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Friday, September 1, 2017
The crickets are now silent. Jenny has not left my side. I wake up with my legs squished between my dog and my husband, whose snoring has helped keep some of us awake. We’re going to try and reconfigure the sleeping arrangements tonight, to see if we can get a better sleep.
Smoke hangs heavy in the air from wildfires in the area. But it’s so cold outside that I wish I’d packed gloves. I’m glad I packed a pair of jeans and a heavier sweater; I’m going to need it today.
While I grab my toiletry bag from my backpack, Jenny goes outside with Sarah, and she’s fascinated by the kitty cat roaming around the camp site. She does a great job of sniffing the grass instead of investigating the cat. I’m reminded of our three sweet kitties at home and I miss them terribly.
Sarah and I make our way to the showers. They aren’t quite as nice as yesterday’s, but both of us want to stand under the water for longer than we really need to. I turn off my shower first, Sarah calls me a rude name, and we laugh about the absurdity of this. I change into my jeans and sweater and I’m suddenly not shivering as we make our way back to the camp site.
We bring the mattress bags out of the car and start unloading them and sorting clothes. I sort my clean laundry into outfits, roll them, and pack them into my bag. For a few minutes I think I have misplaced a sock, only to find that sock right where I tucked it in the back pocket of my jeans. While we’re packing our laundry into our backpacks, Jenny has figured out how to open the zipper on the tent…

jenny’s head is sticking out of the tent

 

Lori told us last night that we don’t have to worry about a checkout time. We leave the tent and sleeping bags at the camp site and head over to Lariat Country Kitchen. The chairs and tables are so close together that Jenny’s quite confused as to how she’s going to guide me through them. She does a stellar job and curls up beside my chair to the ooooohs and aahhhhhs of fellow diners.
We order our coffee (no pitcher today) and our breakfasts. I choose the chili skillet, of which everyone tries a sample. Sarah likes it so much that she wants to take that chili home in a bucket. I admit that I prefer these potatoes to the ones we had in Idaho; THOSE ones were just kinda clumped together – like a wad of potatoes. The joke around the table is that someone should order a bucket of chili and a wad of potatoes; no one dreamed that Sarrah would get part of her wish. When our waitress comes back to ask if we need anything, Sarah asks if they have buckets of that chili to order. “Well, not really a bucket, but a to-go cup,” comes the reply. She brings out the to-go cup, which is the size of…. a small bucket.
So… a bucket of chili it is!
We drive from Lariat Country Kitchen the 16 miles (26 km) to Little Bighorn National Monument. Ben and I travel around the paths, reading the plaques and eavesdropping on the cell phones of other visitors who downloaded the local app. Sarah and Dwight take another route because Dwight needs another bathroom break, prompting us all to joke about his inopportune timing. jenny guides me along the paved path, but I keep her Newtrix on her to keep her nose out of the grass (there are signs indicating there are rattlesnakes in the area).

It’s incredibly moving to see the headstones, marking the actual places where people died. The plaques all provide information about a battle I’ve barely even heard of, and I wish we could spend more time here, learning about the war and the people who fought it.

 

Custer's Headstone

 

 

We agreed to meet Sarah and Dwight back at the visitors centre. They aren’t done their tour yet, but Ben and I can explore. As soon as we walk in, we are told about the film they show (hourly?) and are offered the opportunity to watch it using descriptive video. If we didn’t have a long drive ahead of us tonight, I would’ve jumped at the chance to catch it. As it is, I thank them for not only knowing what descriptive video is, but for offering it to me with no questions asked.

We make our way to the gift shop, Where we meet Kay. She works for one of the tour companies, and she’s super friendly. She asks great quesitons about Jenny, including why she wears a “muzzle.” I show her how Jenny can open her mouth fully while wearing the Newtrix, and explain that it gives me a little more tactile feedback of her head movements. Kay thanks me, and then shows Ben and I some books she thinks he should check out. Ben buys two books, with complementary perspectives on the Battle of Little Bighorn – one written from the military point of view, the other in support of the native Americans. (As an aside, the use of the word “Indian” is seemingly acceptable to describe Native Americans, and I wonder if it’s how they refer to themselves; in Canada, the word “Indian” is considered an insult). We thank Kay for her suggestions, and she tells us to come on back and bring her some ketchup chips.

I find a badge for Jenny’s blanket and a keychain, and go wait for the others in the car. Ben meets up with Dwight and Sarah, and they tour around the graveyard for a while, while I’m sitting and waiting impatiently in the hot car and Jenny’s trying to eat the fruit flies that have taken over our $8 bag of grapes. My choice of jeans and a sweater now seems foolish; It’s warm and sunny outside, and I am BOILING.

We drive back to the camp site, throw out the grapes, and start packing up the tent. On our way out, we stop by the gift shop to check out. Lori tells us about the fire last December that damaged much of her merchandise, and the smoke – not unpleasantly – can still be sensed in the air. Lori’s thrilled that she was able to find an entire box of medium T-shirts, and I buy a red one with a couple of bears on it, while Dwight and Sarah browse around for mugs. She also has nightgowns, and I buy one with wolves painted on it. My discretionary money is dwindling rapidly, but I can’t go wrong with clothing.

We wave our goodbyes, and promise to return, and make our way to solo time in Billings.

 

Grandview Campground – Billings, MT
Distance: 47 miles (76 km)
Travel Time: 45 minutes

 

As soon as the car starts moving, I realize that I have a solution to my clothing dilemma. I duck below the window of the car and quickly change from my sweater to my new T-shirt. The relief is intense!

We’re all itching to go off and do our own thing today. Seven full days of pretty much 24/7 togetherness has proven to be almost too much. I hope we can all reset, regroup, and come back together and enjoy the last two days of our trip.

We pull up to Brockel’s Chocolates and agree to meet back there in two hours. Dwight wants a coffee, and I’m feeling adventurous, so I ask if he wants me to help locate a coffee shop. He agrees, and follows me and Jenny as we open the door to a hair salon. I crack a joke about needing a haircut, and they tell me they’re booked all day. But they tell me about the great coffee shop around the corner at the end of the block. Jenny guides us flawlessly to the door, and I wave goodbye to Dwight, as I duck out of the coffee shop in search of my own adventures.

Nearby Explorer comes to the rescue again, providing me location information as I walk up and down the city streets. I’m stunned by the audible signals that – unlike the ones that “chirp” and “coocoo” at home – actually have a human voice indicate which direction has the red or green light. I stop myself from standing at the corner and listening to it talk for several cycles.

I’m feeling like going into businesses and seeing what they sell or do. Up one block, I find a shop that sells “Indian” art (a term that makes me flinch), another that sells vintage clothing (that turns me off with its faux fur-trimmed jackets), and a couple of restaurant patios. I walk back the way Dwight and I came, and ask a couple of fellow pedestrians for recommendations for coffee shops. They point out the one Dwight’s currently sitting in, and I ask them for another recommendation. They laugh, telling me they just arrived yesterday from Texas, but they heard about this cool coffee shop around the corner…

I wind up at Mazevo Coffee, where I order a coffee and a sandwich. I chat with the guy behind the counter (whose name I can’t remember) and he talks about traveling through Montana and cool places to see. Other locals come in and are greeted warmly. I soak in the atmosphere of this tiny coffee shop and learn a few things about Billings. By the time I stand up to leave, an hour has passed and I know I’ll be back to Mazevo next time I get out this way.

I backtrack slightly, past the restaurant patios, then try and find another cool place to spend some time. I open the door to Magpie Jewelry Gallery, and I am asked if Jenny is my service dog. The use of the word “your” instead of “a” takes me aback slightly, but I decide I like it. I answer the question (“Yes”) and Sam introduces herself. We talk about her shop and the designers she supports, and I choose a crocheted wrap bracelet. As Sam and I chat, I almost buy an adorable mug with a black dog and an orange-and-white cat on it, but that would stretch my budget far too thin. I tell Sam I’m from Edmonton, and she asks if I’m traveling with anyone – no one comes from Edmonton, and a woman came in an hour ago from there. I’m surprised, and ask more questions, and it turns out that Sarah made her way here! As I ring up my purchases (the wrap bracelet and a cool magnet a friend back home will love), Sam tells me that she’s surprised at another coincidence – she supports more than 30 jewelry designers, and Sarah and I chose pieces by the same one. I laugh, wave goodbye, and get ready to head back to the car.

It’s twenty minutes before we’d agreed to meet up, but I’m feeling refreshed and happy and, frankly, tired of my own company. Jenny finds the car like she’s got doggie radar, and wiggles and waggles when she sees Ben waiting for her. He’s feeling refreshed and happy, too, and we make our way into Brockel’s Chocolates for ice cream.

Sarah makes her way to us as we are eating our ice cream bars. Dwight has gotten turned around but has made the acquaintance of someone who’s agreed to walk with him to meet us. As we stand on the hot pavement, we have an impromptu team meeting.

I’ve been looking forward to visiting Garnet, a real ghost town, since we planned this trip. It’s now 3:30, and Garnet’s no fewer than five hours away. I ask if we really want to take that drive to Garnet, or if we want to go back and see Bozeman. It’s no choice at all; we can get into Bozeman by suppertime, then drive for 5 hours to our hotel tomorrow. I’m surprisingly not disappointed by this change of plans.

We pile into the car and, as we hit the road, we compare our notes and impressions and marvel at the places we overlapped.

 

Billings, MT – Bear Canyon Campground
Distance: 136 miles (219 km)
Travel Time: 2.5 hours (including stops)

 

Somehow, Sarah’s bucket of chili has been knocked over and has now spilled into the plastic bag containing it. I’m disappointed by this; it’s our bucket of chili! We laugh about Sarah and I stumbling into the same jewelry shop; apparently Ben and Dwight wound up in the same coffee shop. Dwight people-watched at one of the restaurants I passed more than once. I’m refreshed and happy and I’m so excited we’re going to see Bozeman.

I pull up Nearby Explorer and find a campground near Bozeman. We’re a bit concerned we may not find one, because it’s the Friday of the Labour Day weekend. Phone calls to several campsites go unanswered, and we decide to just cross our fingers and hope for the best.

we pull into Bear Canyon Campground just after 6:00. A sign says there are no vacancies, but Ben goes in to see if there’s space for our tent. There is! We pull into our camp site, pitch the tent, and take off for supper.

There are a couple of things that concern us. Hoshi, our beloved Nissan, has started making rumbling sounds as Ben accelerates. Jenny’s limping slightly on her back legs. One or both of these things could be something minor… or something very serious. But there’s nothing we can do about it at this exact second. We need to eat sooner rather than later.

We end up at a Wendy’s that appears to be having an identity crisis. There’s more than 40 flavors of pop in the fountain machine, many varieties of which I’ve never seen before. Jenny backs away from the machine as it hisses and pops, but takes me to an empty table. We eat our dinner while checking for mechanic shops, surprised by the soothing music that would be more at home than a spa juxtaposed against the college football being shown on TV screens. I’ve been in spas that are less zen than this Wendy’s.

Ben and I brood some, about the car and Miss Jenn. In the middle of dinner, ben goes out to the car to check under the hood, and finds there is no motor oil at all. This buoys my spirits; hopefully we can add oil and all will be well.

And that’s what we do. We drive to the nearest gas station and buy motor oil. ben adds it, waits a moment, then starts the car. As we make our way back to Bear Canyon, our car is happily soaking up the oil and purring like a kitten.

It’s still early – barely 9:00 – but we’re all a little tired from the day. I change into the nightgown I bought at Grandview… and it’s the size of a tent. I laugh and show Ben; even HE might be able to fit in it. But it’s nice and comfortable, so I join the others in curling up in our individual sleeping bags. We close off the day with our respective books or Youtube videos, and each contentedly drift off to sleep.

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