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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Big Sis in a Small World
Idaho & Montana (28 May 2007)

Welcome to IdahoWell I can safely say that today has been by far the most exciting day of my trip, or even my life. As I had my brakes fixed last week, I thought I would check them out by traversing the "steepest mountain pass in North America" (or so the gas station woman told me) which goes across the Grand Teton mountains (I think).

Unfortunately I'd only made it a few hundred feet before a car sounded its horn at me. After my previous mistake, I thought I should take notice. Especially as there have been very few horns sounded in the northern states (I don’t want to jump to conclusions quite yet, but I am leaning towards the theory that honking at girls in convertibles is very much a southern trend). It turned out that the only tyre not to have been replaced was now flat, so I abandoned the pass and retreated to a tiny town at the foot of the mountain. Fortunately a friend of a friend of the gas station woman was a mechanic and he soon sent me on my way with a fixed tyre.

After the picturesque mountain pass, I arrived in Idaho which continued to be a lovely place full of potatoes and mountains. But one thing I love about the USA is the way the weather can change within seconds.

One minute, it looked like this...

Balmy Idaho
... the next, an ice cloud formed...

Barmy Idaho

... and before I knew it, it was like this...

Barmier Idaho
Freezing temperatures and a blizzard with 100 miles of virtually no visibility made me wonder how I'd ever find a gas station or a woman with a friend’s friend should I have another flat tyre.

Passing out of the blizzard I headed on towards Hamilton, Montana where I planned to stay with a friend, J. She'd given me very specific instructions: "do not go over the mountain pass" - orders which I followed religiously. At least until my GPS took me to the base of the mountain pass. Having driven 20 miles across gravel at 10mph, I didn’t fancy retreating, so when I read "rough, gravel mountain pass road ahead for 25 miles" I just thought, how bad could it really be..? After all, there must be safety barriers at the side of the road, and surely there wouldn’t be much gravel on the narrow, windy mountain pass bits? How wrong could I be...

GravellyNo Barriers

It might have been one of the most beautiful drives of the trip, but it was also a tad concerning when I looked down at the sheer drop on one side and the slippery gravel path ahead (with no barriers). Having survived that at dusk, it became dark just in time for me to endure my next adventure.

I carried along a rough gravel road full of potholes, in search of J’s house. I knew she lived on 77 acres of land, so figured it must be in a fairly remote location. I hadn’t had cell phone reception for several hours so continued following my trusty GPS. I knew the turning to J’s house was just after mile marker 4 on the left, so with relief, I followed the trail. It was the width of one car and fairly rocky but, in the dark, I continued following this winding ‘road’ until I came to an opening and realised I had gained 1000 ft in altitude and was on the side of another mountain. The previous 'mountain pass' looked like the M1 in comparison.

As it was impossible to turn around, I continued upwards, stopping every so often to move huge rocks out of the way, and thinking maybe, just maybe, J’s 77 acres were at the top of this mountain. In fact, perhaps her 77 acres was the mountain. As the rocks became more frequent and virtually impossible to lift I started to realise that even a 4x4 Landrover would probably find this journey difficult and perhaps I was in the process of creating my own 'mountain pass' road without realising it.

Big Sis Builds a Road
As it was below freezing and approaching midnight, I gathered all the warm clothing I could muster and figured a night half way up a mountain would be a new experience. That was until I realised the Montana bears may not be as friendly as those at Yellowstone and so decided on the retreat option. I have to say, I think my old driving instructor would be proud of the 40-point turn that I miraculously carried out and whilst there were a couple of 'James Bond' moments when my car looked like part of it was hanging over the edge of the cliff, the result was a car pointing downwards on the side of the mountain. I eventually made it to the land of cell phone reception, which coincidently happened to be a mile from J’s house. I arrived after midnight, only three hours late and with two new skills, 'advanced driving' and 'road building', to add to my CV.