Road to Bottineau – Part Two
Bozeman is 100 highway miles from Helena, and my scenic drive through North Dakota began by travelling up the Missouri River on Highway 12, crossing the river bridge at Toston and then driving to the headwaters at Three Forks and the junction with Interstate 90. I headed east on the Interstate, but due to the likelihood of traffic congestion in Bozeman, I left I-90 at Belgrade and followed the two lane roads that lead into Bozeman. One advantage of my particular truck / teardrop combination is that the trailer is narrower than the pickup. I have become confident that if my tow vehicle will squeeze by, then my trailer, Bismarck, will follow (as my wife likes to say “riding-along, riding-along”). Ride-along it did, up the Gallatin River, past Belgrade, past Four Corners, past the turnoff to Montana State University, past the Mall and right onto Main Street in downtown Bozeman. I was headed for my favorite backstreet bagel shop: the BagelWorks.
High, Low, High
Granted, I was not pulling my trailer through the Loop in Chicago or along I-25 under construction in Denver, but Bozeman, Montana still had things to teach me about trailering in congested traffic. For example, even on narrow streets in town, it is still possible to widen my turns. I remember what was told to me by the driving instructors that I used to work with: use the lane lines. The instructors’ mantra was summed up with “high, low, high”. Effectively using the space between the lane lines will straighten out corners and make them more negotiable. The tactic is safe and works at higher speeds on winding highways, but it also works at slow speeds through tight turns. High, low, high. By taking my tow vehicle to the high side, the outside of the corner, then to the inside, or the apex of the corner, then back out a bit, I was confident that my teardrop would negotiate the corner without jumping the inside curb or coming too close to some green haired, iPod® toting college kid who happened to be standing nearby. As I eventually learned on this road trip, even the drive-through lane at MacDonald’s is negotiable while pulling a teardrop trailer as long as you can straighten out your run at it. Mmm …good coffee.
Local Access Lanes
Everything is easier if you know your way around, and during the 1990’s, I lived in Bozeman for several years. Knowledge of the area grants local access to shortcuts, especially the off-highway lanes that serve restaurants and shopping malls. Local access lanes usually lead to parking lots that are wide enough to turn around in with open space at the far end for unimpeded parking and an easy exit. Of course, it helps to know the individual town, but in most urban areas, the location of local access lanes seems to be somewhat predictable. In towns like Dickinson, Fergus Falls or St. Cloud, I have had good luck locating and utilizing these calmer roadways that are out of the main flow of heavy traffic.
Timing is a big part of this, and pulling a trailer through a town is almost always more convenient early in the morning or at mid-afternoon than it will be during the noon hour or around 5:00 PM. However, local knowledge counts here, too. Whenever a movie starts or ends at the Multi-Cineplex, for example, the parking lot at the Gallatin Valley Mall is usually packed and hard for any vehicle to manage, let alone a pick-up / teardrop combination. That rules out a trailer-toting, movie-time stop at the nearby Barnes and Noble Bookstore (nice bathrooms).
You have to know your vehicle, too, especially the nature of the blind spots. In my own truck, one quick move of my head assures me that I will spot a passing vehicle that momentarily does not appear in any rearview mirror. I move my head a lot, and I do it deliberately. Starting with a quick look over my left shoulder, with specific checks as I turn back to the right, I am sure that I will see whatever is around me. By being deliberate, I have avoided some near-misses. So far, so good.
Around the Block
When towing my trailer, it seems to me that three or four turns of lesser consequence are usually more manageable than a single hard turn across a multi-lane road that is frequented by heavy, fast moving traffic. So I tend to drive around the block, and I still end up in the desired location. In town the default position is to stay in the right lane, but the more sophisticated goal is to use the traffic lanes in a manner that avoids any need to have to merge right or left while traveling within a congested area. Anticipate a merge, and set it up in advance. While keeping to the right in town, I watch out for immediate hazards such as drivers who are about to open their car doors to exit their vehicles, and I use the lane lines.
As tentative as I am about towing my teardrop, I tend to be willing to walk rather than try to park nearer to a local destination. But when I drove around the BagelWorks, I hit the teardrop jackpot. Behind the restaurant there was an open, double-sized parking space on the left hand corner of a one-way street, West Babcock. This is a peaceful, tree-shaded street just a block south of Main. There is a pleasant mixture of homes, apartments and small businesses, and this particular parking spot was less than 100 yards from the alley entrance to the shop. In no time, I had obtained a baker’s half dozen of all my favorites and I was back in the truck for an easy merge into traffic. I was able to shortcut the primary business loop by keeping south, then jog back to catch an interchange onto I-90 eastbound. In no time I was making the interstate highway climb up to Bozeman Pass. With teardrops, and with bagels, straightforward is usually best.