I am sitting in a collapsable chair on the banks of Clearwater River. We are on scenic route 12 from northern Idaho to Montana and I have been tracing this river through the passenger side window for the last 136 miles. At points, the river, rushing so fast it echoes, then expanding at the next bend causing the rapids to slow, leaving a gentle rhythm. It stays so clear you can see the shades of every rock lining the bottom. Miles go by in seconds and I can’t believe we have been driving for over 3 hours along this path. Idaho has come with some surprises. Scenery from the south contrasting the north from dry flat to green mountains. The sun is bright, no humidity, a gentle breeze combs through the trees and we are not ready to leave. Colin is in the river before I’m out of the van. He catches a fish on the first cast. Our decision is easy and we spend a couple of days here.
We find ourselves at a crossroads in Missoula, Montana. We need to be heading south in order to meet up with Mark (the shocks guy)* but we are so close to Glacier National Park. Colin gets a text from a good friend and it reads, “going to the sun road, man. Unbelievable.” The van turns north.
Going to the Sun Road is about 50 miles and cuts through the middle of the park. The views come from angles that do not feel safe. The road narrows and the climb continues. Taking a quick moment to look out the window, I immediately shout to Colin, “do not look down!” The stream snaking through the valley looked like a good size a few minutes ago now I can’t even place it. The bigger RVs and pull behinds are not allowed. At times two vehicles can’t pass each other and now I’m holding my breath. There are sections of wall gardens where plants cover the entire side with vines and blooms growing out instead of up. At one bend we stopped, the perfect moment when two mountain goats stick their heads over the rocky ledge to say hello. With their fluffy white bodies and little horns they seem out of place.
A pull off gives us a place for a break and lunch. We are eating sandwiches and thinking about a quick hike when a frantic girl pops her head in the van, “do not take your dog if your thinking of hiking this trail,” she takes a minute to catch her breath, “we were followed by a grizzly for a half mile!” My first thought is GRIZZLY and I am only steps away. Steps, feet, a stones throw…as if the bear is calling me… “come on girl, get on the trail.” I look to Colin for common sense and he says, ” I’ll get the crate out for Sprite and find some shade to park in, let’s go!” As we pack up lunch and scramble to get ourselves ready something changes. I have a flash of all the warning signs. Even the bear spray label says, “do not seek out bears.” Am I losing my nerve or worse, is common sense taking over!? Colin is relieved when I tell him that I’ve changed my mind. This may be the closest I get, but at least I am alive to tell the story about how I almost saw a grizzly. A thought occurs to me later-why was the girl more concerned about the dog than us?
*See our resources page for information on Pop Top Shocks
Four days have passed since our last shower. When we drive by an onion patch and are not sure if the smell is coming from the field or us, that is the moment when a shower goes directly on top of the priority list. We are back at Yellowstone and directed to head towards the fancy resort, since the campground does not have showers, however, the resort will sell you one for $3.68–two please. I gather my stuff and head for clean. I am surprised to see no line. A private room with a single shower all to myself. Turning on the faucet I stand there and let the perfectly warm water cascade down and I am in heaven. This is a moment that needs to last a little longer. Minutes pass and no one has knocked on the door. I’m not fumbling to add more coins or constantly pushing a lever for more pressure. I haven’t been scolded by gently adjusting the knob or almost hypothermic when hot water completely runs out and a thick lather of soap remains. I’m not setting up a solar shower to hang off a tree just in time to get undressed and fear that someone or something will appear at any moment. Never mind feeling like a million bucks, this is better. I leave the room and steam pours over the door. A grin on my face has people wondering, what was going on in there! Just a shower folks.
North of Portland there is no choice but to enter Washington. We have zero plan and another terrible map. It’s not that we don’t want to see this state, but after a nice dinner at Rouge Brew Pub, excellent beer follow by a Voodoo doughnut sometimes the brain just stops. The body wants to sleep and the thought of navigating through another unknown place does not sound appealing at this point in the day. So north we go over Columbia river and into Washington state. A park is listed just off I-5, however, we miss the sign and find ourselves in a casino town with enough time to call the park and ask for directions. Turn around you have gone way too far but there are plenty of spots available, says the ranger with an encouraging voice. This is no surprise when we find the park and realize we are directly off the interstate. As in, we can see the cars buzz past as you walk to the bathroom and hear the hum of traffic while trying to sleep. But with a belly full of goodness, sleep is not hard to find.
Morning brings coffee and a clear head. We open every map and guide book to decide the best route for the day. How far do we want to go, what looks interesting, what general direction are we headed? Seattle to the north or Mt. Rainer National Park to the east? But then there’s Mt. St. Helen only about 30 mins away. After further investigation we learn that it will take about 3 hours to get to the sight where she blew in 1980, only 2 days before my birthday. Even though I like the fact that mother nature knew I was coming, we make the decision to head to Mt. Rainier. Another active volcano.
Crossing into the south entrance of the park a transformation happens almost immediately. The forest turns dark, the air cool and crisp like a winter morning. Western Red Cedar stand out of the crowd showing off their size and strength. With chunks of auburn bark covering their trunks, I have to lean way back to see branches towering above the forest canopy leaving just a sliver of blue sky above. Mixed in between are different types of evergreens packed in so tight its hard to see any signs of life…or bears. As we climb a clearing from the trees allows the mountains to become completely exposed. Clouds hover along the peeks and snow lies in the creases where it stays year round with some spots gaining 136 inches a year. A path of smooth stones cut through the forest with a narrow river flowing within. Gray tones blend from the stones to the cloudy water because of the sediment from glaciers. A hike takes us to a viewing point, but the fog acting like a sheet, blocks our view. Other hikers seem disappointed but we can’t help feel amazed by this entire park. Despite the fact it feels like snow could come at any moment, wildflowers are at their peek and carpet the mountain side. You can see the flowers through the fog with dashes of yellow, purple, pink and white. It feels like a spring day is lost in winter. For a while we just stop. Taking time to take it in.
We get ahold of the guy who has created Pop Top Shocks, the ones that prevent the dance I was describing before in order to put our van top up and down. He invites us to swing by so he can personally take a look to see what the problem is. Swing by means going to Driggs, Idaho and after looking at a map we realize this is just on the other side of the Grand Tetons and make the decision to head back in that direction. At first we are disappointed to change our route but know that part of this trip is to make sure June is ready for the longer journey. Any steps we can take to get all the bugs worked out is a step in the right direction. What turns out as a side trip works out in more ways than one ( that story comes later and will be titled “Cowbells, Bears, Angry Moose & Driggs).
The route change means crossing northern Idaho through Montana, then south back through Yellowstone, pass Tetons and over to Driggs. We are descending into Yakima Valley and I just happen to read in our guide book this spot is not to be missed. It goes on to describe the valley as a fruit, vegetable and wine wonderland. With over 300 days of sunshine a year and the 4th largest producer of the country’s supply of fruits and veggies. I tell Colin this with much excitement and he agrees it sounds like our kind of place. I picture lushes rows of orchards, fresh picked fruit, smells of sweet grapes and sunshine. As we get closer I see signs for wine tastings. They are on cheap plywood with hand painted letters in red, Wine Tastings HERE. An oversized red painted arrow on the next plywood sign, Turn HERE. Our eyes follow the arrow and lead to a dry, dusty lot with a few small sheds. Next to the shed is a tiny field with grapevines and a fenced area full of broken down equipment; pieces of scrap metal, rusted out trucks and old parts of tractors. We both shrug and nod thinking this must be a tourist trap right before the good stuff. Then more plywood signs. This time they are bigger, announcing fresh fruit and vegetables. Glancing at the food stands it’s not looking much better, they are broken with chipped paint and sitting around filth. I go back to my book to make sure I have this right, to make sure we are in the correct state and town. Reading aloud to Colin what I thought I had read before, Yakima Valley, Washington…not to be missed…do not miss! The further we get into the valley we are ” not to miss” I am already writing a letter in my mind to send the authors asking if they have even been to the Yakima Valley. I am in disbelief that a 4th of our fruits and vegetables come from a place that looks run down, dirty and a heavy odor of spoiling fruit fills the air. I hope someone can correct me here and say I missed the spot. That I missed the 30 plus wineries and the lush goodness. I’m shaken from my disappointing thoughts of Yakima when a wind gust sends us over the white line and almost off the road. I notice Rvs and huge tractor trailers pulled over while Colin is holding the wheel for dear life. Further away from wind hell and the rotten valley we have forgotten to eat. I see an exit ahead for Othello. A town I have never heard of but it’s right off the road and I’m sure we can find something other than fruit or vegetables. Cruising along main street it’s another dust bowl. But this town is different. Houses are small, but the grounds are clean. A couple little shops on the main street have flower pots in windows and hanging off the street lights. Only a few people are seen on the sidewalk and doesn’t look like much is open so we turn the corner to see more life. Looking for a place to eat there are several Mexican restaurants but not many people inside, in fact most are empty. It’s not that late, around 6pm, but McDonald’s is full. Colin suggests that we pull through, order a drink and ask where is the best place to get Mexican food. A young girl at the window hands us our drinks while answering the question. Mexican food is about all we have around here, she says with a smile and then gives us directions to her favorite place, Checos. Her directions take us to the edge of town, over the tracks and into a residential neighborhood. A tiny black chihuahua tinkers across the road and I am laughing as I then see the restaurant is also someone’s house. This is going to be a good experience or end up like Chewy’s. I told you about Chewy’s right? Side story: While driving through El Paso a few years ago tired and hungry we happened upon a little Mexican restaurant called Chewy’s. With cars in the parking lot at a very late hour we figure it has got to be good. After being seated we notice a shrine in the corner. It is blocked off with red rope, a private big screen T.V and on the wall is a football jersey framed with the name Madden. We ask our server for the story and she flips over the menu for us to read. Evidently a few years back, while passing through El Paso, John Madden and crew were craving good Mexican food and a place to watch the game. Unfortunately, they found Chewy’s. Mr.Madden was so pleased with this experience that he took a moment during a national broadcast (of some very important football game) to rave about Chewy’s. This put the restaurant on the map and a mural on the wall. The mural should really be seen in person but I will do my best to describe it. The scene covers the entire length of the main wall in the dining room. Jesus Christ is hovering above chewy’s restaurant with open arms and angle wings. The clouds are parted allowing a bright ray of sun from the heavens to shine down on none other than John Madden’s tour bus, which is pulling into the parking lot. John Madden may know football but he does not know good mexican food. Our stomaches still quiver at the thought of that meal.
Back to Othello. What I love about traveling are the surprises. When you judge and assume and then find out how wrong you are. People surprise me all the time. I truly believe there are more good than bad, but they surprise all the same. I am in the van with Sprite observing the people coming in and out of the restaurant. They wave, they smile and they have to-go containers. Colin comes out with a big bag of his own. What a great place he says. He tells me about a conversation he has with the owner; they are happy we found them, talks about the town, the weather, where we are from and thank you for coming. While they are talking another customer comes up who clearly knows the owner. Hey Checo, he says. Checo replys, good morning! Even though it’s after 6pm, Colin notices this is something he says to everyone. The customer goes on, are you buying the old A&W in town? Yes, Checo answers, we are moving the restaurant to a better location. Why don’t you keep both going, questions his friend. Ah, because man, I only have one wife. His friend smiles and nods. We can all understand that! We sit in the van, we devour our tacos and put Othello on our map. People can change your entire outlook and experience. Good and bad. This one is good. If you happen to be near Othello, Washington stop by Checos.
Arriving in Oregon is a welcome change. Farmland reaches as far as the eye can see. Perfect rows of freshly cut hay roll along the hillside mixed with fields of golden wheat and tractors in the distance followed by clouds of dust. The miles of manicured fields and bold colors of each harvest makes me miss the small town I grew up in. Communities of farmers become families. A farm takes a lot of hands and sharing resources also means sharing lives. I get the sense when driving through other farm towns that it is the same way. At this point in the trip we have covered miles and miles of farmland and I never grow tired of it. Put me in the middle of a field with cows and I am a happy person. Cows have personality and that goes a long way in my book.
I have always heard that Oregon is a friendly- laid- back kind of place so we are excited to explore and check out the towns. Pulling in to get gas Colin jumps out with debit card ready when an attendant comes around to tell us that in the great state of Oregon you are not allowed to pump your own gas. Colin opens the door and looks at me shaking his head. You are not going to believe this, he says. Full service only. He goes on to explain how there are only two states in this country where you can’t pump your own gas and the other is New Jersey. I don’t like jersey, he adds, and then let’s me know that Oregon is losing points. I didn’t realize how important pumping gas was to Colin…is this a male thing? I remind him that even though we can’t pump gas in Oregon we can still pass gas. Not really what he had in mind.
Have I mentioned disperse camping? This is free camping in any U.S. forest. There are certain areas where they encourage you to go. Some spots are easy to identify others not so much. This is great for our budget but you never know where you’re going to end up. The spots in Colorado were incredible, but then there are spots that have every instinct in your gut saying, get out now and fast. A ranger tells us about a forest in central Oregon, great place and lots of camping. We make our way towards the spot, driving deeper into forest land and isolation. we turn a bend and on the side of the road is a skeleton of some animal which at this point is hard to identify but the bones are licked clean. It doesn’t help that it’s starting to get dark and our minds begin thinking of those damn scary movies where inbred hillbillies eat people and animals just for kicks. We look around as if someone is watching us and in a moment we are on the same page, not so sure about this spot. Time to get out of here! A little closer to civilization we see a campground that is labeled with a sign. At first glance it appears empty until we see a couple sitting on the ground next to their piles of stuff. As we exchange friendly waves we quickly size them up. What do we have here; a nice stash of empty tall cans, stacks of trash, old pieces of toilet paper scattered around and look at that, despite a few broken windows they have a window a/c unit installed into the side of their van. that’s pretty creative. Colin speaks first, sorry folks first impressions are a bitch. Another gig for Oregon. Win some lose some.
The next day we reach Bend, a town in the middle of an outdoor wonderland surrounded by several lakes, rivers and the Cascade mountains. It’s easy to see that the people here take full advantage since almost every vehicle we pass has something strapped to it; paddle boards, kayaks, bikes, canoes and fishing poles. We like this place and the downtown continues to impress us with outdoor stores, plenty of brewery’s, shops, bungalow neighborhoods and the people really are friendly. Colin finds a barbershop where a cold beer or bloody mary comes with every cut. Too bad you just can’t pump your own gas! After two days checking out this area we head toward the coast.
Just like the pictures, the Oregon coast is beautiful. Dense forest cut off by cliffs that make a dramatic drop to the ocean. Huge chunks of rock have broken away making tiny islands with waves crashing against their jagged edges. All along this coastal highway we sink back away from the water into the forest and then tracing the tops of cliffs with views of the pacific. We continue to climb north and then head inland towards Portland and Voodoo doughnuts. If you ever watch Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins then you might know about Voodoo doughnuts as one of the featured places. Colin fills me in on the show I missed. Bacon, he says, with maple glaze icing. This is the doughnut he saw and wants to try. Voodoo does not disappoint. I add to the long line of tourist waiting their turn to decide from a menu of interesting concoctions. There are doughnuts with Captain Crunch piled on top, crushed cookies, some the size of dinner plates, a few dunked in green goo. I choose, the bacon/maple, the Oreo topping with peanut butter drizzled in chocolate and one that looks like a hot dog. The hot dog bun is the donut, the dog is a butterfinger and I’m still not sure what else was in that thing other than there was no meat but I did taste coconut. Thank you Portland!
More pictures coming..
Dust is blowing. It’s dry, it’s warm and black as hardened lava, because it is hardened lava. Miles of volcanic lava and jagged rock pieces that once exploded from deep within the earths crust cover this entire area known as craters on the moon. We are in southern Idaho and just camped right in the middle of this moon-like place where a shady tree is hard to find. It’s fascinating that anything can grow at all, but flowers bloom and little pikas jump from lava cracks and scurry across the path. A nice fact for you: Astronauts came here to practice before their trip to the moon.
We spend one night and rise early in hopes of getting closer to the Oregon coast. All packed up we slowly make our way back through the campground and nod to other campers, who are crawling out of tents and fixing breakfast. I’m waving but only getting blank stares in return. We go by another family and the same thing. Pass a ranger, who are always nice, but nothing. Maybe the lava dust is getting to these people. So we leave. Back on the highway and I hear a lot of wind coming from the back. Hm, I take inventory; windows are closed, sprite is sleeping, side-door latched, bags in back are secure and looking up, holy shit the top of the van is still popped up! We are driving highway speed and the top is all the way up. In a panic I tell Colin and it takes him a minute to register FUCK! Slamming the breaks to pull over, it takes us a minute before getting out to asses any damage. We are praying that nothing is wrong but at the same time surprised that with the heavy load the top didn’t blow right off. The blank stares are now making sense. All parts are in tact. We decide to both take blame but I’m in for more like 70% since I got out twice to take trash and recycling right before turning on the highway. I didn’t even notice. Colin agrees, 70% sounds about right.
We get coffee at the next stop. I am trying to throw the empty creamers into the trash And miss, they fall to the floor and I try again, miss, and one more time. The lady standing next to me stirring her coffee says, honey sometimes it’s just one of those days. And that is the theme for the next two days. We find a crack in the fiber glass top and decide to take off the shocks. There is a solar panel and rocket box packed full and strapped to the roof rack, which is nice and heavy. The shocks make it effortless to bring the top up and down. Colin thinks the one shock is bad and causing the fiberglass to crack. Off they go and with the two of us trying to bring the top down is an interesting maneuver. There is a dance of getting the canvas tucked in while colin has a pillow to ease the pain as weight bears down on the top of his head. It is getting late and we need to find camp. A state park is only 15 miles north of the next town that we are coming through in about 20 miles. Perfect. They have showers and we should be there before dark. This is a rule. Never find camp after dark. First off you can’t see. Secondly, you don’t want to blind other campers, who set up in responsible daylight hours, with a flood of headlights. In addition to that, you can’t see setting up which is like walking around in the dark, having to rely on sense of touch, which is great in some situations but not when the goal is to set up camp. There’s a lot of whisper yelling and then a fight breaks out, quietly to not disturb other campers. If it sounds like we have been down this path a few times, you would be right. We find the campground right before sunset and it’s beautiful with rocks like cliffs and I read that it’s a popular spot for rock climbing. I also read in small print but did not seem to register, this is walk-in bivouac camping only. With only a little light left I can see another campground symbol on the map and looks like only 6 miles up the road. Not sure what road since it is not listed on the map. The Garmin has no clue either. We drive, we drive, we see mule deer on the side of the now very dark road, and we drive. No campground. I flip open the state parks map. Looks like two campgrounds about 25 miles southeast of that town we went through about 16 miles ago…opposite direction. I check Garmin and he seems to know this spot and click, “go”. We are on narrow country roads, can smell the cattle fields and it is dark. No city lights to guide us. Garmin says turn right 5 miles, turn left in 6 miles, and this goes on and on until the last turn, go left. A friendly sign greets us at this left turn, Welcome, Mary’s Lamas. Who in the hell is Mary. I am hopeful that the campground is Mary’s side business from the lamas but Colin is not so sure. Let’s go in I demand. I’m tired, I hate the state parks book, the stupid map, and the word bivouac. I want sleep, food and the lama to show me to a campsite. We pull down an even more narrow road, over a rickety bridge, gps assuring us to stay straight and we reach the lamas. No sign of the campground or Mary. Now what. Back to town, there was another spot on the other side and opposite direction. About 30 more miles later of slow winding road driving we are at a campground. We can see this time because the only spot left was right next to the bathroom with flood lights. We stop. The van is running rough and sprite throws up. But there is a shower, cold beer in the fridge and that’s what we have for dinner. We are hoping bad days don’t come in three’s.
Pictures: craters of the moon. The hazy mountains are southern Idaho due to forest fires. Falls are also southern Idaho.
Hills to deep red plateaus. Rich farmland sprinkled with cattle. Back to flat covered in scrub brush. Road signs warn of open range and I’m in the middle of a great western movie. I realize the iconic symbol is the cowboy riding the bucking horse, but I was not expecting this.
We drove from the south eastern tip all the way to the north western tip of Wyoming not to miss Grand Teton and Yellowstone. As the plateaus grew steeper we could eventually see the glacier peaks of the grand Teton. This is a perfect example why I’m glad to not be driving. My eyes were glued to this view. Road, what road? I am staring and in awe until Colin breaks the trance, which direction? Left or right? I take a guess since I haven’t been paying much attention to the map, let’s try left. As it turns out left was a good choice. We can see a pull-out ahead filled with cars and people jumping out pointing to the trees below. This is a sure sign that wildlife has been spotted. Grabbing my camera I join the growing group and notice the scrub trees shaking. Just over the top a set of thick brown antlers pokes through the branches and a quiet excitement runs over the group. Not even bothered by the cameras and whispers, a moose comes from behind the brush for all to see.
Cruising through the park we start to check out camping options. Campgrounds fill up fast in the summer season so we settle into a busy place just outside the park boundary with the grand range in full view. The woman checking us in flashes a bright yellow sheet in front of me and beings a speech that she has probably spewed several times, this is grizzly bear counrty. Now she has my attention. Please do not leave food outside, if in a tent use the secure food bins throughout the campground. She points to the long list of items that should NOT be left outside. For a moment I think about all the items I can leave outside to see a bear. Side note: I really want to see a bear. The amount of time I have spent in bear country I have only seen one bear. It was a camping trip growing up. My dad somehow convinced mom to take the whole family on a two week camping trip that would cover the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. At one spot we hiked in a mile and I remember reading the pamphlets once we reached the cabin that warned of bear. And of course the list of items to not leave outside. Shortly there after I’m outside with toothpaste and perfume. Come on bear! But nothing. The entire trip my dad would yell “bear” and we would jump and look…but nothing. This joke was getting old as we were on the last leg of the trip heading home on the highway when again the bear call from dad, “look a bear!” and no one moved, no one believed him until his voice changed and sounded more hysterical. We glanced from the window and sure enough a black bear was running across the road. I was 10 and that was the last time. Now, here I am in grizzly counrty and I am ready. Not as ready as Colin as we leave the campground and head to the store in search of bear spray. There is an entire section in the store dedicated to bear spray. Some have an accuracy range of 30 ft, some come with holsters, and all come with a 2% active ingredient of capsain which does the trick when being attacked by a grizzly. We chose range of 30ft, no holster.
Yellowstone is just north of Teton where we spend 2 full days exploring. The scenery is like nothing we have seen to this point. Geysers blowing streams of water setting off steam that floods the road and smells like eggs. Yellowstone is a land built from thermal activity and the evidence is everywhere. Pools of deep blue bubbling water surrounded by rings of gold, deep green and bronze. It doesn’t look real. A tourist walking next to us must be thinking the same thing as he sticks his finger in the water to confirm, yep that’s really hot water. Ah, don’t you just love the idiot tourist. The ones who seem to miss all the flashy warning signs. They miss the rangers saying please stay on the trail and away from wild life. They miss the friendly reminders that are posted On every roadway, slow down bison area. We were right in the bison area when a car jam stops us and in the distance we can see the herd clogging the road. This is one time I don’t mind being stopped in traffic. For the most part people are curious and respectful. Not just for the animals, but for others who want to get a better view and perfect shot (camera not gun). So people slowly move ahead to let others see. Then there goes the idiot, with his professional camera strapped around his neck, out of his car walking toward the herd. As if these huge creatures are not close enough, this guy wants to feel the bison breath. Colin and I are watching this unfold and praying that the bison takes him out. We are hoping for the image on the warning poster of the man flying through the air from the hoist of a bison’s horns. Go on buddy, get closer we whisper. And we know others are thinking the same thing. He gets his shot and seems to also get the herd on a good day, they don’t pay him any mind, damn. You might be wondering what is the difference between the idiot tourist and me wanting to see bear. The difference is I am not breaking any rules and have not left any of the items on the list outside…yet.
From the geysers we stroll through the grand canyon of Yellowstone with water falls crashing over 134 feet down sending mist in the air and water rushing down the river. There are still signs of the forest fire of 88 that swept through leaving branchless trees that poke out like sticks between the lodge pole pine trees that cover most of the mountain surface. Huge prairie fields take up the spaces in between and we scan the land for movement. The sun begins to set and we are on a winding road which traces Yellowstone river. Cars stopped ahead and I see two elk posing for a picture. They are laying on a patch of grass in the river and perched up to show their young rack and everyone is staring more than taking pictures. The elk scan the crowd but don’t move and we are all excited. Yes, Yellowstone you are amazing. Ps still no bear sighting.
Cold wakes me. For a second I forget where I am until peeking through the screen and there it sits, The Pile, and all I can do is laugh. The Pile looks like a moving truck has thrown up into a heap on a blue tarp right next to us. My focus moves from The Pile to the compartments in the van and then back to The Pile. I’m not usually pessimistic but the outcome here is going to be interesting. The smartest decision is to not jump up and rush, because despite the work ahead my view is the Rocky mountains and I can’t complain about that.
We pulled into Boulder, CO late Friday night with enough time to grab dinner and sleep. The last few days of packing, moving, cleaning and then driving to get to our much anticipated westy left our emotions running from excited to exhausted. The only hope that she is in one piece and running is the ultimate trust we have in her mechanic, Lucas. The van has been the longest, most expensive and by far the most difficult part of the trip. The conversations and moments putting this together are running through my mind as we pull into the mechanic’s shop and see her shining out front (I swear she was smiling). Our mouths open with pure joy and all that comes out of my mouth “holy shit it’s tall” June has transformed from a nice little van into a completely outfitted, off-road, overland beast. We were in love! Our job now was to put miles on the new engine and test all the gadgets. Off to the mountains and to find a camping spot before sunset.
On her first mountain climb we accidentally got off course and found ourselves on a steep road where the word “steep” doesn’t justify this route. June clinked and clanked and roared and we swore. By the time she chugged to the top our sails were deflated, Colin yelling at my navigation skills and people waving as they passed by. The sun is quickly setting and every map I have is not telling me which way to go, but as a last ditch effort we took a chance, found a spot and went into work mode to unload everything in order to have room to sleep. We decided to leave reorganizing and regrouping for the morning. June had a rough first night.
What we learned is it takes time to work an engine in. Like new shoes you have to walk around a little. After the first night we were on the phone to Lucas (mechanic) telling him about every hum, vibration, rattle and of course the steep route. Keep going he says. That was the worst possible route you could take and she made it, he reminds us. So we kept going. To the Rocky National Park where she hiked up over 12,000 feet and never hesitated. We took her off-road, through muck, using 4×4 and loaded with supplies. By day five June was in the swing of things and we were getting there as well. That chilly morning looking over The Pile seemed hard to imagine now that everything has found a place–organized in a manner where the items we need can actually be found without a whole lot of effort (this took a few days and a lot of patience).
Our favorite spot was a suggestion from the nice folks with Forest Service, to head up to meadow creek reservoir which is about an hour south of Rocky Mt. national park. The road twisted and turned, heading higher and losing site of the small town below. As the road narrowed we were greeted by a secluded lake surrounded by tall skinny evergreens and mountains tracing the sky. We found a camp spot just off the lake snuggled in the trees. Colin decided it was the perfect time to cast a line. We hiked through a short trail to the lake and a few bites later he reeled in a rainbow trout. Let me get a picture I say, and with a quick pose the fish took the chance to get away…and succeeded. Another few casts and he hooked another one. Soon the fish was sizzling in the pan. That night we had a rainbow trout dinner, lights powered by the solar panel on top, used water freshly filtered, and watched the sun tuck away behind the mountains leaving a faint pink sky. Not bad.
Lucas suggested we test drive for a few days and then come back for final tweaks, an oil change and to go over in detail all the work that was done the last few months. We are back in Boulder hoping to head off to Wyoming in the morning.
A month has passed since my last post. Progress is being made and our date is finally set. We have checked the van report like most check the weather to determine our next move. From a garage in Colorado the final adjustments are being made and our nearly empty apartment is a sure sign it’s time to hit the road and head west to pick up our little home on wheels. We will turn our apartment key in on the 31st of July and leave with a rental vehicle loaded with boxes full of contents that once filled a 7 page list. The list is down to a few remaining items one of which came just the other day—no trip is complete without the comforts of a porta potty. Specifically the “Go Anywhere Portable Toilet” which doesn’t just market the road traveler but according to the box it’s good for tailgating, sporting events, in your boat and on the job! I didn’t even mention the best feature; it comes with GREEN bio-degradable poo bags. It really is the little things that matter the most.
Once we arrive in Colorado the plan is to spend a full day with our mechanic, Lucas, going over all the fine details that we have only seen in pictures. So many details! We are looking forward to posting pictures of the completed project which we call June.
You have to actually leave a place before being able to shout these words. As of June 16, 2012 we are still making our way down the check list, which seemed endless for a long time. Like any good adventure there are plenty of details with no answers in sight. For example: Date to leave? Van completion (minor detail)? Items completely packed? Passport renewal (one has not been mailed back). But other than that we are still moving along, getting along and hoping to post our first update while actually on the road. Stay tuned…