How the West Was Er-Won?

When it rains, it shines.

PAX: Schnitzel, M, 2.1 Quidditch, 2.2 Costello, 2.3 ChickPea, 2.4 Bagheera, 2.5 Mary, 2.6 Beef, 2.7 Barnabas, 2.8 Gilligan, 2.9 Falcon.

Q: Schnitzel

Date: 6/20 – 7/8

My family, M and 2.0s (2.1 – 2.9) embarked on a western family vacation in late June, as a follow-up to a very successful adventure in 2014. That one was to Utah/Arizona, catching Moab, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

This adventure was to include Badlands National Park, Mt Rushmore, Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons. Method of travel was similar, tow a rented travel trailer across the country, take a few long days to get out there, then stay at parks while there, take in the glorious land of yours, even the long flat midwestern states, and hopefully building relationships along the way.

Our camper slept 7, mostly uncomfortably, but was off the ground and out of the elements. Our tow vehicle was a newly purchased F250 and secondary car for 2.0 overflow was a 2012 Honda Pilot. Truck holds 6, semi-comfortably and there was 7 of us on the long haul with 2.1 through 2.4 flying out to Glacier to meet us.

The first 2/3 of the trip went very well, with one minor setback. In St. Joseph, Missouri, we had a flat in the camper. Detected by my lovely 2.5, we were delayed about an hour, changing the tire and getting the nail-poked tire plugged.

Badlands was spectacular, largely underrated. My M could have reached out the car window and touched the nose of a real live huge bison, and there’s a hike with a 30 foot ladder climb! Mt Rushmore was okay, good to see. Drive across South Dakota/Montana/Northeast Wyoming was very delightful. Long but lovely.

We arrived in West Glacier, MT, checked in to the campsite, then found out that the glorious, crown of the continent, Going-To-The-Sun road (GTSR) was not opened all the way yet, and would not until middle of July. While I knew that it was not opened when we left, I was hoping beyond hope that the week long journey from hinder to yon, would give the plowers enough time to move tons of snow. Not so.

Also, my 2.1-2.4 arrived safely in Kalispel, MT, and we were all together once again. These 4 pitched tent at our site with little to no complaining.

Not knowing what we were missing, we planned out our days and had some good hikes, good UTV rides, some goofing off, good photo ops, as pictured above. Generally trying to make the best of it, and not get down about the missed scenery with GTSR being on the IR.

With the troubles with flooding at Yellowstone, the NP system opened the south/east/west entrances to the park, but to keep crowd under control, instituted the ALP system (alternating license plate). Plates ending in odd number, could enter on odd days of the month, likewise even. The plates on my two vehicles, one even, one odd. We found this out on our drive through South Dakota, and decided to not decide, although fitting 11 people in either of our cars was not considered.

We left Glacier and headed towards the Jolley Camper, a pleasant campsite off the beaten path, in Idaho, more or less between Yellowstone and Grand Tetons, not real close to either. Plan was to spend a day at each, then start our trek back east.

We hiked the Tetons on the first day, and that was very cool. Crowded at the park, maybe being July 4th weekend had an impact. The second day, we decided to just kick around where we were and forego a complicated venture to Yellowstone. We ended up tubing down the snake river, not a bad option, then the 2.xers played volleyball at the campground for, 4-5 hours.

Early the next day, the 2.flyers flew out of Jackson Hole without issue. I’m still amazed that the flying worked out without a hitch.

Later that morning, we hooked up camper, with a few long drives ahead of us. Now the ‘hitches’ started.

Hitch #1. Pilot had dead battery. This was troubling but not disabling. We got the battery charged up, started journey, and I picked up a new battery at O’Reilley’s in Rexburg, ID. I didn’t install it, but had it handy, car had no trouble, with the battery, thereafter.

We drove all the way to Cheyenne, WY, camping at Curt Gowdy State Park, where I bored most, if not all fellow travelers with my frustrations of baseball announcer Curt Gowdy and his bias in the 1975 World Series.

Hitch #2. Pulling out of campsite, going pretty slow, the Pilot rear-ended the camper. 2.6, a normally very reliable helper and my right-hand-man on many camping adventures was distracted by the lake to his right, missing the bumper of the camper up front. The bumper went through the soft spot on the Pilot, disabling power steering, radiator and other essential components. Towed to service shop, received a $3200 repair quote, to be finished by Friday, this was Tuesday, and we planned to be whitewater rafting in eastern Tennessee on Friday. All options were bad, so YHC decided to have car transported to Concord, and deal with it upon return. So the 7 of us crammed into the uncomfortable-for-6 truck and began our trek to, not sure where, because we weren’t going to make it to St. Joseph, Missouri where our next campsite was reserved.

Nebraska is a pretty state to in its own right. Flat, big sky, storms that you can see hours away. But it was really annoyingly in the way.

We made it to within 30 miles of Lincoln when we started looking for campsites. We had called several, KOAs and others earlier in the day, without luck. We drove through a few truck stops, with lots of sleeping trucks, but most were full. We finally settled in an Iron Skillet parking lot next to a truck stop, where other sleepy campers were pausing.

We opened up the windows and caught a few ZZZs with the loud truck generators running, and the refreshing humidity of the midwest returning to our now dry-heat-acclimated bodies.

Around 3:30am, YHC was weary of tossing, turning and sweating, and everybody else in the camper was awake to hear me say, “Let’s go.”

So we packed up and pulled out, hoping to make it to Western KY for new plans of renting a boat on Lake Barkley the following day. This was ambitious but possible, if no hitches.

Hitch #3. About an hour into it, while changing lanes from a divided highway to single lane traffic, the right wheel on rear axle sheared off the studs from the wheel hub and was never seen again. It made its exit known, by banging up the rear end of the camper, as a parting gift. We ended up on the side of the road, in the rain, in the dark, and needing a tow. The Roadside Assistance service provided by the rental agency decided that because we had a travel trailer and not an RV, we were not eligible for their help. Long story, but by 3pm later that day, with the help of Keaton and Riley, angels, we were back on the road. 1200 miles remained, with no *fun* plans left, just to finally get home. Which we did.

The Pilot made it to Concord and insurance is reviewing the camper damage. I said to my M, “I think I’m just going to sell the truck, we don’t need an F250, and get rid of the Pilot and we’ll just get a lesser truck and newer Pilot and roll with that.”

She said, “Huh, what if we want to do this again?”

What I learned.

No matter how much planning you do, there will be hitches.

Hitches make life interesting and for great stories.

Hitches, especially with family, make great memories.

Take lots of pictures.

Trucks get lowsy MPG when towing, especially in a headwind.

Appendix:

Seeing Glacier is about as easy as winning the lottery. The campsites within the park, are available only within 180 days of your arrival, and you have to reserve on recreation.gov exactly 180 days out, at 10am eastern. The sites are gone by 10:02am, at least for late June/early July. If you win that lottery, then you don’t have to obtain a vehicle pass. But if you get outside accommodations, then you must obtain the vehicle pass, which are restricted for crowd control. These are also available on recreation.gov, 90 days prior to the days you want, at 10am eastern, and also are gone by 10:02am. Another bucket of these are available on the website the day before, for last minute folks.

Keaton and Riley were calm and confident tow truck drivers and wheel hub repair specialists respectively, who came into our lives at critical junctions, provided just the necessary help, and went about their way. We all have people like this in our daily lives, but are mostly taken for granted.

This adventure would not have happened without my lovely M. She mentioned back in October, we need to take another trip, let’s go to Glacier. This set a whole machine in motion of selling van, buying truck, planning campsites, getting on recreation.gov, cursing recreation.gov, making meals, making flight arrangements and on and on.

1 thought on “How the West Was Er-Won?

  1. Schnitzel Post author

    Oh, one more thing, the wheel that separated itself from the camper, that was the same tire we changed 3000 miles prior. Likely due to lug nuts shaking loose. Add that to another thing I learned.

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