ ♬ Nine states left to bike ♪
We resume pedaling tomorrow and including the remainder of Virginia, we have nine states remaining in this bike tour. This journey has been so fruitful, we are grateful for its continuation.
♬ ♩ Ten stints with loved ones ♪♫
The road trip was a bit of a walk down memory lane. We retraced our bike route in a number of places in Montana, inciting some nostalgia. In addition to location and landscape flashbacks, we had the privilege of reconnecting with family and friends whom we encountered while biking. My mom joined us for Thanksgiving. We visited with our first Warm Showers hosts, who inspired us to seek out other hosts (to include the beloved Farmer Fred and Lucinda), and caught up on each other’s adventures since last seeing one another. We stayed with uber-accommodating and kind-hearted Mrs. Lawrence during each leg of the journey. My extended family in northwest Indiana, to include a neighboring family whose daughter is a kindred spirit to Sissy, rallied in the middle of the work/school week to spend time with us for an evening as we passed through. Regrettably, we kicked ourselves for lack of forethought as we drove through Dillon, Montana, wishing we had coordinated to meet our Warm Showers hosts there for lunch. We are incredibly blessed by our opportunities to meet new people, make new friends, and reconnect with family as we continue our travels.
♩ ♬ Eleven miles of hiking ♪
We had the good fortune of going on three hikes in beautiful Montana. One offered us beautiful views of the Bitterroot Valley, another gave us a glimpse into part of the National Forest adjacent to Farmer Fred and Lucinda’s house that was spared by the decade-old forest fire. Our final hike took us to a hot spring. Hot tubs under clear Montana nights are still the best, but a steaming hot spring on a cold day in the middle of the mountains is a close second!
♬ ♩ Twelve audiobooks ♪♫
It is not easy to go from being outdoors and biking nearly all day most days to sedentarily passing five days in a row sitting in a car. Seattle Public Libraries saved the day with their selection of audiobooks. Our minds were stimulated, even if our bodies were slothful!