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.

We found a unicorn and Harry Potter at Coeur d’Lane

Ethan has been wanting to grow his hair out. He wants it so long that a braid will go down his back. Jillian is trying to convince him not to do it, but I think it’s his hair and he can do whatever he’d like, so, we’ll see. After he told me he wanted braids though, I had to grab some rubber bands and attempt to braid the longest part of hair I could find on his head. It’s short, so I kept having to add a rubber band and then keep braiding. The cool thing is, Ethan turned into a unicorn with this little hair do. He was giggling, but was pretending to be serious in the pictures, so I told him to give me his pretty face and he gave me this. I swear that kid smiles nicely, he just thinks it’s too fun to look goofy in photos.

In the meantime, we’ve been working with Gabe and Jill’s picky eating habits. The night before, Eric made his incredibly delicious bratwurst soup which tastes like a stew/chicken noodle soup hybrid with big thick homemade noodles. Everyone except Gabe gobbled up at least one bowl, so we made a deal that the next meal Gabe ate was his leftover soup. This was his breakfast the next morning instead of his favorite thing on the planet, frosted flakes. Little wins for Dad and Gabe looks quite proud of his accomplishment!

This was the last week of summer where we’d all be together, Joe and Ethan were to fly back to Colorado and spend some time with their dad. I’d asked what the wish list items for each Joe and Ethan were for the last week of summer with us would be. Joe’s requests were antiquing and fishing and Ethan wanted to go kayaking. On our way to go antiquing, we put the awning in and it fell off of the rail again. Of course it was nearly 100 degrees and we’d just showered and got ready to go, but I went to the store and picked up some self tapping screws and Eric and the kids fixed the awning. We had hoped to do a scavenger hunt on an app I bought Eric for Christmas in Coeur d’Lane in addition to antiquing, but by the time the awning was fixed, antique stores and the scavenger hunt museum starting location were closed.

We opted to go to a nice dinner at the lake instead. Everyone had a great time at dinner.

The next day we rented a couple kayaks and went into the water at a little river that feeds into Coeur d’Lane. The water felt like bathtub water compared to the falls we had just endured. I would definitely love to rent one of the properties at the water’s edge. It looked like they were building a tiny house village on one of the site…now THAT would be fun!

Joe attempted to fish. The fishing was actually really good, there were several people around us coming up with catches, and Joe wanted to get some salmon for dinner before they left. He said he caught one, but it got away. He broke his fishing line, had to restring, and then recast. When he came back to us, we saw that he did make a very large catch, just not very edible.

Joe also decided to get out of the kayak in his hilarious face down maneuver. He can be so funny sometimes.

As we said goodbye to the day, Gabe practiced his “Olympics”, some sort of running and jumping thing in the sand, and Jill and Ethan used the sand as canvases to draw masterpieces while they dried off. Their friendship has deepened and they now call each other their best friends, I’m so grateful that they found each other.

Gabe lost his glasses at the waterfalls, so Eric and Gabe went to get a new pair. He got many Harry Potter comments at the lake from strangers, so Jillian decided to give him the official Harry Potter lightning scar. I do like how they frame his big beautiful blue eyes!

Little irritants

Our next stop was another lake, McGregor Lake, but this time we had full hookups again. The campground hosts were very friendly, and we were across the street from a great little lodge/restaurant that many locals frequented. On one side of the campground was McGregor Lake, and on the other side was Little McGregor Lake.

Unfortunately, Ethan had developed a large itchy rash, and I didn’t feel comfortable taking him down to the lake in case it was something like swimmer’s itch that could get aggravated again. The rash didn’t bother him, but it looked a lot like chicken pox once it ran its course. He is vaccinated, but I guess it is possible he got a slight case. In any case, with Benadryl and calamine lotion on board, he is back to his soft and supple kid skin again.

We all took turns riding bikes to Little McGregor Lake. It was a 5 minute or so ride, but a fun way to enjoy being outside without being eaten by mosquitoes.

While Eric and I were at the little lake, we ran into a local who was telling us some of the good fishing spots in the area. We saw a giant bald eagle soar and then nest in a tree across the lake and heard the call of the loons. On the cliff opposite of where we were standing, some kids were jumping off and into the water.

One night, we all went to the lodge and played games and ate dinner. It was a fun evening and Eric and I decided that would be a good date night.

On our date night, Eric and I sat outside. There was a sweet old dog who approached and we swooned and gave him some love. When the waitress came by, we asked if the dog was a stray and she said no…it was one of the local’s dog. Shortly after, the owner of the dog came out and told us he was 15 years old. We were in shock because he acted like he was only 5 and his face looked so young. But, the mother was hit by a truck when the puppy was only 6 days old, so the owner had the dog the entire 15 years and is his best buddy in the world, traveling everywhere together.

We had some great conversation with him and another couple who came to join us. One thing that I’ve really enjoyed is meeting and chatting with some of the people in the area, hearing about their story and getting insider tips. The 6 of us closed down the lodge and the owners locked up and let us hang out on their deck for as long as we desired. Eric and I walked back to camp, chatting about how great of a night we had.

It was a move day in the morning, so we thought doing some prep by pulling in the awning would be a good idea. As I was pressing the button, our awning fell off the side. It was roughly 1:00 am and we were torn between leaving it until morning and risking wind picking up, or attempting to get it put together some that night. We opted for option 2 and attempted to be as quiet as we possibly could. The guy in the camper next to us, known by half the campground as a grumpy old guy, came out and yelled at us. I apologize profusely and he didn’t care and stormed around waking up the camp hosts. Thankfully, Eric had become friends with the hosts and most of the other campers, so nothing major happened, but that has been our first run in with a truly not kind interaction. During the day, by the way, this neighbor glared at everyone that walked by and was just as mean, so it’s not that it was just late at night, he just isn’t the happiest person apparently.

With Eric, Joe, Ethan and I all working on the awning, we got it seated back into its spot and screwed down. Temporary fix but it worked enough to get to bed.

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

Recharging our batteries

Sometimes a nice hot shower and the ease of plugging a phone charger into an outlet and having it charge without a generator is all a person really wants. That was us, we’re “a person”. After our first real off-grid living at Lake Hattie and Shumway Farms, we were ready for some modern convenience. The drive to our next stop ran along a large lake and river system that was much more beautiful than we’d expected, and we got a good picture of Chief and Liberty doing their thang on the road.

Eric found an RV park with full hookups that took our Passport America membership which allows 50% off for 2 nights, so we did some maintenance on our tanks and systems and we enjoyed the unlimited water and power supply. We hadn’t planned on visiting the local area or having much in the way of entertainment, really, but we discovered the owners re-created a few small buildings with some of the area history tied in. There was also a bunch of old rusty farm and work equipment that was pretty interesting to look at and some creative and cute bird houses. We considered going into to Idaho Falls to check out their waterfall greenbelt, but we never did make it out. We really enjoyed getting some of our honey-dos completed!

Next door was a small stable and barn where Jill discovered a bunch of barn cats and a bull. She and Joe would take walks to go visit them and commented that they were covered in fleas. Although I’m not super thrilled about the idea of petting animals with fleas, I’m glad they didn’t run screaming back to camp because of bugs. We’re definitely adapting to the great outdoors!