It got pretty cold last night, but I was happy I’d stayed pretty warm. I got up early and snuck out to the highway, heading back into Jackson to do some errands before getting back on the road. I found a laundromat with Wifi, which was awesome. Got groceries and propane and a few other tidbits, then got on the road. I noticed a pretty high number of grumpy-ass drivers in this town. I’d imagine locals get pretty annoyed at all the tourists clogging streets and sidewalks, but damn. Some grumpy motherfuckers.
I struck off towards Bozeman with plan to drive through Yellowstone. I’d debated about that move, knowing the roads would be clogged full of tourists and did I really want to deal with that? I decided I’d feel stupid being so close and not visiting, so on I went. I soon regretted it, because due to my not paying attention, I paid $35 to go through Grand Teton National Forest thinking it was Yellowstone, then go to the gate of Yellowstone and had to pay another $35. Duh. Then there was the traffic. And the tourists. I made a couple quick stops to check out some of the geysers and a lake, but that was about all I could handle. Just before leaving the west entrance I found a quiet pulloff next to a small river and decided it was time to “shower”. It was awesome, and getting into the cold mountain water was invigorating. Felt good to get some of the grime off too.
I drove down the highway, down winding roads in deep valleys lined by thick forest, past Big Sky and through the Galatin National Forest during a torrential downpour. The air was warm and smelled sweetly of pine and wet dirt, so kept my window down despite the rain. I arrived in Bozeman around 6:00, took a short walk around downtown, then drove around trying to find a place to park and cook some dinner. The section of town I’m guessing is the old town is full of grand 19th century homes and rolling, green lawns. A few blocks past those homes things start looking pretty janky pretty quick. There are a lot of cookie-cutter neighborhoods on the outskirt I drove through, and back towards the north end of downtown is Montana State University housing. I found a nook to park in and make dinner, then noticed I was situated right next to a beautiful park just uphill from me. I drove up and found the town cemetery, as well as a gorgeous park with rolling hills, perfectly manicured lawn, towering trees and tastefully placed benches. I walked up the hill to the cemetery and wandered the rows of headstones placed amongst the trees, enjoying the fact that I was the only soul there.
I decided to stay in town tonight, not really wanting to get back on the road and knowing I could get some work done in the morning if I found a café. I cruised around and found a little park on a quiet street, and that was where I rested for the night.
Well, I did just what I’d planned to do the night before. Got up early and walked a few blocks to a nice little café and spent the entire morning working and getting blasted on coffee. Cruised outta there a bit before noon and made myself a sandwich in the van before getting back on the road. Pointed my nose towards Helena, which was only an hour or so away.
I parked and walked around downtown Helena, checking out a few shops and getting a feel for the place. People were nice, but there weren’t many of them out on the street for it being midday on a Tuesday and all.
Got back in the van & decided to check out the Helena National Forest and maybe spend the night there. Not knowing jack shit about the place, I followed my maps directions to the forest entrance, then started heading up a road that sure didn’t look like an entrance to the forest, but there was a little sign there so I continued. The road quickly turned to dirt and curled through a couple small enclaves of houses that looked old and weather-worn, like they’ve endured dozens of frigid Montana winters. I had to wonder if people lived in those spots year round or if they’re just summer places.
The road got steeper and rougher and as I passed a driveway here and there, most leading to small homesteads visible from the road through the thick trees. Reminded me of mining cabins. I couldn’t help feeling like I was trespassing, though. I know how hill people feel about strangers randomly bumbling down their roads and I hoped no one would get annoyed by my presence. The van faithfully crept up the road, rocking back and forth, clanging all my belongings around and depositing some on the floor after particularly deep potholes. I finally hit a “road closed” sign that I’m sure a neighbor put up just to keep people like me from driving past their house. I turned around and ambled back down the mountain, back onto the pavement, then rolled the dice on another National Forest road that said it lead to some lake.
This road was a bit easier, but stretched on for many miles up and around mountains that looked like they’d endured a huge fire not long ago. There weren’t many places to pull out and camp, so I kept on, hoping to find the right spot. I went a long, long way. Got to the top of the mountain and came across a sign marking the Continental Divide trail that I imagine runs along the ridges of those mountain ranges. The road continued down the other side, but was clearly in super shitty condition, only usable by high-clearance 4wd vehicles. It was cold and windy up there too, so my option was to turn around.
I walked around to stretch my legs and take a few photos, and a young couple in a truck pulled up to ask me about where the road lead to. I admitted my ignorance, explaining I was just cruising around looking for a place to park. They said they were just cruising too, and said if I didn’t find a spot up there I should go to the campground they’re staying at a few miles away. Right then, that sounded appealing. We parted ways and I found another road to explore, but I was overcome with the feeling that I was way too far out on this mountaintop, and at that very moment it made me uncomfortable. Nervous, even. Sometimes that happens, me thinking I want to be as far away from other humans as I can be, then kinda freaking out and not wanting to be THAT far away from other humans.
Back down the mountain I went, and once back on pavement I came to a little campground next to a rushing creek. It was only $5 a night and there was a nice space waiting for me, so I said fuck it. Settled in for the evening, cooking some dinner and enjoying a book before doing some more photo editing and putty my ass to bed.