"Wisdom, with hindsight." Wisdom by johngayton

Wisdom Travel Guide: 3 reviews and 7 photos

"Seen you now from both sides..."

After a very pleasant overnight stop at Big Timber, with Hamilton as our next destination, we decided to let the weather make our route decisions for us. Two choices: After Butte, continue on I 90 until Missoula then go south on US 93; or go south on I 15, cross country through the Big Hole Valley on the 43 and go north on US 93. Choices, choices.

There were snow warnings, but the driving conditions were perfect, blue skies and dry roads. We filled up with gas at Whitehall, and decided from there: the shorter route through The Big Hole, looking to stop at Wisdom for lunch and that should leave us about a 2 hour drive to Hamilton.

This is Steinbeck country. Although not California, it still brings to mind "Of Mice and Men" but not so much the book as the poem and Burns' line, "...gang aft agley."

So much for planning!

Crossing between I 15 and US 93 the 43 is THE scenic route, following The Big Hole River, through Divide, Dewey, Wisdom and then up the Chief Joseph Pass to join the highway. Winding our way through the valley there are signs of recent snowfall but the roads are clear apart from some light drifts. To reassure us we pass the snowplough going in the other direction and on arriving at Wisdom the first building of note was, "The Big Hole Crossing Restaurant". That seemed an ideal place to stop for lunch.

Perhaps we should have taken the advice of The Wise River, which departs the roadway and heads south to do its own thing, going uphill all the way to its source in the Pioneer Mountains - OK it actually runs downhill to The Big Hole, but a little poetic licence is allowed here, isn't it?


Excellent lunch - tip will follow. Proper road food - burgers, soup and fries - beer for me! (I did have some food as well!) [this is memo to self- Diablo - OXO - Big Hole Brewery]. Chilled out, we asked the waitress about road conditions ahead - "No problems, they keep the road pretty clear this time of year, my boss has gone to Bozeman for the day."

Off we continue, this is proper America, following the Lewis and Clark Trail. The snow however gets heavier and is drifting across the roadway, thickening with every mile. It is fresh snow, and before us a car is trailblazing, visibility is good and we follow the tracks. The car in front is our good omen, as long as we keep it in sight we are safe. Now the snow is about 4 inches deep, we round a bend and the car is lost to sight. The incline steepens, we are about 3 miles from the highway and alone on the road. The tracks we have been following become filled with fresh snowfall and the car's traction begins to fail, we can neither accelerate nor slow down, the rear starts to duck-tail, drive wheels skidding, losing speed, losing traction. The snow is now very heavy, visibility has deteriorated to perhaps 50 yards in front, the flakes have tangible mass. Outside the crescents of the wipers, the windshield is opaque and then the drive wheels decide they can no longer sustain the battle and we grind to a reverse sort of halt - first we stop going forward, the wheels go into free spin and then the car decides to roll backwards against its own momentum and is not going any further.

The rear settles against the banked up snow behind us, A couple of attempts to go forward result in no forward motion whatsoever, merely a wagtail into the snowbank behind.

With no forward options, the only thing to do is make a three point turn, go back the way we came, the downhill gradient will work for us. At this precise moment in time we are askew at a 45 degree angle, facing uphill, when a guy in a white pick up passes us, slows down, shouts out his window: "Straighten the front wheels and follow the tracks!!!" This guy SHOUTS, then continues up the road, stops about 50 yards up and watches.

Attempting to straighten front wheels doesn't happen, merely adds to our askewdness, and the watcher, who becomes our saviour, reverses back down, still shouting out of his window: :Straighten Up!".

With a rear-wheel drive, all of Katherine's valiant efforts are in vain, but we do manage to get the car to the other side of the road, only to nose-dive into the snow bank on the other side. Now we are at 90 degrees across the wrong side of the highway with the front embedded in the opposed snow bank - this is worse!

The white pick-up guy disappears, I get out and try to work out a solution - we need traction on the rear wheels, all we need is to get a few inches back and use the car's tight turning circle to our advantage to get it facing downhill. I attempt to push the bonnet in the downhill direction - No Way! Call me a wimp if you like but the best part of a ton of motor vehicle is a little too heavy for me. I am just about to get my dirty washing out of the boot (trunk in Yank) and pack it against the rear wheels - that should provide some traction (especially if you know my dirty washing as intimately as I do!) when the pick-up guy returns. This guy knows the solution, pretty much the same as mine, get the car facing downhill, and so we pull and shove, praying that no-one comes speeding down the hill as we are doing so.

All's Well That Ends Well

It takes the two of us what seems like an age, getting centimetres of play with each combined push, first from the front, then attacking the rear, what seems like eternity was probably only minutes, but all the time aware that any vehicle coming in the downhill direction would not be able to stop. Obviously we did manage to get the car turned round otherwise I would not be here writing this, but it was such a relief just to get that couple of inches in the right direction and let the car do the rest. Profusely thanking the guy, off he went, uphill and we returned to Wisdom where the first port of call was the restroom at the local bar!

Which leaves me a double finale for the tale:

1) As we pull into the car park of the bar the pick-up guy pulls up alongside and apologises for shouting and offers to take our car over the pass for us! Hey, guy, you got us out of some serious SHI..! We couldn't thank the guy enough and here he is apologising for shouting.....Hmmmmmmmmmm

2) Then I discovered my first ever smoking bar here in the US!!!! :) I wanted to stay for a week!

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Smoking positively encouraged in pub!
  • Cons:Didn't get to meet Diane, or her daughters :-(
  • In a nutshell:Seen you twice from both sides now...
  • Last visit to Wisdom: Mar 2006
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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