Driving through the Bitterroot Mountains, he pulled over Lolo Pass and descended into the Lochsa River Valley. He had never before traversed northern Idaho, and started feeling a tad bit nervous when a sign boasted that the next town wasn’t for 77 miles. He had enough gas to make 50 at the most, and that was on a clean stretch of road. Now he was presented with an asphalt snake, coiling its way through the mountains.
Few traveled this way. Most preferred the interstate, the clean dash of double-wide lanes nourishing the continent. He preferred the backroads. This country wasn’t built on interstates, it was built on crazy winding paths connecting one city to another. Blip to blip to blip. Only by chance did these roads draw the coasts together. With two narrow lanes and a double yellow line you get to look people in the eyes. Some even wave at you. Mostly in the Dakotas, where the states have drawn such a bad rap from the rest of the country that citizens have to make up for it through personal intervention.
But not everyone would wave at you, especially when there was no one else around. At times on his drive he could go thirty minutes without ever seeing a soul. And this is what had him worried now. Running down the spine of a mountain into the vast pine forests of northern Idaho he knew he needed a gas station. Soon.
A sign! A lodge! They would surely have fuel! He veered off the main road and wound down to the valley floor. He pulled up to the pumps, drew the nozzle and pulled the trigger.
He tried again, but the pumps were turned off. He frowned. How could they be closed? It’s 9:00 in the morning!
Rather, 8:00 in the morning. He set his watch for the new time zone and crunched through the gravel drive to the lodge. It was a huge log building, freshly built, apparently, after the last one burned down.
The inside was straight out of Twin Peaks, done up with hardwood floors, walls and ceiling, with a fieldstone fireplace hulking in the middle of the main room. A big band arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” was playing over invisible speakers.
The place was mostly empty. He approached the lone occupied table where three old, grizzled loggers camped out over their morning coffee.
“Excuse me, do you guys know how I can get some gas around here?”
“Besides eating here?”
“I mean for my car.”
“Go in back and talk to the people there. They own the place.”
He stepped back into the kitchen. A woman stood at a large iron stove, frying pancakes and bacon.
“Any chance I can get someone to turn on the gas pumps?”
“Sure, hon. Just go outside and wait. I’ll have someone there in a couple minutes.”
He went outside and waited. As promised, a girl came over from the lodge and unlocked the convenience store. She fired up the pumps, which choked and quivered to life in the mountain air. Dollars and cents clicked away on their little dials as he filled the tank with life. Finished, he paid and got back in his car.
He jammed the trip odometer with his thumb and the numbers spun to zero.