And Then I Tried To Explain The Unexplainable: The Lure Of Montana

Posted on December 22, 2011


While I was growing up, if you told me I would live in the state of Montana, I would have probably called you some kind of crazy. See, I wasn’t born in Montana, but I got here as soon as I could. True, Montana may have more cows than people, but there is something about it all that has brought me here-and keeps me here. It seems that lately there have been a lot of excuses for me to reflect and be proud of this place I call home.

1) …And then I moved to Philipsburg.

I was finishing up a paper for my rhetoric class. In the other room the TV was still on for some background noise. Suddenly I overheard someone say the words “Philipsburg, Montana.”

Pburg is the reason I’m here. Though I don’t live there anymore, I still—and always will—feel a pull to that magical little town nestled in the cleavage of Montana’s high country. A town of 900 doesn’t have much, but what it does have is far more valuable: spirit. The Today feature attempted to show just that… through a story all too familiar.

In 2004 I walked into Philipsburg elementary school for an interview. Among others in the room was the superintendent Mike Cutler. I didn’t know this at the time, but Mike was recently finished with a battle for his life—if you ever ‘finish’ that—he was previously diagnosed with leukemia. Before his treatment, a fundraiser was held for Mike to offset the costs of his treatment. They raised almost $40,000.

While I was teaching in Korea, his third grade daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. We followed their heart-wrenching tribulations through their blog from the other side of the world; my eyes welled up at every post. The town, in no better fiscal shape, gathered another $100,000 to help Sydney. Many of the very people that gave to the Cutler’s are engaged in a daily fight for their own financial freedom.

There is something intangible about the mountains, the culture, and the history—it’s an essence of the people that makes Philipsburg special: they believe. They believe in themselves, in their community, in sacrifice for good. The people walking the downtown streets mirror the tough landscape surrounding them; a landscape that is both tough and beautiful.

Today, both Mike and Syd are cancer free. Mike’s quote from the story sums it up quite eloquently: “The candy store is great and all the buildings are beautiful, but spend a day and visit with some of the people —that’s what it’s all about.”

Click here to access the video and article from the Today Show.

2) …And then I did an interview for the Lost Girls.

“[The Expeditioner’s Guide to the World] represents a departure from the traditional anthology. Encompassing over 39 entries including long and short-form stories, top-10 pieces, poems, haikus, and even a “Backpacker Bingo” entry, the book is a collection of the best from a “new breed” of travel writers from around the world. Raised on the Internet and sharing a new view on travel, including an appreciation for getting “off-the-beaten-path” and focusing on culture while on the road, these travel writers represent the future of the genre and are shaping the way a new generation looks at travel.”


Wow… Thanks Lost Girls.

Just recently, the book has been named the 2011 Travel Must-Read by the Lost Girls. We conducted an “interview” for their site where the three of us asked and answered questions of each other… virtually, of course. It’s great press on a great site; we’re quite fortunate to have the LG on our side.

So, naturally (for whatever reason), the questions surrounded what I’ve been doing way the hell out in Montana:

Matt: Word on the street was that the book received some good publicity in your home state of Montana. Can you tell us about the reception there and what promotion took place?

Luke: You’ve called Montana home for quite some time, where I’m also from. When I tell people while abroad I’m from there, a typical reaction I get is, “You’re the first person I’ve met from Montana!” To which I usually respond in an incredulous voice, “You don’t know Jon Wick? Why don’t they know you? Why are you withholding yourself from literally billions of people?”

So how do I answer those? In a nutshell, like this: “Compared to everywhere I’ve been, and everywhere I’ve written about, Montana is still one of my favorites, and I’m lucky to call it home.”

Don’t forget to:

Read the full review on  and…

Buy loads of the Expeditioner’s Guide to the World: Intrepid tales of Awesomeness from the Open Road and then…

Buy a bunch of Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World .

3) … And then I saw Mel, again.

I respect the function of Facebook when I get a random message from a friend I haven’t seen in too long saying, “are you still in Montana? I’m going to Big Sky in a couple weeks. I wanna see you.” I’m quite open to say I love Mel (who I learned is now Melissa, sorry Mel); we went to different high schools, but spent a lot of time together and will always share some ridiculously awesome and lasting memories (that have nothing to do with Mad Dog 20/20, I swear). We both went our ways after Manitowoc, traveling and creating the lives that have given us the present, always keeping in enough touch to meet up when the opportunity presents itself. Though years pass between seeing each other, it never feels like any time has really passed: a true test of friendship and something I value incredibly.

Mel drove into Butte from Seattle with a couple friends and stayed at the house before we drove to Big Sky. She’s never been either places and it was really cool to show her a little bit of my world; having it collide with our old world. In the process of showing her, she ended up showing me. I saw a perspective of Montana that is too easy to forget, reminding me of the greatness surrounding me everyday, and why I live here.

Being familiar with these places, you become desensitized a bit. Home is also the place of your work and bills and all that other stuff that sometimes clouds life. Looking at the awe in her face when we sat in the vault in Metal’s Bank Bar and feeling her energy as she leaned out the car window to take a picture of Lone Peak renewed in me a love of place. I did exactly those things lot long ago, and it reminded me of why I live here. People grind out their daily lives where ever they happen to be, but I want more… everyone should. Mel reminded me that I have more. 

So much rekindled.  I just hope Mel, er… Melissa, enjoyed her time here enough that we get to see each other more often… 5 years is unacceptable- I’m pretty sure she would agree.


As I said earlier, I wasn’t born in Montana (that was out of my control), but I’ve chosen to live here—a much different situation. There is an unbelievable spirit here shown in the people of Philipsburg, an identity people seek like the questions asked in the Lost Girls interview, and an effect on people that I saw in Mel. These examples-essences, if you will-drew me here and keep me here. They exist elsewhere; I’ve seen them, usually individually. This perfect storm of degree and combination found in Montana, the people, and the landscape make it a place I don’t simply reside, but call home.

I was fumbling with these words earlier today as I substituted in the high school. Then, as if the spirit of the season knew my search, I hear this quote from the movie Polar Express, which seems to explain this unexplainable-ness I’m getting at:

“and sometimes the most real things in the world are those which cannot be seen.”