It has been a charmed adventure on so many levels, and the weather has been no exception. This morning in Hettinger, we awoke to a cloudless blue sky and calm winds. The weather for our route was forecast to be the same, and even with a tailwind! Exceptional for a westbound flight. The Flight Service briefer even seemed a bit astonished at the conditions and told me that she had never before given such a good briefing for Montana.
As any seasoned traveler will attest, part of traveling will consist of at least one episode of winding up somewhere late and fatigued with nowhere to sleep. And that’s where the unexpected goodies lie, except that at the time, it seems anything but good. Such was the case for us last night in Hettinger. It was unseasonably cool there and Chrissy and I had been cold soaked to the bone while flying. The thought of a hot bath and cozy bed was irresistible. Except that both motels in town were sold out. The three of us stood in a motel parking lot with the light fading fast. Our only option besides unpacking our gear in the dark and camping, was to drive 25 miles to the town of Lemmon. And that is how, I found myself behind the wheel of Uncle Buck the 1970 Buick LeSabre airport courtesy car doing sixty on an all but dark and deserted highway 12. Uncle Buck had a pretty good tick and we wondered if he would make it to Lemmon. We also hypothesized that he could probably benefit from some Marvel Mystery Oil. But Uncle Buck made the 25 miles to our hotel in Lemmon without breaking a sweat. I fulfilled my desire for soaking in hot water and turned soundly in.
The drive to Hettinger in the daylight was a treat. Beautiful open country consisting of rolling hayfields and blue sky. And best of all, the endless seas of yellow sunflower fields all turning their thousands of yellow heads to the morning sun. We just had to stop and take pictures. Who needs Tuscany when this beautiful country is within our own borders, complete with the sunflowers. What a perfect beginning to the day. At the airport we met a nice couple who have a cattle ranch nearby in the badlands. They generously offered to have us visit anytime. Chrissy and I, both cowgirls at heart, and in love with the beauty of the countryside are already making plans to take them up on it.
The crop-dusters were already hard at work when we took off at pointed west. Because it was still chilly and smooth, I opted to fly at lower altitudes. I flew right over a sunflower field, with the shadow of the Prince flitting over the rows of yellow flower heads. The memory of this morning’s flight will be indelibly etched in my mind.
The rolling hay and flower fields gave way to more barren, rocky land with unusual rock formations and small mountains with pink rock tops. Into Eastern Montana, the topography was a conglomeration, as if couldn’t decide which dress to wear to the ball. There were the typical Dakota badlands hills and the pink mountains, then southwestern looking striated flat topped rock plateaus, and classic Montana willow lined creeks and open plains. Along the little creeks, weather beaten and faded tin roofed shacks sat near empty corals, old abandoned trucks and old windmills. It was all I could do to resist landing in a field and claiming my homestead. The country was pure dream fuel. In my minds eye, I was already canning beets, shooting my six gun and racing my horse across all that wide open space.
Miles City, Montana was our first fuel stop. As we rolled to a stop at the fuel pit, I admired two monster crop dusters parked nearby with huge turbine engines. When we had shut down, a nice young man approached to admire the planes and visit. Turns out, he was the pilot of the dusters. Yours truly got to sit in one of those dusters but first I had to climb a huge ladder to even access the cockpit. What a view from up there! The huge turbine engine stretched at least ten feet in front of me. My wheels were turning; I could move to Montana, become a duster pilot, ride on the range…..
We made a quick stop for fuel in Laurel, and then climbed to 9800 feet to crest the mountains east of Bozeman before descending to land at Three Forks for the evening. We had dinner and laughed and reminisced about the good times and wonderful people we have met. We received a wonderful picture of our friends from Moraine Airfield. They are spelling “Ohio” with their arms and making hearts. As Chrissy so aptly said, “I can feel my heart being pulled in two different directions.”
Tomorrow the weather should be ideal, and if we feel up to it, we could push all the way through to home. The end of our incredible trip is drawing to a close, and loved ones will be waiting at home to celebrate with us. None of us will be the same though, our hearts and minds have been stretched by our experiences and our worlds are now bigger. Although we are nearing the end of this trip, the changes within us will compel us to live more joyful, courageous, and meaningful lives in whatever we do. Our lives are a journey and we choose the path. I’m so happy we dared.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss