When we left Glacier in the sunshine I wanted to believe that we would drive for the next five days in sun, broken up with big white clouds – even though I had looked at the weather forecasts along the way. The scientists said grey skies and rain.
They were right. We soon had heavy clouds and periodic rain and signs saying construction ahead. This was Montana still and I even got a glimpse of a sign that said “seek alternative route.” Anyone who as traveled in Montana, or maybe just looked at a map, will know that Montana doesn’t believe in lots of roads. If I remember right there were major roads going east/west; one in the north (under construction) and one in the south. Besides I have lived through lots of major construction and learned that you can always get through – unless it is a bridge that has been taken out. Jim teases me about saying “Just keep going, we can get through.” We kept going.
Oh my. As a lifelong resident of Michigan, I know potholes. They open up with every spring thaw and dodging them is our seasonal sport. Everyone in Michigan knows how to live with potholes. What we encountered in Montana is beyond comprehension. I think they had created a new road (U.S. Highway 2) of gravel and dirt so they could rebuild the bridges. And then it rained – from what I was told, for days. And potholes formed. So many of them that the surface was more pothole than road. We tried to avoid them, only to hit more. They jarred our teeth loose and moved our vertebrae into new positions. Our truck bounced right and the trailer bounced left. And the rain came down so all the potholes were filled with water that passing semis bathed us in.
We were ready for lunch but I knew the chances of finding a sunny, grassy little park to pull off in to have our usual lunch of crackers, cheese, apple, hummus and fig preserves was about as likely as my being asked to be backup singer for Diana Krall. And besides, we were miserable, needing some real, big-time comfort food.
We were bouncing through a small town and there on the right was The Wild West Cafe, with lots of big (dirty) trucks parked all around it. People were going in and people were coming out. I said, “Let’s get some lunch there, I need some comfort food, something hot.” By the time I had communicated this, I had driven past. That’s the way it is when we are pulling the travel trailer. Jim said we would have to go around the block – which I did and found parking long enough along the curb on the wrong side of the street, right beside the restaurant. I took it.
It was one of those warm and cozy restaurants where people knew each other. When we were taken to a booth, I noticed the woman in the next booth had just what I wanted – but I couldn’t tell what it was. When I learned what it was, I said, “That’s just what I need.”
And then she delivered it, set it right down in front of me. A big bowl of mashed potatoes (the real thing I was told) with corn and cheese and crispy, deep-fried chicken bits heaped on top. And gravy in a dish on the side. I looked at it with a smile on my face, pushing almost all guilt aside, poured on some gravy and took a bite. Just the comfort I needed. I took another bite and another, before I put a small scoop on Jim’s plate for him to try. Then I took another soothing fork full. I finished it all – and I was ready to roll.
We rolled out of Montana with just one more construction zone and into North Dakota and our next surprise. We have been frequently asked if we ever have trouble finding a spot to sleep for the night and we say no, there are always state and private parks. We can still say that because we did find one in the sparsely populated northern North Dakota. I found a sign at a small motel that looked like it was being remodeled. It said RV Park so we drove in because RV park usually means full hook-ups. As we are getting older we are enjoying having water hooked up so we don’t have to fill our tank (unsanitized) and carry drinking water and we like being able to dump holding tanks on site. When we drove in I noticed the water hook-up was a hose coming out of the ground hanging on a short shepherd’s hook – not the usual practice. I hooked it up and as water started running into the lines, I ran inside to turn off the open valves that allowed lines to drain out when we last prepared for travel. When I went back outside, Jim said he didn’t know where the sewage dump pipe was. Then he called me over where he had lifted the green cover by the water hose. There in an 8″ diameter hole was the smaller dump hole sitting in water with sludge floating on top, the green water hose emerging from it connected to a shut-off valve underneath the water. The most appropriate words spoken were, “Oh, shit.” Needless to say we didn’t use the water for showers, cooking, washing dishes, or drinking – and we flushed out the lines and the hot water heater really well at our next stop while boiling our drinking water. This now goes to the top of our gross camping stories – one up from watching a man eat an ice cream cone while emptying his holding tanks.
The next day, things were looking brighter even though the heavy clouds persisted. We were in Minnesota and the terrain was looking more familiar. I love seeing new geographical locations with changing terrain, but seeing the deciduous and pine forests that line the roads and the gently rolling farmlands brought me a sense of peace after five weeks of being on the road. Then we hit Wisconsin, one of the Great Lake states, and we knew we were close. Our next to the last night out was just inside the Michigan Upper Peninsula border with Wisconsin. We were in Yooper territory, we were home.
Footnote: Yooper was a resent Merriam-Webster “Word of the Day.”