Had my first bit of roadtrip type excitement between Casper and Billings going north on I25. Was getting "low" on gas, which is anytime in bottom third on this it seems, near the Wyoming/Montana border. Tried to stop in Lodge Grass, MT as i was getting quite close to the E after Google reported it having the closest gas station. Another 3 miles to the 'gas station' which ended up being a Co-Op type shop that closed at 6 (now 7). Not knowing what was ahead, i was quite worried about making the next place without having to walk in the rain. Fortunately, the next town had plenty of gas to offer and it was just a minor scare.
However, as a roadtrip "expedition" vehicle, I think small tank is the Trooper's biggest shortcoming. On my best tanks i would get around 280 and worst can be 150 in the mountains when the truck is really working hard (and sometimes gas is scarce). I would like to change this before the next big trip, and I think I will go this route if i can find the tank. http://4x4wire.com/forums/ubbthreads.php/topics/808633/Re:_Want_to_add_a_second_fuel_.html
Thoughts? Anyone have any experience with this or have alternatives? I will add a few jerry cans to my current system, but thats still not the ideal solution as I would like to add range between tanks without refueling for times sake as well as having the extra emergency fuel.
I arrived in Billings, MT on the second night of my trip around 8pm.This will just be a quick stop overnight as intend to reach a buddy living in Helena the following day. Tonight it is still quite windy and raining off and on. In Billings,I got an unmemorable meal, and looked for a bar to kill some time before setting up a quick camp for the night. I heard music coming from an open door and ended up catch a great Americana Punk band, "Urban Pioneers" at the Railyard Ale House. Good People there to pair with teh music too!
Excluding Wal Marts and the like, the closest place to park and sleep that night was a place called Acton Rec Area 26 miles north of the bar. The map app showed the drive taking over an hour without reason, and no one in the bar had even heard of the place, let alone confirm the reason. No matter, we'll see what it about anyway. The drive there isn't taking nearly as long as advertised, but is 75% country roads. Just 3 miles from the entrance, using the provided gps route, I am stopped by a large gate declaring the road turns into a private ranch road where trespassing is not allowed! The very exact route I've been told to use. Google maps is still showing the road to lead directly to the entrance, however, it only takes a second of thought to realize this is not the area to be caught where one is told not to be, not to mention is is still raining and the roads are getting quite soggy. To reach the other entrance is a 30 minute detour, but one i decide to take. Nearly there, I enter the last stretch of access road 6 miles to the entrance, only to realize it is essentially a what is referred to as a Minimum Maintenance road where I'm from, although it was unmarked as such. Quite muddy at this point and too narrow to turn around, i had no choice but to keep it in the gas and avoid becoming stuck.
After making it the the park entrance without too much fuss, although without Isuzu 4wd it could have been quite different, only to find out that similar to my previous attempt on the east entrance, this side too was gated! Id had enough for the night though, and decided I would be sleeping in the parking lot regardless of regulations. Stupidly, I put the large aluminum dry box on the roof to avoid the muddy ground. I did a very quick set up of the platform from inside the vehicle as the wind and rain (and now partially snow) were starting to pick up. All in my pajamas, weather radio on, and propane Mr. Heater running (one of 3 nights i used it) the camper part of the Trooper was feeling quite cozy but the wind was getting more and more intense, shaking the trooper and very very loud at this point. The aluminum dry box is very heavy (about 75lb) but i cannot sleep because I'm so worried about it blowing off the roof. In hindsight, I should have gotten out of my cozy pocket and moved it, and in even further hindsight I should have just put the box in the dirt. After not sleeping in paranoia for over an hour, I was finally delivered what I feared in the form of a crash onto the hood before the box landed in the dreaded mud after all. (as discovered in the morning, the damage was only a minor dent in the cowl). Sleep almost immediately followed.
Mooore Wind. Mooore Rain. Some Snow. Is the scene I awoke too. Pictures dont do it much justice, but was quite was just a sloppy fall mess outside, especially thinking about that access road. Wish it would have been nicer and i could have explored the park a bit, but I was ready to get on the road dry and warm.
Leaving the Park, I drove east on HWY 12 toward Helena, a stretch of road that ended up being my favorite of the whole trip. In addition to perfect scenery, the weather had cleared for the most part and most of the drive was quite sunny and warm. Especially with the addition of fall's vibrant colors, this was just absolute gorgeous drive from start to finish, and with such a diversity of landscapes. Plains into the foothills into the mountains and back down again, and with virtually no traffic. I would recommend this drive as an alternative to I90 any time its possible when traveling in Montana, or even as a destination drive if its not far out of the way.
I took basically no pictures as I was so busy enjoying the view IRL. I shouldn't even post this because the quality is so poor (only one that isnt 100% blurry) and there's not much to see, but I cant emphasize enough how much i enjoyed this drive and i feel it deserves something. Seriously though, HWY 12 Montana, do it.
Outside of a few longer more gradual ones in Wyoming, Highway 12 had the first really serious climbs of the trip and the Trooper was not a fan of them. I probably have 1000 or more extras pounds loaded for the trip, but from here until i left the mountains again, the trooper was seriously lacking in power to maintain interstate or even highway speeds in a way i never noticed back home. While when going 60+, normally well into 5th gear back on the plains, I was forced to use 4th gear almost exclusively in the mountains or i had "no power." Even if i used 4th to reach 70+ before shifting into 5th, I would be unable to maintain while climbing even what seemed to be slight inclines. a 3.4 upgrade sure would be nice here.
At some point on the scenic drive, an existing but minor exhaust leak became a large and noticeable one. Something to be dealt with soon, but not of much concern now, as I was finally reaching Helena. About year and a half ago, two weeks after getting the Trooper with this same person in fact, some other friends and myself helped our buddy Essay move to Helena to work for the Montana Conservation Corps with nothing but his bike, tent, and a B.O.B. trailer's worth of belongings. He's worked two seasons for them now and even has a real home, to which i was now arriving. A short bike ride and visit to the local brewery was a fitting reunion, before a relaxed night in readying for a drive to Missoula in the morning. He had 5 days off which we would fill with a show in Missoula, followed by camping and bike riding in the backwoods.
After an almost unbearable ride of shouting to converse over the procrastinated "exhaust leak" on the way to Missoula, i finally hopped the truck under to examine the extent of repairs it'd need.
Well, that makes sense. Too late tonight to get a new muffler, so we find a spot we'll camp later in the nearby national forest and explore the town by bike before Devil Makes Three at the Wilma Theatre.