Thursday, June 1:
As we braced for another day of pounding the asphalt, I realized in frustration that we were still in Montana. We’d ended our first day in Missoula, in the western part of the state, and driven several hours the second day, only to get as far as Billings, in the southeastern corner.
And yet here we were, on our third day, and we were looking at another 260 miles of driving — four hours-plus – just to cross the state line into South Dakota.
After the previous day’s fiasco with a second flat tire in two days on our moving van, we went directly to a U-Haul dealer in Billings to have the lug nuts tightened on the replacement tire. The guy who’d changed the tire didn’t have his power socket wrench with him and suggested a safety check.
The service technician inspected our tires and said not to worry about the log nuts. He had a bigger concern. He said he was sending us to another U-Haul location in town to have three tires replaced.
We appreciated his concern for our safety but we knew the job was going to delay our departure from Billings. We hoped to reach Sioux Falls in easternmost South Dakota by nightfall but I knew there was no way that would happen.
By the time we got back onto I-90, it was already 9 am.
Our slow start was compounded by slow travel on a portion of the route that AAA had recommended to us as a shortcut. The marginally shorter route took us off the four-lane interstate and onto a two-lane federal highway through Indian Country – specifically, the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.
Intermittent road repairs and construction meant we had to slow down as we traveled through work zones. Passing slower vehicles also was a bit of a challenge at times on the narrower highway.
Travel was beginning to resemble a blur.
As before, we had no time to dilly-dally, so we passed by the sign pointing to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument where Lt. Col. George Custer and his band of U.S. soldiers died fighting died fighting thousands of Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. Likewise, after we cut through a tiny section of Wyoming and finally crossed into South Dakota, we had to pass on the opportunity to see the Badlands.
We stopped for lunch, gas in both vehicles, and a water break for the animals in Broadus, population 451.
Talk about the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t exactly a ghost town with tumbleweeds blowing down the middle of the street. There was a municipal building and a small park, a couple of gas stations, a grocery store, a bowling alley and a Western-themed business district consisting of a handful of shops and a tired, old motel.
But, still, with the midday sun beating down and nearly 100 miles more to the state border, it felt like the end of the Earth.
Back on the road, we pretty much pointed ourselves eastward and pushed ahead. We bore down in our separate vehicles, trying to chew up the miles and stopping only as needed for fuel, rest area breaks, and beverages (coffee, energy drinks, snacks) at gas station convenience stores.
We passed through Belle Fourche, a farming town of 5,600 I’d never even heard of, in western South Dakota. At some point, the monotony turned to surprisingly green and beautiful, with lots of gently rolling hills and generally flat landscape. We saw plenty of grain silos, old-school highway billboards at ground level, and, in my rearview mirror, a spectacular orange sunset.
Just before dusk, we pulled into Chamberlain, in the middle of the state, and caught our first glimpse of the fabled Missouri River. It was 8 pm. We’d covered more than 500 miles but had lost another hour due to the change to Central Time Zone. We were tired and hungry but thankful there hadn’t been an issue with the tires.
We checked into a motel, hauled our bags into the room, then watered, fed and walked the dogs. We put them in the room and walked across the street to an Arby’s for dinner. I pulled on the door but it was locked. They had closed at 9 pm. It was 9:05.
We returned to the front desk. The clerk made a couple of calls to restaurants she thought might still be open. Nope. Nope. Nope. Literally our only choice was McDonald’s.
Thankfully, Jordan is not easily ruffled. We made light of the situation and agreed neither of us would ever want to live in such a small community (population: 2,400) so far from an ocean.
We watched some cartoons, I did some writing, and we crashed, knowing we’d need to cover 600 miles and three states the next day to make it to central Missouri as planned.
Up next: Road warriors diary: Day Four