Momentous, movementous day!
I awake with a slight weight in the head, not feeling fully rested.
Strong winds have been continuously gushing through the mountains, gust, gust, gust.
I leave Livingston, East, towards Wyoming and the Dakotas. My next major planned stop is Mount Rushmore.
I drive through an Indian reservation and stop by Crow Agency, in Crow Country: the poor town grimly embodies the fate of Native Americans in the United States.
Although I’ve had several opportunities, I haven’t visited the reservations or interacted with Native Americans, another area that will have to be filled in later. I don’t take the opportunity then.
The town feels barren, scorched by the prairie sun. The one-storied buildings seem to shrink decrepitly into the heat.
People notice I’m an outsider.
It’s a good 105 degrees out in the sun.
I make the regrettable mistake of cooking chili beans, rice and vegetables inside the car (as I had previously on several occasions, of course opening the side door and all windows to avoid any mishaps – this is still subject to rigorous cautious). Soon enough a cloud of virulent small flies is swarming the inside of the van.
I think I’ll have an easy time getting rid of them. Not so. Some of the pests will remain till the very end of the trip.
I eat the warm chili, rice and vegetables from the pot on my lap as I drive, drive, drive.
The flies are left buzzing annoyingly in the back, pegging my legs from time to time. Flying, buzzing around, procreating by the trillion.
Drive, more drive, the heat, the drive, the dry hills, the heat. Out of Montana, into Wyoming. I stop shortly after Buffalo, fatigued, thinking I’m giving the car (and myself) a deserved rest…
The relentless sun is tearing my eyes apart. I hit the road, but shortly after an all too noticeable rattle seizes the car. I’m not familiar with this symptom, although I presume it’s a flat tire. My tires have been on my mind ever since Yellowstone.
And yet, I drive on, cruising at a leisurely 65mph on the highway…
till a huge Bang rips the car apart.
At first it almost sounds like a gunshot. The car is still driving, the engine is still on. The radio is emitting a continuous crackle. I glance at my right side-view mirror. The glass is shattered to tiny pieces. I glance in my rear view mirror. There’s a streak of plastic debris strewn onto the road for the last three hundred feet.
I stop the car, unsure if I hit something. I walk back, picking up the larger pieces that I believe can maybe be salvaged.
Upon returning to the car, I discover that my front right tire is in shreds, nearly bare (it’s strange I hadn’t checked as soon as I stopped the car). The hoses have been torn from a plastic reservoir near the front wheel, and the liquid has spilled onto the ground. I discover later, with relief, that it’s my windshield wiper fluid, a non-critical component that I haven’t ever used.
The wire from the radio has been disconnected, and it’s amazingly one of my first worries: no longer having the radio to accompany me for the last few thousand miles. I manage to reconnect the wire, and the radio works again. I’m disproportionately satisfied with the achievement.
But I’m luckier in many ways.
As the tire treading ripped at that high speed, the shreds flew against the plastic casing that protects the engine, ripping it apart, as well the rear view mirror. Things could have easily turned out worse.
I don’t have cell phone coverage here. I haven’t had any for the last three days, since I entered Yellowstone – this will be the cause of other misadventures, which I know nothing about for now. I’m about three quarters of a mile from the nearest exit (another piece of fortune) so I slowly drive out of the highway. There are a few houses in the distance on the hills, as well as one on the other side of the highway, closer.
I inspect the bottom of the vehicle. At least there’s a spare, although its looks are by no means reassuring. The release is in the truck though, so I have to transfer all my stuff into my ‘living space.’
In a few minutes, the car is filled with junk (in addition to the plastic piece I picked up). One problem at a time.
I need a bolt wrench to release the spare. And a jack…
With no way to call, the options are quite simple. The houses on the hills look a bit far, and it’s mighty hot. The house across the highway has a few trucks parked in the sun-dry yard. I cross the highway through the underpass. It’s one of those trailer-like properties, with a one-level home on wooden stilts. There’s another low building, a shed or garage. There are a few vehicles, which gives me reason to think this person might have the right tools.
If only someone’s home…
I press on the button of the modern electronic gate intercom.
Two dogs come barking at me. They don’t look mean, but not kind either. A small engine buzzes on as the gate magically opens from the inside. I step cautiously. The dogs, well trained and recognizing that the door is open, don’t give me too much trouble.
Paul appears at his doorstep, nursing a can of Bud Light. The afternoon isn’t too old. He’s wearing a cap, some rough jeans. I expose my situation to him. He listens unhurriedly but doesn’t hesitate to help out. (Does he rest his beer or bring it along? I can’t remember.)
It’s the same kind of serene decisiveness I encountered when I ran out of gas in Arizona and Dave helped out.
We walk to the shed, he brings a truck near, sits me in, leaves the engine running.
The radio is set to a Republican station. I listen quietly, absorbing some of the details of the property. Paul eventually emerges with a jack and various bolt wrenches, which he throws into the back of the truck.
“So where you from?”
I say I’m from Hawaii.
“Same place our fucking piece of shit President is from.”
I chuckle. This isn’t the time to get into politics.
The spare comes off pretty easily. Paul wedges the jack, removes the burst tire, bolts the spare. We return to his place so he can inflate it. It looks flimsy but should hold up. I thank him. So long.
I return to Buffalo rather light-hearted considering the circumstances. In a way, I had expected this kind of mishap to happen a long time ago, it feels overdue. There’s a towering cumulus cloud above the city, darkening by the minute. The working radio announces a severe thunderstorm warning.
The tire shop has just closed fifteen minutes ago when I get there.
The town’s edge is a wasteland of franchise motels, gas stations and fast food franchises. This is a typical rest town on the way to or from Yellowstone. I get a room, shower, catch up on some work and get Internet access, none of which I’ve been able to do in the last days.
There’s a blizzard that’s been sweeping the East Coast since yesterday. All airports have been shut down. I haven’t heard from my friend, who was supposed to join. Then again, I still don’t have cell phone coverage.
I walk around town, as the dark clouds of the thunderstorm speed into the distance. The setting sun sets the fields on yellow fire. I meet Dan, who’s re-shoeing his horse, Hank. At one point a rare fully formed rainbow spawns high into the air, both of its ends resting atop the golden fields.
Dan gives me a nice interview. The skies are clearing. I feel pretty good, all in all. Storms pass, they do.
I stop by at a gas station and buy 4cl of whisky and a Coke.
Return to the motel and get some work done. Must admit I enjoy the rest and shower. The Coke helps too.