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  • Writer's pictureKandy Thietten

Great Falls To Zurich

Tuesday we drove until we reached a Walmart parking lot in Great Falls, MT. Normally, Walmarts are just fine. We have had the excitement of watching a lady get arrested while her pickup was being searched in one, but for the most part they are uneventful, with the only issue being bright lights so we have to keep our shades pulled at least partway down. This one was something else. We walked down to a gas station to get some ice water during the day, and noticed a strong, unpleasant smell wafting over from the gas plant across the road, but it went away eventually. We must have walked through the spot where the smell settled. That night, we went to bed. We laid there for ten minutes, listening to the cars on the four lane road ten feet away from us, with the occasional thumping of base or the rumble of vehicles with no muffler. It was still warm outside, but there was a breeze blowing through the open windows so it wasn't hot enough that we had to run the generator for air conditioning. Of course, we were surrounded by bright lights. Street lights. Parking lot lights. Gas plant lights. We pulled the shades down just enough to keep the lights from shining directly on our faces, looking for that illusive balance between blocking light while not blocking the wind. And then the wind shifted. The pungent odor from the gas they were burning off at the plant across the street filled our noses. I buried my face in my pillow to filter the smell while I breathed, but that only worked for a couple breaths before my body required a full dose of oxygen. At that point, what are you supposed to do? We're tired and trying to sleep, but it's hot, bright, noisy, and now it STINKS. I busted up laughing at the synchronicity of it all. I think Abe thought I'd gone nuts. He expected me to be upset, but what would the point of that be? We've been blessed with staying in some of the most amazing places, but sometimes we get the opposite of amazing. That's just part of the adventure. It took about an hour and a half, but we did finally fall asleep and surprisingly, we slept well until after eight in the morning.

We've had a heatwave chasing us since we left Washington, and it finally caught up to us. We drove to Zurich, MT, a previously thriving farm town that how has a post office as its only business, the day before the heatwave peaked there. They had a park with electricity for $10 a night so we decided to stop there for two nights (it turned into three) and take advantage of the plug ins to run our air conditioner. We arrived Wednesday, and saw two other Airstreams, both the classic aluminum trailers. We went over to talk to the two other couples, Carl and Karen, and Aaron and Valerie, and we learned that they had met each other a few weeks earlier and just happened to stop at the same place once again. Carl and Karen also have a website,, where they post videos about their experiences and what they are learning. Carl and Karen left the next day, but Aaron and Valerie were still there when we left this morning, and we enjoyed talking with them all three evenings we stayed. At one point, I mentioned Andrew and the car he was living out of (whom I talked about in the previous post) . They knew exactly who I was talking about! They'd met him just a few weeks Island Park, Idaho! This world is getting smaller all the time while we travel.

As much as I enjoyed spending time with the other two couples at the park, the highlight of my stay was Dale, the park caretaker. I could have listened to him for hours on end. There's nothing quite like listening to a rancher with 70+ years experience to learn a thing or two. Hearing his stories and observations took me back to my days spent with my Grandpa who died over 20 years ago. He, too, was an old cowboy with more to share than he realized. Don't ever pass up the opportunity to spend time with someone who has a lifetime of wisdom and experience to share. You will be infinitely richer because of it.

Thursday we decided to ride our bikes to Chinook, nine miles away. We didn't plan that one as well as we should have. I wasn't willing to ride on Highway 2 because I won't ride on a 65 mph two lane road with no bike lanes, but there was an old dirt road labeled Old Hwy that ran alongside Highway 2, so we took it, figuring that it would at least get us close to Chinook. It was 100 degrees, and I wasn't prepared for the heat of 100 degrees (Abe's watch showed that it was actually 105) bouncing off a dirt road with no shade. I have electric assist on my bike, but I like to keep it turned down low so I still get a workout. We got a couple miles from Chinook and stopped for a moment, and immediately my head started spinning. I climbed off my bike and tucked my head down to keep from passing out, ready to sit down if I needed to. We brought water, but I'd run out. Crap. It was seven miles back to the park, or at least a couple miles to Chinook. We weren't completely sure how far away, or even if the back roads would take us there. We looked around and saw a farmhouse half a mile away so we set off in that direction, away from Chinook. As soon as we got to a shady spot, I stopped to rest while Abe rode ahead to ask strangers for some water.

Abe rode a short distance to a farm with several outbuildings and finally spotted the main house. He walked to the door and knocked. A man called from inside, "Come on in!"

Abe slowly opened the stranger's door, where he found an elderly man on oxygen sitting in his chair. Abe explained that he and his wife were riding bikes and ran out of water, and asked if he could get some, so the man, Joe, directed Abe to the kitchen. Joe's wife, Barb, opened the kitchen door. She was working in their, but had the door closed so the window AC unit would keep the living room cool. She filled our water bottles with ice water, saying she was glad Abe had knocked. She gave him directions to Chinook taking back roads, and Abe left to bring me back water. He said they were a really friendly couple, and I wish I'd been able to meet them and thank them.

When he got back to me, Abe asked if I wanted to go back to the RV, but I knew Chinook was closer and once I got there I could cool off. I wasn't too sure about making it back to the RV. We rode down the old highway for a while before crossing Highway 2 and riding a mile before the road turned right, taking us to Chinook. It was a few miles before we got there, but we got to travel in the middle of some beautiful farmland, and past a horse farm, so it was worth it. When we finally got to the town, we found a small ice cream shop, where we split a chocolate malt. As soon as I got inside, I could feel the sweat streaming in rivulets down my face, neck, and back. By the time we left, I was much cooler and covered with a dry film of gritty salt. We rode to a gas station where we refilled our now empty water bottles, drank some, then topped them off before heading back home.

This morning, it was time to leave. We washed Ol' Bessie, and stopped by a local bee keeper's where we bought a gallon of qraw honey for only $28. My hope is that we can find a town with either electricity or shade, where we can stay to celebrate a small town Independence Day tomorrow. We're going to need to try to stay places where we can run the AC until this heat passes. I expected it to be much cooler than this in the northernmost parts of the U.S., even in July.

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