So far we have flirted with our neighbor to the North but never been within 30 miles of the border except back East a million years ago at Niagara Falls.
Today and tomorrow I get the closest I will ever be…unless I get lost again like 3 years ago and end up 40 miles off track…I am going to work hard not to let that happen again…
We rise early not because we have a long ride but because we are sleeping in children’s classrooms at a Lutheran Church and the teachers will begin work at 7. We have access to the kitchen and I fix myself coffee along with a protein bar…memories of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and real coffee fixed by Rick and Fran brings water to my mouth…the protein bar does little to satisfy my appetite…oh well, I have a muffin for the first rest stop I saved from last night.
We head West out of town with minimal Monday morning traffic on Highway 93 but quickly turn off this busy road to a meandering country route around a glacial lake.
The ride is flat, easy, and pleasant in a warm morning sun. The air is so crisp and clean it seems not real. The sky wears a few clouds to smear its blueness from my eyes. To the right is a long mountain chain running north all the way to the Canadian Border.
Houses dot the rolling hills to both sides but cars are few and far between.
After 58 miles we descend a bit to the town of Eureka just south of our neighbor to the North.
Just a few more than 1000 live here in Lincoln County the most northwest of all in this State. Founded in 1880 in the Tobacco Valley so named for the wild tobacco which thrives here and was used extensively by the Indians before the White men came.
Logging acted as a major draw but the town has never been very big. At one time this village was known as the “ Christmas Tree Capital of the World” with holiday time bringing in increased work.
Eureka is unusual in this State as it exists in a “microclimate” , much warmer than towns to the north, east and south.
3 years ago we sought help with a place to stay since the “City Park” had such poor facilities. The School Superintendent took us in and ever since then the riding groups have stayed at the High School….misnamed…it really is a K-12 facility.
Today I made a point of sitting with him to ask about this remote town. He is more than willing to spend time with me…almost all this information comes from him. He was raised in Chicago but fell in love with Montana years ago and taught in Browning before moving here. He and his wife have raised three sons and have no regrets about the way of life in this remote valley.
Almost all shopping is done 60 miles from here, in Whitefish, the town we just came from. There is another similar town 60 miles north in Canada but the prices seem more expensive across the border. The town has two doctors but no hospital, the closest being in Whitefish to the south.
There is much poverty here…more than 75% of his students…the school has about 700 …are fed breakfast and lunch through subsidized programs. Work for their parents is scarce and seasonal with this time of year being the best…taking care of tourists and fighting forest fires. The medium income is barely above minimum wage.
Most of his students live “ up in the hills…you can’t see their homes from the road”. His busses travel hundreds of miles every day even crossing the Canadian Border to bring non US Native Americans in to school. On this side of the border there are few who are not lily white with minorities of any sort making up less than 4% of the population.
Across the Border there are settlements of Tribes and it is easier to transport them here for K-12 education than further North to the first Canadian town.
There is a strong sense of community here in this Valley with little crime. This School System is the largest employer and acts as a glue to keep not only the children but also the families together. Much of free time is spent camping, hunting, hiking, and swimming at the lake to the west. There is a theater in town but it shows only one movie at a time. The core of entertainment is based in the surrounding natural resources.
75% of high school graduates attend college in State but many do not finish with the culture shock of leaving this small town in this remote valley. Most of those who succeed go on to a carrier in education some coming back home to Eureka and Lincoln County.
School sports are important
and drugs seem not to be a major problem …at least not for now. The superintendent’s two sniffer dogs never find anything illegal in the lockers but he suspects the students who use have become wise to the dogs. Some few years ago there was a “meth” epidemic, this drug being so easy to manufacture way up in the woods,
but the use seems to have curtailed off in recent years.
There is an Omish community just west of Eureka and some students attend school here until the 8th grade. Last year forest fires destroyed 50 structures in Montana. 40 of these were in this Omish community. The high school students of Eureka put on a fund raiser and brought in $60,000 to help them rebuild, an amazing feat considering the “wealth” of Lincoln County.
Winter is not oppressive and seldom are the locals cut off. Plows to the south wait in lines to clear potential snow coming down from the mountain ranges
but “ but the winters are milder here…not like back east in Browning or Cut Bank”.
Now for us non Montanans a reference point…Cut Bank is known as the coldest place to live in America with -40F being common during the short Winter nights…-40 F alone, -60F with windchill included…so I am not too sure what he means when he says it is milder here…these people in this Valley come from a hardy stock.
Tonight the temps will dip to the high 40s but tomorrow will be a glorious day as we ride 2 miles on before turning south from the border towards the Libby Dam. At the turn to the right we will be 4 miles from our neighbor to the North.
The Superintendent has decided to ride with us part way as further support for our cause in this remote part of the world. In town at the shops people know who we are and smile graciously and comment as we pass by. Nothing but smiles greet us along the way.
Kindness seems to be innate in these people so far from the rest of the World.
Eureka means in Ancient Greek “ I have found it” … which they seem to have done. A community, a big family, that survives here up North all alone.