Making it home

Miles driven: 687.9 (second to last day) + 416.9 (last day)
Pages read: 151

Well it’s been a week so I guess you all figured out that we made it back. I’m combining our last two days into one because it was basically one long race home.

Last time I left off we had prairie dogs as neighbors in South Dakota. The next day we drove all the way to Kansas City, KS, going through Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri along the way. I wanted to do something in every state and Noah managed to make that thing involve some sort of food almost every time.

We stayed with my friend Kate’s parents in Kansas City, who I have stayed with so many times by now on road trips that I think I can just call them my friends Cathy and Rob. As usual they were excellent hosts. Noah and I both enjoyed showering and sleeping in a real bed again and waking up to pancakes really completed the perfection.

We set off the next morning for our last leg of the trip. The day before we said a sad farewell to 80 mph Interstate speed limits, so it felt a little slow. Once you’ve gotten used to going ** mph (I’m censuring the number to preserve my parents’ sanity), it’s hard to go back.

Besides making it home safely, my priority of the day was to stop at my favorite restaurant during my undergraduate days in Columbia, MO. Murry’s steak sandwich may now cost $3 more than it did then, but it was just as incredibly delicious. I always tell restaurants to cook my steak as rare as they are willing to do it. Most of the time these days that means medium rare, but Murry’s took it as a challenge and it was possibly the rarest steak I have ever eaten. Yum! After that we cruised home in record time.

This road trip was amazing for so many reasons. I’ve now been to every state except Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont and I’m already mentally planning those three trips. I can also say that I have successfully slept in a tent in nature eight days in a row. Noah doubled his number of states visited, successfully caught fish in three of those states, and went from Interstate-driving novice to pro.

But even better was all the stuff you just can’t quantify: visiting a whole new part of the country, being in awe of all the natural beauty, seeing the most majestic animals in their natural habitat, spending so much time with my oldest nephew who is slowly becoming a good man right before my eyes, seeing how many pictures I can take before Noah’s head explodes, the list goes on…

My old car finished its third and final cross-country road trip with me in style. The front is now covered in thousand of Wyoming and South Dakota bugs, the back is covered in Badlands dust, and the inside is littered with jolly rancher rappers. She (and I) wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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Rushmore, burgers, and Badlands part 2

Miles driven: 326
Pages read: 329

I woke up this morning feeling like I was being cooked in an oven but it turns out that was just my tent. As soon as I got out, it was a pleasant 60 degrees.

We made good time this morning and arrived at an important stop. Noah was sleeping and I had planned to wake him up as soon as we got there, but just as I turned to do so he opened his eyes and saw this view:

I couldn’t stop myself from taking a photo every step closer we got.

I also told Noah that I thought this would be the last photo he had to be in for the trip:

Noah tried to block my view of the gift shop but he was unsuccessful so he retreated to the car while I made a quick peek. I was glad I did because inside there was a guy who worked on Mount Rushmore from 1938-1940. At $12, a signed copy of his book was a great souvenir, plus it was cool to just talk with him.

I didn’t have my GPS going when we left Mount Rushmore so I just went back the way we came. I was a little frustrated with myself for backtracking until we got back to the town we had passed through and had lunch. Those burgers were definitely worth a little backtracking. Mine had cream cheese and a fried egg because why not? Noah chose the Double D, which basically just means a normal bacon burger on steroids. He ranked it in his top ten of best burgers ever so we were both happy with our lunch.

Tonight is our last night camping and we are spending it a free, very remote campsite in the South Dakota Badlands. For the first time of the road trip, Noah scared me to death with his driving. When we hit 65 mph on the old gravel, curvy farming road, all I could do was hang on for dear life.

Supposedly bison wander through the campground all the time so we are looking forward to that. We also have some other neighbors:

Hopefully all that chattering will not continue through the night.

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Signs, sweet tea, and Solo

Miles driven: 609.4
Stops for gas: 3
Times we failed to get ice at the gas station: 3

This morning we headed back east for the first time of the trip. I was a little bummed but Noah was a little excited to be heading back in the direction of home, which makes what he did later so much nicer. It was our longest driving day so far and probably the one with the most mountain driving. We were going to be following some of the same route my dad took 14 years ago when he biked the Lewis & Clark trail. I had a mission to take a picture at the same sign at the top of the mountains as he did:

I have had this photo op planned since the beginning of the trip so I was glad it was finally happening.

At the beginning of the trip I was really careful to give Noah the easy driving shifts but by now he is quite the experienced road trip driver so this morning I just tossed him the keys and he tackled the mountains. It was not easy driving. As I knew we would be, we were blown away by the fact that Dad did the whole thing on a bicycle.

The first Montana sign we came to did not look like the same one and I knew we would be crossing the border again in a minute so I had Noah drive on. That was a mistake because the next border we came to five minutes later there was no sign. I tried to quell my disappointment for a few minutes but just couldn’t manage it. Noah was a good sport about it and agreed to backtrack a few miles, as long as I took over the driving. The resulting picture isn’t a great replica because I was in a hurry, but it’s not bad:

I guess I can forgive them for changing the sign since it’s been 14 years.

In eastern Wyoming we started seeing some random short rows of tall fencing. Noah thought they might have something to do with livestock. I thought maybe they were spelling out a message only viewable from space. Turns out they are there to help keep snow off the road. Google “random fencing in Wyoming” to learn more.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. I saw beautiful scenery and wished I could capture it better on my phone and Noah gave me the play by play of what adjustments each of the drivers around us had made to their vehicles.

I didn’t take any pictures of the vehicles.

We had lunch in Bozeman, MT and I really wished I could stand on top of a building and take a 360 photo because they are almost completely surrounded by mountains. Noah gave one of his biggest smiles of the trip when the restaurant actually had good sweet tea. He hasn’t been able to find his favorite beverage much up north.

We got to our campsite near Buffalo, WY around 5 and pondered what we wanted to do for the evening. Then for the first time of the trip we decided to go see something that had nothing to do with nature: the Han Solo movie. No regrets.

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Freezing temperatures, gorgeous views, and a rainbow trout

Miles driven: 368.3
Fish caught: 1 beautiful rainbow trout

This is what I woke up to at 4:15 this morning outside my tent:

I use the phrase “woke up” loosely because sleep was really hit or miss last night. I realized later that after a solid 30 hours of intermittent rain, water had finally gotten into the bottom of my tent a bit. I survived and got a bit of sleep, but as soon as I saw my flip flops iced over I started worrying about Noah in the car. Before today I had had a strict policy of not waking him up before 6 a.m. (he has been going to sleep with the sun around 8:30) but this morning around 5:15 I decided that policy was worth breaking to make sure he had not turned into a popsicle overnight. Happily he was fine, if a bit chilly, and had slept well the whole night.

I took shelter in the heated bathroom and someone caught me just standing there under the vent. I confessed to her that I might never leave the bathroom, but she was wearing what looked like a very warm parka so I don’t think she got the joke.

Eventually I drug Noah out of the car into the freezing temperatures for the not-so-pleasant task of packing up a frozen camp. We discovered that when the tent is frozen solid, it doesn’t need stakes to hold it up:

The highlight of the morning was when the bear proof box was frozen shut and I had to karate kick it to get our food. It was an empowering moment and one I’m sure all the people sleeping warm in their RVs appreciated hearing at 5:30 a.m.

After some very cold packing up, we headed out around 6:30. This time Noah was driving so I got a few pics:

Along the way we got a closer glimpse of a grizzly bear who was tracking a nearby elk. I was also excited to see a herd of bison for the first time:

After about an hour we left Yellowstone, but that was not the end of the gorgeous views. This was it for almost a solid four hours:

We arrived in Salmon, ID around noon, the earliest we had ever arrived at the day’s camp. We took advantage of the situation by laying out all our soaked camping supplies and then heading straight to the nearest fishing store. They hooked Noah up with an Idaho fishing license as well as some tips on the best local spots. They weren’t wrong:

To complete this scene, you have to imagine the sun on your back, a slight breeze in the air, and the sounds of a raging river in front, a bubbling brook behind, and chirping birds all around. Actually the scene wasn’t complete until Noah hooked a rainbow trout:

After that we headed back to camp and looked forward to much warmer temperatures: the low was set to be a balmy 48 degrees!

Tomorrow is going to be a long driving day for us so I’m not sure there will be much to say but I’m sure I will find a way.

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Yellowstone misadventures

Miles driven: 128.2
Pages read: 128
Steps taken by Megan: 16,574
Steps taken by Noah: Probably less because he has really long legs.

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post yet, go ahead and do that now. For those of you who have been waiting for this moment, your wait was not in vain:

And this is after a solid minute of trying to smash it down into something a little less crazy so that I could walk to the public restroom:

Poor Noah was worse off though because his tent leaked after all the rain and he ended up sleeping in the car. It was a pretty cold night and I felt bad because I forgot to give him my blanket but then he told me he fell asleep wearing shorts and a t-shirt and I felt less bad.

This is the only stop of the trip that we were staying at one location for two nights and one whole day because…Yellowstone! It was still raining when we left camp but we headed to see Old Faithful anyway. She did her thing right on time:

I also did a little souvenir shopping. Noah would probably not have described it as “a little,” but I have learned to pick out things while on vacation that will carry meaning with me for years to come so it’s worth it. Plus, how could I have not bought the pajama pants that had a picture of a cartoon bear and said “I’ll be your huckleberry.”? That would have been a crime. Also I probably didn’t need the Yellowstone blanket the cashier pitched to me, but since I had already spent $50 it was 50% off!

After Noah finished being shocked over my gift shop addiction, we decided to drive this huge loop through Yellowstone. We’re talking about 100 miles (still only a fraction of the park). This was a great plan except I had left all my snacks back at the bear proof box at camp. And I am not really a nice person without my snacks. This will become important later.

Next on the loop was the Grand Prismatic Spring, which looked gorgeous in all the pictures we had seen. We parked the car and figured it would be a few hundred yards away. So we walked. I saw a sign that said this way for a trail, but I wasn’t really up for a hike at that moment. Plus we had been warned several times that in Yellowstone you should always hike with at least three people, carry bear spray, and make a lot of noise. I was only equipped to do one of those things so we decided to skip the trail and kept walking. And walking. And walking. At one point I started to doubt we were going the right way, so I asked one of the few people we had seen out as far as we had walked if this was the way to the great prismatic thing. She said yes, you can go left for these falls or just go to the Grand Prismatic Spring. The falls were 1.2 miles away so I said no thanks on that. On we walked. And walked. And walked. Along the way we saw a lot of pretty nature, a bison, and a bald eagle. But no great prismatic thing.

If this was a hike with the family back home, I would have been the first one to say I was done with nature. But if I decide I’m going to see something once-in-a-lifetime while on vacation then by golly I’m going to see it. Noah went along with me for a long time.

Finally when we hadn’t seen any people in quite some time and we could see the path going on a long ways with no stopping point, we admitted defeat and started the long walk back. Then it started to rain harder. We both were drenched to the bone in minutes. My glasses fogged over. I started looking at my feet and just concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. At one point I turned to Noah and told him that if a bear came up to us right then I wouldn’t notice until he ate me.

Eventually we got back to the turnoff for the falls and I saw someone else. When I asked if she knew where the great prismatic thing was, she said “oh yeah there’s a turnoff on the way back, it’s pretty close to the parking lot.”

*long pause as we took a minute to digest this information*

So it turns out that the trail we decided to skip was the way to the Grand Prismatic overlook. We trudged our way back in the pouring rain to the place where everything had gone awry.

Yeah. Turns out it’s really important to read the smaller words under the sign.

I told Noah that he could go to the car but after walking this far and getting this wet, there was no way I was not going to see the stupid prismatic thing. He agreed.

Turns out the trail we should have taken was only 400 yards long but at a pretty steep incline. We only made it halfway up.

Me: That’s pretty.

Noah: Yeah.

Me: Okay let’s go.

After we got our waterlogged selves back to the car, I vowed to not get out again until we made it back to camp. Of course I ended up breaking that vow a half dozen times because Yellowstone just had to keep being so dang beautiful.

This was about the point that my hanger (noun form of hangry), without any snacks to appease it, reared its ugly head for the first time this trip. I’m sure all the sights the last 14 miles of the loop were incredible, but we will never know for sure.

We got back to camp late afternoon and did a little laundry, but we still had some time to kill even if we made it an early night. I decided to read for a bit. Noah went to the bathroom to charge his phone but came back shortly because neither of us had any signal. Then, right before my very eyes, HE DECIDED TO READ A BOOK. Yes, you read that right, 70 of the pages in the count at the top were read by Noah! I tried not to make any sudden movements as he read for a solid 30 minutes.

It was a book about the history of hunting in America written by one of the guys from Duck Dynasty that I bought a few days back with the idea of enticing some of my students who aren’t big readers but love to hunt. Since Noah could be the spokesperson for that group he picked it out, telling me that the Duck Dynasty guy, the fact that there were pictures, and that it was pretty short were all points in its favor. Clearly all I need to do to get my sophomore hunting boys to read is install a phone signal blocker in my classroom.

Just before bed I gave Noah both our blankets and wished him luck because it was STILL RAINING and was expected to drop in temperature by quite a lot.

Scenes from our next episode:

Spoiler: My impulse blanket buy may have just saved Noah from hypothermia!

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Majestic bison, hail storms, snow-capped mountains, and a long, hot shower

Miles driven: 502.5
Tics found in car: 11

This morning I set my alarm for the first time of the trip. I wanted to make sure we were up early so we had time to have breakfast and go on a short hike to the Petrified Forest before making our eight hour drive to Yellowstone. I woke up at one point to check my watch and when it said 6:02, 30 minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off, I decided to just get up. It wasn’t until several minutes later that I realized I hadn’t updated my watch to the new time zone and it was actually 5:02. I was pretty sad because 5 a.m. and I have a rocky relationship, but it turned out that we needed that extra time.

After our incredible tortellini success last night, I was ready to attempt another campsite culinary masterpiece: eggs. We had carried a dozen eggs in our cooler for days and after many cycles of ice melting, the carton was so soggy it was about to fall apart. It was now or never.

After a trip to the water spigot down the road and a bit more time than we could really afford, the eggs were finally on their way to being scrambled and we were also trying to cook the other thing taking up a lot of space in our cooler:

The eggs turned out well, but the potatoes took so long that it really put a damper on their enjoyment.

We eventually went on that hike to the Petrified Forest and even managed to see a bison standing very majestically (Noah’s word) on top of a distant hill. Later on we saw some less-than-majestic proof of bison in the area:

We also saw a pretty cool snake and some petrified trees that I would have sworn were just regular trees until I touched them and they were as solid as rock. Part of the hike reminded of how I picture the open prairie a couple hundred years ago.

We finally got underway after a slight hiccup when, as we were on empty and looking for a gas station, we drove past an old set of pumps at a convenience store no less than three times before seeing them.

On the drive through Montana we noticed several interesting town names, including one that claimed to be the literal Home of the Brave. We also noticed that Noah had been infested by tics during the hike and found no less than 11 of them on his side of the vehicle.

Noah took over the driving after lunch and went further than expected. He had just decided to switch back with me when the hail storm hit. Neither one of us has experienced a hail storm while inside a vehicle, so it was quite the experience. There was no cover for dozens of miles so we just kept driving, both silently begging the windshield not to break as the bangs increased in frequency and volume. It held!

When we got within a couple hours of Yellowstone, Noah saw our first glimpse of snow-capped mountains. We spent the next two hours getting closer to those mountains in both distance and elevation. I was driving at that point and Noah is of the opinion that you shouldn’t stop enjoying the view in order to take even one picture, so I’ll have to take some of the stunning vistas of Yellowstone tomorrow when he’s driving.

Noah did make one exception to his no photography rule when we came upon a bison casually strolling down the road. Talk about majestic, this guy was magnificent from his quite fetching beard down to his leg fur that swung to and fro as he trotted along. After my experience from yesterday, I was more prepared and so we pulled over a little ahead of it in a scenic overlook. We expected him to strut on by so we could get a better picture. What we did not expect was him to stop when he was even with our car, turn towards us, and take a step in our direction. That got us back in our car quite rapidly and Noah told me to go but there was no where to go but off a very scenic cliff. So we stayed frozen inside the vehicle until he turned and started back on his way. I could hear his chuckle from across the road.

A bison sighting once again kickstarted a plethora of wildlife making their presence known to us, including a bighorn ram (to which I quite poetically commented “those are some big horns!”), an elk, and the one Noah had been incessantly talking about wanting to see for the last hour: a grizzly bear. Happily that last one was at such a distance that I couldn’t get a good photo.

We were very excited to arrive in Yellowstone, partly for the scenery and wildlife, but mostly for the shower. The last couple campsites we have been at did not have showers so we had gotten more than a little ripe. They charged us about $4.25 per shower, but man was that an amazing shower. We both left feeling very happy, relaxed, and ready for bed.

I told Noah as we walked to the car that the only slight problem was that if I go to sleep with wet hair, I wake up to a very scary hair situation. I’ll let you look forward to those pictures tomorrow.

Good night from Yellowstone!

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Pizza Ranch, the Badlands, and BISON!

Miles driven: 301
Fish caught: 4
Pizza slices eaten: 18

Noah got a little fishing in this morning before we said goodbye to quiet little Moon Lake. We didn’t have enough wood left for a fire so I had a granola bar and Noah had a cold brat from last night. Let me just take a minute to brag that not only did I not wrap a water bottle up in my tent this time, but when I got done wrapping it actually fit in the bag! Major camping victory.

After we got to the next town we had a few options for 11 a.m. brunch, including several fast food places and a local Mexican restaurant. We made the best possible decision when we chose the Pizza Ranch. It was a buffet but you could request a certain kind of pizza and they would bring it to your table – the best of both worlds! As Noah said, “Buffets are not just a meal; they’re a challenge.” One which we happily accepted. Twenty minutes later I had eaten six slices and Noah had eaten 12.

I talked in a previous entry about how I had affected Noah’s interstate driving mannerisms, but he has clearly also had an effect on me. Today I was texting someone and started to type the word discussion. I got as far as dis and my phone popped up with a suggestion for what it thought I was going for: fish. My phone sure adapts quickly to new vernacular.

Our next stop was “The World’s Largest Buffalo!” also known as a giant bison statue and accompanying gift shop.

The statue definitely looks more impressive with me standing under it than Noah.

In other exciting news, Noah got to see his first tumbleweed. Like me before my first trip out west, he did not think tumbleweed was actually a thing until he saw it with his very own eyes just tumbling along.

After that we were just driving along when I saw a sign for the Painted Canyon and we decided to check it out. Another great decision because it was stunning. I don’t think I’ll even post a pic because this was one of those places where photos don’t even capture 10% of the beauty.

We finally made to our destination for the night: Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Dakota Badlands. We were antsy to use what daylight we had left but unfortunately they are doing construction on the road going into the park so we had to wait for a pilot car to take us through. We had no idea what that meant when the guy told us, but about 25 minutes we were in the front of a long line and it pulled up ahead of us:

As soon as we got a campsite we threw some of our stuff down and took off for a 36-mile scenic drive. I’ve always wondered what the Badlands looked like but no one has ever described it well to me and now I know why. Its beauty is impossible to capture fully in words or images, but here’s a peek.

Noah has been greatly anticipating seeing a lot of wildlife in person for the first time and even I have been excited to see a bison. The past few days we have been seeing sign after sign that warns of not getting within 20 feet of one so I had mentally prepared for our first viewing of the giant animal to be from a distance. I say this all so you will understand my frame of mind when I drove around a curve and came face to face with a bison laying RIGHT BESIDE THE ROAD.

Several thoughts raced through my head in a fraction of a second (the fact that I am about to use three exclamation points in rapid succession tells you just how chaotic it was in my mind in that moment):

1. He broke the 20 feet rule!

2. We have to get a picture before he moves!

3. We have to get out of here before he moves!

Noah really wishes he had captured my reaction on camera because while he calmly sat there and looked at the bison, I practically threw my phone at him and starting shouting “take a picture! Take a picture!” When I was sure he had taken at least one, I got the heck out of dodge.

He looks a bit sickly in the photo, but Noah assured me that he was just shedding his fur for the summer:

After that excitement, it was like Mother Nature decided to help Noah fill out his wildlife sightings bingo card. We saw a rabbit, pronghorn, a mule deer, and a whole lotta prairie dogs. I’m sure the little critters are annoying but we found them hilarious.

After we got back to our campsite, it was time for an adventure much scarier than being within 20 feet of a bison: campfire cooking. Anyone who knows me at all knows of my ineptitude bordering on absurdity in the kitchen and Noah is, well, a 16-year-old boy. Thus far we had had campfire meals that only required sticking meat on a stick and holding it over an open flame, but tonight we were cooking for real: tortellini. Okay, so it was a baby step. I was still skeptical that the product would be edible.

But with a few hiccups along the way, we managed brilliantly. Bonus: I felt very Little House on the Prarie while walking to fill my pot up with water.

We didn’t get to see everything we wanted at the park today so we are going to bed early and starting the day early tomorrow. Good night from the Mountain time zone!

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