Each week, I’ll update you on my one year trip. I’ve decided to leave everything behind and spend real time with the people that matter the most in my life: my wife and three children. This is my story, I hope it will inspire you to create yours.
Date: from June 25th to July 2nd
Miles on the road so far: 3,453
States/Province traveled through: Wyoming, Montana
Funny how things don’t always develop the way you think they would! I thought of writing this “on the road” in a Starbucks in Alberta. Instead, I’m in a super chill and very welcoming (but-the-shower-will-only-be-ready-tomorrow type of campground hahaha!) property managed by the Blackfeet natives in St-Mary. But that’s for the end of today’s chronicle.
Day #15-16 There is a Long Road to the Grand Tetons!
We left South Dakota with smiles on our faces. For the first time, we were able to wake-up early and leave before 8am! It’s quite a feat since most of the time since we started our trip, we have only managed to leave around 9:30-10am at the earliest. I was encouraged by this progress… especially since I had another 800 km to drive!
In order to save time, we try to keep our stops to a minimum. Among ways to save time, we found:
#1 Going to the restroom inside the RV while it’s running (I know, we should not do that )
#2 Combining lunch hours with gasoline time.
#3 Gas only when I’m running below a quarter of gas tank
This third point is very important as I will never do that again! While Interstate 90 to cross South Dakota is somewhat boring, you can at least stop at several cities. This is a small detail I took for granted on my way to the Grand Tetons; Wyoming is less welcoming! After the city of Casper, I was hitting a quarter tank of gas and it was about 11:30. The next city situated on the highway was “Powder River” at roughly 30 miles from Casper. 30 miles to go, a quarter of tank, that’s sounds like a perfect plan, right? So about half an hour later, we are getting around noon, perfect lunch time, and I have only 2 lines left for an empty tank. The only problem is that “Powder River” is not really a city, in fact, it’s not even a village… it’s a post office with 44 people. Oh, did I mention “without a gas station?”.
“No worries Mike, you have your GPS with so many functions, just hit the “gas station near you” button and you will be fine”
Ah! The “gas station button tells me I have to do 30 miles (50km) back to Casper as there is nothing closer. There is no way I go back and lose over an hour just for gas. There must be another solution! Then, I turn right and drive for 2 minutes in gravel, go across a handmade bridge with wooden parts (seriously, you could have told me I was in Nicaragua, I would have believed it!) and asked for help from the family living in the only house in the road. They were very cold and simply told me the closest gas station was in Casper (yeah, thank you, I already know that!).
All right, here’s the catch, with 2 lines left in my gas gauge, I barely have enough to do 30 miles. But I decide it’s my best shot anyway. I turn back and stopped at Powder River to ask if there was any other gas stations around. 2 guys in the back of their pick-up truck tell me there is a gas station at Hillman which is 20 miles in my direction.
I barely get cell phone signals in this area but get the same information from google maps. All right, it sounds like I’m saved!
I get back on the road and now drive 45 mph in a 70 mph zone. I just want to make sure I make it since I’ve been running around and wasting lots of gas. So here I am on the highway being the “slow guy” while everybody passing me at high speed, handing my cell phone counting down the 20 miles one by one and keeping my eyes on the gas gauge slowly saying “hello” to the big “E”. Minutes are long, the pressure is on me and now everybody is eager to eat. The gas tank hits the “E” line, I’m nervous, and my cell tells me its only a quarter of mile on my right. I stop there, and here’s what saved me:
Both the lady and his husband are limping. The guy laughs at me and tells me that his place has saved many drivers like me! For the very first time since I bought my RV, I know how many gallons fills my tank. It’s 30! Since I put 29.4 gallons in it! I was SOOOO happy! When you are talking about getting out of your comfort zone, this is what you are talking about!
I finished my long day of driving to the Grand Tetons. I must say it is very impressive. I love how the mountain peaks are facing Jackson Lake. It is both overwhelming and calming at the same time. We drove relatively fast in front of these natural beauties as we need to get to our boondock place. Yep, I’m not spending a dime to stay in Grand Tetons, I’ve found free campsites near Flagg Ranch (right before the Yellowstone North Entrance). I get into a one way gravel path going up and down with my 25ft RV. The first, second, third and fourth campsites are full (no wonder, it’s Free!!). I drive for another 10 minutes and I’m getting really tired. It’s 7:00pm, we hadn’t eaten yet and I just want to park for the night. I come back to the first campsite which was pretty large and ask people around if I could just park between them. I promise to be quiet and they let me in with a big smile! This was my first day in Grand Tetons, but I must say that my boondock was pretty hot:
On the second day, we thought of waking-up at 6am to get early to an 8am meeting with a ranger…. Bad idea! Over the past two weeks, we’ve experienced lots of emotions and we are somewhat tired. We couldn’t make it and woke up at 8am. We then decide to head back to Jackson lake and rent a canoe and kayak and go for a trip on the water. The view of the Tetons was astonishing on the lake:
This is something to put on your bucket list! Every second spent on the lake was used to stare at those big mountains. We even stopped on an island to take a bite before we headed back. This was definitely the highlight of my day! We spent the rest of the day with the kids and they did their Junior Ranger program. I must tell you, if you have kids, you want them to do the Junior Ranger program at all of the national parks! It kept my children highly motivated to learn about the park and complete their activity books in order to get their badge. We attended the a Ranger program about Bear safety. Yup… there are bears everywhere in the Grand Tetons & Yellowstone. I now know how to handle them (and I have bear spray!).
We headed towards our free campsite again, but this time we put our tent in a free campsite to “reserve” it. Another great day has just gone by.
Day #17-18-19 Yellowstone and its Treasures
The next morning, we headed to Yellowstone. Big surprise: we are only 1 hour away from our campsite! Day #17 was somewhat boring but necessary. I spent the day working in a rare wifi area while my wife spent the day with kids doing another Junior Ranger book (I’m telling you, these marvels make your kids want to work ). Each National Park has their Junior Ranger booklet and program. Kids get to learn through doing their activities and they must attend a ranger program (could be a hike with a ranger or a 30 to 60 minutes presentation about a specific topic). I find them thoroughly amazing as we all learn a lot about nature around us and my children also have a great opportunity to practice their English. It’s like a complete school day without it being one!
We arrived later at our campground. For the first time, I was very happy to have reserved this campground in advance. There is absolutely no way you can camp in Yellowstone outside of their campgrounds. And their campgrounds fill in so fast it’s as if the Montreal Canadiens would play a Stanley Cup final on their grounds!
Day #18 was just incredible! We went on a “run for Geysers” (after understanding Anglophones say “GUY-ZER” while I, francophone, say “J-Zair”). We made several stops on that day and visited several geysers. We waited for “Old Faithful” to erupt in front of us:
Then, we were astonished by the true color of Excelsior and Grand Prismatic Geysers:
We stopped later on for an ice cream as we were burnt. While I was driving back to the campground, I almost felt like I was going to fall asleep. This was such a great day with so many emotions and things discovered, I was fulfilled. This was until we crossed the prairie with the famous Yellowstone Bisons!
We didn’t see 1 bison; we saw about 400 of them! It was spectacular to see a species that was once numbered under 100 back in the late 1890s showing that strong with thousands of them in Yellowstone. After this unexpected stop, I thought we were good to go home. But then, I saw a sign that caught my attention: “mud volcano”. I had to stop! I didn’t ask anybody and just parked the RV. Then I asked my wife: “is it okay if we make one last stop?”. My wife rolled her eyes while my oldest son was already putting his shoes on. The mud volcano was quite impressive. First, there was that huge smell of sulphur that took all the air we were breathing. Then, there was this boiling mix of water and gray mud going all around the pool. And finally, there was this standing right in front of us when we got there:
Wow! I’ve never been that close to a wild animal. In fact, it was almost too close, but he was there when we got there, you know ;-).
We finished our “geyser chasing journey” with the Dragon’s mouth spring. If I was born in the 1800s and I saw that, I would have been convinced a dragon was living there:
While this was already a great day , I now feel blessed to be able to live such an adventure with my family!
We used our third day in Yellowstone to do a hike. It was an easier one than Harney’s Peak in the Blackhills, but it felt somewhat special. The thing is that we have been in “Bear Country” for the past 5 days. At first, it was okay as you just read and hear about bears. But it has been 2 days we are in Yellowstone and we crossed a bear’s path (on the road) twice already. We feel somewhat nervous to hike about 7 miles away from where we last saw a bear. But, we had followed our “bear safety ranger program” and we know everything there is to know about bears:
– Travel in groups of at least 3
– Children are perfect repellants as they make lots of noise and bears don’t like human voices
– We carry bear spray at all time
– We hike with our iPhones on
– We don’t attach pieces of bacon on our backpack (or leave food around if you prefer).
Also, never run when you see a bear, they can hit 35 to 40 mph so even Usain Bolt has no chance. If you ever encounter a bear and he sees you, you raise your hands up in the air and scream loudly. Then, you slowly back up while facing the bear. If heaven forbid, he ever charges you, this is when you want to have bear spray. If you don’t, the best move to make is to lay down, belly on the floor, legs spread and your forearm around your neck to protect it. Yeah… you don’t want to go there!
The hike was great, the view of the lake was astounding and we were very happy about our day since we didn’t see any bears!
Day #20-21-22 Things don’t Turn the Way We Went on the Glacier
On our way out of Yellowstone, we stopped at Mammoth Spring to see the last hot springs and elk before leaving for good. We did a good ride up to Helena in order to stop in a lovely Walmart. Since the beginning of our trip, our Walmart overnight camping experiences were calm and we have felt secure. We can’t say we enjoyed this that much!
There were lots of homeless people sleeping in their cars and they tend to make lots of noise and fool around once the Walmart closes. From 10pm to 1am we heard laughing and screaming, cars honking and fireworks. The children were sleeping tight but I had kept one eye opened all night.
The next day, we hit the road again with a Starbucks (I couldn’t wait 15 minutes to make my own coffee!) and got to Glacier National Park by noon. First disappointment, we can’t enter into the park with our RV (max 21ft vehicle policy). Then, we try to find a campground and the two biggest ones in the city are full. The guy tells me there is another one on an Indian reservation about 5 miles from there. Once we get there, the place is completely empty. No tent, no RV, just 2 natives hanging in the lobby. The family is hesitating to camp here, but I think it’s a good thing we get out of our comfort zone again. Finally, the staff was very welcoming. I found out that they just opened a few weeks ago for their first year of operation. The campground is not actually where I thought it was, but behind the building. This is a very nice place by the river with a great view of the Glaciers. Seriously, this is the best camping I’ve seen in St-Mary! Okay… best camping because you have lots of room and a nice view, but forget about services (showers are… well not ready finally!). You can try it out if you are planning a last minute vacation and help a generation to run their campground. The name is Chewing Blackbones Campground.
We finally go to the Glacier and take the shuttle service to go for a small hike in the afternoon. Wow… the shuttle service is very slow (like one every 45-60 minutes). We didn’t mind waiting as the kids were doing their junior ranger booklet in the meantime. Once we got to the top, we were not super pleased either. The hike we wanted to do the next day was closed since there was too much snow. Note to myself: never go to the glacier before August!
We were all a bit grumpy while Caleb saved the day. When he saw snow everywhere, he started his path to a small hike in the mountain which was covered by snow. He was running, laughing and he fell in the snow. We all laughed and started to throw snowballs at each other. Overall, it was fun even though it wasn’t what we planned!
However, the way down was, once again, very long due to the shuttle service. It took us almost 2 hours to get back to our RV including waiting time. The next morning, we had planned a hike that will not require the shuttle! We decided to have cereal in the RV. Boys (including me) are big fans of cereal in the morning in our family and we hadn’t had them since we left. 5 minutes of happiness later we hear a “ooops!”… that was Caleb dropping his entire bowl of cereal on our couch. We spent an hour cleaning his mess and then decided to skip the hike and call it a day.
At one point, we must take it slower and not fight against the wind. This is how I enjoyed a day working at the camping hoping I will be able to take a shower by the end of the day (if the shower is ever ready!). After all, it feels good to take a pause and “do nothing”. I can work outside with a great view of the Glaciers while my children are playing around the campground and my wife is rearranging a few things in the RV.
Tomorrow, we will be back on the road to cross the border and visit Alberta!