Wrinkly Bits
A Blog by Gail Cushman
Adventure Foiled!

Adventures aren’t adventures without risk and possibility of failure, and our planned trip down the Missouri River was foiled. We packed well with food and water for a two-week trip, put Cody the dog at his observation post, and began the drive, which was about 350 miles. We drove Big Red, Cowboy Bob’s Ford pickup, and pulled a large floating vessel called the Far West behind us and began the trip. Well, let me tell you, Montana is a danged bit state. We passed an area called the Big Wide Open, outside of Billings, and that was only the beginning. We went by and through a bunch of notable places including the Tumbleweed Saloon, a small town called Roundup that hosted four cemeteries (I’ve heard people are dying to live there…old joke, sorry). We saw several mountain ranges, trains, and even a tractor on a cross-country trip to raise awareness of Parkinson’s Disease and finally saw the road we wanted. It was labeled, “Gravel Road Ahead.” The map showed it as a much shorter route to the Missouri River road, so we took it. Ten miles max, we thought. Cowboy Bob is a great driver and full of confidence, but this road about did him in. The shorter road turned out to be a longer route and the sign should have read, “Almost Impassible Rutted Dirt/Clay Road Ahead,” but we trekked on, racing antelope and elk, but they easily left us in the proverbial dust (mud). Cody focused his eyes on the antelope, and it was all I could do to keep him from leaping through the window. We saw a few signs on the road, all of which read “Save the Cowboy.” By then, I looked over at Cowboy Bob and considered if I really thought saving the cowboy was a good idea.

We then crossed onto a paved road, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Civilization, I thought. But, not true. This was a main east-west road, not an interstate, rather a regular paved road with borrow pits and mile markers and everything. It had begun to rain, as it does in places not called Idaho, and suddenly, we saw a sign: DETOUR. The paved road was being reconstructed, and turning into a dirt/mud road, down to one lane of mud, meaning watch out. We didn’t know how long the detour would be, rain was falling, and no one was working. Cody growled at us and headed to the backseat and buried his head under the emergency blanket. This road was through the Missouri Breaks, which are green rolling hills punctuated with colorful chasms, cliffs, rough breaks, hence the name “breaks.” Gorgeous. We had no idea how long the detour would be, but about ten miles later, we saw another sign: DETOUR. Hmm. A detour from the detour. This can’t be good.

A few hours later, disguised as a ball of mud, we arrived at Fort Peck, where I guzzled a needed glass of wine. We checked the reservoir and continued. We were still a couple hundred miles from our destination, Fort Benton. We stopped in Glasgow, Montana, and spent the night in a cozy hotel. We met a longtime friend, Curtis, who joined us. He was a veteran canoeist, but that’s not exactly the same as a 28-foot power boat.

The next morning, we started traveling west, through the “High Line” country, old buffalo range, now cow country. We saw rolling hills, ranches, cattle, and a few flocks of sheep. Up ahead we saw a sign about a monument named Sleeping Buffalo, which I thought was too intriguing to pass by. Inside a shelter were two large grey stones, each about three feet by three feet by eight feet, piled high with cigarettes (some smoked, others not), and containers of food as well as feathers and ribbons left by tribal members of the several reservations in the area. These native people left these decorations, food, and tobacco as a tribute to the buffalo. It was easy to imagine these large stones being mistaken for sleeping buffalo on a ridge a mile away while the hunting party was looking for the main food supply of the plains Indians.

Finally, Fort Benton. Woo hoo! Adventure for sure! We spent the night in the Grand Union Hotel. It was turn of the century hotel (the last century, a 120 years ago) ate a lovely dinner, and eagerly anticipated our adventure. We rearranged everything in the Far West and added a little more water, rarin’ to launch our trip down the Missouri River. The river looked a little low, but it was flowing well, looked good to us. We checked the BLM’s Interpretive Center and they nodded and said, “Have fun.” Then we went to the launch pad. Curtis flagged Big Red, and Cowboy Bob backed down the ramp and just as his wheels hit the water, a man named Mike Mason screeched to a halt and said, “Wait! Are you planning to take that big girl down the river? I wouldn’t if I were you. The water looks deep, but it’s not. It’s about four feet shallower than you need for that big girl boat.”

I’m not a boat person (except for cruise ships) but the more he talked, the more we all realized that this trip was not going to happen. He talked for about an hour, something about helicopter rescues, insurance, and leaving the boat as a permanent levy. It was apparent that he was going to arm wrestle us to the ground if we moved closer to the water. Then a second man stopped and said the same thing. It was too shallow, and the two-foot draft we needed to boat down the river was not going to happen this week. Curtis allowed that if we had a canoe, it would be a piece of cake, but if horses had wings…. Foiled. Our trip was foiled. The good news is that we were safe from harm and had a backup plan.

We hooked the boat back up, tied down the gear, and headed east, back across the High Line of Montana, past the Sleeping Buffalo, with Cody sound asleep and Big Red helping the economy by the tankful. That night we launched into Ft Peck, the largest reservoir in Montana, and spent a full night’s rest at anchor in a beautiful bay with the sound of waves lapping at our hull and after taking a couple of Tylenol to calm our achy knees and shoulders, climbed into our bunks and fell asleep, dreaming of new adventures. An adventure foiled is still an adventure. Cody snuggled in between these two aged, intrepid risk takers, and all was right with the world. What are these two old fools up to next?

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