Not this evening, at any rate. I am just too worn out to care. My foray into the back country came close to doing me in. I wound up going some twenty miles out of my way, over some purely evil hills. Several people stopped and offered me rides. It broke my heart to say no.
Up and down and up and down then up, up, up, up, up until I was staring across a valley at some snow-covered mountains that did not tower too high above me. I was on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, just me and the odd rancher's pickup. There's an intimacy to a country road. Almost everyone stopped to chat.
I enjoy chatting, I really do. But today I was in no mood. The longer we chatted the better their chances of luring me into their car. There are times in life when a soft seat and air-conditioning and a good old country tune can make a boy forget himself. But I said my goodbyes and plodded on. I am still not sure I did the right thing.
Stopping every fifty feet to catch my breath, I finally made it to the top of the last hill. The road then dropped off so abruptly I felt like I'd been flung into the sky. I was floating above what I think is called Paradise Valley. We'll forgive the Pioneers for the name. If they reached it the same way I did it must have been a welcome sight.
It does seem to be some very good farmland. The Yellowstone keeps it green. On one side are high mountains with higher beyond; on the other the steep scrubby hills I had just hiked over. But I was too sore and hot and unhappy to enjoy it as much as I should. I stopped at a friendly ranch for water. They offered to give me a ride.
I settled instead for some small good news. Reaching Highway Eighty-something-or-other North, Livingston, Montana was not, as I suspected, twelve miles away but only about half that. I still did not make it that far. I got as far as a 1950s-style burger restaurant--golly but there are a lot of these--on the far far edge of town and decided to stop for the night.
There was a commercial campground just next door. They wanted twenty-three bucks for the night. They were real decent about it but I can't help thinking that charging that sort of money for a 4x6 patch of ground between Winnebagos is the moral equivalent of asking me to grab my ankles and go to a happy place.
I got yer twenty-three dollars. Bend over, I'll give it to ya.
So I backtracked a half mile to "a fishing access" on the banks of the mighty Yellowstone and set up my tent here. I am not camping, if anyone asks. I wedged myself under a low tree in some high grass in an effort to avoid the question.
I am not sure how many miles today. I don't even know if it matters. I put in the effort and did not drop dead. I am calling this day a success. I knew that if I walked the extra two or three miles into Livingston, I would end up in a motel. I just can't afford that, whether or not I could do with a long hot bath.
My boots are dying and down on one side. I think it is causing me pain. It feels like someone has knuckle-punched me right in the side of the thigh. I was hoping to make these last until Billings. That is not going to happen. Livingston should have something for sale. It is a town of some 7000 people.
"We go to Bozeman for shoes," said my waitress. She had a ring in her tongue.
If I had made it to Livingston I'd be at the rodeo right now. But boots, motels and rodeo tickets are more than I can afford. Just staying fed is costing a fortune. You should see me eat these days. I had a half-pound burger for dinner and finished it and nearly all of my fries. I guess I'll be back for breakfast.
I DISCOVERED A new rodent, yet unknown to zoology. It is tiny, smaller than a chipmunk, and looks like the yeah-yeah-yeah weasel in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. I shared my yogurt pretzels with it and it thanked me by climbing a small tree and cursing at me for forty-five minutes. I have decided to call it the James weasel.
I REALLY LIKE cows. No other creature has been as consistently encouraging of me. Today the fence was right on the edge of my road and the came and hung their heads over. I was tempted to scritch their ears but I don't know if cows like that so I just mooed like always. Remind me, do, one of these days, to re-embrace vegetarianism.
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