Friday, May 18, 2007

Wyoming and Montana

The mines at Butte, Montana

Arose before sunrise, 5:30. When camping "off the grid", I'm always inclined to get an early start, and make an "unnoticed transition" back onto the grid.

In Sheridan, I saw a Starbucks and, without hesitation, pulled in. Even here in Wyoming, you can spot "the Starbucks crowd"! There's just that certain look.

In a corner, sat a woman with an infant. She turned and I caught a brief glimpse of her eyes. Something there reminded me of my friend "Catherine" (such a sweet lady.) This woman spoke in French to her child. French-Canadian? Another plus in my book. There is a great deal of pleasure in unexpected moments such as this. And life is full of them.

Up the highway, at a rest stop near Billings, Montana I met Les and Sarah Miller from Ames, Iowa, who are riding matching Suzuki 650 "V-Stroms" and sporting matching "Aerostich Darien" riding suits (waterproof they say!) 

They have allotted two weeks and a day (or so) to get to Alaska and back. Now that's aggressive! But they rode 800 miles yesterday, so I'm not doubting their likelihood of success.

I admitted that I was tempted to "turn right" and head for Alaska myself. But my bike needs tires and brake discs before it could make such a journey. Too high a cost at the moment.


Dew Drop Inn (soda fountain) at Absorokee, MT

About 10 miles of road construction leading to this town, and a number of thunderstorms I was trying to dodge (though a little dousing was not objectionable.) Not much moisture in these clouds.

I'm sitting here, sipping a marshmallow malt and listening to Elvis.

I was concerned about riding up the Chief Joseph Highway, reported to be one of the most beautiful rides in the country, with a bald front tire.

In Billings, I decided I better begin the search for a new front tire. It may not be easy to find. On the west side, I spotted Hi-Tech Motor Sports, near a Harley dealer.

A salesman and I made a search of their rather dusty tire inventory and found two Michelin Anakee tires that would fit the bike. $154 and NO tax (gotta love Montana!) I asked about the possibility of having it mounted, but given it was Friday afternoon, and the mechanics were already on jobs, the service manager (a woman for a change!) suggested I leave the bike with them for a few hours. I decided to just pack the spare on the back of the bike. I’ll take my chances, modifying my riding accordingly.

12 miles beyond Red Lodge in the direction of Beartooth Pass, I came to a barricade. The road is closed due to hazardous conditions. It wasn’t bad news considering the ominous black clouds enveloping the entire high country. It would have been an impossible ride on motorcycle – with bad tires and brakes.


Proceeded to Livingston, my next “goal” on the list. I had to revisit, if the timing worked, Montana’s Rib & Chop House (now, Rib & Chophouse) , since they are in both Wyoming and Montana. They have three other restaurants: Sheridan, Billings and Cody.) The only problem is, at 3:15, it was extremely early for dinner. There were just a few patrons. It felt strange - too quiet. The staff was idle, relaxing in the downtime. Also, some restaurants do not show well in daylight. This is one of them.

Watched sailing on TV. We humans must turn everything into a competition. The male hormone-driven insanity.

The railyard adjacent to the restaurant was busy though. It seems to be a theme of this journey through the West.

Ordered "Moose Drool" beer on tap (cold and refreshing!), a Caesar salad, a 12-oz. "baseball-cut" sirloin steak, accompanied by a (huge) baked potato with all the trimmings. The steak was a bit tough, but tasty. $30 for the meal – no tax. Had two pints of “Moose Drool” (I enjoy that name), really too much. I took my unfinished beer into the bar and took a seat, not wishing to occupy a full table as dinner guests started to arrive. (Though there was no shortage of empty tables at this hour.)

Eating steak, I reflected on all the Angus I’ve seen crossing these states, and all the energy and resources devoted to raising beef. How much more we could do, if we did not favor a diet so heavy in red meat. (OK, I've eaten my fair share on this trip, but at home I'll have maybe one burger a month, about the only red meat I eat these days.) How much more of this land could be preserved or converted from industrial agriculture. How much cheaper the cost of living would be. (Certainly this helps drive the cost of food, fuel and other resources.) We are the "United States of Angus".

Reflected upon the trivial influences that often direct my wanderings: a steak (as in the present circumstance), a movie (Butte, Montana, the setting for Don’t Come Knocking), a word from a total stranger (the Chief Joseph Highway), a coffee shop (well, there have been many of them!)

I decided visiting Glacier National Park is out of the question once again. I’m sure it’s still closed, as they’ve had a late snowfall this year.

Before and after the stop in Livingston, rode in and out several thunderstorms. It's easy to accept brief downpours, knowing there's more sun down the road. I passed a couple riding on a BMW K1200. They appeared to be enjoying themselves. It must be nice, sharing that companionship.


9:15 p.m. Turned off Interstate 15 at a recreation area. The exit sign stated “Grant 44”, which, in my esoteric teaching days, would have had hidden meaning. Now it just brought a smile of amusement.

This is the Clark Canyon Reservoir Recreation Area and is another of the countless references to Lewis and Clark. (Their journey took them through this now-flooded canyon.)

I had just about given up on camping tonight. Checked the room price at a Comfort Inn in Dillon, Montana. An unbelievable $90. (For a Comfort Inn???) The clerk said he had only one room left. The parking lot was virtually empty.

“Where are all your guests?”

“There’s a track and field event tomorrow.” It didn't answer my question, but the price was ridiculous for such a rural setting. I moved on.

I can’t quite figure this out: there are no postings about payment for camping. Apparently it is free! I'm just a bit incredulous.

I look forward to seeing what the satellite images show the weather doing this past week. It has confounded my ability to make sense of it. From Scottsbluff onward, the atmosphere has been hazy, stormy. It makes everything look "trashy". Out here, you begin to sense how small this country is. The pollution we're creating in the West works its way to the East. (And even on the West Coast, where we consider the ocean breezes so fresh and clean, scientists have detected significant concentrations of pollutants originating in China!)

Highway 15 is across the lake, 3 or 4 miles distant, and the sound of truck traffic is subdued. It's interesting that so much is made of Lewis and Clark, and later, “Manifest Destiny”. The ideology doesn’t seem far removed from the present creators of the "Project for a New American Century" (PNAC). America's "Manifest Destiny" lives on in its latest formulation: to deliver "democracy" and "free market capitalism" to the world.

Light fading, sipping a "Coke" and munching some "Snyder’s Pretzel Pieces". On the road, the junk food habit is hard to kick. The convenience and availability factors are too compelling.

This afternoon, I wandered "Old Historic Butte", but couldn’t bring myself to stay there. I wasn’t inspired like Wim Wenders (in selecting the setting for his film Don't Come Knocking.) I was emotionless and tired at that point. (An emotional component is necessary for many perceptions.) Above old historic Uptown Butte, while searching for a view of the huge open pit mines, I found the Granite Mountain Memorial Overlook. Here, I read about the Granite Mountain Mine disaster of 1917, in which 168 miners were killed when a fire broke out underground. It was the worst "hard rock mining disaster" in our history. Activity around the mines seems very subdued now. I can't even tell if they're still in production.

I feel it rather a waste to have come this far north. Though every landscape and culture is fascinating, on this occasion it is difficult to justify the expense.

Bozeman is marked by massive new housing development, and right along the freeway. It's the new model of urban subdivision, “freeway view homes", and, in my humble opinion, it sucks. (I guess one selling point is that it is extremely unlikely any further construction will obstruct your view.)

Across the open range lands of Wyoming and Montana, it’s impossible to avoid thoughts of conquest; of the battles, skirmishes and ridgeline scouts. Of "Manifest Destiny" and the ensuing slaughter of indigenous peoples. Human behavior has not substantially changed since those days.

650 miles today. (Not that I’m counting.)

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