"You said "forget about the airline,
let's take the car and save the fare."
We blew a gasket on the Grapevine,
and eighty dollars on repair."
--'Sausalito Summernight' - Diesel, from 'Watts In A Tank' 1981
We took our time getting moving in the morning. I woke up pretty early, but just sat up with the PowerBook and worked on picture editing. Nick slept soundly until about 8. We made a leisurely start, as we wanted to give the "cyber cafe" time to open up. Around 8:45 we packed up, checked out and headed into town to see if we could get online. No luck, still closed. My faithful web readers were out of luck too.
We headed north on US 93, with overcast skies above. No problems with that as it was a welcome relief for our sun burned faces. The views of the Bitterroot mountains were fine, even with the clouds. We meandered along, reading historical marker signs and soaking in the scenery.
The country was similar to yesterday's except it was more of a canyon than a valley. Still familiar and dry, with pines on north slopes, dry grass on south, and sage everywhere in between. The Salmon River jumped and danced to our left.
Occasionally deer were seen dancing in the trees along the roadside. Thankfully I was quick to spot them and slow down, and none of them ever gave themselves up as prey to our big cat. This one, a doe, had a yearling and a newborn with her that we didn't see until we passed her. Her obvious goal was to get them across the road and to the river for a morning drink.
About 20-some miles up the road from Salmon we stopped for breakfast in the hamlet of North Fork. The cafe was obviously a stop for rafters and kayakers, as the parking lot was full of their gear-festooned trucks and SUVs. As we enjoyed our breakfast the Jag collected an audience of yuppie outdoor-adventure types. They all looked like they stepped out of an REI catalog. Nick, decided to change courses with regards to breakfast and ordered a cinnamon roll. It turned out to be bigger than his head!
Nick made a valiant attempt to subdue the "Cinnamon Roll That Ate Missoula!" but barely managed a draw. We boxed it up and brought it along. Following US 93 north we climbed to Lone Tree Pass. The road was great, with lots of twists and turns, and thankfully almost NO traffic. The weather threatened to let loose with some rain at any moment and even tossed a few sprinkles our way. I pushed the car a little harder than normal (but not real "rally hard") and raced the rain over the pass. We stayed dry.
At the top of the pass we crossed over into Montana. I spent quite a bit of my youth in this state, but always east of the Continental Divide. We touched the divide at the top of the pass, but that is as close as we came the whole trip of being "east." I deliberately planned this route to take me to places in Montana that I hadn't seen... or as much of it as I could. I've driven I-90 several times, but the rest of far western Montana was virgin territory.
The road down the pass was interesting. It was very steep and I decided to take the Jag out of gear and coast down in neutral. The car idles very quietly at 700 RPM, and we just silently drifted down the long hill, only getting into gear when needed. At one point we rolled up to a bicyclist obviously on a long-distance tour. I turned my head and said "Good morning!" as we passed and I think I scared the beejezus out of him because he had no idea we were coming up from behind him. As we neared the bottom of the long grade we caught up with a long line of traffic, with some bozo from Florida hauling a camper-trailer on his SUV, who had been riding his brakes *all* the way down. He had several poor unfortunate folks stuck behind him too. Nick broke out of his gameboy reverie and yelled "ugh! What's that SMELL?!?!" I told him about how to drive (or not drive as the case may be) in the mountains, using your engine as a brake when sensible and reserving your brake pedal for when it is *really* needed. Thankfully about two turns later a long straight away opened up and I was able to pass the whole smelly parade in one swift application of the accelerator. Gotta love this car.
We see a couple in a maroon MGB driving the other direction and exchange big waves and smiles. No flashing lights or honking horns, lest either of us awaken Lucas, the Prince of Darkness from his quiet, yet menacing slumber. Oddly enough another MGB goes by about an hour later, this one white (really that cream color that MG made) more waves and smiles are traded. What are the chances of three 60's British sports cars running into each other in western Montana on the same stretch of road on a weekday? Slim to none, but we beat the odds today!
A little further north a beautiful peak rises to our left up in the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness. I have seen photos of it but can't place the name.
As we get closer a sign sits on the left side of the highway and we pull over to read it (despite the fact that I had just blown past an "oversize load" and hated to pull over afterwards.) The sign informed us that it was Trapper Peak, 10,157'. We hang out for a while, read the signs and stretch our legs. No hurry to get back on the road and get behind the oversize load again.
It is obvious that there must be a huge forest fire to the east of us, between here and Anaconda somewhere. We see helicopters with suspended buckets in the distance, and pass a large fire camp and a few busses filled with firefighters. We don't see any direct evidence of a current fire however. Given that it was cloudy to the east there could have been a huge smoke plume and we couldn't see it as it was obscured by clouds.
We hit the trail again and arrive soon in the town of Hamilton. I had always heard it was a pleasant place and this visit confirmed it. The only unpleasant thing about it was an accident that had closed the main road through town. It obviously had happened only about 20 minutes before we arrived. A minivan and SUV had t-boned each other in an intersection. The minivan was the T and the SUV was the Bone. (Or as Mark Knopfler sang: "Sometimes you are the Louisville Slugger, sometimes you're the ball, Sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes you are the bug.") From the looks of the wreckage it appeared that the SUV rolled over from the impact and the minivan climbed up and over the barrel-rolling SUV. The SUV is crumpled into a dumbbell/hourglass shape. It looks like the entire town's police and fire departments are on the scene, and I place my bets on the SUV being somebody's final resting place by the look of it. I fully realize that the car I am driving is practically Ralph Nader's worst nightmare, but at least I harbor no illusions that it is safe... like so may SUV drivers do about their vehicles. Size does *not* always equal safety - especially if your center of gravity is two feet off the pavement and your roof has no structural roll cage capacity.
While I ponder all this a friendly fireman directs me around the mess. He is working his was from the back of the line so I get a jump on the traffic snarl... including the big oversize load which is now wedged until they can clear the horror show of wreckage of some steel and poor souls.
We roll through town, down the valley and into Missoula. I am pretty familiar with this city, and we head to the center and I pull off into the shade and call my office. I have Bill do a quick Google search for Internet Cafe's in Missoula. Bingo, he finds one near the University and Nick and I head there.
FINALLY! I pop the Ethernet cable into my PowerBook and feel the sweet relief of TCP/IP packets coursing through my equipment again. "to be on the Wire is life, the rest is all waiting" =)
I am able to connect to my server and start uploading all the text and media from the first and second day, plus a few bits here and there. I also check my personal mail (but don't read any, saving it for later), my work mail (which I scan for any hot issues) and hop onto AIM to chat with my staff and a few friends I see online. I drop a note to a few mailing lists, including the Jag-Lovers E-type group, as I know they would like to know how we are doing.
Nick spends his time watching a teenager play WarCraft III, and discussing strategy and game-play with him. I'm always amazed at how accepting of younger kids today's teenagers are. When I was a little kid in the 1970s teenagers seemed to be openly hostile to anyone under the age of 12. I remind Nick not to bother this guy and the teenager replied that "it was cool." I submit that as a counter to so many folks who claim that we are witnessing the decline of Western Civilzation... and that somehow video games have something to do with it. I think video games are like any other challenge or puzzle for young men and boys, they help develop the tactical and strategic parts of our brains, rather than rotting them. Like all pusuits, idle and otherwise, taken in moderation video games are no more harmful than Chess or Risk, or any of the other games I played in my youth. It is normal for boys to drift through obsessions (play WarCraft, reading Tolkien, etc) and so long as they don't get too wrapped up in them I'm OK.
I finish up, and pay for my time online. Huge thanks to Neil Timmons of the CyberQuest Internet Cafe & Coffee House. If you are ever in Missoula and need a 'Net fix, drop by. They are located at 821 South Higgins.
We head out and I notice a grinning guy on a vintage BMW motorcycle admiring the E-type parked on the street. He tells me that he owns one too, though not as nice as this one... as he has been driving it for twenty-some years. We exchange E-type info for a bit and he asks me if I am on "any of the Jaguar forums on the Internet." I ask if he means the Jag-Lovers E-type list and he says yes. I laugh and say "yes, I was just in there posting an update to it... I'm Chuck Goolsbee." he laughs and introduces himself as Richard Kuschel, and speaks his email signature "I canna' change the Law of Physics."
We chat for a while longer, but i can tell that Nick's tummy is making him grumpy (though he declined any food offered at the Internet cafe...) so I say my goodbye's to Richard, and head out in search of food. Nick & I grab a taco on the outskirts of town. Richard had warned me that the route I was planning to take was crawling with deer, so I relented and decided to take a bit of Interstate to pass it. Besides, I know this stretch of "America's Autobahn" and know that it stays high and cool, compared to our proposed route which skirts the south end of the valley containing Flathead Lake. It was getting real hot and I figured the trade was worth it. If I have to drive any Interstate, I-90 is the one to pick. Everyone drives fast, but sane... I was doing 80 or so in the right lane, and most folks were passing me, doing well over 90. After 40-some miles of this we hang a right on Montana 135 along the Clark Fork towards Montana 200, which will take us all the way out of the state on a course roughly parallel, but 20 to 50 miles north of I-90.
Of course I know realize that I haven't taken a picture since before Hamilton, almost 100 miles and several hours back. Here is one of a railroad bridge over the Clark Fork:
The scenery is beautiful. This is Columbia River high country, and it reminds me of eastern British Columbia to the north of us. Except the gas is *much* cheaper. I stop for gas in Plains, MT... and also grab some Rain-X from a Napa store there. The sky is clear, but I want to be ready.
With the Bitterroots on one side and the Cabinet mountains on the other, and the wide Clark Fork of the Columbia down the middle, this is a stunning place. We find some good reading about the native peoples and early explorers of the area on the roadside historical markers. Nick is happy and talkative, and at one point is waving his arm out the window when he exclaims "ouch!"... I ask him if a bug hit his hand, and he says "yes... stupid bug, he hurt me." I reply that it was much worse for the bug than it was him, as the bug is probably dead. Nick ponders this while we approach the Idaho border and Lake Pend Oreille (say "ponderay").
Montana Highway 200 becomes Idaho Highway 200 and we trace the north shore of the Lake, which seems to go on forever. Wide in some places, narrow in others, it is hard to get a mental grasp on how this lake is laid out from the roadside. We pass marinas filled with sailboats, and impressive railroad trestles that cross the lake.
We finally wind around to the NW shore and Sandpoint. I promise Nick we'll find a hotel with a swimming pool, and sure enough a Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce Tourist Info place appears at the side of the road. I pull in and it is closed, but there is a guy inside and he opens just for me, and answers my questions about hotels. He allows me to use the phone to call a few places, and surprisingly they are all either full, or *outrageously* expensive. I pick a Super 8 Motel with a hot tub, and the CoC guy tells me about a city park with a swimming beach.
We check in, and head for the beach. Nick is disappointed as he really wanted a pool. I chat alternately with my wife and my parents on the cell phone to tell them we (& the car) are OK. The beach is wonderful and Nick hesitatingly starts getting in the water. I dive in and it feels great! Nick, sensing that I am happy jumps in too and ends up having a great time. In fact in the end I had to practically drag him out. The water is cool and refreshing, especially after having been in an open car slathered in sunscreen all day. When I finally get Nick out of the water, we sit on a rock and talk for a long while as the sun goes down, watching the local teenagers "hang out" in the park. It is a wonderful warm summer evening, and we do our best to enjoy it while we wait to dry out from the swim before sitting in the Jag for the ride back to the motel. I should have taken some pictures for you, but I was having too much fun with Nick to bother... sorry.
We head back, change and head into town again for a burger. After dinner, we park the car outside our open window and go to sleep.
OK, take me to the next day!