People ask what it’s like to drive so far on my own, so this is what an ordinary day on my US road trip looked like.
I woke early in an A-frame cabin by the Belle Fourche River in Hulett, Wyoming, and was out by 7:30; after months of travelling everything in my bag is organized for efficiency. Found a cafe with espresso, which is easier than it was 10 years ago but still a nice surprise in a town of less than 400 people. The scrambled eggs were slightly overdone and not very warm, but they cost less than my coffee and were edible.
I drove to Devil’s Tower and arrived early enough that there were only a few people there, before the interpretive centre opened, so there were lots of parking spaces, but a Park Ranger chastised me for not stopping at the sign. I apologized.
A bus full of Chinese tourists arrived and a dozen of them were blocking the path, having walked just far enough to take their pictures with the Tower in the background. I went up the rocks around them, which turned into a full-fledged boulder scramble.
I gloried in my ability to clamber and jump, ascending rapidly. I reached the limit of where you can go without registering as a climber, and as I descended, I realized that down is a lot harder than up, and that two weeks on the road and in New Orleans was not suitable preparation for that level of exertion.
Walking the trail around the base of the tower, I stopped to chat with many other hikers. They pointed out the climbers, and we laughed when they told me about the child they had seen scrambling high on the rocks, and I told them it was me. I pointed out climbers to other visitors, and volunteered to take photos of several couples for them, which they appreciated.
When I got back, the lot was full and I made someone’s day when I pulled out of my spot. The first section of the road north was curvy and hilly, and I smiled as I drove it in my little red sports car. I was only stuck behind a motor home or slow moving truck a few times.
As I drove, I marvelled at the changing scenery. Hills to flat prairie to rolling sagebrush to pine forest back to farmland. At the Montana Welcome Center I perused maps and brochures and decided to see Pompey’s Pillar, even though it would add an hour, especially as I opted to avoid the shortcut with the gravel road. Then I ended up in construction, following a pilot car and trucks over 10 miles of active construction, and navigating another 10 miles of gravel before returning to rutted pavement. I had plenty of time to consider that I should have checked Google Maps, as their construction information is usually more up to date.
Pompey’s Pillar also made me realize I should have done more research. I just thought the name was cool as I’d been to Pompey’s Pillar in Alexandria, Egypt. Turned out it was a rock with old graffiti on it. Maybe fascinating if you are following the Lewis and Clark trail, but I was disappointed, especially after the long detour and rough road.
So I continued on to Pictograph State Park. The road south of Billings was delightful, two lanes with no traffic, and the last 5 miles has a warning sign for curves. There was another Miata in the parking lot. The park was a reasonable hike with a series of caves, one with fading pictographs. I did not run across the rattlesnakes or poison ivy that the signs told me to beware.
I could have made it late at night to my niece’s place in Great Falls, but chose to finish my evening at a working man’s motel in Roundup. How can you tell a work motel? It’s not on Expedia, the rates are cheap, there is at least one barbecue going on the tailgate of a pickup, and the rooms have one king bed and a recliner. I drove the hour there with the roof down.
Dinner was a coin flip between the two restaurants open in town. I went for the “Big Ass Enchilada” as it was one of the few items that wasn’t fried. There were a couple of salads on the menu but after a previous food poisoning in Montana, I always go for the restaurant’s strengths, and I was pretty sure greens was not one of them!
I had bought a tetra pack of wine at the store across the street from the hotel (not as bad as you might expect, but not good) so I had one glass while I tried to post some photos to Facebook. The wifi kept cutting in and out, so I settled for my one “I’m still alive” picture and messaged with a few friends in British Columbia and Europe.
I checked my route for the next day, read a few pages in my book, and OK, maybe I played a few games of Candy Crush…
It was a bit of a light driving day because of my 5 miles of hiking: according to Google maps, 684 km (425 miles) and 7 hours 35 minutes driving, although it was closer to 12 hours, hotel to hotel.
It’s not always exciting, but it can still be brave.