Making some changes after my trip

I knew that my first real solo camping trip would help me iron out any changes I might need to make in the van and/or my equipment.

I’ve started making those changes.

I went over to Verizon and switched to them from T-Mobile. I have to pay more, but T-Mobile sucks. Seriously! During my trip I hardly ever had a cell signal and couldn’t get data most of the time. Unless I was on an interstate or in a bigger town, nothing, which wasn’t good since I was out in the middle of nowhere most of the time. I know Verizon is supposed to have the best coverage, so I’m going to give it a try. Let’s hope it’s better. It couldn’t be worse.

I decided to go ahead and  drill into the plastic sidewalls in my van to hang curtains. The way I had them hanging before worked, but I think I can make it better. Yesterday I drilled some pilot holes and screwed in some eye screws. They seem to be pretty secure, but I might put a little dab of epoxy on the screws, just to reinforce them.

I just came home from the lumber yard. The cot worked well for me, but Alan wants to go with me occasionally, and I learned on this trip that taking a tent for him to sleep in isn’t going to be the best option. So I’m going to build a platform for the van. I already have a twin mattress I can use, and combined with my tri-fold mattresss (and a topper I bought for it), I’ll just have to do a bit of trimming and I’ll have a bed between a full and a queen. When I’m solo, it’ll be luxurious. With Alan, well… it’ll be tighter than any bed we’re used to sleeping on together, and I’ll have to deal with Alan’s snoring (at home we sleep in different rooms on opposite sides of the house). But it will only be for short periods of time, so I think we’ll survive. I’m building the platform high enough that I can slide all my plastic bins under it. I’ll have a lot more storage than I did before.

So let’s hope I made all my measurements correctly. I’m going to start putting it together as soon as I finish the curtains. 

The other thing I did for the van was to take it to a muffler shop in my little town. The muffler dude was awesome! The van has had an annoying rattle since we bought it, and it drove me crazy on my trip. The check engine light came on, too, and was indicating that something was wrong with the catalytic converters. So I figured at least one of them was bad, and I was expecting a huge repair bill. Dan, the awesome muffler dude, had to spend some time finding the rattle because it doesn’t happen until the van is warmed up. In the meantime, he checked all the cats (all were fine) and the O2 sensors (also fine). The rattle? Turns out that when the exhaust got hot and expanded, a hanger rubbed against the hitch. That was it! Dan trimmed the hanger, and now all I have is blessed silence when I’m driving. And he didn’t charge me a cent. I’m so incredibly happy. I’m enjoying driving my van again.

My son also removed the running boards for me. One of them was already crooked, and I banged up the other one pretty good at a tricky campsite at Lake Pend Oreille.. They were hard to get off, but I’m so glad we did it. The insides were completely rusted and falling apart. Tons of tiny little pieces. The van looks so much better.

We only have one more thing to do and that’s to repair the speaker in the passenger door. My son is pretty sure it just needs new insulation. It’s a pain to take the door apart, but he just did that on his Toyota, so he knows what he’s doing. 

I’ll post pictures when I get the interior changes made.

Day Twelve—Beartooth Pass, Yellowstone, the Tetons, and home

After a yummy breakfast cooked by Larry Yung, proprietor of the great Alpine Lodge, I headed up over Beartooth Pass. I’ve ridden the pass about five times on my bike and driven over it in a car several times, but this is the first time I went over it by myself. I didn’t stop to take many pictures, but here are a couple. It’s an impressive pass and fun to ride on a bike.

Higher up the pass looking down onto the road I just drove up.
Another view of the road.

I went through Cooke City and on to the northeast entrance to Yellowstone. There wasn’t a single car there. None! I drove right up, handed over my senior park pass, and was on my way. I doubt that will ever happen again. 🙂

I also didn’t stop to take many pictures in Yellowstone. I took the eastern loop around the park, avoiding the tourist stuff, and then drove directly into the Grand Teton National Park.

It seems like every time I go through the Yellowstone the bison are congregating across the road right at this very spot. I think they get a kick out of causing a huge traffic jam. A lot of people were out of their cars, getting way too close to these giant beasts. They seem peaceful enough, but just this summer they’ve attacked people who got seriously hurt.
The eastern side of the park might not have all the tourist attractions, but you drive for a long time past Yellowstone Lake, which is huge and beautiful.
The lake.

I stopped to stretch my legs and decided to take a look at iOverlander. I had decided, prior to my trip, to go to a dispersed site outside Jackson. But it was quite a way off the road, and I was kind of tired of driving. So I decided to go to an iOverlander spot that overlooks the Tetons. Again, it was a dirt road, and parts of it were dodgy. But it was only about six miles up to the spot I picked. I was all alone there and it was so quiet and dark. I sat on my cot and looked out the window at the blackness and thought it was a fitting spot to spend the last night of my trip. There were signs warning about bears, but the only wildlife I saw was a chipmunk.

The incredibly beautiful Tetons.
View of the Tetons from my campground.
My free camp site outside Teton park. Notice the bear sign in the background. Not a bear in sight, though.

The drive home was long and tiring (isn’t the last leg of a trip always that way?). I wanted to go south on smaller state highways instead of going out to Casper and taking the interstate all the way. Maybe I should have done the latter. I was trusting my instincts on which way to go (south) but they didn’t serve me well at one point, and I ended up going 30 miles out of the way. The only good thing about that is that I had breakfast at the little town where I had to turn around and retrace my path. Ugh. But I made it home safe and sound. The van was absolutely covered in bugs, dirt, and mud, and I prayed to Joe Pesci on the way home to give me a good hard rain to wash it off a bit. He came through! When I turned off onto 287 at Laramie, I drove into a downpour that lasted for about 30 miles. Thank you, Joe! Just as George Carlin promised, he comes through for me about half the time.

I drove 3700 miles on this trip and covered five states and one Canadian province. It was a good trip, and I look forward to many more in my trusty Sienna.

Day Eleven–To Red Lodge

I’ve been to Red Lodge many times. We’ve made the trip on our motorcycles (from northern Colorado) about half a dozen times, and we’ve driven it several times. But I’ve never approached it from this direction. We usually have to drive north through Wyoming. But this time I was coming from Glacier, and the trip was unique (for me). Lots of rolling prairie, and no traffic whatsoever. When I got about 20 miles from Red Lodge on 212, though, I ran into construction. A few miles (no idea how many) of the road torn up so completely that we had to follow a pilot car (it reminded me of a motorcycle trip through Yellowstone with the same thing, riding over rocks the size of softballs—scary). I didn’t even make it to the Alpine Lodge (owned by our friends Larry and Trish—where we have stayed for many years) because I saw the Red Lodge Ales has a new brewery, beer garden, and kitchen! I had to stop, of course. I sat there for two hours, reading Facebook, updating my blog, and drinking beer. It’s hot, and although the Alpine has an awesome covered patio, I wasn’t too keen on sitting outside in the heat.

Nice, but it can’t compete with City Star (even though City Star doesn’t have a kitchen).

But now I’ve arrived and am parked in the rear of the property. Larry and Trish have added some new bathrooms for people who rent their teepees (yes, real teepees, but outfitted with luxury bedrooms). I had a nice shower, and now it’s cooled down. I have the fan going in the van, with the windows down a bit (plus I’m in the shade), and I’m sitting on the patio writing this and drinking a Twisted Tea.

Last night I decided to stay at a rest stop because it came recommended by a web site I use. Yes, it was convenient—right off I-15—and it had clean bathrooms and free WiFi. But as I soon discovered, it was populated by about a dozen big rigs, half of whom kept their engines running all night—right outside my van. I was trying to watch YouTube videos (using the free WiFi!) but the trucks were so loud I knew I’d never fall asleep. I had ear buds, thank goodness, so I kept those in all night. I don’t think I’ll do that again, unless I have to. It’s convenient, but too noisy for me.

Day Ten—Glacier National Park

I stopped in Libby for breakfast before heading to Glacier. It’s crazy, but I wasn’t able to get a signal anywhere. When I get home, I’m going to look into changing from T-Mobile to Verizon. This is ridiculous. T-Mobile works fine for me 90% of the time, but it’s the other 10% I worry about.

I might also invest in a SPOT satellite messenger (my friend Carlo has one). Years ago, when i was attempting to hike the Colorado Trail, I got a SPOT device that was only useful as an emergency signaler. But the new messenger lets you text people, so I could keep in touch with my family (or contact AAA, if needed) anywhere I am. It’s expensive, but if I keep doing these solo trips, it would probably be a good investment.

For instance, my spare tire is inaccessible if I get a flat on this trip. Alan got under there and tried to loosen the bolt that holds it on, but he couldn’t get it off. I figured I could call AAA if I had a problem, but if I don’ have a signal, I can’t call AAA, right? Sheesh.

The drive through Glacier was impressive. The Going to the Sun road starts out (from West Glacier) as a nice, twisty road among the trees and past lakes and waterfalls, but then it changes to an extremely narrow road with barely room for two cars. I saw a dude riding a bicycle up that road. I wouldn’t have the nerve.

Something was going on with my phone. A lot of pictures have a white streak across them. I attribute this to the talk about spirit creatures that I had with Carlo and Tracy when I was in Penticton. 🙂 Actually, much of the time I was taking pictures into the sun, so I tried to block the sun with my hand. I don’t think it worked very well. So the pictures I’m posting here are the ones that didn’t get ruined. I stopped often to get out, stretch my legs, and just look around.

What a beautiful road! And it doesn’t take a long time to drive it, either, even if you’re getting out of the car every 10 minutes like I did. The park was crowded, though, even though it was after Labor Day. I can’t imagine it during the summer. I collected my NP pin! (I have a collection.) 

Lake Left Behind
McDonalds Waterfall
Starting onto the Going to the Sun Road (from West Glacier).

Day Nine–Back to the U.S. of A.

I got to drive back over Highway 3 again, but I came into the country at a different border crossing—a teeny, tiny one with no line. (And, again, I didn’t take any pictures. I’m an idiot.) I came into Idaho and drove down to Libby, Montana. I camped at a campground on the Kootenai River, right next to the Libby Dam. It was quiet and peaceful. The only other campers were way down the road from me, and I was right on the river. I even had shade. I made dinner (cooked some Penticton potatoes that I didn’t declare at the border–illegal potatoes!!) and had a beer while I watched the eagles fly over the river. Lovely and peaceful. I slept well that night, not in the least worried about anyone walking up to my van. I didn’t even close the curtains. This was a free campground.

My site on the Kootenai River near the Libby Dam.
The Kootenai River.
My nearest neighbors.

Day Eight—Labor Day, Camping near Penticton

We got up early, and I followed Carlo and Tracy to their favorite place to camp near home. I took us about an hour and a half to get there, and most of that was driving on a dirt road. As I followed, I wondered why we were going to FAR. We went way past all the other campers I saw. But then, when we stopped, I figured out why. Their secluded spot was right near the river, and Ichabod, their four-year-old dog, loves to chase chipmunks. He barks his head off while he does so, and where we were camped, no one could hear us. We were completely isolated. 

Our beautiful camping spot.
Carlo kept the fire going the whole time we were there. And although the dogs had their beds, they both dug holes in the ground to rest in. Ichabod was especially pooped after his chipmunk-chasing adventures.

Carlo and Tracy have a really nice set up. I ate good (both lunch and dinner supplied by them), and we had a fire the whole time we were there. They have a lot of experience camping, and it shows.

Lunch. Dinner was French dip sandwiches. Plenty of IPAs, too.
The river was unusually low. Carlo gave me a helping hand to hike down there. (It wasn’t very far, but I’m decrepit.)
Ichabod (on the right) loves the water. He’s the barker. 🙂 Molly is deaf.

We went to bed early because I had a long drive the next day. 

Day Seven–Penticton

This day was all about exploring Penticton and spending time with family. Tracy’s parents came over for dinner. Such lovely people. They’re from Glasgow; they immigrated to Canada in the 70s. They still have their Glasgow accents, which was fun for me, since I have good friends in Glasgow.

One of Penticton’s many, many vineyards, this one with a fabulous view of the lake.
The fabulous Mr. and Mrs. Ferrari. If I hadn’t bought a Kawasaki back in the day, I never would have met them. They came to the second Red Lodge rally, and we’ve been friends ever since, along with a core group of people who became fast friends the same way.

Carlo took me for a drive around the area, and we stopped at a microbrewery, where I got a nice, strong IPA. Then it was back home, where I made green chile and we had smothered burritos. Nobody there had had Colorado/New Mexico style green chile, and I think they liked it. I brought four extra packages for their freezer.

I don’t have any bad tattoos, but I enjoyed the beer here, nevertheless. It can’e compete with City Star, though!

Rita and Al (the parents) are a lot of fun. Al reminded me a bit of dad because he immediately started telling me jokes. Rita is warm and a lot of fun. She takes good care of Al, who has had a lot of medical problems in the past few years. We watched a horror movie together (one I know for a fact my parents NEVER would have watched).

Day Six–Highway 3 to Penticton

I left Lake Pend Oreille and headed north to the border. The line at the border was LONG! When I got up to the border agent, he asked me the usual questions about whether I was bringing in drugs or fire arms, etc. If he asked whether I had pepper spray or bear spray. I told him I had both. Apparently, pepper spray is illegal in Canada, but bear spray isn’t. 🙂 It’s all about intent, he told me. I didn’t tell him that my intent with both sprays was to shoot a human who attacked me, not a bear. But I kept my mouth shut. I had to give up my pepper spray but crossed the border with the giant can of bear spray. 🙂

The drive along Highway 3 is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever taken. The road is mountainous and twisty, and all along the way there are lakes and rivers (including the Columbia). It was a fun road to drive, and I was wishing I’d been on a motorcycle. Next time.

Sadly, I was so busy driving that I didn’t stop to take pictures. There wasn’t really any place to stop, though, and since the road was so twisty, I was preoccupied with taking care with my driving.

I hadn’t realize how that the entire area where Carlo and Tracy live is a fruit-growing region. Once I got near Osoyoos, there was nothing but orchards and vineyards. I stopped to get some fruit to tae with me to the Ferrari’s house.

I got to Penticton in plenty of time for dinner, and we went out to a restaurant coincidentally named Casa Ferrari, where we had some excellent pizza. That night I slept in a comfortable bed, and I got to take a hot shower. Luxury! 🙂

Day Five–Lake Pend Oreille

I slept well last night (aided by half a sleeping pill and the dead quiet); didn’t wake until 9:00. It’s been overcast all day, which has helped with the heat.

I used the windshield repair kit, and it worked like a charm. From the inside, it looked like there was a huge hole in the windshield, but it was just a tiny pinprick; all the damage was inside. So I wasn’t sure the kit would work. But it did! You can’t even see where it happened now, and I saved a lot of money by not going to a glass shop to have it done.

Right now I’m sitting at a picnic table in front of the lake, just people watching. There’s a cool breeze coming off the lake.

This is the most southern end of the lake. It’s 43 miles long.
It was sunny the day I got here but overcast the whole day during my full day. It never did rain, though.

Day Four—Disappointment, Frustration, and Pleasure

The day started off pretty good, with a hot shower at my beautiful RV park on the Salmon River. But then it went downhill. I had picked up information at a Forest Service station on Lolo Highway about the viewpoints overlooking Hells Canyon, and I picked the one that looked easiest to get to. It was also the highest, so it supposedly affords the best views. If you can get to it.

I drove south to the town of Riggins; the road going up to Heavens Gate was supposed to be just south of the town. A forest service road. I had my GPS on map view, and I drove up and down the stretch of 95 for about 15 miles south of Riggins. I couldn’t find the damned road. I finally gave up, went into town, and got breakfast. There, I asked a local where the road was, and it turns out it’s labeled something completely different. OK, well, at least I got a good breakfast.

So I went to that road. It was paved for about 15 miles, so that was good, since it was steep and hilly. Then it turned into the dirt road I expected. The FS pamphlet said 18 miles of dirt road. I made it about two. The road was rough, and my poor van (and poor me) were shaken pretty bad. I decided to give it up, because by then it was nearly 10:00, and I still had a six-hour drive to Lake Pend Oreille.

So I started back up 95, and then I saw a sign for another access to Hells Canyon. Why not? So I took that road, and guess what? A moving truck was completely blocking it. I guess I wasn’t meant to see Hells Canyon. Not on this trip, anyway.

I did see a lot of interesting country along the Salmon River, though (some of it several times). But on the way north on 95, I drove for about 20 miles on a paved road that was covered in loose gravel. I kept WAY back from the cars in front of me, because I didn’t want to have rocks thrown up on my new windshield (bought by the previous owner). But wouldn’t you know it? A big truck came barreling along the opposite way and—bam! A HUGE rock hit the windshield, producing a good-sized chip with little runs on several sides of it. 

I drove on to Moscow, Idaho, where I stopped in at an Ace hardware store. Ace employees are the best! I was going to get some epoxy to temporarily fill in the chip until I can get home, but he came back with a windshield chip repair kit. I hope that it’ll work. I’m going to work on it tomorrow.

I stopped to get gas in Moscow and had an interesting conversation with a couple of college kids in the store. The clerk carded me for buying beer, and I jokingly said that I get Medicare next week. That led to a discussion of Medicare and Social Security and whether it’ll be there for their generation, plus talk about climate change. I apologized for the destruction that my generation and my parents’ generation have wreaked on the planet. It was a nice conversation. I’d been passing so many Trump signs all day that I didn’t think any liberals existed in Idaho.

So I drove on up to the lake. I thought my campsite was right on the water, but it actually overlooks the lake, just above the road that circles the lake. It’s a beautiful view through the trees.

The view from my van

The little road to the tent sites is narrow and rutted and steep. My site was tricky to get into. But I found a fairly level place to back the van into, and it is NOT moving until Friday morning.

I had to back into this carefully because of the rocks and tree stumps everywhere.

It’s hot here—92—but it doesn’t feel that hot here among the trees. I’m sure the lake helps make the air feel cool, too. The camp host told me there aren’t any bears around here, just deer. So I won’t need to keep my bear spray handy tonight. -)

A lovely young couple from Alberta is in the tent site next to mine. It’s so peaceful and beautiful here. I’m glad I’m staying for two nights. I’m going to drink beer and fix my dinner in a while and contemplate Mother Nature’s glory. And think about how mom and dad came THIS CLOSE to taking a caretakers job for the famous Dr. Byrd, an inventor and pilot who lives on the lake. That’s what got me interested in coming here in the first place. Dr. Byrd, like my folks, is long gone, but I think his factory and lakeside airport are still functioning somewhere near Sandpoint.

My Canadian neighbors’ tent is back among the trees. Here’s my simple kitchen setup.