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.)

Day 2–St. Louis/KC

The first question people usually ask when they hear about this trip is whether or not we ever burn ourselves on the crack pipe we surely must be smoking to attempt this. The second most frequently asked is if the RV is hard to drive.

The answer to that (and the first question, of course) is a resounding no–it is actually very easy to drive. She’s (because although currently nameless this ship is definitely a she) a dream sailing down a straight interstate going 60 mph. She loves the open road. You feel like Sandra Bullock without the whole bomb thing strapped to the engine, but sometimes the bomb makes perfect sense.

But as easy as she is to drive, she is a menopausal beyotch to park. Seriously. Right turns take engineer like precision and left turns are sometimes just a blind turn signal and a prayer. She takes up 2 standard parking lanes in length; but we also need additional width when 10 people and 19 (we already lost a flip flop) shoes come tumbling out the side at stops. So stopping and parking are the top considerations for every activity.

Which makes Day 2 particularly awe-aspiring as our heroines, Thelma and Louise, dressed, fed and readied the crew (after a rather sleepless night when the McEagertogetontheraodsons dismantled the neighboring campsite at 4 am) packed up camp in record time, and headed to downtown St. Louis (a major metropolitan city) and made a college campus tour and lunch with a table for 10 at a downtown eatery that was not chain and didn’t have children’s menus.

(I’ll pause for the appropriate accompanying applause.)

Not only did they park the beast downtown, but it was in the same place when they returned sans parking ticket and the Yeti still attached.

We arrived in Kansas City last night night without incident,* and look forward to an action-packed day of sporting event spectating this weekend. We will include pictures in our next entry.**


*Our smallest and most vocal passenger, 3 year old, George, was a conscientious objector to seeing the Arch. That will have to wait until next time, STL.

**You will need to keep this post as a reference for our next episode. It will become essential information after we safely exit the city limits.

Day 1-St. Louis

We gave new meaning to the concept of Western Expansion today as Thelma and Louise safely crossed the Mississippi with 8 kids in tow on Day 1 of the Crazy Tour.

So far, so good.

While the 5 hour trip took closer to 8, I blame that on an extra lunch stop in the parking lot of a sketchy floor tile and wood laminate store in Paducah, Kentucky rather than the lush rolling green pasture of a roadside park we had originally envisioned. Rest Areas were not abundant on I-24 in these parts; and the natives were getting hungry, so we pulled into the biggest parking lot I could maneuver and dined by a sale of porcelain tile of questionable origin and a peach stand in which we purchased 308 because nothing says, “Charge me the non-local price for All Consumer Goods,” like rolling up in 34 foot RV with a Yeti strapped to the back and a dozen people scarfing down Pub Subs on hot asphalt. In Paducah.

But let’s not let this eclipse the wins of the day, of which there were many.

1.) I filled up that big ol’ gas tank without having to make an insurance claim. Twice.

2.) The kids played Uno with actual cards and not on an electronic device.

3.) We made it to the campground with the same number of passengers we started with.

4.) No one cried. Not even me.

5.) Truffle cheese and wine for dinner, S’mores for dessert.

Bring on Kansas City.

The Trip

We are firing up the ol’ blog today in an effort to chronicle the epic road trip in which 13 people—9 of them kids—load up in an RV and attempt to navigate the next 5000 western miles and still remain coherent, contributing members of society when we pull back into the driveway a month from now.

I wish I was the type of person that had been aware enough to plan this family vacation to Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone over the National Park Service 100th birthday on purpose; but it looks like we’re just lucky instead. Truth is, this has been one of those dream trips that I’ve been planning only in my head and a well-worn atlas for a couple of decades, but never really found the right opportunity to take such a monumental trip. That it coincides during this celebratory anniversary is mere coincidence, but I’ll take credit for being that earthy girl I’ve aspired to be over the years and pretend I meant it nonetheless.

Our route takes us from Nashville to St. Louis, Kansas City, Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Deadwood, Cody, West Yellowstone, Bismarck, Minneapolis and Chicago. Over 4000 miles and 15 states. We are making 10 planned stops along the way; 2 major league baseball games, 1 MLS game, and dozens of the most touristy, cornball destinations within 10 miles of an interstate exit ramp we can find.

As stated before, we are not alone (by a long shot) on our adventure. There is another (large) family that just slightly off kilter enough to attempt this journey with us. The Louise to my Thelma, my friend and I will take the first leg of this trip with 8 of those children and guide the caravan to the first few ports of call until we are joined by our saner halves in somewhere in South Dakota. We see no downside, really.

We welcome you to follow along—even if in mocking disbelief—as our long-planned adventure commences this week. In addition to this dusted-off home, we also plan to update all of the usual inter web hot spots of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Bon Voyage, dear friends. Bon Voyage.

#Fischmore/Henrystone

Summer.

This has been a big mixed bag of a school year for us. We’ve had tremendous fun—lots of regular season hockey, the All-Star Game, and a deep playoff run with accompanying travel and tailgate parties. We had a lot of charitable projects we were thankful to be involved with. The kids all were on teams that provided new friends and activity. Academically, it all ended in resounding success. But we’ve also had challenges. There’s the typical school year drama that you swear you won’t pay attention to, but it takes its toll nonetheless. My grandparents needed attention and made the move to assisted living. We lost Sean’s dad this year, whom all of us miss daily. We are still only 10 days post-op from Matt’s spinal fusion surgery, and that healing is going well, but will be slow.

Throughout this long year, some Fridays felt like victories limping across a survival finish line, while others were euphoric for what was to come.

This one is definitely one of those Fridays.

The stacks of corrected papers that once meant so much came home yesterday wrinkled in meaninglessness in backpacks that had given up weeks ago. Uniforms were tossed and bathing suits thrown on. Even the drama dissolved into a cocktail of peace and unwitting forgiveness. We made baby steps but huge milestones in healing and the summer is lining up to be one of the best.

They are sleeping in right now, and my victory lap for the 2015-2016 school year was less than a half cup of coffee long this morning. The rest tasted of campfires, book pages, Vitamin D and adventure.

Let’s do this, Summer. We are ready.