Heading South

After Bonners Ferry, we were on a mission to make it South to meet Tiffany’s Dad and Chrisma at a lake and then to the Denver metro area for Tiffany to work and us to switch out summer stuff for winter stuff.

Our first stop was another fairgrounds in a place called Moscow, ID. It was a relatively quick and uneventful stay, but we did have a nice little bike ride to Idaho University. Tiffany thought the place felt like Hogwarts with its vividly colorful sunset and interesting architecture.

After Moscow we went to Boise and Idaho Falls, for one quick night each. We weren’t too impressed with those towns, so we quickly got out. On our way leaving Idaho Falls though, we went past Shoshone Falls. It was an oasis in the middle of a desert-like landscape and was a great place for a picnic and walk to break up the day’s drive.

Speaking of picnic, Tiffany has a “no eating in the car” preference. We stopped along the side of the road and she made peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. As she was putting everything away, her open-face sandwich slid down her arm, skidded on the stitching on the leather car seat and landed on the not-so-clean floor mat. Everyone got a good giggle out of the ironic karma of it all.

About 12 minutes from our destination for the night, we had another exciting tire blow out. It blew out on the couch slide side this time. Our poor Liberty looks like she’s been off-roading on some very low clearance trails. We need a giant band-aid. Eric got us all fixed up and back on the road. We’ve realized that duct tape really is quite the useful tool on the road.

The next day we landed at some National Forest Service land just outside The Grand Tetons. Gabe and Jill have a checklist of setting up and tearing down that they are getting very good at executing!

This little slice was a welcome sight after staying in what equated to parking lots for over a week. We had been irritable and tired and we realized part of it was that we had not been in nature for a while to recharge ourselves. We tend to be at peace spending our evenings stargazing and sleeping to the sound of rushing water from the river. We’re learning these little things about ourselves and it’ll be a guide for our adventures in the future.

This site was gorgeous, or as Jillian says, Goblin Core. The flowers and butterflies felt unreal, there were so many varieties of both!

Since it was a hot summer day, we went down to the river for a dip. It was so cold that it made our legs numb, so instead of swimming, we just waded.

Undesirable as it may be to him, Eric actually does need rest sometimes, so I begged him to do that while Jillian and I played in the water. He hides his stillness misery well.

After dinner, Eric held Jillian in his arms and they danced to music from our little boombox by the fire.

On our way out of the Tetons, we went down a steep 10% grade mountain and had our very first pull over to let the brakes cool moment. Chief and Liberty were fine, but the brakes were pungent. The view was worth it though, such a pretty drive. Those Tetons are definitely otherworldly.

Let’s go chasing waterfalls

The temperature outside, in the shade, was 105 degrees. We thought we were so clever coming up north during the middle of the summer, but with a heat wave like this one, there wasn’t much escape.

We got set up on some BLM land for a couple nights, just between the cities of Troy and Libby, Montana. Our poor air conditioner could not keep up with the heat. The generator kept overloading because the air conditioner was working so hard, and it was still easily over 90 degrees inside the trailer. The location was beautifully covered in fern undergrowth, and it felt like a place one would find woodland fairies and magical beings.

Jillian picked this sweet little flower for us from this site’s “garden.”

We’re getting good at creative ways of conservation. Joe had a bowl of cereal and used his leftover milk to make coffee in his bowl.

An employee at the Verizon store in Kalipsell had recommended some awesome stuff, saying that since so much of Glacier National Park was closed, we would maybe enjoy some other things instead. One of the suggestions was a place he called horse island, which we will have to see another time, but the place on our way to the next destination was called Kootenai Falls and the Kootenai Suspension bridge. He mentioned there were spots to get in and cool off in the river, so we set off for something to cool us off.

The hike was more of a shaded nature trail than a hike, but it was so beautiful that anything we wrote would not be able to describe the magical feel of this place.

We tasted the wild blueberries and was told that even though they were pretty, we had to stay away from the orange and yellow poisonous berries.

We could hear the river roaring and every time we got a peek of the teal water we went faster.

The suspension bridge was very well maintained and looked incredibly safe. Everyone eventually conquered their fear of heights and bouncing suspended 130 feet in the air and got to the other side of the bridge.

Just on the other side, we saw this busy little beetle, digging random places in the sand. This video is real time, it was probably one of the cuter things I have seen a bug do.

We crossed a tiny mountain stream where it met up with the roaring teal river, and as soon as we got to the water, we noticed millions of gold sparkling flecks in the water. Although it was pyrite, it was gorgeous. Anyone who knows me knows that water, being outside, and glitter in the same spot is pretty much heaven in my book. Ethan and Eric were the first to get in the river and everyone else did as well. We had fun attempting the perfect head flick of water.

On the way back, Eric and Gabe decided to play trolls at the bridge. I felt like I was in Monty Python or Dora the Explorer.

The parents took our stroll a bit more leisurely than the kids. When we got back to the trailhead, we noticed they had decided to pick the toddler table to sit at. Seems like they are big dogs thinking they are little dogs to me.

We were refreshed and so happy to have gone on that little walk.

We decided to go again and get out of the heat. This time, I wanted to get to the upper falls that apparently a person could get in under.

We were pleasantly rewarded with the little journey. I was actually a little bit less distance and intensity of a hike, but the views were spectacular. We dipped our toes and actually jumped into the water and swam behind one of the falls. Although it was hot, it took much longer to ‘get used’ to the water temperature than in the waters we’d experienced before.

After we finished the hike, we were hot again and bought the kids ice cream. At the stand, there were these two books together and I couldn’t help but giggle, “Yuck, Joe Chips” is all I could see.

Yellowstone…the Finale

I caught a little bug (non-COVID) so we spent most of our last week in Yellowstone just hanging around camp and living. Once I started feeling better, we did our last few days of tourist sight-seeing in Yellowstone park.

One awesome thing about this lifestyle is that I can sit with my computer and work outside. The other “perk” is getting REALLY close with nature. And by that, I mean a teeny caterpillar decided to land on my laptop keyboard as I was typing. I gave the cute little guy to Jillian and she enjoyed his company so I could not worry about smashing him with my feverishly pounding type-ings.

Since it stays light until 10 pm every night, we are able to get a lot of sight-seeing in after work! We went to Gibbon Falls, Golden Gate Falls and the Mammoth Hot Springs one day after work. We didn’t make it down the path to the bottom of Mammoth. People were tightly packed and many were not masked so we felt like it was a COVID-y situation. Maybe we’ll come back someday and do it again, we decided to be safe just in case, though. The trail had some beautiful wild roses and the road to Mammoth Hot Springs went through an otherworldly boulder field that made me want to get out and climb.

On our way back to town, we passed a herd of what looked like a bunch of female elk. Someone in the car asked where the male elk were. I yelled, “LADIES’ NIGHT!” so excitedly that I even embarrassed myself. We later saw a few males down the road. I, however, stick with the ladies’ night comment.

Eric and I went to the grocery store while we were in town. I get the following text from Ethan beanz #notafazemom so of course we grabbed him two cans of beans. Quick note, he didn’t even ask for beans before we went in…just a random ism of Ethan.

We decided to go souvenir shopping. Ethan and Joe went straight to the hundreds of SHARP knives (as you may remember, he’s still healing from the last knife incident).

Then Ethan used his best negotiation skills to try and convince me that he needs a knife. He promises to pay more attention to the knife skill lessons Eric teaches, and will not even get the knife until lessons are complete and Eric is comfortable with his level of knowledge.

Side note: we found a knife with the name, Russ, on it. A while back, Eric and I decided that we were Griswolds, and that the boys were all Russ, and Jill was Audrey. So, in the car, every now and then, Eric will randomly yell out, “Russ!” or “Audrey!” to see if they are paying attention. Gabe doesn’t miss a beat and acknowledges the Russ comment. The other Russ-es and Audrey forget what’s going on more often than not, but we’ll keep practicing. Stay tuned.

The next day, we went to Grand Prismatic Spring where we saw the springs rushing into the cold river making a cozy warm area to soak in the frigid river.

The crystalline pools were mesmerizing, and it was easy to stare at them and get lost in your thoughts.

The steam blanketed the colorful pools at times, so I wondered what temperature would make the steam nearly disappear so we could see all the way down.

Up at Grand Prismatic, the largest spring, we saw tracks of an animal who had wandered through the spring water.

On our way back, we saw one huge buffalo. All the buffalo we’d seen up to that point were from our car, and although this gentleman was not close, it seemed much more dangerous when we were standing exposed without metal between us!

After the springs, we had a little pb&j picnic next to the river. I was surprised at how aggressive the little ants got, dozens of them running up my legs and biting me. It turns out I was making sandwiches while stepping on their anthill. Lesson learned, watch where you plant your feet! Regardless, it was a beautiful 80-degree day and we were soaking up some good old fashioned vitamin D!

I was so excited for our next stop and loooong showers with unlimited water supply and no dumping/packing up, so off we went for a little slice of civility.

One thing we’ve learned about ourselves, we often feel compelled to start it off with a bang. About an hour down the road, we blew a tire. It ripped through some of the flooring under the kitchen slide and chewed up a bundle of wires. Once the tire was changed and the cords were zip tied and duct taped out of the way, we kept on to our new home, preparing ourselves for yet another of Eric’s 457 projects to work on, and an investigation into what the wires control and how the tire blew in the first place.

“F” if for Flowers, Floats, Fourth Festivities and Fire

Enjoying more time in the gorgeous forest just outside Yellowstone; not sure we’ll ever tire of this neighborhood. Joe makes an almost daily round of taking pictures of flowers in the different light. The forest floor is literally carpeted in these beauties, such a great time of year to visit!

We’ve held marshmallow roasting competitions, because why not make a competition out of everything? The “perfect” mallow to us is a crunchy lightly golden brown exterior with a gooey fall-off-the-roaster center. Our level of competence in marshmallow roasting is definitely increasing.

To celebrate Independence Day, we went out to eat at a cute little Mexican cafe on the Snake River. After a too-filling lunch, we went outside to explore the area a bit. There were SO many people! It really felt like a happy summer afternoon. People were using kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, inner tubes, and anything else that they could float on the river. The water was calm and probably only a few inches deep on the edges. Toddlers splashed around with their life jackets and laughter and chatter filled the air.

After lunch, we went to the hospital to have Ethan’s stitches removed, and then hit up the town for some holiday fun. The kids jousted, raced, bungee-d, bounced, and generally got stinky kid sweaty and hot, then cooled off with some shaved ice.

On the way back to camp, we saw a moose standing in the river. I had to pull over and get a pic. On the way back to the car, Joe says, “Ha! That’s ironic! A moose in the Buffalo river!”

Although it’s fuzzy, Jillian looks so stinkin precious in this picture it had to be shared.
The colorful flame was mesmerizing!

The next day we decided to make campfire donuts for breakfast and then go for a float on the river in a raft. The river was shallow in spots, so we had to do a bit of pushing, but it was a really cool way to spend the late afternoon.

We saw hundreds of wildflowers and beautiful river foliage, a moose, a beaver, cranes, seagulls, a very talkative orange-spot-wing-bird, a bunch of large fish in the water, a teeny minnow in our raft next to Eric’s feet (Jill wanted to keep it as a pet, we named it Meryl and set it free) and thousands of hungry mosquitoes.

At the end of the float, our whole crew was confident in their paddling abilities. I’m getting excited about the possibility of some whitewater rafting!

Brown Chicken, What Now!?

I have now developed a fear of moving days. We needed to clean out our systems. Like REALLY…our home smelled like an outhouse and we couldn’t wait any longer. Honestly, we had done GREAT on our resource conservation. We went almost an entire week, with 6 people, using the resources we had without moving, dumping or refilling any tanks. But my goodness did it smell obvious that it was time.

(Warning, the following may be a bit graphic for some)

As Eric and I were packing up, the “Littles” were keeping themselves busy with playing around the campsite. We were about to raise the last of the jacks to get the trailer ready to go when we hear Ethan say, “I think I’m going to need more than a bandaid” to Jill. Ethan comes to Eric and says, “Um, Eric, I think I have a problem.” Eric looked over at Ethan, Ethan removed his hand and blood started pulsing out of his hand. Eric says, “Dear God, Ethan, go see your mom!”. Ethan comes over to me, Eric grabs our mini first aid kit (the big one with the good first aid supplies was OF COURSE inside the now locked up trailer) and I start tending to his wound. The cut was not very long, but was deep enough that I was able to see fat cells and some tissue when rinsing. He needed stitches, I just knew it. I quickly wrapped his hand tightly to slow the bleeding and told the crew I need to take Ethan in to the Dr. Lightheaded, Ethan got into the car, and we got on the phone looking for the nearest urgent care or Dr to Yellowstone that would be able to help. The closest place that felt comfortable looking at him was in a town called Rexburg, where we stayed the weekend prior, and was over an hour drive away. We started the drive and Ethan shared the story of what happened. They were playing with pocket knives, throwing them into some logs and trying to get them to stick. They’d earned the knives by learning knife safety and practicing cutting, etc. from Eric, so we trusted them maybe a touch too much with them without constant supervision. Well, one particular throw of the knife hit the log and bounced back to Ethan and cut him. He said it didn’t hurt, it was just bleeding really badly.

We got to the hospital, the staff was very kind and quickly stitched Ethan’s hand and sent us on our way. They even gave us some really pretty handmade masks to keep. Thank you to those who donated them!

Meanwhile, back at camp, Ethan’s incident happening just before we were ready to pull away for the dump station threw off our checklist. I got a call from a frantic Eric. He was stressed and not acting like himself. The bus is SO loud that it makes hearing a phone call very difficult. Ethan and I spent about 2 hours trying to understand what he was saying. Finally we heard that the power tongue jack was destroyed and he couldn’t find a dump site. Yellowstone is a hot spot for camping, but finding a place to dump, fill and get groceries has been the most difficult we’ve encountered yet. Places that say they are open on Google are closed, it’s just a mess, time consuming and exhausting.

Eventually, Eric found a place to dump and fill but Eric was stuck because of the tongue jack. The hitch bolts have been sheared off, the L bracket on the sway bar is broken, the trailer brakes still need to be fixed, the rv bathroom fan is broken and now our tongue jack, the part that makes it possible to raise the trailer off the ball hitch was destroyed. Eric was unable to move from the dump site and they were charging us $1/minute because we were in the way. Eric dragged the tongue jack and made the problem even worse just to avoid the extra fees that hours longer would incur.

Ethan and I drove as quickly as is safe to Camping World in Idaho Falls, another 30 minute drive in the opposite direction of Eric to purchase the tongue jack, which was of course double the price of what we could have gotten one if it weren’t an emergency. Eric was able to talk to the staff at the rv dump station on the next shift and they refunded his $200 of $1/minute fees for not being able to move.

We met up in the parkling lot near the camping area to install the tongue jack. The old jack would not come off. The power tools we were trying to use were not cooperating, we were starting to feel pretty beat down. Finally, we decided to stay the night right where we were and try again in daylight the next day.

The frozen pizzas I’d picked up in town had thawed from sitting in the car for 6 hours while we fought with fixing the trailer. We have only baked in our little easy bake oven sized oven a couple times so I’m not quite sure about all of its quirks. Our thawed pizza dough pizzas were to be placed directly on the rack. I followed those instructions and regretted it. The dough sagged in between the grates, touching the metal the flame for the oven was directly under. The crust was charred and I had to remove the grate just to take the pizza out of the oven. Here is a picture of the most Instagram-worthy food, ever.

When the kids went to bed, Eric and I broke down from all the stress. We were trying to view things from a positive perspective but we were struggling in that moment. We showered hoping that would wash away some of the stress of the day and we could reset and start over.

The next morning was bone chillingly cold, windy and rainy. We went to West Yellowstone, about 20 minutes from camp, and found the greatest hardware store with one of the friendliest and much needed salespeople. We rented a sawzall and headed back to finish our tongue jack fix. Cutting the old hitch was much easier with that tool and short work was made with it. It was bitterly cold and windy and wet though, so only a couple of hours of work chilled us to the core.

After we got the tongue jack replaced, we headed back into town to do another quick dump and fill and went back to camp. This was our first experience setting up in muddy rainy weather. Our knock-off Anderson blocks, little half-moon raiser things, kept slipping and sinking in the mushy ground. We were soaked through our clothes and shivering from the hours of being out in the elements. After blowing a fuse and having a couple minor breaks, we got a sort of level set up and called it good enough for the night. The gratitude we felt for having a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, dry clothing on our bodies and a heater made us all giddy. The kids were complete goofballs and we ended the day laughing. Thank heavens for our family. Life can be such a challenge, but the fact that we have each through all this has been an anchor we can not begin express the importance of during these learning curves.

“True grit is making a decision and standing by it, doing what must be done. No moral man can have peace of mind if he leaves undone what he knows he should have done.” ~ John Wayne

Brown chicken brown cow

On our way to our next back yard, we went through Little America in Wyoming. I’d always wondered what it was exactly, and I’m sure since Covid-19 has changed the face of pretty much everything that we missed a lot, but it was like a really nice truck stop. They had some tourist items and we found two that fit Jillian like a glove. Ethan makes chimpanzee sounds, Jill’s sense of urgency sometimes aligns with a sloth’s.

In our setup of all this adventure, some of our inspirational bloggers/YouTubers recommended a membership for a thing called Harvest Hosts. Harvest Hosts is a network of farms, wineries, breweries and golf courses that allow you to stay on their property free of charge as long as you support their business by being a patron of their wares.

The drive to Shumway Farms was so beautiful. The clouds blanketed the snow capped peaks of Bridger National Forest, the green grass and flowers wrapped the hills and the sunlight that occasionally peeked through the clouds played with its spotlight. Joe drove the entire way, earning several of his remaining drive time hours to get his license, so I was able to sit back and enjoy the scenery.

It was a rainy, cold, and muddy setup at the farm, but we did it to the chorus moos, neighs and oinks.

Playing with the baby cows was incredible, and I was giddy. Their ages were days to weeks old, and they stay in their little pens until their old enough to join the others, generally about a month. They were so sweet. The three most talkative babies kept saying “Moo”, “Meh”, and “Mow”.

We went to their little store, purchased some ice cream and enjoyed being on a farm. Their ice cream is outstanding which is bittersweet because we wish we had access to buy it often! The locals were in and out of the store all day, I wonder how many of those people moved near Shumway to have access to it all the time?

The next day, we saw the chickens skipping their bouncy tail feathers around the farm and a rooster escort parading next to them. I got my obligatory pictures of a brown chicken and a brown cow, Jillian made a bright yellow dandelion bracelet, Ethan sat frustrated on the steps simmering about having to spend time outside while I worked, and Eric explored the different buildings and equipment on the farm.

Gabe saw me doing dishes and sweetly offered to help by drying and putting the dishes away. My heart beamed. He could have spent time doing something else, but he chose to help and spend those moments making a household chore a bonding experience.

That night, we watched how the farmer cleans and milks the cows and bottle fed the calves. They drank their milk so quickly we had all the calves fed in minutes. Joe sported his sense of humor by wearing the shirt, custom made by my friend who owns Riley Black Designs https://www.facebook.com/RileyBlackDesigns, with the quote from the movie Anchorman, “Milk was a bad choice”, while feeding them.

Then we looked over to see a pig outside its pen. The three farm dogs took a break from their tireless game of fetching and dropping rocks for us to throw and attempted to herd the pigs back into their home. One of the pigs headed for the road, one went over to the full-bellied calves, the quick one ran to the freshly milked cows, and the last one just ran around in circles seemingly confused by the dogs. Mr. Shumway calmly commented that they’d never been out before and devised a plan to get them back into their pens. The farmers grabbed the pigs’ bucket of milk and dropped the handle a few times so it would get the pigs’ attention. It worked, and all escapee pigs followed eagerly to get their milk trough filled.

We had a great time on our first Harvest Hosts adventure and we definitely will do more of them. The family was hospitable and kind and their raw milk, raw chocolate milk, ice cream, eggs and skyr were incredible! Here is their website if you are ever in the area (near the Tetons) and want to stop in and support them! http://www.shumwayfarms.com/

For some it’s the kitchen, for us, it is the table

For some it’s the kitchen, but for us, the table seems to be the heart of our new home.

I had forgotten what a dynamic gathering place a table can be until we didn’t have one big enough for all of us. At our last place, we had a square table and 4 chairs, so only 4 people sat at the table at a time, usually the kids, and Eric and I would stand at the corners during meals. We still gathered, but the after dinner chats didn’t generally include everyone.

I keep running across some of the most kind and generous co-workers on the planet, my current workplace included. We received some go-away/home warming gifts, one of which was a multi-functioning table. It folds up to be about 6″ deep and extends to about 5′ when folded out. My plan was to use this as my desk for work, dining table for dinners, and console table for charging devices at minimum that was easy to move around and pack up for move days.

I found the table I wanted and had it on my list of stuff to get. A co-worker decided she wanted to buy me an early birthday gift (literally 6 months away still) and purchased the table. We set it up and it’s perfect.

Our first dinner around the table was a windy night at Lake Hattie and would have been miserable to eat outside. We ate and laughed and got silly and then decided we should play Monopoly. Board games are one of my geek hobbies, I absolutely LOVE playing games with people around a table. In this heart-filling moment, I realized a table is so much more than just a place to set stuff. It’s a place where we are focused on each other, connecting, creating memories, sharing stories, and pouring our hearts out in meaningful discussions. I’m so grateful for this gift, thank you, D!

Jillian the slumlord, kicked all our booties at Monopoly after two days of playing

The next day, I was working at the table while it was in “desk mode” when I started hearing rolling laughter and giggles coming from the kids’ bedroom. I peek in the door and I see three kiddos sitting around their table, challenging each other’s quick-thinking memory banks with the board game 5-Second Rule. Since we were boondocking, meaning limited power sources and dead devices, they are being more creative in their entertainment sources. The optimist in me hopes they will grow to appreciate the precious human connections that can be made while sitting around the table.