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A day on the road

August 8/Day 22. By seven o’clock this morning I dump the holding tanks on the trailer, top off the fresh water, and am driving down the road that parallels the meandering Madison River out of Yellowstone. As the elevation decreases, the steep mountain valleys give way to broad rolling expanses of green meadowland. The mountains become foothills, and on their sides the forest’s edge hangs like a hemline above the grassy expanses flowing up to meet the trees. Streams meander through the meadows and every several hundred yards I spot an angler standing in his waders, tempting trout.

Montana. Except for the tiny village of West Yellowstone just outside the park, I’ve never been to this state. Driving toward Helena I continue to descend and the ripe green grass is replaced by limitless rolling fields of yellow wheat. In the distance are still the mountains, always the mountains. They’re no longer jagged and fanged like the Rockies, rising above the treeline, piercing the clouds; now they have a smoother, calmer aspect and a sublime beauty that comes, perhaps, from understatement.

I stop in Helena to have Big Red’s oil changed and pick up some things from Walmart—the first Walmart I’ve seen since leaving Texas. In the back of my mind I’ve been thinking of overnighting at Walmart, and, indeed, I count at least a dozen RVs in the parking lot. But by the time I’m done

Salmon Lake, nightstop on the road to Glacier

shopping it’s only 2:30, and sitting on the parking lot it’s a blistering 83 degrees. I decide to move on and add another 100 miles to the day’s journey.

I end up at Salmon Lake State Park, higher in elevation, cooler, and blessed with a view of a pristine pine-encompassed lake. Here I’ll spend the night; it’s only 139 more miles to Glacier.

But the best thing that happens to me today is this: I need to fill up with fuel, so when I see a station that sells diesel for $3.84 I think, hmmm, not bad. As I begin to pump, I notice that the little digital display on the pump reads $3.34. I don’t think much of it; probably some of the electronics have burned out. As my tank fills I start reading the signage on the pump and, lo, I discover I’m putting tax-free agricultural diesel into my truck. And this is right next to a pump that otherwise looks the exactly same but has the full price of $3.84—the highway price. I feel like I’ve won the lottery! Stupid Texan shows up, doesn’t know any better, and cheats the state out of 50 cents a gallon in tax. Once I’m full-up, you can imagine how fast I slunk (slinked? slank?) out of there. Yeah, it feels good to beat The Man every once in a while!

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