Montana! It was a hot and hazy day in Great Falls, but the heat wasn’t going to get me down after the Oklahoma heat wave I’d escaped. Elizabeth and I had a pretty sick car and a cabin waiting for us just a few hours away. In fact, the process of leaving the airport had happened so fast that I thought maybe we would be able to get into our AirBNB before too late at night. First, though, we had to provision up.
Great Falls isn’t fully a small town in the middle of nowhere – it has a suburban element, 60,000 or so people, and most of the amenities of modern American civilization. Sure, the Plains still seem to rise up and swallow you outside the airport, which is located along I-15 on the western fringe of town. But you take the highway a few exits north and the hallmarks of mankind rise up out of the prairie grass – including a Wal-Mart. I parked in the shade to try and keep our RAV from baking in the Montana sun and we entered the store.
Now, it’s important to know that in July of 2022 Elizabeth and I were approaching the nadir of a serious, serious personal budget crisis. We’d just moved into a house, which brought with it an increase in rent of over $250 a person, and we had to outfit our new house with appliances like a fridge, washer, drier, etc. All of this occurred during the 2022 inflation crisis where gas had doubled to $4.50 a gallon, and groceries were suddenly way more expensive, and Elizabeth had quit her full-time job for a part-time internship and I was just finishing up life on a grad student salary. All of a sudden, every dollar counted to make it from paycheck to paycheck. Fortunately for us, I had gone on a little hot streak in sports betting in June, and I put all the money I win on it into a fund for use on trips. That meant we had about $400 in spending cash for this week on groceries, restaurants, etc. We couldn’t be reckless, but there was nothing against having fun.
With that said, the two of us proceeded to buy way too much in groceries for two people camping for just one week. I think there’s a lesson that I *finally* learned in Glacier – when you’re camping like that, you really don’t want to cook for yourself. If Elizabeth and I were campers like her cousins Michael and Charlie, who love to sit around the fire and roast hot dogs every night, it’d be one thing. But we’re up-at-dawn, in-bed-by-dusk, no-nonsense time-fillers who don’t really want to spend hours around a campfire each evening when there are moose out there waiting to be seen. Maybe that should factor in to the number of meals we prep for in future trips – I’ll certainly err on the side of being lighter with grocery volume.
There were also two things we needed to get that couldn’t be brought on the plane, for separate reasons. First, we needed to get bear spray. It’s truly a Montana thing of beauty that you can go to the Wal-Mart, buy your Pop-Tarts and bottled water, and then swing by the sporting goods section and get yourself a can of bear spray right by the rifles. I loved that state already. The old man who sold us the spray knew exactly where we were headed, for sure. I appreciate him for being nice to the tourists that he undoubtedly has to deal with all the time. We also had to find a cooler to put our perishables in. This proved to be much tougher. Elizabeth had hoped we would find a disposable styrofoam cooler at Wal-Mart, but it turned out the store was literally all out of them. Supply chain issues, or just a feature of shopping in the one town near one of America’s busiest areas for outdoor recreation? Who knows. Either way, I searched through the non-disposable coolers to try to find a cheap one, but eventually we decided the best move was to look for a styrofoam one somewhere else.
What a great decision that turned out to be, because Elizabeth’s truly inspired call (I don’t give Elizabeth enough credit for always having her head on her shoulders and making commonsense decisions) to go to Ace Hardware to look for the cooler. Not only would we find out that Ace was the place with the styrofoam cooler we needed, but in between the Ace and the Wal-Mart was a little drive-up coffee stand called Florence Coffee. Florence Coffee appears to be a Montana thing, but like all great drive-up stands they’re geared up for the hot summer weather with specialized cold drinks. The one that caught our eyes? Huckleberry smoothies. After all, Montana is the land of huckleberries. We had to wait a little while for them, but the wait turned out to be totally worth it.
Is this entire Great Falls blog post basically just devoted to that smoothie? Pretty much, yes. What made it so damn good was the fact that the smoothie was blended with a ton of milk, making it taste somewhere in between a fruity smoothie and a delicious milkshake. Creamy, vanilla-y, with perfect huckleberry notes and fantastic whipped cream – it was a minor trip highlight. If I ranked my top 50 favorite moments from this trip, I think the huckleberry smoothies would make it.
At Ace, Elizabeth found what we were looking for, and the two of us moved our perishables into their new non-biodegradable home. Any first day of a trip is always going to start with spirits high, but it truly felt like everything was coming up us. A car upgrade, awesome milkshakes, and we were even a few hours ahead of schedule. I got back behind the wheel and steered for I-15. It was going to be a heck of a scenic 2 and a half hours from here to Babb, up at the edge of Glacier Country.