Day 15. Keepin’ it real

Day 15

We piled the 13 of us back into the RV this morning while it was still dark. It instantly felt like being snatched from the bosom of our West Yellowstone sanctuary and hurdled onto the harsh Interstate abyss.

I can describe what reentry is like to you only in the following 2-word phrases. That’s all we’re capable of now.

“422 miles.”

“Road construction.”

“Loose gravel.”

“Cracker Barrel.”

“A/C’s out.”

“Chicken pox?”

“No generator.”

“Needs oil.”

“I’ll drive!”

“No burping.”

“No spilling.”

“No fighting.”

“Personal space.”

“Where’s Louise?”

“Pokemon No.”

“Overage data.”

“Summer reading.”

“Bathroom, again????”

“Bismarck, ND.”

Hotel tonight better have a full bar and free Wifi.

“Just sayin’.”

Days something through 14–Yellowstone

We have just spent the last four days in one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

We have discovered and explored Yellowstone with more than a little help from our new friends of cabin staff, guides and locals. We saw the icons—Old Faithful erupted right at 5:38 as we dined at the Old Faithful Inn. We ate dinner at the Roosevelt Lodge where Teddy would stay, and we went to many different waterfalls and formations that I’d never even heard of. We saw hundreds of elk and bison; and even caught a glimpse of a lone coyote prowling through a meadow at sunset. We fished for trout in Lake Yellowstone (caught three but had to throw them back because they were cutthroats) and smelled the hot springs before we saw them bubbling away in a field or the side of a mountain. We saw colors I didn’t know existed including water so clear you could see the bottom of the river bed from yards offshore and crossed the continental divide several times. It was spectacular, but at the same time it was also the most natural thing in the entire world.

The kids learned what a huckleberry tastes like, what a bison chip feels like when you step in it, and how good a sandwich can taste when eaten on a picnic table outside. We saw the first National Park at sunrise and at sunset; and I bet no one could decide which is more grandiose.

One night on our way out of the park, we experienced a power outage that ran from Idaho Falls up to Bozeman. The town of West Yellowstone was without electricity for several hours, but you couldn’t tell because it stays so light for so late. We had s’mores for dinner (again) until the nice folks at the hotel came by with grilled burgers. We didn’t even notice or care when power was eventually restored later that night.

All told, I think we looked up, out, in and around way more than we looked down at a screen.

And that was perhaps the most beautiful sight of all.

Day 12–Wolves, Bears and Marshmallows, Oh My!

I know I’m behind on posting for a couple of days, but when your breath has been taken away so often, sometimes you need a minute to catch it.

We arrived in West Yellowstone on Monday to an oasis we didn’t know we needed. Right away we went to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center for a behind the scenes tour of the work they do to care for animals that can’t be returned to the wild. We actually got to hide food for the bears in their habitat, then watch (from a safe distance) as they went out and found it. Sort of playing Hide and Go Seek with bears who can’t rip your face off. A win-win.

After that truly fascinating visit, we were whisked away (across the street) to the Explorer Cabins at West Yellowstone where clean the most friendly, accommodating staff awaited us with a built fire and S’mores. We went to dinner on a ranch nearby, and I don’t know if we’ve ever been happier to sleep in clean sheets that didn’t move along an interstate in our lives.

The wolves sang us to sleep in the light of almost full moon.

They seemed to be calling, “Loooouuuiissseee….the bears found the wine you tried to hide in there….they buried it after they read the label….yoooouuuuu’rrree welllccooome….”

Day 10–Greetings from the Planet Wyoming

Captain’s Log, Stardate: 10.11 (I’ve lost track)

We have arrived on the planet Wyoming, and I won’t lie—it is a much friendlier people than our last universe.

The youngest of a crew needed some medical attention today for an ear infection after enjoying a day at the native amusement; a waterpark at the Fairfield Inn. So we made a detour into the Cody, Wyoming hospital before camping in one of the prettiest landings yet.

It’s actually kind of surprising that an ER visit only took 10 days to occur as our crew is battling numerous ailments at this point. Ear infections, stomachaches from a diet of Dr. Pepper and marshmallows, mystery rashes and I’m sure we are mere hours away from a rampant pink eye epidemic.

I don’t know how much baby George will remember of this journey, but we must all make a vow to maintain the legend that he once went to the ER in Cody for something truly epic—like a rodeo injury or snake bite—and we’ll just keep the whole amoxicillin thing to ourselves.

This state’s terrain is absolutely breathtaking; and it seemed that around every bend it changed into something more spectacular. The road to Yellowstone is an awe-inspiring tease for what’s to come here on the USS Spentourlives.

Days 8 and 9—Together in Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood

Upon picking up our last passenger from the Rapid City airport, our baker’s dozen of adventurers is now complete.

Our crew of thirteen in matching T-shirts made for an inconspicuous entrance into Mount Rushmore, which was our destination for the day. But we’re not really going for subtlety when we ask strangers to take our picture, so it was all good. Until Deadwood.

Deadwood.

Deadwood…Deadwood.

What can I say about Deadwood?

The signs that things were just a bit off were evident when we pulled into the campground and Sean immediately purchased the neighboring sites around us so we wouldn’t hit the RV next to us when we opened a window. The amenities weren’t exactly what were advertised on the website, but we got a bonus visit from a mountain lion in the middle of the night so I suppose we’re square there.

After a rather sleepless night dodging local wildlife, we thought a day in the old western town would be fun.

It was not.

Deadwood is weird. It’s not Gatlinburg-esque in its corny, touristy and fun way. It’s not completely authentic even in its strange street reenactments of murders of old cowboys. It’s seedy. And not friendly. And a bit NC-17. And everyone seems to be drunk. Including the public trolley car driver who regards the schedule, designated stops and traffic laws as mere suggestions. And not even fun drunk on Louise’s white wine but an angry drunk on stale beer and whiskey from label-less bottles. You kind of fear for your life at all times and really hope you don’t die there so they don’t reenact your demise one day in the front of a Hampton Inn. You feel like everyone in town wants to stab you but not in the surly old cowboy way that can reach a resolution of mutual respect over a good poker hand and a shot; but more like the being on several FBI watch lists kind of stabbing in broad daylight over an imagined slight on Facebook or offense taken over a tacky T-shirt.

And the only gambling we did was which communicable disease we’d contract from the public restrooms.

We promised the kids that if we didn’t die by food poisoning from the inordinate number of All You Can Eat Crab places or the poison candy offered by the toothless woman at the bus stop, we would pull up stakes and head west a day early.

It was the fastest camp break down to date.

Good night from Gillette, Wyoming.

Day 7–Badlands and bad flies

The Badlands were an unexpected, awe-inspiring sight. Not a single picture could or has ever done it justice although we certainly tried through a myriad of lenses yesterday. Exploring that grandeur was not only a highlight of this trip, but certainly one of all my travels. Surprises like a field of wild prairie dogs and vistas around every bend will not soon be forgotten.

What I do hope to forget is the rather tragic fly situation going on in western South Dakota. Being amongst its residents for the last week, I feel like they are a proud people–private by nature and not really apt to share their plight–but the insect situation is approaching dire. This plague is well past Pinterest solutions and in need of its own hashtag. Send fly traps.

Our campsite succumbed and we tried the penny in the plastic bag of water trick–the flies broke them open and used the money to buy booze and party favors and invited more friends to the party. In desperation, we bought some weird contraption that–pardon my graphic and crude description–smelled like diarrhea but was so effective that we were willing to trade off the odor for the relief. Glue strips hung from the rafters and again, were absolutely disgusting, but so are gross flies. We were able to leave them behind, but the folks of SD need help, people.

We made the trip to the famous Wall Drug for their free ice water and 5 cent coffee.

After a couple of cups of that, the nickels might have been better spent in the plastic bags of water.

Day 6–The Dads Land in the Badlands

We are almost to the one week mark of our adventure and today we met up with the Dads in the Badlands of South Dakota! This amazing landscape will be thoroughly explored and enjoyed all day tomorrow. Yay!

However, we weren’t all together an hour before the kids started to recognize the difference between the Moms and Daddy Good Times.

“Mom, why does Daddy’s rental van have seats?”

“Why doesn’t Daddy have ongoing negotiations with other drivers when they can’t hear a word you’re saying?”

“Why don’t the daddies call themselves by obscure movie characters decades before we were born?”

“Why doesn’t Dad make disappointing wine choices?” (See Louise, even the children noticed.)

“I bet Dad can figure out the cable TV.”

“Do you think Dad can find a flytrap that doesn’t smell like a port o’ potty?”

“Daddy takes us to real national monuments and doesn’t try to pass off places like the Corn Palace as a point of interest.”

Like the RV, the Daddies don’t have a name yet for this trip, but I’m thinking E. & T. because they’re aliens in this strange new world and due to the spotty wifi, they can’t phone home.

Day 5 and the Strange Beauty that is Sioux Falls

Walmart Cashier: Welcome to Walmart! Did you find everything you were looking for?

Thelma: Yes, thank you. We don’t need a bag for the Venus Flytrap.

Cashier: (Scanning eclectic mixture of consumer goods.) That is sure a lot of Band-Aids and Neosporin you’ve got there.

Thelma: Four-square accident. And I’m still healing from sticking my tongue out at Louise through the metal grate on the prison van.

Cashier: I guess that can happen. I’m going to need to get a price check on this vanilla vodka, though.

Thelma: It’s not for the Four-square victim, I assure you. We’re making Sangria to choke down some cheap wine and a whole lot of Paducah peaches. Long story.

Cashier: I bet. I don’t really think I need to hear it. (Pauses.) Do you have a coupon for this industrial size box of Lucky Charms and 6 dozen donuts?

Thelma: No. We are willing to pay full price to just throw a bunch of sugar and a baby wipe in the back of the RV and hope for the best at this point.

Cashier: I hope the cereal doesn’t get caught in the case of fly paper you’ve got.

Thelma: Needed probably in no small part to the new breakfast strategy when we are on the road.

Cashier: Oh, do you not live here?

Thelma: No, we live in Nashville.

Cashier: (Stops. Stares blankly. Even a little menacingly.) Then why are you here?

Thelma: (Gulps.) Visiting. Just passing through on our way to Yellowstone….

And that has been the odd reaction of everyone we’ve met here in Sioux Falls. They seem to be in annoyed disbelief even before we get to the part about the 9 kids in an RV thing. They are not impressed or even slightly interested in tourists here; which is surprising because Sioux Falls is absolutely beautiful. Falls Park is this amazing gem that you never heard of, and I suppose residents want to keep it a secret. The downtown is bustling with cool shops and restaurants, and there is art everywhere. I’d love an extra day here to do more exploring but I don’t think they’re wild about the 19 flip flops on the welcome mat.

So today was a refuel, restock and recharge day–not just at Walmart, but we saw a movie, ate lunch out and did all the laundry because tomorrow we pull up stakes early and head west to the Corn Palace, the Badlands, and the spousal units who fly in to Rapid City to join up with this crew of merrymakers.

So ignore the minor cuts and bruises and that hot mess that is your daughters’ hair, Darling Husbands. We’re having peach sangria for four around the campfire tonight.

*Louise posted awesome pictures on Facebook, and one of our teenaged passengers has started an Instagram just for the trip. #Mtfischmore_Henrystone

Day 4–Sioux Falls

We committed no felonies today. However, if looking this good after four days with campground hair and a glowing sheen from perspiration and bugspray is a crime, then we are guilty as charged, my friends.

We traveled due north today through hundreds of miles of Iowa corn fields and farmland to the next pit stop of Sioux Falls. South Dakota has an 80 mph speed limit which didn’t exactly feel smooth in the big rig, so we brought it back down to a respectable 75. Shockingly, it was our shortest leg yet.

Every campground we stay in has only been researched online back in February so like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get. (Except we’re camping, so you get a lot of toasted marshmallow filled ones.) We chose each campground based on location and whether or not they had cabins available; because yes, we are crazy, but not legally insane, and we knew we couldn’t sleep 13 in the RV. That criteria was crucial, and then the remaining details were bonuses. It’s kind of a give and take game.

Like last night’s accommodations had an awesome jumping pillow for the kids. But Louise couldn’t turn on her phone at night in her cabin or she’d be swarmed by moths. In St. Louis, the cabins were awesome, but we were next to a train and a graveyard. Here in Sioux Falls, we have the best site at the place, but it shares the concrete slab with the laundry facilities and game room. Convenient, but I feel just a tad exposed. There’s a chimenea, but no natural boundary define our space. And kids I know aren’t ours keep raiding the quarter jar. I’d be worried that strangers would also be helping themselves to the contents of our cooler, but there’s only Louise’s Cupcake wine in there, and no one wants that.

I may sleep with the Louisville Slugger close by tonight.

Just in case the quarter-stealers want to play baseball in the middle of the night, of course.

Day 3 (and almost my last)

I thought it might take a little longer, but Day 3 was the moment Louise tried to kill me.

I should have known something was amiss when she returned to the campsite with a trail of cheap wine from Walgreen’s that led to the back of a rented white U-Haul cargo van. The fact that it was 9:30 in the morning didn’t tip me off so I suppose that’s on me. When she locked me back there–without the wine, I might add–I did wonder why there was a metal mesh barrier between the front and the back like some sort of prison transport; and concluded that she must be planning to knock me off quickly and then dispose of my body in the creepiest vehicle ever for rent for $19.95 per day in the metropolitan Kansas City area.

But no, she had other plans.

The metal grate and lack of adequate seating for the 8 CHILDREN SHE LOCKED ME BACK THERE WITH was soon eclipsed by the rising core temperature of our bodies in the sweltering heat can that is the rear seating area in July. At times, she’d yell for us to duck because we were passing law enforcement and didn’t really want anyone in authority to do a body per seatbelt (or seats for that matter) count, but we had passed out from heat stroke long ago. We were so dehydrated we had ceased the ability to make urine, so at least there were no good Samaritan worries at bathroom stops and we arrived to the baseball game undetected and unconscious.

I joke, because Louise actually saved countless lives today by having the brilliant idea to rent the creepy van instead of me trying to maneuver the RV through the city streets. This resourcefulness came after we were told that Uber didn’t come out this way, there were no car rentals open over the weekend, and no cab service. She drove like a boss and earned kid street cred as they watched their mother bend a few rules to take us all to a double-header Royals game and KC Sporting MLS game without having to attach and reattach the sewer hose 8 times in a single day.

So three cheers for Louise!

Let’s all toast her with some of that cheap Walgreen’s wine she’s so fond of.

–Thelma

(I’m having trouble in the picture department uploading at the moment or there would be visual evidence of Louise’s malfeasance. Keep checking Facebook for those photos.)