Monday, 5/28/01 - You Are Entering...Montana
Before leaving Medora, North Dakota, I decided to ride my bike into town since it was so close by and my biking ability is still limited. The town was small enough for me to cover the highlights by bike in about 15 minutes. Bought some juice at the grocer, took a photo of a statue, waved to the shopkeepers sweeping their front sidewalks before opening their stores. A bookstore, a boutique of women's fashions, a specialty pet gift shop, an adventure bike shop - nothing really Western although the facades of all the buildings carried out the Wild West motif.
As I drove out later that morning in the RV, I took one last drive down the main drag through town to snap another photo or two, then headed out of town the way I came in, which turned out to be the wrong way. I ended up back at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Visitor Center, so decided to make the most of it and take a photo of the buffalo sign I had seen the previous day but had failed to photograph.
Then I got back onto I-94 heading West and scanned the landscape for signs that Montana was near. At one point, I realized that ahead of me, the terrain was beginning to have more dips and peaks while behind me, in the sideview mirror, I could see that I was leaving flatter land. Was this a sign of Montana?
Even after I crossed the state line and the requisite sign told me I was entering Montana, I looked for some sign that I was now in the place that I've dreamed about for so long. When was the sky going to open up to become a Big Sky?
As I was driving, I was thinking about how the sky in North Dakota actually seemed pretty big, so what did I expect was going to happen in Montana? Little by little, the terrain changed from plains to farms to rugged with pine trees and then back again. I couldn't figure out what made this Montana.
I later learned that as I pulled into Miles City and even further West into Billings, I was still in the part of the country considered the North Plains and not the part of Montana you see in the travel magazines. I still had a ways to go.
We pulled into the KOA in Miles City early and by then, I was hot and sweaty from the ride so a shower was in order, then some laundry and other RV chores. The campground was quiet and dark at night, even though it was situated adjacent to neighborhood houses. OK, I'm in Montana. Now what?
Tuesday, 5/29/01 - A Taste of the West
On the way into Miles City, still known as a major cow town, I noticed the Range Riders Museum and on my way out of Miles City in the morning, I decided to stop by and see if they were open. The sign said "Open" so I walked inside, but no one was there. I signed their guestbook and tucked a five dollar bill in the pages to cover my admission cost and started to walk around.
"You're all here early," said a gruff-voiced old man in a baseball cap. "Where you from?" I told him New York City. "That's pretty far from here, isn't it. Pretty far." Then he proceeded to tell me how to walk through the museum.
For some reason, I had pictured that the museum was only the warehouse we stood inside, with its glass cabinets filled with vintage items such as women's shoes from the turn of the century and household items dating back to the mid 1800s. But it turned out there were six buildings that housed many more exhibits. There was the stunning gun collection from one man that, in addition to guns from the West, included weapons from World War II and other parts of the world besides the United States.
There was an authentic pioneer home and an old schoolhouse, a warehouse full of carriages, Model Ts and farm equipment, a building with an eclectic selection of old hospital items and an unfinished exhibit of Native American artifacts.
The museum was great - lots of unusual and interesting items and much bigger than I expected. We finally got on the road and headed to Billings.
Soon, I discovered the power of the wind across the plains. For some reason, it was much stronger than in North Dakota where I had thought the wind would be a major factor on the road. Now, I was gripping the wheel, compensating for strong gusts that pushed the Apache all over the road.
My other concern about getting to Montana was the appearance of mountains. Would the Apache make the steep drive? At other inclines, the Apache slowed down to 25 mph and those weren't even mountains. Pulling into Billings, there was a gradual incline as I-94 blended into I-90, but I made it without a problem. So far, so good.
The KOA in Billings where we stayed was the very first KOA campground in the franchise and it was great - lots of trees, a pond, the Yellowstone River running behind it with sandstone rocks all around and a modem line so I could go online anytime with a faster connection. The chihuahuas immediately claimed their territory and sat in the sun.
I had arrived two days before my Barnes and Noble appearance so had time on my hands to write, read, walk and ride my bike.