The next day the sun was shining, the temperature was above 32 degrees and the hotel was quiet the entire night which made for easy sleeping for Aria and I but come 5a someone was up and ready to get the day started. She allowed me another 10 minutes before insisting it was time to get up and go. We went for an early walk where the sun was starting to peek through and then went back in for breakfast.
One more walk and we were back on the road headed towards Bozeman. The sky was blue and the sun was bright and warm. I was in love with this day, no bad weather or heavy clouds as far as the eye could see and the road was smooth. This could turn out to be a pothole-free day.
The route to Bozeman involved leaving I90 for about a hundred miles and taking Highway 212, which could also be called the truck driver's highway as I always saw more of them along the way than any other kind of vehicle. This was one of my favorite parts of the route, the road was smooth, speed was 70 MPH and there were a lot of small towns and communities along the way to help pass the time. In fact, it was the only part of the route where the miles ticked by like seconds. It was around the halfway point I entered the Custer National Forest.
There were signs for pull-offs and camping along the way but the roads became steeper, curvier and chain up areas was more frequent along the way. It was a fun change to the road but towns were also hidden and it wasn't long before the speed limit had dropped from 70 to 35 and then back up to 70 less than a mile later.
Highway 212 came to an end next to the Little Big Horn National Monument and up ahead lied Interstate 90 to take me the rest of the way to Bozeman. At this point, I was about 60 miles from Billings and speed was back up to 80 mph. It could be 100 mph and to me, this would still be the longest and dullest part of the ride, there was nothing along the way to keep me occupied. Heavy eyelids began to cloud my vision and down went the windows, up went the radio and another pull on the soda to get me through this portion.
Billings, an extremely Industrial City, finally lied ahead and in the far distance were the mountains. Traffic had started to gather and speeds were changing but I still had a hard time waking up to stay focused. It took traffic slowing down and road construction before I was fully awake and aware of all that was going on around me. I made it through the city, without any issues, and continued on to the final stretch before Bozeman. The day had been going great and the weather had been cooperating. However, the wind had also picked up and a few times made driving difficult but the sun and the snow was non-existent except on the mountains.
After leaving Billings there were about 2 hours left of the drive, the views only got better and I was revived to make it the rest of the way. About ¾ of the way I passed through a small town called Livingston, which was still under road construction the same area as a year ago, and down to one lane.
This section, after Livingston, is best described as a rollercoaster on a race track with speeds as slow as 60 to as high as 85. It was the most fun part of the entire trip and I loved taking the curves just a little bit faster than the rest. I climbed past the others and the slight tilt of the road made for a nice “photo op” with the towering mountains around us. Most of these curves were blind so it was imperative to be alert and aware of all the vehicles and trucks on the route as well. One blind curve could have me reading the small print on the back of a tractor-trailer or in the backseat of a slow-moving car. Which is why, when possible, I stayed in the left lane and coasted effortlessly past them.
It was also the scariest and most heart-stopping route I had ever been on. A year ago, I came back to Bozeman for a visit and a storm had moved in. I left the day after and the roads were only slightly cleared. The slush covered sharp curves and blind corners would pull me into the side or the shoulder without any warning. I was scared the whole way and was never so happy to see the sign for Livingston which was where the front had broken apart and opened up to cleaner roads.
Through the pass and up ahead were the signs for Bozeman. I was earlier than anticipated and the weather was still warm with temperatures near 60 and no stop was complete without a visit to Big Sky Country. This was also a route I could never get right the first time. I always think I know it but end up going in the opposite direction and have to pull out my phone to guide me back to the proper road, and today was no different.
On the way to Big Sky, there were a lot of Trailheads for hiking as well as turnouts to pull into for pictures or to allow others to pass or get out and go for a walk. One such trailhead I enjoyed was Lava Lake and was determined to find its entrance this time and find it I did, along with the many, many water-filled or snow-covered potholes along the way. The drive was one car wide and no turn around until I got into the main parking lot. Every bump and hole was felt with me apologizing to my car the entire way, a large and deep water-filled hole lied ahead before the parking area and I was afraid there would be no support when I went through.
Thankfully, looks were deceiving and it wasn't that deep but the snow I had to straddle to continue forward was high and scrapped the bottom of the car which had Aria jumping around in the back seat and whimpering. I made it through that up on the packed snow and was making my turn around when the car sunk down into a hole and I was stuck.
Snow, ice, and slush spat out as the front passenger tire spun freely without finding any grip. I put it in reverse, then forward, back to reverse at one point it didn't even bunch an inch. Panic started to set in, but it didn't overrule my stubbornness and I kept trying and finally, the tires gripped and pushed back. I still had to go forward to get out and giving it extra gas had me lurching out of the snow and slush and back on to the soft and wet gravel. Several thank yous to the Universe and more apologies to Ella and I slowly made my way back to the main road.
I pulled in to the turn around a short distance away and allowed my nerves and shaking hands and body to settle down. A few deep breathes later, I got out of the car and Aria and I took a walk around the area. A great place to take photos, stretch our legs, calm the nerves and enjoy the gentle breeze that flew past us. A few minutes later Aria and I left the turnaround and continued on towards Big Sky stopping along the way at other turnarounds for more photos, the final one allowed Aria to get out as well.
It was a good day for hiking and photographs, the breeze was gentle, temperatures were warm and that combination with walking made it ideal for a light sweater and no jacket. This was my idea of heaven and for it to be in Montana was icing on the cake. I made a u-turn and headed back to Bozeman for the night.
After supper and a few more walks, Aria and I were officially done for the night. Tomorrow we would be on the road again and in Spokane Valley, WA
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.