I’m sure you’ve been wondering what’s happened to your hero and his uppity stead. Or maybe you haven’t. It doesn’t matter one bit. I wouldn’t say that I’m “stuck” in Montana. I’ve always loved western Montana. I’d rather spend more time tooling around this area of the country than go back to school in Oregon. But, I think I’m just getting too much into this lifestyle which, unfortunately, is not entirely sustainable in the face of monumental student loan debt.
When we last left off I was going to meet a guy named Randy outside of Billings Montana to pick up an alternator conversion kit for the Bus. I did. Randy was probably in his late 50s with gray hair flowing past his shoulders and a not quite David Crosby mustache. His compound was out in a large valley east of Billings. I say compound because there were over 200 VWs and Audis in his rather large back yard. His shop was a barn customized to meet his needs. Unfortunately, Randy couldn’t help me out with the install that day nor could he let me use his shop, he had to drive out to work on his cabin in the mountains. He must have a terrible life, right?
I decided shortly after that point that I would try to get as west as I could in the daylight on battery power instead of spending the better part of the day cursing under the decklid of the Bus. I was hoping I could get into eastern Idaho that night. Well, that didn’t work out.
I took highway 212, which was an amazing drive that climbed high enough to see a few glacier remnants. Eventually, when I was as high as I could get on the road, I ran into road construction. Fifteen miles of road construction. One lane only with a pilot car. That business took about two hours off my daylight driving time.
I made it the north eastern Yellowstone entrance in Montana before nightfall. No campsites close enough to the entrance that I could drive into the park and camp without having to utilize my headlights (thus killing the battery). Headed back into the tiny town just outside the entrance. Made camp between two mountains, right next to a river and a bonfire tended by 20 something pseudo hippies. I don’t remember their names, there was beer. Enough to make all four of us go to sleep relatively early.
One of these cats was a New Hampshire boy who’d been working at the cabins in this small town for a few years in the summer. He looked more granola, or even college boy than hippie, in his expensive, name brand soft shell jacket, stain-free un-tattered jeans and baseball cap. Another was a California snowboard chick. She had that pseudo surfer drawl that is nearly impossible to put on a page but instantly recognizable by ear. She’d been working summers there for a few years, too. Winters she spends living in Jackson, Wyoming with her boyfriendm trying to pull sponsors. The boyfriend was the hippie. Or at least he looked, talked and acted like one. He was blond, unshaven and unbathed. He wore a red pendelton shirt, a distant stare and the kind of dumb smile you get when your inner monologue recalls your best friend in grade school running his bike into a parked car.
I think we had fun. I remember having a rough time walking back to the Bus, being mistaken for a rogue buffalo while walking through the dry, knee high grass and finding nothing at all particularly amusing while trying to fall asleep.
Woke up with the sun, transformed the Bus from cabin to car and took off for Yellowstone. It wasn’t until about an hour into driving around that wondrous place that I realized I was really behind where I needed to be. This is when things began to get a little less fun. I was zooming past many, many places that I remembered from the last time I was in Yellowstone, some three years ago (?) and the time before that. I kept thinking about Edward Abbey’s “Industrial Tourism” concept from Desert Solitaire. And I was feeling pretty guilty.
…Industrial Tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.
I recall feeling a lot of angst towards the sheer amount of immaculately paved walking paths and other such nasty business in Yellowstone in particular when I was younger. I’m not as pissed about it now. But, maybe it’s because I didn’t get a chance to go out there and see them this time.
More things outside of my control were conspiring to keep me in this part of the country, one of my favorites anyhow. A road on the fastest route to Idaho was closed so I had to take a very long loop to access the other route. More calamity came. I took a wrong turn, or rather instinctually turned away from the glowing blue and red lights of park police. I realized I had taken a wrong turn after I went halfway around beautiful Yellowstone lake. It wasn’t the worst thing, though. Heading back I saw a blue ‘65 Beetle parked at a turnout next to the lake. I stopped to take photos and ended up talking to the owner, Frank, for a while. He was a very nice guy. Lived and worked there in the park with his very affectionate beagle named “Annalese” (if I remember correctly, my brain was pretty burnt by that time.) I bent down to pet Annalese and she jumped right up and sat on my knees. What an awesome dog. Frank told me she didn’t do that with many people but that she liked Volkswagen people. She probably smelled the combination of airing horsehair seat stuffing and gasoline fumes and realized that I was an OK guy.
Heading back to the turn that I needed to take I ran into a major traffic jam. If you didn’t know it before, you know it now: Bison don’t care about anything but Bison stuff. They’ll hang out in front of your car all day if they want to. They’re not dumb, though. They were using the paved bridge to cross a river that their ancestors would have forded back in the olden days.
And then I found out that the only other reasonable route west was closed due to a natural fire that was encroaching closer and closer to the road. Great. So I had to retrace my steps all the way back up to Montana out the Northwest exit into Gardiner then Livingston and, finally Bozeman. I’ve never really spent much time in Bozeman outside of the pages of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but from the little bit that I’ve seen, I really like it. We’ll see how I feel once Phaedrus pays me a visit.
Contacted a Bus guy named Kyle who was listed on the AIRS site (God Bless this Site) and left him a message about help with replacing the generator. He called and said that he was going to be working in the morning but that he would let me use his shop and his tools. He came to pick me up from my hotel in his beautiful original paint 1959 SO-23 Westfalia (which is my dream camper) so he could show me how to get to his shop. It’s not far from the hotel, which is nice. Inside the shop was another awesome original paint Bus, his bullet signal, Dove Blue single cab. Kyle gave me the tour and gave me the key to his shop. It never ceases to amaze me how nice VW people are. People like this keep me in the VW game (among other things, of course.)
So, now I type this in my hotel room, quite anxious for sleep. Yeah, that’s what I’m gonna do.