It's not as easy to find a place to camp out here as it was in the mountains where campgrounds were abundant or we could simply walk back into the forest or hide down by a river and not be seen by anyone. Now we can ride for days without seeing an established campground and the vast expanse of land out here is primarily fields or ranches, enclosed by barbed wire fences to keep riffraff like us out. Even if we did jump the fence and set up camp, there would be nowhere to hide and our orange tent would be visible throughout the entire county.
A couple of nights ago as we were nearing 80 miles of riding in 90-degree heat, we came upon the town of Acton, MT. It was a funny little town set right up against the railroad tracks, consisted of about a dozen homes (all but one being trailers clustered together amongst the wheat fields) and a bar. We hoped to find a place to camp just north of Billings, 10-15 miles down the road, but were craving a cold drink at that point (cold water only stays cold in our water bottles for about 5 minutes in this heat and drinking hot water all day is anything but satisfying) so decided to take a pit stop at the Acton Bar.
We parked our bikes out front, walked in and watched every head turn and stare as we entered. We plopped our disgustingly dirty, sweaty, stinky selves on 2 bar stools several seats away from anyone else so as not to stink them out, guzzled our sodas and asked if anyone knew of a place to camp between there and Billings. The bartender, Lou, was a crotchety woman in her 60s, on her who-knows-what-number drink of the day (I saw her pour 5 more in the time we were there), was quick to reply without even cracking a smile, “Well, you can camp out behind my house. There's a water spigot out there and I have the only trees around (she wasn't joking). You ain't gonna find nothin' else between here and Billings. My house is just down the road...you can see the trees.”
We ordered a beer to think about her offer. We weren't ready to stop but knew if we made it all the way to Billings without finding camping we'd end up in a hotel and eating at a restaurant which would put us way over our budget for the day. We also knew we had a place to stay the next night and could put off a shower for one more day, though it would be a long ride if we stayed in Acton. We finished our beers just as a storm rolled into town – yep Lou, we'll take you up on your offer.
We set up our camp behind Lou's house, the Cowdin Carriage House B&B and Horse Hotel, between her two rows of scraggly trees and bushes while swimming through swarms of mosquitoes and dodging raindrops, washed off a layer of dirt and sunscreen, put on “clean” clothes and went back to the bar for dinner. We were starving and looked at the menu; it's not easy being a vegetarian in small town, middle of nowhere America. Mike was in heaven as he drooled over the long list of burger options. My tummy rumbled as I viewed an entire page of items I wouldn't eat. I asked Lou about her “famous homemade pizzas” hoping I could get one with only veggies. Her answer was, “Nope. Not today. All I have are frozen ones and they all have meat, but I can make you a little salad if you'd like.” Well, I needed more than a “little salad” so we supplemented our meals with mozzarella sticks and breaded mushrooms. I ate more fried food in one meal than I should eat in a year and though I was fully prepared to be sicker than a dog that night and the following day, it thankfully never happened.
We spent our evening in the bar playing cards and talking with the cowboys as the TV show 'Hee-Haw' blared from the screen above the bar. They weren't very impressed when we didn't know about the show and Mike gave the answer that 'Hee-Haw' was something cowboys said. Fortunately they wrote us off as a couple of crazy city kids and didn't hold our ignorance or smart-assedness against us.
As if we hadn't eaten poorly enough already for one day, we still had our ever-present craving for ice cream which we've done an excellent job of indulging in on a near-daily basis. Although we hadn't seen any on the menu, we sat down at the bar and asked Duane, Lou's husband, whom we'd been forewarned as being a grouchy old man who liked giving people a hard time. I know someone like that and I also know that behind their grumpiness is usually a kind a heart. Duane's response was a short, “no,” and then he just walked away. We contemplated having another drink instead and as we turned back toward the bar to order, there was Duane with ice cream in hand. “Don't tell...it's from the wife's private stash” he said with a wink and a grin. We sat at the bar enjoying our treat like two very happy little kids until Lou caught a glance of what we were eating and sent hair raising, dagger throwing looks our way. We apologized for eating her ice cream, proceeded to have a surprisingly friendly conversation in which she actually let a few smiles and laughs escape and then she sent us home to bed and on our way with many wishes of health and safety.
This is by far one of my favorite things about this adventure – meeting new people, discovering kindness in strangers, sharing stories and intersecting life paths that almost certainly never would have crossed if we were cruising along in a car.