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The Long Ride Home

Sunday, July 31, 2016

After the hot springs, we drove through Butte where Diane and Todd decided to eat a delicious lunch from Burger King. When they told the cashier they were from Massachusetts and were just driving through, she came outside to point out some Butte landmarks for us. 

Butte is a mining town surrounded by tall hills. On top of one hill is a massive statue of Mary that's bigger than the statue of a liberty. That was one landmark she told us about. The other was these scaffolds on the far hills that used to the way miners got down into the mines. Now they're being preserved and used for cultural activities like concerts, which is pretty neat. That was a whole tour of Butte because we'd sort of wasted a lot of time already (we hadn't exactly gotten an early start in Missoula) and we had a loooooong way to drive.

In the afternoon, Diane took over driving so Todd could rest for the night shift. As she drove, a weather alert came on the radio stating that a large thunderstorm with golf-ball sized hail was moving Southeast towards Billings. We were heading due east towards Billings at that very moment. Diane had actually seen the thundercloud in the distance a while before hearing the alert, but she knew from our experiences in Wyoming that it was far, far away. She definitely did not want to drive into golf-ball sized hail that can break windshields and would probably be the end of our solar panels so she walkie-talkied Todd and asked him to check the radar to see if we should stop and wait out the weather.

After some deliberation, he decided that it looked like if we just kept going at our slow and steady pace, we'd probably miss it. Nervously, Diane drove on. The picture above is one she took later, after Todd took over the driving in Billings, and as you can see, we were still driving towards one heck of a big thunderhead. 

We had decided not to stay on I90 through South Dakota, opting instead of I94 through North Dakota, for the sake of variety and also because it seemed there would be a lot more stuff in North Dakota so we'd have better options for our pitstops.

We drove and drove for hours always with that cloud out ahead of us until around sunset. The highway had begun to track northeast and the storm had moved off to our right. We stopped at a rest area for a stretch and got the most incredible glimpse of the storm cloud reflecting the sunset. It was as if the clouds were on fire.

As we drove, the view of the clouds only got better and better until finally Todd couldn't stand it and pulled over to the side of the road to take a picture.

This picture is one Diane took from inside the Big Rolling Crate while Todd took his real camera outside. When Todd came back to the window, he held out his hand to Diane and it took her a minute to understand why he was holding up ice cubes. Hail! Golf ball sized hail that had fallen here before we drove through. Due to our general slowness and several stops, we'd missed it, thank goodness.

For the sunset until midnight, we watched a spectacular display on both sides of us as we drove: There were thunderstorms out there on both sides lighting up the night sky for hours. Amazingly we only experienced the slightest bit of rain.

We arrived in Beach, North Dakota, the first town across the border, at 11:45, pulled into a truck stop, fell asleep for the night. We'd traveled 601 miles for the day, making it our single biggest one-day mileage of the trip, but we knew we needed to go even more miles next few days, so we all needed our rest.

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