Missoula has a decent health food coop which was our first stop this morning. First we got some coffee and snacks, and once we were fed and caffeinated we could face restocking. We had a two-night back country hike planned for Yellowstone, and there was nowhere for the rest of the trip where we could count on such a food source, so we had to load up.
Properly resupplied, we set off to cover over 250 miles between us and Yellowstone. There was no way east that didn’t involve the concrete slabs of I-90. Looking for an alternative, we took an exit that led to a series of mountain streams in the Lolo National Forest. We started to feel like we were driving into a pseudo-spiritualistic fishing movie directed by Robert Redford.
Unfortunately, our “alternate route” quickly degenerated into a gravel road which soon became washboard. This wasn’t going to work, especially with the truck in a funky mood, so we turned around.
Back at the exit we found a cowboy bar with banners advertising an upcoming festival. It’s their big annual draw called the Testicle Festival. Out here in cattle country, it’s common to see “Rocky Mountain Oysters” on restaurant menus. But these are not seafood. They’re bull testicles.
Early in their lives, non-breeding bulls get neutered because it’s a Bad Idea to let them hang out together with all of their testosterone intact. The residents of this humble little burg do not hide the products of these neuterings behind culinary euphemisms. On the contrary, they glorify the bull testicle, complete with cartoon drawings of bulls in ver-r-r-ry defensive positions.
Back on the Interstate, we stopped at a rest area and saw a sign for free coffee. A stand had been set up by a group of Christian bikers as a means to connect with other bikers on their way to Sturgis. Half-a-million bikers go to Sturgis, South Dakota each year in early August for one of the world’s largest motorcycle rallies. That explains why we were seeing so many more Harleys on the road.
Due to a major traffic jam, it took half an hour to cover the last 5 miles to our exit in Butte. Shortly afterward we crossed the Continental Divide, putting us back into the eastern watersheds for the first time since the beginning of week 2. We came close to a place called Three Forks, which is where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers join together to become the Missouri.
We followed the Madison River upstream to the south, through a series of small towns where the “Old West” look was mostly authentic and only partially contrived. Between the towns we saw country that made us understand why Montana calls itself “Big Sky” country.
We followed an old and partially overgrown set of railroad tracks, and we started to wish we could be riding a train along a refurbished version of those tracks. Rozie remembered that her grandmother had taken a train to Yellowstone for her honeymoon, and we wondered if she could have ridden on those tracks.
In the low sunlight of early evening we could see a plume of grey smoke trailing behind the truck. Pulling over to investigate, we found that leaking transmission fluid was burning as it landed on the exhaust pipe. This was going to need some attention. Slowing down, we continued out of the valley and got to a campground in the mountains.
We were close enough to West Yellowstone to hopefully get the truck looked at early tomorrow.