First serious solo road trip

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be setting off on my first real solo road trip, camping on dispersed National Forest Land for the most part. I’ll be gone about two weeks. My ultimate destination is Penticton, B.C. On the way north, I’m going to do a couple of things I’ve always wanted to do.

Many years ago, dad got it into his head that he wanted to get a job working for a rich person as a caretaker. He was getting ready to retire, and he thought that would be the perfect post-retirement job. Dad started flying when I was a kid, and he was always out at Flower Aviation at the Pueblo airport. Pueblo is a small, not-so-great town, but Flower Aviation attracted a lot of famous people. John Denver regularly stopped there. Dad saw people like Malcom Forbes come through as well (and got pictures of their planes). Flower Aviation was where he saw Forrest Bird for the first time.

Dr. Bird was an avid aviator and inventor of medical devices—a very wealthy, famous man. Dad knew who he was because Flying Magazine had done a profile on him. So dad wrote Dr. Bird a letter, saying that he was looking for a caretaker job. Dr. Bird actually wrote him back. He and his wife just happened to be actively looking for a caretaker couple. So mom and dad went up to Sagle, Idaho, to interview with the Birds and see their property on Lake Pend Oreille, which contained not only the Bird home (and the caretaker’s house), but also his factory and air museum. Dad was suitably impressed, but not enough to become what would have been, in his mind, a slave. And mom would have had to work in the factory in addition to her other chores such as cooking and cleaning. So they turned down the job and came home. But dad often talked about what a beautiful place Lake Pend Oreille was. I’ve always wanted to see it. So on this trip I’m going to spend a couple of nights in the vicinity. I’ve even splurged and reserved a campsite for one night right on the water, the only campground I plan to use on the trip. That will cost me a whopping $10.

The other thing I’ll do on the trip north is drive the Lolo Highway. Alan rode it on his motorcycle one year and said it was beautiful, but I’ve never been on that road. I’m going out of my way a little bit to see it, but it should be worth it.

On the way home, I’m going to hit another destination that’s been on my bucket list: Glacier National Park. I’ll spend a couple of nights on federal land near the park (but not in it because the camping rules are different in the national parks). Then I’ll stop in Red Lodge, MT, for a night. For many years, we rode up to Red Lodge every July for a Kawasaki motorcycle rally and always stayed at the Alpine Lodge, which is owned by Larry and Trish, two of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. They let people camp behind the motel. For a fee, you can use their bathroom facilities and eat Larry’s fabulous home-cooked breakfast. From there I’ll head down through the east side of Yellowstone, although I don’t plan to drive Beartooth Highway this time. I’ll also drive through Grand Teton National Park, and I’ve scouted out a dispersed camping spot outside of Jackson, WY. Then I’ll have one final, fairly long drive home.

I’ve tried to plan this trip as carefully as I can, much more than I hope to plan trips in the future. But this is, after all, the first one. I looked at my route and figured out how far I realistically want to travel each day. Then I looked on freecampsites.net to find dispersed camping in each area. I printed out the descriptions of these places, along with their GPS coordinates so I can find them easily. But I realize that I might get to a spot to find that it’s unsuitable and that I can’t stay there. So I ordered Benchmark folding maps for Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. I can use them to look for little Forest Service roads in the general area, and as long as I can find a place to pull off the road, I’ll have a place to stay for the night.

This will be my first opportunity to see whether I’m going to like solo camping in remote places as much as I think I will. I spent a couple of nights in similar circumstances on my first car-camping trip in the Prius and didn’t feel unduly frightened, so I hope it will be OK. I have a big bottle of bear spray in case a human pest annoys me, and being inside the van means that if I ever feel uncomfortable—for any reason—I just have to jump into the driver’s seat and drive away. For that reason, whenever I park for the night, the van will be pointed toward the road so I can get away easily. I don’t foresee having any problems, though.

I’ll try to update this blog as I can, given that I won’t have Internet access (or cell phone coverage) most of the time. When I get home, though, I’ll definitely upload photos and other information. Wish me luck. This is my first big test for what I hope will be my lifestyle for the next 20 years.

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