I get off the bus just after noon, and am faced with an immediate decision: get lunch, or find my AirBNB. This is easy – I am still full from the bread samples, so AirBNB it is. The Blue bus comes before the Green, and since both get me to within a couple of blocks of where I need to go, I hop on the Blue bus and settle in for the ride. It’s empty for about five minutes, then a couple of seniors hop on; This bus services the seniors homes and doctors’ offices in the community. At my stop, I disembark and start walking.
The directions my host gave me seem solid enough, but I find myself unable to find the landmark she pointed out. After fifteen minutes of wandering around and – I am sure – frightening the neighbours – I load up AiRa for more help. The agent doesn’t see the landmarks either, but pulls up a Google map and is able to give me directions – which include stepping off a HUGE drop-off from the sidewalk to the street. The connection drops, but I am across the street, and Jenny seems to know what we’re doing – we find the landmark no problem, and after a momentary panic we’ve broken in to a neighbour’s property, I find one more defining landmark, and know we’re in the right place. The key is where it’s supposed to be, and I let myself in.
The kitchen and bathroom are easy to find, but the bedroom? Not so much. There’s no hallways in this place, but all the rooms feed off each other… like open concept, but with doors. Finally, I figure this out, put my backpack down, then go hunting for water glasses – which also take an embarrassingly long time to find. This apartment seems to be a lot like the town – it all works, but it doesn’t always make sense.
My host arrives and helps orient me. She brings up coffee and a basket of snacks, and shows me all the little nooks and crannies and little shelves and drawers in this apartment I’ve decided is charming. Since neither of us have dinner plans, we hop in her car and head for the new Cajun restaurant in town, only to discover it’s closed on Mondays! My host is a vegetarian, so this somewhat restricts our options. But she tells me I have to try a Wop Chop (a breaded and fried pork chop) and a pasty (pronounced past-ee) while I’m in town. For dinner tonight, we end up at Sparky’s, which has a car mechanic theme – including “rags” for napkins. We split an order of sweet potato fries and each order a salad, and my host insists on picking up the tab.
After everything settles, Jenny and I join our host for a walk through part of Uptown Butte. The sidewalks are treacherous, many with tree limbs across them. At points, Jenny decides it’s safer to walk on the road; I trust her judgment. My host points out landmarks and street names, and is excellent at describing how they all relate to each other. After nearly three miles of walking – and huffing and puffing in the high altitude – we detour to the closest coffee shop so I know how to get there in the morning. It’s a cold and blustery walk, and I have fallen in love with this complicated city that makes no sense to me.
I get a solid night’s sleep, and by 7:30 I am ready to hunt for coffee. My journey starts out the way I remember, but I can’t seem to cross the busy street across from the coffee shop. I backtrack almost ALL the way back to the house, and double back. Jenny finds the streets we need and points out uneven sidewalks – of which there are many. We get to the parking lot… and cannot find coffee! I ask for directions, but am given nothing really useful (“Go straight, then left” is only part of useful directions). AiRa comes to the rescue again. The coffee shop is in a tiny house, and once we figure that out, Jenny finds it perfectly. I buy a coffee and a muffin, put the muffin in my purse and carry the coffee back to the AirBNB. I juggle Jennys leash, the coffee, the keys and the doors, and I clearly need an extra set of hands.
Most of the next hour, I spend on the phone. My feet have been hurting somewhat awful, and I need a new pair of sandals. All the shops seem to have packed their summer stock away, but the staff at Murdoch’s agrees to check the back for me; I tel them I can stop by later this afternoon. I call the Chamber of Commerce to see about trolley tours, and they run one at 12:30 daily. Since I want to do the tour AND try a Wop Chop AND head to Murdoch’s all in one trip, I get a pretty good game plan in place, and hit the road.
We get to a street corner and three dogs rush the fence. Jenny ignores them, but I’m worried. We cross the street and try to find the bus stop, which is marked by… nothing – no poles, no posts, no benches, nothing. Jenny makes me laugh by finding me the row of bicycles parked outside… but the location of the bus stop eludes us. I ask another pedestrian for directions, and she waits for the bus with me, asking everyone around if they know where the bus stops. No one does. The bus doesn’t come, and my fellow pedestrian (Diana) is headed to the highway, and offers me a ride. I accept, and we chat on the way to the Freeway tavern, where my Wop Chop awaits.
The Tavern is empty of other customers. I order my Wop Chop with fries, and am told that service dog handlers are always sat in booths “just so nothing happens to the dog.” I observe the empty bar, pull up a stool, and say that I’d rather sit here. When they try and insist, I tell them that ADA law says they cannot require that I sit in a particular location, and if something happens to my dog in an empty bar, that’s my issue, not theirs. They relent, and I enjoy my Wop Chop at the bar. It’s a filling sandwich with all the extras, but I would probably like it more if I didn’t have to add mustard or mayo to it; I prefer sauces and condiments being cooked IN my food, not added later. But, still, it’s great to enjoy a Butte tradition. Nothing happens to Jenny.
I exit the bar, and have a great chat with the waitress. She’s had service dogs get badly injured at the bar when it’s busy. I smile and tell her that it’s no problem. If it were busy, I wouldn’t have said anything, but a quiet bar… I like my bar stools. She gives me directions to the Chamber of Commerce and says it’s a “scary walk.” Thinking she’s being overly concerned about a blind person crossing the street, Jenny and I start walking.
There are no pedestrian-controlled street crossings. I go past George St, where I need to turn right, and wait a full three minutes at the crosswalk, and nobody stops. We backtrack almost all the way back to where we started, cross the street, walk under the highway, and FINALLY make it to George Street… which has no sidewalk. Jenny hugs the side of the road, forcibly pulling me onto the grass when big trucks come up behind us. After quite possibly the scariest ten minutes of my life,, dodging cars and trucks and long grass and weeds, Jenny guides me over the grass and straight to the Chamber of Commerce building. I praise her and give her some kibble, which she eagerly accepts as my shoulders relax and my heart rate slows.
I book my ticket and board the trolley. We learn about both active and historrical mine facilities, stop at the Berkeley Pit, and discover Butte’s ghosts of the past and hope for the future. The more Butte residents I meet, the more they remind me of East Coast Canadians both in accent and in their friendliness. It feels like I’ve been transported to Nova Scotia, and I love all of it.
When I get off the trolley, I call the Butte Copper Company; the folks at the Berkeley Pit gift shop said The Butte Copper Company has more souvenirs, and they can ship them to me. I place an order, then go to the Chamber of Commerce counter and ask for bus directions to Murdoch’s. Another customer says she’s heading to Walmart, which is right by Murdoch’s, and offers me a ride. Her name’s Nadine, and she’s originally from California. She drops me off at Murdoch’s and says she’ll wait for me and drop me off at my AirBNB on her way out of town.
Murdoch’s doesn’t have sandals in my size. My feet hurt SO much that I want to cry, but I leave the store and hope to find some new ones in Bozeman. Nadine has just pulled up, and drops me off at my AirBNB. I wave and thank her and tell her she’s made my day; she tells me that helping me has made HER day. I think I got the better deal.
I get a call back from the Butte Copper Company, giving me a shipping quote, When I mention taking an Uber to their location, they offer to drive my order to me on their way to run some errands, free of charge. When I meet them at the gate, they refuse any reimbursement for their gas or their time, and I am overwhelmed by their generosity.
My host seems to know everyone in Butte. She knows I’m training for a half-marathon, and has reached out to the running community to find out where they run tonight. She even offers me a ride out there, and introduces me to Ozzie, who’s the only runner out tonight. The first mile is brutal; Jenny is distracted by Ozzie’s dog. Ozzie and his dog run ahead, then keep pace with us as we hit our stride. I am surprised how quickly we’re going, given the altitude, and even if the run isn’t as long as my training plan has me do, all the walking I’ve done the past few days is putting enough stress on my legs. At the 2.5-mile mark, I take a tumble. My pants hold up nicely, but my left knee is bleeding. I pull a bandage out of my running belt, put it on, and keep on moving. After three miles in thirty-three minutes, we’re all done for the day. If I can run this speed in this altitude, Billings will be beautiful! Ozzie is running the full marathon and says he’ll say hi if our paths cross on the course.
I get back to my AirBNB, and my host offers to run a load of laundry for me. I’ve got enough clothes to make it worthwhile, and with my knee bleeding into my running pants I figure it’s a great idea. While the laundry runs, I meet one of my host’s new kittens – his sister is too shy to say hello – and I think of my own three fluffballs at home. I relax for a while, and play “guess the vegetable!” with my freeze-dried veggies from the Natural Grocers in Helena. Once the clothes are dry, I fold them, then start packing my backpack. Every new destination has me packing it differently; in theory I have less stuff, but my bag is still as full as ever.
I wake up early, and make sure I have tidied up and packed everything. Miraculously, I catch the Green bus on time, rent a locker at the Greyhound station, and head over to Joe’s Pasty Shop. A pasty is meat and potatoes wrapped in pastry dough, sometimes served with gravy. I order a chili pasty with onions and cheese, an apple turnover, and enough coffee to float a small boat. I love the pasty, and think it’s well worth the high praise I’ve heard from residents and tourists alike. The staff is attentive, and lets me know I can stay as long as I need, so I’m not hanging around the bus station. I almost stay too long! But I walk back to the station, pick up my bag, and bid a fond but complicated farewell to this warm and confusing city.
If you’ve enjoyed this series of posts, please consider sharing our story, and supporting The Intrepid Journey 2018.