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 > Trip Report: Across country delivering Sleepy's camper

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sabconsulting

High Wycombe, UK

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Posted: 08/12/17 02:50pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Day 10 – Monday : GTNP (13 km on foot)

We’ve covered a lot of miles in 10 days, so decide to lie in bed for a bit longer this morning. There is talk of going for another kayak, but I think we all need a rest. Bryan, LaDawn and us wander off for a leisurely coffee and some cake.

Now full up we need a ride back to our campsite, so what better than to flag down a friendly Ranger with a Ranger.

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I tense up over every bump, but the little truck rides smoothly. I should have guessed this when Brian climbed in the load bed and the suspension dipped – it doesn’t have much payload capacity, and return has a nice car-like ride. I have a European truck labelled as a Ranger but you wouldn’t want to ride in the load bed – you would probably come away with spinal injuries.

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Bryan Appleby was hoping to take a Ranger-lead walk but after lunch isn’t feeling too well so returns for a lie-down in his camper while CJ takes over.

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It is only a short walk, but CJ points out many things we would otherwise miss, including signs of grizzly bear claws above head-height on one tree.

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The weather starts to look more ominous.

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CJ warns that he will need to cut the walk short if there are signs of lightning. He warns of this again as the rains picks up, and Brian and I look at each other as a crack of thunder intrudes from somewhere behind. Needless to say the walk is slightly shortened, but we see a lot, and get soaking wet into the bargain.

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Brian and LaDawn’s kayak needs returning, or they will be charged for another day’s rental, and it doesn’t seem worth it given the weather. Brian and I take the Toyota Four Runner with the kayak on the roof and head for Jackson leaving the girls at the camper. We plan to meet up at a certain time for dinner, completely underestimating the traffic involved.

On our return, due to our incredible lateness, we assume that Sally and LaDawn have already gone to the restaurant with Bryan. We swing by the campsite and I rush out to check our camper in case they are still sitting inside while Brian turns the car around. The camper door is locked; they’ve clearly gone. In the corner of my eye I see a hybrid electric car with some people nearby petting a dog, and put it down as being the dog walker with the electric car I had seen the day before. I jump into the passenger seat of the Four Runner and we roar away in the rain, heading for the restaurant. We are hasty to avoid the rain and get to the restaurant quickly so the whole manoeuvre is completed in seconds and from the outside must resembled a Bonnie and Clyde style bank robbery get-away.

However, upon reaching the restaurant the girls are nowhere to be seen. We are puzzled, until a few minutes later some wet and bedraggled girls turn up rather annoyed with us. It turns out the people petting the dog were Sally and LaDawn. Our cops and robbers movie style get-away was done so quickly that by the time they said “hey, that’s the boys over there” we were accelerating away. They tried rushing after us waving arms frantically, but we weren’t looking in the mirror – we were two men with food and beer on our minds and nothing was distracting us from that. Not wanting to get wet the girls resorted to hijacking some poor campground resident with a car and forcing him to take them to the restaurant. His objections of “But I don’t know you…” fell on deaf ears.

Bryan Appleby doesn’t make dinner; he is still in his camper unwell. We enjoy a lovely rib dinner and toast him in his absence. People are even less inclined to want to get wet on the way back, so we all squeeze into the Four Runner – Sally and I in the front passenger seat, LaDawn lying across the camping and kayaking equipment in the back, and return to a nice warm dry camper for us and a damp tent for Brian and LaDawn.

* This post was edited 08/14/17 02:54am by sabconsulting *


'07 Ford Ranger XLT Supercab diesel + '91 Shadow Cruiser - Sky Cruiser 1
'98 Jeep TJ 4.0
'15 Ford Fiesta ST
'09 Fiat Panda 1.2


sabconsulting

High Wycombe, UK

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Day 11 – Tuesday : Yellowstone (254 km)

And so to the notorious Colter Bay Tea Party. A friend of Brian’s, on learning he would be camping with an English guy, said “Hey, you should steal his tea and dump it in the lake”. I get wind of this plot, and in an effort to improve US / British trade relations, donate a carton of tea. It was decided that polluting the lake with tea, though historically more accurate, was not ecologically advisable. We settle on a toilet instead. I decide to leave Brian to it when a maintenance man enters the bathroom to unblock the shower drain. Walking in on two bearded men giggling in a toilet cubicle would have been interesting.

Excitement over, Brian, LaDawn, Sally and I grab a farewell coffee and sit in our camper dinette before going our separate ways.

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We head off north to Yellowstone; Brian and LaDawn head south, homewards.

It has been a lovely few days spent with friends, although it was unfortunate that Bryan Appleby was unwell. Somewhere there is probably a sheet listing crimes perpetrated by this strange group of guests, including those relating to unknown women hijacking park employees and strange acts in a government staff toilet.

At the entrance gate to Yellowstone we use our America the Beautiful pass yet again and head up into flurries of snow.

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We stop a couple of times to admire bubbling mud and steaming pools. We have already seen the bison in Badlands, so I guess there is less of an interest in those on our part, and we have seen a lot of volcanic activity in New Zealand. Maybe the weather isn’t helping, but for whatever reason Yellowstone isn’t pressing as many buttons as we had expected.

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We pull into the parking lot on the south side of the Yellowstone river in order to visit the falls. We have to circle the lot a couple of times to find a suitable parking space; it is very busy despite the weather. However, it isn’t difficult to see why.

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After a quick look from the north side too we head to Old Faithful. This is an extremely developed area: huge parking lot, big buildings.

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Although I admit, the timber lodge is probably the most impressive thing there. We go inside to shelter from the rain and buy the obligatory fridge magnet, and are amazed by the timber framed atrium running the full height of the building. What a wonderful building.

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The deck on the second floor would be a fantastic place to watch Old Faithful from. It reminds me of those old pictures of meetings of Roosevelt and Churchill when they would hold wartime meetings at similar locations.

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I guess we could wait until the estimated time for the next eruption, but the weather isn’t really with us and we aren’t in a mood to stand around staring at a hole in the ground.

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Passing the Grand Prismatic Pool earlier we had seen a big queue to get into the car park. But on passing we had also noticed a possible parking place a few hundred yards on; so now returning from Old Faithful we pull off the road and walk up to see if the pool is anything like the famous multi-coloured aerial pictures you see in glossy coffee-table books. It’s not – or at least today it isn’t. The mist and steam, despite the wind, obscure most of the pool, and the grey sky and lack of sun don’t do the colours any justice.

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We exit the park at West Yellowstone and decided to try the nearby Bakers Hole Campground. It is $15 which seems reasonable for the location.

It is again cool, and the Plat Cat still won’t fire up despite trying to restart it 7 times. I decide it is time to open a bottle of wine to take my mind off propane, although this is complicated by the bottle opener being one of those with a pair of blades instead of a cork-screw. I haven’t used one like it before, although it’s the sort of thing I’ve seen in other people’s kitchen drawers and wondered about them. I just succeeded in pushing the cork into the bottle, which makes pouring rather a hit and miss affair.

We go for a walk around the campground. I always like to see what interesting rigs are on site; sometimes you get a chance to talk to the owners. We spot couple of young guys in a small rental car trying to erect their tent while explaining to the campground host where Oxford is, making reference to Cambridge, boat races, etc. by way of explanation.

We notice that some idiot had brought one of those open frame generators – you know, the really cheap ones you see advertised that you think will be a good idea until you realise it has to run at full RPM all the time and in an otherwise quiet campground sounds like a pneumatic road drill. Luckily they are in another section of the campground from us; our neighbours had a near-silent, and undoubtedly ten times the price, Honda 4-stroke generator.

* This post was last edited 08/14/17 11:04pm by sabconsulting *   View edit history

sabconsulting

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Posted: 08/12/17 02:52pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Day 12 – Wednesday : Yellowstone to Choteau (516 km)

Brian and LaDawn had given us some firewood they had bought but not used. The combination of buying firewood and bringing a tent to the Tetons instead of a proper truck camper had clearly been the cause of the rain; hence the lack of opportunity to burn the wood.

I look trip over the wood exiting the bathroom and stare at it deciding what its fate will be in retaliation. Most places we stay have nice fire pits or barbecues we could use it on, but I’m actually pretty useless at setting fire to things unless it involves gasoline, and always end up with all our clothes, equipment and accommodation smelling of smoke. We decide to find someone to gift the wood to.

A glance around the campground at our neighbours shows that one isn’t up, the other has two trucks a 5-er and an OHV (they are the ones with the expensive generator) – they clearly have everything needed in the event of imminent war, so are unlikely to require a couple of bundles of firewood.

Looking the other way I see a young father with his 2 kids, helping them set-up breakfast. They have a regular family car and a small tent. They look like people who need firewood, and to prove the point are just in the process of setting fire to some as I watch. I go over and ask. They are very happy to relieve us of the wood; they live in Alaska and are on a 6-week camping tour of the lower US states.

On pulling out of our campsite we notice a late arrival from the previous evening parked a few sites down. It attracts my attention because it is clearly not local. It is a late model Toyota Hilux (not Tacoma) with a small fibreglass camper on the back. As we crawl past at tickover, partly to avoid waking people with the 6.6, I noticed a Brazilian flag on the back – definitely not local.

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For years Sally has bugged me about visiting Montana. Turns out she was right. The countryside is fantastic. We head north on US-191 and see Lone Mountain appear in front of us – it even looks like a proper mountain; the type kids would draw if you asked them. Still using every opportunity to convince me that skiing would be a good pastime to take up, Sally spots the sign for Big Sky resort and urges me to turn off and head up for a look.

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After this detour, and a quick cup of tea from Sally’s vacuum flash (she insisted on buying one in the first Walmart we came to), we carry on northwards, with a short stint going west on I-90, before heading north again on US-287.

We are again following the Missouri, and the Lewis and Clark trail, enjoying the views from either side – golden prairie tinged with bright green fresh grass borders, with mountains on the horizon and small white clouds bobbing in the big blue sky.

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The roads are narrower here, not always with a shoulder. Combined with quite high speed limits for 2-lane this means your closing speed with opposing vehicles is considerable, even though we religiously keep to 60 mph. As a side note at this point I’ll say that I keep to 60 for several reasons. Yes, fuel economy is one of them, as is reducing engine-load (I’m not relying on the turbo providing all the power at that speed). But more importantly I know at that speed I have a chance to handle the vehicle if something disastrous happens. I am not on its handling limits and should a tire blow out or I need to swerve to avoid something I have some leeway. It is a similar rule I have followed when towing – keeping to a speed where if something happens I can safely control the vehicle and not get into an oscillating, escalating disaster.

Now, there was a reason I was talking about driving speed. Oh yes, it was the oncoming big rigs. One doing over 70 veers close to us; maybe we are veering close to the centre line too. But the result is a huge shockwave that hit us like a tsunami. I feel the camper lift slightly and the steering go light, accompanied by a bang somewhere above our heads. Nothing physically hit us, just the wall of air. We seemed to have survived though, but it was worth investigating what the bang was.
We pull off the highway and across the single line railroad tracks to an empty campground and boat launch ramp at Yorks Islands, on the Missouri.

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A quick inspection shows that the shock wave has taken out a section of Chet’s aerofoil. I am relieved this is all it was since this component will be discarded during the rebuild and Chet plans to construct a replacement.

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While we are there we might as well have a sandwich and admire the very rapid flow of the river – I wouldn’t want to try to paddle against that. All the Lewis and Clark historical marker signs seem to feature them pointing into the distance, so this is clearly the posture to adopt when standing next to the Missouri.

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At Helena we join I-15 north for a stretch. We notice that a local road follows the freeway and looks more interesting, so we come off at somewhere called Wolf Creek hoping to follow that instead, but it turns out that this is the point where the road diverges from the freeway and heads in the wrong direction. Wolf Creek itself looks like it had seen better days, undoubtedly before the interstate took all the passing traffic away.

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We re-join I-15 for a mile before pulling off onto US-287. This is a great stretch of road. Quiet, through beautiful rolling countryside. We cruise at 55 mph – just fast enough for the torque converter to lock up and a nice speed for appreciating the scenery. You could get out and walk along the middle of the road it is that quiet.

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The highway takes a dog-leg at Augusta, then carries on north, before joining the busier US-89 at Choteau where we find what I think is the only roundabout or traffic circle of our journey – I bet that confuses visitors. We fill with diesel in town and check the road atlas. There is the Lewis and Clark National Forrest to the west of Choteau and a tent symbol indicates we should be able to camp there, although it is quite a few miles of dead-end detour off of US-89.

We drive along a road heading towards the mountains. Eventually it turns to a dirt track and starts to snake up a canyon. We aren’t sure if this is public land yet, but find a turn-off onto a fairly flat barren area near to the creek. There are no signs and it just appears to be deserted land. We level the camper behind some trees shielding us from the dirt track. This is also on the higher side of the area since I am conscious we are close to the creek. I make a note of the water level and we go for a walk down the dirt track.

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About a mile west we come across a sign marked “Indian nose rock”. Looking around we spot what it is referring to on the rock wall opposite:

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Sally points out that there is a guest ranch down here too, so she feels happy that if anything happens there is somewhere to go for help. I assume by “anything” she is thinking about bears or rising water. I check the water level a couple of hours later and it has gone down, which is a reasonable sign, especially since this area looks like it might flood during the spring thaw.

While parked we decide to do some packing. Chet has left a range of things in the camper in case we might need them. By this stage in the trip we know what we need and what we dion’t, so we take the opportunity of packing some of the things we don’t need into boxes and securing them in the rear of the truck cab. This will save us some work later on.

The odd car comes past during the evening, and we wonder if we should be here or not. That question is answered when I hear a diesel pickup truck pull off the track and stop about 30 yards from us. I throw on some shoes and jump out to greet whoever it might be. I feel a bold and friendly approach is best in these situations so spotting the character approaching from his truck, with his dog still sat inside the cab I smile and thrust out my hand towards him. “Hi, I’m Steve” I say. He may not have been expecting this, but years of parental teaching kick in subconsciously and he grasps my hand and introduces himself as Jerry. Now we have broken the ice we can talk without fear of aggression. Jerry explains that this is his land. I apologise. He says there is a proper national forest campground just over one mile down the road; we had almost reached it during our walk. However, he isn’t going to run us out. I wonder, had he needed to knock on the camper door or shout for us to get our attention, or had we been less than smiley and welcoming, would this effective offer to let us stay the night have materialised? Possibly not. He says a neighbour had alerted him to our presence but his main concern was high school kids coming and messing around – starting fires, getting drunk, shooting stuff. I assure him we certainly won’t be starting any fires and had even donated our only firewood the night before. I feel for Jerry. Having to repeatedly drag yourself out to have encounters with strangers trespassing on your land can’t be a great pastime. But I guess he could have put a chain across the opening, or even a “Private” sign. Although whether that would have stopped the people he was really worried about is questionable.

We sleep better knowing that we are not going to be approached during the night, and if we are it would more than likely be Jerry warning us of a problem such as the creek rising.

It is however very windy, so our sleep is still a bit disturbed. The canyon must funnel the wind from the mountains.

* This post was edited 08/14/17 02:57am by sabconsulting *

sabconsulting

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Posted: 08/12/17 02:53pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Day 13 - Thursday : Choteau to Glacier (245 km)

We leave early in the morning, not wanting to outstay our welcome. Maybe Sally was right to be concerned – I find what might be fresh bear tracks close to our camper (I admit I would be useless as a tracker, unless I was tracking something whose paw prints had BFGoodrich printed on them). Thankfully the water hasn’t risen during the night.

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We continue north on US-89. Through small towns with run-down properties. 89 is being resurfaced though, so money is being spent. We wait 15 minutes to be lead through the road construction, but it isn’t a bad place to wait, in the plains, with the mountains to your left.

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We cut through Browning, although don’t see the real town centre. Chet has enjoyed staying there in the past, but the outskirts of the town just look poor and run-down. People might own some land, but I guess there isn’t much paying work in that part of the country.

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There is wildlife though:

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We enter Glacier at the St. Mary end.

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I can thoroughly recommend this side of Glacier National Park – the views are stunning. We show our badge at the entrance station (or rather the visitors centre because the entrance station area is being resurfaced and rebuilt) and ask about transport in the park. It turns out that nothing is crossing the “Going to the Sun road” and the free shuttle buses I had read about are only available from the other side. There are tour buses, but they are expensive and you would be herded about with other tourists for the day, which doesn’t sound like fun to a couple used to hiking in mountains on their own and enjoying the silence and flexibility of doing it our way.
We head in along the edge of the lake. The road affords great views not only of the lake but also the mountains behind.

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During trip planning I had considered driving to West Glacier, basing ourselves there and using the shuttle buses. It was only while on the journey that I changed my mind, and I am so glad that I did.
It is lunch time and we decide to go to the Rising Sun campground first. Most of the campground is sloping and in the woods (which makes me think insects), but after exploring the whole thing we find a great drive-through site which is flat enough to easily level ourselves on, fairly open and has great views. It’s probably the best spot in the campground - just as well we arrived early. I complete the necessary paperwork and dump the tanks. Or more accurately I do the former and Sally does the latter. She gets annoyed with me tending to take over everything, so I decide this is a great opportunity for her to gets some practical hands-on experience. I don’t know, but somehow her excitement at this opportunity doesn’t seem to come across in this photo.

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This side of Glacier is strangely quiet. I suspect most visitors come from the west and with the pass closed aren’t making it as far as the beautiful eastern side of the park.

I had noticed a sign as I entered the campground – something about 21ft vehicles. I don’t see it on the way out, but we are definitely larger than that. I suspect with the lack of traffic at this time of year our slight oversize doesn’t really matter.

We pull into the big car park at Sun Point and walk along the lake.

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There are so many wild flowers to see – it is a lovely little walk.

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On returning to the car park the herds of excited people pointing indicate the presence of bears. Sure enough there’s a mother with two cubs on the rise just above the car park.

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We drive on up to where the road is closed, above St. Marys Falls. Parking is diagonal, but we still manage to get in with the tail of the camper clear of the road so we aren’t causing any kind of obstruction. We walk a couple of miles up the road towards Logan Pass. Sally wants to go further, but I point out that we would probably have to walk quite a lot further to get a better view, and we have parked on un-level ground, so there is a limit to how long I dare leave the fridge at that angle.

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We want to do a bit of a hike tomorrow, and of course Sally wants another fridge magnet; so this means calling in to the visitor centre. They have bear spray for sale and I check the price – it is around $42 a can, which seemed reasonable. I assume it will be cheaper at the general store in St. Mary, and we were going there to pick up some shopping, but upon arrival I am surprised to find it more expensive than the visitor centre. So, back to the visitor centre to pick up the cheaper canister. Now I feel a lot happier to be hiking in the woods, although I sort of know that the mere possession of a can of bear spray will now mean we see no wildlife whatsoever – like deciding to bring your heavy rain coat will guarantee it doesn’t rain and means you have to haul it around all day.

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Returning to the campground we find all the other reasonable sites taken – we are glad we selected one before exploring the park.

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We had also paid for 2 nights. I was worried that someone might have tried to occupy our site while we were away, since we had left nothing there but the receipt from the payment envelope attached to the post. Someone has occupied our site and is strutting around as if she owns the place. I tell her to **** off as I suspect she hasn’t paid to be there.

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I try the platcat heater again. I don’t know why I keep trying this; it is really just a ritual, now performed before shrugging and turning on the furnace.

* This post was edited 08/14/17 02:59am by sabconsulting *

sabconsulting

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Day 14 – Friday : Glacier (169 km)

Now equipped with our bear spray, together with disposable ponchos, to ensure we looked suitably stylish should we meet wildlife, we drive out of the valley, turn north, and head into the Many Glaciers area (“No Glaciers” would be a better name these days).

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The weather isn’t being kind to us. It is both windy and raining – basically exactly the same as the average weather we experience in the Lake District or North Wales back in Britain whenever we go there for some hiking.

We follow the trail up towards Grinnel Glacier. The trail is easy and clear, but the weather is getting worse as we gain altitude.

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We get much of the way up, but then find the trail closed as it is partially snow covered. We didn’t have the luggage space to bring our ice spikes, and in any case the snow isn’t very solid, so there would be a risk of falling through into streams or holes under the snow.

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As we descend to Lake Josephine the weather starts to improve.

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We shelter by the boat dock and eat sandwiches before moving on along the other side of the lake from our outward hike.

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The weather is much better now, but it has a sting in the tale. After passing the lodge a sudden rain squall blows through and soaks us. It is my fault, since I have taken off my poncho.

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It is still early in the day, and a look at the map shows how close we are to Canada, so we decide to drive up to the border.

Sally suggests we cross the border, really just for the sake of it; maybe she wants another fridge magnet. I don’t want to take the truck across – there could be all sorts of awkward questions, it might invalidate Chet’s insurance, etc. Crossing borders, especially with vehicles, is not something I like doing on the spur of the moment. You risk successfully crossing the border and then finding you don’t quite have the correct paperwork to get back. And I don’t see much point in just walking across and finding ourselves on a highway through a forest. So we satisfy ourselves with a souvenir photo.

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On the way south there is a side turn marked Waterton Park; let’s see what’s down there. There are some nice views, but inevitably it ends at another border post. At this one many people have parked and are getting their hiking gear ready. I’m not sure they actually cross at the official border crossing. I suspect they just hike into the woods and then head for the lake, crossing the border amongst the trees.

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Back at the campground and it is much busier, but then it is Friday evening, so that is to be expected. Right on time the rain starts as soon as we are set-up.

I take a walk around the campground to see if there are any interesting vehicles, and would you guess it, that Brazilian Toyota Hilux is there again. The occupants are chatting to a US couple when I edge in to learn more. This Hilux is a 4-cylinder gasoline model (unlike the turbo diesels from Europe) and belongs to Cirilo from southern Brazil. He has driven it to the southern-most point of South America, before travelling up the west of the continent and through Central America before touring the US. His onwards plan is for Alaska, ending at Prudhoe bay. Various people have accompanied Cirilo on his journey – his girlfriend, his father, and at this time his best friend Arley (standing on the steps at the back of the camper in the photo).

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You may notice that this is a very small camper for two fully grown men, plus he carries bicycles, and airconditioner and it even has a small bathroom onboard. So given that Cirilo has a policy of never turning down an invitation, I invite them to come for drinks in our camper (admittedly I should have cleared this first with Sally, who has now washed her hair and is getting ready for bed). We have the slide deployed, so they are suitably amazed by the size of this apartment on wheels compared to their mini version. They are a great couple of guys to spend a couple of hours with and have wonderful stories of the people they have met in their travels. As Cirilo explains, the scenery will be here for a long time, but the people you meet will soon be gone.

* This post was edited 08/14/17 03:00am by sabconsulting *

sabconsulting

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Day 15 – Saturday : Glacier to Kootenai National Forest (387 km)

We treat ourselves to a bit of a lie in bed this morning. OK, some wine was involved last night, so I think it is allowed.

After 15 days I have finally sorted out the process of showering in the camper. Chet told us how to do this, and I have used campers with showers before, but it took a while getting my head around the process. By now I have worked out how to use a tiny amount of water to wet myself, then soap myself with a small amount of shampoo, do a very quick partial rinse and squeegee off the bulk of the suds, then a final short rinse. I am suitably pleased if I have only filled the shower tray with a few cupful’s of water.

Another thing I should have known by now – this is not Europe; you can’t get diesel every 5 miles (there are 5 stations selling diesel within 1 mile of my house). So we leave the campground with half a tank of diesel, but for some reason I don’t want to fill up at St. Mary. It is quite expensive and there might be some cheaper diesel on the way to West Glacier, our planned destination today.

We head south towards Browning. I don’t really want to go all the way to Browning so turn right off US-89. It is marked 21ft vehicles or less, but again, the road is quiet so I risk it. I’ve now realised these restrictions are probably to avoid problems during times of dense traffic rather than indicating that the corners are so tight that you can’t get a 21ft vehicle around them. The shortcut pays off because the views are stunning.

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We pull through East Glacier Park, but don’t notice any gas stations. Unwisely I carry on – maybe there is one as we head out of town. But there isn’t and it turns out to be a long way to West Glacier with the fuel gauge seemingly dipping at an ever-faster rate as we head along US-2 following the railroad and using my right-foot increasingly carefully – keeping the RPM as low as possible and the torque converter locked up.

St Mary had two gas stations, so clearly West Glacier will be no problem. Eventually we nearly coast into the gas station at West Glacier. Where’s the green pump? I go in to ask. “No, sorry, we don’t have diesel”. Aaarrrggghhh! The next gas station is pretty much Columbia Falls. It may be only 7 miles, but it feels a lot longer and we are very relieved to see the gas station, and more importantly that its sign has prices in green as well as red. We must be running on fumes by now. Owning a diesel at home I know running out isn’t quite as straight forward as putting some fuel in the tank and cranking the starter for a few turns, so I am very relieved.

Returning to West Glacier we enter the park. Remember, this was our intended base for our Glacier visit, only changed to St, Mary while on the journey. I am immediately disappointed that the road along Lake McDonald provides no view of the mountains due to the trees and the curve of the road, unlike the road in from St. Mary which is very scenic. We get as far as Avalanche Campground, which is still at really low altitude, but the road is closed from here. Traffic is heavy and all the limited parking is packed. The “Large vehicle turnaround” route is partially blocked with parked cars. We squeeze through, but were we in a truly large RV we would have been in trouble. We don’t bother stopping. I think we had seen the best of the park from the other side.

We had planned to camp here, but decide to give that a miss and head on. It is still early in the day, and given we haven’t seen anywhere scenic and quiet to park and have a nice hike, we decide to call it a day and carry on west.

Leaving Glacier we detour off US-2 and onto 206 and 35 into Kalispell. This area looks very poor. It may be scenic, but there clearly isn’t much work around.

We carry on to the Kootenai National Forest to find somewhere to camp. There are several lakes along US-2 there, with camping available. We pull into a campground next to McGregor Lake, but being a Saturday evening it is busy with lots of families and some sort of jamboree, plus people launching watercraft and having big group barbecues by the lake. Sally really doesn’t like the look of it. There is nothing wrong with it per se, but she wants somewhere quiet.

The shores of the Thompson lakes clearly have places to camp, but they appear full and quite closely packed. Instead we pull off onto a gravel road heading north into the forest. Unfortunately we can’t find anywhere that looks suitable to pull off the forestry track and camp, and there are a number of properties amongst these back woods here. It looks the sort of place someone would come along with a shotgun to investigate what you are doing. Back on US-2 we try another turn-off, this time heading south. This seems to be in proper USFS land and I have higher hopes of finding some boondocking, but by now Sally is feeling uncomfortable with the whole idea. Back on US-2 we find a real gem only 100 yards further on. A small campground just off the highway. It has a long drop toilet, and doesn’t appear to levy a charge to camp.

We circle a couple of times and find a suitable site. There are a couple of large pull-through sites for those towing a horse trailer and even a steel coral so you can keep your horses overnight – amazing.

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A short walk takes us down to the creek and we’re just returning when another truck camper pulls in near us. They are Karen and Rob.

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A lovely couple with a double-slide Lance on a Cummins RAM SRW (I’ve always liked the sound of a straight six). I didn’t even know Lance made a double-slide. It makes for a more compact camper than the 1161 when the slides are in (hence the ability to carry it on a SRW truck), but I guess it limits your ability to use the camper with those slides in.

Both Rob and Karen had worked in trucking, but Karen was originally from Denmark, via Canada. They now lived in Montana with their dogs.

* This post was edited 08/14/17 03:02am by sabconsulting *

sabconsulting

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Day 16 – Sunday : Kootenai to Richland (565 km)

Karen had recommended stopping at Kootenai falls. I’m so glad she did. I’d have undoubtedly driven straight past otherwise. A short hike leads down to terraces of ancient fossilised rippled sand next to waterfalls and rapids along the river. The railroad also runs parallel – between the highway and the river. I love the sound of the US train horns – there is something mournful and distant about them.

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A wobbly rope bridge crosses the river.

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The rock the other side has different patterns – swirly. And if you are interested in geology you get an additional treat when you look back up towards the highway – the rocks reveal themselves to be folded nearly 90 degrees by the power of plate tectonics.

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During this part of the journey we seem to be alternately heading north then south by hundreds of miles rather than heading straight west. This is definitely not the optimum route to take if your business was driving between Tennessee and Washington, but we are making the most of the scenery and the opportunity.

Now in Idaho we are getting a bit too close to the Canadian border again, so turn south on US-95 through Bonners Ferry.

It occurs to me that we need to catch up with our communication. Wherever we stop we have no cell signal. My wireless air card / mobile wifi hotspot thing was great for Norway, but I’m not sure which cell carriers it has a roaming agreement with in the US, but it obviously isn’t one that covers small towns in the wilderness parts of the US. I am concerned that Chet will be worried about us since he hasn’t heard anything since we had that tyre blow, and that Captain PJ (Pete Walsh) in Tacoma will be wondering about our schedule, since we are planning to meet up at the end of the week. It is pretty much lunchtime and we are near a lake – there must be somewhere nice down the lake front to stop for a sandwich, take in the view and check our messages.

South down US-95, then across a causeway stretching out over Lake Pend Oreille. No lake-side lunch stops jump out of us. Over the lake we take the first right turn over the railroad tracks and head along the edge of the lake for several miles. We are disappointed. The lake front is all private property with no obvious places to stop. And Sally’s cell signal had disappeared.

As a finally resort we stop in a supermarket carpark in Coeur D’Alene which is a large enough city to give me a good cell signal. I check my emails and facebook too. There is a communicator conversation that had been running for several days between Pete, Chet, Bryan and Brian along the lines of “Where’s Steve, he’s not replying to my messages?” “He left us a week ago” “Do you know when he is getting to Tacoma?” etc. I am glad I hadn’t left it any longer to get in touch.

West onto I-90 we follow the Spokane River through the city of the same name. We stop at Sprague to refilled with diesel – the price had now crept up to nearly $3.

The next river is the Columbia. We cross it and circle around Richland.

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There is a reason why I have come all the way south to here. At Richland is the visitors’ centre for the Hanford B reactor. One of the reasons for stopping to get an internet connection was to find out if it was possible to get onto a tour of the reactor. Thankfully I was able to book a tour online for early tomorrow. Because the tour is going to be fairly early I decide we should find out where the visitors’ centre is now – I don’t want to miss the tour as I struggled to find the location in the morning.

We find the visitors’ centre in a new business park on the edge of town. They have a gravel parking lot around the back, and we decide we’ll boondock there tonight.

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It is a warm 88F, but the fantastic fan lives up to its name. In order to be discrete we don’t deploy the slide – a nice feature of the Lance 1161 is being able to use it without any difficulty with the slide in. Rather than cook inside the already hot camper, we pay a visit to the adjacent restaurant / brewing company and watch the sun go down from an air-conditioned table.

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The waitress serves us using her broken wrist – a casualty of punching her car steering wheel. We definitely aren’t going to argue with her.

* This post was edited 08/14/17 03:03am by sabconsulting *

Lwiddis

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Thank you for sharing.


2015 Winnebago 2101DS TT & Chevy Tahoe LTZ, 300 watts WindyNation solar - parallel & MPPT, Trojan T-125s. TALL flagpole for USC & historical flags. Prefer USFS, COE, BLM, NPS, TVA, USF&WS, state & county campgrounds. 14 year Army vet.

sabconsulting

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Day 17 – Monday : Richland to Mt Rainier (296 km)

We need the windows open early this morning due to the heat, but that lets in traffic noise. Interestingly a distribution centre next door has their liveried semi-trucks passing us at all hours, but the diesels in these hardly made a noise.

So, what are we doing in a car park at 8am on a Monday and what is Hanford B?

Hanford B was one of the first nuclear reactors and was developed during the Second World War. I’ll leave others who are more qualified to describe the process of extracting the correct isotope of Uranium in order to make a weapon; but essentially that is what this site did. Although we can all regret the loss of civilian life in Japan from the dropping of these weapons, we cannot replay history differently to see what the loss of life would have been had a Normandy-style invasion of the Japanese mainland been required, or the consequences had Hitler got his act together and focused more of his efforts on creating a nuclear weapon of his own rather than expending his resources in Russia.

Judging from the surprisingly large number of people who turn up for the tour, we are lucky to get a place leaving booking until as late as yesterday. The tour is free and is well worth doing for adults who are interested in history or science. I think you would need to be more selective about taking teenagers or especially children on the tour unless they are very interested in this type of thing. Bored teenagers spend their time messaging their friends (probably about the tiresome tour their parents are forcing them to go on). Actually, given they would be on their smartphones whether sat on the couch at home, in a folding chair at the campground or on the bed of the vacation condo, there isn’t much excuse these days for making bored faces, since kids can’t pretend they are being deprived of the really interesting thing that they would otherwise be doing – since that allegedly really interesting thing is now portable.

The 8am to 12pm tour starts with a talk and slides (showing my age there since no-one actually has slides any more) and then a 40 minute bus ride out to the site, which is situated on the Columbia River a sensible distance from the town that grew up to support it.

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By modern nuclear power station standards the building is tiny, but inside is fascinating. It is like a model version of how to make a nuclear reactor set out in easy to see visible pipes, rods, valves and gauges.

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The big draw is the charging face of the reactor – all completely open rather than hidden away in pressure vessels.

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The control room is the other big thing to see – no computer monitors here, but simply banks of temperature gauges and miles of beautifully neat cable-lacing.

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A notice on one wall warned operators to be careful what they knocked into to avoid an accidental reactor scram.

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A huge amount of water had to be pumped through the reactor from the river to cool it with various backup systems, some relying on gravity, to ensure the flow was sustained to avoid a melt-down. The tops have been removed from the valve assemblies. According to the guide this is due to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty whereby Russian inspectors fly over to buy jeans from Walmart and while passing took a look to see the reactor is still decommissioned. Like anyone is going to power up this ancient beast given the more modern plants in the vicinity. Apparently they were here 4 days ago.

I’m really pleased we managed to visit this. I have been inside a conventional coal-fired power station, and several hydro-electric generating stations, but never a nuclear reactor (even though this is not a generating station, you know what I mean).

The temperature is now in the 90s and back at the truck we were keen to gain some altitude to cool off. We steer west through the vineyards, past the Yakima Training Centre and follow the Naches River.

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We soon start to see Mount Rainier’s snow-capped peak, looking like a real mountain.

I stop at a small gas station for some diesel. I’m initially impressed with the price being so cheap for such a tucked-away location, until I realise I haven’t noticed first number is a 3 not a 2 – it is $3.79. I decide to only put 10 gallons in.

Route 123 is great – there are so many wonderful views of the mountain.

We are soon up in the snow with frozen lakes below us.

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It is also evident that this is where all the glaciers are hiding.

We stop to look down on a slot canyon, although the real reason is so that I can get a closer look at a road tunnel roughly hewn through the rock, to make sure we would fit.

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There are plenty of waterfalls. This year’s substantial snow falls has seen to that.

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I want to find somewhere to camp, but my first attempt, the White River Campground just off route 410, is closed. We drive further on and pull up to the park entrance on Stevens Canyon Road to see what camping options might be open. A bunch of young (well, in their 30s) Russians block the road ahead with rented SUVs. I wander forward to investigate. It isn’t after all the plot of a Bond movie (they are far too friendly and chatty for Bond villains), and neither had they just been inspecting nuclear facilities. They are pleased to have a day off after purchasing a couple of jets (Hmmm, Washington State – I’m sure there is somewhere you can buy planes there, let me think). They are heading back to Seattle and their GPS suggests turning down here, but the entrance is unmanned and they are worried about driving through without paying – all they want is to drive back to Seattle. I realise later that this is quite a slow, twisty road, so they would have been better off turning around. But I tell them I am sure it will be fine. Given their hesitation at breaking a minor rule I suspect they have images of armed officials stopping them and demanding large bribes for not having the right paperwork, or state troopers hauling them into custody. I’ve never been to Russia, but I suspect there are parts where law enforcement officers who have not been paid for many weeks are forced to let us say “improvise” to make ends meet.

We pull into Couger Rock Campground. Most of the sites are not particularly suitable for our size of vehicle and our need to level it – inevitable since the campground is on the slope of a hill. But we find a good spot near the entrance to one of the loops directly opposite the campground host and pay our $20.

Stepping a few yards from the camper frames the dome of Mount Rainier amongst the trees, now covered with a cap of fine cloud that probably indicates it won’t stay visible for many more hours.

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* This post was edited 08/14/17 03:05am by sabconsulting *

sabconsulting

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Day 18 – Tuesday : Mt Rainier to Ocean City (456 km)

We’ve got ahead of schedule. I was hoping we would because I really wanted to get out to the Pacific coast, and now we can.

While Sally gets ready I take a walk out of the campground and across the road to the Nisqually River. The river is a series of streams winding through a wide flat bed of rocks and fallen trees. I imagine this is a sight to see when in full flood.

The cap of mist over the summit of the mountain proved to be an indicator of a weather change. Well, we are I the PNW now so we can’t rightly expect blue skies every day. No mountain is visible as we descend in the mist and clouds.

Heading west I see an ominous sign I’ve never seen before:

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We take highway 7 south then head further west on US-12 before stopping for tea at Mayfield Lake.

Trying to avoid the freeway I turn left half a mile later to try to find a route down local roads. The GPS obliges and suggests there is a route this way, however it eventually tells me to turn right onto a logging track – I think that’ll be a no, at least in this rig.

We return to US-12 and just before the freeway turn left onto the road to Toledo, and from there head east on highways 505 and 504. The area’s main industry is evidently logging, but it is also clearly a poor area. Those who know the area can guess why we have detoured here.

The weather has improved and although its head is still in the clouds, the base of Mt St. Helens is clear as day, as is the amount of damage done by the eruption 37 years ago (wow, is it that long ago?). You can see how much nature has recovered from the barren wasteland we remember from the months after the eruption.

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The Johnston Ridge Observatory is packed with kids on school trips. We listened to a really great talk from a young ranger about the events of May 1980, but it is a struggle to hear as bored children, supposedly listening to the talk, chat noisily amongst themselves.

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We descend to the previous parking and observation point, which has a view almost as good as the observatory, but is a heck of a lot quieter, and enjoyed our sandwiches there.

Back through Toledo we turned north for a short stretch on I-5 before turning north west at Centralia onto US-21 following the Chehalis River to the ocean. We don’t stop at Aberdeen – again it looks like a poor neighbourhood. I’ve noticed Ocean City State Park on the Rand McNally map and we head for that. I actually failed to notice a waypoint I had already programmed into the GPS for the car park of the adjacent Quinalt Beach Resort – a casino popular with boondockers. So instead end up paying a rather expensive $25 for one night at the state park. We drive around trying to find a suitable spot. Most of the cheaper budget sites (and $25 is a budget site) are muddy. The loop nearest the beach is predictably packed, so we choose a loop nearer the entrance which is very quiet and in it find a site that should rightly be a more expensive premium one in terms of its size, but seems to have missed being paved, so is cheaper. The truck leaves ruts in the soft ground, which I will endeavour to stamp flat before we leave tomorrow. The wind is whipping across the shoreline, so we are relieved to be camped back from it in the shelter of this park among the trees. Suddenly $25 doesn’t seem so bad compared to a sand-blasted car park.

I find this park confusing initially. I can’t work out which sites are taken as they don’t have posts with clips on. I phone their booking number, but the lady, though pleasant, doesn’t know how it works if you just turn up without a booking. I walk back to the entrance and carefully read the notice board again and suddenly it made sense. They list which sites are booked. If your preferred site isn’t booked you can occupy it on a first-come, first served basis.

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We take a walk along the beach. Cars are allowed to use this one, and a few are enjoying the experience, if not the wind. We make the token gesture of touching the Pacific.

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Back at the camper I try to phone PJ to arrange to arrange to meet up in a couple of days. Again, the cell network isn’t very helpful and I can only get a signal by climbing up onto the crunchy roof of the camper.

* This post was edited 08/14/17 03:06am by sabconsulting *

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