The Drive Home

My faithful Airwalk Crocs were finally removed from service and laid to rest in a Montana land fill

There was no way I was going to fall back to sleep so I went out to the trusty Rav4 and listened to some Reckless Kelly and surfed the net on my phone for over an hour until the others started to rise.

It took us only about 30 minutes to get everything packed up and loaded. After a quick stop at the garbage bin and we were off to Red Lodge for breakfast.

As we had done in previous trips, the only logical place for breakfast was at the Red Lodge Café. We were among the first customers in the joint so we were able to get our breakfast rather quickly and were on the road to Billings just before 8 AM.

The previous night we had discussed our getaway plans with the Canadians who were OK with an early start. They had a motel reservation in Billings and had no problem waiting around until their flights left early the next morning so that Bob and I could make some miles afterwards.

As always, it was somewhat painful to watch the mountains get smaller in the rearview mirror as we left Red Lodge and in just over an hour we were back on the interstate approaching the magic city of Billings. As we got off the interstate it began to rain lightly and it occurred to me that maybe getting out a day early was a good thing after all. It beat stowing wet gear

By 9:30 we had said goodbye to the Canadians and were on our way back home. I decided to get some gas and a big bottle of water before getting back on I-94. The clerk told me that it had gotten up to 108 a few days ago and that today was their first respite from the heat in weeks.

It was about 65 degrees and overcast or raining most of the way to the North Dakota border. We stopped for some lunch and gas in Dickinson and were amazed at all of the activity going on there---mostly due, we thought, to the oil boom in northwestern North Dakota.

Cooke City

I had my first real scare of the trip when my “Maint Reqd” warning indicator illuminated. “What the hell does that mean, again?” I thought to myself but then remembered that’s the 5000 miles on the oil indicator. Knowing we only had put on about 1800 miles after my last oil change I was pretty sure the oil change guy forgot to reset something so I didn’t worry about it. At our next stop I checked the manual which confirmed my thoughts.

Temps still hovering around 65 degrees with intermittent rain we cruised through the rest of North Dakota. Despite the presence of more state troopers than I could recall from any of my other trips I was still the fastest vehicle on the interstate. We needed gas when we arrived at West Fargo so we stopped there to fill up, grab a few snacks and notice the horrible weather moving in from the southwest. I didn’t look good but we only were planning on driving for another 2 hours at the most. We’d be fine.

Beartooth Butte rises above Beartooth Lake

As soon as we got into Moorhead (MN) it began to rain but not enough to slow us down a lot. After a few minutes of light rain I could see brake lights illuminating the road further up ahead. Not good.

Soon, all hell started breaking loose on I-94. Rain, thunder, lightning and wind all combined to reduce safe travel speeds down to about 40 mph. The wipers could barely keep up with the deluge that was falling upon us and soon vehicles starting pulling off to the side of the road under overpasses or at the few and far between exits. It was by far the worst thunderstorm I had ever driven in and I, too, eventually threw up the white flag and pulled off at the first exit I could find even though Bob thought we should have been through the worst of it by then.

I would conservatively estimate that about 85% of the vehicles had pulled off the road, their hazard lights barely visible through the rain only 150 yards away. Of course, there were a few crazies (in our minds anyway) that kept pushing through.

After a few minutes it appeared that the storm was lessening in intensity so we got back on the interstate…and were soon again being pummeled by the mother of all storms. At one point the top of a spruce tree blew directly over the trusty Rav4 and I thought of that scene from “Twister” where the cow is hurtling through the sky. A few minutes of that crap was enough and I got off at the next exit once again.

Drying stuff at the Ratine camp ground

I wanted to know what the hell we were driving though so I called my son, Matt, at home to check the Midwest radar for me. If we were driving through tornados or into baseball sized hail I wanted to know about it. Of course, he didn’t answer his phone so I called my other “kid” Tye, down in Alabama. He was home and promised to give me a call in a few minutes after he had a chance to check it out.

Tye said that the storm was moving due east and looked nasty. At least now we knew why we couldn’t drive our way out of the storm: we were moving the same way it was at about the same rate of speed. I thanked the kid and fifteen minutes later we were back on the road trying to make up for lost time.

It was still raining fairly heavily and the winds hadn’t died down very much so it was still a white knuckle ride but at least I could see more than 50 yards ahead of me. Still, we’d had enough and started looking for a room for the night. I hoped we could find somewhere despite this being a Friday night in the middle of what I assumed to be a weekend destination location for the fine residents of the Twin Cities.

We pulled into Fergus Falls and were skunked: no vacanies anywhere. Not good. Perhaps other travelers had decided to pack it in for the night like we were and everything would be booked solid?

We drove down the interstate a few miles to Alexandria and scored the last non-smoking room at the Super 8. Sweet. We didn’t even bother bringing out stuff up to the room but made a beeline for the Perkins down the road a bit.

I was dead tired from the stress of driving through the storm but perked up when our lovely server, Kate- a stunning young woman with the girl next door looks, arrived at our table to take care of us. I wanted a salad, didn’t know what kind I wanted, and asked Kate what she thought. The suggested something with chicken and bacon. Mmmmm…bacon. She’ll make some guy very lucky one day. I left her a big tip because of the bacon thing.

After we ate we went up to our room and turned on the local news. I wanted to see just how bad the storm really was. As it turned out it was nasty. 80 mph winds, some hail and downed trees in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Well, at least it had moved out of our way and we were reasonably safe---as safe as one could be at a Super 8.

Fargo, ND, just before we drove into the big storm

We were still a good 7 hours away from home. Not a lot in the big scheme of things, but way too much for that day. Our continental breakfast was as shoddy as the one we had in Miles City but at least it got us going and out of the parking lot by 7 AM.

It was another overcast, cloudy day as we sped toward the Twin Cities. I thought a state trooper had me pinched just west of St. Cloud but he never stopped me after trailing ¼ mile behind us for about 10 minutes. As usual, it started raining on us when we got to Minneapolis but at least traffic was minimal and didn’t slow down.

Once we got into Wisconsin I knew we had another 4 hours on the road. Temperatures were still cool in the 60’s but we could feel more humidity coming on. By the time we got to Wausau temps were back in the 80’s and it felt like we never left. It sucked.

After what seemed like forever we turned the corner onto my street. From the opposite end of the block I could tell #2 son didn’t keep up his end of the grass cutting bargain. What a mess.

Kintla was happy to see me, Matt not so much when I reminded him of his epic failure to keep the grass cut, and Yumi wasn’t home from Japan yet. Since it was raining Bob and I removed my gear from the trusty Rav4 quickly and then drove over to Fairmont where he did the same and drove back to Oostburg.


Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, 2012
The Hikers and Special Invite
The Drive West
Island Lake CG
Trip Map
Skytop Creek
Lone Elk Lake
Skytop Lakes
Skytop Lakes
Oly Lake
Fossil Lake
Fox Lake
The Hike Out
The Drive Home
Final Thoughts
Trip Photos
Back to Backcountry Trips

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