July 2: Culbertson to Wolf Point, Montana - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

July 2: Culbertson to Wolf Point, Montana

The coffeepot café beside the road in Poplar.
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THERE'S A FOOTNOTE to last night. Clean and content, we settled into our tent at our usual early hour. Darkness fell, train hooters were held off by ear plugs, and we fell asleep. Around 11, a light wakened us and we heard a woman: "There's a storm coming. Take in your washing and check into the motel up the road."

It seemed a curious order of priorities, but that may be because I'm a man.

Anyway, the woman said her husband was driving an oil truck and had called to say there was a heck of a storm, with 60mph wind, thirty miles away. I started off up the road as Steph collected our belongings, including the washing on our makeshift line. Then we both thought better of it, agreed that the tent had withstood mountain storms, that it was good for 60mph, and that at worst it would be blown down with us still in it. We stayed put.

Half an hour later, when the rain started but the wind was little more than gusty - it never did get worse - a man's voice...

"You OK in there?"

We were both asleep again.

"You OK in there?"

Steph was faster to come round than I was.

"We're fine, thanks," she yelled. I jumped in alarm.

"What?" asked the voice outside.

"We're fine."

"Can't hear you."

There was thunder now and hard rain. It drummed on the tent and cut through words on both sides. Darkness and sleep made it hard to cope with all the zips that keep the inner tent secure and the mosquitoes out.

"We're OK in here, thanks," Steph shouted again. "The tent's waterproof."

"Well, we're in the trailer just alongside. You change your mind and you're welcome to come in with us."

"Thanks but we're fine," Steph persisted and finally our disappointed saviour went away.

We saw him next morning as we pushed our bike across the grass to the road. We thanked him for his kindness.

"You got wet, too."

"Just a little," he said with irony. We got the impression that he had thought all along that we were dry and secure but that his wife had insisted he "just pop out and see those people are fine." Words may subsequently have been said...

Indian reservation land. Friendly folk, sad surroundings.
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Our route today took us through the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. There is a novelty in Brockton, a reservation village, that is a combined cafe, laundrette, video library and slot-machine casino. It's a squat white building run by a smiling woman who knows and is known by

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the whole village. A bench with seats stands on the side sheltered from the sun, with a view across the road to the equally squat, white post office. Sitting on the bench was a man called Jim. He's 88.

"I just like sitting here, biding my time, 'cos it stops me watching too much television," he said.

Jim: "I'd love to live somewhere else."
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Jim was born on the reservation and has never left. "Used run the Standard Oil gas station 'cross the way." He waved his hand towards the road we had just left. "Ran it for 42 years. Then when Standard Oil pulled out, the man who owned the building tried coming to a deal but that never worked out."

His wife, he said, had been diabetic. That led to gangrene in her toes and finally to amputation of both legs beneath the knee.

"She died a while back, so I been by myself since then."

"And has the reservation changes since you were a boy?"

"Have I changed?"

"No, has Brockton changed?"

"Oh, completely."

"For better or for worse?"

"For worse. Too much drink and drugs here now. Used to be only the old men who drank. Now it's the young kids too. And drugs. And they go about smashing windows and breaking into cars. Been like that ever since they passed that law you couldn't give your kid a hiding. Most likely you can't even get cross with them these days either."

"Why do the kids behave like that?"

Aola - a lovely old lady we met in Poplar. "My mother brought me up as white because she knew what life was like on the reservations, but I married a Sioux and I came back."
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'Ain't nothing for them to do."

"Can't they work?"

"There's no work here. Farmers employ some o'them but not otherwise."

"So where do they get money for drink and drugs?"

"Well, government's got a programme. If you're looking for work and you can't find nothing, you get help from the government. But they got to take a drugs test before they qualify and that knocks a lot o'them out."

This was getting into a circular argument but I was looking for insight rather than a debate. And then he changed the subject himself.

"They call me Crazy Horse here, you know that?"

I smiled.

"Ain't my name but I go in there..." - he gestured at the cafe-laundrette-casino and video library - "they all say 'Hi, Crazy Horse!"

"People still have those lovely old names?"

"Sure do. My granddaughter has one."

"And if your name was Crazy Horse, what would people call you? They couldn't call you Crazy, surely?"

"Just Crazy Horse, I guess."

"And 'Mr Horse'?"

Poplar's small but interesting museum of Indian life.
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Indian leaders still wear their feathers at formal gatherings. The more feathers, the more senior the wearer.
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"No, Crazy Horse."

"Would you ever live anywhere else?"

"I'd love to live somewhere else."

"Off the reservation?"

The ferry's name is Poplar Pride. It symbolises the lack of pride in the community.
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Even the sign is decaying.
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"Off the reservation. But the problem's the same in all these towns round here. I thought about moving to Williston but that's the same. Full of oil men. That's who brought the drugs in, in you ask me."



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