Living on the road is A LOT of work. And this is coming from the girl who is only responsible for battening down the inside of the Airstream. Sure, I’m in charge of navigating, being the DJ and finalizing each destination. But GA is the captain of this ship. He handles the bulk of trailer labor and does all of the driving - like a boss. Our system is routine by now, which takes about 20 minutes to secure everything, hitch up and go. Then we consult. Do we need fresh water for the tanks? Have enough gas to get there? Plenty of service to stream a podcast? The drive itself can be so exhausting, and leaving Chicago we prepared to spend even more time in the truck.
An impromptu adjustment to our itinerary took us directly through Iowa instead of going up and over through Wisconsin and Minnesota. No offense to Iowa, but it was just as underwhelming as we imagined it would be, with endless views of cornfields and wind turbines. It was also the hardest place to find day-of reservation due to a NASCAR event. Rather than stopping in Cedar Rapids, we continued on to Des Moines and reluctantly parked at Adventureland for the evening. Not our finest RV moment, but we embraced it with a delicious BBQ dinner.
Another six hour driving day landed us at Wilde Prairie Winery just outside of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The polar opposite experience from the night before - because balance. It was our second successful Harvest Host experience, where we stayed next to rows of vines and enjoyed a tasting in the barn. We ventured downtown and had an awesome dinner at Parker’s Bistro before settling in on the farm. Our neighbors were a sweet family of five from South Carolina, who happened to be on a similar schedule so we exchanged information before some ominous weather rolled in.
There’s nothing more peaceful than the sound of rain tapping against the tin can, but this was straight up Tornado vibes. We awoke unscathed from the storm and climbed back in the Silverado to cross the entire state of South Dakota. GA would point out the attractions in between the nothingness of mid-America. “Want to stop at 1800’s town?” Nah. But neither of us expected the South Dakota landscape to be so diverse and breathtaking, especially upon entering the Badlands.
We grabbed a last-minute reservation in the park and couldn’t have had a better spot. Hands down it was the best backdrop of any RV park we'd ever seen. The only obstruction to our panoramic view was a group of happy campers who pitched tents at dusk and made dinner wearing headlamps, which was very impressive. The next morning they offered us their leftover firewood. We thought we were fairly ambitious with our plans, until we met Mike, Nate and Hannah. These guys are basically doing what we’re doing, but on bikes! They rode all the way from Maine to the Badlands and will continue on to Washington. Pretty badass. We chatted for a bit, took some pics and then followed each other on Instagram before parting ways. It’s been cool watching them tour America on the slow, scenic route while we book it from place to place.
Let’s be honest here. The main reason we went through South Dakota was to stop at Mount Rushmore. The Black Hills definitely lived up to their name, as we chugged our rig over some serious elevation to reach the monument. This was a huge lesson for us as the Chevy transmission worked hard to get up the 6% grade - more on that later. Dogs aren’t allowed past the entrance to Rushmore, which has been a restriction for us in most National Parks. FYI, we never leave Bruce alone in the trailer. If he can’t go inside somewhere, like the grocery store, then we just take turns with the food shopping. We’ve had to miss out on some desired stops for Bruce's sake, but he’s worth it. Plus, driving through the National Parks with him on safari has been fun for everyone.
Mount Rushmore did not disappoint, especially since we were told it might be underwhelming. I had big plans to stage photos with George, Thomas, Teddy and Abe but it was so crowded that we didn’t even bother. We had a truck picnic of leftover rigatoni bolognese in the shade of their faces before detouring to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Some may say the story is more impressive than the sculpture itself, since Crazy Horse is an unfinished work in progress. It started to rain when we pulled in, so we quickly toured around then got back on the road. Unsure of where we were sleeping that night, we continued on to Wyoming as fat rain drops hit our caravan. We had already been through two major monuments that day, so why not go for the trifecta?
A vivd golden hour welcomed us to Devils Tower National Monument. The sun was setting when we cruised into the campground and posted up directly below the base. We were on a roll with scoring epic and inexpensive parking on the fly. That storm on the winery was nothing compared to the torrential downpour and lightening that abruptly came through this night. The serenity of sunrise almost made us forget about how sketchy the weather had been just hours earlier. Our brief overnight stint at Devils Tower was another unexpected highlight during our quest out west.
We were headed for Billings, Montana but ended up at an efficient little park to regroup in Reed Point. Clean laundry - check. Fresh groceries - check. Fishing knowledge from the drunk guy at Waterhole Saloon next door - check. Ready to go off the grid for a bit, we planned to spend the next four days at a BLM spot in Paradise Valley. We arrived at Carbella recreational site and setup shop on a shaded corner overlooking the river when a casual hail storm hit. No big deal. We had provisioned for several days and looked forward to cooking while hibernating in the woods. Badly bruised bananas from the commute? Homemade banana bread! Leftover pork tenderloin and pickled veggies? Bahn-mi sandwiches for lunch! All of our meals on wheels were like episodes of Chopped kitchen, minus the timer and judges.
Carbella was where we fully embraced this whole full-time RV / glamping thing. The bonuses were that it was free, absolutely beautiful and comprised of like-minded millennials. We met several young couples on similar adventures, which made us feel like we were back in college again. It was almost like being at orientation, making introductions and exchanging stories until the booze ran dry and campfire died out. The more seasoned travelers shared advice on places to avoid and must-see’s along the way. We learned to rinse our dishes with river water to conserve resources, I snapped lifestyle portraits of Dillon & Alli from Minnesota, and GA got fly fishing tips from the locals. It was an enlightening and productive experience in the midst of nature.
After boon-docking for several days near the north entrance of Yellowstone, we eventually drove through the great loop with Sterling in tow. It was one big drive-thru of Yellowstone National Park, just passing by Old Faithful and all of the selfie sticks. One of the best investments of our trip (so far) has been the National Parks Annual Pass. It provides unlimited access to all of the National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands for only $80 a year! Consider this an endorsement, #travelinfluencer.
We were feeling confident from our off-grid excursion so we opted for another BLM site. Going off the beaten path was a risk we were willing to take - shaking our way down a bumpy dirt road for a front row seat to the Grand Teton's. I immediately noticed a familiar license plate as we cautiously pulled into the lot at Shadow Mountain. “Where are you from in Florida?” I asked. “Fort Lauderdale” he replied. Our neighbor Erik was a recent college grad on a solo journey from the same neck of the woods, looking for a change of scenery out west. My inner camp counselor took him in as one of our own, and invited him over to make dinner. We had plenty of food and water so we extended our stay rather than going into Jackson for the night. It was such a peaceful place and felt like we were looking at a postcard every time we glanced outside, rain or shine.
We soaked up every last bit of light around T.A. Moulton Barn (the Country's most photographed barn) before making our way to Idaho. Craters of the Moon was on the radar, but we hadn’t taken account of what stood in our way. The Grand Teton Pass sounds pretty in theory, until you’re climbing a 10% grade with a 5,000 lb trailer attached. That’s nearly double what we did at Rushmore and the truck was not happy about it. As soon as we saw a place to turn around we did (pictured above). Driving down wasn’t much better than our struggle up, but it beat our attempt at crossing the Tetons. We rerouted along the Snake River and made it safely to Arco for an interesting stay at Honey’s Campground. Sawtooth National Forrest was our favorite site yet and home base for a few nights, where we were just minutes from downtown Ketchum in Sun Valley.
Our spot was perfectly isolated and nestled in the valley, sitting next to a flowing stream. The first night we noticed a massive heard of sheep and dogs on the hillside, we woke to them outside of our window at sunrise. GA made the shepherds coffee and chatted in spanglish about the 2,300 livestock they had to move over the mountain. It was wild. It was also 40 degrees in the morning so I didn’t get out of bed with my camera, which is still my biggest regret of this trip (could be worse). We took Bruce on a morning hike prior to treating ourselves to burger’s and schooner’s of beer at Grumpy’s. From Sun Valley we bypassed Boise and drove straight into Oregon, where we've been relaxing and hanging out with friends for over a week.