The sun was inching its way up the horizon behind me. We were driving the back roads of Montana, US 200 West, 12 miles east of Lincoln, heading to Seattle. Not a car, nor a truck for miles. Light had reached every part of the sky, but the sun had not yet lifted its head for the day. The clock read 5:45 Mountain time. Greg was deep asleep in the berth. I was truly alone.
Off in the distance, two miles ahead, I spotted motion. I strained my eyes and in the mist a couple of deer forms popped out. I tightened my hold on the steering wheel thinking, I may hit my first deer. A second look revealed a half dozen deer forms. I can’t hit six deer! That will damage the truck, probably me too!
Simultaneously – we’re getting better at the multi-tasking with the stick – I pressed on the brake pedal, started pulling on the air horn and shifted, bump and run, down from 10th gear to 8th gear. Half a dozen deer directly in front of me, in the the middle of the road, turn, watching me approach.
From the right, out of the corner of my eye, a swoosh. In sixth gear and heading to fourth at 10 miles per hour, I looked to the right and saw about a 100 deer, their bodies the color of the prairie grass, their necks the color of tree bark, babies, teenagers and mommy deer. Deer everywhere, swarming around my truck.
Now at a full stop, still honking on the air horn, the migrating pack breaks in two, at a gallup, half the pack heads directly in front of me across the highway, the other half continues on my right, up an embankment. I’ve seen single deers, a couple of deer and as many as six deer, but never deer in these numbers. The deer disappear among the pine trees.
The last big mommy deer in the pack scampers up the hill, stops, turns around and catches my eye as if to say, “thanks, driver.”
The road has cleared.
I put the truck in gear and inch forward and 10 mph., a hundred yards up the road I see down the left embankment, another 50 or so deer. My first look, up close, game park close, to a deer migration.
Montana is without a doubt my favorite summer driving state, especially from east to west. Winter is another story. Montana is a marvelous state. Diverse. Open. Hundreds of miles of visibility. The eastern part is plains, endless valleys of golden prairie grass against a robin’s egg blue sky, off in the far distance rolling hills.
This is where the dinosaurs roamed. The landscape is dotted by overgrown craters and crevices, not very deep, six, eight maybe ten feet, I like to think they are foot prints. I can see a herd of brontosauruses thundering across the plains, gigantic bodies, long necks and tiny heads. All that’s left is scrub. A few bushes, some trees, most no taller than a basketball player. Hardly enough to fill the belly of one dinosaur, let alone hundreds.
Driving west, the foothills in the distance gain height, from bumps to stumps to humps, hints of mountains beyond.
The trees get bigger, mostly pine trees. If anyone needs proof of global warming, it is Montana, despite the brutally cold winters, it’s still not cold enough to kill the pine beetle. Beyond Lincoln on the way to Great Falls, the green pine trees dot the hillsides among the masses of rust-color pine trees, sucked of their moisture and their color by the pine beetle. Why does tragedy often have a compelling beautiful look to it.
As the the sun popped up beyond the horizon behind me, the soft morning light lit up the hillsides directly in front of me, turning the pine beetle dried trees the color of bronze. As Greg says, RGB – a photoshop term – red trees, green hills and blue sky. Artist perfection.
We are now into the mountains of Montana, heading to Lookout Pass, the highest point in the state, before descending into Idaho. The road begins to wind, I lean over farther on each corner – the rack and pinion steering gives the truck a sports car feeling like the inside wheels will come of the road – along the banks I see down to creeks and rivers. The higher the sun climbs in the sky, the bluer the water, the water level seems high for summer, the traffic is picking up for Montana, maybe six cars in an hour and ten big trucks.
We’ve been having a hell of a time with the stick, we’ve put on 25,000 miles and we’re still grinding gears, low gears, high gears, upshifting, downshifting. If we had a trailer filled with 45,000 pounds of raw potatoes, it would be paste in a week.
We are definitely not stick people. It cuts down on the hors d’oeurvres for one thing. In the automatic, our cooler sat right next to the driver seat, nestled up to the dash, where we put the plates and bowls of hors d’oeurvres. My latest creation. A swipe of light cream cheese and finely chopped chives across a one-inch square of sweet red pepper wrapped in $10.99 a pound slices of premium garlic roasted beef and stabbed with a toothpick. Awesome!
There are so many idiosyncracies with the stick. I’d rather leave the shifting to the computer. Can’t downshift with the jake brake on, can’t up shift with the cruise control on, this means when we’re going up and down the mountains were are constantly flipping the jake and cruise on or off. Thankfully, the controls, like a car are now all on the steering column, no more reaching to the dash.
Higher speeds need a bigger bump of fuel to downshift, lower speeds, lower bump. Skipshifting up needs more speed in the lower gears than the higher gears.
All this shifting and clutching in addition to watching the traffic, the signs, the directions. Surgeons should be truck drivers first to hone their fine motor and multi-tasking skills.