Sheep & Rocks

Sheep & Rocks

My grandpa used to say that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Now before the accusatory fingers get jabbed my direction let me make clear that I’ve never actually skinned a cat. As a child on several occasions I helped skin a cat-fish, but something tells me that’s not quite the same. The point of the phrase, I believe, is that when you’re doing something, in this case driving from point A to point B, there are many routes you can take to get you there.

On Monday, when I drove from Spokane to Missoula, I decided to take a route that would avoid the Interstate, even though I-90 was the most direct and fastest option. Instead I headed northeast up through Sandpoint, ID, a pretty little logging town turned tourist destination that sits on Lake Pend Oreille, which is a bastardization of the French for ear-ring, as the original native peoples of this area, the Kalispell, apparently liked to hang such decorations beside their cheeks.

Pend Oreille’s a big old glacial mass, the largest lake in Idaho, and Sandpoint sits right at its northwestern tip as it opens into the Priest River. There wasn’t much traffic on the drive up and the sides of the road were intermittently lined with piles of trees stripped of their bark and waiting like sullen teenagers to be driven somewhere. I stopped for lunch in Sandpoint, where I had a fine sandwich and a cold Coors and walked the downtown streets before I continued my loop around the lake.

As my drive turned from north to northeast to east to southeast I found my way into Montana, where the speed limit jumped from a leisurely 60 to somewhere around 900mph. Hwy 200 in Montana follows the Clark River as it cuts between the Coeur d’Alene and Kaniksu National forests. It’s a real pretty drive, a lot of gentle rolling up and down and curving side to side. As I continued my path I came across the digital signs you often see warning about roadside work, only instead of cautioning construction these signs flashed:

55MPH ahead

Big Horn Sheep on the Road

Well that’s pretty cool, I thought, having never seen a big horned sheep in person. I was in the middle of the mid-afternoon droop and thought that perhaps a sheep would be the shot in the arm the drive needed. But then the sign flashed this:

450 Killed

Slow Down!

What the hell was that all about? Let’s be clear—there’s a lot of vagueness in those statements. For starters, 450 of who have been killed, and in what time frame, and by whom? If 450 Big Horn sheep had been killed that very day by passing cars that might’ve make me sad as it’s likely the sheep an important part of the local ecosystem. However, if 450 rats had been killed after months-long cancer tests conducted by scientists, tests that revealed tremendously important and positive results for curing the disease, I might feel fewer pangs of dismay. And if 450 Donald Trump supporters had lemming-like thrown themselves into the rushing waters of the Clark and drowned, forever ridding the human gene pool of their potential propagation…, well, I guess sometimes that’s just how it goes.

To slow the Focus down to 55mph didn’t require much foot maneuvering. She’s not much of a speed demon, ye olde Focus, and I had spent the previous several hours of the drive being passed by every imaginable automobile on the road, including an old lady in one of those motorized carts people use when grocery shopping. I eased her back and kept my eyes peeled for Big Horn sheep, but sadly I saw none. A few miles down the road I came across another set of road signs that flashed an updated warning:

55MPH ahead

Big Horn Sheep on the Road

450 Killed

Watch for Falling Rocks!

Slow Down!

This was beginning to feel like a video game—apparently I’d made it through Level 1 and now, after graduating to Level 2, had to avoid not only sheep but falling rocks?? What was next, Montana—earthquakes, terrible floods, locusts? I gritted my teeth, gripped the wheel and drove on.

All in all the Focus handled pretty well—she’s a little loose in the rear when taking a right turn above 6omph and doesn’t always like to start back up once we’ve stopped—but we made it through to Missoula and I’ll call that a success. There’s still plenty of Montana that remains—this state is stupidly massive—and I’m curious to see what new challenges are thrown my way.

I’d like to think that I’ve moved on to Level 3 of the Driving in Montana challenge. I imagine that when I’m next on the road I’ll be confronted by signs warning of big horn sheep riding waves of falling rocks with IED’s strapped to their underbellies… Stay tuned and I’ll let you all know how it all turns out.

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