Monday, October 5, 2009

The Two Thousand Mile Sunday Drive--Day One

On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin' music with my friends
And I can't wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again,
And I can't wait to get on the road again.
---Willie Nelson

To hear Willie Nelson sing "On the Road Again," click here.

Powell County Montana Court House

Taken 10/3/09 in Deer Lodge, Montana

It's four o’clock Sunday morning, the fourth of October. I’m wide awake, and the camper is pitching like a small boat at sea. That tells me it’s time to share my adventures with you, my faithful public. Oh, but there’s no internet connection available to me here in this rest area on the west side of Bozeman Montana. Well then, I’ll write it up and get it on line when I can, even if that means a week from now. So how did I come to find myself in this odd situation? Sit back, relax, and I’ll share the story with you.

Around the middle of August, when it became apparent that we were not going to have a summer vacation, Kevin started telling me “You have to take the first two weeks of October off.” I replied that with our office hosting a conference the third week of September, another one the very end of that same month, and a third the third week in October, there was absolutely no way I could take two weeks off when he wanted me to. Then I started getting sick.

I’ve been prone to attacks of vertigo and nausea in the past—many, many years ago, but I hadn’t noticed any problem in that area for at least thirty-five years. When I woke one Wednesday in early September unable to comfortably navigate my way downstairs, I assumed from the symptoms, that I had contracted a variety of flu. It’s all the rage these days, and our local paper was reporting on the number of people who were missing school or calling in sick to work because of it. When the symptoms didn’t clear up after a week, I called my doctor who assured me that the change he had just ordered in my medication (Metformin to get my blood sugar levels down) could, indeed, cause similar symptoms. He cut me back to my previous level and the symptoms disappeared.

By now it was conference time and we were all going full-tilt boogie trying to keep on top of the daily office work while chauffeuring conference speakers from their hotel to campus, to the various dinners we had arranged for them, and to and from the airport. Oh, and did I mention we were trying to attend the conference sessions as well? The symptoms returned.

Now I’m no fool. I can recognize the affects of stress as well as the next guy. I told Kevin I’d ask for the first week in October, but there was no way I could take two. That would only add to my stress as I’d be thinking of all that wasn’t getting done while I was out “relaxing.” And so Friday, October 2nd, as I turned the van in after spending another week chauffeuring conference speakers around, I told Kevin “That’s it. I’m all yours.” And we hit the road.

Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. First we had Friday dinner with our good friends Mike and Norm. We do this just about every Friday. Then we noticed that the refrigerator/freezer in the camper wasn’t working. When you opened the door, you didn’t get a blast of cold air but rather a face full of ammonia. Not pleasant at all, and not a good prospect for storing food. A call to Gull Boats and RV, the authorized Lance camper dealer in Missoula, taught us that the unit had died and would have to be replaced. That would take at least $1500 and a week’s time. “But we’re leaving tomorrow,” I cried. Oh well, that’s why we have ice chests.

Neither Kevin nor I slept well Friday night, but upon arising Saturday morning, we were ready to drive. Almost. We had filled the camper’s water tanks when we thought we’d be getting out earlier in the summer, but that water had sat, unused, for months. Kevin felt it best to drain the tanks and refill them. Fine by me. Also, the 80+ degree temperatures we’d had all of September had left us with the advent of October, and we were now looking at snow on the mountains and night-time temperatures in the thirties. Good thing we have a furnace in the camper.

While Kevin ran some last minute errands, I started packing the clothing and food we’d want to take. The symptoms returned. Kevin got home to find me lying down, attempting to control the vertigo. Some clothing packed, but not all, and no food. Kevin finished the packing, having asked me if we should cancel the trip. My response was “NO WAY!” He then refilled the water tanks, opened the camper’s bathroom door, and found that he’d flooded the bathroom. Apparently the water connection to the toilet had broken. Turning up the thermostat to check on the furnace operations proved to be futile as the furnace just wouldn’t kick on. All righty then. Still the show must go on, so before we could leave town, we pointed the truck in the direction of Gull Boats to get the parts needed to fix both the toilet and the furnace.

At this point, you’re probably asking “Why on earth are you so intent on leaving town?” Good question, and one I hope to answer over the next week. For now, a bit of history.

A little over twenty years ago, standing in front of the Judith Basin County Court House in Stanford, Montana, I was struck with how stately a building the very few people of that county had erected to hold their local government. As I drove around the state, I kept being impressed by the various county court houses I found in Montana. A plan came to mind. I’d do a coffee table photo album showcasing the fifty-six Montana court houses—a section on each of the state’s counties. The statehood centennial was approaching in 1989, and I figured this would be a great centennial project. But having neither the time nor the money to undertake the project, it sat, undone, in the back of my mind. As I’d drive the state’s highways, I’d stop to photograph any courthouse I saw, but I never made it to all fifty-six counties.

As my long-time readers will recall, in 2007 I took my “Six Thousand Mile Sunday Drive,” documenting that adventure in words and photographs—including several photos of government buildings. I even managed to pick up a few out-of-the way Montana court houses. Recently I put several of my court house photos up on my sales site at RedBubble and was encouraged to continue the project. When Kevin suggested a week off, I thought, “Great, I’ll capture more courthouses.”

Kevin had recently confided in me that his childhood was quite different from my own. He lived for many years right on the northern border of Yellowstone National Park, and never visited that scenic wonder. My parents, on the other hand, took every visitor they could drag along into the park. Kevin had also never seen Mount Rushmore, or the Dakota Badlands. Maybe we could combine objectives, and take a shorter version of my 2007 trip—a “Two Thousand Mile Sunday Drive.” And that’s why we’re on the road today.

Gull Boats either did not have the parts we needed or the clerk in the parts department was ill-informed, I don’t know which, but while the four dogs and I waited somewhat patiently in the pickup cab, Kevin spent twenty-five minutes inside not getting any satisfaction. We drove on to Bretz RV and Marine, where we should have gone in the first place, and he returned in no time, parts in hand. By the time we filled both propane bottles for the camper, we were finally ready to get on Interstate 90 and head east. Except by now it’s past two o’clock and we haven’t had lunch. One more stop at the truck stop east of Missoula for Arby’s, and by three we were finally “on the road again.”

Within ten miles it was clear that we were driving into the wind. The gusts made it hard to control the truck, and while it pitched and rolled, Kevin fought valiantly to keep it within the white lines on the pavement. After about an hour of this, I asked if we were, indeed, fools to undertake such a trip given the prospect of wintry weather and high winds. Kevin replied “Probably,” and kept driving. As Interstate 90 turned south at Garrison Junction, our winds became trailing, pushing the rather large box down the highway at a good clip. Alas, only a small portion of our route involves southbound travel.

In Deer Lodge, the first town of any size east of Missoula, we stopped at Les Schwab and had the “Ride-Right”s pumped up. This is a system of airbags I added to the pickup when I purchased the Lance camper. It helps the springs support the additional weight and gives a much smoother ride. When we pulled in, the system was holding 35 pounds pressure. We left with 50.

Just two blocks from the tire store sits the Powell County Court House, one that I hadn’t previously captured. While I shot the court house, Kevin walked the dogs. Soon we were back on I-90, and the ride was considerably smoother. The wind was still at our back and we wasted no time getting to Anaconda, the seat of Deer Lodge County. (No, you’re not confused—the city of Deer Lodge is the seat of Powell County. Anaconda is the seat of Deer Lodge County. Don’t they do things like that in your state?)

Anaconda Smoke Stack State Park

Taken 10/3/09 in Anaconda Montana

Anaconda is known for several things. It has a world-class golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus. It has a state park that no one is allowed to visit (the smoke stack from the now demolished smelter that the Anaconda Company used to process all the ore taken out from beneath neighboring Butte). It also has miles and miles of slag heaps, built up over a hundred years of mining operations in Butte. And it has a number of stately buildings dating from the early twentieth century. One of those is the court house. In the late nineteenth century, one of Montana’s major political battles took place when Anaconda fought Helena for the role of state capitol. Anaconda, the city, lost the battle, but until 1972 and the new Montana State Constitution, Anaconda, the company, ran the state. The Deer Lodge County Court House looks like the people of the city wanted to erect a new capitol building. I find it an amazing structure, and was pleased to be able to add it to my photographic captures.

Deer Lodge County Court House

Taken 10/3/09 in Anaconda Montana

Heading east from Anaconda to Butte, we were again buffeted by the winds, but with the increased air pressure in the Ride-Rights, the truck handled itself in good fashion. I did begin worrying about what this was doing to our gas mileage. Under the best of conditions, the F250, heavy duty, long bed, four wheel drive pickup doesn’t get stellar mileage. Add a 3,000 pound box, rising over ten feet from the ground, and the food, water, clothing etc for two men and four dogs, and you’re putting a lot of resistance into the wind. Still, I was counting on nine miles per gallon.

The Silver Bow County Court House is imposing as befits the governmental seat of a community that housed one quarter of the state’s population at the time of its construction. I knew exactly where to find the building as it sits kitty-cornered from the church my father served when I was five years old.

The Silver Bow County Court House

Taken 10/3/09 in Butte, Montana

We crossed the Continental Divide at Homestake Pass east of Butte, and found ourselves moving with the big boys (that is 35-40 miles per hour) up the Cardston Grade a bit further east, but soon we were down in the Gallatin Valley at Three Forks where the Madison, the Jefferson and the Gallatin Rivers all come together to form the Missouri. From there it was just a hop, skip and jump to Belgrade (Montana, not Serbia) where we stopped for dinner at the Flying J. You see, when you travel with a trucker, you end up eating in truck stops. Nothing on the menu looked good to me—I just spent the last week high on the hog with an international group of experts on the Middle East. We ate at some of the finest restaurants in Missoula, and I’d had steak in one form or another for four of the previous five days. The steaks on the Flying J menu just did not appeal—nor did anything else. I ordered breakfast. Kevin had a flatiron steak which came with two sides. He asked for a baked potato and “thousand island.” The waitress, a blond to be sure, looked so shocked that I feared he would get a bottle of dressing but no salad. My corned beef hash and eggs also came with two sides, and I requested an English muffin and a serving of cottage cheese. When our meals came, we decided simultaneously that we wouldn’t ever bother stopping at this particular Flying J again. When Kevin asked for jelly for my English Muffin (there was none on the table), the waitress said “Chili?” Poor dear, she didn’t deserve it, but we gave her 20% anyway.

By now it was too dark to do any further photography, and Kevin was too tired to do any further driving, so he pulled into the new rest area on the west end of Bozeman, parked the pickup into the wind, and we went to bed—at eight thirty. Which is why I’m sitting here, wide awake, at 5:19 am, while the truck rocks and rolls with the wind.

And by the way, we fed the truck at the Flying J as well. We had driven 217 miles and used 28.6 gallons of gas. You can do the math yourselves, if you wish, but that’s not nine miles per gallon—closer to 7.5.

About to be carried off to Oz (I said it was windy)
Taken 10/4/09 in Bozeman Montana

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