The smell of fresh coffee filtered throughout my hotel room from the lobby of the cabin-style hotel and even though I don't drink coffee on a regular basis it smelled wonderful. I rolled over and looked towards the clock only to realize that Aria had let me sleep in today. Well, that is, if you consider 630a sleeping in; which I do. Normally, Aria had me up and about no later than 530a but even today she had decided to roll over and ignore the usual routine.
There was an overcast sky, storms in the area and a warm breeze that was only going to get stronger as the day went on; today was going to be a slow traveling day. Not to mention that my sense of direction was also off which had me believing that Montana wasn't ready to let me leave; the feeling was mutual. I packed up the car and headed South, yes I did say South, to check out Big Sky, Montana.
There were twists and turns the whole way to Big Sky which made it hard to enjoy the view along the way. As we closed in on Big Sky the raindrops became bigger, thicker and heavier which could only mean one thing; snow.
As I approached downtown Big Sky I figured I might as well head up to the resort and see what kind of a view we could get from up there. Limited and beautiful would be the words to describe it. The roads were wet and as I climbed, the temperature had begun to drop; it was officially 20 degrees cooler than it was back in Bozeman which made it right at freezing and ideal to make the wet roads become slick and icy.
Thankfully, the snow was weak and the roads remained wet but the twists and turns and limited guard rail caused shortened breathe, quickened heart rate, slower speed and hugging the mountain on the way up and the mid-line on the way down. I told myself if I survived driving Mount Washington with no visibility I should be able to handle this; I relaxed only for a moment and was anxious to get back down.
As a driver, I'm extremely cautious about what I'm doing and keeping safety in check, but as a photographer, I would slam on the brakes and do a quick pull-in because I just realized "the perfect" shot was right here, right now. This would become a little trickier during the climb up the mountain. Brakes were applied carefully and pull-over was examined to be sure I could get back out, as well as being off of the road completely. There were plenty of blind corners and I didn't need to be the cause of an accident.
Aria remained quiet during this part of the drive but once parked she hopped up on the seat, looked around and then back at me as if to say, "Really? This is what we're stopping for?" Then hopped back down to the floor and settled back in. The photos were taken and a quick look around had me sensing the weather would only get worse and it was time to get to the summit.
I continued forward and in the near distance, Big Sky Summit could be seen. The area was deserted and resembled a ghost town as if everyone had just vanished off of the mountain without barely a trace of their existence left behind. There was only an abandoned car here and there, that no doubt belonged to the year-round workers and residents that called this place home. I continued on and pulled off on a side road to enter a hotel's parking lot. There was one car that remained which appeared to be a maintenance truck.
As I looked around, the clouds began to roll in and started to block out the buildings and the surrounding mountains, there was no activity anywhere and no one could be seen moving around in the hotel. The clouds began to get thicker and lower and the feeling of claustrophobia slowly kicked in as everything had begun to disappear around me. My mind started to go to horror flicks and was getting the better of me. A few more shots and a quick look around had me heading back towards the road and down the mountain.
One last stop for a quick shot and a final look, when I glanced in my rearview mirror and realized the maintenance truck was now right behind me. I was startled and nervous by its presence as I never heard it start up or saw anyone get into it. Every turn I made, it took the same one. A quick check of my gauges assured me the car was in good order and a glance at the door told me they were locked. Another glance in the rearview mirror showed me the black silhouette of a man, and the heart rate had begun to increase. I began to pull out of the summit and there was a pull off shortly after. I pulled in and the maintenance truck drove by without a pause or a glance.
I let out a sigh of relief, and the paranoia slowly faded away so that I could focus on the road ahead and get down safely. The remainder of the trip down was uneventful and the weather began to improve the further down I went. I headed North on 191 towards Bozeman, the rain/snow mix had stopped and the clouds had rolled out and allowed the sun to peek through. The vast height of the mountains became clearer and I couldn't help but look up with every turn we made. But this was not the time to lose focus on the road ahead because there was a sign I had just passed that said, "Wildlife Crossing". Wildlife?
As I came around a corner, I was in time to see two bighorn goats in the middle of the road. Everyone around me slammed on their brakes and came to a stop. One looked up and took off into the ditch while the other one stubbornly stayed in the middle of the road. There was something on it that had his attention and he refused to leave until he figured it out. The other goat must have called him as he finally, reluctantly and slowly, headed over to the ditch to join her.
“Huh”. What else is there to say or do when you have encountered a goat with an attitude. We all released our brakes and began to slowly coast forward and picked up speed again. But not too much as another twist and turn brought me to a parking lot and a very familiar area; Lava Lake Trailhead. Several years ago I flew up here to take in some hikes and this was my first. The only thing I regretted was not having my first dog, Mitzy, with me as she would have loved it. But now I got to enjoy the area with my new co-pilot, Aria. She jumped out of the car and eagerly looked around.
She took in the surroundings, the roaring stream below us and looked up at the mountains that covered the view of the sky. She was silent but her body showed awareness and awe at what was around us. Of course, no stop was complete without a few photos of my girl. She happily posed for them and continued to take in the area and I too, couldn't help but feel complete having her here with me. The moment was short-lived as we had a long journey ahead of us to Washington.
I headed back towards Bozeman, reunited with the Interstate, and began to make my way towards Spokane Valley. It wasn't long before I encountered more bad weather. I was thankful to have had a car that loved the road as much as I do because anything less would have been uncivilized. As I twisted and turned down steep roads, blinding rain, truck spray, my wipers cleared the windshield in time to see the sign, or should I say signs that read: "icy patches", "bridge may be icy", "large potholes", and "rough road ahead". Well, this did not make me feel all warm and cozy inside.
The warnings did very little when weather played her hand in the mix of it all. Caution, caution, caution all the way to the Idaho and Washington borders. There wasn't a moment when I wasn't dealing with bad roads or bad weather the rest of the day. The mountains were unforgiving and the other drivers were no help. Some drove slower than the speed limit in the left lane while others were swerving in between vehicles.
The unpredictability of 90W continued as the turns became sharper then they appeared, and almost all corners should have been considered blind. The weather went from nothing to a downpour, to drizzle, in a matter of a turn here and a turn there. There were a lot of twists and turns and hills to contend with as well as construction, steep climbs, and descents.
Rain continued on and off all the way into Idaho, queue the mountain drive and everything was now taken to the next level of excitement and fear. Entering Idaho was no cake walk as the rain continued to pour down harder and traffic came to a stop due to slick roads, a steep decline, and yes, someone decided to do a quick pullover to the side and get out to take in the view. This time it wasn't me although, admittedly, I did say to myself, "if only I had known, I would have done the same thing."
The last several hours had been spent gripping the wheel, cussing out bad drivers, hunched over the wheel trying to see through the ice build up on the windshield and wipers only to be blinded by the occasional peek of the sun. To say I was tired, stressed and soar from locked muscles was putting it nicely. Aria, on the other hand, remained quiet on the floor and was able to enjoy the music and radio stories that were playing.
Idaho was enjoyed only for a moment before I coasted into Washington and the weather finally decided to give me a break, as well as the roads which had started to straighten out. I was, for the moment, away from the mountains and on a straight road to my hotel. It was built into a hill and was quiet and clean. I couldn't have asked for more but they had it, a warm chocolate chip cookie on arrival, a treat bag for Aria, a spacious pet walking area with garbage bags and a trash can. The day's adventures had put my car and driving to the test and I was happy we both survived.
After check-in, I went out to get Aria, supper and the luggage. We were in a new area, new sounds, new smells which had her jumping, barking and pulling at her leash. I took her out of the car and we went for our walk, let her run on the retractable leash, and get rid of all the energy that had built up. We headed back to the car where take-out, backpack, suitcase, purse and dog food was waiting. I don't do multiple trips.
I took each and every one of these items into my two hands along with Aria, locked the doors and began walking towards the hotel entrance. Aria's eagerness always got the better of her which is why her leash gets locked, however, it doesn't stop her from pulling me along and I almost dropped everything. A groan, a curse later, a light scolding and we try this again. What should have been a 5-minute ordeal was now 10 and we were still in the parking lot. Now Aria had started barking, not just outside but through the entire lobby.
We finally reached the room, I was able to put things down to find the key card, opened the door, held it open with a hip, grabbed the items and as I barely took a step in, she rushed past me, into the room, and knocked me into the door. My arm was pulled in, I lost the hold on the door and the items I had been holding went flying. Thankfully, the food was saved.
A few curses and scolds later and we were in for the night and were both overtaken by exhaustion and settled in to ready ourselves for the next day's drive across Washington State.
Driving across country can bring about some interesting situations. Broken down on a day by day basis enjoy my adventures and set backs along the way to some beautiful destinations.