Archive for August 23, 2010

Days 84 and 85: Enjoying life back on the Interstate

August 23, 2010 5 comments

Location: Casper, WY

Miles Driven: ~650

Total Miles: 21,278

I was on the road towards Billings by the early afternoon, taking I-90E, and was thrilled to be back driving on the interstates.  There’s something to be said about rest areas with grass, running water, and regular bathrooms (as opposed to the little outhouses along Canadian highways).  Not that I minded those, but the US Interstate System offers a few more amenities.  Also, what a thrill to be driving again in beautiful Montana.  It’s been five years since I’ve been here last, and I had forgotten how scenic it could be.

A few hours into the drive, I saw something I first was a big cloud, but then realized it was too dark, and too close to the ground, to be a cloud.  It looked like smoke, and I was thinking “ummm, any active volcanoes in Montana?”

So I presumed it must be a forest fire.  My route along I-90 brought me closer and closer to the source of the smoke.

I was wondering how close my route would take me to the fire, as I seemed to be getting closer and closer to the smoke.  Turns out, I wasn’t that far, maybe a couple hundred yards removed from some recently extinguised fires.  I saw a couple helicopters carrying those big buckets of water back and forth.

So as you can tell, this fire seemed pretty bad.  But when I searched online later, I couldn’t find mention of Montana forest fires, so I’m not sure if this was a naturally-caused one or manmade.

I ended up stopping at a rest stop outside of Billings for the night.  It was a hot night, in the 90s; quite a change from those nights in the 40s in Canada.  I woke up on Sunday as the sun was rising, and went to fill one of my water bottles, but the rest stop has warnings saying the water was not fit for human consumption.  A Canadian truck driver saw me walking with the empty bottle, and gave me three of his own.  So generous.  Truckers are great.  We had a good talk about travels across the US and Canada, and he said his goal is to get to Alaska.  I told him it’s a must, especially considering the distances he’s used to driving.  We also shared an affinity for Utah.  Funny thing, he said Texas was his least-favorite state, and mentioned New Yorkers keep their noses up in the air (I don’t think he had seen my license plate up to that point).  But still, a very friendly guy.

I had always wanted to visited the Little Bighorn battlefield in Montana, but I totally forgot about it when I hit the road back in May.  But my road atlas conveniently marks places of interest, and I noticed the battlefield was right on my way to Wyoming.  I arrived there as it was just opening, and once again, my national parks pass came in handy (thanks Kelly).  Little Bighorn Battlefield is a national monument, and as you may recall, my parks pass covers entrance fees to both parks and national monuments.  Clutch.

I was in time to catch a video orientation on the area and the battle that occured in June of 1876.  My knowledge of the battle and Custer’s Last Stand was pretty spotty, so it was good to learn again.  Checking out the battlefield after the video, I realized how quickly Custer and his men would be at a disadvantage, with the undulating hills and ridges.  Sitting Bull and his allies were quite familiar with this land, and it wasn’t hard to see why the battle turned out to be a massacre.  Also, communication between Custer and his various companies spread out wasn’t smooth, and the lack of coordination ultimately led to Custer’s demise (not to mention, according to high estimates, it was his force of 600 vs about 2,000).

a portion of the battlefield

markers showing the place US Cavalrymen fell

note the marker in the center

U.S. army memorial

There was also a memorial there built for the Native Americans who fought at Little Bighorn.  It was a circle, with displays on each of the major communities that fought on the side of the Natives Americans.  Very powerful and moving memorial.

Many of the displays along the path emphasized how a peaceful relationship between the U.S. and Native Americans has been forged since this bloody battle.  There was a sign on the visitor center that captured how important peace means to those who have lived her long before us:

I was glad I made the stop at the battlefield.  It was a good history lesson, and a moving experience.

I pressed on further south, towards Wyoming.  The driving was scenic, and uneventful, and I stopped at an information center in Wyoming to have some lunch.  I had forgotten my brother Mike gave me some military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), so it was time to try one.

For those not familiar with MREs (as I wasn’t), it’s a pretty cool system.  Check out the pictures below to see how it works.

this MRE was meatloaf and mashed taters

In addition to the meatloaf and mashed taters, there are some bonus items - here apple jelly, tootsie rolls, and also crackers and cookies

that's the meatloaf

So in that bag is a special "heater" pad. By adding the water to the bag, some kind of chemical reaction heats up the water, and that's how you cook the food

So I stuffed my meatloaf in the bag, poured in the water, then let the package sit for about 12 minutes or so.  I was anxious to see if I did everything correctly, and turns out I did.  Pulled out a warm package of meatloaf.

It might not look that appetizing, but it actually was very good

My first experience eating MRE was a very positive one – I thought the meatloaf was delicious.  I didn’t heat up the mashed potatotes, as the meatloaf, cracker, cookies, and tootsie rolls filled me up.  Can’t wait to try my other flavor of MREs later in this trip.  Thanks again, Mike.

After lunch, I continued my drive into the heart of Wyoming.

I stopped in the town of Casper.  I’ll sleep here for the night, and come Monday, I only have about four hours from here to my hotel in Boulder.  Looking forward to having a bed to sleep in once again.  Haven’t been in a bed since I was staying in Palmer, Alaska.