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Tour Life: Adventures & Misadventures

Location: Missoula, MT

Miles: 4343

Morale: Resilient

Munchies: Drunken Goat Salad

Boy, isn't this awesome, I thought, as I piloted my truck over some Montana backwoods hills. If I could find a way to just drive around on dirt roads shooting trains with my dog and get paid for it, I would totally just do this forever.

Then my tire pressure warning light blinked on.

I pulled over alongside the train tracks I'd been following and climbed out to check my tires. Immediately, I could hear the telltale hiss of air escaping from the the right rear. I had a flat, all right.

Damn it.

It was supposed to be a pretty easy day. I had only a two-hour drive from Helena to Montana before my event last night at Fact and Fiction Books, and I planned to use the rest of the day to explore Mullan Pass, where the Montana Rail Link sends trains up a series of loops and across bridges and through tunnels to conquer the Continental Divide.

It was a beautiful day for adventure, and the trains were cooperating, too.

We'd just watched a long Burlington Northern Santa Fe coal train navigate the Austin Loops when I got the flat--and nowhere near cell phone range, either.

Fortunately, I had all the tools necessary to change the tire, and it wasn't long before I had the truck ready to roll again. But now I was down my spare, and that meant rethinking my plan to cross the spine of the continent on backroads.

If I get another flat out here, I thought, I'll never make it to Missoula in time.

Back to pavement, then.

But first, I spotted another coal train headed for the loops. I'd picked out a nice little spot to shoot the train, but it must have stalled just around the corner from where I was camped out, because it didn't appear when it should have, and eventually, a set of four helper engines appeared from up the hill, apparently to help my train make the climb.

A little while after the helpers went past us, I heard the telltale throb as what now amounted to twelve high-horsepower diesel engines struggled to get a heavy coal train moving again on a steep grade.

The sound was tremendous. The train inched past us at a walking pace. The earth shook. Reader, it was glorious.

Anyway, after that, Lucy and I pointed the truck toward Missoula, which was a pleasant 90-minute drive through absolutely stunning terrain.

I stayed at a Studio 6 in Missoula, which was nice and pet friendly and abutted onto a well-shaded residential area where Lucy and I went for a walk, and Lucy chased some squirrels.

Then it was time for my event. Fact & Fiction is very dog-friendly, so I brought Lucy along, and though she was a little bit hyper while I was reading, she was certainly the hit attraction. She's going to do so well next year when she's the star of her own book.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping for a few more people at the event, and while I was reading I caught myself going down a hole of, if not self-pity then certainly self-doubt.

But the people who did come were pleasant and engaged, and we had a really nice, informal time. It's wonderful to get to do this, no matter how big the audience, and I need to remember that things will work themselves out, no matter how many books I sell or don't sell.

Afterwards, I went out for dinner and drinks with Mara and Chris, my bookseller hosts for the evening. Bookseller dinners on tour are always fun, and this was no exception. I've known Chris online for years, and might well have known Mara for just as long. They're good people.

Today, I'm headed west toward Seattle. My final event of this tour is at Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island on May 31st, and I'm going to try to cover some ground while shooting some trains and not getting any more flat tires on the way.

Wish me luck, and I'll see you down the road!