Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day 20 , 21: Southwest Montana, Introducing Yellowstone

I woke up the next morning, showered, packed up and out quick to avoid the weird man (although he did find me in the morning) and make up for the lost time I had staying in Hardin v. Billings (although I did save about $10 in site fees). Any feelings I had the previous day of not waiting to be on the road had 100% faded away. I felt at one with the road and immensely enjoyed the beauty of Montana.
Roadside gorgeous typography, about an hour west of Hardin

Today's goal was Lewis and Clark Caverns (State Park) about four hours away from Hardin. It was suggested by the popbottle glasses guy in Miles City. I loved it and the whole scenic drive there! After a steep and hot 3/4 mile hike up to the caves, we spent two hours inside looking and learning, then I was back out. Despite the gift shop guy suggesting Bozeman when I bought my pin and told my story, I (forgot or something) and went with my original plan of Butte. I questioned it on the way there and while there and once passed it and on my way to Idaho Falls (3 hours out of the way), I decided to head back to Bozeman because it had more oil change choices. I drove 90 miles back to Bozeman and, again, woke up early to make up lost time.

the flash is blinding in the dark, can you tell? ha.

imo, pitching a tent should be free... but  tellerTaylor
an attractive good sport

While my oil was being changed, I had breakfast down the street so that 1. I could eat and 2. I could charge my electronics. It was my first proper meal in weeks. (I really should have taken of advantage of more than just that pie last night.) In that short amount of time, I decided that I liked the vibe of Bozeman so much, I decided to pudder around main street. I went to Wells Fargo to get out multiple denominations for campsite trust boxes in anticipation for Yellowstone. The people there were so damn nice. As were the folks over at the thrift store across the street. (I got some Keen's for $4.50!) For a while I sat in the Safeway/Starbucks parking lot browsing Tinder to get a feel for the scene. At around 4pm, I was finally off to Yellowstone

that was a medicinal popsicle: my throat hurt.
I arrived at the West gate a little after 6pm. Free entry in the evening, where I entered Wyoming briefly, took some photos of the beautiful rose colored sunset (top) and then back over the
Montana border to find a campsite since, unfortunately, all the Yellowstone proper ones ($15/night) were already full or closed for the season. The first site in West Yellowstone, just outside the park, was $63. Nope! I went to another just a little further out: $40. I figured it was either drive out in the dark and hope for something cheaper or suck it up and figured I'll save the gas and hassle. (These campsite costs are killing my budget!)

As I paid, I went through a now very routine round of questions: How many people? Just one. Just you? Yes. You're alone? Yes. Do you have a dog? No. So just you? YES! Aside from the normal line of questioning, he made me nervous on account of asking if I was sleeping in my car or tent, but maybe it was just the freeze warning in West Yellowstone. I'm locking my tent extra tight tonight and staying up late and sleeping with my stun gun ready to go. After making a vat of spaghetti to last a week, I'm bundled up warm for a low of 32, putting on some Golden Girls and nodding off the bed. Tomorrow I really see the park.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Day 19: Dragging

For whatever reason, this proved to be my most favorite campsite. Another mom and pop, the guy in charge had on popbottle bifocals and offered some places to see in Montana. He also ::the heavens open and angels sing:: gave me a wifi password. I admit it: I have missed Netflix A LOT. Television has always been my zone out, comfy place. And his WiFi actually worked. Plus, I had food. Real food: sautéed chicken and avocado on a bed of leafy mixed greens with tomatoes. Paired with that, was my wine and Netflix. It was a damn good night (despite wasting an hour looking for my damn bike key, which I ended up finding under my tent after I had given up looking). Just off of interstate 94, the Big Sky campground made me feel incredibly safe and was super clean: I totally recommend it if you're ever on the move.

And then, to no fault of their own, I woke up this morning again to wind. The fucking wind; it saved me from the heat on my hike yesterday, but today we're not friends again. I was tempted to stay, but the only thing that really got me out of my tent and on the move (aside from getting away from the damn wind) was that there was a Dairy Queen outside of the Wal-Mart. And I love DQ: If a man ever took me on a first date to DQ, immediately wife material. It bares mentioning that the mid-west loves it's DQ's. While living in DC, I always said it would be my dream to open up a DQ in the District - there isn't one, not for miles. And let's be real, DQ is the shit: burgers, ice cream - what's not to love?! But ever since Ohio, I have not been at much of a loss to find a Dairy Queen. Which is good, because the one in front of Wal-Mart was boarded up and closed and, to my point, about 20 miles down 94 there was another DQ, waiting for me to indulge in a chocolate cone with sprinkles; rewarding me for ambling out of my tent, packing up and moving again today when all I really wanted to do was stay put somewhere two nights in a row. But, I realized, if that's my biggest complaint, then I don't have much to complain about.

I made it to Little Big Horn Battlefield around 4:32p (they close at 5), having pseudo-accidentally taken the scenic route through the Crow reservation. I have all but abandoned GPS at this point and am almost solely using paper maps. As luck would have it, entry after 4:30 is free (despite the unfortunate timing of a rushed visit). There, at the monument, I met a Dakota/Cheyenne Native who quickly introduced himself and invited me to join him and the old man he was with for dinner and traded info. There was a trading post/cafe down the street and while I was buying socks, he texted me that he was in the adjoining cafe so hey! free pie. (Too bad I was still full from my $2 DQ burger and cone - sprinkles are free in Miles City, ya'll!!)

After, he said if I was staying in Hardin we should hang out. By then, it was getting dark and I don't like to drive in the dark (the states are far too pretty to miss and I hate the feeling of chasing light). I found a campsite on the edge of the Crow reservation, where I was again, the only tenter. The host's office smelled like cat pee, he was missing some teeth and his wife wouldn't allow me to park on the grass. A creepy guy came over and asked me if I needed help pitching. He then came back over again - after some loud singing; well, at least - to ask if he was too loud and offer me a beer. It was then I decided to invite the Native over for bourbon or the left over Wal-Mart wine because I wouldn't have minded either of those men hearing a man's voice with me. My new 'Indian' was here for a couple of hours, we had decent conversation about this and that and then I sent him on his way, locked up the tent nice and tight and now I'm off to sleep. ...Cause when I wake up tomorrow, it's time to pack up, move and do it all over some place new - and hopefully I won't be dragging ass again.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Day 18: Hiking, to Montana

emerging from my tent.
I awoke in the morning feeling really refreshed. I treated myself to "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" on my PC before/while falling asleep last night even though I hadn't had electric hookup for a while and wasn't sure the next time I would be able to get a charge in. I'm really settling into the comfort of my tent. Snuggly would be an apt description. 

I heated up my coffee that I couldn't finish yesterday thanks to a mystery illness (and accidentally ate Sun Chips for breakfast). This was only after I took a baby wipe bath in my tent - pure glamour, I tell you - and washed my face in the restrooms with ice cold water that you had the hold the handle of to keep on. On this morning, I learned that I can well wash my face one-handed. Oh the places you'll go, the things you'll learn. With my coffee in tow,  I put on make-up in my current form of a vanity (below) and dry shampooed my hair. Despite things like baby wipe baths and making good friends with public toilets, I still have not given up doing make make-up (and when the moment presents, my hair. Although to be honest, most days I don't even brush my hair anymore.)

After filling my bottles with the potable water, I was on my way. Although soon I would find out that TR Park's water is strange, it feels like you can chew it. My masticatable water and I were 
out on the trail on a 83 degree day in the middle of flat and rolling fields. On this day, I was finally thankful for the overzealous wind. I hiked for about 1.5-2  miles, complete with fields of yipping prairie dogs and one beautiful, full coated (hungry, I think - he was in one of the yipping fields) coyotes, until I came across the 4th pass of the Lower Paddock that I couldn't confidently get over without risking all of my electronics and probably my dignity. Besides, I was hot and the meager breakfast of Sun Chips (and a melted on-the-hike granola bar) weren't cutting it. Soon, after 3 hours, I was back at my car -- now covered in my own salt.

how very Cheryl Strayed.

I headed over to another nature trail. This one was only about a mile; a high point with lots of cliffs. I spent about an hour there hiking, taking it in, and snapping some pics - some I probably had too much fun with. But, damnit, it was a good damn day.

(can you tell i discovered the continuous self-timer?)

It wasn't until about 4pm that I left TR Park. After about 27 hours within the park (and I could have stayed longer, happily), I would absolutely pay $20 to get in again. I headed to Montana and was going to stay in Glendive, MT at the foothills of some more badlands (as suggested by the couple at the World's Largest Buffalo). Unfortunately, it was only about 5:30pm (so there was lots of daylight to drive in left), I still hadn't seen a damn place to buy groceries (even in the town of Glendive, which seemed to have a decent population) and, moreover, it was $28 to camp there.

hey, i tried, nice largest buffalo couple.
So back out I was. I headed to the next town over: Miles City. Lots of signs for places and food, it looked like the most townie town for at least 1000 miles (that reminds me, I need an oil change...) and figured they may have food. Wal-Mart it was! The cashier and woman behind me (who commented "you got everything you need" as she held up my $5 I bought as a treat) told me where I can camp, as the only place in town I saw was the KOA and really expensive. So I headed over to Big Sky RV park and campground, where I got some advice on what to see in Montana. And here I sleep.

More hiking pics... (and some more wild horses as I exited a park):

Prarie dogs are very noise; walked through about five fields of them on my trek

Changing of the seasons
Coyote on the hunt in a field of prairie dogs

Prairie dogs on alert.
Buffalo tracks

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Day 17: Theodore Roosevelt

I started my day with a nice breakfast: Three eggs and toast with a Yoo-Hoo. The mom part of the mom and pop campsite came to ask how I slept in my tent: "fine, why?' I responded. And then I realized she was the owner and just being nice. I'm apparently still not used to that. She asked where I was off to and I told her that I quit my job to travel the country for some months. The guy in the conversion van must have overheard, because once I was packing up to leave, he chimed in to ask me how I liked this lifestyle.

"I thought I would miss working," I began, "but I don't." He chuckled and said he understood. That he just went back to work for 12 weeks doing electrical work down the road at a new wind farm after 16 months off. His name was Ron; fifty something, I'm guessing. He loves Jesus. And often takes whitewater trips in an inflatable kayak - once 135 miles alone. He one day wants to do the whole Missouri.

We talked for about two hours and he offered me something - anything. I took advantage of the map of the US he had that I had been searching for for weeks: A surprisingly difficult thing to locate. I did find one in Hill City (where the coffee shop I posted from the other day was, but it was from 1979). I suppose I shouldn't be surprised though, as I had been looking for a grocery store for about four days and had yet to really find one. (I don't know where people in the Dakotas get their food from.) He offered me more when, after 90  minutes of conversation about life and where I should go to next, we were saying our goodbyes: "Bourbon, weed, books, food...can I buy you lunch?" I declined and then he asked if he could pay for my next night of camping, "I really want to help you out on your way."

"Well, I'm not going to refuse it," I said and he handed me a $20.

Painted Canyon
About an hour and 20 minutes later, I arrived just south of the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. By now I was behind schedule (due to the lengthy morning chat) and I wasn't feeling well. Perhaps it was the eggs that weren't warm cold warm cold warm cold in my cooler attached to the 12V supply that only works when the car is on for the past three weeks. Maybe not. Either way, I was dealing with a dicky belly. Look, life on the road isn't all push button showers and eating that other half of the DQ burger you got while lost in Mobridge for breakfast after finding it on the driver's seat in the morning and other glamorous things...

I passed by Painted Canyon before turning around to see it. There were some buffalo on the grass: My first siting. I hung around there for a while chugging Pepto Bismol, visiting the lav, and wondering what in the hell North Dakota has against ginger ale. (I searched multiple times for it and no gas station carried it.) Feeling mildly better, I headed to the entrance to the park and was floored when it was $20 to get in. I tried to budget well when planning this trip, but it didn't even occur to me that I would have to pay to enter all the parks - and $20 to boot! The cheeky ranger at the station told me to blame DC; clearly she saw my plate. She handed me a park paper and told me to think about it.

I drove out and thought about the $20 Ron had handed me that morning. It seemed as though the universe was at work. I decided to use that money to enter and camp within the park since it was only $14; hike some trails tomorrow since I was feeling ill and weak today. Now, having seen it, I don't know why the park isn't more widely known because it was truly amazing. Suddenly, I'm healed. (Really though, like night and day.)

I'm really glad that Bill mentioned it (or was it at the random couple from Indy at the World's Largest Buffalo?) My favorite part was when my car got surrounded by bison - which resulted in some nice photos (see top). I am, however, still kicking myself for not nabbing a video of the whole ordeal. It was nerve-wracking a bit - I thought they would gore my car a couple of times, but I just stayed still and kept the Gershwin playing. (I swear the Rhapsody in Blue is why they kept coming nearer and nearer...that or the idiot behind me that kept walking up to them.)

I also encountered lots of prairie dogs, a coyote with beautiful amber eyes at the golden hour, wild horses, and some (what I think were) white tailed deer. Plus the amazing terrain of the park over a short 36 miles. I look forward to a couple of hikes tomorrow.

But first, when I arrived at Cottonwood campsite tonight, there were two more bison about 20 yards out from where I set up my tent. One even walked up to the woman beside me's picnic table and waited for a treat. Although when I went to put my camp deposit in the box, they had migrated there and gained a friend who didn't like my presence so hot to trot back into my car after popping $14 in the box.

Side note: While running out of food night, I made a really stellar meal out of what little I have left: A Knorr rive pack (chicken pilaf) with canned peas and boiled carrots plus a can of tuna. Quit tasty and filling - and as glamorous as this life is, I'll probably eat the other half for breakfast.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 16: A Trip-Saving Trio

Every night I sleep with a different tool from my arsenal - tonight it's my flip knife. There's no real rhyme or reason which weapon is the protection of choice for the evening,  but, to be honest, I meant to sleep with my pepper spray tonight (as in, had it when I was throwing things in the tent for the evening) and now I can't find it. And that was only the choice  because I put my stun gun somewhere earlier today when I went to the coffee shop and I can't recall where (I don't like to carry my weapons in my pack with me, just in case they search or something). So, suffice to say, I suppose, that the nightly weapon is based on availability/locational knowledge. Living out of a hatchback has it's challenges.

I have tried to be very diligent about putting things back in their places so far: head lamp hangs from the rearview, lantern/flashlight clips to the net pocket that hangs between the seats, floor of passenger is the kitchen, toiletry bag behind driver's, etc. I realize that with such a small space and a bunch of stuff, I have to be careful  about staying organized or everything will be lost and nothing will be found. In turn, disorganization would likely increase my prep time for doing anything: cooking, showering, pitching my tent, etc. if I didn't keep everything in check. Tonight, this came in handy.

After a driving day - Black Hills, South Dakota to Bowman (75 miles south of T. Roosevelt National Park), North Dakota - I decided to treat myself to a bourbon, and, by chance, a chipwich, which I had been in lust of since St. Paul. (A quick note to acknowledging how effing nuts it is that the topography of land can change so drastically - green mountain forests to yellow flat grasslands - in just a couple of hours of driving.) I finally got in before I needed to use my headlamp to pitch my house for the night, so I made a quick run to the gas station for ice and ginger ale after the pitch. While there, I unknowingly dropped my wallet and, while doing my routine roundup of things when I exit and/or enter the car, realized my wallet was gone when I got back to the site.

I rushed back to the gas station, mulling over the idiotic oversight to leave every one of my credit cards, et al. in my wallet. Luckily, the guy parked next to me turned in my wallet and Viv, the lovely Kum & Go (that name is questionable) clerk turned it into police. Small town wonderful, the officer (pretty sure the only one on duty complete with North Dakota accent) drove back to the station to return it to me. (Most weird was that they still don't use area codes in this town. For whatever reason, to me, that is so bizarre.) That trio saved my hide and now I'm back in my tent, (foregoing the bourbon even though I dug it out of my hideaway space under the trunk) hunkered down for another cold night - only this time it's a balmy 45 - in another mom and pop campsite.

I've sort of deserted my camp site app and, for the second night in a row, settled into a place I found via road signs that's owned by whomever's house that is out front. The app is useful, but also a bit of a pain: Like when I tried to use it in Fargo and ended up at a fairground. They had it listed as campsite and fairground in the app, but - I've now surmised - that probably only means that it serves as a campground when there's a fair going. So, here we are in Bowman, ND ... in someone's back yard (wallet in tow, flip knife to the right).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Day 15: Black Hills

Dances with Wolves set, and an idiot in the mirror, waving :)

waking up in the badlands. not pictured: the f*cking wind.
The wind is a bitch: Day 2. (See images at bottom of post for proof.) Only this time, my tent actually collapsed. I wanted to finish a chapter in the book I started reading in loo of my nightly Netflix, before I moved on with my day, but the stupid wind thwarted my plans. It was then that I discovered what the little Velcro tabs on the inside of the fly are for: So that your poles don't go all cattywompus in the wind. I packed up and emptied out my limp tent then took it down and headed to the showers.

On this day I learned that when I have to pay for my shower and it is timed and the wind is blowing in the shower curtain with it's cold air, I can take a shower in 4 minutes. This, in yet another green-turned-seasoned moment, meant that I had to stand in the luke warm water for another 4 minutes while I waited for it to time out and turn off.

I headed to the visitor's center, grabbed myself a pin (pins became my collection thing by happenstance, really), learned Interior (a town of like four next to the Badlands) had a gas station and headed on my way through Buffalo Gap Grassland to Rapid City -with a quick side road stop to pour myself a bowl of cereal. (It is surprisingly easy to eat a bowl of cereal while driving.) 

Unaware of what I was going to do next, and with no internet connection, I spent a minute in Rapid City running errands while trying to figure out my next move: Dollar General for supplies, washer fluid, rising the plethora of dead bugs off of my car (seasoning myself some more, I realized the flies were so awful in Fargo because they like the bug carcasses), and dropped by K-Mart to look for a cheap pair of leisure tennis shoes of all things I thought of in preparation, I missed every day shoes I can wear socks with). And I found some adorable ones (pictured below)! It's the little things.

I looked at a map I was given by the lady in the hotel in Mobridge, South Dakota when I almost caved and got a room but they had no vacancy. "Mt. Rushmore": I had been there before 20 years ago, but I thought "oh hell, why not." That seems to be a general theme I have here.

I made a quick stop into the movie set for "Dances with Wolves" then kept driving up the mountain. When I got there, I brushed my teeth in the bathroom before walking up to the monument. My life is growing in the number of situations I never really thought I'd see myself in: While looking in the bathroom mirror of a national landmark as I brushed my teeth, I realized this was one of them. After Mount Rushmore, the map said Crazy Horse mountain. With still no Internet and no idea what this was, I followed signs and the map to that. It's another carving in the side of the mountain - but I couldn't spend another $11 to enter a park today, so I had to pass and said maybe I'd come back for the laser show. What I really meant was: I'm broke but we'll see.

I wasted some time in Custer just down the road and admired the greenery and landscape before I decided to head back for the laser show. To my surprise, I was given free admission since most everything was closed down. I think it was mostly about it being past season. But I had a little cup of single serve wine I'd picked up in Custer as a treat.

After the show, I decided to stop over-complicating the campsite situation: See Mobridge. I headed to a site 0.3 mile from Crazy Horse. I was the only camper and it was well into the thirties, but despite the nervousness of Gary (and Tootsie, the owners) I had no qualms about sleeping in the cold of the night. I don't know if it is my confidence in what I'm doing growing or pure stupidity, but I slept through the night, ripe and ready for the next day - currently at Hill City having a cup of $1.63 coffee and mooching WiFi. Today, it's back up to North Dakota for Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

I wish I was making better time, every day I feel like I'm chasing light. I always think 'this will be the night I get into camp before sunset,' but have yet to achieve that goal, despite my circadian  clock moving up each day. In a way I feel rushed, but I also don't want to rush myself and move past anything I may was to see or, even worse, rush to the point of not enjoying this. I keep reminding myself to be in the moment and not about what is ahead. Because of all of my extra asides and stop and ohhh shiny objects and Buffalo Museums! I set up in the dark every night. I eat in my tent often and I can't remember the last time I had a hot meal (minus that Wall Drug kid burger - not recommend, but Pro Tip: Order Kids Meals, half the price and  not much smaller), but I'm really enjoying myself. 

Yesterday I was thinking that I thought I would have more existentialism, but that I suppose it's difficult because I'm fairly satisfied with myself
PBJ for dinner in a -10 degree bag? This is
my life now. And I'm okay with it.
(despite inquiry of of older men asking what I was running away from when I told them my plans before I began). Today, I asked the man not to zoom on me when taking my photo at Mt. Rushmore and he said something to the effect of, "Some  people don't know beauty even when its looking back in the mirror." 

I responded awkwardly with, "No. I think I'm attractive, but all my photos are close to my face because that's all the longer my arm is" and despite being mildly conceded in response (or perhaps just confident), I realized there is nothing I'm trying to fix by this journey. I'm just here. Admittedly, this trip is everything and nothing I had imagined, but so ful-fulling to feel so self-reliant and know that I can set up a tent in the dark in 8 minutes and sleep soundly in a night that sings 35 degrees into my bones. 


Self Portrait: Windblown

Interior's Gas Station was old school.
KMart, I will never make fun of you again. You've
go some sweet sneaks for $17!