I headed out on Tuesday morning with last hugs all around — the hugs that said, “I am a world adventurer venturing forth on a daring and risky excursion that will last for months,” instead of what would have been far more accurate casual waves of “See you in a couple weeks/months.” I wasn’t sure how far I was going or where I would spend the night, but I needed to dump the tanks, after having spent most of a month sitting still in PA, and I wanted to spend at least a night in New Hampshire on my way to Maine and a meet up of fellow Travato owners.
Along the way, it started to storm. So many beautiful days in PA, and once I’m on the road, rain? Really? But I stopped at a rest stop and waited it out, because why not? As a result, I didn’t make it all the way to New Hampshire, but I decided that was fine, because instead, I stopped at an Army Corp of Engineers campground in the Green Mountain National Forest of Vermont.
Now that I’ve (almost) been to every state, I’ve been contemplating other travel goals and one of them might be to visit all the national forests. I’m not going to try to get to all the national parks; there are too many of them, and they’re too crowded. But I like the idea of visiting all the national forests, as much because I’ve never heard of lots of them, so it would be adventuring in the unknown a lot of the time. I had heard of the Green Mountain National Forest, though, and it was just as lovely as expected. Also very green.
The campground had a spot available in the hook-ups section, which I took because I needed water, so it was a good opportunity to fill up my water tanks. It was a great deal, too — dry camping (ie camping without electricity or water) was $20/night and with hook-ups, it was $26. Getting to fill my tank and charge my computer for $6 felt like a bargain. If I ever go back there, though, I will definitely aim to dry camp, because the campsites with electricity were a little more parking lot than I like. A nice parking lot, on grass, with trees, but sites close together. I spent the late afternoon listening to kids running around playing and my neighbors chatting. Perfectly nice, but all things being equal, one of the quiet spots overlooking the river in the much more secluded dry camping section would have been more my speed.
I didn’t use any of the facilities except the dump station, so I can’t provide a shower report, but it was a beautiful place. No internet, though, so I couldn’t research my next day’s travels. Oops.
The next morning I headed out early. I knew I was going to spend the night in New Hampshire, but I didn’t know where. Instead of picking a destination for the night, though, I let S’s voice (imagined, in my head, not her real voice) influence my destination. New Hampshire has exactly one site listed in the National Parks passport, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. I had no idea what it was, knew absolutely nothing about it, but off I went.
I could blame the weather or the bugs, but I think I should have thought twice about staying at Trout Lake Campground when the campground host casually mentioned that they were expecting a full house on the weekend because they were hosting a big off-road vehicle rally. I’d already handed him my credit card for two nights, however, and I really wanted a shower. If I’d known that the showers were the type were you have no control of the water temp and that the mosquitoes were sharing their meals with the black flies, I would have snatched my credit card back out of his hand. It was, however, only for two nights, so I will stop complaining now. And I’d had a long day before getting there so I really was ready to stop driving.
I hadn’t gone all that far, but I’d been driving through Pictured Rocks National Park and stopping regularly. Lots of scenic views. Also lots of bugs. I saw one guy wearing a mosquito net hat — clearly the apparel of the experienced northern Michigan hiker!
After a quiet (and grumpy) rest day at Trout Lake, I got back on the road again on Thursday with relief, but no real destination in mind. It turned into a day of minor errands — Aldi and Walmart and gas — followed by a somewhat ridiculous, but rewarding persistence.
I only had one night to spend wherever I decided to stop, so there was no reason to look for someplace special. A parking lot would have made sense. Maybe a night in a motel, so I could actually have that really nice shower? I was so indecisive. But it stays light really late in Michigan so instead of stopping, I just kept looking. I rejected one campground — too hilly. I rejected a second campground — nice for tent campers, but a parking lot for a van. (But while I was in the parking lot, I ran the generator and cooked some InstantPot chicken and rice for dinner.) I got lost while looking for a third campground and missed it entirely. Apple Maps sent me in a ridiculous direction for the next campground and I wound up in a dead end dirt road with minimal room to turn around. I still didn’t find myself a nice Walmart for the night. I don’t know why I was so determined, but at that point, I’d been looking for someplace nice for so long that I wasn’t going to stop until I was happy. Or exhausted, I suppose.
Fortunately, happy came first. At about 7PM, I found myself at Wagner Lake Campground in the Huron-Manistee National Forests.
Private, quiet, peaceful, beautiful. I could have stayed there for days (despite the mosquitoes, which were pervasive but not insane). Instead, I enjoyed a completely relaxing morning, and got back on the road around noon. For once, I knew exactly where I was headed — a weekend with friends that I hadn’t seen since college!
I failed to call my dad on Father’s Day, because I had no cell service. I feel like that was bad planning on my part, but by the time I realized that my phone was lying to me — that the 1 bar of Verizon service really meant responses like “message failed to send” and “call failed” — I’d already paid $40 for two nights at Bay Furnace Campground. And not just that, I’d gotten one of the four nicest sites, the ones on the lake with water views and their own tiny private beaches. I was not minded to walk away for the sake of an internet connection. (Sorry, Dad. I hope you had a Happy Father’s Day!)
Even if I hadn’t gotten such a nice site, I would have loved this campground. All the sites are reasonably spacious, with good separation between them. I can see my neighbors — and actually overhear some of their conversations — but my site still feels private. I left the shades up to watch the night sky when I went to sleep last night, which I don’t always do, if it feels like people might be driving or walking by.
Although speaking of night skies… Michigan is very far north. I know this not because I can read a map or know anything about American geography (although I actually can and do) but because it stays light ridiculously late and gets light ridiculously early. My instincts are to stay awake for a couple hours after it gets dark and then wake up with the sunrise. That’s not giving me nearly enough sleep in Michigan. If I lived in Alaska, I don’t think I’d get any sleep all summer long.
Back to the campground — it’s dry camping, no electricity or water hook-ups, but there are bathrooms and a dump station and places to get fresh water. Also unexpected ruins and fog on the water in the morning. Also, I am fairly sure, forget-me-nots growing wild in the forest. Seriously, forget-me-nots and fog together make me feel like I’m living in L. M. Montgomery novel.
The writing is still not going well (translation: not going at all), but Amazon finally gave the Kindle app a useful organizational tool: the ability to mark books as Read, and then filter by Unread and Read. I’ve been working my way through my Kindle library, finding the books that I downloaded on impulse, when they were on sale or free, and then never got around to reading. I currently have 302 unread books, which is probably enough to keep me reading for quite a while, although I suspect that plenty of them will eventually wind up in my DNF collection. I was surprised to discover, though, that of the 800+ books on my Kindle that I have already read (or tried to read), only 104 were in the DNF collection. I would have thought that number would be much higher because I give up on books easily these days. If my interest hasn’t clicked by the 10% mark, I move on to the next book.
There are some exceptions, though, usually the ones that I think will be good for me in some way. The virtuous reading. Most of those are about writing, marketing, or self-publishing. The current one that I’m working on is about newsletters. It’s entertainingly written, the author has a great voice, and reading it makes me feel like Sisyphus. The fundamental concept is using your newsletter as a way to connect with people — you don’t want to simply inform people when you have a new book for sale because that’s asking them to buy something, instead you want to charm them and turn them into your friends. Be authentic, be real. Send kitten pictures! … So that they will then buy something from you.
I get the concept. I even understand that if I ever hope to earn a real living at writing books, it’s part of the job. It doesn’t even make sense that I think of it as pretending to be a nice person, because my authentic self is, in fact, nice. But it feels so fake. I might have to pick one of you and write you an email every month and then send it to the rest of my mailing list as well. That might work better for me. Ha.
Moving on, I’m currently writing this on my phone while sitting outside, using a tiny Bluetooth keyboard and a lap-desk that I bought a year ago, and my newly beloved camping chair. I love this chair. It was so worth the quest. I’ve been thinking about a post — or maybe a FB post to the Travato group — about what I’ve learned in my almost three years of van living. There’s an industrial concept about the virtues of constant incremental optimization. It’s got a Japanese name — kaizen, maybe? Anyway, it applies to life in a van, too. Three years and I’m still discovering ways to be more comfortable, to make life easier or more pleasurable. Being able to sit outside in the sunshine while I write is lovely. Lovely enough that I think I will now try to work on Fen for a while. Maybe I can break through my travel-inspired inertia and actually make some progress.
Oh, but one final note about Michigan’s upper peninsula — it was 38 degrees this morning. 38! I should absolutely not have packed my winter clothes away when I left Arcata.
I am looking out my window at a beautiful, turbulent lake — white-capped waves hitting a sandy beach, distant hills so far away that they’re a deep blue line against the horizon. It’s gorgeous, but my faint hope of kayaking on it disappeared with the weather: according to my weather app, it’s currently 58 degrees outside, but I am quite sure they’re not taking the cold wind into account, because it feels a lot more like 48.
Z keeps trying to convince me that we should be outside, so we’ve been in and out — lots of beach walks, a couple of forest walks, some sitting in my comfy chair and admiring the view — but it’s cold enough that I keep retreating inside. If this were Florida, it would be mid-winter, probably February. Apparently, that’s what June in the upper peninsula of Michigan feels like.
But it’s a great view.
(I don’t have much more to say about the campground than that: it’s $28/night for water, electric, and a fantastic view. The sites are close enough together that if it was crowded, I wouldn’t love it, but it’s reasonably empty for this time of year. But it’s camping literally on the beach, so, you know, not complaining. 🙂 )
If I didn’t have a schedule to keep, I might have settled into Prentice Park in Ashland, WI, for weeks. I’m not sure how many sites it has, because most of them were tent sites, but there were 6 RV sites, nicely spaced, with lots of grass, trees, and paved driveways. Water, electricity, excellent walking paths, clean showers that didn’t require quarters, (although no control of the water temp), and friendly neighbors.
But I’ve understated the “water” part. I know I claimed not to be a water snob, and I’m really not, but Ashland has artesian wells. People apparently come from miles around to get water at the local beach. I had only the vaguest idea what an artesian well was, or why it mattered, but on my first morning at the campground, I set out to look for it. Turns out, it was all over the place. The park had at least half a dozen spigots in the ground with water free-flowing out of them. I had a strong desire to look for the off valve every time I saw one, because I’ve spent so long being careful about water. But there were no off valves, the water is just pouring forth from the ground. It felt like such abundance, such wealth from nature.
I’ve understated the friendly neighbors, too. The showers require a combination code, so when I saw the campground host outside his camper, I went over to get my code. That led to tours of the van, conversations about van life and children, an invitation to a delicious jambalaya dinner, and eventually s’mores around their fire.
I really did debate staying at the campground for a few more days, especially because the hosts were out in the morning, so I didn’t get a chance to say good-bye. (And if you’re reading my blog, LaDonna or Sharon, it was so nice to meet you, thanks so much for your hospitality!) But I wanted to check out the Apostle Islands, as well as visit Pictured Rocks National Seashore. Plus the whole reason for hurrying across Montana was to be able to spend some time in the upper peninsula of Michigan, which people have been telling me about ever since I started traveling. And I do have a deadline — scheduled plans with friends and relatives at the end of June. So after two nights at Prentice Park, I got back on the road.
On Monday, I left the Michigan city park and headed to Grand Forks to pick up the produce I’d failed to get the day before. Unfortunately… well, I’ll just say I’m glad I don’t have to buy my vegetables in Grand Rapids regularly.
(Digression: I just rewrote the above paragraph five times — literally, five times, maybe six — trying to politely phrase “lousy, over-priced, boring.” Because why? Because I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the vegetables? Because someone who owns a grocery store in Grand Forks, North Dakota might someday read my blog and get offended? Because I don’t want to be rude? Gah, sometimes I annoy myself. More directly, the local grocery store in Grand Forks was so dismal that I wished I’d gone to Walmart instead. I don’t think I’ve ever made such a wish before, or even conceived of the notion that such a wish could be possible. There. Rude or not, that’s the truth of my Grand Forks vegetable shopping.)
Post my disappointing Grand Forks excursion, I headed to an Army Corps of Engineers campground in Minnesota. My favorites, as you know.
But, ah, not that one.
Maybe my post-headache blues had just left me in a critical mood, but Leech Lake Campground was crowded & confusing, with small sites and narrow roads. I was ready for a place with good showers, which Leech Lake might have had. But when I realized that I’d missed the 1-3 PM registration window by 2 minutes and instead of getting settled into a campsite right away would have to go back to the front office at 5PM to register, I decided I’d just keep driving.
I feel a little guilty about that, because one of the reasons I missed the registration window was that I was dumping my tanks. But only a little guilty, because the other reason was that I got caught behind a very, very big RV trying to back into a reasonably small site and had to sit on the road behind it for about twenty minutes, while the driver tried to navigate between the trees. Fun, fun. At least I wasn’t driving the big RV!
I decided to head to a county park about an hour farther east, but along the way, I passed a national forest campground, Mabel Lake, and swung in to take a look. It was glorious. Absolutely fantastic dry-camping. For $14, I had a huge site (#22), surrounded by trees, with a short trail that led down to an adorable tiny beach.
I could see the water between the trees (and there were other sites that had real water views), but my site was surrounded by gorgeous green trees. There were trails leading into the forest, and it smelled incredible. I don’t have the faintest idea what kind of trees or plants they were that smelled so good but every breath felt fresh and clean and… hmm, like Irish Spring soap, actually. Whatever plant Irish Spring smells like, that would be the plant that was growing in that delightful national forest.
There was only one small problem. Actually, no, there were only about a million small problems. I like to remind myself when I run into bugs that they are the sign of a healthy ecosystem. That they are essential to the well-being of the planet. That as long as they’re not in my space (indoors), I should respect that I’m in their space. But, OMG, the mosquitoes were insane.
If they’d just been willing to stay outside, I might not have found them so oppressive, but it was impossible to open the door to the van for even the quickest second, without a flood of them pouring inside and going on the attack. And the thing about mosquitoes, to me, is that I don’t actually care that much if they bite me — it itches, so what? — but I HATE the sound of them. The high-pitched buzzing in your ear and around your face is so damn annoying.
Mabel Lake was so beautiful and I loved my site so much that on Monday evening, I thought I’d spend a few days there, appreciating the sounds of nature, enjoying solitude and peace. On Tuesday morning, after I walked Zelda while wearing a scarf wrapped around my head and face like a bee-keeper’s shroud, I packed up the van and headed out. Good-bye, Minnesota! Next time I will come equipped with some industrial strength mosquito repellent and maybe I will love you more.
Michigan, North Dakota, that is. I’d be both impressed and worried about myself if I’d actually managed to drive all the way to the state since my last post. In actual fact, I didn’t even make it to Minnesota, which was my vague goal when I started out.
I’d only been driving for an hour or so when my windshield started… I want to call it fractal-ing, but that’s probably meaningless to anyone who hasn’t had the experience. Medically, it’s described as an aura, which isn’t the right word at all in my opinion. But off on the left side of my vision, the windshield started sparkling and crumbling.
My first thought was, “How pretty.”
My second thought was, “Oh, shit.”
My third set of thoughts went something like, “Caffeine, check. Pain killers, check. Dark, quiet place to sleep off a migraine, um, not so much.”
The next few hours were not particularly fun. I’ll skip the boring details, but eventually I found myself at the city park in Michigan. It’s not exactly a campground, but there are four electric outlets in a row, where campers can plug in and stay the night. The cost is a “Free Will Offering,” which in my case was $10. It was early enough when I got here that I didn’t plug in right away, didn’t even decide to stay. I just lay down and closed my eyes and gave myself some quiet time. After about an hour of quiet, quiet time — as in, the park is completely empty, there are no other people here, it’s just me and Z and the birds and the trains — I got up, plugged in and settled in for the night.
Before I went to sleep, I packed everything up. I told myself that in the morning, I’d get on the road really early, drive to a grocery store in Grand Forks to buy the vegetables I didn’t manage to get yesterday, and then drive most of the way across Minnesota. When I actually did wake up, though, I didn’t know what my hurry had been about. Instead of scurrying out of here, I’m enjoying some leisurely coffee and a fully-charged computer. My head still hurts, but it’s the lingering, post-migraine pain, not the intense stabbing pain, so I can deal with that.
But North Dakota continues to impress. Last night’s sunset was beautiful, and today is a gorgeous, clear, sunny spring day with a cool breeze. I know it’s the time of year — I might even have liked South Dakota if I’d gone there in June instead of late July. (South Dakota wins for my least favorite state — the reason the Badlands are called Bad is because they are, and my reactions to South Dakota can best be summarized as 1) How soon can I get out of here? and 2) Thank God I was not a pioneer housewife, I would have fled back to Pennsylvania after the first week on the plains.)
But still, North Dakota in June is a remarkably lovely place. I’m going to be just a little sorry to say good-bye.
I ought to try to find a link online somewhere, so that other people can also enjoy the wonders of my Costco camping chair, but I sorta think camping chairs are super personal. It’s the Goldilocks thing — I don’t want the low chair or the big chair or the chair with arm rests (although I do sort of miss the cupholder from my previous chair) — I just want the chair that’s sized exactly right for me. And this one is it. I spent a fair amount of time sitting in it on Friday and it really is comfortable, even for writing outside. Of course, computer screens are still challenging in outdoor light, so I doubt I’m going to start spending hours writing outside, but at least it’s an option now in a way that it wasn’t before.
Speaking of outside — I had a lovely relaxing Friday in Downstream Campground, in Riverdale, North Dakota. And then the weather changed. Oh, my gosh, did the weather change. I tried to view it as an opportunity to appreciate the Rumpl puffy blanket that I splurged on at REI in Seattle (after seeing how nice S’s was when we were traveling in Idaho and Oregon.) And I did appreciate the warmth, definitely. But I also gave in and turned the heat on, because 45 degrees, gray and damp, is just too cold. I actually woke up yesterday morning and thought, “It’s seriously time to head for Florida for the winter,” and then I remembered that it’s June. JUNE! There will be no heading to Florida for the winter until after I’ve managed to enjoy some summer somewhere.
Downstream Campground, though, is great. When I first got here, I bonded with the campground host over the niceness of Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds. She asked if I would be in the system, I said that ACOE campgrounds were my favorites and I would definitely be in the system, and she asked if I’d ever been to Arkansas. Yes! We exchanged stories about the delights of Arkansas ACOE campgrounds, and she told me to be sure to look for the nest of bald eagles — with babies — when I walked along the trails here. So far I haven’t spotted it, but the trails are great. I particularly appreciate the fact that they’re gravel, not just grass, because I’m still finding ticks and my tick paranoia is running rampant. I found one crawling on my neck yesterday — which obviously is better than finding one embedded in my neck — but still… ick. Just ick.
My site is nice — level, spacious, and with a water view, although only at the back. From the windows, I see other campers, but there’s plenty of room between the sites and lots of trees, so that’s okay. The showers were nice, too — clean, free, and with plenty of hot water. I’m glad I took one on Friday, when it was warm though, because campground showers when the temps are in the high 40s, low 50s are so not my favorite thing.
In writing news, I am still not figuring out how to write (fiction) while I’m on the road. I’m frustrated with myself, but beating myself up about it doesn’t actually help me get any writing done, just makes me unhappy, so I’m trying to be nicer to myself. But I’m binge-reading shapeshifter romances, which is largely a category of books I’ve avoided in the past. I like some of the urban paranormals that include shapeshifting — Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews — but the straight romances usually bore me. The library, however, has a plentiful supply of them, which makes for easy binge-reading. I’m going to say that I’ve read fifteen or so in the past week, by various authors, but I think the only one that I’m actually going to remember in a “oh, yeah, that was fun” sorta way was Shelly Laurenston’s Hot and Badgered. It was ridiculous but entertaining, but I think I mostly liked it because the hero is nice. Yep, nice. Not in a bland, inoffensive, lacking personality way, but in a stable, thoughtful, helpful and considerate way. I enjoyed him. Although not nearly enough to pay the ridiculous prices — $9.99 for an ebook? — that the publisher is asking for the other books in the series. Yay for the library.
But today is a driving day, so I should get moving. I actually don’t know where I’m headed — north, south? Eventually east, obviously, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got to start by deciding whether I want a fast major highway (to the south) or more interesting quieter roads (to the north). Will it be a long day, short day? If it weren’t for the fact that my sole remaining vegetable is a bag of shredded carrots, I might stay where I am for another day or two, but adventure awaits. Yep, the adventure of finding a grocery store and buying salad greens. Ha. My life is so exciting.
A long while ago — back in 2016, I think — I realized that I was already forgetting places, and I made a pact with myself to write about every campground I stayed in, so that my blog would be a true record of my travels. That’s easier said than done when I’m moving every single day.
But I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t forget about the Far West Montana Fishing Access Site even if I didn’t write about it. For starters, it’s seriously pretty.
It was also completely deserted when I arrived here on Monday. As in, I was the one and only person in the entire campground.
It’s also free, but not the typical “public land that you can park on” free — there are clearly marked campsites, with fire rings and picnic tables. Also, in my case, a nice view of the water. I think there are only two sites that actually open onto the water, but since I was alone, I felt no hesitation in taking one of them.
It’s also seriously tick-infested. Ugh. Every campground has a good news/bad news situation, and the ticks are definitely the bad news for this one. They’re making me totally paranoid. I’m being careful and I’ve still found five in the van. Fortunately, Z’s on a good tick prevention treatment, which I know, because one of the ticks was already dead. That’s my favorite kind of tick, personally. I also haven’t yet encountered my second-to-least favorite sort of tick, the one already embedded in my skin, or my least-favorite tick, the one that gives me Lyme disease or some other horrible tick-borne illness. At least I’m assuming on the latter, since I haven’t run into the former. Either way, ticks. Ick.
Before I knew about the ticks, though, I had a delightful Tuesday morning, spent sitting outside, in my brand-new camping chair. Yes, I found the camping chair! On Monday, I left Wyoming and headed toward North Dakota. Around noon, I found myself in Billings and despite knowing that it was a pointless waste of time, I made my way to CostCo. I told myself that they weren’t going to have the chair, but I could still get cheap gas and maybe some more of the really good cherries that I’d found in Bozeman. As it happened, the cherries were too expensive, I didn’t really need gas yet, but they had the chair! I was so pleased that I bought two of them, so the next time I have a guest in the van, I’ll even be able to offer my guest a comfortable seat. And it really was comfortable — because there are no arm rests, I even managed to write outside for a while.
Again before the ticks, I liked my free campsite so much that I decided to give myself a rest day, so I spent all of Tuesday enjoying my empty campground and my water view. I wrote a little, but mostly read books and made myself some delicious meals (spicy pasta with weird but tasty soybean noodles for one) and puttered around the van. I enjoyed it so much that I debated spending another day, but after the ticks, I decided I’d rather move on. I’m not sure I can escape from ticks, really, and Montana ticks don’t carry Lyme disease, so it’s not like I’m safer from the scary things by heading into the midwest where the ticks do carry Lyme. Still, I lost my enthusiasm for enjoying the grass when I found ticks in my bed.
But I woke up on Wednesday to unexpected thunderstorms.
My weather app still says it’s going to be a beautiful day, but it was thundering and lightning at that very moment. Since I didn’t want to drive in it, I decided to run the generator, charge up my computer, and write a blog post instead. And now that the blog post is done, I should probably make some decisions. Stay or go? Read another book or pack up the van? Work on Fen or head into my 49th state? Decisions, decisions…
You know how to find a grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park? Just look for the traffic jam.
Sadly, that is not actually a joke. I didn’t take any pictures of the grizzly bear I saw, because I would have had to park along the road with dozens of other cars and my picture really would have been of lots of people taking pictures of a brown shape lumbering away off in the distance. Still, it was cool to see.
I also didn’t take any pictures of any of the elk I saw, not even the baby, or the mama bison with her baby for roughly the same reason. (The baby bison was so, so cute, though. Baby bison are adorable!) There are plenty of places to pull off the road and take pictures in Yellowstone, but on a Saturday and Sunday in June, they usually had plenty of cars in them. I admired the animals on my own slow drive-bys, but I didn’t stop.
It was still incredibly beautiful. And immense! I knew in my head how big Yellowstone was (bigger than the smallest two states), but driving through it makes it a lot more obvious. It did feel like I was driving through a state, one with spectacular scenery, snow-capped mountains, gorgeous blue lakes, and plenty of trees. Also plenty of people, but that’s how it goes.
And that was not a disadvantage for me, mostly. Remember my foreshadowing? On Saturday, I managed to snag a camping spot for the night at Norris Campground. The spot was small and slightly sloped, and the campground was full, but it was still Yellowstone. I actually took that picture of a bison from within the campground, while Z and I were out taking a walk. ( I don’t have a better one because Z was highly disinclined to sit still while I played at photography. )
My plan was to leave the campground as early as possible Sunday morning and head to Old Faithful, hoping to beat the crowds there. I’m willing to guess that even if all had gone as planned, there would have been no way to beat the crowds. And all did not go as planned. As I drove away from my campsite, the van started making a funny noise.
My first thought was that I’d left something loose in the back. I paused and did a quick check — what could be rattling around? But the silverware drawer (always a likely suspect) was closed, and there was nothing visibly loose and rolling. So I drove a little farther. Nope, definitely a weird noise. Paused the van again and checked the fan — could something have gotten stuck in it? I turned the fan off, just in case it was a problem with the cover rattling, and thought grim thoughts about hail storms and broken roof attachments. I started driving again and it was clear that turning the fan off had done nothing. So I paused again, in the middle of the road, and got out to walk around the van.
The problem was obvious, as soon as I crouched down and looked underneath. A metal bracket was dragging on the ground. I think — and I admit, I’m mostly guessing — I think it is a bracket for the generator, to hold the generator in place. Whatever it is, it’s not the kind of thing that you want scraping along the ground, as opposed to doing its job.
I thought bad words. I thought about wire and duct tape and zip ties and bungee cords. I thought about finding RV service places in the middle of an enormous park, at least fifty miles away from anything, and how much it was likely to cost to have someone come fix it, but how very bad it might get if that piece entirely stopped doing its job. And then I thought that at the very least, I needed to get out of the middle of the only road around that campground loop, so I carefully, slowly, drove down to the parking lot.
And the advantages of being in a crowded place immediately showed up. I’m going to guess that I had my head under the van for under five minutes, still trying to figure out what exactly this piece was and what it needed to attach to when a nice guy wandered over and said, “You need help?”
Yep, I needed help. He took a look, told me there had to be a piece with a bolt in it somewhere along my path, but that he’d zip tie it up for me in the meantime. I went back to the campsite where I promptly found a long metal rod with a bend at one end and a bolt at the other, and by the time I made it back to the parking lot, he’d already zip-tied the piece back in place. I showed him the piece and he said he needed to get his trailer set up, but he’d try to come back and help me with it.
I spent the next while waiting, while also figuring out how the piece worked, where it was supposed to fit, how it needed to go back into place, and trying to get the bolt loose. Basically the bent end of the rod hooked over a hole in an attachment on the frame while the bolt end was attached to the dangling piece. I have no idea why it worked its way loose in Yellowstone — I didn’t hit anything and I didn’t hear anything on the drive there — but I suspect my bumpy drive in Gallatin had at least a little to do with the problem. I theorize that it had come loose from the frame (maybe during the crunch I had in eastern Oregon several weeks ago) but was caught on one of the wires or hoses, and the bumpy road plus the slope of the campsite was enough to finally shake it free.
Anyway, I was just starting to reach the point of thinking that Helpful Guy #1 must have gotten busy with kids or campsite set-up or his own responsibilities and forgotten about me, when Helpful Guy #2 showed up. I showed him the problem and he went off to his campsite and came back with a set of wrenches. He told me he’d been carrying it around for 15 years and this was the first time he’d ever used it. I laughed and told him that my collection of tools was always for the last problem I’d had, never for the one I was currently having. But he loosened the bolt from the rod, and then we put it back into place, he tightened it up for me, and I was good to go.
It was a very satisfying outcome to a morning that had started out with an unpleasant sinking feeling. I think that unpleasant sinking feeling comes with some associated energy costs, though: the adrenaline high of “Oh, no, scary problem that must be dealt with immediately,” turned into an energy crash soon thereafter. By the time I’d made my way to Old Faithful and watched it spout on schedule (along with a thousand or so other people), I was seriously tired, and so sick of crowds of people. I like people-watching normally. I love situations where I can watch families and speculate on what they’re like, what their stories are. But not Sunday. I just wanted to be in a quiet place away from strangers, even nice helpful friendly strangers. So I got on the road and started driving.
It was another completely beautiful drive, this time into Wyoming. I was headed to Cody, where I planned to turn north to Billings. But along the way, I kept passing campgrounds and thinking, “I could stop there.” And when I’d been stuck behind a person going 55 in a 70MPH for a half hour that felt more like two, I let the impulse take me into the driveway of the North Fork of Buffalo Bill State Park.
There is no possible photo that could do this park justice, because it is one of those places with spectacular scenery in all directions. Also huge campsites, absurdly easy to get into. They’re all pull-through spots, parallel to huge grassy fields. My current spot could easily fit an enormous bus. And although I paid $35 for a water/electric spot, I’m actually worried about the water pressure — it blasts out so fast and hard that even with a pressure adapter on my hose, I feel like it might break something. That said, the water is delicious, so I am going to try to fill up my water jugs without getting too wet in the process. I think it’s the first time that I’ve ever had campground water that was noticeably good. (I’m not really a water snob, but I do notice what water tastes like.)
The showers were pay showers — $1.75 in quarters got me five minutes worth of water — but private, clean, and with (unsurprisingly!) excellent water pressure.
In fact, I liked the campground enough that I seriously considered taking a rest day. I’m still not entirely sure what my plan for this trip is — I seem to be vacationing an awful lot, instead of trying to figure out how to write (fiction) while on the road. Somehow, though, I found myself clean, packed up, and ready to go by 10AM.