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sunny 26 °C

The numbers above were my odometer readings at 6am today and about 8.30pm this evening. That's right, today I covered an epic 800 miles in my Hyundai Accent - easily the most I have ever driven straight.

I set off, at about 6am intending to make serious headway in the first three hours. Well that plan soon went down the drain. As I was driving toward the St Mary, eastern exit, of Glacier National Park and away from my campsite I looked in the rearview mirror . The sunrise onto the mountains behind me was the most spectacular I have seen on my trip so far. The sun rising over the lake to my right, the mountains and clouds behind me were illuminated pink and purple. I wasn't going to see this again for sometime so I pulled on to the 'soft shoulder', jumped out and started snapping away. Soon enough my tripod was needed so I turned back to the car, opened the boot and got my tripod out. Then I slammed the boot shut - and saw it.

Thirty metres from the left side of my car, just past the other side of the road, was a black bear forraging in the meadow adjacent to the route east. I didn't freeze, probably my conditioning to so many warnings about bears. I moved to the right (passenger) side of the car, reached in and took my bear spray. I really didn't think I would see any bears this close to the campsite, hence my complacency in not picking it up as soon as I got out the car as I would normally do. So I had to do some thinking; either he hadn't seen me because if he had he would have killed me already (he certainly had more than an opportunity when I was stood in the middle of the road taking photos), or he had seen me and thought me too scrawny for breakfast. After not showering for a while I would certainly be surprised if he couldn't smell me - even being down wind from him (you think about all these things when you have bears for neighbours). I grabbed a few more photos of the sunset, but decided that I definitely would never have this moment again, so bear spray and camera in hand I jumped on the roof of my car and began snapping the bear. As I was there on the roof taking my photos I started to sing a few songs, just to make sure he knew I was there and wasn't surprised to see me. Sure enough he started to move off - in the direction of the campsite (good thing I wasn't going to be staying there any longer)! Bears are a big deal out here; they are after all human killers, so once I reached the east entrance (now about 7pm) I called 911 to make sure the US Rangers were aware that there was a black bear (the kind of bear that attack just to kill not to defend themselves) moving very close to a lot of defenceless people in tents. As I was leaving I was passed by a couple of siren blaring Rangers heading in the bear's direction, this clearly was a big deal.

Well it was time for me to get on. I was now one hour behind schedule, costing me roughly fifty miles. This journey was always going to be long and take time. There are no 'A to B' routes across Montana. If you want to get from Montana's north western corner to its south eastern corner, you have to go east, then south west and finally east. In the first few hours of my trip I started to get 'Big Sky Country'. Early in this morning the bright blue sky was so heavy and cloudless and seemed to endlessly continue into the horizon that it sank the earth into itself. As I was making my 75mph journey I occasionally looked at my Montana and Wyoming roadmaps to judge how far I had travelled in how long and how far I had left. This made me very aware if I wasn't already that I really did have a long way to cover in two days; fully cross two states and cross halfway into another. I committed myself to driving as far as I was capable today and get as many miles under my belt as I could - the plan to drive until sunset.

At about 12:30 I arrived at Bozeman, completing the significant southern drive in Montana. I stopped for an hour's lunch and called my Aunt (the rest of the family are on holiday). I guessed that the journey to the Wyoming border just after Billings would take roughly six hours, and I was just about right in that guess. As I looked at the map once I was at Billings, I was very aware that, even though it was about 6:00pm, I still had to get across Wyoming - by no means a small state. Before I set off I had thought about spening the night at Buffalo, Wyoming, but staying there would have left me with maybe four to six hours of driving tomorrow, which I really didn't want. I fixed my sights on a place called Casper, just south of central Wyoming and would leave me two hours north of Denver, Colorado. I stopped for petrol about half and hour into Wyoming and causually asked how long to Evansville (that's what Casper was called on the map) - "Ten hours," was the reply. "What?!" "Oh, you mean Casper! Two to three."

I hit the road for the last push south of the day. The sunset in Casper was mesmerising and I really regretted that I was seeing it from the car. I found my now frequent chain of motel, dumped all my stuff in my room and head out to find pizza. Perhaps it was subliminal messaging through the country music I'd been listening to, but after nearly three weeks of soup, bread, sweetcorn and chili, I had the most incredible craving for Pizza Hut. Of course I found one, and settled in for the night. What luxury it was in comparison to my nights under the stars!

M

Posted by MattOGrady 20:25 Archived in USA

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