Move Day 4: Rapid City, SD to Missoula, MT

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 12, 2009, 10:45 PM | comments: 0

Today was one of the most intense days of driving in my life. It was equal parts wonderful and terrifying.

It was nearly 60 degrees still in Rapid City when we left at around 7:45. I knew it was going to be much colder as we got closer to Montana, but it got ugly really fast. Cats were generally OK, though Oliver again fought the drugs for a good hour. Cosmo, who is usually content to explore the car and crash where ever, had a complete freak-out when I turned on the back window wiper, flying up to the front of the car, and seemingly wanted to leap out of Diana's closed window. It took her more than an hour to relax after that.

Our first adventure was letting the Garmin direct us to a route I had not already reviewed. Instead of taking I-90 the entire way, it said to take US-212 instead. The new route was 50 miles less, though Google Maps said the time was longer. But seeing as how most of it was in the middle of nowhere, with the speed limit at 75 and driving faster than that, it actually shaved at least a half-hour off of our time, if not more.

We went briefly through Wyoming, and then into Montana. We stopped in a "town" of two or three blocks, where Diana couldn't use the local store's restroom without buying something. Yeah, deny the pregnant lady, that's real hospitable. There were deer and antelope around, the latter of which were hanging out all over the place, which is awesome when you're doing 80. Really though, it was quite beautiful to see the true Montana "big sky," and the terrain kept getting more interesting as we went. I've never seen so many free range cattle before.

While beautiful, it was also scary as hell. There was absolutely zero cell phone reception out there, let alone any hospitals or other safety services. That scares me. We went about 150 miles with no service, aside from a few odd miles in one town.

Eventually we reconnected with I-90, but not before the Garmin spontaneously died. It did this one other time later, and in both cases it was zoomed out to show the terrain view, as that's all that's meaningful when you're that far out there. I think it's a software crash, but I'm not sure. It wouldn't restart without holding the power button.

Back on 90 and entering Billings, it was raining a lot. The temperature was in the low 30's, so it wasn't really slowing us down. We managed to find a Famous Dave's there, where Diana could satisfy her meatloaf craving with some regional grilled 'loaf. I had my usual chicken tenders, reminding me very much of Cedar Point. It was good comfort food.

Unfortunately, that's when things started to get scary. As we began moving west from Billings, the temperature gradually dropped. The weather got scary. The snow itself isn't something that worries me all that much, having been driving in it for years, but then add rapid elevation changes of a thousand feet, and there are reasons to be concerned. The town called Bozeman managed to score a foot and a half of snow today, and there was one down-hill in particular that scared the shit out of me. People were driving too slow, to the point where braking means sliding. Visibility was awful.

All told, we were in the worst of it for almost three hours, which takes its toll on you physically and mentally. We got through it, and lived to tell about it, but there were some scary moments.

Then, after the all of the horror, the snow stopped, and we got to see this shockingly beautiful view... (Google street view without snow, my video on Vimeo)

After that great view, we had another climb up to about 6,400 feet, at the continental divide (the point at which water flows to the Pacific instead of points east). This was yet another stunning location, with these beautiful rounded rock formations with evergreens popping up between them. The descent into Montana's Butte (I know how to pronounce it correctly, but it's immature and funny to say it wrong) was smooth and easy, and we stopped for gas again. The car was just coated with ice, as the temperature was well into the 20's.

The sun set as we were exiting Butte, so if there was more to the scenery, we couldn't see it. We arrived in Missoula just before 7, for total travel time of about 11 hours with stops. That's actually much better than I anticipated. There was an IHOP nearby, and that was dinner.

The cats are a little stir crazy, and Diana is ridiculously uncomfortable from, well, from being pregnant. Plus she can't breathe because of allergies in her non-medicated state. She's exhausted and just wants to sleep. I wish there was something I could do.

Me, I'm tired, but tomorrow we'll be temporary Puget Sound area residents. In a few weeks, we'll have a real address. Monday, I'll be a Microsoft employee. Oh, and I'll be able to say that I singlehandedly (or two-fistedly) drove more than 2,400 miles.


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