Back to the mountain and our journey to Garryowen. Jimmy’s eyes were bulging and arms straining as he leaned into the slope as though he was pulling the trailer up the mountain with a strap on his back. “My foot is on the floor. I don’t have any more gears!” he fumed as I slunk lower and lower in my seat. The route I’d chosen looked flat on the map. We crawled up to the snow-line and the temperature plummeted from a balmy 70°F to 40 degrees. With each twist of the road to the right, I could count the members of our procession in my door mirror. Before we could pull over we had accumulated eight cars, a motorhome, a pickup truck with trailer and five motorcycles – all following at a stately 10 miles per hour. How they must have enjoyed the opportunity to appreciate the scenery.
As we rose up out of the tree line we emerged into beautiful alpine meadows of wild flowers just as they were giving their short burst of summer color. Sweeping vistas for miles and miles to the horizon across the Bighorn Basin – once, millions of years ago, a sea bed – appeared and disappeared as we crawled up and up. “We’re at the top!” I cried again and again, hopefully, as each bend ahead appeared to be the last, until rounding it we could see yet another long loop of road – up.
As the air outside cooled, the engine temperature reached a record high. Thankfully, for me, the “Elevation, 9,430 feet” sign – matching the small print on the map I then saw – appeared before our car and my driver simultaneously combusted. We found a scenic turnout for a cooling lunch stop.
If I thought I was off the hook when engine and driver had chilled, I soon discovered that mountain passes don’t just go up to the top and then down the other side. Setting off once again, Jimmy commented “We seem to be doing an awful lot of steep up and not very much down,” oblivious to the fact that the descending miles flew past as he became a downhill racer hurtling ‘round bends.
The road was, thankfully, cambered but there was no guard rail on my side – a vertical drop to sure death – just dinky, little, single chevron signs > > > proclaiming the bleedin’ obvious as my speed demon careened down and around another hairpin bend.
On one steep descent, I got a swift glimpse of a brown information sign. “That sign just said that the granite here is 2.5 billion . . . no it can’t have been billion.”
“Yes, it said 2.5 billion years old.”
Oh, Lord, save me. He’s reading the tourist signs.
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” Jimmy shouted, with a devilish gleam in his eye as he stood on the brakes and hauled us through a more than 180° loop of this rollercoaster ride. “There’s a lot of weight in the back when you’re going down hill,” he told me, grinning.
“Have you only just realized that?” I asked a little hysterically.
Then suddenly we were in the little town of Ranchester, traveling on a flat, straight road at a sedate 25 miles per hour. There were no cars in this western town, only pickup trucks and Harley motorcycles, and the finest building in town was the Cowboy State Bank.
Soon we were thunk-thunking along on an old, concrete stretch of interstate – from downhill adrenalin rush to flat tedium within a matter of minutes. After exiting the highway, we needed to drive three miles south on Frontage Road – only there were two Frontage Roads, one on each side of the highway. Naturally we took the wrong one to a dead-end.
Now that we’ve been to the site of Custer’s Last Stand I really don’t know what to make of the man. I’m tempted to say that he was a bigoted, blood-thirsty glory-seeker doing the bidding of unscrupulous politicians, but what do I know.
At the campsite we parked on a high bluff, overlooking the countryside. Jimmy’s driving must have repeatedly opened and slammed shut the cupboard doors in the trailer as it leapt behind us. Teabags and ginger cookies littered the floor on arrival at four o’clock – tea time. How appropriate – an invitation if ever I saw one. We had a good view of the interstate while we drank our tea and could hear the freight trains all night. We felt right at home.
Oh, and the journey was 190 miles zigzagging through the mountains, not the 140 mile easy route on a flattish road Jimmy had chosen. Oops.