I slept like a baby rock.
I lazed in bed for an hour after waking, writing blog and churning through pictures while College Gameday played on ESPN. At 9:30 I had an omelet at the breakfast buffet downstairs (included with my room, WOOT) and then embarrassed myself by filling an entire luggage cart with the stuff I’d brought up from the car. It looked like I’d been living there for months. There was even a ROCK on the cart. Just sitting by itself. A rock. Am I a fucking caveman?
Before leaving town I went to the Lewis & Clark museum. See, Great Falls is named after a series of five waterfalls in quick succession on the Missouri River*, which Lewis & Clark were misfortunate enough to run into as they paddled west. So they took 31 days—that’s a month—to portage their canoes and all their gear around the falls, across prairie covered in prickly-pear cactus, wearing moccasins. In honor of their miserable freaking time, or something, Great Falls now houses a 5,000-square-foot exhibit that basically tells me to STFU about how difficult my backpacking trip was.
Also, apparently trees just sit on top of the water here.
Made a stop at Starbucks (seriously y’all, the salted caramel mocha is delicious) then headed east around 2 pm with a new jug of water and a fresh can of Pringles.
BTW the supermarket I stopped in looked exactly like the one from “Russian Unicorn.”
I’ve always wanted to drive across Montana. It’s my thing with wide-open spaces. The fact that I was now two days ahead of schedule, giving me the flexibility to be totally indeterminate, made it even better. So I pointed my way across the Great Yellow North.
Now the emptiness of Montana really set in. In the next 234 miles of driving, I passed through six towns of any size (and “town” is generous for some of them). In between there weren’t farmhouses, gas stations, anything—just one beautiful vista after another. I don’t know what zen is, but this might have been it.
A bit later in the afternoon, I realized I was on a schedule after all. After the Chinese Wall, there’s exactly one other stop on my trip that I found by randomly browsing pictures on Google Maps: it was this wicked-looking picture of a “rollercoaster road” in eastern Montana. In need of a route to take across the state, I decided awhile back that I’d like to see this wacky road. But sunset was on its way, and I certainly wasn’t going to camp overnight at this random spot, so I had to reach it before dark.
I dropped the hammer and started cruising 85-90 miles per hour**. At one point I pushed it to 100 just to say I did so, but the car sounded rather unhappy, so I eased back. If the emigrants on the Oregon Trail were sailing across an ocean of grass, now I was flying over it. It felt great.
Just as the sun was going down I found the fabled road, and, it was about what you see in the picture. Not especially cool besides that. But the race against the sun had been worth it on its own. Another journey-over-destination kind of thing. And the sunset that I got to celebrate my victory was fantastic.
Another 50 miles south from there and I was in Miles City (12th-largest city in the state with a population of 8,123). I’d abstained from the UT game earlier in the day, but decided I wanted to find a place for the OU-FSU primetime game. The gas station attendant literally laughed when I asked about a “sports bar” in town. After 5 tries, including a bowling alley and a liquor store that I mistook for a bar, I finally found a place that was showing it on TV and served pizza besides.
Afterwards I kept heading south, towards the Wyoming border. As I waited in the DQ drive-through for a dipped cone, I witnessed some quality redneck romance: a Pizza Hut employee in the adjacent parking lot screaming at her nonchalant boyfriend as he sat on an ATV, finally yelling “FUCK YOU!” as he got tired of the routine and puttered off down the road.
I’d planned to make it as far as Devils Tower before camping. I could quickly tell that wasn’t going to happen. But I got as far as the state border, decided that was as good a place as any to stop, and pulled over to sleep in my front seat 50 feet short of Wyoming. One last night in Montana. It’s been real.
RANDOM LEWIS & CLARK FACT: The dynamic duo wrote more words in their journals than are in the Bible, but didn’t care too much for their spelling. Lewis spelled the word “Sioux” 27 different ways, never once spelling it S-I-O-U-X.
* True story: four of the waterfalls have been dammed to create hydroelectric power, and the fifth was submerged in one of the resulting lakes. NOT SO GREAT NOW, ARE YA, FALLS??
** Yes, Montana DOES have a speed limit, though it seems to be loosely enforced.