Thursday, August 31, 2017
I don’t notice the time, but I can hear vehicles driving down the highway. A slight breeze ruffles my hair and I burrow deeper into my sleeping bag. For some reason I can’t quite explain, I am more content than I have been in a long time, and I drift off to sleep again.
The next thing I hear is someone’s alarm. It’s 6:30 (though my phone, stuck on Pacific Time, tells me differently). Ben says he woke up at about 2:00 and saw this full complement of stars above his head, and wishes he could’ve shared that moment with Sarah. Sarah, for her part, says SHE woke up at 2:00 AM and saw those stars. I think of those drowsy contented moments with the breeze playing with my hair, and think that maybe, just maybe, we all unknowingly experienced simultaneous magic.
I stretch and we start rolling up sleeping bags and deflating our mattresses. Jenny, annoyed at being cooped up in the car all night, bounds out of the back seat and starts sniffing the area vigorously. After a quick pee and breakfast, she’s further annoyed at being put back in the car so we can load up the roof bag and search for showers. We’ve stuffed our dirty laundry into the bags that normally contain our air mattresses. The glorious foot room from yesterday is no longer available, and I hope this changes soon.
We find washrooms… but no showers.
Ben has cell reception, and he confirms the campsite lists “showers” as an amenity. We drive around the campsite in case we miss something and…
After the long drive yesterday, there is no way we are going without showers!
We pull up alongside a couple of women – campers? – and ask if they know where there are showers. They pause (“oh, gosh!”) and consider it, before recommending a nearby campground, or possibly a truck stop in Idaho Falls. Ben rolls up the window and thanks them.
Idaho Falls looks like our best bet.
After fifteen minutes or so of driving, we locate KJ’s Travel Center and pull in to the parking lot. Ben goes inside to see if there are showers. And hallelujah! THEY HAVE SHOWERS!
We pay $7.50 per shower and are handed keys, towels and face cloths. one of us needs to wait for the fourth shower to be cleaned, and Ben says he’ll wait.
I have what I can only describe as the most amazing shower of my life. I want to stay under the spray for hours, but everyone else will be annoyed, and I’m hungry, so I turn off the water and nearly slip in the puddles my feet leave on the floor. It’s only now that I notice a mat I could have used to avoid this…
Changing in to clean, dry clothes, I shove yesterday’s clothes into my toiletry bag, pick up the towel and washcloth and make sure I’m holding the key before I let the door close behind me.
To my astonishment, I am the first one out of the showers! As the others meet me in the hall, everyone agrees that those showers were incredible! Ben notices a little room off to the side, and we’re thrilled that it contains washers and dryers! We tromp back downstairs, move the car to a better location, and four humans and one dog haul all of our dirty clothes up the stairs. Sarah gets quarters for the washer and dryer and buys soap from the little store downstairs, and we load two washers with the dirty camping clothes of four people.
While the washers spin, we go back down the stairs to locate the diner. When Jenny and I enter, you’d have thought no one had ever seen a dog before! We are stared at, but otherwise left alone to pile into a booth and order our food.
The waitress comes by and asks us if we’d like coffee. We all say “yes!” so emphatically that she asks us if we’d like a pitcher.
A pitcher of coffee!?
Sarah holds the magical coffee karaf
We drink our coffee, marvel at the showers and our night under the stars, and order our food. I’m itching to try Idaho potatoes, so I order a basic breakfast with eggs, potatoes, bacon and toast. The intermittent Wifi signal brings me a notification “written” by our cat, Annie (translated by our friend Keith), stating that she’s mourned our departure and thinks we’ll NEVER come back, but is glad for all the space on the bed and the new guy who seems to come regularly for kitty scritches. I chuckle and share it with Ben.
Just before our food arrives, Ben goes upstairs with a bunch of quarters to move all of our clothes from the washers to the dryer.
Our food arrives, and we tuck in. In my opinion, the food isn’t quite as good as the coffee. It’s greasy and heavy and hits the spot, but my potatoes are all clumped together and my bacon is only warm, not hot, and definitely flabby rather than the crispy bacon I prefer.
We finish our breakfast, and Ben and I pay the bill, leaving a generous tip. It’s now time to souvenir shop!
Jenny’s struggling with this building for some reason. Either she’s discombobulated by the open space that gives way to sudden tiny pathways or she’s mad at me for last night’s “abandonment” in the car. She keeps taking me to exit doors and is seemingly disinterested in guiding, though she’s calm and collected, so I work with what I have.
There are key chains in the gift shop. I’m thrilled to find a big heavy one with a spinning centre piece showing the Idaho state flag. There are no badges for jenny’s travel blanket, so I make a mental note to order one online. Ben and Sarah try on trucker hats, laughing uproariously before each choosing one.
We climb the stairs to the laundry room, where our clothes continue to tumble around in the dryer. After a few minutes, I go downstairs to use a washroom and get Jenny some water. I’m just about to pick up her water bowl and empty out the excess water when a woman pushes open the door, sees Jenny, and lets out a shriek. I say nothing, dump the bowl into the sink, wipe it dry, and put it in my purse. The woman apologizes for her reaction. I still say nothing and leave.
Jenny’s still not taking me to the base of the stairs. There’s something blocking easy access to them, and they’re incredibly narrow and steep to begin with. We ultimately make it upstairs, where I join the others lounging on the comfy couches. We all tease each other some, wrestle a bit, then sprawl out on the couches again and tune each other and the world out for a few blessed minutes.
The dryers are done and we pry them open…
And our clothes are still soaked!
We have a brief team meeting. Our options are limited. We can either run the dryer again and hope this dries our clothes or suck it up and hope we find a dryer on the road.
It’s a quick decision. It’s pushing close to 10:00 and we really want to get to Old Faithful sooner rather than later. We load our damp clothes into the mattress bags and stuff them in the trunk, fill the car with gas, and change our riding configuration for the trip to Wyoming.
KJ’s Travel Center (Idaho Falls, ID) – Old Faithful
Distance: 136 Miles (219 km)
Travel Time: 2.5 Hours
For the first ride of any distance, I’m in the front seat. Ben is driving, while Sarah has taken up a position with Jenny and Dwight in the back. Once we’re ready to go, it’s easy to marvel at the landscape we’re leaving behind. We see more wildlife as we cross through Idaho, which continues for at least another hour from Idaho Falls. There are more Mormon temples seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and a Holy Rosary (church?) likewise situated. Once we cross from Idaho into Montana, the speed limit increases from a quick 70 miles an hour to a blistering 80 on the Interstates. We call our hosts for tonight at Grandview Campground and play phone tag due to the spotty reception Ben’s getting. We finally connect with them and let them know we’re planning a late evening checkin, and are asked to call back when we have a more solid ETA.
The scenery is gorgeous as we travel through a small corner of Montana and into Wyoming. Sarah passes out GoPicnic lunches, but we snack on them sparingly; we’re still full from breakfast. We pay the entry fee to Yellowstone National Park on the Montana side of the park, and it doesn’t take long before we’re suddenly into Wyoming. In less than 90 minutes, we’ve crossed three state lines. We see tons of wildlife. A bison stands in the middle of a field close to the highway, just hanging out and minding its business, and Ben adds that to his tally of animals seen on our trip. There’s more beautiful senery, including other geisers, that Ben and Sarah definitely want to photograph on the way back down. No complaints from me; they’ve earned these pictures!
We reach Old Faithful just after 1:30. I expect us to have to take a small hike to get out there, but instead we pull into a parking lot and travel along sidewalks to small cafes, shops, and the visitors center. We stop in a souvenir shop where I find two awesome tactile keychains (one for me and one for a friend back home) and a badge for Jenn’s blanket. I’m paying for my purchases when Sarah tells us she’s heard that Old Faithful might erupt in a few minutes! I’m afraid we’ll miss it, because (again) I’m expecting a hike and a trail, but it’s only a brief paved walk to a wodden outlook.
I’ve imagined Old Faithful for months. I’m expecting some great rushing force of water, like a reverse waterfall. But instead, I hear nothing but fellow tourists as I stand on the boardwalk.
It’s 2:16. Time for the expected eruption.
And nothing happens.
A hush falls over the crowd as a faint smell of sulphur fills the air and Old Faithful bubbles slightly.
More time passes.
Another brief scent of sulphur, another slight eruption, more silence.
As time passes, people inch away and go back to the shops and their cars. Murmurings of Old Faithful being a tease and a let-down can be heard behind me. I inch closer to the edge of the overlook just as Old Faithful, in a final show of strength, erupts.
After a 20-minute tease, Old Faithful erupts!
It’s not at all what I expect. The faint scent of sulphur is not present here. The strong powerful sounds of gushing water I expected are definitely absent as well; instead, it sounds like faint ocean waves.
After a couple of minutes, Old Faithful settles down, and many people clap and start to move away. It’s kind of weird to think about, Sarah says. It’s like everyone is congratulating earth on being earth… “YAY! Earth!” But I just HAD to get a picture with Old Faithful in the background.
Me and Jenny crouched down with a calm Old Faithful in the background
We zip inside another store for road snacks. Dwight buys a bag of grapes for $8 and Ben buys more road cheesies. I get a Gatorade and Sarah buys her snacks – we all spend a small fortune on road food.
We take our last bathroom break before piling into the car. Jenny – as she’s done all the way through this trip – finds the accessible stall without my asking her to do so. Sarah keeps telling me how impressed she’s been with Jenny on this trip, and while I can dwell on Jenn’s mistakes and missteps, I have to agree with Sarah. Jenn laps up the water I set down for her by the sink, and we’re all ready to hit the road.
Old Faithful – Grandview CampGround
Distance: 308 miles (496 km)
Travel Time: 6 hours (including stops)
We keep our travel configurations from this morning as we pile into the car. Ben’s got a Google map on his phone and is hopeful that he can still navigate in these areas with no cell service. Just twenty minutes out of Old Faithful, Sarah spots the geisers they wanted for pictures, and Ben pulls in.
Dwight and I stay in the car, talking. We haven’t really had an opportunity to do so on this trip, and I confess my feelings of uselessness. I’m not a seasoned camper, and Ben and Sarah seem to frequently have everything under control. Sure, I’ve rolled a sleeping bag or two, or helped set up the tent, but to me it doesn’t feel like nearly enough. Dwight offers some perspective that I desperately need – that I have been contributing, but that I need to temper my need to be needed with the practicalities that come alongside camping with experienced campers. My blindness has nothing to do with it. I’m not sure I feel any better, but I feel better for having talked about it.
Sarah and Ben come back to the car, thrilled with the pictures they’ve taken of this area. It’s called the Painted Pots. There are signs that state that you must stay out of the water; it’s so clear and so hot that you would never come out.
The Painted Pots
We’re ready to go again. Sarah and Dwight chat in the back while Ben follows the route he sees on Google maps. There’s a motorist in front of us who keeps speeding up and slowing down and speeding up and slowing down. Ben finally gets so annoyed that he takes the first available turnoff and hopes it’s the right one.
The highways are well-paved and well-maintained. We’ve driven for about half an hour before Ben thinks he made a mistake – turning left instead of right. His google map is useless up here, and he asks me for directions. I pull up Nearby Explorer, put in the address of Grandview Campground, and start giving directions (basically, keep going straight and take one turn or another).
As we travel, Dwight and Sarah nap while Ben and I chat. I talk to Ben about my feelings of inadequacy, and he’s quick to reassure me that I have pulled my weight – heck, I’m the one navigating on this leg of the journey!
The signs for Bozeman appear, and we are all tired. It’s 20 minutes to Bozeman now, and someone points this out. Dwight says that’s a perfect name for a band, and we all laugh and agree.
In Bozeman, we stop for gas. We’re getting hungry and find a burger place with a drive-through. We order massive burgers and fries, and we’re all impressed as we munch. Only Ben seems disappointed by his waffle fries (I try one and agree that my traditional fries are better). Sarah has cell reception, so she calls Grandview and tells them our ETA appears to be about 9:30. They thank her for her call and tell her they’ll see us when we get there.
As we drive through Bozeman, Ben and Sarah express a strong liking for the city. The architecture looks cool, and now I think we’re all sorry we won’t get a chance to explore it further.
Nearby Explorer continues to map our route – go straight. we pass small towns and lovely scenery as the sun sets. Even I can see the sunset filtered through the trees, with mountains in the background on either side. I’m blown away by the majestic beauty of this sunset as I munch my fries and tell Ben to continue to go straight, through county after county, past unpopulated areas or tiny hamlets.
We reach Billings. It’s a big city, too, and we all agree that tomorrow, we will go into Billings, split up for a couple hours, and do our own thing. As we leave the city limits, I start to worry about directions to Grandview. The email says GPS can sometimes be wrong, and we have no cell service to contact them if we get lost.
I worry for nothing. As we pull into Hardin, pass the gas station indicated on the email, the sign is clearly marked. We pull in to the drive at 9:00, and Ben and I get out of the car. Lori arrives just a couple minutes later and opens the office/gift shop. She’s warm and welcoming and she’s thrilled we got in earlier than we’d estimated and gives us a rundown of the campsite information. We’re given directions to the showers and our campsite, change for the laundry facilities (open 24 hours), a Wifi password, and kitty cuddles from the resident cat. We can dry our clothes! AND see kitties? With showers and wifi, we’ve hit the camping jackpot!
We get back to the car and tell Sarah and Dwight about our good fortune. We pull up to our assigned space, and the guys get to work on pitching the tent. Sarah and I haul the mattress bags full of wet clothes to the dryers. The first dryer eats Sarah’s quarter, so we have to go back to the car and get more. We move the wet clothes from one dryer to another, and I constantly drop them. Sarah and I laugh giddily as she loads the second= – hopefully functional – dryer with our clothes. They fit in one load, and the dryer takes our quarters with no fuss.
We get back to the tent, which has been completely set up. Our air mattresses are inflated and sleeping bags unrolled. Jenny is bounding around the camp site like she’s never seen such a beautiful grassy area, and I’m struck by the sound of crickets I hear. If you’ve ever seen a movie that has a night-time scene with crickets in the background, these crickets sound like that. It feels like I’m in a movie, and I’m so happy I could burst.
We check on the clothes in the dryer, and they are – miracle of miracles – all dry. We stuff them into the mattress bags again and put them in the car; we’ll take care of them in the morning.
It’s 10:00 PM, and I’m ready for sleep. I crawl into the tent and bury my face in my pillow. Jenny will not leave my side, squishing my legs under the weight of her Labrador frame. The movie-crickets sing me to a restful, contented sleep.