Last updated Thursday, September 27, 2007 10:04 AM . Best viewed at a monitor resolution of 1024x768 or better.
After not being able to go to sleep until 3:30 a.m. the previous night, we didn’t get up Saturday morning until 10 o’clock. It took the next three hours to get dressed and our stuff loaded into the Bounder. We were ready to put the car on the tow-trailer by one o’clock.
We got off to a rather awesome start. Awesome in the amount of damage I managed to do to my own car while trying to get it onto the trailer for the trip. Didn’t notice that the ramps had collapsed, hung the front end up on the trailer’s release brackets, and tore the whole front end of the car off when I tried to back off. I’d estimate cost of repairs at $2,000. Called our friend Bill who showed up with his friend Bill and together they got the car jacked up and off the trailer. We used baling wire & duct tape to the hanging front end piece onto the rest of the car, then got it properly onto the trailer and tied down. We finally hit the road at 3:30 in the afternoon and after an hour of slogging through Bay Area traffic, finally stopped at Cordelia for gas, some burgers, and a shopping excursion at Camping World where we ran into some old ferret friends of ours that we hadn’t seen in at least three years.
5:30 we were back on I-80 and headed for Sacramento with our destination severely cut back from the late start. If we could get over Donner Pass before dark, I’d be happy. As it was we pulled into Reno’s Boomtown Truck Stop/Casino/RV Park at 9:30.
We managed to get out on the road by 8:30. Being Sunday and Mothers Day, traffic through Reno/Sparks was light. After arriving out on the desert of the Great Basin east of Fernley, I pulled Blue Boy over and handed the driving off to Pat who handled the Bounder just fine for the next 100 miles. We pulled into Winnemucca for gas at 12:20 and after parting with $135 for the fill-up, got back on the road. We made a quick pit-stop at a rest area between Battle Mountain and Elko where a historical marker caught our attention for the year on its date of dedication: 6008. We also spotted a snake sunning in the grass behind the restrooms but by the time Pat got his camera ready, it started slithering off.
As soon as we hit the Utah line, I pulled over and gave Pat the hundred miles of Great Salt Lake Desert to drive. Bonnie, our talking navigation unit, provided us with a dandy shortcut around downtown Salt Lake City and we managed to get up through Emigrant Pass to Park City before the sun went down so that Pat could enjoy the scenery. We pulled into Evanston, Wyoming at 9:30 p.m., gassed up to the tune of $153 which inspired us to skip the cost of a campground and pull into the town’s Walmart parking lot where we could stay the night for free. The good news was that the Bounder, pulling a 3,000 pound car over the Sierra, the Great Basin, and Utah’s Wasatch Range had managed to rack up 8.5 miles per gallon and we were delighted!
By the time we woke up around 6:30 this morning in Evanston’s Walmart parking lot, our next door neighbors who had been asleep in the front seat of their station wagon when we pulled in last night, were already gone. Seagulls were flocking about the blacktop outside our windshield and Pat tore up a few slices of bread to toss out to them. There’s something about seagulls being in Wyoming that doesn’t quite fit one’s preconceptions of geography.
After coffee, Pat went into the Walmart to buy himself an eleven-dollar watch and a few odds & ends for the Bounder while I stayed put and drank more coffee. By eight o’clock we were back on I-80 eastbound and twelve miles out of town we got off onto U.S. 189 for the thirty mile trip up to Kemmerer. During the drive up the two-lane highway, Pat got to see his first antelope herds grazing along both sides of the road.
Now for those of you who don’t know, Pat will have been with JCPenney for 27 years come June 1st and James Cash Penney started his first store in Kemmerer back in 1902. For us it was a trip to the Mother Ship, though the company prefers to call it the Mother Store.
For Pat it was a journey back to his past working at the Berkeley JCPenney store in the 1980s. The town is so small that parking a 32’ Bounder towing a dolly and a car was no problem. Ample parking is not something we’re used to but we enjoyed immensely.
After immersing himself in the nostalgia of the store, he persuaded the store’s manager to walk us over to the home Mr. Penney lived in with his family back in his Kemmerer days. It’s now a museum for the town and has been restored to look as it did in the early 1900s. However, it isn’t officially open to the public before Memorial Day, so this private tour was rather special to us.
For the record, the name of the street running from the store to the house is J.C. Penney Drive and, of course, we got a picture of the street sign. We spent nearly an hour in the house before the manager had to get back to work and we had to get back on the highway if we were to make any miles across Wyoming today.
Rock Springs to Rawlins was fairly uneventful, but the next 200 miles to Cheyenne had us driving through rain and hail that covered the shoulders as well as winds that tried to blow all 25,000 pounds of us off the road.
We filled up with gas and had dinner at the old Husky Truckstop in Cheyenne that I used to frequent during my truck-driving days of the 1970s. It’s an Exxon now and the old Wyoming Port of Entry building next door is long gone.
By the time we hit the Nebraska state line, it was almost dark and when we finally pulled into the rest area at mile marker 52, not only was it dark, but the rain was coming down pretty hard. Of course, there are no hookups in rest areas and therefore no need to go outside and hookup. After a 500-mile day, we retired to the bedroom after feeding the cats and crashed & burned for the night.
We were well awake by 6:00 a.m., the result of bright sunshine lighting up the surrounding western Nebraska landscape and seeping through our window shades. Add to that we were in the eastern most portion of the Mountain Time Zone, hence the sun was coming up much earlier by our watches. After morning coffee and breakfast for the cats, we went outside to read the historical plaques and hiked to the top of the rest area’s hill which overlooked the surrounding North Platte Valley in which the nearby town of Sidney is located.
Since our late Satruday afternoon departure from Oakland we had driven over 1,300 miles and now had less than 250 miles to reach the Black Hills. Today would be an easy day of driving, hence we were in no hurry. I fired up the laptop and checked for campgrounds in the Black Hills on the database I had created before leaving home and decided we would set sail for the Mount Rushmore KOA.
We pulled out of the rest area around 9:30 and within ten minutes we were taking the Sidney offramp and turning north onto U.S. 385 for the 140-mile trek through Nebraska’s panhandle. From Sidney, the road passes through Bridgeport, Alliance, and Chadron as well as a handful of smaller towns before hitting the South Dakota border.
The BNSF railroad has a major switching yard in Alliance and the tracks parallel U.S. 385 all the way to Sidney. The tracks were filled with train after train of coal cars, full ones headed south, empty ones headed back to Montana and Wyoming for more coal. The historical plaques back at the rest area had mentioned a railroad built in the late 19th century from Deadwood, South Dakota down to Sidney to haul out the gold found in the Black Hills. Clearly, the BNSF now had the original right-of-way and coal was the new gold of the day.
We crossed into South Dakota just ten miles west of the western border of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the Black Hills appeared on the horizon of the vast prairie grasslands. Back in my flying days of the late 70s and early 80s, I used to fly two doctors from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha once a month for four years to Pine Ridge where one got off the plane and went into the reservation hospital in town while I flew the second to Hot Springs where the V.A. Center picked him up for the trip to the hospital there. I’d fly back to Pine Ridge to pick up the first doctor and after returning to the Hot Springs Airport, we’d both go into town. At this point I’d have two to three hours to kill while the doctors made their rounds at the V.A. hospital, so I’d walk down to Evans Plunge and go swimming at their indoor pool fed by the town’s namesake.
Forty minutes after crossing into South Dakota, we arrived in Hot Springs and I found a spot to park the Bounder while I showed Pat my old haunts around town. First we walked over to Evans Plunge and went inside where I noted a few changes from my days there 25 years ago, but overall things were pretty much the same. Next we hiked up the hill to the V.A. Center which on the outside hasn’t changed since it was built in the early 1900s. From there we took the grand staircase down the hill to walk along the riverfront. Overall, it was fun showing Pat a part of my history that for the past eleven years he could only imagine.
Buffalo in Wind Cave NP
Crazy Horse Monument
Prairie Dog in Wind Cave NP
Back in the Bounder we continued northward on 385, entering Wind Cave National Park. Initally I had planned to pass on through and return later in the week with the car after we had found a campground, but spotting Pat’s first buffalo herd and prairie dog village stopped us cold and I quickly pulled the rig over to a lookout point where we both jumped out armed with our cameras.
Five miles short of our turnoff to the Mount Rushmore KOA, we came across the Crazy Horse Monument and pulled over again to take pictures and chat with the fellow in the information kiosk. He advised us that the Rafter J Bar Ranch Campground was just a few miles up the road, had Wi-Fi, and we’d enjoy it much more than the KOA. After climbing down from the roof of the Bounder with some great shots of the Crazy Horse Monument, we got back onto 385 and within ten minutes were plopping down $173 for five nights at the Rafter J. After Pat made us a great dinner of quesadillas & Two-Buck-Chuck, we discovered that our water heater will not light. Stove works; furnace works; water heater will not light. Our cell phones don’t seem to be getting a very strong signal (Ø to 1 bar) either.
Tomorrow is Mount Rushmore!
Ok. We admit it: we’re snockered. After a whole day of seeing some of the most fabulous scenery in the entire country, we’ve come back to our Bounder and gotten drunk on Jim Beam & 7-Up. There are, thank God, times in life when life is so good that the only possible response is to imbibe to excess and wonder at the meaning of all that you’ve encountered on a particular day amongst thousands of one’s lifetime..
Yes, today was Mount Rushmore. True: we stole the Black Hills back from the Oglala Sioux tribe and as white men, we should be ashamed. But, damn it, it was a good day. We saw Mount Rushmore and followed that up with a trip to Custer State Park up Needles Highway. It was everything we could have hoped for; everything we hoped to see in our life times. It is hard to write this while inebriated, but the fact is that everything we saw and experienced today was all that we had ever dreamed of becoming part of.
It’s 9:00 a.m. as I write this while we’re waiting for the RV repair guy to come out from Custer to fix our temperamental water heater. Besides Mount Rushmore, yesterday was critter day and we managed to get fairly good photos of every creature we came upon: chipmunks, mountain goats, big horn sheep, and a huge buffalo herd with plenty of newborn calves.
After leaving Mount Rushmore, we turned south on U.S. 16A and drove down to Custer State Park crossing several pigtail bridges along the way. We turned north at Needles Highway which winds its way past cathedral spire rock formations and threads through half a dozen ten foot high by ten foot wide tunnels.
The water heater needed a new sensor that feeds the gas to the furnace to the tune of $94, the cheapest on-the-road repair bill we’ve ever had. By noon, we were off to visit Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
Yesterday we drove the 125 miles over to Devil’s Tower just north of Sundance, Wyoming. For whatever reason, it wasn’t as imposing as I had anticipated and the 80º heat left me borderline uncomfortable. However, like Wind Cave and Custer State Park in South Dakota, we got to see more prairie dogs which we probably photographed more than the tower itself. We’ll spare you the repetitious prairie dog photos but, as Pat says, we’ve seen more wildlife and been able to get up close and personal to it than on any other trip we’ve ever taken. And, as I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, nothing draws our attention more than animals. We did hike partially around the tower, but the heat drove us back to our air-conditioned car which, despite the front-end damage suffered at the beginning of this trip, drives just fine.
After Devil’s Tower, we returned to South Dakota and stopped in Deadwood which we had passed through on our way to Wyoming. We’re big fans of the HBO show Deadwood and the actual town was a major disappointment. Virtually every business along Main Street is a casino and one has to look hard to find any historical markers that hark back to the town’s colorful past though several of the casinos and hotels bore the names of characters we knew from the TV show.
We had a dickens of a time locating the town’s cemetery, Mt. Moriah, but fortunately it’s two most prominent residents’ graves (Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane) were clearly marked with large bronze historical markers a few feet away. Per her request, Jane, aka Martha Jane Canary-Burke, is buried along side of Wild Bill Hickok. Bill’s grave is marked with a five-foot tall bronze statue whereas Jane’s has a small bronze plaque.
The sixty-mile drive back to the campground was under black thundering clouds filled with lightening strikes that never produced rain on our road and we were relieved to arrive back at the Bounder to discover the cats had not gotten wet from the windows we had left open to keep them comfortable. The campground host told me upon our arrival that the rain had missed the campground by a mere half a mile.
Today we plan to drive over to the Badlands east of Rapid City and get back in time to see the evening lighting ceremony of Mount Rushmore. The good news is the passes we bought to enter many of these local attractions are good for a month. But first I plan to jump in the shower for the first time since we left California now that our water heater has been repaired. Pat’s already had his shower this morning and is reposed on the sofa reading a book as I write this.
The trip has fallen into it’s own rhythm that is just plain relaxing. Up at seven or so, make the coffee if we forgot to set the coffee maker the previous night, have two or three cups, then download the previous day’s photos onto the external hard drive first, then into iPhoto as a backup. This morning I decided to check/respond to email before doing the photo downloads from both cameras, cropping, lighting adjustments, and writing the website copy while Pat reads a book and the cats enjoy the morning breezes flowing through the Bounder after their breakfast. We’re all just laid back and totally lazy. And it’s still not ten o’clock! I don’t think we’ve ever gotten into the car to go off for the day to explore prior to noon. But with daylight savings time that still leaves us over eight hours to see the local sights.
Yesterday we left the campground in a late morning thunderstorm and drove the 125 miles out onto the prairie to visit Badlands National Park. I first visited Badlands in 1970 and admission was free. On a return trip in 1972 the local Lakota Sioux had set up a toll booth at the entrance and were charging ten bucks to get in. Badlands graduated from National Monument status to National Park in 1978 and this time the entrance fee was fifteen dollars, which as the rangers told us, the local Indians now receive 25% of. The temperature at the campground was 77º when we left and 92º when we arrived in the Badlands. However, it was a very dry heat and not that uncomfortable. As I write this this morning, the blue skies have turned to gray cumulous and thunder can be heard in the distance, the harbinger of what we’ve come to expect of typical mid-morning weather here.
Pat was awed by the Badlands and took lots of pictures of the tiny prairie flowers. In particular he was amazed by the total silence of the area, broken only by the occasion breeze or the rare passing vehicle. Indeed, the best part of this trip has been the time of year when tourists are few and we have the sights and highways almost entirely to ourselves.
Pat has learned to put his camera up through the sunroof of the car and simply shoot to get the passing scenery as I drive down the road and he’s managed to get some rather awesome pictures like the surrounding grasslands above. Of course a mountain goat lounging on the side of the road forces us to pull over and get out of the car with our cameras. But the road through the Badlands is only twenty-five or so miles long and eventually we found ourselves driving out after a three-hour stop-shoot-go journey.
On the 70-mile drive eastbound on I-90 from Rapid City, Pat was cracking up over all the roadside billboards for Wall Drug that harkened back to both of our childhood traveling days of the fifties and sixties. Much to his chagrin, I shot right past the outpost village of Wall on the way to the eastern entrance to the Badlands but now that we were exiting the western end of the park, and more Wall Drug billboards appeared along the side of the two-lane road, he could hardly wait for me to cover the nine miles into town.
While I gassed the Chrysler at the BP station, Pat ran over to photograph the 80-foot concrete dinosaur that looked out over the prairie. From there it was a four-block drive to the infamous Wall Drug. And, unlike the Bay Area, we were able to park right in front despite the several hundred other tourists who had been drawn in by the ubiquitous billboards across the entire 400 miles of South Dakota. Small town; ample street parking. Well… at least at this time of the year.
Nothing spells tacky tourist spot like Wall Drug! The place is absolutely huge!! Museums, photo galleries, kitschy oversized critter replicas, jewelry stores, rock shops, fudge shops… it went on forever as one of those places that celebrates its own tackiness. And, by God, it works! The place is it’s own throwback to the distant American traveling past and people eat it all up just for the memory of what has finally disappeared from the American highway and it brings back those distant memories of traveling as children with our parents and grandparents.
Here we are with our motorhomes and digital cameras and laptop computers harking back to the days when we actually slept in tents on the ground and constantly called out to dad, “Are we there yet?” As strange as it may seem, Wall Drug actually brought tears to our eyes as our minds were flooded with wonderful distant memories and the sadness that our parents couldn’t be with us to enjoy it all over again.
So, here I am, placing an unsolicited ad on the internet for Wall Drug. And, yes, we did pick up one of those infamous bumper stickers seen on vehicles from coast to coast that reads “Where the heck is Wall Drug?” We also bought two Wall Drug coffee mugs with our names on them. You see, you don’t stop there for the shopping, the eating, or the tacky kitsch. You stop there for the memories.
Yesterday we took a vacation from our vacation and never left the campground. Thundershowers moved into the area late in the morning and hung around until late afternoon, so I took the opportunity to catch up on the website and Pat got in some serious reading. Didn’t take any photos other than of the cats snoozing through the sound of rain on the roof. In the middle of it all Pat fixed soup and sandwiches and afterwards I laid down for a two-hour nap.
Around dinner time Pat went out to meet our next door neighbors who have been parked along side us all week but whom we hadn’t actually seen. Frank and his wife are from southern California, but both are transplants from New York City, he from Brooklyn, she from Queens. The four of us sat around the picnic table trading war stories for the better part of two hours while the sun disappeared over the hills and a chilly breeze made me feel like we were on Pier 43 watching the Fourth of July fireworks in San Francisco. Like us, this was the loop-around point for Frank and his wife who were leaving in the morning for Yellowstone. After the goodbyes, Pat and I returned to Blue Boy’s interior, closed the windows, dropped the shades, and found a repeat episode of Law & Order to watch. In the middle of the show I felt the Bounder lurch and was about to go out to see who was messing with our rig when Pat said it was only the wind. I wasn’t convinced but didn’t really want to go out anyway. This morning we discovered that our rainbow flag, proudly flying from our roof access ladder on the back of the rig, had been stolen.
Last night was the first night on this trip that we had to run the furnace to stay warm from the cold front that passed through. Thunderstorms dumped rain on us nearly all night, but this morning we awoke to blue skies and very comfortable temperatures. Today is travel day, time to leave South Dakota behind and head for Custer Battlefield in Montana. So, we were up at 6:30, have had our morning coffee, Pat already has the chairs stored underneath the coach, email has been checked, and I’ve done my duty for the website until next we have internet access. Time to go!
After an hour stop-off to visit Little Big Horn Battlefield just before closing, we’ve pulled into Grandview Campground in Hardin, Montana at 6 p.m. Our big concern of the day was that we were running low on propane. Stopped in Belle Fourch, SD for gas but couldn’t get propane because the fellow who pumps it has Sundays off. So we stuck it out to Hardin where Blue Boy took 14.5 gallons to fill a 15-gallon tank. In other words, we were running on fumes and Pat would not have been able to cook the meatloaf that is currently in the oven as I write this while he has gone next door to the neighbors to meet their dog.
A recap on yesterday’s travels: We hit the road out of the Rafter J Campground around 9 o’clock, this time having no problems getting the car on the dolly. Pat happily snapped going-down-the-road photos of Pactola Reservoir, downtown Deadwood as we drove through for the final time, the rolling prairie grasslands of South Dakota & southeastern Montana, and the low pine-covered forests through the Cheyenne and Crow Indian Reservations. At current count he’s taken 497 photos to my 237. Thank God for digital cameras or the film processing bill when we get home would break the bank. Of course, waiting for the prints to come back would also add to the difficulty of remembering by then what the heck we had taken pictures of.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument has recently been renamed from the original moniker, Custer Battlefield, as a peace offering to the five tribes who also lost several hundred braves at the infamous Custer’s Last Stand. The monument you see at the left is where the bodies of the 7th Calvary were first buried in 1881, five years after the battle. Eventually, Custer’s remains were disinterred and reburied at West Point, New York.
There is also a burial mound for the horses of the 7th Calvary, who, upon orders from Custer, were shot dead to provide cover from the approaching Indians. Even the five Indian tribes have a burial site for their casualties.
Oddly, this stop didn’t have the emotional pull that choked Pat at Mount Rushmore. The place is just plain quiet save for the wind blowing across the low rolling hills of the prairie and the sound of meadowlarks singing their hearts out. But for the tombstones, one has a hard time imagining that one of the most infamous battles of all time took place here on June 25-26, 1876.
We sit here this morning in one of the most forlorn campgrounds we’ve ever spent a night at, albeit out of necessity. No internet access here, so although I’m writing this at seven in the morning, it won’t be uploaded until we reach a campground with internet access. For all intents and purposes, yesterday was just plain miserable. Rain showers fell through pretty much the entire state of Montana and we slogged our way through what were often torrential downpours coupled with hefty winds that rocked us back and forth across the roads we drove.
Pat took the photo here at left of Blue Boy just before we rolled out of our campground in Hardin and you can see how threatening the sky is. Fact is, it had rained through much of the previous night, making for good sleeping. The rain started soon after we had arrived there and fortunately, Grandview Campground had a cable TV hookup which we took full advantage of before calling it a day.
For those of you who do not know me, since age 22 I’ve had the goal of visiting every county in every state. So yesterday morning we set out for Garfield County in central Montana, one of two I had left on my list for completing the state. Chasing counties has its own reward: taking one down backroads less traveled to places rarely seen by others. From Hardin we jumped onto I-90 and headed to Billings where we turned north on U.S. 87 to Roundup. Ultimately we backtracked eastward on Montana 200 just across the county line into Garfield County where we stopped at a rest area for soup and sandwiches.
The rest area turned out to be historically fascinating, built upon a hill overlooking the Musselshell River valley, just 35 miles south of where it empties into the Missouri. Several signs were erected to inform visitors of the local geology and history, but one in particular caught my attention by tickling my funny bone. Who says historians don’t have a sense of humor?
Fort Musselshell was located on the Missouri River about 35 miles north of here. It was a trading post in the ’60s and ’70s and as such had a brief but colorful career. The only whites in that part of the state were woodchoppers for the Missouri River steamboats, wolfers, trappers, and Indian traders.
The River Crows and Gros Ventre Indians traded there. A buffalo robe brought them 3 cups of coffee, or 6 cups of sugar, or 10 cups of flour. It was a tolerably profitable business from the traders standpoint.
The Assiniboine and Sioux regarded this post as an amusement center where bands of ambitious braves could lie in ambush and get target practice on careless whites.
During the cattle days of the 80’s the mouth of the Musselshell became a cattle rustlers hangout but after a Vigilance Committee stretched a few of them they seemed to lose interest.
For twenty miles we doubled back over highway we had already driven to make our way west and north towards Liberty County, nestled along the Canadian border between Shelby and Havre. Our worst downpours were encountered in the Judith Basin while trekking westward along Montana 200 towards Great Falls. As it turned out, the only photos taken outside all day were of the rest area back in Garfield County, but fortunately Pat kept clicking away through the windshield when it was clear enough of rain to get a shot. When rain wasn’t obliterating the windshield, bugs were splattering all across it as evident in this photo to the right.
By the time we rolled into Great Falls around 7:00 p.m. I was exhausted from fighting the weather with a steering wheel and we looked for a truckstop to gas up first, and then a campground. There are neither along Highway 200 through Montana’s second largest city. Ten miles north of town on I-15, I gassed up at a Sinclair while Pat shopped for groceries. With no campgrounds in the area, we got back on the interstate. Forty miles later we pulled into a rest area, but the signs clearly announced that camping or overnight parking were strictly prohibited. We were beginning to feel like Mary & Joseph.
Back on the interstate northbound, I fought my way up never-ending steep grades while trying to maintain the middle of my lane in strong buffeting winds and wave after wave of showers. Pat got out the magnifying glass to read the fine print in the Woodall’s Guide and discovered a campground in the small town of Conrad, just 58 miles south of the Canadian border.
The campground’s name is Pondera, named for the county the town of Conrad is in. One pull-through was left and we took it. The space is so short that our car & dolly remain at a 45º angle blocking the campground drive behind us. The owner advised us that the nature of her business was feast or famine and she was stunned to find her campground filled to capacity when she returned from her granddaughter’s piano recital.
Obviously we weren’t the only RVers to have been beaten into submission by the day’s horrible weather. Our water hook-up didn’t work, so she discounted the usual $24 fee to $20 cash. And just as I was handing her the twenty, the town’s air raid siren went off. The owner advised me not to worry: every night for the past 35 years, it goes off at 9 p.m. to signal that all kids must be off the streets. Those caught out after nine will be driven home to their parents by the town’s police cruiser. If only that would work back home in Oakland!
Shortly after we hooked the Bounder up to sewer, electric, and TV cable in the rain, we retreated quickly inside where Pat made dinner of meatloaf sandwiches and creamed soup. No drinks this night; neither of us was in the mood for alcohol. Soon after dinner, with the thermostat set to 70º and all three cats in bed with us, we switched on the TV and watched Leno’s monolog and Monday night headlines before turning out the lights and burying our heads in our pillows. It rained all night and it’s still raining this morning. Should be another fun day, but after I get done rolling my daily ration of cigarettes, we’re outta here!
We finally arrived here at the Mountain Meadow RV Park & Campground in Hungry Horse, Montana at 3:00 p.m. after 300 miles of torturous prairie winds and rain which didn’t abate until we passed through East Glacier and acquired the protection of the mountains. And, it’s sunny here!! 60º! Quite a step up from the 43º we encountered driving over the rest of the prairie and the snowshowers just past East Glacier. We paid for four nights and drove to our site where we quickly hooked up the electric and water. I thought it odd that a campground with Wi-Fi wouldn’t have sewer hookups, so I went back to the office to make sure. The owner assured us there were sewer hookups and accompanied me back to the site to show me its location, completely buried by a ground squirrel under a juniper bush. No cable TV though. Otherwise, all is well and the cats were out of their hiding spots within two minutes of shutting the Bounder’s engine off.
One thing that caught our attention immediately when we went outside to do the hookups was the road mud completely covering the car. The back end and sides of the Bounder were pretty dirty too. The car’s windshield washer pump had been destroyed on a previous incident with driving the car onto the tow-dolly, so we got out the Windex and glass squijy to see well enough to drive into Columbia Falls to a car wash.
On the way back, we turned down the main drag in Columbia Falls and found a good Mexican restaurant where we had dinner, a nice relaxing conclusion to a day that started out quite badly but ended with warmth and sunshine.
It’s sad when you return to a place you fondly remember after 30 years and discover it no longer bears any resemblance to the nostalgic image you had in your head. So it is with Hungry Horse, Montana which I recall as a quaint western town nestled in a tight little valley with a two-lane road snaking its way through it. A four-lane highway now runs straight through the middle and what little remains of the town is safely set back a hundred yards or more from each side. A local we met in our travels today said the town died with the logging industry twenty years ago. Well, I suppose Custer wouldn’t recognize his battlefield, Wild Bill Hickok certainly wouldn’t recognize Deadwood, and James Cash Penney would no longer recognize Kemmerer. But at least a hundred years has passed for those folks and I’m still alive.
We did our usual slow creep into our day, getting up at seven, having the morning coffee, followed by email and a shower for me, litter-box cleaning and house straightening for Pat. Eventually we got into the car, but neither of us has any idea when, and headed out of the campground to see the local sights. Pat threw me a curve when he said he wanted first to see Hungry Horse Reservoir and save Glacier NP for later.
The forest road up to the 30-mile long reservoir tucked in a mountain valley is paved for the first twelve miles and after yesterday’s necessary car wash, we elected not to go further along the additional fifty miles of gravel. The views from along the forest road are made up of scenery only found in Hollywood’s best movies or well-produced car commercials. I concluded that the only thing that keeps Hungry Horse Reservoir from becoming one of America’s most popular tourist destinations is the fact that Glacier National Park is less than ten miles away. But it truly is a gem in and of itself.
After a few hours of driving along the shoreline of the reservoir, we headed back to the main highway and south to Kalispell. Nothing much to see there, though Pat had me stop for him to buy a carton of cigarettes. So, we shot down U.S. 93 along the west shore of Flathead Lake, at 27 miles long by an average of 7 miles wide, nearly as big as Lake Tahoe, if not bigger. Clouds obliterated the sun and threatened us with rain which never materialized. We stopped off at a Dairy Queen in Lakeside for lunch before continuing southward along Flathead Lake’s western shoreline. We turned around at Polson at the south end and headed back along the eastern shore on Montana 35, getting back to the campground around 4:30 after a 150 mile day.
Our arrival here on Tuesday afternoon was a welcome sight with the blue skies and sunshine after all the miserable miles of wind and showers across the prairie. Yesterday’s trip to Hungry Horse Reservoir started off nice enough but when we headed down the road to Kalispell and did our drive around Flathead Lake, we kept encountering showers. By the time we sat down to Pat’s fabulous dinner of chicken breasts and a chicken soup-cheese-noodle casserole and had our first sip of wine for the day, the showers hit the campground and steadily increased in intensity all night long. We rented The Last King of Scotland on DVD down at the campground store for four bucks and by the end of the movie, we had the TV’s sound up to maximum to hear the dialog over the torrents of rain on the Bounder’s roof. Needless to say, we slept quite well last night, as did the cats, and middle-of-the-night potty runs revealed that the rain didn’t stop until sometime after 4:30 in the morning.
This morning we woke up to broken clouds with the sun streaming through a few large sections of blue sky. We also discovered we no longer had Wi-Fi internet service from our campsite and a quick trip down to the campground office informed us that last night’s rain had shut down the network and the owner was going into town today to buy a new router.
By nine o’clock we were down on the highway getting gas at Bob’s Sinclair and decided as long as we were there, we’d have breakfast in Bob’s Cafe. I had a Denver omelet while Pat had the pancakes and while waiting for our orders to come out of the kitchen, we both read various sections of the local paper. I even did the Word Scramble and took a shot at the crossword puzzle. It was close to eleven when we pulled into West Glacier and paid the fifteen dollars to enter the park. We were barely out of the toll gate when the sunshine disappeared for what became the rest of the day and we drove along Going To The Sun Highway beside Lake McDonald, an emerald green glacial finger of water nearly ten miles long peppered with white caps from the heavy winds that skimmed across it. Fortunately, the road was protected by 100+ foot-high spruce and aspen forest that made the 40 mph drive rather pleasant.
Unfortunately, at this time of year, Going To The Sun Highway is not open across the passes and we could only go sixteen miles before being stopped by a barricade across the road prohibiting vehicular traffic beyond Avalanche Creek Campground. So, we parked the car and hiked (which was allowed) about a mile further up the road where we discovered some rather spectacular rapids and falls in McDonald Creek which paralleled the roadway. When we realized we’d probably have to go another ten miles before we would be able to see any spectacular mountain/glacier views, we turned back towards the parking lot where we had left the car.
By the time we got back, the last of the day’s sunshine had disappeared behind the light gray overcast that would occasionally sprinkle a few drops of rain upon us, but generally held its water. So, we decided to hike the 7/10 mile loop Trail of the Cedars Nature Trail, a nice flat wooden boardwalk through a dense forest of, what else?, cedar trees. At the halfway point is a wooden bridge just below the narrow boulder-sided rapids that squeeze Avalanche Creek through a chute filled with roaring water. It was on the bridge we met a couple and their sister from the U.K. and the five of us decided to hike the additional 1.7 miles up to Avalanche Lake. No nice wooden walkway on this trail, but rather a ruddy shale and muddy pathway along the side of the mountain which veered far enough away from Avalanche Creek that in many places we could no longer hear it much less see it.
These folks were just a tad older than us, say mid-to-late sixties. Carol, the sister of the wife, and the only one who’s name I ever learned, had had half of one of her lungs removed, so some of the ascents on the trail caused us to take frequent breaks while she caught her breath. The husband had had heart surgery the previous year and stets installed in his arteries, but he seemed to have no trouble with the hike whatsoever. Pat and I took turns hiking beside and chatting with each of them and all in all, it was quite fun… until it started to rain. Fortunately the forest canopy kept us from getting soaked, but it did make the trail much more muddy. After thirty minutes we began to wonder if we would ever reach the lake and indeed returning hikers advised us that we were still at least thirty more minutes away, but the effort would be well-rewarded with spectacular scenery. Carol was determined not to give up after this much effort and we persevered, hoping the light rain would not get any worse.
Along the way, the husband and I encountered a deer that walked within ten feet of us totally unconcerned with our presence and he got a few photos of it. The map we got at the park’s entrance indicated once we arrived at the lake, we’d be able to see a few glaciers up on the snow-covered peaks but instead, as we rounded the last bend in the trail where the lake came into view, heavy clouds descended down to just a few hundred feet off the lake’s surface, obliterating the surrounding mountains, and opened up with a torrential downpour that sent us scurrying under the boughs of tall trees for cover. Temperatures were in the mid to low forties, comfortable enough unless one is wet. Everyone had their cameras stashed inside their jackets to protect them from the rain and the view was nothing more than dead trees amidst a thriving forest surrounding a dismal lake being battered by rain that obscured scenery we knew must have been there if only the clouds were not obscuring it.
Suddenly the rain changed appearance and we realized it was now mixed with snow! In his nearly 57 years, Pat had never seen snow falling out of the sky short or fifteen measly flurries, more akin to dandruff, float down in Trenton, New Jersey. Despite his trying to stay relatively dry in the shelter of the boughs of a spruce, I called him over and told him to look out at the downpour on the lake closely. The ground temperature was nowhere near freezing and I assumed the phenomena would quickly revert to just rain.
I needn’t have worried. Within three minutes the rain stopped, replaced entirely by a Courier & Ives winter print of huge flakes of snow pouring all around us from the sky. Pat was so excited! He kept going on about this being just how it looked in the movies, apparently missing the point that the movies had stolen the scene from nature. So, the hike was not without its reward after all. We didn’t get to see what we had come to see but ended up seeing something totally unexpected that only the five of us plus a couple from Florida who met up with us at lakeside were seeing. I was half apologizing to the U.K. couple for the crappy weather when the wife quipped back that in the U.K. they almost always go on hikes in bad weather. “If we waited for good weather,” she said, “we’d never get to see anything!”
As you can see from the photo above, photographing falling snow is quite difficult. In fact, my camera’s viewfinder was so fogged up, I didn’t know if I was capturing any photo at all until we got home to the campground in Hungry Horse. Our concern at this point was we might be witnessing the beginning of a mountain blizzard and could get caught out in it before we hiked back to the trail head. So, off we went with Carol in the lead who was setting such a fast pace that the rest of us had difficulty keeping up. We made it back to the parking lot in one hour, fifteen minutes flat dodging snowflakes all the way and yielding to partial sunshine just as we arrived. What a fun hike! It had become a shared adventure that our newfound U.K. friends, as well as us, will remember forever.
It started raining again as we left in the car and returned to the campground. We stopped by the office to rent another DVD, Pat warmed up leftovers, and after dinner we watched another movie to the sound of another downpour that lasted long past bedtime.
We went to bed last night with major aches & pains from the hike to Avalanche Lake and when I awoke this morning I had major difficulty standing up and shuffling through the Bounder. In particular my ankles were giving me trouble and I suspect it was the result of Carol’s Mario Andretti pace from the lake back to the parking lot. Thighs, calves, even my back were all screaming for mercy. And this hike had been nowhere near as difficult as last year’s hike up to Vernal Falls in Yosemite. At least a good night’s sleep had me fairly recuperated from that one!
By this morning we were having major internet withdrawal as we awoke to another morning of failure to connect to the campground’s Wi-Fi. Yesterday during a momentary lapse in non-coverage by Cingular we were able to pick up our voice mails and learned that one of our best friends was in the hospital back in Council Bluffs, Iowa and I was getting frustrated by our inability to call for an update or even email our concern. This morning I took the laptop down to a picnic table outside the campground office where I was able to get a wireless connection and while I emailed our friend’s partner, Pat walked out in the meadow and managed to reach him on one of our cell phones.
As we did one day last week back in South Dakota, today we took a day off from our vacation to just vege out. Pat did laundry and walked across the highway to the Montana Fur Trading Company where he bought a stunning onyx, opal, turquoise, lapis, and silver pendant. Thank God he passed on the $200 print he fell in love with which he said, despite how much he liked, simply wouldn’t fit in with any of our decor at home.
Mid-afternoon Kent Foster of the Montana chapter of Rainbow RV pulled in from Bozeman with his rig and came over and chatted for a few hours with us. By the time Kent arrived the campground’s Wi-Fi was back up and running and I no longer have to take the laptop down to the office to retrieve email.
Tomorrow morning we break camp and head westward to Washington state. Weather today: mostly cloudy, occasional sunshine, and no rain… so far!
Today was travel day and after saying goodbye to Kent and the campground hosts, we stopped at Bob’s Sinclair in Hungry Horse to fill up Blue Boy. It was our first fill since Great Falls and I got a rather nasty surprise when I calculated the fuel economy on the previous tank: it had dropped to 6.45 mpg, our lowest on the trip and by more than a mile to the gallon. Was this due to the heavy winds we encountered during the past 276 miles or was Blue Boy showing the first sign of some serious engine problem? I’d have to pay even closer attention to every nuance of the motorhome’s performance while driving today. As soon as we pulled out of Bob’s, Bonnie, our talking GPS navigation unit kept losing her satellite signal and getting utterly lost which resulted in us turning around in Columbia Falls when we should have made a turn before getting there. It took seven re-programs before Bonnie locked in, settled down, and finally started navigating properly.
Our route out of the Glacier valley took us down along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake on Montana 35, the same road we had driven in the car on our circumnavigation of the lake two days earlier. It was the fastest route to Roslyn, Washington and completely different from the route I had originally planned across U.S. 2 which meanders its way across the rest of western Montana and the stovepipe of Idaho. But today marked the beginning of our last week of vacation, so I decided to speed things up a bit. A hundred miles later we were turning onto the entrance ramp of westbound I-90, just outside Missoula.
By mid-afternoon we made the top of Lookout Pass and began the steep descent into the small town of Mullan, Idaho. Pat’s first time in Idaho had been our 2004 vacation where he had seen the wheat and potato fields of the agricultural southwest part of the state and he had been left with the impression that Idaho was all about farms and desert. Now he was seeing the mountains and evergreens for which the state is better known.
Mullan was the hometown of Pat’s former partner of ten years, Danny Gill, who had moved there at age eleven with his family from Ironwood, Michigan and got the hell out as soon as he was old enough to fend for himself. During his ten year relationship with Danny, Pat had spent many hours on the phone with Danny’s relatives back in Mullan, so it was quite fascinating for him to see the small mining town nestled in a narrow verdant valley for the first time. Likewise, he’d heard so much about Coeure d’Alene and forty miles further up the freeway we drove along the shores of the town’s famous lake.
Six miles short of the Washington border, we pulled into a rest area in Post Falls where our cell phones indicated full coverage and placed a call to our friends Guy & Heath back in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Guy was the one we had learned via voice mail on Day 13 had been hospitalized and we were delighted that he answered their phone at home. The doctors have given him a clean bill of health and the crisis has passed. And a week from today, he and Heath leave for their own Las Vegas vacation.
After fifteen minutes of gabbing I pulled back out onto the freeway and headed into Spokane. Couldn’t stop for state line welcome photos this time: Washington erects its sign in the median strip and Idaho’s was nearly half a mile back from the line. Plus there was no safe place to pull over. Hence the Welcome to Idaho image above was stolen off the internet and the Welcome to Washington shot was taken two days later in Anacortes. Once we got to Ritzville I let Pat try his hand at driving again but the crosswinds of central Washington made him nervous and he never hit his stride. After twenty miles of wobbling in our lane, I had him pull off an exit and got back behind the wheel. The short twenty mile relief driving was enough for me to catch my second wind.
Eventually we crossed the Columbia River Gorge, ascended up Ryegrass Mountain to the plateau, and within an hour pulled into Ellensburg for gas. Blue Boy sucked up 57 gallons to the tune of $190. I held my breath as I worked the figures into the calculator and, Voilá!, we were back at 8.5 mpg!! So, it had been the prairie winds after all and Blueboy was as healthy as could be.
Roslyn was a short 25 miles from Ellensburg, and after a little research in the Rand McNally Road Atlas, we decided we’d pull into a rest area for the night that was just three miles short of the Roslyn exit. Pat had already determined from the Woodall’s Guide that there were no campgrounds in the area. Every rest area we had passed since entering Washington had indicated it had Wi-Fi, so that would be an added bonus.
When we pulled into the Indian John Rest Area at nine o’clock, Pat set about feeding the cats and making dinner and I parked myself at the dining table to roll another pack of cigarettes. We’d covered 506 miles today and I was too tired to check out the rest area’s Wi-Fi tonight. After dinner of tuna fish sandwiches and the previous night’s leftover noodles & cheese, we both collapsed into bed by ten and were sound asleep by 10:00:30.
When you’ve gone to bed the previous night at ten o’clock and slept like a boulder all night through, 6:00 a.m. comes pretty easy. Unfortunately our first stop of the day was only ten miles away and it was Sunday morning. I checked the rest area’s proclaimed Wi-Fi hotspot and discovered it was quite cold; no signal at all. But that didn’t stop me from writing yesterday’s adventures for later posting to the net while the coffee perked.
Back home we’ve recently started watching re-runs of Northern Exposure on the Universal Network in HD and become hooked all over again. The show ran for six seasons starting back in 1990 and its subtle, off-beat humor keeps us in stitches. Since we were in the neighborhood we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Cicely, Alaska aka Roslyn, Washington where the show was filmed. Okay, so the majority of the show was filmed on a Hollywood backlot, but all the outdoor shots were done in Roslyn.
We arrived in town at 9:00 a.m. and parked across the street from The Brick bar, the center of activity for the show and coincidentally, the oldest bar in the State of Washington. Pat was the first to spot the Minnefield Communications Network’s KBHR and we peeked into the window from where Chris In The Morning (played by John Corbett) broadcast his radio show. The old vinyl records and stacks of cassette tapes were still on the walls and Chris’ chair sat empty behind the table from which he looked out at the goings on along Cicely’s Pennsylvania Avenue across from The Brick.
A short walk up the street we happened upon the office of Dr. Joel Fleischman (played by Rob Morrow) which now serves as the Cicely’s Gift Shop. A piece of the original plate glass window that had Dr. Fleischman’s name painted on it is proudly displayed in the window to the left of the door. Of course during the show, the sign was on the window right of the door. But at least they bothered to keep it.
Next we headed over to Roslyn’s Cafe which, strangely, during the run of the show, never served as a cafe. The Brick always had that role. In the show, Roslyn’s Cafe serves only as a backdrop to the moose wandering the street during the opening and closing credits. Anyway, we went inside the Roslyn Cafe and had breakfast. Most of the tables are covered with photos of the town’s past but only one of those contained photos from the filming of the TV series that made the town famous. Pat told me he had read somewhere on the internet that the majority of Roslyn’s residents (860) were opposed to having their town filmed for fear of losing its quaintness to gawking tourists like ourselves. Indeed, when I asked our waitress how much of her business came from tourists seeking a connection to the TV show, she quipped back, “What TV show?”
On our way back up the street we wondered which of the buildings had served as Ruth-Anne’s (played by the late Peg Philips) grocery store. We settled on the town’s hardware store and before heading back across the street to the Bounder, walked into the town’s Sundries & Liquor store where we had spotted Northern Exposure sweatshirts for sale while glancing through the plate glass. The new owner quickly told us that when she bought the business back in December she was told that this building had been the one used in the show for Ruth-Anne’s grocery/hardware store/post office.
By eleven o’clock we were back onto westbound I-90 and headed up Snoqualmie Pass where we encountered rain. By the time we drove through the outskirts of Seattle and downtown Bellevue, it had become a heavy shower with clouds and fog adding to the cautious driving conditions. The rain had stopped by the time we pulled into a rest area just north of Everett, but the skies remained overcast all the rest of the way into Anacortes. Given that it was Memorial Day weekend, I had Pat pick a campground from the Woodall’s Guide and call ahead for reservations. We arrived here at the Pioneer Trails RV Resort & Campground in Anacortes, Washington at two o’clock this afternoon. The only site they had left was a “super site” for fifty bucks a night. Turned out it wasn’t a pull-through and we had to unload the car and disconnect the trailer before backing the Bounder in. Once we were hooked up, we discovered we had a flat tire on the inside starboard duals. Of course, with a three-day holiday weekend, we’ll have to wait until Tuesday to have it fixed. In the meantime, I raised the rear levelers high enough to take the weight of the rig off the wheels.
Pat and I took a walking tour around the campground and in the process I noticed that unlike every other campground we’ve stayed at before, the majority of campers were from in-state. In fact we discovered only two other license plates besides our own that weren’t from Washington and one of those was British Columbia, a scant 40 miles away. We never did eat dinner last night. I sat out at the desk writing the Roslyn story while Pat got into bed and surfed the television for shows to watch. He was already asleep when I turned in for the night.
Being Memorial Day, we knew we weren’t going to get the flat tire fixed, so by ten o’clock we were down at the Anacortes Ferry terminal. A schedule check back at the campground indicated that the ferries ran from Anacortes to Friday Harbor roughly every 90 minutes and we printed our own ticket out from the laptop before we left the campground. What the brochures didn’t tell us was the ferries had a holiday schedule and the gal at the parking lot informed us the next ferry to Friday Harbor wouldn’t leave until 2:40. It would probably be loaded, she went on to say, and we should probably be back at the terminal by 1:30 if we wanted to be sure we could get on. The last ferry to Friday Harbor had left at 8:30.
So, we drove back into Anacortes, found a cafe, and had breakfast. I don’t know how else to describe Anacortes other than to say it is sterile. The streets are wide, the buildings varied in architecture, and there’s something definitely lacking that I just can’t put words to. There were also very few people on the streets. We drove around and eventually found a city park atop a hill overlooking the town’s harbor on one side and Puget Sound on the other.
The ferry trip to the San Juan Islands was beautiful and took a little over an hour to arrive at Friday Harbor which, at first glance, appeared just as sterile as Anacortes. We had printed out a map from our laptop prior to coming over, but San Juan Island has no highway markers and it proved nearly useless beyond suggesting where we might be as we drove down narrow two lane roads. We ended up at Roche Harbor on the island’s northwest side, but even that did not provide us with any good views of the sound or Vancouver Island in Canada, a scant seven miles away. Essentially all we saw on San Juan Island were green meadows which occasionally contained sheep or cattle, and vacation homes hidden away in the evergreen forests.
After an hour we found our way back to Friday Harbor and decided to catch the 6:30 ferry back to Anacortes rather than wait for the eight o’clock run. The attendant directed us into a lane and informed us we were number 20 on the overflow list. We left the car at the dock and walked around town to peer into the shops which, for the most part, were already closed. I found a restroom inside a grocery store and beyond that there wasn’t much else to do unless we wanted to go into a bar and drink; all of them were open. We walked back to the dock and Pat went into a shop to get us some fudge to eat while we sat on a park bench and watched the other tourists walk by.
The 6:30 ferry was nearly twenty minutes late coming in and we ended up being one of the last four cars they were able to squeeze onto it. The ride back to Anacortes was 65 minutes of stunning scenery: the skies over Puget Sound were a beautiful bright blue and Mount Baker could be seen easily as well as the Olympic Mountains which we plan to visit as soon as we get back on the road.
It was nearly nine o’clock when we got back to Pioneer Trails. Pat fed the cats and then made Spanish omelettes for dinner. By ten, we were in bed asleep.
Before we could pull out of Pioneer Trails campground in Anacortes, we had to get the flat tire fixed. I pulled the Bounder’s satchel out of the drivers’ side cabinet and picked my way through all of the systems literature in hope that I had had the good sense to put the Goodyear warrantee and road service contract in there. Of course, by the time I found it, it was still only 6:30 and I decided to read the fine print of the document to kill the time before businesses traditionally open up at eight o’clock. To my horror, under the “Exclusions & Limitations” section, I read the following:
“The following vehicles are not eligible for coverage: Vehicles with a manufacturer’s load rating capacity greater than one-ton. Any vehicle with a load capacity of one-ton or greater designed for, built for or used in a commercial application or private recreation application including, but not limited to, Class A (or Type A) Motorhomes…”
They’re kidding, right? I mean, my own Goodyear dealer in San Leandro wouldn’t knowingly sell me a $270 Road Hazard Protection Plan for the $2,500 tires I bought from him on May 30, 2006 that were now just one day short of their first birthday, that Goodyear clearly spelled out would not apply to our motorhome?
I called the 800 number listed on the brochure promptly at 8:00 a.m. and was immediately dumped into phone-tree hell. Phone-trees are even more frustrating when one is using a cell phone because one must take the phone away from the ear and carefully tap the required digits on the tiny keypad using one’s fingernails, then quickly get the receiver back to the correct spot next to the ear in time not to miss the next instruction. The recorded advisories I had to wade through before being connected to a human were even more discouraging. In effect they informed me that Goodyear would send someone out to swap the flat for a suitable spare, but the flat would have to be taken to a service center for repair.
I gave up on the phone-tree and looked up the closest Goodyear service center on their website. A ten mile radius turned up nothing so I expanded the search to 25 miles. I spoke to Bob at Elliott Tire & Service in Mount Vernon, just 13 miles away, explained my situation, and asked if he could send out a truck. We have AAA, but I figured a Goodyear service truck would be able to fix the flat on site without us having to waste time with the additional step of driving it somewhere. Bob said he had no trucks at all that had lug-wrench air guns that would fit the Bounder’s lugs.
Plan B: call AAA. They, as always, were terrific. Our toll-free number calls into California AAA, but once they learned our location, put me on hold while they transferred me to Washington AAA. By now it was ten after nine and they said they were sending out Dan’s Towing from Anacortes who should be there within the hour. They gave me the order number, 8899, and said to call them back if he didn’t arrive by ten. He didn’t make it, so I called back but, of course, my only number was to California AAA. I gave them Washington AAA’s order number, they put me on hold for nearly 15 minutes and when they came back on the line informed me, in essence, “Houston, we have a problem.” Seems that when California called Washington, Washington told them my digits were an Oregon order number, not theirs. So, California called Oregon which laughed at Washington and said it was indeed their order number. California called Washington again and this time Washington realized the service order was indeed theirs and Dan’s Towing was on it’s way and should be in the campground within ten minutes.
Sure enough, I watched a pickup truck with Dan’s Towing painted on the door fly by on the gravel road next to our campsite and disappear before I could jump up, run outside, and stop them. Ten minutes later they found us, two guys with only a pickup truck and a tool box. No jacks; no heavy duty equipment. When I asked the fellow who seemed to be in charge how often he had had to come out to a campground to help an RV, he replied that this was his first day on the job. The other fellow, it turned out, had just bought Dan’s Towing last week and this was his first AAA call. Fortunately, this is a motorhome; motorhomes have hydraulic levelers and therefore I’m able to lift our own wheels off the ground.
Once the guys got the inner dual off the Bounder, a quick glance showed a bolt firmly planted in its tread. They got the spare and the outer dual back on, I signed the papers, and they were on their way. Time for Pat and me to break camp and drive in to Elliott Tire & Service in Mount Vernon to have the flat repaired. We stopped at the campground office to let them know we had vacated our site but would be leaving the car and trailer behind while we went into Mount Vernon to have the flat fixed. “No problem; take all the time you need.” I programmed Bonnie, our talking GPS, with Elliott Tire’s address in Mount Vernon and pulled into their lot some twenty minutes later.
“I don’t have any lug-nut wrenches that will fit your rig. I thought I explained that on the phone,” Bob told me. “I only do small cars here.” Actually I thought he had said he didn’t have any trucks with the right-size wrenches and assumed he’d have all the necessary equipment at his shop. Bob went on to say he knew of a place down in Marysville called Wing Foot that he had seen from the freeway on his way into Seattle that was a Goodyear dealer that handled commercial vehicles.
Thirty miles further down I-5, we pulled into Wing Foot, a Goodyear-owned service center. Indeed, everything was set up for large commercial vehicles and when I showed the secretary our warrantee, she informed me that only Goodyear’s private vehicle service centers could honor that, not their commercial centers. However, I could pay for the repairs or replacement and get a refund from the company when I got back home.
Joe, their mechanic, had the flat up on his machine, burred, sealed, and re inflated in no time. Next he got our duals off while Pat walked around taking pictures of the flowers growing amidst the weeds surrounding this business squeezed between I-5 on one side and railroad tracks on the other. Joe wanted to know if Pat had taken any photos of Mr. Cluck-Cluck, the rooster that had taken up residence in the business’ shrubs. Then he went back to get the repaired flat tire and discovered it had an even worse problem: the sidewall was bulging! It would have to be replaced and he didn’t have a similar tire in his inventory; I’d have to go elsewhere. He inferred there may not be a similar tire anywhere in Washington. “We’re pretty sparse up here,” he said. Well, crap, now what, I wondered out loud? “Your spare’s in great condition,” Joe told me. “Just use it until you get back home and you can get your original dealer to take care of it for you.”
Since our flat was irreparable and they had no replacements we could buy, Wing Nut ended up charging us nothing at all. We set sail back to Anacortes, now nearly 60 miles away with the nagging thought playing repeatedly in the back of my mind that should we get another flat before we reach home, we’re totally screwed. We arrived back at Pioneer Trails around 4:30, having now wasted nearly seven hours on a snipe hunt. By five o’clock we had the trailer hitched, the car loaded, and pulled onto Washington 20 westbound towards the Port Townsend ferry.
The drive down Whidbey Island was a much needed reward for a wasted day: dense evergreen forests, placid lakes and bays, stunning views of Puget Sound, and sneak previews of the snow-covered Olympic range toward which we were headed. We arrived at the Keystone ferry terminal on the southern tip of Whidbey Island at 6:10 and the waiting lot was empty, indicative of a ferry that we had just missed. I opened my window to the toll booth collector what wanted to no how long our rig was with trailer and car in tow. I had no idea. “No problem,” she said and jumped out of her booth with one of those walking distance meters. From stem to stern, we measured 55 feet! And that put us in a higher toll bracket than what I had originally estimated. After handing over the plastic for the $58 toll which included the Bounder, the trailer, the car, myself, Pat, and the three cats, she told me to pull into lane #3 and just as I looked up I spotted the ferry coming in to the dock. Ten minutes later we were aboard. Unlike the Friday Harbor ferry, this one was nearly empty.
After a thirty-minute crossing we drove off the ferry onto the streets of Port Townsend and tried to follow the directions in the Woodall’s Guide for the campground Pat had picked out. Eventually we did a U-turn, came back the other way and found our way to the Point Hudson Resort & Marina. Unlike Anacortes and Friday Harbor, the town of Port Townsend has some character, a quaint little fishing village on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The campground is a grass and gravel parking lot, pretty plain, but has full hook-ups and its a twenty-foot walk from our front door to the water’s edge. It’s a hundred-foot walk in the opposite direction to the Shanghai Restaurant where we went for dinner after first feeding the cats.
After dinner we took a stroll along the beachfront pathway with the sunlight fading to the west and a nearly full moon rising from the east. Both reflected light across the water. Out on the sound we watched the ferry crossing again, this time with its lights on. An oil tanker made its way out to the Juan de Fuca Straight and shore birds chirped and chattered much to the infatuation of our three cats that took up positions at various windows in the Bounder. A light warm breeze made for a wonderful evening after a long day of tribulation.
Back in the rig we fired up the TV, watched the last twenty minutes of Men With Brooms followed by the ten o’clock National News, both on a CBC channel we were picking up on the cable. So, what’s the lead story in Canada this week? Our own California governor, Arnold Schwarzeneggar is there for a three-day business trip! By 10:30 we were in bed with the curtains drawn, but the windows left open for the first time on this trip.
We awoke to the sound of seabirds foraging for their morning meal in the mudflats of the low tide outside our window before the coffee pot even started at 6:00 a.m. Raising the curtains in the rig revealed a Puget Sound bathed in sunlight and the windows we’d left open all night now allowed a light warm breeze to flow through the Bounder. After my first two cups of coffee, I fired up the laptop and started writing yesterday’s adventures. Without internet access, I could skip the checking of email. After feeding the cats, Pat left me to my writing and went outside to take a morning stroll along the beach and eventually was invited to sit down and chat with our next-site neighbor.
I had planned to shower this morning, but as the writing and photo process stretched on, coupled with a trip to the campground office to pay the fee for our night’s stay ($42), I decided to skip it and it was 11:30 by the time we pulled out. Pat needed to stop at the Safeway in town for cigarettes, cat food, and some donuts to eat along the road. We weren’t quite sure what our destination for the day would be other than Olympic National Park, so I pointed the rig towards westbound U.S. 101 and Port Angeles. We stopped at a Costco gas station in Sequim to fill up with the most expensive gas we have yet encountered ($3.389) and discovered we were logging in our lowest mpg on the trip (7.66). Given that the Bounder had traipsed over to Maryville and back yesterday (a hundred mile round-trip) without the additional weight of the car & trailer to haul and no memorable grades or wind on the last tank, I was unnerved by these results. Were we having engine problems?
I wouldn’t have long to wait before my paranoia increased dramatically. As we inched our way through the stop and go traffic of Port Angeles, the transmission temperature gauge shot up to 178º and just wouldn’t go below 172º. The owners’ manual states the transmission should not be run for more than two hours at 175º or more. Outside air temperature was in the eighties, a contributing factor, but more than steep grades, strong winds, and hot outside air, the transmission really hates stop and go traffic. It took nearly an hour to get through Port Angeles, a major border crossing point across from Victoria, British Columbia.
However, U.S. 101 then becomes a windy, twisty road with moderate grades and lots of 35 to 40 mph curves. Somewhere around Crescent Lake I pulled over and Pat helped me check the level of the transmission fluid. Much to my surprise, it was fine and the fluid on the dipstick quite clean. Carlos, our mechanic back at Moturis in San Leandro, had warned us never to overfill the transmission fluid, so we left it alone.
Pat checked the Woodall’s Guide for a campground in Forks, a small town in the northwest quadrant of the national park. However, the 70-mile drive over to Forks presented us with some of the most disappointing scenery we had encountered on the trip. The snow-capped Olympic Mountain Range was hidden behind the mountains forming the valley we were driving through. The majority of the road skirts the boundary of the park and logging operations had denuded much of the countryside. Forks was a dirty little town and we decided to keep going, the only good news being that the transmission temperature had finally dropped down into the low 160’s.
I re-programmed Bonnie for Hoquiam, another 140 miles down the road and we passed right by the entrance road to the Hoh Rainforest which several folks had advised us not to miss. The surrounding forests were so denuded that it didn’t seem worth it to go up the road six miles to see something that obviously would be surrounded by dead tree stumps and blackberry brambles. At one point within the park’s boundary, U.S. 101 reaches the Pacific Ocean and travels along cliffs overlooking expansive beaches for about ten miles. The cool air off the ocean had a profound positive affect on the transmission temperature, so I began to relax a little. We pulled over at one beach and got out to take some pictures.
Back on the road, Pat checked Woodall’s for a campground in Hoquiam that had internet service. A simple choice: Hoquiam had only one campground and the listing did mention Wi-Fi. The problem was the directions given in the guide. Whoever wrote them assumed that any visitors would be coming from the south, so all distances were listed from points beyond the campground, based on our approach from the north. Bonnie let us know we were within two miles of Hoquiam, so we were able to keep our eyes peeled. Sure enough, just as we crossed the bridge across the Little Hoquiam River at its mouth with the west fork of the Hoquiam River, we spotted an RV campground to our left nestled along the river’s banks.
Despite the five vehicles behind us, I slowed to a crawl to catch the name on the <- RV Campground sign up ahead at the city limits of Hoquiam. Unfortunately, its north-facing side had only the left-pointing arrow and the words “RV Campground.” Once we passed it and could look back at the south-facing side, we could read the name which was the same that we were looking for. Of course, we had just passed the entrance, and a U-turn in an abandoned motel parking lot delayed by Hoquiam rush-hour traffic pouring into and out of town got us back.
We arrived at the Hoquiam River RV Park at 5:30 p.m., hooked up and Pat cooked us a fabulous dinner of baked pork chops, mashed potatoes, and corn with mushrooms which we washed down with a bottle of Two-Buck-Chuck chardonnay. While Pat was busy at the stove, oven, and microwave, I was at the laptop uploading yesterday’s saga which I had written this morning. After dinner, the folks in the rig two sites over from us invited us over to a campfire. There are no firepits at the individual sites, but rather a single large one in the middle of the campground with a pickup truck load of free firewood next to it. We’d pulled the Bounder’s awning out for the first time on this trip and had planned to sit under it relaxing after dinner. But the allure of hobnobbing with others at a campfire was something we hadn’t had the opportunity to do since the first night back in South Dakota with the rednecks who ultimately stole our rainbow flag.
Some other folks joined us around the campfire later in the evening. Wine for some, beer for others, good company, great war stories, and a campfire that was eating tree logs that were two-feet in diameter. Now you know it has to be a good fire to handle logs that size! By ten o’clock we all headed back to our rigs and retired for the night. Pat turned the TV on in the bedroom, all three cats nestled in between us, and I fell asleep before he ever turned the TV or the lamp off.
It was 7:30 by the time we woke up and one look out the window explained why we had slept so late: the valley was fogged in, giving us our first taste of typical morning weather back home. Apparently without early morning sunlight, we just keep right on sleeping. This morning I was hell bent and determined to get a shower no matter how late it made our departure. Pat got one as well while I was writing and uploading yesterday’s entry. We pulled out of the campground at 12:30 and headed into Hoquiam/Grays Harbor/Aberdeen where we made a quick pitstop for Pat to buy cigarettes. I programmed Bonnie to take us to Ashland, Oregon where our friends from across the street back on Seminary Avenue had a home.
While I drove, Pat called Rona and found out she and Herb were still down in Oakland and would not be coming up to Ashland for the weekend. So, there was no need to get to Ashland, stop in Ashland, and that left the day completely free to stop when and where we felt like it.
We got into Portland, Oregon at four o’clock, just in time for rush hour traffic and quickly learned that Portland has the Bay Area beat by a mile for under-capacity freeways. Unless another freeway was merging with the one we were on (which was frequent), the freeways through town were rarely more than two lanes in each direction. After seeing what they had to thread them through, I concluded the only way they could upgrade them would be to tear them down completely and start from scratch.
We pulled into a Love’s Travel Stop in Roseburg around seven to fill up to the tune of $188.50. I held my breath while I did the mpg math on the calculator and was pleasantly surprised with the highest fuel economy of the trip: 8.80 mpg! The stop and go traffic through Portland really had the transmission cooking as high as 190º and the outside air temperature of 86º was a contributing factor to the transmission’s burden. But once the traffic thinned out and I was able to get back up to 55, the transmission temperature kept going down all the way to Roseburg.
After a couple of Arby’s roast beef sandwiches for me and a chicken sandwich for Pat, we pulled out of Love’s and got back on southbound I-5 with the intention of pulling into the first rest area we came to for the night. Unfortunately, a car was pulled over on the shoulder directly adjacent to the first rest area and we were both so focused on it that neither of us saw the entrance to the rest area until we had passed it and the car. The next rest area was closed due to highway construction.
So, here we are at the third rest area, nine miles north of Grants Pass and just 64 miles from the California state line. Chances are looking pretty good that we’ll be home tomorrow night. We arrived here at ten o’clock and it’s still so warm outside that for the first time on this trip, we’ve had to close the windows, fire up the generator, and run the air conditioning. Mother Nature’s reminder that we made a good decision by vacationing in the late spring rather than waiting for summer.
We slept in until 7:30 and by 8:30 we pulled out of the rest area and onto southbound I-5. We crossed the Calfornia border around nine and soon Pat was snapping photos of Mount Shasta. Even this early in the morning outside air temperatures were climbing into the eighties. Once we passed Lake Shasta, we entered the central valley where the Bounder’s transmission could forget about mountain grades and settle into a nice flat pace as we watched the miles count down on Bonnie’s display screen. By Vacaville the temperatures were dropping out of the high eighties into the mid to upper seventies, a sure sign we were picking up the cooling air from San Francisco Bay. We also picked up Friday commuter traffic and slogged our way through Fairfield on some of the crappiest concrete we’d driven upon in over 4,000 miles.
We pulled into our cheap gas station in Cordelia to fill up one last time and got onto I-680 southbound to wipe out the remaining 35 miles to the house. As expected, Friday evening commute traffic brought us to a complete halt at the Caldecott Tunnel which took nearly half an hour to get through, but with less than ten miles to go we were not in the least bit upset. In fact, we viewed it as a warm welcome home. We pulled up to the house at 5:25.
The first challenge after turning off house security with the keyfob was getting the front porch door open. Three weeks of mail had accumulated behind the mail slot in the door and we could have used a snow shovel to move it far enough away from the door to get it fully open. Lacking the snow shovel, we both got on our knees and started sifting through the mountain of mail. Even with the Tuesday advertising circulars tossed immediately into the recycle bin, the remaining stack was still over a foot high. Next was opening the front door to the living room and an immediate waft of stale air determined our third move: open all the windows in the house and get it aired out.
From there we first brought the cats inside, let them loose, and allowed them to confirm that their three-week nightmare was indeed over. Pat & I started schlepping stuff from the Bounder into the house and by 6:30 we were ready to back the car off the trailer dolly, unhook the trailer from the Bounder, and get everything into the driveway. In the interim, folks showed up to see the house next door finally sporting its new For Sale sign, so we got the keys and showed them the property. Bottom line: we embraced the diversion. Even so, the whole process was completed by 7:30 and we could now relax.
I went to the cupboard by the kitchen sink to get some plates on which to nuke the leftover pork chops and found only coffee cups and glasses inside. I called Pat into the kitchen to ask him where the dinner plates had disappeared to and he started to laugh, then directed me to the cupboard next to the stove. In three weeks on the road we had both forgotten where everything was kept in our own house! When he fed the cats, Pat couldn’t remember what he was supposed to do with the empty cat food can; the trash was not under the kitchen sink! Then it dawned on him that the can was supposed to be washed and put in the recycle container. (The trash is kept in a closet in the laundry room.)
By the time we got to the living room to watch the TV recordings that had accumulated on our DVR over the past three weeks, Pat already had all the windows shut and the furnace turned on. It was 56º outside and the fog was coming across the bay. As we watched recorded episodes of NCIS and The Sopranos, the cats went zinging throughout the house enjoying their newfound freedom and the fact that we were, indeed home at last! And, just as on the road, we were both in bed by ten after ten o’clock.
We’ve been back for a week now and just today finally got that flat tire replaced down at the San Leandro Goodyear. Pat occasionally goes out to the Bounder in the driveway to bring something else back into the house and Wheezie often follows him inside. Yesterday she used the litter box in the Bounder, then jumped up on the dashboard to look out on our street, perhaps hoping we’d start the engine and head off to another campground.
Several folks have asked how much we spent on gas, on campgrounds, etc. so this evening I sat down and finally totalled the receipts. Here is the breakdown:
|Park entry & ferry fees|
|Food (groceries, restaurants, etc.)|
|Other: souvenirs, RV repair, etc.|
|Gas for the Bounder, the car, & propane|
Cost per day works out to about $165.