Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Day 7 - A day full of mercy and grace and blessings - once we stopped and looked for it

Day 7 - We were headed from the Grand Tetons to San Francisco. I (despite Ryan's protesting - before we left home) that we couldn't do the 15 hour drive - it would just be too much. We only had one afternoon to spend in San Francisco so I wanted to be as close as possible. So, I picked Reno. I don't know why exactly but it was about the distance I wanted. We got up early - we had 749 miles to travel - approximately 11 hours and 49 minutes. Ryan and I got up at the crack of dawn and headed out. It was cold, cloudy and lots of snow on the ground. We had been driving about an hour - making pretty good time when we started noticing signs for warnings that we were headed for the Teton pass. We started seeing signs of a truck on an incline. As we progressed, we started seeing that it started giving grade percents. The final portion was a 10% grade up and a 10% grade down. My normal, go-with-the-flow, nothing-ruffles-his-feathers husband was sweating it! We were going 5 miles and hour. Then, it started snowing. It was absolutely crazy. But my rock star handled it like a pro!
The landscape when we were leaving the campsite right outside the Grand Tetons.
The view headed up the pass.
When it finally leveled out before we began the descent down. Well, about half an hour after catching our breath, we were headed into Idaho. All of a sudden, there was a loud crash and everything started bouncing around. Ryan pulled over on the side of the road and another car stopped up ahead of us. Two men got out of the car and came to see if we were alright. Apparently, unbeknownst to us, a large rock rolled off the mountain, bounced over the barrier and crushed our tow dolly tire. I mean crushed. At this point, we had only owned the crazy thing for a week! It never occurred to me to have a spare tire!
It was 40 miles to the next town. So, forty-five minutes and 3 stores later, we were back in business with a new tire and rim. All in all, it added three extra hours into our already long day. We were so grateful that it hit where it did, though. And thankful that the people stopped to tell us what had happened and helped give us a name / direction of where to head. Did I mention it was pouring rain and a temperature of 38 degrees? As Ryan and Ian headed in search of a tire, the rest of us sat on the side of the road waiting. Oh, and we "thought" we had Good Sam - roadside assistance, where they would have brought us a tire and rim but come to find out, we only had the discount service package not roadside assistance.
Did I mention that it was 38 degrees? We were turning into popsicles by the time the guys got back!
I had told little man that as soon as we got back on the road, he could cut. We had barely pulled back onto the road when he got to cutting!
Our 11 hour drive ended up taking 15 after all. We ended up getting to Reno at 11 pm. The manager there was so kind to us. We had reserved the last space in the whole RV park and he was afraid someone would come in and take our spot (which happens way more than I realized). He parked his car in our place to reserve it and then I called him when we were almost there. I told him our plans, that we were headed out, again, at the crack of dawn - trying to get to San Francisco before the day was wasted. He checked us in and out then. So, all in all, our 7 hour stay in Reno was a positive experience!
Our view as we were setting up camp.
Just to prove we really were there. Here's our 7 hour pit stop site! On to San Francisco...

Friday, June 10, 2016

Day 6 - Yellowstone

Rejuvenated by the fact that we were finally going to be in the same place two nights (even at a questionable site), we hit the ground running. The forecast was calling for rain, rain and more rain. It was COLD! I had checked all the weather reports, so I was expecting the highs and lows but for some reason, it just seemed colder. I have to say that day, we didn't wear enough layers. Thankfully, it rained all the way on the drive and then it rained all the way back to the campsite. For the most part, we were dry the whole day. It was definitely something to add to our "blessings" list. We got to the park a bit later than I had hoped. Some of the time / mileage charts can be misleading. It really was 20 minutes to the entrance to the park - but then another 40 to park and explore.
It was May, I just didn't expect there to be as much snow as there was. My little guy fussed the whole way up the mountain that I didn't bring his snow suit!
Because it took longer than we expected to get to our destination, of course we had to make a pit stop. My boys wasted no time in taking an opportunity to pelt one another with snowballs. The bathrooms were interesting, a combination porta potty meets squatty potty. Either way, they were disgusting and made me very thankful, on more than one occasion, that my little guy was a fellow. I had decided that rather than coming all the way back to the RV for lunch, that would be the meal we would eat out. I already had supper going in the crock pot, so one meal out would be ok. I had looked online to see our eating options. We decided we would go to a grill/cafe. I learned a lot that day. The first thing I learned was that the Asian population visit Yellowstone more than any other people group. We went into the grill and of course it was crowded and of course we had a million people with us. One man so sweetly motioned for us to sit with him (as he was eating his hamburger with chopsticks) and I would have loved to but he was at a table for four and there were 8 of us.... The other thing I noticed was that on several of the tables - there were boxes. They were the size of a box you would get at say Sam's Club to pack your groceries in. As we were wandering around looking for a table, we saw a lady pass us and she was carrying a box. It was FULL of french fries! Some ladies motioned to me to let me know they were getting up. There were three ladies sitting there and they had one of the boxes. Sure enough, there were about ten fries left in the box. We laughed about it almost the whole day. We have never seen fries sold by the box. After lunch, we headed over to Old Faithful. We had about 30 minutes before it was scheduled to erupt. We took a walk around the perimeter. We saw huge amount of bison patties but not one bison. I was very disappointed. I didn't want to get up close and personal with one, but I did want to at least see one.
This is one of the pits around Old Faithful. You could smell the sulfur. We were hoping to find a hot spring to take a dip in but we just didn't make it. It really does take a long time to do the parks, I underestimated how much. It would have been another hour to drive were there may or may not have been an accessible spring. It came with tons and tons of health warnings too. The girls were already more than a little skeptical.
After circling the perimeter, we settled in to wait. We had a great, front-row view.
My poor little fellow didn't make it to see the eruption. Owen ended up carrying him halfway around the park. When he woke up he said, "did I miss it?" Poor fellow. Luckily for him, Ryan recorded the whole thing so he could watch it over and over and he did! One day, I'm going to make a collage of all the places this guy has slept.
Because we had limited time, I had scoped out online beforehand the "must see" things of each park. After seeing Old Faithful erupt, we decided to head to the Morning Glory Pool. It's a long walk! I had no idea that the "trails" of yellowstone would be a wooden-like pier and/or concrete. I didn't know it would be stroller friendly. I brought a stroller, it was just in the car. We were semi-rushing because we wanted to see it but we had other things we wanted to see too.
About the time this guy was crossing our path (the only real, live animal we saw up close and personal - we saw a few bear cubs from the road.) we were questioning our decision to walk to the Morning Glory Pool. In the end, Ryan and Little Man were tired so they decided to head to the ice cream shop and wait for us there. The rest of us kept on booking, in search of a Morning Glory.
Although the path was longer than expected, we saw some pretty cool sights along the way.
We finally made it. I'm not sure we all agreed if it was worth it or not. I mean, it was pretty but we passed a couple on the way that should have been named "Morning Glory Jr." We stopped, we looked and then we hoofed it back to the road. We took a less scenic, more direct route this time. We made it back to the ice cream shop just in time. After looking around the gift shop a little we decided we were not going to keep venturing further into Yellowstone. We unanimously decided to give up our quest of finding a hot spring and head back to the RV. Thankfully, no bear had smelled our delicious supper, it was waiting for us upon our return. We had a great evening hanging out and watching Alexa and Ian do disgusting things playing the dumbest game ever, 1-10.
So long, Yellowstone. Until next time...

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Day 5 - Here we go a traveling along...

Day 5 - We're headed to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, 436 miles. This was the hardest RV park to reserve beforehand that was a full hookup. I ended up googling a site rather than getting a recommendation from my GoodSam book. A couple in South Dakota told us that a new park had opened in Yellowstone that had full hook ups - they had camped two days outside the park, waiting for it to open. We decided to take our chances with the one I had reserved. We pretty much decided it was definitely one on the bottom of the like list. First of all, the people weren't all that friendly and we were in the second part at the very back - way far away from the wifi. Everywhere I made reservations, I asked for a pull-through and to be near the bathroom/showers. This one had one but it was in a barn - complete with a sliding barn door, with no handle. This was also the first place we were stopping for two nights.
Some of the scenery as we drove from South Dakota to Wyoming. My boys definitely thought it would be a great place to live - out in the wide open spaces. Alexa didn't think it would do at all and Emily thinks there is no place quite like calling NC home. All along we would see these extra sets of fences. They were so random. Someone took pictures but I haven't quite consolidated all of the pictures into one location yet. Anyway, these random fence panels - we were having dinner with friends that used to live in CA the other night and we started talking about these random fence panels and all random ideas we came up with. He told us it was a snow barrier - to keep the snow off the road. It made so much more sense than the suggestions we were coming up with.
Even though overall, the site was pretty yucky - the view was amazing. This was the view facing our camper - the Grand Tetons.
This was our set up. You can see the "bathroom" aka the barn - over to the left. It was freezing cold and dreary rain. One funny story - this was the first place I had set to do laundry. Ryan and I had driven up to the laundry facility to wash (that's how far in the back we were). We were sitting there waiting, when this man started banging on the back door - me being me, I screamed. Ryan went opened the door and the man told us he was parking his Harley on the other side of the door - for us to please not knock it over. A bit later, another man that had been riding with him, came in and said they had been driving all the way to the other side of Yellowstone but it had started snowing so hard that they closed the road. They had to turn around and drive the two hours back to the other entrance. By that time, they were frozen, out of gas and it was late. It was quite a story to hear all where they had travelled.
Today was the day I had set aside for us to explore the Grand Tetons. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the camp and set up, the fog had descended. It was so amazing watching this huge mountain range just disappear. It was cold and rainy so we didn't do much exploring. We drove around and then went back to our barn.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Day 4 - Wall Drug, Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial

Today was our first "short" drive - 116 miles, but we (aka I) had it jammed packed. Our initial plan was to go to Wall Drug and then the RV park, park Betty White and jump in our van to head to the other sites. I decided mid-way that maybe I should call the places and double check the hours. I'm so thankful that I did. Mt. Rushmore told me they were closing at 4:00 pm but Crazy Horse was open until 8:00pm. We switched up our schedule and kept a trucking. Our first stop was Wall Drug. It still remains one of Alexa's favorite places. We laughed because all of the billboards kept advertising "free water since 1931". We never saw that free water. We also discovered that we were ahead of the summer rush and somethings just weren't open yet or they were making repairs, getting ready for the busy season. No matter, we still had a great time.
The kids humoring me as they took a trail ride across the prairie.
This was the day little man decided Mitchell was his "best friend" and the best place for a best friend was on the shoulders of said best friend. The whole day, he was either on Mitchell's shoulders or holding his hand. Who needs a gym for a workout? After we left Wall Drug, we ate a delicious meal of tacos on the way. Upon arriving at Mt. Rushmore, this was the first time Ryan started his driving abilities.
The road leading up to Mt. Rushmore left Ryan sweating. We had to go 10 miles per hour and ole Betty was straining. But she made it like a champ!
I'm not sure what I was expecting when we got to Mt. Rushmore, but it was what I expected. Last year, we went to see the Liberty Bell and I was dumbfounded by the fact that it was so small. It was cool to see Mt. Rushmore in person and to read the stories behind what the artist was thinking and why he chose the Presidents he did.
This is what the artist envisioned Mt. Rushmore looking like. WWWII is the reason sited for not completing the statues - from the waist up as Gutzon Borglum had envision. Still, it was pretty impressive.
Because, apparently, Thomas Jefferson was the inventor of ice cream, we had to get some in his honor. This was our first "outside treat" and it was very well received. In fact, the kids began looking for ice cream shops everywhere we went. Because of Emily's deep rooted love for ice cream, she had to get herself one of the t-shirts, giving Thomas Jefferson credit for his amazing invention. After leaving Mt. Rushmore, we got back in the RV and headed to the Crazy Horse Monument. When completed, this will be the largest stone carving in the world. The carving was begun in 1948 and this is what it looks like:
I didn't think to take a picture of what they wanted it to look like when completed. It will be Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing in the distance. We were able to take a bus down to the bottom of the construction site. (You could take one to the top too [the construction site] but they were sold out for the day.)
When we got to the bottom, the driver let us get out and gave us a mini-geology lesson. He said everyone could take "one" rock. Apparently, my little man realized his siblings were not taking care to gather their one rock so, he got one for everyone. He got back on that bus loaded down. The man was telling us all about the mica and I handed my guy a piece, it was glittering in the light - he took it, tore it in half and said "that ain't no rock". I guess he isn't quite ready for geology 101. Here is what the statue looked like from the bottom:
Once our bus ride was over, we headed over to our campsite, finally. We got set up and had our dinner outside with a fire. So far, this has been our one and only campfire. We are still carrying around the second bundle of South Dakota firewood, we just haven't been able to use it yet.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Day 3 - The Badlands

Day 3 - We headed out of Waterloo, IA and got back on the road. Today, we were traveling 582 miles - approximately 8 hours and 31 minutes to Interior, South Dakota. It did take us a little longer than that, but nothing like yesterday! I was very particular about the campgrounds we staying in. The Good Sam book I ordered was huge and quite daunting but any one who knows me, knows I lived by the ratings. Anyway, at most National Parks, there is camping but it is dry camping - meaning no water and no hook up - sewer or electricity. As much as I love a good rating, I am totally sold out to having water and power. In some places, finding those "full hook up" sites were a challenge. The first two nights, we camped at KOA's, so everything was neat and orderly. Let's just say camp number 3 was quite a wake up. The people were very friendly, it was just a bit run down and there were no smoking rules. We came out of the shower smelling worse than when we went in. But, like every other site up until now, we just barely passed through. The Badlands were amazing. So far, it has been some of my kids very favorite. It was rough, rugged, beautiful, raw and untamed. As soon as we pulled in, the kids hopped in the van and headed over. They ran and explored until night fall. It was the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Day 2 - Destination: Waterloo, Iowa, 8 hours 2 minutes, 544 miles. The first couple days of our trip, we were just trying to majorly cover ground. Time wise, we were closer to our designated time, much closer than day one. Unlike the first day, we had time to get to the campground and unwind a bit - play on the playground, throw the football around and cook on our grill. All in all, it was a great day. Since the only time we stopped was to get gas, the kids started using those breaks to their advantage to get up and stretch. As the miles turned to hours, people found creative ways to catch a few zzzz's. Little man soon learned that dad was the candy source. When we would stop, Ryan would go into the store and little man would scream "bring 'us' back some candy!" This particular trip, Ryan brought some crazy sour candy. This is the face he made every single time - kept us entertained for at least 20 miles or so. Our campsite for the day. We were so glad to finally arrive!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Launch Day

So, after list-making, packing, cooking and freezing food for a solid week, Sunday finally arrived! I had spent all of Saturday loading and reloading, trying to figure out my method to my madness. I "thought" I was in pretty good shape on Saturday night. Sunday morning came and (as usual) there were a few more loose ends to tie up and we ended up leaving two hours later that I had hoped. Let me tell you, traveling on Sunday (especially for the first day) is the way to go! We encountered absolutely no traffic, which was great - we were slow enough as it was. We were trucking along pretty well until we hit the mountains of West Virginia. I felt like we were in the "Little Engine that Could". It made it easily, it just was slow moving. Our scheduled 537 miles ended up taking 10 and a half hours! That was a rough first day. By the time we got to our campsite in Dayton, OH, we had an improvised supper of sandwiches and crashed. On day one we covered - NC, VA, WV, OH. Here are a few pictures from day one:
Starting out, it was all fun and games - then the miles and miles and miles set in!
The first thing I "cooked" while traveling down the road was Ryan a cup of coffee. He was a rock star and drove all 537 miles.
Have you ever seen such cuteness? He is loving hanging out with the big kids as we roll down the road.

And away we go....

After months of light planning and a full week of nothing but planning, we are off. I was going to start with the update of our trial run we did in March. The kids and I took "Betty White" (our RV's name - no, we are not Betty White fans - it's just that she's old and a little ruff around the edges, and white, obviously.) for a weekend trip to Asheboro. It went pretty well - our first camping experience in an RV, my first time driving and setting up. I was going to start that way but then moving my son home from college happened, my daughter's college graduation happened, prom happened and next thing I knew - it was time to go. The week before last was complete insanity for us. Last week, I spent listing and listing and more listing. I had already mapped out our trip but I was fine tuning it - planning our food and listing what we would need in each spot. Here are a few pictures of our "getting ready" process:(sorry there are no picture descriptions. Our wi-fi has been spotty - at best!)