We’ve now crossed Idaho and made it to Missoula, at which point the arrow directing our path has once again gone dark. So we have three nights here to work on getting it re-lit and seeing which direction it is now pointing. Lodging for the weekend was pretty expensive, so we ended up at an AirBNB that leans into the B&B side more-heavily than most. Three rooms with a shared bathroom and kitchen, and Jenny, a super-social hostess who knows how to bring people together.
One of the first things she told us sent Rett over the rainbow: it’s Pride Weekend in Missoula! And since I had a lot of work to do, good news for me too: two of the other guests were in from Livingston, MT (one originally from Gary, IN!) explicitly for the Pride festivities, so I wouldn’t need to be Rett’s full-time companion out there. The third room was occupied by a woman from South Carolina, in for a pseudo-friend’s dramatic nightmare of a wedding, to the point where Jenny had us all placing odds on whether the Saturday ceremony would actually occur.
So after hearing those bewildering tales of vindictive family (and community) members trying their hardest to keep love apart, attending the Pride Parade on Saturday restored tears of optimism to my eyes (as such things often do). Here was an entire community of people, from every part of the community, gathering to publicly declare that they support love for everyone, no matter who you are.
But this Pride wasn’t just a celebration, it was a learning experience for us, an unexpected benefit of our travels. In Chicago, while there are still strides to be made, and bulwarks to be strengthened against unanticipated backsliding, Pride there had become mostly a celebration, almost a declaration of victory.
Here in this conservative state in 2023, backsliding isn’t just a risk, it’s an active (and seemingly-successful) project of the Republican supermajority. At the Block Party following the parade, Rett and I stopped to watch a live band, and as they were finishing their set, many more people began filling the street in front of the stage. “Some really popular band must be up next”, I said to Rett. But no, they were gathering to hear a speech from Zooey Zephyr, a trans woman and state legislator (who has been barred from the chamber by the Republicans). The idea of an Illinois politician drawing anything but boos at Pride Chicago is almost laughable; drawing an interested and engaged crowd and delivering a rousing speech and call-to-action even more unbelievable. But here in Montana, the battle for freedom and equality is still very much being fought, so the Army of Love stands ready to march.
Later on I spoke to a white-haired couple, a wonderful example of the diversity of support here; she had been marching with Quilters for Peace, and he was wearing a Veterans for Pride hat. But they cautioned me not to believe that all the rainbows here were spreading their colors across the state: “Missoula is the Berkeley of the Northwest; the rest of Montana is not like this.”
Point taken, but just as Berkeley and San Francisco drew in flower children from all across the country, here was Rett hanging out with two girls who had been drawn in from more-conservative Livingston. So at least there is a hotspot in this state from which the flames of love can spread and grow; I’m not sure all conservative states have even that. And so as I looked out on the large crowd of people proud to be whoever they were, wear whatever they wanted, and be with whoever they loved, I hope some of them were also drawn to this hotspot from afar, and were taking joy in not needing to suppress their true selves for a brief period (and I’m sure some fraction of them needed to lie to their families about what they were doing this weekend).
The most-confusing yet ultimately most-appropriate display I saw in the crowd at the parade was a man waving a large “Don’t Tread on Me” coiled-snake flag; normally I would expect that strongly conservative symbol to indicate a sour (and closeted?!) “protestor” at a Pride parade, standing next to the religious fanatics. But here, instead of the standard yellow background, the Snake sat on a background of the Pride rainbow. Huh? Cognitive dissonance! But wait. Think for a second. “Don’t Tread on Me” means “Let Me Do What I Want”. An ethos embraced by the mountain men who settled this remote Western state and by the man marching in six-inch rainbow platform boots and not much else. Do those leave-me-alone conservatives continue to exist in rural Montana in sufficient numbers to join with the leave-me-alone liberals in the cities, and together remind the Republican legislators what Conservatism once meant? I don’t know, but it certainly seems like an alliance worth exploring, and gives this state a unique angle of attack to keep the rainbow expanding rather than shrinking.
I left Rett at the festivities to ride across town to REI to pick up some supplies. Even in the terrible six-lane highway retail corridor that REI is on, the bicycle facilities are excellent. There are several bridges crossing the main river in town, and I think there are actually more crossings that are comfortable/possible for cyclists/pedestrians than for motor vehicles. I guess it would be embarrassing for the headquarters of Adventure Cycling to have poor cycling infrastructure, but this goes far beyond adequate.
I’m guessing the University of Montana plays a big role in generating this “nice place to live” environment, and the university neighborhood we were staying in was filled with gorgeous houses, of which we would have spent a day making a walking tour had Pride not intruded. And, there are giant green mountains in the background of every view.
After the unexpected festivities, our third day was the day to stay in and work. We got our directional arrow re-lit, and it’s pointing to Glacier National Park! Well, not exactly pointing to it, as we’re going to take the non-obvious route, heading east from Missoula, crossing the Continental Divide, and only then heading north to Glacier to approach it from the east side.
Yesterday after the parade, Rett and I went to Conflux Brewing for the second time (just a block away this time rather than in the middle of a multi-hundred mile drive). Except when we walked in, we were both struck by confusion: “Here’s the bar we ate at last time!” “Here’s the outdoor patio we ate at last time!” Huh? Turns out we had eaten at both places, and this was our third time at Conflux. Once in summer 2019 when driving from Chicago to Seattle, once in summer 2021, driving back from our family meetup in Colorado, and now in summer 2023. I guess that unintentional pattern is telling us we’ll be back again in summer 2025. Maybe because we’ll be deciding to settle down and live here? I don’t know about that, but we certainly could live here and be happy.