Summer ’86: Part VIII

I had my usual “roady” breakfast of a banana and milk and said farewell to a beautiful area.  A short distance up the road I merged with westbound I-90 on which Montana had unrestricted speed limits.  The so-called admonishing roadside signs read: “Drive at a Prudent and Reasonable Speed.”  That was about the most ambiguous sign that I had ever seen.  For motorists accelerating at Mach One, the Rocky Mountains must have spun by across the horizon like spurs on a cowboy boot.

I stopped in Butte, once known as the Copper Capital of America.  130 years ago, there was an inexhaustible supply and demand for this newly discovered mineral due to Mr. Edison’s “application” of electricity.  Unfortunately, the vestige of Anaconda’s copper barons still remained in the form of huge sludge pits just above town. In the 1970s, the EPA had branded Butte’s mining pits as the most contaminated area in the country. Well, the former “boom town” was now a quiet and clean city of about 37,000 with an active downtown main street.

I motored along I-94 with NASCAR drivers passing me as if I was standing still, as I was driving at a prudent and reasonable speed.  Yeah, right. I was pleasantly surprised at what an enjoyable drive it was turning out to be, all be it on an interstate.  The road gently curved up and down past evergreen covered mountains and lush valleys, reminiscent of I-70 through the Colorado Rockies.  To top it off, mile after mile of coal trains could be seen not far from the highway, moving their mother lodes from mines in northern Montana to points south and east.  It was a dichotomy of sorts, with an iron horse pulling metal cars over steel rails through a pastoral setting.  It made me recall Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in which he observed while sitting on a hillside looking down in a valley at the dualism of man-made machinery and nature’s beauty, citing, “The trains come and go with such regularity…” Henry D. definitely had things in perspective.

After a night at a rest area somewhere west of Missoula, I crossed over the Bitterroot Range into Idaho. I was so far north that the daylight hours seemed interminable.  I pulled into Coeur d’Alene, a beautiful little city of about 20,000 nestled next to a scenic lake (of the same name) in the Potato State’s panhandle. The zipper on my jeans had become dysfunctional, so I located a J.C. Penney store which was open even though it was Sunday. I guess the Blue Laws were not in effect in Idaho.  As I was paying for the new jeans, I said to the saleslady, “I’m thankful you guys are open, but it’s a shame you have to work today. It doesn’t seem like a Sunday.”  She replied, “Yeah, it’s a bummer, but I need the money.”

After biking around the pleasant downtown and along the lakefront, I packed in the Turin and crossed the state line into Washington, having driven a grand total of 68 miles across Idaho.  So far, I had driven exactly 3,500 miles in 14 days for an average of 250 miles a day.  I was happy with that – not being in any big hurry to get anywhere.  I picked up a local AM station out of Spokane, which just happened to be broadcasting a Minor League baseball game between the locals and the Medford Oregonians from the Interstate Fairgrounds.  I easily found the bandbox ballpark and had one of the most pleasurable afternoons I have ever spent.

Under a cerulean sky with a temperature in the mid-70s, I sipped beer and munched on shelled peanuts. Part of the entertainment was panning the advertisements plastered on the outfield fences, which gave me a handle on what were the local brands and retailers.  After seeing 18 runs, 27 hits, and 7 errors for an admission fee of $1.50, I had certainly got my money’s worth.  Oh, by the way, Medford sent Spokane reeling to its seventh straight loss, 12 to 6.

U.S. 395 took me north where I was destined to see my dear friend Kay Bennett whom I had known since 1967 and hadn’t seen in 15 years.  To top it all off, my arrival was to be a complete surprise.  Besides, she had no phone and only a distant P.O. Box address. About halfway to my destination, I stopped at Chewelah where a county fair was in full swing with bands-a-playin’ and picnickers-a-picnicking’.  I grabbed a corny dog and watched some kids playing in a cool clear creek.  It was truly Americana at its summertime best. It was a good bet that I was the only out-of-stater on the grounds.  What a beautiful Sunday it had been, and the best part was yet to come, I hoped.