So there’s the pass. Just after Butte, which I didn’t stop in on (despite recommendations), there’s the pass. The big one. The one over the Continental Divide. 6700 feet. That one. There’s that.
I decided this morning that the best thing to do would be to ride over it at 55 miles per hour with my hazards on. Since my clutch is failing, I’d do it in third gear. Natch. I got up this morning, had a cup of joe, put my new in-case-shit-goes-horribly-wrong tools in my car (i.e., vise grips, flashlights, tire repair kit), and set out on I-90 East. I followed a truck that was doing a good clip at 70 while I woke up, gathered my senses, got used to driving, the like. I smoked cigarettes. I fretted. I wondered. I drove.
Butte, from the interstate, looks like a hellhole, and so I left it be. I didn’t have time. Or, rather, I had time, but I didn’t have patience. Which is a shame of sorts, because Jack had told me the previous night that it’s a depressed former mining town with a predominantly Irish-Catholic population. Which is a shame, that is, because as a depressed Irish-Catholic (lapsed [ahem, for good]) I would’ve fit right in. There’s even a a statue of Mary, Jesus’s mom, on the namesake hill. Apparently the locals call her the Bitch on the Hill.
Anyway, I didn’t want to go, so I didn’t. Instead I drove up through the pass in the manner previously described, all the while cursing and swearing and damning the world, before I got to the top, where the downhill grade was 6% and the trucks were advised to go 25 mph. They did so, a fact for which I was thankful. The way down is gorgeous, as one would expect, but no, I didn’t take any pictures, because I would’ve died if I’d tried.
I only take pictures on straightaways. Have I already said that?
Between Butte and Bozeman there’s some kind of marvelous otherworldly plateau that carries you through various mountain ranges in the Rockies without you having to actually pass any of them. This is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Cherish it, because you’re going to be in Billings pretty soon.
Before you get to Billings, though, you might have to deal with a person going the wrong way on the highway. I swear to God it’s possible. Before you finish going through Bozeman, even. It’ll happen like this: you’ll be driving along, right? And you’ll be all like, “I’ve gotta stop for gas soon.” And you’ll all be nodding and bopping your head to the music and being like, “Damn, that’s a good idea, to get gas. I’m glad I thought of it four hours ago, when I last got gas.” Because you don’t ever think about anything but the various ways in which your car can fail you, and gasoline is the one variable that you have complete control over (and so, what I really mean is, you don’t ever let your tank get below half-full)–and so you’ll be driving along, right, and thinking about how good it makes you feel to be able to control at least one aspect of your car’s performance, and out of nowhere you’ll see a white Mercedes E Class barreling down the highway toward you. And you’ll think, “Mm, that’s odd. I wonder why that’s happening.” Then you will literally do a double take. You will be suddenly awe-struck. Really. You will be. To have this white Mercedes driving the wrong way on the highway at noon. To have it coming directly toward you. You will be flabbergasted. And you’ll be in the right lane praying that the Mercedes will do what it’s supposed to do–or what it would be expected to do, if it were not already doing something entirely unexpected–by staying in the left lane. When it passes you will not believe that this event has happened. You will think that it must not have happened. But it did in fact happen. Indeed, you remember it happening, because it just happened. And that, my friends, is a fact that you’ll have to contend with for the rest of your lives.
Or at least until you pull off to get gas again.
I fueled up in Bozeman. Drove to Billings. Billings is hideous. Do not go to Billings.
But you’ll probably have to.
Let’s not talk about it too much.
Then you’ll get to Crow Country, way down a ways. Before Crow Country is a town whose name currently escapes me, but which hosts the last KOA until Sheridan, Wyoming. I pulled over in this Indian Reservation town and got gas, and drove to the KOA and said, “Hey, where’s the next one of these KOA fuckers?” because this town whose name I forget was just a mess in the desert, and he said, “Oh, down in Sheridan, Wyoming, 80 miles or so.”
And I looked at the time, got in my car, and drove.
Here I am.