Just another typical pick up your stuff and move day. We departed the great salt flats and powered down through Nevada following it's eastern side. The scenery was beautiful and tough at the same time. It was one mountain summit after the next as Penny Yo-yo'd up and down the hills. Our day came to a rest at a BLM campsite known as Sacramento Pass. Unfortunately I was too pre-occupied with trying to figure out where and how to park that I completely neglected to take pictures. This free piece of heaven had some other campers and one piece of crap in the park had a pitbull and another dog roaming around the area. They barked like mad whenever they caught a glimpse of us or Eli. We moved Penny further down the campground to a sub-prime location just to get away from him.
After settling in we headed down to the visitor center of Great Basin National Park to grab some info on the next days' journey. While walking around town with Eli we stumbled upon this cool little cabin getaway. Can't wait to see what the next day brings.
Holy crap it is early. Does the clock really say 0645? Uggh... I thought I left the alarm clock behind in St. Louis when we sold the house. I guess that's the price of wanting to see the sunrise in the salt flats. Coffee. We need to at least make coffee before we leave. Ok... crisis averted. Just need to grab the dog and some donuts for a photo op we may never get again.
A gorgeous sunrise in a desolate place stirs my soul just a little bit. The realization that traveling changes who you are as a person is becoming apparent to me once more. I had this feeling on the last trip and had nearly forgotten it. There is something about being out in the world without being tied down that really sets a person free. It makes you feel insignificant in respect to the world. I hate to break this to my readers who think they are super special and the world revolves around them, but it doesn't. You are just a spec of dust in the time line of history. You were born, then you die. Everything in the middle is just stuff. Enjoy your life before you die.
Get up, drink coffee, eat breakfast, walk the dog. Routine sets in regardless of our location. Today we are going to shake things up a little. We eyeball the steep trail I rode T-Dub up the other day and strap into our hiking gear. Typical preparation for a hike longer than a mile is shoes, walking sticks and our camelbacks. I went out on a limb last week and bought a new pair of hiking shoes. After browsing the stores for Merrell and Keen, I end up with a pair of Everest. The biggest difference here is that I had fully intended on spending $100-$150 in order to get something sturdy and reliable. What I ended up with was a discounted pair of no name brand shoes for $20. I've got nothing to lose so what the hell. If I burn through a pair a month they would last just as long as an expensive set.
They held up just fine for their first hike. A little bit hotter than my other shoes... but not intolerable. Time will tell if these pieces of crap are really up to 1/6th the challenge of a nice pair. Now we have the rest of the day to kill off and it turns into a likeness of yesterday. Lots of lounging around and cleaning the rig. Rustling through my stuff reveals a US vinyl sticker map I had bought prior to the trip. People usually put these on their RV, but I'm going to stick it to Shirley since we plan on selling Penny when the trip is over.
This old jeep has seen some states
I take T-Dub out to stack on some more miles and get more acquainted with how it handles in the dirt. I've got nearly 40,000 miles of motorcycle experience on the street, but only 150 in the dirt. It's a whole new world.
Let me explain the genius of this little motorcycle in a little more detail. An enduro motorcycle is also know as a dual sport. See the license plate? That means I can ride this little hunk of awesome on the street. The second half of the dual sport persona is it's ability to go off road. We have to put some miles on this new toy and get the motor broke in.
Time to follow this 20 mile gravel road down the mountain range to see where we end up. Katie hops on the back and we load T-Dub up for a journey out. It's a tall order for a little motorcycle that's brand new. Combined with all of our gear, T-Dub is tasked to haul around 290 pounds of cargo. Her little 16hp motor is going to work a little bit harder today than usual.
Halfway through the trip we hop off and stretch our legs. The last 4 miles were narrow dirt track conisting of loose rocks and steep inclines. It was slow going as I still get a hang of riding off road with a passenger. Then it's back in the saddle as we finish up the route. Katie has had enough and opts to stay behind at the RV to soak up some sun. I on the other hand still want to rack up some miles. Too the flats...
On the way out of the flats T-Dub hits a new milestone. Only another 900 miles to go and the motor will be fully broken in and ready for complete punishment.
Time to wind down the rest of the evening with a couple of beers and distant gazing into the mountains. We like the desert. It almost feels like home.
It's the day of great exploration for the state of Utah in our eyes. The best place to start is at the State Capitol building. We have used these places of stature to help us develop an understanding of the cities we visit. Utah's capitol building is probably one of the best we have seen. It's stark white stone complete with marble steps and cast iron staircases echo the beauty of simplicity. A recent renovation has done it's job well to complement the people it belongs too. This place sparkles with prestige and class.
While originally built in 1904, this colossus of style retains its vintage charm. It's halls echo the voices of senators and just our mere footsteps reverberate through the corridor. You can go ahead and color me impressed. This place is beautiful.
However there are more impressive things to see in downtown Salt Lake City. In the heart of downtown is Temple Square. Here lies a few of the highest temples of the Mormon religion. Within a block is also the Mormon history museum and the Mormon library.
Mormon temple. Only invited mormons can get in.
In full disclosure Katie and I are not of the Mormon faith. Just because we don't practice the religion does not mean that we are unwilling to learn about the culture and heritage of it's people. To get a better understanding of this we head over to the history museum to see inside the process behind the mentality of it's followers.
This is where things are going to get a little dicey. Now I have a mormon friend and I do not intend to offend him. I'll extrapolate on that and say that I have no intention to offend the mormon faith or any of it's followers. That being said, this place felt a little scripted. It's as if all the volunteers within the museum standing next to the artifacts were there to "educate" us on what happened and why this religion is right over any other in the world. Our entire experience there was pleasant. People were absolutely friendly without being pushy, and a warm smile greeted us at every turn. Regardless of the kindness the museum felt much more like a very well executed marketing campaign than it did a history of it's people. The views of the faith are outside of my realm and it can be a little much to accept.
Follows the basics of Christianity
Families are eternal and stay together forever
A person can obtain godhood by doing work for God
God is a man, flesh and blood
The more you do for the church the higher your status on earth and in heaven.
I think what's even more difficult for me to buy into is the story. The history of the religion starts around 1830 and that is not very long ago.
Joe Smith was fed up with modern Christianity and turned his prayers to god
God answered with an angel who told him where to find buried gold plates in the dirt
Angel taught him to decipher the encrypted plates
Gold plates returned to god after the transcription
Joe Smith is the last saint (latter day saints), and taught his new findings to the people
We had enough of the temple square an decided to trudge onward through the city. Our next stop was Fort Douglas military museum
A room of extra propaganda from WW2
The museum was small and didn't take long for us to stroll through. Outside were a handful of armaments and memorials. A quick twenty minutes went by and w decided to hit the road once more. We were determined to see the true grit of the city and Katie popped open google for a quick search of the worst neighborhoods. As it turned out we were currently in one of them and had already walked down the streets of two others. There were no bars on the windows, no abandoned cars, and no graffiti to even speak of.
Our experience has been an odd one for a metropolitan population. Everywhere you look the people are white. There has only been a couple of hispanics and a handful of asians. Forget about the black folk. Finding them here is like seeing a WW2 vet at a Ricky Martin concert; it's a rare sight. Don't read this as a racist profile. The whole city seems to be missing something. This place doesn't have any flavor. Most big cities exude a vibe of culture and heritage. Typically when we roll down the back alley's of a place like Seattle or Chicago you can feel for what the people here are really like. Street performers, groups of people standing in the park, vibrant signs dotting the business fronts usually makes a place stand out in your mind. Not in Salt Lake City. Here there is no attitude. No Grit. No taco trucks, no chicken stands, no bikers, no bail bond stores, nobody trying to hustle you for cash as you walk the streets. It's a place that only serves vanilla ice cream. What a shame.
Time to hit the bricks and take this old dog for a walk. We have to be careful about saying the "W" word too loud or he will lose his mind. Today's early trot takes us around the back of the Lagoon Campground and showcases some of their animals that must be part of the amusement park. After that the trail connects to another one provided by the City of Salt Lake.
A glance at the map and we try to decide where to go next. The ultimate destination is to make it down to Great Basin State Park in Nevada but that's due south. To the west lies the Salt Flats. Do you know what happens on the salt flats? They go racing. I love racing. Yep, we need to go see it. Head west Penny, we need to go check something off my bucket list.
So that's a tree sculpture n the middle of the desert for no reason.
My excitement builds as we click off the miles. This is it. I checked the Bonneville Speedway schedule and this weekend is supposed to be world record setting jet cars running the racetrack.
Welcome to Mecca
If you don't know what you are looking at let me explain. This is the only place in the world where a 600 mph jet powered car has enough room to let it all hang out. It took tens of thousands of years for the Great Salt Lake to dry up and leave behind the salt flats. What it left behind was something magical. The salt flats are an amazing 5 miles wide and 12 miles long of complete flat nothingness. Forty six square miles of salted crust is an amazing thing to look at with your own eyes. Better yet, is the 100 ft wide RACETRACK that is 10 miles long and nothing but awesome.
After arriving to the flats there wasn't any action. Another quick flip of the webpage shows that the race has been cancelled due to lack of entries. Damnit. I don't care, we are here. Let's find a place to park.
Jeez things around here are expensive. Only a handful of RV parks are spread through the Salt Lake metro and the prices are ridiculous. The best deal we could find was at Lagoon Campground. This destination campground is attached to an amusement park that is only open on the weekends. A huge bonus for us is the walking path that is literally right out the gate from the front of the park. Eli loves to go for a quick walk and we are always happy to oblige. After getting the rig set in place it was about that time of the day to explore the distant lands.
We arrive at Salt Lake State Park on the far southern edge of you guessed it, the Great Salt Lake. The largest lake in the Western Hemisphere is also one of the saltiest. Coming in at #10 in salinity, the Great Salt Lake hits concentrations of nearly 27%. That's super salty. If you have no idea how to compare it then read on. The average salinity of the oceans is 3.5%. This lake is so salty there are zero fish in it. Only brine shrimp and flies survive in these waters.
After looking past it's beauty and amazing features the reality of the lake really sets in. The water stinks of dead stuff. Swimming in here is only for the strong willed. A layer of brine flies hovers over the surface and it's so salty that my fingers started to tingle after having them in the water. Upon my research for this little scripture I stumbled across a pro swimmer who trains here. He covers himself in vaseline in order to let his skin survive the training. Go back and read that again. Whole body in vaseline to swim here. If that's not a sign then I don't know what is.
The last thing we did was stop by a motorcycle dealership and pick up an oil filter for T-Dub. It's really just a metal screen that can be washed out and re-used forever. I'm only going to change it this one time because of the shards of metal that will be freed from the motor during break in.
Day 14 Crater of the Moons National Monument- Arco Idaho
Welcome to 463,000 acres of jagged lava rock and cinder cones. Only 2,100 years ago this place was to roiling with active volcanoes. Lava flowed freely across the land and made hills, tunnels, and caves. We were up at a bright and shiny 0800 and out the door by 0930 in order to go see some of this majestic beauty first hand.
Warning signs litter the entrances to the tunnels and caves. The NPS has taken the appropriate steps warn people of collapse. The signs say if this collapses we die, and they will not be held responsible. I don't hear any creaky noises so we call that good enough and get some of our walking miles in early.
Katie was stoked to use her headlamp for the first time ever
A few caves lie beneath the trail and only one of them has a way out. It takes us through a hole in the ground that is about fat person big. Too fat? Turn around and burn some more calories off. Skinny dude who needs a sandwich? Come on through and follow the poles back to the trail.
Our checkout time to leave our campsite is at noon sharp. We elected to only stay one night. This place is $15 a day and that will burn through our cash stash pretty quick. Shirley gets charged with running point duty and drags our butts through the rest of the park.
Our time at the park is up and we gotta roll. Our prior hosts in Blackfoot had invited us to swing on back through for another night if need be. We opt for the ladder and turn Penny west to circle the remainder of the Moon. There's a little red dot on the map that says we should drop into Twin Falls and see the Perrine Bridge that crosses the Snake River Canyon.
Constructed in 1926, Perrine bridge holds it's place as the 8th tallest bridge in America. At 486 feet from the river it's just tall enough for lunatics to base jump off of it. If you don't know what base jumping is listen close. Some nutjob walks to the edge of the bridge with a parachute in their hand and jumps. Then they count the seconds it would take for them to splatter against the rock and let the parachute go. I'm sure there is a fresh change of underwear waiting for them at the bottom.
Another main attraction for the town is Shoshone Falls. Billed as "The Niagara of The West" you have to pay $$ to get to a park in order to see it. Luckily for us the GPS takes us the wrong way and we end up on the wrong side of the river. It doesn't look that impressive and we are both glad to save the time and money.
The rock face is bare and only a trickle of water is running over. I've been to Niagra Falls. This isn't even close.
Now the crucial decision of where to park. There isn't much on the map and freecampsites.net doesn't help either. It's1500 and we are 180 miles from Salt Lake City. There's a Cabela's in Salt Lake. Cabela's let's you sleep in there parking lot for free. Whatever will we do? We should be in town around 1830 and that is just in time for dinner.
Whenever we get time I like to stop by a memorial park. I have a deep respect for all of our veterans who who had the balls to join up and do something to help our country stay amazing. I had a chance to join the military and blew it due to drug use. Yeah... that's right. I've got nothing to hide and can tell you that the wrong crowd at the wrong time in my life lead me down a dark road. That's where my amazing wife comes into play. She doesn't know it but there is something magical about the woman I call my wife who was able to make me be a better person. She's the kind of person who leads us on our amazing adventure. She says to me" I want to see the Potato Museum". I say " You got it babe."
Idaho is known countrywide for it's potatoes but very few people know why. In short the soil around here is old volcanic ash and the climate is just right during the summer. Plant spuds, and spuds will grow.
Chris, Star Wars is on the bottom left corner
Prior to our visit to the museum of taters we tooled around town and performed a few chores. Laundry and a free dump station for Penny were on the top of the list. The dump station was located adjacent to the fire station which just happened to to have a mid 60's Pontiac wagon hiding in the back lot. I chatted up the guys washing the fire trucks and they said they still use the ghostbuster car for parades. I had to get a closer look.
With my car addiction needs satisfied for the day it's time to mosy on. Next on the list is one of things I want to see. It's 77 miles out of our way and I don't care. It's time for us to step back into time... no into another world. Let's go see the moon.
Crater of The Moons National Historic Monument is one of the youngest undisturbed lava flows in the world. NASA sends astronauts here to train for going to the moon. It's a stark reminder of what our world was not too long ago. See the number on the post in the picture? That's for a campsite I'm standing in. We will call this home for the night and go see a couple of things real quick. I'll ramble on about the information in my next post.
Cinder cone from the earth exploding
Top of explosion where mother nature is starting to reclaim
Life constantly on the move will wear you out. Twelve days into the trip and we have been through Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, and now Idaho. We've only stopped longer than a single night once, and that was for two days outside of Omaha. The majority of our stays have been free and that's just the way we like it.
On our last trip I joined an online forum called boondockerswelcome.com. This gem of a website connects people with land with people who need to park. I pop open the website and find someone nearby. A quick e-mail goes out to a host and we hear back from them in less than an hour. Score, free secure parking for the night with some friendly folks.
It's worth noting that this couple was absolutely fantastic. Keep in mind that I contacted them Sunday morning, and they let us come to their house on the same day. Just some complete strangers helping another stranger. We arrive around 1600 and they show us where to park. Then they bless us with 50 amp power and water. Katie and I make dinner and let them go about their day. We don't want to impose, but make ourselves available to chat. They stop over and invite us to sit outside on the patio to talk. This is where the night changes. These folks are genuinely interested in our story and want to share their own. Katie and I aren't really the sociable type. Part of this trip is about changing ourselves. I constantly have to remind myself that we need to live outside our comfort zones and these two people make it easy. They let people stay at their house so they can socialize, and expect the guests to be there for the same reason. We came with the wrong intention, and left with an understanding of why people really do this.
If you're reading this you guys, thanks for letting us put a pin on your map. Glad to have met you.
Saying goodbye to The Grand Tetons was a love/ hate departure. Yellowstone and Grand Tetons are packed with tourists and the freezing cold nights didn't help either. It was down into the low 30's at night which was enough to chill the inside of Penny down to about 50. We didn't bother running the furnace at any time. Katie and I have lived in a house that only had a wood stove for two winters so this is nothing. We decide to take a little time on the way out in order to see some touristy stuff.
This is really just a beard progress report. Coming along nicely
Jackson Wyoming is very much like the other tourist towns I've seen. All the big name places we have hit so far have the same thing in common. Ridiculously priced real estate, out of control tour options, and RV parking that is out of the question. You want me to give you $85 to park my RV for a night? You must be out of your mind. It's time to hit the mean streets of this town populated at 10,000 and see what it's got. Katie wants to bring the dog. I think it's a bad idea. Take a guess who won that argument?
It's Saturday and the streets are packed. We browse through the downtown region and walk over a mile to the other side.
The town is clean and well laid out. The shops dot the streets all look to be in good shape with very little empty spaces. We have no idea how much the food costs, what the attractions are, or any clue what the lodging looks like. Just the trot through town was enough for us and it was time to burn some rubber. Idaho lay in the crosshairs of our travel plans. Oh yes Idaho, we will cross you off our list of states that have passed under our shoes.
Another dip into freecampsites.net sends us to the Palisades reservoir. It's not that friendly for big rigs and plumes of dust fill the air. This place also happens to be an OHV (off highway vehicle) park and there are about a dozen dirt bikes and ATV's tearing it up.
I guess that just means it's finally time for me to pull T-dub off the carrier and get some miles in. Wait a second. Who's T-dub? Our newest member of the nomadicamerica family, that's who.
Ladies and gentleman I give you T-dub. It's a 200cc enduro motorcycle. That means we can ride on the streets and immediately veer off into a ditch without looking too close. She's small, light, and is carried on the back of Penny. Nothing like having a miniature road legal dirt bike that gets 80mpg to haul our butts around the back road. Let's go on an adventure.
We ride three miles down the highway, and then another three down the beach. At the end of the reservoir an old abandoned road appears that goes straight into the water.
Holy smokes we have a lot ground to cover in a single day. Last night we made the decision to see Yellowstone in a single day. That's a tall order for us to complete. Yellowstone is typically something people take a week to do. One of our campground neighbors reserved his site for 10 days. For us it's a little different. Colter Bay Campground is far from free. At $31 a night for boondocking, we better choose our sightseeing wisely. Remember folks, there is no income for either one of us. Trip #2 is just like trip #1 financially. Our life savings is basically on fire and we just try to keep the flame to minimum.
West thumb geyser basin
The sightseeing starts clicking time off the clock. Eli is locked up in the RV and we need to get keep that in mind. Every time we stop to see something it is just a quick snapshot or a power walk through the crowds.
Little Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Upper falls.
Don't get out of breath on me. There is still plenty more to roll through.
One little side branch in the park is this petrified tree. Basically that means the tree is so old it turned into a rock. What's interesting about this tree is the fact that it's a redwood. Now, I remember from our trip to the redwoods that they said they don't exist anywhere else in the world. Turns out they were only talking about living specimens. This tree has been identified to be physiologically identical to the redwoods in northern California. What's the catch? This specimen is tens of millions of years old. Buried under volcanic ash for centuries, only to be found again in our present day.
Okay... tick tok, tick tok. Gotta roll.
Not every picture needs to be the same canned selfie smile. This one has a little attitude.
Mammoth springs is one of the top things to see in the park. Thousands of years of calcium bicarbonate have crystallized to produce a mesmerizing lattice of stairs and pools. Unfortunately it is the farthest from our home. At this point we are already 130 miles into the day and are becoming haggard. Ten minutes is enough time for us to take it all in. Keep moving... keep going.
The Inn at old faithful is the largest log building documented in the world. Built between 1903-04 this mammoth building consists of all local materials. The overall length comes in at a staggering 700 feet long. The peak of the gable towers at 92 feet. A temporary sawmill was constructed 8 miles down the road and all the stone was mined from the nearby Black Sand Basin.
Now it's back to the main attraction here and that is too see old faithful. The estimated time of eruption is 1609. Let's see how close they really get.
1610: Yay! This means we get to go home! An hour and a half later we finally get back. It's 1800 and we are both exhausted. Shirley wracked up 241 miles today. Remember Eli in the RV? He still needs to be walked. Uggh... What a long day.
Our routine is finally starting to get back into the swing of life on the road. Katie and I each have our "jobs" and we know who will be doing what in order to keep things moving along. Job number #1 for the day is something we both share duties in. Coffee. Beautiful black coffee. After that it's breakfast, walk the dog, and pack up to hit the road if we aren't staying another night. That was the scenario for this day. Big Sandy was cold and windy. The road is is bumpy and we had very little in the way of things to do. No TV, no radio, and a cell signal that was spotty at best. The land is vast with gravel roads but has no hiking trails. At least the wind had died down overnight.
Our big adventure for the day is to get to Grand Teton National Park. It's a little sketchy in terms of camping. The two campgrounds where we can fit are on a first come first serve basis only. The national park website offers little in terms of information. For some reason the NPS (national park service) have a live update in terms of availability for all the sites in yellowstone, just not anywhere else. Scrolling through the Yellowstone availability shows just how popular these places are. The offices open at 8am, and the campgrounds are all full by 7:45. Only two campgrounds in Yellowstone take reservations and they are stupid expensive. Where are we going to sleep? That's all we can think about as we plunge through the mountains.
Our arrival at Colter Bay Village had very little drama. The nice lady at the gate let us know there was plenty of parking and we'd be able to call this home for the night. An initial payment for one day was made, and we struck off in Shirley in search of where we would sleep the following nights. There were a few small campgrounds sprinkled around the National Park that were free. However, I'm pretty sure the big rig RV would not make it there without shaking herself apart.
Easy money for Shirley... not so much for Penny
In order to make the most of our limited time in the park we seek out a simple hike near the campground. Katie and I have made a commitment to hit 5 miles of walking every day we are on the road. Our acclimation to altitude has gotten better, but we didn't push it and did a very easy 2 mile walk around the lake shore. Grand Teton park is strikingly beautiful. I build a little rock tower on the beach and we call it a day. Life could be worse.
We strike out back down the road we came in yesterday. Sinclair refinery greets us before we hit the highway and stride further down interstate 80 in search of awesomeness. Rock Springs Wyoming is our exit off the highway for our next leg north. We stop for gas and top Penny off. Grand Total: 6.5 mpg on that last tank. I’m more than pleased with the news.
We might as well take in the local sights. There's an off-road only back road that is known to have wild horses in the desert. Katie takes up wheel duty and we strike off in search of feral horses. Two miles into the trip and we see nothing. Katie is already sick of driving in the gravel and I gladly take over off-road duty. We have two very different approaches to Shirley. She believes it's best to go between 7 and 8 mph at all times in case something happens. I on the other hand live by the motto "When it doubt, throttle out" The washboard gravel makes Shirley's suspension crash and bound. This is high speed exploring. So far the only thing with fur we have seen is the dog, and we see him everyday.
Nearly 10 miles into the gravel road and we are about ready to call it quits. The next side road offers us a chance to go back to Penny and keep moving. Katie sees something out of the corner of her I and I slam on the brakes. Could it be? Furry animals stand way off in the distance. Wait.... I saw a trail a few hundred feet back. Shirley whirs in reverse at 20 mph and comes to a sliding halt. That looks like tire tracks through the scrub brush. I slam the transmission into drive and we careen down the path before the furry animals move on. At last. We have found them.
Mission accomplished means we can finally find home. Shirley gets hooked back up and turns right. North bound into another vicious headwind for an hour and half wears me out. It's mile after mile of frayed nerves. Mother nature is blowing nearly 30 mph today and this box on wheels does not handle that well. Imagine your car is actually 11'6" tall. Then make it 32 feet long, and tow a jeep with two kayaks and two bicycles on it. Add to that the altitude and Penny is struggling to sustain 50 mph. Our sanctuary comes courtesy of freecampsites.net for the night. Big Sandy Reservoir is on the way to Jackson and will make a fine place to park. The road in is washboard gravel. Everything in the RV is making noise and I'm just praying that nothing breaks. We edge up to the first pullout we see and call it a day. This will do for now. Life could be worse...
Get water where you can. This was the only one we could reach
The morning starts off well enough. Dump stations and fresh water are always a welcome site when every fluid you use or expel is carried with your home. This becomes exceptionally lucky when it strikes for free. Our route carries us further westward as we roll into the tiny town of Pine Bluff. There stands mother Mary in all of her glory. Penny swings left and we give this statue a moment of our time. Her crisp white figure contrasts against the Wyoming sky.
Back to the interstate as the freight train travels west. I see the speed limit raise to 80mph and I crack a smile at Katie. “Let’s she what she’s got” is the phrase I let roll off my tongue while simultaneously pushing down on the loud pedal. “It’s not safe. Nobody needs to do 80 mph” is the reply I get. Not even a mile passes and we see the burnt carnage of a rolled semi on the opposite side. Okay… I’ll give her this one.
Cheyenne lies in the path of our destination. Some quick google searches show us that there are a few cool things to be seen here. There is the governor's mansion that was built at the turn of the 20th century, and the Wyoming State Museum.
Historic governor's mansion circa 1904
Wyoming State museum. More free awesomness
Penny is raring to go as we hit I-80 west. This is the big moment I have been anticipating with trepidation. Our gas RV has proven itself up to the challenge so far, but this my friends, this is the first real test. Cheyenne is at just over 6,000 ft in elevation and only 20 miles down the road we need to crest Sherman’s summit. It’s blowing a steady 23 mph headwind/ crosswind with gusts up to 28. Penny downshifts out of overdrive as I flip the toggle switch to let her keep the revs up. We cruise along at 3,200 rpm and 60 mph with only a few dips in speed. Just shy of the summit I have a break down. I don’t mean Penny. I mean me. This body isn’t made for dry climates and altitude. Blood starts dripping from my nose as we near 8,600 feet and the trip downhill is nearly in site.
With all the excitement out of the way we still need to find home. It’s getting late and there is no time to lose. This time freecampsites.net takes us out to Dugway Rec area. A beautiful piece of BLM land that is just begging for people to enjoy. What a way to end our first day back in Wyoming. This picturesque place is what traveling dreams are made of.
3,700, 3,750, 3,800, feet... WAAAAAAA! Dowshift into 3rd gear as the engine wals up to 4,000 rpm's. Penny's gas motor is screaming up the hill at a blistering 50 mph. There is about 24,000 pounds of mass that this GM Vortec is pushing up a 7% grade at 4,000 feet in elevation and it's not complaining at all. Temperatures all stay within normal and the big block is singing beneath our feet. The floor is getting hot from the headers and Katie looks uneasy from the sound bellowing out of the floor. "Relax." I tell her. "This is what it's made to do" The 8100 Vortec is notorious for being a gas workhorse monster, and what a monster she is.
We arrive at the foot of Scott's Bluff and pull over into the RV parking lot to let the big girl catch her breath. This is the first hike on our trip and we're both excited to bust out the Camelbacks (fancy backpack with built in water bag) and hit the trail. The trail map has it marked as strenuous and we can't wait. Is that pavement I see? Strenuous my ass.
Scott's Bluff was a quick 3.2 mile round trip hike with only 800 feet of elevation gain. We wrapped it up in about an hour and a half and got back to the road. It's not getting any warmer in Yellowstone so this freight train of vehicles needs to keep hustling across the country.
We lean on our beloved website of freecampsites.net to find our new home for the night. Oliver Resevoir State Recreation allows people to park their junk for 14 days for free and we took full advantage of it. One more night of no money spent always puts smiles on our faces.
It's our first pit stop into a laundromat since we have been on the road. An unmarked building with tiny washing machines is the place we are going to use. Laundry is a weird thing to do when your not in your house. Stepping into the old rundown building with minimal maintenance should have been our first sign to wait until a bigger city, but we looked past it and started dumping clothes into the money machines. It was $3 a load, and we had 4 of them to do. That's a lot of laundry for only being gone for one week. We blame it on the tiny washers and the fact that one load alone was just towels, and another was sheets. Katie makes an oops and spills some soap on the floor. We cast our eyes around and don't see anything to clean it up with, so I just grabbed that white bucket in the picture and placed it next to it. I'm a safety conscience man due to years of corporate training. It's the best I could do, so that's what I did.
We go back to the RV and grab Eli for round number two. The clothes get piled into the dryer and we bump into Larry. This elder man with a well weathered face looks at us with a scowl and says "You make the mess in here?". I reply back "Yep, didn't see anyway to clean it up. My apologies". Larry cracks a smile to let me know he's just giving me a hard time and gives me a "That's alright. It happens. Just didn't want anyone to fall". We leash up the dog and go knock out a one mile walk. Upon our return a quick check reveals that our garments aren't dry. Dang. Another $1 into the dryer and we sit in Shirley for the last 10 minutes.
Larry roles up in his pickup to chit chat with us a little bit more about Nebraska football and how he's from Minnesota. Since Shirley is dressed up in Wisconsin plates, two kayaks, and two bicycles, Larry's quick wit lead him to the realization we must not be from around here. Now this is where it get's interesting. Larry says to me "Did y'all clean your hands after moving those buckets. You didn't put your fingers in your mouth or nuthin?" I look at him puzzled. "Those buckets are used for anything and everything 'round here, if you gt my drift" I've got nothing to say. I just keep looking at him. His final reply stuns both of us; "We ain't got no bathrooms here..." Whoa whoa whoa. Did this guy just tell me people come and piss in his buckets at the laundromat waiting for clothes to wash? He waves goodbye and drives off. Yep. He sure did. Gross.
We get back to the RV and I scrub myself from the elbows down trying to get rid of any hepatitis that might still be around. I've got to get my mind off of Larry's Laundromat and start looking into a problem with the 12 volt sockets in the dash that keep popping fuses.
This main panel is below the drivers seat, which is located in one of the storage bays. It feeds power to the fuse block under the steering wheel inside. I get a voltmeter out and start checking circuits one buy one looking for shorts or broken wires. After an hour of messing around I figure out that our dash camera's plug has a broken spring inside that occasionally grounds out the system and pops the fuse. Well... one more thing that's fixed. Katie takes Eli for another walk while I'm messing around and when she gets back I go on my own. We're still trying to make sure we get some alone time and a quick 20 minute walk will help me sleep better tonight.
Oh that's where I left that
Living the homeless life let's you look at the world a little different. First time I've ever seen a hammer impression in a city sidewalk. Time to finish up my little route and get back for the Packers game. It's the first game of the season that just happens to be against the Bears. Beer please.
We leave our home of a single night to get back to the grindstone. Nebraska hasn't had much to offer us so far and there is no reason to stick around. It's westbound at a leisurely 64 mph on interstate 80. The posted speed limit is 75, but there's no reason for us to push that hard. Penny is a gas motor home and needs to be driven a bit different than her diesel sisters. Today she will climb from 2,200 ft in elevation to just short of 4,000. Naturally aspirated (no turbo, no supercharger) engines lose power as the height increases. She's cruising along at a mild 2,300 rpm and the big block is only returning us 7.3 mpg.
Our initial goal was to get to Wyoming today. We stop for lunch and take a look at the map. Nothing to see here.. let's keep moving. Further on down the highway the signs for Chimney Rock start showing up. It's just a national historic site and doesn't peak our interest at first. Miles click by and the signs are still appearing. We are here. We'll probably never be here again. Screw it. Penny swings north on highway 26 and points her nose towards the rock. Let's go check out this piece of history.
Elk Penis stands tall and proud over the background. What a sight to behold.
Elk Penis was a sight to behold for the early emigrants. After a 500 mile trek from Council Bluffs via covered wagon, this is the first thing they would see that wasn't flat. It's nearly 300 ft tall and a half a mile circumference at the base. Unfortunately for us this is as close as we get. The whole area is infested with rattle snakes and roped off to visitors for reasons of preservation.
Elk Penis was the second stroke of good luck we had today. The admission into the museum was waived. Free stuff is always a positive for us. Prior to this we found a beautiful parking spot for the night just north in the town of Bayard Nebraska. This lovely town of 1,200 people let's visitors camp two days for free. This little piece of gravel comes complete with fresh water and 50 amp power. Nice.
Our first stroke of good luck came in the form of finding a free place to stay during the town's Pioneer Days. A little festival in town with some live music belting across the town made us take the walk, and what a walk it was.
A parade from earlier in the day must have been throwing candy out for all the townfolk to gather. At least that's what we hope it's from. Any way you slice it there is no denying that free candy is the best kind.
The festival was dead as far as we could tell. A handful of people filled the park. The majority of those folks were gathered around a TV watching the Cornhuskers play. It's pretty obvious that college football in this state rules the land.
Our night winds down with the onset of an incoming storm. The vast western skies offer up a different kind of view than what you see in St. Louis. Rain clouds roll across the land undisturbed and sunlight infiltrates the backdrop. Here the rain can be seen coming at you with no surprises. It makes us realize how much we have missed the west and all it's glory.
Another drizzly day in the already rain soaked state of Nebraska. Flooded rivers and closed parks is not enough to stop us from getting out and doing a little exploring. The town is in good shape overall. Life bustles by and we never feel like we are in a shady neighborhood. The north side was a little rough, but I've walked down the streets of worse. The morning starts off with us heading out to see Bob. Bob seemed like he was a cool dude and we thought it would be fun to take a stroll on him.
Bob is the longest pedestrian bridge in the USA, and the only bridge that connects two states. Worth the walk? Yeah. Bob is all right.
The council Bluffs side in Iowa was definitely a place on the upswing. The park was brand new and construction was still ongoing. The Omaha side was even better. Crisp concrete gave way to a small marina. Standing tall at the end of the walkway was a labor statue carved out of bronze. The striking figures were meticulously done and showed a great amount of detail up close.
I'd tell you all about this awesome piece of bronze, or you could read all the letters etched on this plaque. Get to reading because I don't want to type that much.
Enough walking for the morning. On our way back we drop by the veteran's war memorial to pay our respects.
A quick stop in and out is all I'm in the mood for. I've already started to get pissy with Katie on our return trip. I'm starting to feel the stress of the road and we've only just begun. The rest of the day I'm consumed by letting thoughts of frustration take over my mood. The RV is in shambles because we rushed to leave New Athens and then to head to Yellowstone. I feel responsible for making a lot of stuff happen even though what we do is a team effort. Tensions boil over and we have our first fight traveling. Life moves on and we both let it go. The biggest stress is to find a place to park every night. Easy with an unlimited budget. Difficult when you're trying to do it on the cheap.
Freecampsites.net has been a great resource for us trying to find home every night. This time it lands us at some good ol' fashioned WMA land in Nebraska. Wildlife Management Area is secret code for park your ass here and take a nap for free.
The local sheriff swings through and I pop out to say hello. He says it's no problem to stay the night. We chit chat about what we are doing for the trip and he rolls out on his merry way. At least we got things figured out for the night. Guess we'll just have to see what tomorrow brings.
Day 2 starts off with a look back into day 1. We started off our trip seeing friends and family throughout wisconsin prior to adventure #2. The days off didn't feel like the trip yet. It hadn't really set in that we were giving this another shot. With a weeks worth of visits out of the way we blazed West out of Southern Wisconsin and started the arduous journey across the corn belt. Illinois came and went and soon we arrived to our first overnight spot for our journey on the road.
Praire Meadows Casino in Des Moines allowed us to grab some parking lot for the night. The casino itself wasn't awe inspiring nor were there friendliness to RV's. We settled in for the night only to be shuddered awake at 1230 am. RAPP RAPP RAPP! "What the hell was that?" Half asleep and in a strange place makes we awaken in a daze. RAPP RAPP RAPP! Katie squeaks the door open and there stands the security guard. "I'm sorry to wake you, but you need to pull in your slides and raise your jacks". He walks back to his little car and waits for us to do as we are told. That's a hell of a way to start the trip.
The next morning was hammer down as the miles of Iowa disapeared under Penny's tires. The sweet song of a big block V8 with long tube headers reverberated through traffic and underpasses. We hit Omaha in the early afternoon and started looking for a place to call home for the night. This is where Nebraska starts to fall short to the RV lifestyle. The parks reservation system is an absolute joke. The first place we stopped was first come/ first serve only. No reservations could be taken and nobody to call and ask if they were full. Turns out capacity was stuffed to the brim. Then we turned back east to head to NP Dodge City Park. Guess what? Campground closed due to flooding. No updated information to be found on their webpage. To the wast was another state park. We breathe a sigh of relief as the view of a half empty campground beams through the windshield. Then there was the sign, oh yes, the terrible sign. Reservations can only made online and must be made 24 hours in advance. What? We can't stay? We have money... I want to pay Nebraska to sleep and they won't let us. UGGGHHH! Back to the road and westward bound. Someone at Two Rivers State Rec Area picks up the phone and confirms they have sites and yes they will take our money.
It's already 5 pm as we settle into our spot for the night. They got us for $20 to park with electric and another $8 per vehicle, per day, for entrance into any state ran park or recreation area. This is an expensive camping spot as far as state parks go. Nebraska should really take note. Make it cheap and easy to stay. This will bring money from travelers and boost your economy. We won't stick around this state long, I can guarantee you that.
i Nearly nine months. The time of between chapters 1&2 have slipped through our fingers quicker than either of us had imagined. We bought a house in New Athens IL just outside of St. Louis and I worked to help start up a new business during the duration of our "break". Another house flipped. Another town lived in. Our lives belong on the road to see all there is to see in America the beautiful. No longer will we accept that our lives are just good enough. The feeling that... oh this will work. We demand to be better. We demand to be greater than that. Travel the world and see amazing things. Follow along with us for journey number two. This one is going to be epic. The goal has changed and we have adapted. We have a few surprises in store...