When we got home from Deadwood on Saturday, we had the mother of all hailstorms. It lasted almost forty-five minutes, and the temperature dropped dramatically. Tuesday was windy and cold, so we decided to skip our planned trip to Lead and Spearfish and stay inside where it was warm. Here’s hoping for better weather on our way home, so we can visit the places we missed along the way.
We left Sturgis yesterday and drove to Devils Tower, Wyoming. As we approached the entrance to Devils Tower National Monument from WY-24E, the tower suddenly popped up from out of nowhere against a backdrop of pine forest merging with rolling plains. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and it was one of the most amazing sights we’ve seen on this trip so far.
Scientists initially thought Devils Tower was the core of an ancient volcano. However, recent data has determined it is an igneous intrusion, which is a a formation in which molten magma was forced into sedimentary rocks above it and cooled underground. As the magma cooled, it contracted and fractured into columns.
Devils Tower stands 867 feet from base to summit, rising 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River. The base of the tower is roughly a mile in circumference. A 1.25-mile trail encircles the base. The face of the butte is fluted like a massive column, standing in stark relief against the sky.
People come from all around the world to climb this unique wonder. We saw several dozen climbers on the tower while we were there, tiny specks of color—red and blue and yellow and chartreuse—nearly invisible to the naked eye—free climbing up the sheer face of the butte.
The tower is sacred to many of the Northern Plains Indians and indigenous people. Bear Lodge is one of many Indian names for Devils Tower, which is a direct translation of the Lakota name Mato Tipila. It is the site of ceremonial rituals, including sun dances, sweat lodges, and prayer and artifact offerings.There is a voluntary climbing mortorium in June, out of respect for their traditions and beliefs.
The name “Devils Tower” originated in 1875, when Colonel Richard Irving Dodge led geologist Walter P. Jenney’s scientific expedition through the Black Hills region to confirm claims of gold, first started by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer. The name was incorrectly translated as “Bad God’s Tower,” which was amended to “Devil’s Tower.” A clerical error resulted in the omission of the apostrophe, thus the name became Devils Tower.
In popular culture the tower is associated with Steven Spielberg’s 1977 movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Who doesn’t remember the iconic scene from the film when Richard Dryefuss’s character made a model of Devils Tower out of mashed potatoes?
On September 24, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt, by authority of the Antiquities Act, proclaimed Devils Tower to be the first National Monument. Roosevelt, who loved the American West, made Dodge’s translation the official name of the eerily splendid rock formation.
We left Council Bluffs this morning and drove 193 miles to Brandon, South Dakota, a suburb of Sioux Falls. We’re staying at Big Sioux Recreation Area, a state park and campground on the Big Sioux River. Due to the deluge the area has received in the past few days, flood warnings were issued for several cities on the Big Sioux, including Brandon. The river was roughly two feet above flood stage. Normal flood stage is 12.0 feet. I called the park to verify if the campground was affected by flooding, but was told everything was fine, other than some of the hiking trails, which were under water.
We are dry camping at Big Sioux (no water or sewer hookups) for two nights. This is our first foray into camping for more than one night in a row without a water connection. Our soul source of water is our 100-gallon fresh water tank, which we filled up before leaving Council Bluffs. We have camped at a Corp of Engineers park without sewer hookups lots of times, but having no water connection for two successive nights is as close to true boondocking as we have ever come.
The jury is still out on how I feel about boondocking. On the plus side, we save an average of $40.00 each night we spend somewhere other than a RV Park. However, running our generator for long periods of time offsets some of the savings. On the plus side, if you tow a vehicle four-down, you can leave your toad attached at many businesses that allow overnight parking. On the down side, you cannot level up and extend your slides, which means one of us (read: Jan) has to climb over the other person to get into and out of bed. It is considered bad camping etiquette to lower your leveling jacks and extend your slides in places such as Walmart and Cabela’s, but that doesn’t stop some people from doing it. The idea is to “park” overnight, not camp. The third issue I have with boondocking is that one of my pantries is on our big slide, so I can only open the door a few inches. I have to feel around inside one of the four shelves in search of the item I’m looking for. Sometimes I end up emptying an entire shelf, one item at a time, until I hit pay dirt.
Harry has wanted to boondock for years, so we are going to give it a try next week for three nights at Badlands Overlook Buffalo Gap National Grasslands, which overlooks Badlands National Park.
So how can we live off the grid for three days? It’s a little complicated, so bear with me. If you are an experienced RVer, feel free to skip the rest of this post.
Our motorhome has four house batteries, which provide power to our 1800-watt inverter. The inverter converts DC to AC power, which in turns allows our residential refrigerator to operate, as well as several outlets in our motorhome when we are off the grid. We can charge our house batteries one of four ways: when our engine is running; when we are connected to shore power; when our generator is running, or with solar power. We have two solar panels on the roof of our motorhome, which provides a total of 300 watts of power to help charge the batteries. In addition to running our refrigerator, we will be able to charge our electronics and use the lights in the motorhome. We’ve changed out all our interior bulbs to LED, which use far less power than incandescent or CFL bulbs.
In order to conserve water, we’ll be taking Navy showers. The term originated on naval ships, where fresh water was often scare. In laymen’s terms, it basically means you turn off the water while lathering up to save as much fresh water as possible. In our case, taking a Navy shower will also decrease the amount of wastewater running into our gray water tank, the tank where all wastewater that drains from our shower, and the kitchen and bathroom sinks goes, as well as the water from our washer/dryer combo. Most RV’s have three water tanks: a fresh water tank, a gray water tank, and a black water tank. I think the black water tank is self-explanatory. The sizes of the tanks vary from RV to RV. In our motorhome, in addition to our 100-gallon fresh water tank, we have two 40-gallon gray tanks, one for the sinks and shower, the other for the washer/dryer combo, and a 40-gallon black tank. By practicing water conservation, we believe the water in our fresh water tank will easily last us three days. Obviously, we will not be washing clothes when we boondock. We’ve made it eight days on the black water tank numerous times at our local Corp of Engineers campground, so we are not concerned about that one.
I did a test run of a Navy shower before we left home to find out exactly how much water it takes for one person to bathe in this manner. All of our tanks were empty when I conducted my experiment. Harry attached a fresh water hose (yes, there are special water hoses that meet potable water standards) to a spigot at home and connected the other end to the motorhome’s city water inlet. Conversely, when we are not connected to city water, we have a water pump that pumps the water from the fresh water tank to the faucets inside the motorhome. The shower in our motorhome has a handheld spray nozzle with an on/off switch. I put the spray nozzle in a clean bucket with water level indicators before I turned on the water. It took roughly ten to fifteen seconds for the water to get warm enough to bathe, which amounted to almost three quarts of wastewater. Without the bucket, that water would have drained into the gray water tank. Bathing and shampooing my hair took less than three minutes. I skipped using conditioner to avoid having to rinse my hair a second time, opting for spray-on leave-in spray conditioner instead. After conducting my test, Harry emptied the gray water tank into a separate bucket with water level indicators. The output from the gray water tank measured right at two gallons, making the final tally 2.75 gallons of fresh water used. The three quarts of water wasted while I waited for the water to get warm enough to bathe can be used to flush the toilet when we’re boondocking, helping us further conserve our fresh water supply. We plan to rely on paper plates and plastic utensils to eliminate washing dishing when we boondock, but we will still have to wash some pots, pans, and cooking utensils.
If it gets too hot during our three-day stay in the boonies, we can start our generator. That may sound contradictory to living off the grid, but our goal isn’t to suffer, but rather to be out in the wild and away from the crowds.
Conserving water and keeping our gray water tank from filling up will be our biggest challenges during our three-day sojourn in the boondocks. Well, that and staying out of the way of the bison and elk who frequent the area to graze. Stay tuned to find out how we did.
We bid farewell to our newfound friends in Missouri last Friday and headed west to Kansas City, Kansas. Our lavish site for the night was the Cabala’s parking lot. Some Cabala’s offer a nice parking area with a dump station and potable water. The Kansas City store isn’t one of them. To be fair, they did have a designated area for eighteen-wheelers and RV’s, but the dump station I was led to believe they had turned out to be a Porta-Potty. Not exactly what I had in mind. Also, this particular Cabala’s had all back-in sites. You cannot back up a motorhome if you are flat-towing a vehicle. Doing so will damage the tow bar. And tow bars aren’t cheap. A comparable replacement for our Blue OX tow bar is around $800. We politely ignored the designated parking area and parallel parked against the curb, with a lovely view of a drainage ditch. I hope the runoff wasn’t coming from the Porta-Potty.
If I’ve learned anything in the last nine days, it is that I wish I’d paid more attention to my geography teacher back in high school. We left Kansas City, Kansas, on Saturday. Less than a mile later, we crossed back into Missouri. Huh! We drove 17 miles and then entered the state of Iowa. A little over 120 miles later, we hit the Nebraska state line. That’s three states in four hours, roughly the amount of time it takes us to drive to Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, park, and get through security.
We have an electronic management system (EMS) that is hardwired into our motorhome. Its purpose is to detect any grounds, open neutrals, shorts, or reversals in the campground’s power box (aka shore power), thus protecting our electronics from getting damaged. When you connect your power cord to shore power, the EMS checks that all systems are go. If it detects an error, it will not send power to your motorhome. That’s exactly what happened to us on Saturday when Harry tried to connect our power cord to the campground’s shore power at Victorian Acres RV Park in Nebraska City, Nebraska. The park’s manager came out and tested the shore power and our EMS, and determined the EMS was not working properly. Oh, goodie. Strike two for the USSMoho. Harry had to bypass the EMS in order for us to have power that night. It was a crapshoot, but we were both tired and cranky by then, and did not feel like driving 50 miles to the nearest RV parts and accessories store. Granted, we took a risk by bypassing the EMS, but the weather report showed no rain or thunderstorms for the next forty-eight hours, so we took a gamble, which luckily paid off.
This past weekend was Nebraska City’s 147th annual Arbor Day Celebration. J. Sterling Morton, the U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Grover Cleveland, founded Arbor Day in Nebraska City in 1872. In the fall of 1854, Morton and his wife, Caroline Joy French, moved to the Nebraska Territory. The following year, he purchased 160 acres of land in Nebraska City. He built a modest four-room, L-shaped frame structure on the property. The Morton’s were both nature lovers, and once they’d completed their home on their treeless lot, they set about planting trees, shrubs, and an orchard. Morton or a member of his family planted many of the ancient trees on the expansive estate.
The Morton home underwent several renovations, eventually evolving into a 30-room residence known as Arbor Lodge. After Morton’s death, his oldest son, Joy, hired an architect to design and enlarge the family dwelling into an impressive 52-room mansion. The stately home closely resembles the White House in Washington, DC.
Joy Morton founded the Morton Salt Company in 1910. The following year, the company began adding magnesium carbonate, an anti-caking agent, to salt; this allowed it to pour freely. The company coined the phrase, “When it rains, it pours.”
Joy and his family used Arbor Lodge as a summer home for twenty years. In 1923, he donated the grounds and the Morton mansion to the state of Nebraska, to be preserved as a monument to his father.
On Sunday, we visited Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum and toured the massive home and the adjacent carriage house. Directly across the street from Arbor Lodge sits Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure. The nature-themed attraction features a meandering paved walkway and a 50-foot-tall tree house, which reminded me of the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse at Magic Kingdom near Orlando, Florida.
Sunday afternoon, the wind started picking up, and the Weather Channel issued a wind advisory for that evening. They issued a second wind advisory from 12:00 noon on Monday until 7:00 PM that night, with winds gusting from 45 to 50 miles per hour. We’ve heard horror stories of motorhomes and eighteen-wheelers being flipped over by high winds, and we had no desire to drive in those conditions. We were planning to leave Nebraska City Monday around noon to head to Council Bluffs, Iowa, but we decided to cut out early Monday morning instead. Luckily, our 45-mile drive to Council Bluffs was uneventful, but the wind followed us to Iowa. The wind advisory had been extended to parts of Iowa, including Council Bluffs, but luckily we made it to town before the gusty winds hit.
Our purpose in visiting Council Bluffs was to hook up with friends who live just across the river in Nebraska. Around here, saying “the river” is tantamount to saying the Missouri River, which, incidentally, is the longest river in North America. The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana. It flows for 2,341 miles before joining the Mississippi River on the border between Missouri and Illinois.
Maybe I didn’t ace geography in high school, but if I had to take a test about the Missouri River, I think I would pass it with flying colors.
No matter how carefully you plan a trip, something is always bound to go wrong. Yesterday morning, our generator died shortly before we left Paducah, Kentucky. According to the Cummins manual, it appeared to be a simple fault. We assumed the generator would be fine once it cooled down, so we said goodbye to Kentucky and hit the Asphalt Trail.
When we pulled into a rest stop in Illinois a couple of hours later, the error had cleared itself and the generator started up immediately. We were elated, as we plan to do some real boondocking once we reach South Dakota. In its simplest form, boondocking means camping without any external hookups, such as electricity, sewer, and water. The word boondocking originally referred to camping out in the boonies. However, the term has now become synonymous with anything from parking overnight at a Pilot Travel Center to camping on a patch of grass beside a river. And then there’s dry camping, a campground without any hookups, and dispersed camping, where you park outside a designated campground in a National Forest. As you can see, RV jargon can be quite confusing. It reminds me of text lingo, minus all the acronym and initialisms, thank goodness.
We cannot catch a break in the weather. The rain chased us all the way to Missouri Monday afternoon. The wet stuff finally stopped about the time we caught our first glimpse of the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis, but the clouds lingered. When we arrived in St. Charles, Missouri, where we planned to Wally Dock for the second night in a row, the annoying red blinking light on our generator was back on again.
Long story short, we found a Cummins Service Center in Columbia, Missouri, about a hundred miles west of St. Charles. We made an appointment for first thing Wednesday morning. It was almost 5:30 PM when we reached Columbia. For the second time in less than a week, we broke our two-two rule. I think the USSMoho’s new motto will be: The rule for this motorhome is there are no rules.”
We spent the night in Cottonwoods RV Park, not far from I-70. The added benefit is that it is located less than four miles from the Cummins Service Center. Ironically, we had planned to spend two nights at a state park in Columbia, before moving on to our next destination, but we decided to stay put at Cottonwoods instead. It turned out to be a serendipitous decision.
Our generator problem was caused by the governor, which regulates the amount of gas going into the carburetor. The technician adjusted the spring for less tension, and we left the Cummins shop two hours later, $140.00 poorer, but thrilled that our generator was back in business.
After we got back to Cottonwoods, we met a super nice couple named Matt and Marla (aka “the M&M’s) from Bradley, Illinois. The four of us clicked instantly. Matt shares my warped sense of humor, and right off the bat he ribbed me for parking in the wrong direction. With the exception of the entrance, all streets at Cottonwoods are one-way, and each street runs in the same direction. I have a one-track mind sometimes, so the fact the streets all ran one-way completely escaped my attention. Our site was too short to park our toad (aka dinghy, or in our case, a Jeep) behind our motorhome, so I had to parallel park in front of our rig. Harry had pointed out the previous evening that I had parked the Jeep in the wrong direction, but it apparently didn’t register. Then along comes Matt the next day, teasing me for the same offense. I assured him that it wasn’t me who’d parked in the wrong direction; it was all the other drivers on the street. He has not let me live that down yet.
Matt and Marla are members of a RV organization called Family Campers & RVers (fcrv.org). Matt is the president of a local retiree chapter of FCRV in Illinois. They are here at Cottonwoods for a campover with a retiree group from Missouri called the Slow Travelers, reconnecting with several couples they met at a national FCRV retiree campover a few years ago.
Later that afternoon, Marla introduced us to a lovely woman named Barb, who is the FCRV director for the state of Missouri. Barb invited us to a potluck dinner the group was having that evening. The catch was that everyone had to bring a dish that began with the first letter of the person’s last name. Our last name starts with an “L”, and Harry and I were scratching our heads, trying to come up with something to bring. Lasagna finally came to mind, but I didn’t have all the ingredients I needed on hand to make it, nor did I have enough time to prepare the dish. We finally decided to head to the local Walmart for inspiration. We came up empty at first, so Harry suggested we tell everyone our last name is Smith. He said that way we could bring sushi. We don’t actually like sushi, but that was beside the point. We finally settled on Lemon Meringue Pie and Lemon cookies.
Harry and I felt a little uneasy attending a function with a bunch of people we’d never met, but as it turned out, we had the best time every. FCRV’s motto is “Where Strangers Become Friends and Friends Become Family!” I must say, the group of retirees we met that night lived up to that motto a hundredfold. They welcomed us with open arms, and it felt as if we known some of them forever. After dinner, I had a lengthy conversation with Barb and her husband, Dallas (aka Dal), and the three of us bonded instantly. Oh, and I have new trail name. There is woman named Jan in the Slow Travelers, so Dal dubbed me “Georgia Jan.” I think it suits me, so thanks, Dal!
We have met dozens upon dozens of great couples since we started RVing, most of whom we will probably never see again. But every once in a while we meet a couple so special that we consider them lifelong friends. We’ve been blessed to meet four such couples like that in the past four years, and we met two of them at Cottonwoods RV Park in Columbia, MO.
And to think, we owe it all to a generator that went on the fritz.
We left home early this morning and took our sweet time getting to Nashville, Tennessee, where we planned to spend a couple of nights. We stayed in Nashville for two reasons: 1) our nephew, Lee, lives there, and we wanted to hangout with him Saturday night; and 2) the campground we made reservations for is only 200.6 miles from home.
Since we retired, we now adhere to a two-two rule when traveling. After so many years of hurrying through airports and traveling at a whirlwind pace while on vacation, we now travel either two hundred miles or until 2:00 PM each day, whichever comes first. Our goal now is to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Obviously, our code of travel is not an exact science, but we try to stick as closely to our two-two rule as possible. Ironically, we forgot that Nashville is on Central Time, an hour behind us in Georgia, so we inadvertently broke our on rule by leaving home later than we should have. We pulled into the campground a few minutes after three PM, local time.
Nashville is a great place to visit. It is home to the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Ryman Auditorium. We stayed at Two Rivers Campground on Music Valley Drive, which is close to the Opryland Hotel and the Grand Old Opry. It is also close to I-24, which earned it extra brownie points.
We met Lee for dinner at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant at the corner of 5th Street and Church, in the heart of downtown Nashville. Puckett’s began as a country grocery store in the village of Leipers Fork, Tennessee, back in the 1950s. The original location still exists, serving as a grocery store and restaurant. It has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Puckett’s now has five restaurant locations in Tennessee, serving up Southern fare and hosting live, local musical acts. Like most large cities, the downtown traffic in Nashville was horrible Saturday night, and parking is at a premium. However, the food at Puckett’s was excellent, and I would not hesitate to eat there again.
After dinner, the three of us headed to a bar called the Scoreboard on Music Valley Road to listen to some live music. To our surprise, the legendary Randy Travis and his wife were sitting at the table in front of us. Harry and I are old rockers at heart, but back in the 80s and early 90s, when country music icons like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Tracy Lawrence, and the like, first came on the scene, we fell in love with country music. As the genre began to change, Harry and I went back to our roots, listening to classic rock. Still, there’s nothing like hearing the live version of a foot-tapping country song from the good old days.
It started raining early the next morning. We had planned to ride our bikes around the campground, and then do a little sightseeing nearby, but Mother Nature had other ideas in mind. Instead, we took a zero day, a hiking term, which easily correlates with RVing, and is self-explanatory. I spent the day doing laundry, and other fun chores.
On Monday, we awoke to yet more rain. Harry got drenched unhooking all the connections outside (electrical, sewer hoses, etc.) while I battened down the hatches inside the motorhome. After we retract the slides, we secure our electronics (read: pile the laptops and iPads on the bed), lock the shower door and refrigerator, make certain the antenna is down, the counters are cleared off, and turn off the ice maker. The last thing we do before departure is hook up our tow vehicle (in our case, a 2015 Jeep Cherokee) which we flat tow (all four-wheels on the ground). It only takes a few minutes to hook up the Jeep to the motorhome, but then we have to go through a series of steps to put the car’s transfer case in neutral. This prevents the transmission from turning while we’re driving. The rain let up for a few minutes this morning, and then naturally, the bottom fell out when it was time to hook up our toad. One person could easily perform this function, but it is easier with both of us working together, so I got drenched too. The last thing on our list is to hook up the auxiliary brake system, a requirement in many states when flat towing a vehicle. The whole process takes less than ten minutes, but it seems a lot longer when you are getting soaked.
We are now headed to Paducah, Kentucky, 142 miles from the campground in Nashville. We will Wally Dock tonight (spending the night in a Walmart parking lot). On Tuesday, morning,we will depart for Missouri, entering our third and fourth states on our journey.
Our neighbor and dear friend, Ted Barrett, made an astute observation about my first post (Captain Nemo, Moho Mama, and the Appalachian Trail). Ted and his wife are seasoned RVers-they are on their third Class A-and he is our go-to guy for all things related to traveling in a motorhome.
While my purpose in comparing thru-hikers on the AT with our travels was to point out the sense of escapism we shared when we hit our respective trails, Ted reminded me of the hardships hikers often endure. For example, because Springer Mountain is the most popular place to start a thru-hike (most would-be thru-hikers leave between March 1st and April 15th), the northbounders are forced to deal with overcrowded shelters, hiking in winter conditions, and snow, sometimes deep, at higher elevations throughout North Carolina and Tennessee. During AWOL’s thru-hike, he suffered a sprained ankle, a foot infection, and knee pain. And yet he preserved, reaching the summit of Mt. Katahdin in 146 days.
Ted’s reason for reminding me of the adversities some thru-hikers face is that we too, will likely encounter some difficulties on our trip. However, he encouraged us to take things in stride, and to strive to reach our goal, not just for this trip, but for all future trips we hope to take on the Asphalt Trail.
As usual, Ted was right. We haven’t even left home yet, and already we’ve run into three snafus. On Thursday, Harry extended our large slide so we could store our clothes and load the pantry. The foot of our bed lifts up, and there is storage space underneath. We took advantage of the extra space, stocking it with paper goods, Harry’s Metal detector, and my little travel printer. Once we had finished putting things away, Harry pressed the button to retract the slide. Nothing happened. Our hearts sank. We had just spent $1,100 having the slide repaired, and now it would not retract. We were not happy campers.
I know absolutely nothing about the mechanics of our motorhome, but when something doesn’t work properly, my first question is always, “Do you think we blew a fuse?” So of course, those were the first words that popped out of my mouth. I’m sure Harry is sick of hearing me ask that question, but this time it prompted an idea. He lifted the foot of the bed and checked the wiring for the large slide. It turned out we had accidentally loosened one of the wires while shifting containers around. Harry grabbed a screwdriver and tightened the wire. The slide retracted perfectly. Problem solved. Whew!
The second thing that happened is actually funny, when you think about it. If you recall, we only went camping once last year, and that was to a campground eleven miles from our home. Because the campground is so close, we never tow a vehicle when we go there. Instead, I follow Harry in our truck. The last time we towed our car was in October of 2016. Since we plan to leave early Saturday morning, Harry decided to install our tow bar on the motorhome on Friday. The tow bar went into the receiver on the motorhome without a hitch (pun intended), but when Harry tried to unlock the locking pin we use to secure the tow bar, he couldn’t get it unlocked. After trying unsuccessfully for several minutes, he grabbed my keys, thinking there was a problem with his own key for the lock. Long story short, it took a phone call to Blur Ox to determine he was using the wrong key. It is amazing how quickly you forget simple things when you have taken such a long break from traveling.
The last thing that went wrong was bittersweet. When I told my daughter-in-law about our travel plans, she asked me if I would be willing to take some of Rusty’s and Dylan’s ashes with us and spread them in some of the places we visited, places Rusty and Dylan also dreamed of visiting one day. Naturally, I agreed. We met Rusty’s youngest son, Tristan, two weekends ago to get the ashes. Tristan will turn 21 in less than three weeks, and since we will not be here on his birthday, we decided to treat him to lunch for his big twenty-one. We give each of our grandchildren money for their birthday: it is always the right color, the right size, and no one ever wants to return it. I had T’s birthday money in my pocket, so I wouldn’t forget to give it to him. When he drove up and got out of his truck, he handed me a Ziploc bag containing his dad and brother’s ashes. Without thinking, I reached into my pocket and pulled out his birthday money. It suddenly occurred to me that if someone saw us exchanging cash for a plastic bag, it might look a little suspicious. I quickly stuffed the bills back in my pocket until we had safely stored the bag in the back of our car. Over lunch, we had a good chuckle about the possibly of getting busted for purchasing/selling cremains. Sometimes, you have to laugh to keep from crying.
After Harry and I got home that day, I put the ashes away for safekeeping. When we started loading the motorhome on Thursday, I couldn’t find that Ziploc bag anywhere. I started freaking out, going through drawers and cabinets, my backpack, my closet, my fireproof safe, every place I could think of I might have put it. I dreaded calling my daughter-in-law to tell her I’d lost the bag.
The next morning, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I had put the bag in the motorhome. I looked everywhere, poking around in the cabinets, and feeling around in drawers. Still nothing. It finally dawned on me that I had not checked the closet where our combo washer/dryer is stored. There is a plastic container on top of the washer/dryer where I store my laundry supplies. To my immense relief, I found the bag of ashes between a bottle of fabric softer and a box of laundry detergent. I have no idea why I put the bag in such an unlikely place, but I’m just grateful I found it.
Somewhere out there in the universe, I image my son and grandson are laughing their heads off at me right now.
The big day finally arrived! In January of 2016, Harry retired. He quickly acclimated to his newfound life of leisure. In mid-February, we headed to Panama City Beach, Florida, for two weeks. Harry celebrated his 65th birthday basking in the warm Florida sun.
As soon as we got home from PCB, we started discussing where we wanted to go on our first long journey. We bounced around several ideas before deciding on the Grand Canyon. As co-captain of the USS Moho, my job is to plan our trips. So plan I did. I made reservations at a campground on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Then I started researching things to see and do along the way. We even arranged to hook up with some friends who were workamping in Colorado on our way to Arizona. We were pumped up and ready to roll.
And then, tragedy struck.
Less than two weeks after Harry’s birthday, our forty-one-year-old son, Rusty, died unexpectedly. We were still reeling from Rusty’s death when we received the devastating news that our twenty-one-year-old grandson Dylan, Rusty’s firstborn child and our first grandchild, had passed away. I could never put into words how difficult that time was for us. I think Teddy Roosevelt said it best, when he wrote a single sentence in his journal the day his young wife passed away just hours after his mother’s death: “The light has gone out of my life.”
Neither of us had the heart for traveling after that. I cancelled our reservations and put away my travel guides. The next few months were the worst you can imagine. Grief is like the tide. It ebbs and flows. One minute you think you’re fine, and then bam, something triggers a memory and it feels like you’ve been punched in the gut.
In October we decided we needed to get away. We went camping for two weeks in Carrabelle, Florida, a small town along Florida’s Panhandle. For the most part, the trip was the perfect form of escapism for us. The only downside was that we were in Carrabelle on what would have been Dylan’s twenty-second birthday. Instead of celebrating our sweet boy’s birthday, we mourned his death instead.
I thought the first year we lost Rusty and Dylan was bad, but the second year was actually worse. My daughter-in-law and I were discussing it one day, and she said she thought it was because the first year we were still in shock, and the next year reality set it. I think she was right.
Last year we only took one weeklong trip. Moho sat idle in her shelter the other fifty-one weeks. At the beginning of this year, Harry and I decided it was time to get back in the saddle. We considered sticking to our original plan to go to the Grand Canyon, but it just didn’t feel right to me. I mulled it over for several days, but finally concluded that we needed a fresh start. Harry agreed. We kicked around several ideas, but when Harry suggested Mt. Rushmore, it felt like the perfect choice. Of course, as things go, we decided if we were going to drive all the way to South Dakota, why stop there? Yellowstone National Park was only a hop, skip, and a 500-mile jump further away via the north entrance, so Gardiner, Montana became our new destination. We booked a reservation at a campground about four blocks from one of Yellowstone’s famous landmarks: the Roosevelt Arch, and starting making plans for our long awaited trip.
We’ll be staying in Gardiner for ten days, arriving just ahead of the Memorial Day weekend. If we’ve learned anything about RVing in the past four years, it is to avoid being on the road during a major holiday at all costs. While everyone else is fighting the holiday traffic, we intend to kick back and relax for a while, and then take in the sights in and around Gardiner. Once the holiday weekend is over, we’ll hop in our Jeep and head to Yellowstone.
This will not be our first trip to Yellowstone. We visited both Yellowstone and Teton National Parks back in the early 90s. But traveling a great distance during a measly week of vacation does not lend much time for taking in all the sights. We flew into Cody on a Saturday afternoon, and drove like maniacs through Yellowstone over to Jackson Hole. We spent two nights in Jackson Hole, and then boogied back to Yellowstone to begin our official visit to the park. To see Yellowstone properly, you have to make a lot of stops, which quickly eats up your time. You cannot visit our nation’s first national park without seeing Old Faithful, the geyser basin, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, Lamar Valley, Mammoth Hot Springs, the waterfalls, and the animals. Oh, the animals you’ll see in Yellowstone, everything from otters and foxes to elk and moose and bison. I cannot tell you how much time we wasted because a herd of bison decided to take a break in the middle of the road. Trust me. You do not want to tick off a 2,000-pound bison bull by blowing the horn at it.
In the past twenty years, we’ve been fortunate to visit some amazing places. But up until we purchased our motorhome, we flew to almost every single destination. Harry usually had the window seat on the plane. When the skies were clear, he would stare at the ground and wonder what we were missing out on by flying across the country instead of driving.