Browsing "Driving"
Mar 31, 2011 -

A Blustery Drive

From Missoula, I could take I-90 to I-15, but that would have been the long way as I-90 dips down to Butte to reach I-15. I decided to take a chance on Montanta highway 200 eastbound which would take me straight across the state to join I-15 twenty kilometres north of the Flying J/Pilot truck stop. That would mean having to come back up the same twenty kilometres, but that extra forty was still less than doing the all interstate route.

The first half or so of highway 200 made me regret my decision. It is a very twisty single lane route through a valley rimmed with snow powdered black mountains. The speed limit is ridiculous, 65-75, and there are very few places to pull over and let people pass. Add to that the pouring rain and I repeatedly berated myself for choosing the scenic route over the easy one.

But then there was the climb to the summit of the Rogers Pass, not to be confused with the Canadian pass of the same name. From the top, there is a long 6% descent with one hairpin turn (yours truly didn’t even break a sweat). When you get to the bottom and are able to take a breather, you are in a completely different world of yellow hills and big open sky. Finally, I could understand how Montana got its nickname! And the weather cleared to give me that blue I’ve only seen on the prairies, that bright blue that washes out at the edges because there isn’t enough pigment for all the sky. Oh, I was so glad to have taken this route!

It was a torturous ride through this great scenery to the truck stop outside Great Falls because of the very high winds that kept blowing Miranda towards the ditch. I am convinced that had I been passed with a big rig I would have not had the strength to keep Miranda on the highway. And it just got worse on I-15, that highway I only knew until today as a desolate desert path leading to a glittering oasis of hedonism.

The truck stop is going to be okay for the night; there’s lots of room to spread out, but the wind is very bad! I am keeping a very close eye on the kayak on the roof of the car; I may have to take it down.

There’s public wifi here with short-term packages, including $4.79 for 24 hours. Slow, but the price is right.

Now, with all my apologies to Paul Brandt, I need to burst into song:

The sign said (100) miles to Canada
and my (rig) tore across Montana
Ian Tyson sang a lonesome lullaby
And so I cranked up the (iPod)
Cause there’s just a little more to go
Before I cross the border at that Sweet Grass sign
I’m Alberta Bound

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Boondocking/Dry camping, Communications & Electronics, Driving, Internet, Montana, Technical, Travel, USA    No Comments
Mar 29, 2011 -

Into Montana

I awoke to a leaden sky and what could only be called slush falling from the sky. I headed over to the casino to see if I could get internet (no), but the fellow at the front desk gave me a number to call to get road conditions. The information wasn’t very descriptive (basically “All is good on I-90 eastbound”) and did not describe what was going on at the 4th of July Summit or Lookout Pass. But I’d left the day before in comparable conditions and would have been comfortable running the passes, so I decided to pull out.

There’s an easy-access Conoco station right near the casino with prices at $3.59 a gallon (compare to $3,90 in Oregon!), so I headed there first since I only had a quarter tank left. I pulled in and was quickly boxed in by a trio of cars, the drivers of which were not content to fill up and go. No, they had to fill up, go into the store to shop, come back to their cars, scratch their lottery tickets, and finish their coffees. I was there almost a half hour! I decided to be unusually patient and not give anyone a dirty look. 🙂

Driving north to Coeur d’Alene was the first of today’s three tricky sections: a two mile long 6% grade followed by a flat stretch, and then a sharp drop with a change to 25MPH in the middle and a stop for construction at the bottom. No problem.

When I hit Coeur d’Alene I had the option of just going with my gut and knowledge and turning onto I-90, or parking Miranda at a mall and schlepping to the nearby McDonald’s for internet. It was nasty out so I decided to go with the first option.

The climb to 4th of July Summit sneaks up on you. One minute you’re zipping along at 65MPH and the next you start to lose power. I settled Miranda at about 45, took off the overdrive, slipped into D2, and smoothly crested the summit. I started down in the same conditions and the rig drove itself, with me gently guiding its slalom down to the bottom, no brakes needed. Miranda doesn’t have an RPM gauge (stupid, stupid, stupid automatic transmission dashboard design!), so I was going by sound and the engine wasn’t straining at all.

There’s a long stretch of flat between 4th of July and the climb to Lookout. That climb is a bit steeper, but I did it in the same conditions as 4th of July. Signs recommend going down at 25MPH MAX, so I started down at 20MPH in D1, but that was way too slow! I moved up to 40MPH and D2 and just coasted down, tapping the brakes twice when the engine got too loud.

As planned, I pulled into the rest area just below Lookout Pass for lunch. Unexpectedly, I was still in full possession of my nerves. I have my mojo back! 🙂

After lunch, it was a quick drive to the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar/Casino/Gift Shop/Restaurant. There’s parking out back with dead power outlets. I wouldn’t trust them if they were live! The RV parking area isn’t maintained and it’s very snowy, but I found a flat dry spot behind the motel to spend a night or two.

Speaking of power, I’m still holding it together, but I haven’t had a full charge in days (I’ve hit 12.6 volts at best and 12.2 at worst) and I can only use one thing at a time. My inverter is driving me nuts: I can have 12.2 volts registering at the batteries and 2 amps coming in from the array, but the inverter insists my battery is completely depleted and refuses to charge my computer unless it’s off. Otherwise, all is good. My LED lights are awesome power sippers and I can keep the rig at a comfortable temperature.

The only downer is that I’m out of water and every single dump station I have passed in the last few days still had the water shut off for the winter! I have plenty of drinking water left and a gallon of clean water from a tap for washing up so I’m fine, but I sure wouldn’t mind a shower. I’m only a couple of days out of Lethbridge and aim to arrive there Saturday, so if I can find an open RV park I just may splurge on one night on FHU.

Now, if I could only get used to the time change!

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Batteries, Boondocking/Dry camping, Driving, Electricity, Idaho, Montana, Plumbing, Solar Panels, Technical, Travel, USA, Weather    3 Comments
Mar 28, 2011 -

4th of July Lookout

I’m heading into some serious mountain driving, including two passes out of Idaho on I-90, the 4th of July and the Lookout. Based on my research and the weather forecast, I did not feel comfortable doing this stretch with the rig.

So, today being a very icky overcast day not conducive to doing much but sitting at home reading or driving around, I decided to take the toad into Montana!

It felt a bit silly to do so since I-90 is an interstate, but whatever mojo I refound after the Sea to Sky incident was lost after the Icefields Parkway mess. Better for everyone that I face these passes knowing what lies ahead than to have me whiteknuckling my way around every turn!

The end result is that I now feel confident about taking Miranda through these passes with the current forecast. I may wait till Wednesday, however, when the temperature will be a little warmer.

The plan will be to pull out of Worley around 11AM to reach the first summit at mid-day and to reach the rest area mid-way down the second when I’ll be glad to break for an hour or so for lunch. It’ll then be a short drive to my overnight spot at the 50,000 Silver Dollar Casino.

Tonight’s project is to see if the Coeur d’Alene Casino has internet that I could check with my iPod Touch. I’m not driving 70km round trip tomorrow just to check the weather forecast on the passes!

I have some photographs of Coeur d’Alene and my first glimpse of Montana (LOTS of snow!), but I forgot to bring the camera transfer cord, so pictures will have to wait. 🙂

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Driving, Idaho, Montana, Personal, Scary Stuff, Technical, Travel, USA    2 Comments