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Tour Life: High Plains Drifter

Location: Helena, MT

Miles: 4184

Morale: Mostly happy, sometimes frustrated and incredulous

Munchies: (Sigh.) Applebee's, McDonald's, Perkins

Time seems to halt when you drive through South Dakota. The speed limit bumps up to 80mph, but if you're going east to west, the land is flat and largely featureless, making it difficult to gauge distance or time.

Also there are only three billboards in South Dakota, and they are repeated every mile for literally hundreds of miles.

Wall Drugs begins advertising 250 miles out. There's an old 1800s village that does about the same. And I guess there's a Mount Rushmore museum that's one of the wonders of the world its damn self, or at least that's what I gathered from the approximately eight hundred roadside advertisements singing its praises.

As you drive through South Dakota it can be easy to feel that you've entered into some hellish time continuum where your vehicle is propelled forward at a high rate of speed but you never actually get anywhere. You just whiz past the same billboards, mile after mile.

By the time we reached Wall Drugs, I felt I'd experienced it, having spent the last four hours under siege from its marketers. I took a pass.

If you've been following this journey you'll notice we've put a lot of miles behind us since the last instalment. We're in the west, now, and the distances to travel are a hell of a lot longer.

Also, I drove a thousand miles the day after my Milwaukee event with Nick. It was the longest I've ever driven in a day by, hell, probably about three hundred miles, and even at 80mph it was a long one.

Lucy was a trooper. She endured the drive, even when I had to pull over to perform an emergency tick removal from the flap of her ear.

(The tick lived, and lives, in a ziplock bag in the truck. It's gross as shit but I think you're supposed to keep them in case your animal gets sick and the tick needs analyzing?)

It happened to be my erstwhile partner's birthday on Saturday, and if this were a year like the previous four, I'd have been treating her to a birthday getaway up British Columbia's sunshine coast.

I tried not to dwell on it; it's a new year, and I'm driving across the country with my dog. You can't beat that.

Anyway, by the end of the day we'd made Gillette, Wyoming. The purpose of the endurance-race drive was to give myself a full day around Gillette, which is located at the top end of a very foamer-centric stretch of heavy surface coal mining along the Powder River Basin.

Basically it's two-hundred miles of a constant procession of trains, all hauling coal away from these massive open-pit mines.

It's also a land where I can wear my cowboy hat without shame, and Lucy can wander free on the plain.

We chased trains all day, and in the evening when the thunderclouds rolled in, we drove in a deluge to Sheridan, Wyoming, which, well, was not my favourite place.

I'm sure it's lovely. It's just our motel was totally blocked off by construction and then it was a dive on a dimly-lit, poorly-laid-out little compound. The only restaurant in town that was open was a Perkins four miles away, and when I drove to it I found a sign on the door saying they were closing an hour early and I was SOL.

I was stuck with McDonald's, and even they advised me there would be a seven-minute wait on the grilled chicken salad I'd ordered.

I finally got back to the room to find that they'd forgotten to give me cutlery and also the toilet in the room was broken and Lucy was terrified of the storm raging outside.

So I'm friends-off with Sheridan.

Yesterday, we drove from Sheridan to Helena, Montana, chasing trains the whole way.

I got some intel from the guys at TRAINS Magazine about a secret overlook that Lucy and I sniffed out (thanks, Drew and Tom!) and though the skies stayed threatening, we mostly avoided the rain.

Helena is nicer than Sheridan but the story was the same last night: hotel was pretty sketchy and even the restaurants in town that claimed to be open were closed.

So I wound up at a Perkins and damn if it didn't hit the spot. I had a chicken and broccoli skillet over rice with a side salad and sauteed summer vegetables.

I would eat it again.

Today, we're headed just up the road to Missoula, Montana, where I have an event at Fact & Fiction Books, which is a store that I've always wanted to visit.

I'll be meeting a social media buddy, Chris La Tray, in person for the first time, which I'm pretty stoked about, too.

And you know we'll be doing some foaming along the way. The Montana Rail Link has some pretty scenic terrain between Helena and Missoula, and we've got some time to spare for photos.

See you down the road!

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