And then the four months finished: paperwork for admission and graduation submitted in the same semester; three courses completed; and 9950 unabridged miles on the road written in tire tread.
Every other Saturday I swept through cleaning my house and loading the pick-up. Armed with my thermos, little suitcase, backpack, food bag, and winter driving essentials, I said goodbye to Bella. I worked until noon either in the rock mechanics shop or academic coaching, then hopped in my truck and onto I-90 westbound.
In Broadus, and again in Billings, I stopped for fuel, maybe heated up a meal in the gas station microwave, stretched my legs, and then on to Butte. Mary and Doug didn’t just give me a place to stay, but a home away from home. With their children out of the house, I took over the upstairs and had my own suite. God bless them, they never once complained about the alien food I stored in their refrigerator.
Hindsight invites a romanticized perspective, but the truth is, this semester really was fun. No matter which direction I traveled along the highway, I looked forward to work I enjoyed and people I missed.
My week in Montana followed the same routine:
- Saturday night I unloaded my pickup and prepared for the upcoming week;
- Sunday church and homework;
- Monday classes, lab, homework, sample tests;
- Tuesday pre-work following week’s lab, write-ups, more sample tests, fill up the truck tank; and
- Wednesday class, homework/exams, last sample tests, and by 1 pm I was back in my pick-up again for the drive home.
A considerable advantage of running the core tests (permeability and porosity) was that after loading samples into the core holder, I did not need to be present to monitor progress. This meant I could continue on with my doctoral research (each test takes about 4 hours) while sitting in my undergraduate classes, furiously scribbling down notes and trying to figure out what I missed the prior week.
Right before heading out of Butte on Wednesday, I double checked the test results, tidied up my space in the core lab, and made notes for the next visit. I finished each Montana episode by swinging through the Starbucks drive-through for a “venti, dark roast, black, personal, coffee of the day.” And sometimes a lemon loaf. Then onto I-90 headed east.
My trips came and went quickly. The road never lacked for interesting, views, including a random flaming vehicle. The poor driver was so confused he ran downwind and stood, choking in the smoke. Despite our waving and shouting across the interstate, none of the bystanders could get him to move upwind.
Montana and South Dakota are just beautiful states. As many of you can attest, the camera does not do real life justice. But still, I keep taking pictures.
Back in Rapid City on Wednesdays night, I unloaded my pick-up and hugged Bella hello. Thursdays I TA’ed for an introductory geological engineering lab, attended the monthly SPE meeting, and led weekly book club meetings. Fridays I had office hours and additional meetings.
Early in the semester, my business plan partner Zack and I drove to Gillette to present at the Powder River Basin SPE monthly meeting. The trip takes 2.5 hours and mercifully, Zack drove us. That gave me five hours to put my feet up on the dash and chatter away. And write my presentation.
Going out to Butte for my last trip, I presented to the Billings SPE chapter over lunch. Both organizations supported me which made presenting my research and adventures to them a delightful diversion rather than an onerous task.
Yes, I walked at graduation. I have not missed one yet. When I crossed the stage, I beamed at several familiar faces. The Chancellor, teasing and somewhat bewildered, asked, “Really, Scyller?” and handed me the bachelor’s diploma cover. The Dean of Graduate Students jumped up and hugged me laughing, “Aren’t you doing this backward?”
And descending off the stage, a very kind woman who had no idea as to my background, history, or person, said moving my tassel from right to left, “You did it! You finished your bachelor’s degree and now great adventures are ahead! Your parents must be so proud!!”
I stood slack jawed for a moment and then grinned, “You have no idea.”