To Flathead Lake (300)


In Montana, everything is far away. Growing up, I was used to driving, used to riding in the backseat with the dog and a book, and used to the winding two-lane highways, the empty four-lane interstates. I expected two- or three-hour drives for soccer games; five-hour drives to see my grandmother in the same state. By the time I was fifteen, I had a driver’s license.

When people say “open road” I think they must be talking about the interstate in Montana. Or Alaska, maybe.

The drive from Missoula to Flathead Lake dips up and down steep climbs and around blind turns on two lanes, with the occasional passing lane to get by slower traffic (semi-trucks, tractors). It’s a drive that takes all of two hours because traffic is always slow and because in late summer, cherries are sold in roadside stands by migrant workers that Montana claims not to have, but does.

I went to a church camp on Flathead Lake. After I turned fifteen, I usually drove there with a friend or two. One year, I drove by myself – although I think it was later because I was a counselor then – and I understood why people feel free and powerful with an accelerator under foot and pavement streaming ahead.

Maybe because I was well-rested, or because I was happy, it was clear that this was ultimate freedom. I ate cherries and sang country music that I didn’t know (my sister always liked country music).

I may have been used to driving, but I was alone in hot summer under a perfectly bright Big Sky. Two hours didn’t feel like enough.

I think it is power, or some sense of independence that lets us love driving this way. We feel free, even when we aren’t.

**This post was inspired by Write on Edge’s weekly prompt with a word limit of 300. For more “open road” inspired work, click here.

21 responses »

  1. I loved this. It was breezy and painted a great picture. My favorite line was this: “When people say “open road” I think they must be talking about the interstate in Montana. Or Alaska, maybe.”

  2. I used to love driving alone when I was a teenager; like you said, it’s the ultimate freedom. Now that I think about it, that’s a feeling that still hasn’t disappeared for me.
    My sister lives in Montana (used to live in Whitefish, now in Missoula) and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Every time I visit her I say, “I can’t believe you live here!”

  3. Driving alone can be so exhilarating. You have your own music, food, drink, and sense of wonder.

    I like the feel of this write up. Makes me want to get in the car now and just go. Thanks for the visceral.

    well done

  4. Freedom and the open road… it’s as American as it gets. I really like the picture you painted here, and a nostalgic feeling of being young and, well free, that most of us can relate too.

  5. I actually don’t like driving very much, but this made me WANT to like it. This line: We feel free, even when we aren’t. was so telling about the piece and how driving makes you feel.

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