Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Day 26: F#ckin' Denver

I awoke this morning feeling okay, but not particularly motivated. Today's goals were: explore Denver (everyone said I should consider it as a potential to live in and it was on the short list some years ago) and get to Kansas (the Foo Fighters show is tomorrow in Wichita). I laid around in my tent for a while watching Netflix and noticing the same car keep driving by out of the part of my fly's window that I didn't tape over. It was a ranger car.

Finally, I grumbled out of my tent. That bitch didn't even wait until more than my ass was hanging out of my tent to tell me I owed them more money. "Well of course I do!" I wriggled the rest of the way out of my tent. "You campgrounds take all of my money. How much more do you want?!" She seemed startled.

She eeped out "Three dollars." It's important to note that I'm not normally this much of a bear (heh), but my personal headspace combined with that fact that she couldn't even wait till she saw more than just my butt hanging out of my tent to tell me she wanted more money for no more than me sleeping in the grass in a nylon house, really, really bothered me.

I took a shower thinking it would help and took all my make-up and blow dryer with me because maybe if I felt good physically, it would change my mental state for the day. I got to the showers and 1. you had to pay for them, 2. they were cold 3. the water pressure was akin to llama spit and 4. the shower heads only came out about and inch from the wall, which means I had to wash my face up against an old yellow tile wall - and then my body and hair. That wall and I are intimately familiar with one another now. Although because the water pressure was so tragic, I had to finish washing my hair in the bathroom sink. All told, it was about $5 to take a shower - having to put a dollar in just to wait for them to heat up (a trick I learned stay at Gary and Tootsie;s campground in South Dakota). By the end of the shower, the water was burning hot. Denver needs to get their campground shit in order.

I left the campground and didn't know where to go. I wasn't really in the mood to to much, but looked for a diner or something. Then I remembered that someone had told me Denver had a great zoo. So I looked up the price - doable - and headed to the zoo, but not before some more traffic.

mountain goats and animal print
The zoo was nice. Although I realized soon after I entered that I had mindlessly put on an animal print shirt. And now it looked as though I was dressing in themes for the day.

After a few hours, I left the zoo around 4p and, after sitting in some more Denver traffic, was on my way down I-70, now hatching east to Kansas. My mood changed entirely: I put on some Foo Fighters and rocked out down the plains. My mom texted and we went back and forth until she realized I was driving and said she would stop. "But you're the first person I've talked to today," I responded. A few minutes later, she called me and we chatted for a bit.

In my previous three hours of driving, I had been looking for where to stop for the night. Hays, Kansas was only three hours from Wichita and five from Denver, so I chose there. Campsites were there, but limited and out of a gut feeling and being pissed at Denver's campsites, I looked at the price of hotels. $39 for a night for a hotel room with a pool and free breakfast; only $4 more than the campground after paying for the showers the night before. After discussing it with my mom, she told me to listen to my instincts and get the hotel, so I booked it on my Expedia app, stopped for gas and was on my way for a 9pm arrival. (Getting gas, a cop pulled up next to me at the pump and told me next time to stop at the stop sign was all "there's a stop sign?" he laughed and left. Whew.)

So I'm here at my hotel.The pool is weird and green and right outside my hotel room door. Despite digging out a swimsuit, I opted out of that. For dinner, I stopped at Arby's. It's the first time I'd ever been to an Arby's. I had the brisket flatbread. On this day, I learned that Arby's is effing delicious and I've been missing out. Tomorrow we head into the part of the trip where I hear awesome live music and see people that I know. And good, because I need those things.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Day 25: Hauling Hatch

denver rockies sunset - taken out of moving car at 60 mph. it's fine, i got this.

I know people think that this should be the most spectacular experience. How lucky I am to be doing it. But they say the same thing about parenting - and sometimes parents want to punt their children out the nearest three story window. They don't, but they also shouldn't be judged for complaining about the woes of parenting. In fact, I think it's a healthy thing for people to vent and express the things that are bad versus (what we're brought up to do) and hiding all the skeletons in our closets  - so to speak. Misery is a shared experience. And better coped with by expressing the bare bones behind the fancy door.

This trip is a wonderful experience, but the past few days have been difficult for me. I thought hunkering down in a motel room last night would bring me back to life both physically and mentally, and it did - at first. In fact, the 500+ miles from Cody to Denver was a relative breeze; I was enjoying my drive and making good time. Perhaps it was that I have human interaction and live music to look forward to soon, but then, as I drove through Denver, watching the sun settle down the mountains, partially obscured by clouds, I again felt as though I was chasing light. I got caught in traffic and the roads around here are bizarre - it took far longer to get the campsite than I thought but at 7:44p - exactly 8 hours from when I left Cody. I arrived at the site only to find out it was full and the next closest site was a forty minute drive (although less than 15 miles away). Again, pitching in complete darkness.

My singing stopped, I turned down the music and I just started thinking to myself this is not fun, this is not fun and questioning my decision to do this trip/journey/search and whether to go on with it at all. (Imagine Eeyore, but blonde, with boobs... and human. Woe is meee...) In taking away a moment from self pity to attend to my GPS spitting directions to my new destination at me, I heard Bob Marley playing softly in the background from my (old; song isn't even in my iPhone library) iPod I had turned down, but apparently not off, in a frustrated huff: "Don't worry about a thing cause every little thing gonna be alright. Singing don't worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright." I took a moment to breath and let that sink in.

I have been alone traveling and not having seen a person I know for 20 days now. I haven't slept in my own bed for 28 days. I haven't had a home cooked meal. Or eaten a meal with another person (just that pie). The only hug I've had was from campsite Ron. And our conversation was the longest I've had since I left - and totally surface. Some days I've counted the number of words I've exchanged with a person and often tallies less than 50 words in the entire day. Few people ask about how I'm doing; it's weird; it's difficult. And it's finally gotten a bit lonely. 

Going into this, I fully expected to get lonely, but I didn't think it would happen so suddenly and all at once. I think we really only realize how alone we are when we don't have anyone to make us feel better when we are down. And it's hard to hold a ladder and climb it too. I suppose then, that loneliness is mostly circumstantial - beyond that whole singular part. And tonight it really hit me because I thought I'd pulled myself out from under the darkening cloud last night and all it took was one full campsite to send me reeling back into the gray, sliding down an unsteady ladder.

So, like parenting, I hope this too will be an incredibly rewarding experience. But, also like parenting, its ups does not come without the balancing downs. And clinging onto the words of Bob Marley to get you through a sore shoulder from driving or a baby you can't get to stop crying is all you can do sometimes; that all the hard parts are worth it in the end. That and beautiful sunsets.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Day 23, 24: Difficult and Beautiful

The past two days have been difficult. Difficult and beautiful. I realized after I left the lodge - and tried, futilely, for two hours to find my credit card in my car - that I had lost my credit card. This really got to me. Maybe it was that it had 5% cash back until October 1 on gas and a lot of driving to do in that time; maybe it was that I felt that it was some kind of loss of control (and that a situation that offers little to no control, that's a big deal). Either way, this weighed upon me. I woke up this next morning and spent and additional hour and a half looking for the damn card. Nothing. I decided when I didn't find it, I would drive through the Tetons that day (instead of today) so that I could stop and ask the Rangers if they'd found one. They hadn't, but suggested ask the Grant rangers stations. I would the following morning. But first, I had to nab a tent spot within the park for $15.  I had learned on night one that sites in the park were on a first come first serve basis and I was gonna be damned if I was going to pay another $40 for a night of camping vs. the $15 they change inside the park. 

my Yellowstone spot. bear box included.
After stopping at the south gate to check for my card, I went back to Lewis Lake (about 23 miles north into the park) to look for it (didn't find it), got a good spot at the Lewis Lake campsite, pitched my tent, deposited my $15 and headed back down and out of the park for the Tetons. As soon as I crossed over into them, I got a barrage of texts, calls and messages that I had missed in and black Internet hole of Yellowstone the day and evening before. I had a FaceTime w my mom - who had freaked out I"d been eaten by a bear since my GPS app she tracks me on alerted her of my service withdraw -  which was nice and well-timed, considering I had talked to nearly no one in the past 30 hours. 

Then, I did the second dumbest thing I've done since I began my trip: I went to fill my tank with gas, got distracted and then drove away after filling my tank with the damn hose still in my car! I heard a weird noise drifting slowly forward, looked me behind me, saw nothing, kept going and then heard another noise. When I looked in my rearview mirror that time I saw the sad little gas hose sitting on the ground: Detached from my car ... and the pump. I was mortified. I looked around and no one had noticed. So I folded it up nicely, placed it beside the pump and scuttled back into my car. Unfortunately, apparently everyone in the shop had noticed my idiocy take place because before I could take off again the station attendant came out, picked up the hose, sighed and went about however it is they fix it. (I don't have proof this happened because I was too embarrassed to do anything but high tail it out of there.) I apologized to the sighing man who told me it happens all the time - but that didn't really serve to make me feel any less dumb.

Ruining gas pumps aside, the Tetons were beautiful, I figured out via my camera's continuous shot self timer that I am atrocious at cartwheels...

Around 6pm it was time to go back into Yellowstone to stay in the site I had reserved far earlier in the day. My neighbor was a guy named John. He looked about 25. From Michigan. Welder at Ford; on two weeks vacation in Yellowstone, et al. As soon as I arrived, I noticed his fire and asked if he had firewood to sell (I didn't have $8 to spend at a station). To answer a burning (heh) question I have been having, firewood is free too take roadside out of the park to burn. And so I my made my first bonafide campfire (like ever; I've never built my own fire before) and cooked the rest of my leftover spaghetti over it. I was very proud of my tinder firestarter skills and whatnot - John, who cheated with lighter fluid, came over and said my fire wouldn't take. He was wrong. And I proudly pointed that out. Unfortunately, despite the fire triumph and experiencing such a magnificent (and enormous!) park, I still felt in a bit of a funk. John being less than camp-friendly and not a big talker and the nights turning quite cold (~30•) made the evening that much more difficult, though I'm quite pleased to have finally had a campfire - my first all by myself andn from wood I collected and chopped with John's axe from the hill behind my site. Go me.

When I awoke the skies are grey and spitting. After another baby wipe bath (this site didn't even offer running water with which to wash my face) in 45 degree weather, I lost my keys and, after 20 frustrating minutes of looking for them, I found them and was off to the nearest ranger station to ask if my credit card had been turned in. It hadn't. But I took my time there to ask about the annual national park pass for $80 John had told me about this morning.

So far I have paid $65 total to get into Badlands, Teddy Roosevelt, and Yellowstone parks - an annual pass was $80. I had happened to find my $20 TR Park receipt that morning, but had thrown out my Badlands receipt the prior morning while looking for my credit card. I wanted to know if i could trade in the receipts I had, pay the extra $30 and get the annual pass. They said yes, but I had to head to a gate. The closest gate was the south gate and I had been back and forth their too many times to see that again, so I made a plan to hit the northeast gate before five to make my trade. I was so frustrated with the camp fees, my lost card, the gas pump incident, and now the annual pass business (not only had I been told about it before I looked and apparently looked up the wrong pass, which was too expensive, I, unlike John, was not told or offered the pass by a ranger at a pay station - harumph), that I was absolutely making this pass happen. Although I found it hard to get past the idea that I basically threw away $15 with the Badlands receipt 24 hours prior. 

The trip was getting to me. Maybe these things all seem small, but they're starting to add up.

The sun managed its way out of the clouds in the afternoon and it proved to be a beautiful day while I managed to get through the other 70% of the park I had missed on day one.. I missed about 5% of the park by the time I left, which is impressive considering the size of the land and only going from the west gate to the south on day one. However, I felt at times, as if I was going through the motions - tourist motions; is that a thing? But I just kept going, sightseeing; geysers, mud volcanos, springs. I knew I would be pissed at myself if I let a poor attitude get to me and miss something amazing. I made my way to the park's north gate around 3p to trade in my receipts for an annual pass. The plus of feeling down was that I was particularly time consumed with the out of the car viewing, photo-taking part and was able to see far more that day than I had anticipated, so I made it to the north gate for my trade in vs. ducking out at the northeast. They only let me trade in my Teddy Roosevelt receipt (since it was day 8 and they're valid for 7 days) because the day before had been a free park day (I forget why) so that upped my mood a bit. Afterward, I drove 16 winding miles back into the park. It really was beginning to feel as though I was just driving in really, really big switchback circles trying to fix all of the things going awry. 

just after reentering at the north gate: an apt place to drive by when driving around
 in frustrating circles, fixing all of the wayward developments
After a disappointing view of the now nearly dry Mammoth Hot Springs and a chat with a Connecticut woman named Teresa on the mile walk back from the spring (I told her not to bother the climb with), I cooked spaghetti next to my parking space in the only part of the park that appeared to be developed (I wonder if this would be acceptable anywhere else?), ate and headed east out of Yellowstone. The road was far longer than anticipated; perhaps I was feeling better because the map got long again. I kept thinking I was further than I was so I stopped to take photos of elk, bison, (in fact, I stepped in a huge pile of buffalo shit on my way to sneak up a hill to snap a few photos of a large elk - there's a sentence I never thought I'd say -  earlier in the day I watched a buffalo bathe in Yellowstone River) a petrified tree (where I really lost my cool, having lost my glasses and taking 20 minutes to find them) and even me in front of a lovely landscape (see below for pics). I was feeling a bit better (minus cursing my glasses incredibly) until I realized how far out of the park I wasn't. It was 6:30p and the sun was setting. By the time I finally got out of the park, the moon was out and I had two hours until I got to my night destination of Cody. (All national forest park campsites outside of Yellowstone had just closed for the season.)

On the one hand, this was a beautiful moon. The supermoon with the eclipse. Something I forgot about and it only occurred to me once I began to see it disappear real-time as I drove through the mountains of Wyoming on my way to Cody. That was nice, but what wasn't was driving switchbacks for two hours in the dark (and darker as the moon's light disappeared) in an unknown land with few other cars on the pitch black road after my car made a very concerning noise. At 9p, when I got to Cody, I was not feeling well (and really flustered from the dark drive). A sore throat that had been bothering me on and off for days felt like it was taking over my body. I couldn't find the campsite I wanted. And the only site I could find was $30 and not well reviewed. 

I felt like I was cheating when I went on Expedia and looked up hotel prices. But I found one for $65. It had a bed. And despite Cody being far warmer than Yellowstone, I really wanted to not sleep in a hat and gloves tonight. I considered my theory of (half) marathon training: If you take this one night to re-coop, you won't have to give up your training for two weeks to recover. I didn't have any time here to waste being sick, so I bought the room. I went to Wal-Mart, stocked up on Airborne (because I have a feeling my time in Nashville is going to bring me illness being round three babes and that won't work with my schedule), and Totinos pizza rolls for dinner. Because I'm fancy

But seriously, after three weeks of camping, two baby wipe baths, six nights of sleeping in layers and hats, and showering with shoes on, this cheap motel room feels like a dream. I have a room WITH. A. KEY. I'm in the lap of luxury for $69.27. And I'm really hoping this turns my mood around.


the guy with the birds on him appeared to have a dead eye. click pic to enlarge; you can see its moonstone appearance

this elk dug a hole with his horns and then laid in it, hiding, like a couple of branches with eyes.

view from my campsite at lewis lake

Friday, September 25, 2015

Day 22: West Yellowstone

I woke up around nine. My circadian clock is doing it's own thing and I don't really need an alarm anymore. When this thing first started, I was waking up as late as noon; now it's somewhere between 7:30 and 9am. Who am I?!

I wriggled out of my tent, which was more than warm by then, plopped down in my driver's seat in my pajamas - having lost the layers in the tent - and ate the left over, now cold, spaghetti from the pot it was cooked in, in the passenger seat from the night before. Eating my dinner for breakfast has become a common thing, but vagabonds don't waste. (I assume I can claim vaga-dom now?) After, I went to a clearance shop in West Yellowstone for a couple of 5 dollar shirts and a staple pin for my collection (which I didn't find until Old Faithful), I was off to the park. $30 to enter?! (::sigh:: ohhhh my budget hurts!)

(my $4.50 keens I nabbed in Bozeman)

Am I being honest? Yes, always. I was not as impressed by Yellowstone as I was Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Maybe it's like when people really talk up a movie and by the time you get to see it you expect the world from it and end up and the build-up steals the wow factor. Don't get me wrong, Yellowstone was today was really great. I found myself thinking: FUCK, MY LIFE IS AMAZING RIGHT NOW; THIS EXPERIENCE IS FUCKING AWESOME while driving through the park and listening to the Foo Fighters... so I'm not really sure what my point is. I digress.

Anyway, on this day, I learned that the Old Faithful Geyser erupts about once every 90 minutes. And that if you had to, it would be a great place to fart - because who could tell the different between flatulence and a field of sulfur geysers?

i don't know. do we just sit here and wait...?

Yellowstone is far more touristy than the rest of the parks I've visited so far. Lots of tour buses full of Asians. And as a downside to the off-season, about 70% of the in-park campsites are closed, which means (for the second night in a row) I had to drive out of the park in order to drive back in tomorrow. Although I did get in before sunset after dipping my toes in Lewis Lake for some pics and am now sited next to the truck that the crow was attacking at Old Faithful after it scared the shit out of me perched on my hood. (Random, random.)

car raven
Just outside the park, I'm typing this from the Flagg Ranch lodge Bistro/Bar (where I chatted with the bartender who suggested I visit Denver as a place to live) where I bought a cocktail so I could charge my computer. My tent is set up just across the street - $38 a night (::grumble::). While, I didn't encounter as much wildlife today in Yellowstone as I expected, I did see some bison and a few elk (and a chipmunk that scared the skittles out of me while I was on my way to jump in the water for some photos), the landscape was amazing. Tomorrow, I'll drive back into the park for the east side. Then off to the Tetons. 

Blue bird hanging out at the Painted Pots

recognize this? hint: see header photo of previous post

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day 20 , 21: Southwest Montana, Introducing Yellowstone

I woke up the next morning, showered, packed up and out quick to avoid the weird man (although he did find me in the morning) and make up for the lost time I had staying in Hardin v. Billings (although I did save about $10 in site fees). Any feelings I had the previous day of not waiting to be on the road had 100% faded away. I felt at one with the road and immensely enjoyed the beauty of Montana.
Roadside gorgeous typography, about an hour west of Hardin

Today's goal was Lewis and Clark Caverns (State Park) about four hours away from Hardin. It was suggested by the popbottle glasses guy in Miles City. I loved it and the whole scenic drive there! After a steep and hot 3/4 mile hike up to the caves, we spent two hours inside looking and learning, then I was back out. Despite the gift shop guy suggesting Bozeman when I bought my pin and told my story, I (forgot or something) and went with my original plan of Butte. I questioned it on the way there and while there and once passed it and on my way to Idaho Falls (3 hours out of the way), I decided to head back to Bozeman because it had more oil change choices. I drove 90 miles back to Bozeman and, again, woke up early to make up lost time.

the flash is blinding in the dark, can you tell? ha.

imo, pitching a tent should be free... but  tellerTaylor
an attractive good sport

While my oil was being changed, I had breakfast down the street so that 1. I could eat and 2. I could charge my electronics. It was my first proper meal in weeks. (I really should have taken of advantage of more than just that pie last night.) In that short amount of time, I decided that I liked the vibe of Bozeman so much, I decided to pudder around main street. I went to Wells Fargo to get out multiple denominations for campsite trust boxes in anticipation for Yellowstone. The people there were so damn nice. As were the folks over at the thrift store across the street. (I got some Keen's for $4.50!) For a while I sat in the Safeway/Starbucks parking lot browsing Tinder to get a feel for the scene. At around 4pm, I was finally off to Yellowstone

that was a medicinal popsicle: my throat hurt.
I arrived at the West gate a little after 6pm. Free entry in the evening, where I entered Wyoming briefly, took some photos of the beautiful rose colored sunset (top) and then back over the
Montana border to find a campsite since, unfortunately, all the Yellowstone proper ones ($15/night) were already full or closed for the season. The first site in West Yellowstone, just outside the park, was $63. Nope! I went to another just a little further out: $40. I figured it was either drive out in the dark and hope for something cheaper or suck it up and figured I'll save the gas and hassle. (These campsite costs are killing my budget!)

As I paid, I went through a now very routine round of questions: How many people? Just one. Just you? Yes. You're alone? Yes. Do you have a dog? No. So just you? YES! Aside from the normal line of questioning, he made me nervous on account of asking if I was sleeping in my car or tent, but maybe it was just the freeze warning in West Yellowstone. I'm locking my tent extra tight tonight and staying up late and sleeping with my stun gun ready to go. After making a vat of spaghetti to last a week, I'm bundled up warm for a low of 32, putting on some Golden Girls and nodding off the bed. Tomorrow I really see the park.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Day 19: Dragging

For whatever reason, this proved to be my most favorite campsite. Another mom and pop, the guy in charge had on popbottle bifocals and offered some places to see in Montana. He also ::the heavens open and angels sing:: gave me a wifi password. I admit it: I have missed Netflix A LOT. Television has always been my zone out, comfy place. And his WiFi actually worked. Plus, I had food. Real food: sautéed chicken and avocado on a bed of leafy mixed greens with tomatoes. Paired with that, was my wine and Netflix. It was a damn good night (despite wasting an hour looking for my damn bike key, which I ended up finding under my tent after I had given up looking). Just off of interstate 94, the Big Sky campground made me feel incredibly safe and was super clean: I totally recommend it if you're ever on the move.

And then, to no fault of their own, I woke up this morning again to wind. The fucking wind; it saved me from the heat on my hike yesterday, but today we're not friends again. I was tempted to stay, but the only thing that really got me out of my tent and on the move (aside from getting away from the damn wind) was that there was a Dairy Queen outside of the Wal-Mart. And I love DQ: If a man ever took me on a first date to DQ, immediately wife material. It bares mentioning that the mid-west loves it's DQ's. While living in DC, I always said it would be my dream to open up a DQ in the District - there isn't one, not for miles. And let's be real, DQ is the shit: burgers, ice cream - what's not to love?! But ever since Ohio, I have not been at much of a loss to find a Dairy Queen. Which is good, because the one in front of Wal-Mart was boarded up and closed and, to my point, about 20 miles down 94 there was another DQ, waiting for me to indulge in a chocolate cone with sprinkles; rewarding me for ambling out of my tent, packing up and moving again today when all I really wanted to do was stay put somewhere two nights in a row. But, I realized, if that's my biggest complaint, then I don't have much to complain about.

I made it to Little Big Horn Battlefield around 4:32p (they close at 5), having pseudo-accidentally taken the scenic route through the Crow reservation. I have all but abandoned GPS at this point and am almost solely using paper maps. As luck would have it, entry after 4:30 is free (despite the unfortunate timing of a rushed visit). There, at the monument, I met a Dakota/Cheyenne Native who quickly introduced himself and invited me to join him and the old man he was with for dinner and traded info. There was a trading post/cafe down the street and while I was buying socks, he texted me that he was in the adjoining cafe so hey! free pie. (Too bad I was still full from my $2 DQ burger and cone - sprinkles are free in Miles City, ya'll!!)

After, he said if I was staying in Hardin we should hang out. By then, it was getting dark and I don't like to drive in the dark (the states are far too pretty to miss and I hate the feeling of chasing light). I found a campsite on the edge of the Crow reservation, where I was again, the only tenter. The host's office smelled like cat pee, he was missing some teeth and his wife wouldn't allow me to park on the grass. A creepy guy came over and asked me if I needed help pitching. He then came back over again - after some loud singing; well, at least - to ask if he was too loud and offer me a beer. It was then I decided to invite the Native over for bourbon or the left over Wal-Mart wine because I wouldn't have minded either of those men hearing a man's voice with me. My new 'Indian' was here for a couple of hours, we had decent conversation about this and that and then I sent him on his way, locked up the tent nice and tight and now I'm off to sleep. ...Cause when I wake up tomorrow, it's time to pack up, move and do it all over some place new - and hopefully I won't be dragging ass again.

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