Day Five – Your Mileage May Vary

More photos here.

Longest run of the trip. An experienced RV’er friend who I trust completely told me not to overdo mileage per day and to try not to pull into campsites after dark. I’ve done neither of these things today. This is what I refer to as the high-risk, high-reward segment of the trip. Eventually we’ll arrive at our nation’s ceiling — Glacier National Park — with a few stops along the way.

I don’t blame the girls for diving into their devices for this haul, though they are missing some great Montana scenery. (It’s my first time as an adult in this state and it’s gorgeous, a vaster Colorado in some ways.) And yet, their attitude has been remarkably upbeat and accommodating, especially for teen girls. This journey can be a slog (punctuated by lots of incredible moments, no doubt) so A+ to the ladies. For now. The wheels may come off the bus yet.

We started at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument 147 years almost to the day that Custer and his men made their last stand. The US military was, of course, roundly defeated by the Lakota and allies — a somewhat satisfying retribution for Sand Creek — but the battle really was the beginning of a fast end to any real freedom the Plains Indians had hoped for. It’s interesting to see how interpretation at the actual site now works against the sort of Custer hagiography that generations of Americans came to understand as a bedrock example of manifest destiny. Little Bighorn doesn’t vilify the American dead, but it no longer presents the story as a valiant stand against savagery in an unfortunately lopsided contest. The Lakota fought for their lands and freedom; Custer made strategic then tactical errors that got most of the 7th Cavalry Regiment killed. That’s really it.

On my father’s map of our motorhome trip back in 1978 (my sis and I now believe this was the date) there’s a single location circled: Big Timber, Montana — which we passed through today. My thought had been that he marked this town because he took a great photo there which hung in our home for decades. While the town is scenic, nestled at the foot of the Crazy Mountains, this theory turned out to be wrong. I have no idea why my father marked this town on the map, but I’m glad we visited.

Swung through a surprisingly lovely Bozeman primarily to visit the Museum of the Rockies, which I learned is run by Montana State University. Of course I was there for the dinosaurs, but the entire place was exceptional — especially for a university museum. Unsurprisingly they take paleontology seriously in Montana. The exhibit design was top-notch and, given its proximity to the Hell Creek Formation, the place was swarming with Triceratops and its ilk. Plus a real (not replica) T. Rex. Take that, Field Museum!

Lest you think this trip is nothing but good times, I’ll note that there are lots of challenges we’re simply dealing with, ignoring outright, or secretly seething about. The RV battery does not hold a charge so our fridge food slowly goes bad during the day, the toilet smells like death, and of course campground connectivity is almost universally awful. Also, a piece of Big Sky Country seemingly fell on us today so there’s a bullet-sized hole in our windshield. And while these are all small things, it does please me to know that the me of five years ago probably couldn’t have handled it. I’m just enough of a kid to want to undertake a trip like this, just mature enough not to lose my shit doing so. That’s worth something.

But mostly it was driving today, so much driving. We’re camped in Choteau, MT tonight for a special day tomorrow.