Volume I, Edition VIII



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Greetings, Chief Nation! Strap yourselves in for this edition's ride...and what a ride it was!

After some pinballing around on I-5 for a few days, between mid-Oregon and (mercifully) just south of Seattle, The Chief (tm) had had more than enough of all the traffic up there in the Pacific NW.

We sometimes see the hiring invitations on the over-the-road trailers which say, "No East Coast Runs", but it sez here that the SEA area is no less terrible when it comes to road congestion, and this is despite all the newer, expanded highways that criss-cross the region. And FWIW, the term "SEA area" realistically encompasses about seven hundred thousand square miles, at least if measured by the amount of traffic one encounters at any time of the day even nowhere near the city itself. When it takes an hour to go twenty miles at mid-day, out near Everett, that is bad news for those unfortunates doomed to spend their "lives" around there.

Anyway, it was fortunate to receive the next assignment: hauling 44K lbs. of garbanzo beans out to Wisconsin. Getting out of the Portland area was tricky because historically bad wildfires in the Columbia Gorge had closed I-84, a major east-west route, practically right at the edge of the city. After extricating from the mess and getting up into eastern WA, we were blessed with haze-free blue skies and then a beautiful run through the skinny upper part of Idaho, past Coeur d'Alene Lake. The highway climbs, dips and twists as it skirts the lake, so sightseeing was done in roughly half-second increments, but even this was enough to reveal beautiful scenery.

FWIW the "highway" in question happens to be I-90 -- which, as those unfortunates doomed to spend their "lives" in Massachusetts know, of course heads all the way east. But it sure doesn't look like the Mass Pike out here! And it climbs up to 4,700 ft. at Lookout Pass, where it crosses into Montana.

MONTANA! Your boy The Chief (tm) had never been to Montana before! So strike it off the list. As the road descended, we drove through narrow rock-faced chasms with rivers and streams running right alongside. Turning off the main drag, more of the same followed, and the possibility arose of parking next to the river for the night; boy, how many stars one would be able to see out here, with essentially zero light pollution!

But there were a few more driving hours left, so we soldiered on. And then we turned and climbed up out of the river valley, over a small mountain ridge...

...and started to see lots of haze. In fact, Glacier National Park had been having a very bad time with wildfires, to the extent that the famous "Going To The Sun Road" was forced to close. The town of Kalispell, just nearby, had been seeing the effects for days by then. That town was somewhat less lively, less rustic than expected, but there was still an excellent dinner enjoyed at a place called Hops (or "Hop's", it could be.)

On the way out, we got to drive right alongside the southern boundary of the National Park. We went through the little towns that serve tourists there; "Hungry Horse", named after the dam a few miles away, especially showed promise as a quirky, down-to-earth place to visit, kinda what   Kalispell had been expected to be. And there were several even smaller places along the way. Already at about the 4K-ft. elevation level, the road itself had only a handful of challenging segments, and while not cutting through the park itself, still was a pretty ride. Emerging on the east side of the park, you start to hit the flatter (though not perfectly flat) parts of the state.

Further to the east, we dove down off a tall ridge into the city of Billings. With a population of 100K, it is MT's largest city. And situated where it is currently still handling coal shipments and oil from the region's fracking and shale operations, it happens to be enjoying economic and population growth; Montana State University is there and the medical fields are thriving. As a result, the downtown area has not suffered the malaise that we've seen some other smaller cities endure, as there seemed to be a decent presence of retail (mostly local) and dining options along with a few state- and national-level corporate offices. Pretty darned OK, as these things go, and "City Brew Cafe" whipped up just about the best mocha in recent memory.

Funny thing about the coal handling is that the railroad runs through one side of downtown, only two blocks from the center, and so a super-long coal train blocked traffic for several minutes while it rumbled past. A picture taken using a zoom setting, which often serves to flatten the image, would make it seem like the thing was right *in* downtown, but in this case it would not be an illusion! And some of the nearby buildings, which in the past had been railroad hotels, have been resurrected for that same use in the near-"boutique" fashion.

The un-funny thing about the tracks is that they bisected the area between the trucking terminal and the highway exit; the in-cab GPS routed us down a street with a sign indicating only a 13'8" clearance beneath a trestle! Now, the truck and trailer are 13'6" high, which means there should reliably be all of TWO INCHES to work with while passing underneath...but then we are warned that, at highway speeds anyway, sometimes the combination will run a litttle TALLER because the air suspension components will typically be at their fullest level. Of course we were nowhere near highway speeds at this pernt, but we still held our breath and prayed not to hear any scraping (or worse) as we edged our way through...and mercifully we did not...I wish I could have seen just how tight it was!

Leaving MT and heading east, we hit another brand-new state for The Chief (tm), North Dakota! We sometimes hear how boring the highway slog can be through ND, but troof is, there was constant, and occasionally brutal rain for almost ten solid hours, so sightseeing was impossible anyway unless the sight to see was, say, no more than fifty feet away. And let us not dwell on how frightening it is, upon the occasion to hit the brakes for the first time in three hours, only to discover that there is zero stopping power until they dry out, which can be literally hundreds of feet later...

On the lighter side, did you know that there are handicapped truck parking spaces at some of the truck stops? Yep, a blue painted box and lines...except that the lines are ninety feet long.

Or how about seeing, for the first time ever, the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, in full flight on the  highway somewhere in WI?

Or looking at your guidebook to see where the next closest truck stop is...and you can't find the listing for that particular Interstate...because you are looking at the pages for an entirely different state from the one you are actually in?

Or how about waking up in the morning, stepping outside of your truck, and immediately being hit with an awful, foul smell? And you think, well, sure, some of your sloppier drivers do simply dump out the contents of their coffee mugs, or other drinks, or food containers the moment they get parked...and maybe some of them also realize that they, uh, don't have time to make it to the baffroom...but how did you not notice the stench when you got there? And then you realize why: because while you were sleeping, the truck next to you pulled out and a different one came in. And it is a livestock truck with a full load of pigs riding in the trailer! YIKES!

All for now, gang, all for now!

-- Sincerely,
The Chief (tm)
a.k.a. The Pacific Standard (tm)