In which I left my patience in Denver and my youth on a Montana mountaintop.

Most people with sense flock to the beaches and the tropical warmth and beauty of the coast when scoping out potential retirement properties.  The Alabama Gulf Coast is one of the prettiest places there is and a popular destination for thousands of over-wintering Snowbirds each year.  Not us.  We layered up and took ourselves on a little retirement recon trip to Missoula, Montana.

They say that getting there is half the fun.  I’m here to tell you that getting there was none too swuft, as my grandma would say.  Mechanical issues caused us to miss our connecting flight in Denver by about 5 minutes.  We met our plane on the tarmac. After standing in the “What are we going to do with these displaced people?” line for well over an hour, we had to wait another hour and a half for them to find our bags, which we stupidly checked.  I won’t bore you with the details, but three hours of sleep in a questionable motel and no hope of making the kickoff of the Montana vs. Montana State football game later, we flew to Salt Lake City to catch what was apparently the only other plane flying into Missoula International on a Saturday.  Our future may very well involve an RV!

Here are some observations I made while visiting the magnificent Bitterroot Valley:

  • The football game was charming. They offered to stamp us for passing in and out of the stadium during the game (What??).  The programs were only three bucks, and they were selling split-the-pot tickets.  The stadium was packed with just over 26,000 fans who, get this… threw Little Debbie snack cakes into the air whenever Montana scored.  It was adorable!
  • Wildlife is right there. I saw more deer over the weekend than moccasins down by our swamp in high summer.  This included deer grazing willy-nilly on the college campus, not paying a nevermind to the people walking or biking about.  Canadian geese, turkeys, oversized squirrels, and elk rounded out our encounters.  We did see several stuffed bears at the natural history museum, but thankfully, none in the wild.
  • It’s really outdoorsy. People were cycling, running, hiking, fishing, and even hang-gliding all around us!  Missoula features miles and miles of trails that folks actually use.  I can’t even count the times I’ve been on our Antique Rose Trail without seeing another soul.  You know what I didn’t see in Montana?  Fat people!  Now, we didn’t venture into the Walmart, so I can’t say for sure, but it seems that most folks there are in generally better shape than we are down here in Lower Alabama.
  • Landscaping is not a thing. Maybe it’s the climate, or maybe it’s the breathtaking mountain views which are unbelievably beautiful, but most homes we saw were not flanked by shrubbery.  It gave the houses a stark feel and left people’s junk piles exposed.  They didn’t have giant azalea bushes to serve as camouflage.  No kudzu, either.
  • Coffee shops are a thing. This place is a pastry-lover’s paradise. They are big on ice cream, too.  Two for three of these count as bonuses for the area on my husband’s retirement list.  I can’t recall, however, seeing any “big name” coffee shops.  The ones we saw were mom & pop places—that’s a bonus on my list!

Getting there aside, this was a great trip. The Bitterroot Mountains are as majestic as the more familiar Great Smoky Mountains, but in a totally different way.  Who knows what adventures retirement will bring us in a few short years, but Missoula has a definite spot on the shortlist.  Nevertheless, it sure felt good to be back home on our Lower Alabama farm just in time for Thanksgiving.

While sucking some major wind near the top of a mountain, we issued a challenge to our future 60-year-old selves. You can watch that here: 

See all “Southern Alabama Living” stories


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