Racing through Butte, MT on I90W – I say racing because the speed limit is 80 mph, and the #beepjeep does not love the 85 mph+ “with traffic” as we speed over windy saddles – I’m sitting shotgun. Mo casually whips us over hill after hill. Trees sparsely dot the landscape and thick groves of evergreens carpet the distant, undulating terrain.
We’ll head west into the setting sun before turning north to meander along Swan River up to West Glacier.
There is some kind of tall, random tower off to the left – I have no idea what it is. We’re passing Exit 208 – Philipsburg, Route 1 to Anaconda; Opportunity. How do places get such random names? What inspired someone to call their town Anaconda, and further, why Anaconda in the first place? The largest snake out here is probably the 6’ Prairie Rattler.
As we came over the last pass an old flatbed Chevy had violently submitted its resignation.
Pallets stacked on the back and scattered in the road smoldered – the engine compartment charred. A typical, big red fire truck blocked the lane as firefighters stood around. The owner of the pickup sat on his hitched trailer, despondent. Five minutes of traffic might be the longest traffic jam this month.
Clouds cast amorphous shadows across the landscape. It is very dry.
Galen; Deer Lodge; Missoula – varying distances in numbers, white against green. Another truck. Another farmhouse, barn and silo.
The #beepjeep indicates 88 RTE – range to empty. There is some wonder whether we’ll see a gas station in our next 88 miles, and whether or not the RTE is actually accurate. I grab our physical paper road atlas and peruse our route wondering if the little black circles are big enough to support life, much less a gas station. This hiccup sends my mind wandering. How would any reasonable person take their family across this landscape in a wagon? 18 miles a day – this evening stroll would take them 17 days to complete if it went perfectly. We’ll be in Glacier National Park by nightfall. And then we’ll use our battery-powered headlamps to set up our tent. And after that, we’ll wait for the Perseids meteor shower. I guess the pioneers would have had a better show.
Exit 195 – Front Page Rd. A blue motorist information sign warns, “No Services.” It could just as well say, “Don’t come here – we don’t want you.”
The hills are hues of gold and brown where the native grasses have dried in the summer heat. Juxtaposing the natural growth are vast swaths of bright green vegetation and irrigation equipment spewing torrents of water across the landscape.
A glob of defeated dwellings indicates we’ve reached Deer Lodge – Exit 184. They have a McDonald’s and a motel. No gas. Empty rolling hills, miles of fencing and more cows indicate the north town boundary has come and passed.
We’re down to 50 RTE. We’re definitely going to make it to Avon. I have no idea if they have a gas station.
We’ve arrived at Avon. A dilapidated volunteer fire department sits on “Main Street.” Other than that, Avon looks like a slightly more industrialized set for the upcoming, Montana adaptation of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Time out. According to our little gas app, there is a Sinclair in Elliston, MT. Their emblem is a little green dinosaur. We have to head back toward Route 12 and then toward Helena, MT. If Elliston is out of gas, we’re driving another 16 miles where we’ll be rolling into the first Helena service station we see on fumes.
3.1 miles away, and I’m really beginning to think we’re camping in Elliston tonight while we wait for AAA to bring us gas…