April 2nd, 2018
This morning I looked out of the front doors of the Hays/ Lodgepole High School on the Fort Belknap reservation. I had just roused myself from my sleeping on the floor of the gymnasium. Theme was a light snow falling on our vehicles in the parking lot. The forecast called for two to four inches of snow to fall. I thought that maybe we wouldn’t get that much.
I went back to the gym to pack up my belongings. All school gymnasiums are the same: a basketball court with scoreboards, motivational posters, and flags proclaiming victories of ages past. Gyms all have the same smell: stale sweat and industrial cleaners. There were two unusual pictures on the wall. Each large banner showed an image of a former basketball hero, and each banner displayed the young man’s birth date and the day of his death. The two athletes were local boys who had died way too early. I wondered what had happened to them.
We needed to drive from Hays to Billings, a distance of about 160 miles. Normally, this journey would only take three hours. We expected it to take longer with the snowfall. We were right. It did take longer, a lot longer.
We had a total of four vehicles. Ferdinand and Kid rode in the VW microbus. Chief and Bobby rode in Bobby’s camper. Tony and Tyler drove the F250 with the travel trailer hooked on to the back. Jeremiah and I were in the Nissan. Jeremiah was driving.
We did well for the first few miles, then Jeremiah realized that the Nissan wasn’t accelerating worth a shit. This was troublesome to us, especially since the radiator had just been replaced, and perhaps we had engine problems. The car had 213,000 miles on it and a flickering check engine light. Eventually, we decided that the Nissan simply did not handle well on snow-covered roads. The tires really didn’t have the necessary amount of tread for winter driving, and we were doing exactly that.
We had to drive up to higher elevations in the mountains. The weather became evil. The snow was falling sideways, and accumulating into small drifts on the road. Our progress slowed to a crawl.
Jeremiah asked me, “Is this a blizzard?”
I told him, “Yes, it is.”
Visibility was reduced to almost zero. Trucks roared past us, and sprayed the car with snow. The windshield wiper iced up, and ceased to remove the snow. It sucked. The outside temperature was only fifteen degrees, and we were buffeted by high winds. This was clearly not a good road for a breakdown. Obviously, no road is a good road for getting stranded, but this was a potentially lethal stretch of highway.
We flipped through radio channels. We listened to a country station for a while. Then that faded out. Jeremiah searched for a few minutes, and all he could find was a Christian broadcast. Somebody was explaining that viruses were originally a good part of God’s creation, but then they became malevolent after the Fall. Jeremiah and I chose to drive without the radio.
We followed Tony and Tyler. Jeremiah carefully watched for their brake lights. We came close to rear-ending them a couple times. The road was icy in places, and the travel trailer occasionally fish-tailed. That got everybody’s attention.
We had walkie talkies in our vehicles. Tyler came up with the idea of guessing song titles from their lyrics. That game kept Tyler, Tony, Jeremiah, and me busy for at least an hour. We gave each other hints, and in the process learned more about contemporary music.
About twenty-five miles away from Billings, we saw the aftermath of an accident. Somebody rolled their car. They couldn’t keep it shiny side up. The thing was resting upside down when we passed it. Not good at all.
It took us almost six hours to get to Billings. Jeremiah and Tony were exhausted from driving. I was tired, and I was just a passenger. Here it was, the day after Easter, and we had spent the day driving through a blizzard. I love Montana.