Home. Florida. our little shack awaits.
We left Portland like escaped convicts, intent on putting some miles between us and Stumptown. Our next stop on the bucket list was Mr. Rushmore, so we were going to have to head north, then east, retracing our route in the Yellowstone area. We headed east on I-84, black smoke billowing from the trusty Cummins diesel, rest stops off the menue, until we felt safe in our escape. **
Once past the dismality of the Stumptown sprawl, the route opened up to a scenic drive along the Hood River Valley. After 200 miles of Hood River driving, we turned north on I-82 and headed back into Washing State. 170 miles of dry, uninteresting miles NE and we were in Spokane, WA, ready to cross into Idaho.
Coeur d'Alene ID was a town I'd heard much about and was looking forward to seeing. Unfortunately, towing a fifth wheel on the interstate is not conducive to much contemplation of anything other than safe travels. In spite of this handicap I was able to get a good feel for the place and it is indeed beautiful. From Coeur d'Alene we headed east into the scenic mountains on our way to Missoula, MT, which would begin a retrace a portion of our trip from Utah Lake to Yellowstone.
As we headed on the scenic route into the mountains east of Coeur d'Alene the sun began to set behind us. Certainly an idyllic moment, but a precursor to troubled miles ahead. Scenic routes at night are not scenic but generally difficult driving, especially with a 45' 22,000# rig. And I was already tired. Free of Portland for the first time in over two weeks, but tired. And there is never any place to pull over and rest in the mountains, so I was resigned to drive through the mountain route, whatever it took.
After a couple of hours of hammering out miles on narrow twisting roads in the black of night, our first oasis of civilization appeared. It was a destitute assembly of once vibrant buildings, now with only one survivor, a watering hole popular with the locals. We take a chance and pull in.
We catch the place, a bar and greasy spoon, just as they were closing down the kitchen. We were tired and hungry, not wanting to go through the hassle of cooking in the RV after set up, so we quickly ordered the only thing they agreed to fix, the chicken special. Someone just before us had ordered the same, and the place only had facilities to prep one order of chicken at a time, so we had an extended wait.
We inquired about parking the RV out front for the night and the lady was most accommodating. We were given the choice of just staying the night right out front in the parking lot, or moving over to the small lake next door. We chose to move over to the lake. Considering the cost, free, it was an exceptional spot. We set up and Donna went about tiding up the RV for our night and I walked Buddy, as was the usual routine. In our division of labor agreement I think I really did quite well.
Our much needed meal was ready just as the place was shutting out the lights. I as delighted to be heading back to the RV with plastic sacks holding Styrofoam dinner trays holding our evening meal as I was starving. As fat as I was at the time you'd think my body would have given up some of it's reserve before making me suffer so, but that's not how the system is designed.
I plopped our bounty on the table. Donna, the good wife, had my drink ready. I popped open my Styrofoam treasure chest to find a big old pile of greasy fried chicken. I think as fried chicken goes it wasn't all that greasy, but any fried chicken is greasy to me. I'm sure the menu said fried chicken but my mind saw grilled chicken. Maybe even grilled skinless chicken (yeah, right, at a local, backwoods, redneck dive, grilled skinless chicken). I tried eating around the mess just long enough to make myself sick, then went to bed hungry. I did have sense enough to haul the leftover pile of plastic, grease and chicken parts out to the dumpster before going to bed so I wouldn't have to face it in the morning.
Morning was a new and beautiful day. Hitting the road was still an exciting event. Coffee, walk the dog and explore, hitch up check and go. I can see how people get addicted to the life style.
East to Missoula Mt, then on to Butte. Butte is where we will begin overlapping our route and also the scene of the steepest mountain we had challenged to date. The mountain pass was still in my mind and I was wondering with trepidation how it would be the second time.
It was a long and exceedingly steep ascent, my memory was not deceiving me. The truck was giving it all she had, but 35 to 40 mph was all that was in the tank. But I was in good company as the tractor trailers were thick and struggling to maintain 30 mph. And the climb just never seemed to end, but it does, just before you reach the most difficult part of any mountain pass, the descent.
This particular mountain descent is the only one I can recall that had 25 mph speed limits for tucks and trailers. I was delighted with that as I am much more comfortable keeping those kinds of speeds as the truck/trailer is much more manageable. Anything over 30 mph at these kinds of descents and the truck seem close to out of control. Some semi tucks follow the speed limit, but the majority seem happy at double the posted speed.
And so the biggest, scariest mountain pass in our whole trip is conquered again. Eastward to Bozeman, the scene of our trek through the hail storm with our Mexican food. And then Billings to connect with I-60 heading south into Wyoming.
I-60 heads right into the middle of Indian country. Custer Indian country to be exact. We were to be driving right through Custer National Monument. I'll admit it, I'm one of those people who was rooting for the Indians (so shoot me). We made it into the park right close to sunset and I made one of my wrong turn blunders trying to find the campground. I turned to my left when I should have turned to my other left.
So here I was again, heading out to nowhere, on a narrow dirt road, with almost no possibility of turning around, right at dark. One would think I'd be use to this predicament by now. There was an occasional turn off for field access, but they were very narrow with ditches on either side. Turning around would involve first being able to turn the rig from a narrow dirt road, onto a narrower single lane, barely, dirt drive, then backing the rig back out, all while trying not to involve a ditch in the process. It is little wonder I was dealing with sweaty palms. It was getting to be do or die time as the sun was flirting with the horizon. I picked my spot and did the deed, successfully, but not without stress. I felt like a dog that had just got out of the SPCA, bounding back toward what passed for civilization in this area of the country.
Civilization was right back at the junction with the dirt road we were on and the two lane state road cutting through the park area. At the junction was a large Indian casino and office complex. The complex appears to be long abandoned and looted/vandalized, all except for a select few offices that were being used. There were a few RVs in the parking lot so we pulled in and asked a couple fellow RVers about staying. Nobody seemed to have any clue as to restrictions and camping here so we simply picked a good spot and set up for the night. It was not the best of facilities, but the price was right, and it was right across the street from the monument. The whole self sufficient RV thing was really making itself useful.
Morning time and after some impromptu campground visiting, we hit the monument. It was interesting and all, but hot and dry. The monument consisted of the cemetery and museum building, then a long walking tour along the battle route. Donna was not physically up for walking the route but game for driving, which was allowed, although few appeared to be taking the driving route. I did a fair bit of walking and exploring with Buddy and discovered that the area outside of the partially shaded main area was hot, dry, cactus ridden and swarming with yellow jackets. All things considered, we decided to take in what we could then hit the road without driving the walking tour route. I'm sure the other folks appreciated not having a big diesel truck lumbering along the single lane blacktop, not that others didn't do it after we left. Besides, we needed good internet access for the next night and this place had none. So we hit the road, heading for Gillette, WY.
During our ill fated stay in Portland I'd run across a place for sale on the internet near our home in Suwannee County. We were happy with the country life but yearning for more living accommodations, plus more useable land. This place seemed to fit the bill, we knew the area, and the price was right, possibly. A friend had stopped in to check it out and take photos. With his report, and the photos, we were ready to proceed. It was an online auction so we'd have to have a site with good internet connection to realistically participate. We chose Crazy Woman Campground in Gillette WY. I told Donna the place was named after her.
Crazy Woman was a dump really. Long ago past it's prime and unsuited to it's location in the now bustling commercial district of town. I'd guess, in her day, Crazy Woman Campground was out in the stix, but the sprawl caught up with and surrounded her. The internet and phone connections were good so we settled into our rough gravel spot next to the new and busy four lane highway.
As is usual for auctions, we went one step over our limit, but won the auction. Even though we were over our hoped for budget it seem like a good deal and we were excited. This event built a fire under our desire to return to home base to get things moving. I had contracts to sign and deposits to wire so we stayed at Crazy Woman for another day, then we made way for Mount Rushmore.
9/7/2011 We break camp and head for Oreville Campground in the Black Hills National Forest, by way of Rapid City. 190 miles and 3.5 hours by mapquest. More like 6 hours by RV time. We could have done a more direct route cutting it down to 3.5 hours and 120 miles but we really didn't know where we were going until we found it. Rapid City was another congested city we'd just as soon avoided but it wasn't to be.
After Rapid City we started backtracking to the West, then South, in search of suitable camping accommodations. We were now, apparently, in family RV territory in prime season. The multilane roads were one steep hill after another in very congested driving conditions. Half the vehicles were oversized RVs clogging up the works, the other half were regular vehicles irritated at the RV folks clogging up the works. The driving wasn't pleasant but all the stops along the way were very overpriced resort style family parks not of our, at least my, liking, so I kept pushing on. Eventually we stumbled into a Park Service campground that had everything a recent Alaska adventurer could hope for, including a cheap price.
The camp host consisted of a very stern and unfriendly lady and her husband who obviously wanted nothing to do with the camp hosing duties. Easy enough, I wanted a site as secluded from the rest as possible. I was in luck as most people wanted to be up front and center while the back two thirds of the park was secluded and deserted. We ended up with a very nice spot with lots of playground for both Buddy and I.
As we'd been on the road for a few days I needed to water up and dump the tanks. Water here was a closely guarded commodity. I pull up to the spigot by the restrooms, as instructed, and found the stern woman host cleaning the bathrooms. I proceed to string out the hose and start filling the tanks. While the tanks are filling up I start a conversation with the woman. Once it started I couldn't stop it. The woman simply wouldn't shut up. It was all friendly, informative and welcomed, but I have my limit. Finally someone pulled up behind my rig and needed to pass. That was my excuse to bolt for my hidden camp site. What a relief to be safely set up back in the woods. Then I see Mr. Camp Host heading my way. Apparently in my haste I had forgotten pick up my hose, or anything else. Not only did I forget it, but I suffered the indignity of running over the ends of it ruining it. Oh well, I'm sure camp hosts see plenty of idiot moves by campers.
Our site was about half way between Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore. Although we drove past both several times we never actually took the tour. Rushmore was interesting but not as awe inspiring as I'd imagined. It no doubt would have been better if I'd taken the time to see it up close.
We were right next to Custer State Park and there is a long driving excursion through the park that was well worth the effort. We spent pretty much most of a day driving through, hiking, checking out the wild life, the scenery and being thankful not to have an RV in tow. There are some RV parks, and nice ones, deep in Custer State Park but there are also a large number of low clearance bridges that make getting to the parks difficult.
I made to excursions in an effort to see what the Badlands had to offer. The first time, with Donna, I got lost and spent many hours driving down some very long, remote, gravel roads through what were the outskirts of the Badlands. Every ten or so miles would be a ranch house all by it's lonesome. Certainly some very secluded living.
A couple of days later I decided to take another stab at exploring the Badlands, understanding my driving mistake. Donna decided not to go along this time. I can't blame her as I'd been in a foul mood for a few days and the last Badlands experience left a lot to be desired sight seeing wise. This trip went much better and Buddy and I had a delightful time.
We were right at the end of the season now. The nights were getting very cool, and some of the days. After the first week our hosts pulled out and the park reverted to self serve for the remaining few weeks of their season. We been debating our route home and it was decided we'd stop in to Indianapolis for a few days for Donna to visit her family.
9/17/2011, or thereabouts, we pull out for Indianapolis. Not a lot to see from Rapid City to Indianapolis. Lots and lots of corn. Driving though so many miles and miles of corn fields certainly lulls ones senses. I was abruptly and unceremonious jerked back to the reality of high speed, congested East Coast driving just as we entered Illinois.
I'd been lost in my thoughts making good time through the corn fields when it came time to merge with some section of Interstate apparently heading for Chicago. I rounded the bend to the merge lane with a good head of speed as we were merging into the right lane of traffic. Low and behold there was a semi broken down in the merge lane with three solid lanes of jammed packed high speed traffic in no mood to give ground. I as able to lock it up and get the rigged stopped in time but eventually merging onto that section of Instate took a bit. From that point on to home it was welcome back to East Coast Interstate driving. It is no wonder most RVers head west pronto.
The three day stay at Donna's family was uneventful. We parked the Rv a block away on a vacant lot that had recently had a building demolished on it. Indianapolis holds no allure for me, nor does kibitzing with family, so Buddy and I spend out time hanging out around our make do RV spot.
After three glorious days in Indianapolis we made out way to Chattanooga for a night, then on home to Live Oak.
A few weeks later, in order to complete my RV bucket list we made a trip down to Pine Island for a beautiful week back in the tropics.
Seven months, 27,000 total miles, 17,000 miles towing. One heck of an adventure.