It is difficult to tell all of the glory of a road trip in just a single blog post. So instead of providing a long-winded summary of our meandering ways, I am sharing a few nuggets of wisdom. Next time you embark on a 23 day car-based quest, I suggest you keep these things in mind.
1. Hire a Bison to Be Your Alarm Clock
Many of our nation’s National Parks are very busy in the summer. To avoid the crowds, it is sometimes best to travel into the park early and get to the sites before others start their day. I recommend “hiring” a local bison to ensure you are awake before the sun.
While camping at Bridge Bay Campground in Yellowstone, a free trial of this exciting service graced us with its presence. About 4:30 am I awoke to a loud munching sound just outside our tent. At first, I thought I was hearing things. Then there was a long, loud, voluminous sound. Perhaps a massive water bottle was being emptied outside our tent? Or, perhaps not. With the light of the bathroom helping to cast the shadow, the unmistakable silhouette of a large, ambling bison appeared against the side of our tent. I anxiously sat there thinking, “I am an adult. I am not scared. I can be totally cool.” While I thought this, my body quickly turned and shook David saying, ”WAKE UP a bison is right outside our tent!”
While a bit disheartening, this bison alarm clock service ensured that we were some of the very first people out of our tent and exploring the amazing wonders of Yellowstone.
2. Crash Major Family Celebrations
Visiting many family members was a great part of this adventure. We saw both sides of our family at stops in Indianapolis, Chicago, Bellingham, and Vancouver. While visiting my eldest cousin, she let us borrow her scooter to practice ahead of Viet Nam. I was out in her neighborhood learning how to balance, steer, and power the machine when I came home to Amy and David jumping in the air with excitement. Certainly they were excited that I had not killed myself on my maiden scooter “voyage?” Nope!
During my ten-minute self-guided lesson, Amy received a text. Her sister just got engaged! Two days later we got to celebrate with the newly engaged Diane and Andrew ourselves. It was a blessing to be a part of their family celebration and to share in their excitement. We wish them a wonderful life together.
3. Paved Roads are Overrated
Despite traveling more than 4,000 miles by car, I was technically only going to experience one new state on our planned route – South Dakota. Childhood trips to visit family and a trip in the 90’s to Yellowstone meant that I had spent at least a little time in most of the states along our path.
While heading out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, I realized we had an opportunity to make a short detour and visit Nebraska. I hate to pass up an opportunity to view a new place.
David gracefully obliged my last-minute request and off we went to see what all the Nebraska fuss is about. We were driving down a state road that showed prominently on our atlas map when all of a sudden, the pavement disappeared and all that lay ahead were wide open fields, and a straight, flat, gravel road. Now, I enjoy a good journey down a gravel road as much as anyone, but we had hundreds of miles to drive that day. We pondered the wisdom of our path, but decided to plow ahead. About 30 miles later the pavement returned and we were no worse for the experience – though our car was a bit dusty!
4. Sometimes You Just Need a Little Luck
During out trip we visited Yellowstone, Glacier, Badlands, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks. Our decision to go to North Cascades was a last minute one, and so when we arrived at 11 am campsites were in short supply. A park volunteer shared that he thought another camping circle would open within the hour. It had closed more than a year prior after a forest fire!
A brief wait in line, and we had our pick of nearly 70 wonderful sites. This campsite was our favorite of the whole trip. A forest thick with moss and ancient trees shielded our tent. Nearby, glaciers line harsh mountain peaks. The park, secluded and quiet in comparison with its more popular “cousins”, was a highlight of our trip.