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Steve Birdsall

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Leaving Clearwater River

And Meeting Lucas

When it was time to leave Clearwater River, I had to make the hard choice of skipping Glacier National Park due to heavy smoke, closed roads and the ranger’s advice. He said it was too late in the season, that all the cool waterfalls are mostly dried up already and the snowcap mostly gone.

Regrouping, I made plans to hit two parks in south Dakota for three or four days. That meant pushing to Billings in one day. Oh, my favorite word, pushing! That should be a warning for me after pushing up the hill on my first day out and ending up with my truck in the shop, right!?

So, heeding my own warning (and learning from past mistakes), I managed to make a 430-mile trip take twelve hours. That’s an average of 35.8 mph. Wow! ☹ I think the extra hours were due to a combination of slow driving, a stop for breakfast, a stop for food, a stop for gas and stops at rest areas for transmission cool downs. No wonder it took so long!

I stopped for breakfast at an IHOP and spotted a young man outside with a very loaded up back pack on his back plus a very full, smaller, day pack on his chest. He came in to use the restroom and I thought I’d offer to buy him breakfast since he was clearly on the road, but he left too fast.  Oh well, I decided if he was outside when I left, I could still offer.  Much to my surprise, when I was done, he was still there – YEAH! I asked him if he was hungry and when he said yes, I told him I would like to buy him breakfast. He accepted and we went in and sat down.

Lucas is on last leg of his journey home to British Columbia. His path has been the reverse of mine, geographically, which gave us much to talk about. Turns out he wants to get a business going that focuses on making sure people don’t lose their mobility in their end years. He is a licensed physical therapist and wants to add that training to natural healing approaches to help the elderly. What a wonderful and worthwhile goal! We talked a bit about my cancer journey, as well, and why it’s important to me. I enjoyed talking with him about my journey – it was great to talk with someone who understands that need to find a way to help others in a non-traditional way. His willingness to really listen to my story, not just pretending to care, showed what a genuine young man he is.

I have run into a surprising number of very ambivalent people who seemingly could care less about my journey. I hope that I’ve at least given them something to think about, maybe planted some seeds, but at the time it hasn’t felt like it. That can be pretty discouraging. With Lucas, that was not the case at all. He asked questions about my plans, was really open, truly heard me, and because of that we were able to share a lot of great stuff and found much in common. At the end, we traded email addresses, hugged good-bye and parted, I think both feeling that it had been a good morning.

But that which starts well may not end that way. It seemed as if all day the roads were uphill with very little rest for my transmission. Still worried about its ability to stay cool, I took it easy, never going over 60 and hitting as low as 40 mph on steep hills. Incredibly, not one person honked at me! I think that, at home in Tacoma, I would have gotten more than a honk from some drivers. I did my best, though, stopping at all rest areas – even taking a 1-hour break at one – to really let it cool down.

After all of this I rolled into Billings in the dark, navigating to my hotel with my not-so-great-night vision. ☹ I Made it, though, checked in and breathed a sigh of relief, exhausted! I climbed in bed that night, realizing that it’s time to fix cooling system for my transmission or I won’t be home for Christmas!

All went well at the dealership, which was a HUGE relief, although after being away from my truck for a day, I noticed that it really smells from the forest fire smoke I’ve driven through. What a summer of fires!!

And we’re off to Cook Lake, one step closer to the Badlands.



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