Last week, I was driving the U.S. Highway 93 Alternate Route to work in Kalispell, and just as I took my exit into town, I realized I’d left my laptop back in Whitefish.
I yelled out loud about it before remembering my window was open and other people could hear me — it had already taken so long to get here, with summer traffic in full swing, and now I was going to have to battle back up and down Highway 93.
My coworkers, several of whom have done this type of thing before, gave me sad eyes and knowing sighs.
We get three months of summer in Northwest Montana, and every year it feels as though we’re trying to cram a whole year into 90 days. So many of our local business owners depend on the summer influx of tourists and their money to keep their businesses afloat, though there have been considerable efforts with varying success in recent years to expand tourism into the shoulder seasons on either end of summer.
But even with an extended tourist season, summer still hits us like a fire hose up here. We had a long, cold winter, and a rainy, cool spring, both of which are good for our snowpack and eventual fire season but made the impending summer seem like it would never get here.
Now that it’s here, it’s time for everyone to panic about their plans. How are we going to fit everything we’ve been dreaming about for six months into the next 90 days? How are we going to hit all the trails, hang out on all the lakeshores, go to all the family reunions, take all the vacations, and still manage to keep running our lives? How do we not all fall over in the autumn from sheer FOMO exhaustion? (FOMO means “fear of missing out,” and it’s very real.)
The presence of tens of thousands of tourists adds pressure to that feeling, because as I’m going through my workday here, they’re out there hitting the trails, swimming the lakes, and doing all the things I’ve been waiting half a year to finally do. I’ve always wondered what it’s like to work in an airport, where everyone is going somewhere but you’re not, and I think it’s probably like this.
It can be easy to get caught up in this cycle of thinking, especially when the tourists are driving slowly or otherwise impacting my day. But it’s important to remember how much we get to see that these visitors will never experience — the backslap of a neighbor at Locals Night during Oktoberfest, the first frost of the year, the first thunderstorm of spring.
It’s also important to think about how visitors are only here for a moment of our summer, usually less than a week of it, according to travel researchers. Of course they’re driving slower than we would, since they don’t get to see the bright hyper-yellow canola bloom against the deep blue background of mountains every day, and that’s just one of the many roadside distractions here.
I used this perspective to calm down my blood pressure when I drove to Whitefish and back in the middle of a June day to get my computer, and it worked surprisingly well. It also helped me slow down my brain enough to look around and enjoy the canola, too.
There’s time and opportunity all around us to enjoy the summer if we just let ourselves do it. Good luck out there, and remember: Slower vehicles go in the right lane. The left lane is for passing.