Yesterday, July 25th, was the one-year anniversary of the day I said good-bye to my house and hello to life on the road. It started auspiciously enough in a Walmart parking lot in Minnesota.
Yep, my first Walmart parking lot. It was fine. Better than fine, really. The night before I’d spent in a Flying J parking lot in Indiana, and although I hadn’t slept as horribly as on my very first parking lot night, it wasn’t exactly relaxing, either. At the Walmart, I was out of the way, in a quiet corner, facing a field. I put the window covers up and slept as well as I ever do. Maybe it was Minnesota, too. While I’m sure Minnesota has its problems, the Walmart was the kind of place that had a trash can at every single cart rack and no trash visible outside the cans. Go, Minnesota.
Although I’d decided I was going to try to get to Mount Rushmore, when I looked at the map I realized that if I did, I’d miss the Badlands entirely. My plan had been to dry camp, aka boondock, in a primitive campground in the Badlands for a couple of days but I hadn’t realized how far west Mount Rushmore was. But, I figured, no problem — Mount Rushmore had been waiting for a year, it could wait a couple of days more.
I started off on a relaxed drive out of Minnesota and across South Dakota. I had plenty of time, so I took it slow, pausing at rest stops, reading, writing, checking email. Unfortunately, it just kept getting hotter and hotter and hotter. At one point, my outside temperature gauge read 103, and even with the air-conditioning running full blast, my temperature monitor was sending me alerts that it was over 80 in the van. Both dogs huddled under the AC vents.
When we got to the Badlands, I paid the $20 to enter — my first national park, yay! — and drove slowly through. I’d given up on the idea of boondocking at the cool primitive (i.e., no electricity) campground. Space was probably available, but we would have been miserable. And when I drove past the campground with electricity, I gave up on it, too. It was reasonably crowded so there might not have been space, but even if there was, it was in unrelenting sun.
But it wasn’t just the sun — it was windy, with that kind of dry wind that pounds at your ears and makes you immediately want to lick your lips again and again and again. If I had been a pioneer woman in South Dakota, I would have been one of the ones driven crazy by the isolation and the wind. I would have been hallucinating monsters and terrified to leave the house in no time.
So I kept driving. I’d been reading signs for Wall Drugs all the way across South Dakota — either billboards are cheap in SD or Wall Drugs has a lot of money to spend on them. Maybe both. Anyway, it sounded fun in a seriously kitschy kind of way so instead of the Badlands, I figured I’d find a place to stay in Wall and explore the town. Except when we got there, late afternoon, it was still so hot that I would never have been willing to leave the dogs alone in the van.
New plan: back to the old plan.
I checked online and Mount Rushmore is open until 11, so I headed that way. Between stops to feed and walk the dogs and dinner for me, it was after 8 when I got there. It was… interesting. Smaller than I thought it would be, but also more impressive in a way. From a distance, the faces are very high up on the mountain.
Look close. The gray hills in the distance have the faces of the presidents on them.
I thought it would be good to see it in the evening, less populated, and that it would make me feel patriotic on some level. Instead it felt a lot like I had secretly drifted into a universe where Disney had taken over America. There’s a ton of stuff around Mount Rushmore, all aimed at tourists. I could see having fun there, if I had lots of money to spend on silly things, a kid to enjoy looking at random stuff with, and didn’t have to worry about dogs/heat. As it was, though, I decided against spending $10 to park, and did a literal drive-by.
I then went back the way I came, driving about another 45 minutes, until I reached the highway and a Flying J truck-stop that I’d passed earlier. My third night in a row in a parking lot! But it was by far the worst — busy, crowded, with a casino nearby and a ton of trucks. People wandered by the van until late at night, and I was awake until after midnight, then up at 5:30.
When I woke up, I just got behind the wheel and started driving, thinking that we’d do the morning routine — clean clothes, coffee, dog walks, food — at the first rest stop. Reasonable plan, except somehow — sleepiness, I assume — I missed the first rest stop and it wasn’t until after 8 that we finally reached one. Poor Z had been staring at me earnestly, the way she tells me that it’s time to go for a walk, for about forty minutes by then.
And the bathroom floor was sopping wet. I had a fleeting second of wondering if a dog had given up on me but it was clean water. Clean water, unfortunately, coming from behind the toilet. Yeah, a pipe broke. I then spent all day — the first day of Year Two — trying to deal with it.
If it wasn’t so damn hot and if I hadn’t been driving all day and into the night for the past couple of days and if I hadn’t slept in parking lots for three nights in a row, I think I’d be dealing with it a lot worse than I am. I think I’d have the energy to be really pissed off about how many things have gone wrong with this tiny house on wheels and how Winnebago’s approved repair place wants $150 just for agreeing to see it, plus $175/hour to work on it. I feel like fury and frustration are reasonable responses, but I’m just not feeling them. It’s tedious, but it is what it is.
On the other hand, if I weren’t so tired, maybe I’d be making better choices for how to deal with it, too. But it definitely feels like Year Two has started with a whimper, not a bang. Or maybe that should be a splash and a sinking feeling? At any rate, before I discovered the water, I drove out of South Dakota, through a tiny (beautiful!) corner of Wyoming, and into Montana, so I am now hanging out in yet another parking lot, this one in Billings, Montana, hoping to fix some broken plumbing before moving on, and wishing T-Mobile had coverage in Montana, which apparently it does not.
Updated: no internet, so couldn’t post, and it is now Thursday morning. I’m still feeling fine about the plumbing problem, maybe better than fine. It’s annoying, but it is what it is. I found a place in Billings able to take a look at it this afternoon, so it might be resolved soon, and if not, I’ll use bottled water. The lovely Facebook Travato Owners group has given me lots of advice and help about trying to fix it myself, but it feels ambitious to try to remove the toilet on my own. In 90+ degree heat. In a random parking lot. Yeah, not optimistic about that. But hey, at least the leak sprays water into a room with a drain in the floor. And a plastic floor, too. It could be worse!