6 months and done

Here we are, 6 months to the day of having only a camper to sleep in! Full disclosure, we arrived to Jesse’s parent’s lake cabin earlier this week and are now moved into the back cabin. So the lonely camper sits in the back 40, cleaned out but ready to take on another trip any time. I like the familiarity of being here, we all do, and the weather so far has been favorable.

I’d like to remind everyone that I had never been in a camper 7 months ago, so we were complete newbies at this. We spent our first night in a Walmart parking lot and on day #2 Jesse’s F150 stopped working in the middle of the interstate in Joplin, MO. None of this worried us, we made the best of hooking our camper up to the side of the Joplin Ford dealership, and the rest is history.

I honestly can’t believe we did this for 6 months. Originally we thought we’d only be on the road 2-3 months. But now that I think of that, it wouldn’t have been nearly long enough to be happy travelers! Jesse has been so close to landing a couple of great jobs, and again he’s so close to another good one. But even if he doesn’t get this one, I know another one coming will be worth the wait. Yes it’s nerve-racking not knowing where his next career will be, but man we have a good time waiting for it!

A friend recently compared our trip to settlers packing up the wagon and hitting the road in search for a better life. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Jesse’s mid-career sabbatical . Our family has grown because of it, and we have seen amazing sights.

Total confession and in all honesty, we all had a fun and easy 6 months. We saw so many fun things, ate fun regional foods, and genuinely got along very well with each other. Every trip was a one-way trip, and the next stop was only ever 3-4 hours away. We did mountains, deserts, night driving and day driving. We stopped at almost 60 national park stops(parks, monuments, historic sites, etc…) 6 presidential libraries, about 15 air museums, all the states west of the Mississippi (except Hawaii – yes we got Alaska in!) about 7 state Capitol buildings and about 10 Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins(from the food network)

Woody finish his schooling in Moab, Utah around the end of April, and Andy finished in Poulsbo, Washington the beginning of May. I’m so very proud of them for finishing their work with high grades and just being confident learners. I can honestly say that I literally never taught them anything with their school work. I played the part of manager(momager!) and if they needed math help they contacted their dad. When we were near libraries or wifi, I would have them get schoolwork done. If we weren’t, they didn’t have to! Usually when we were at National Parks, all electronics had to be put away and eyes were focused out to the beauty of everything.

We met so may friends and family along the way. People who we may go years without seeing! Quite honestly that was my favorite part of it all. And we were greeted with open arms from everyone as well.

Couple of things I learned from the trip: be nice to those with campers in the parking lot of Walmart. Anyone is always welcomed to park their RV in front of my (future) house. You can do your laundry at my house, eat at my house and let your dog poop in my backyard. A huge thank you to all of those who let us do exactly that!

My top 5 experiences of the trip are as follows:

  1. Seeing the tulip field near Mt. Rainier. It was unexpected, amazing and not only did I love it, my kids and Jesse genuinely were happy for me because they knew I was in heaven. Jesse didn’t stop to turn around for much on this trip, but he wins several brownie points for this time!
  2. Our Alaskan cruise. To be honest, I loved the break from cooking and cleaning and planning. I loved putting makeup on again. I loved dressing up everynight with the boys and enjoyed good food and good service. And I enjoyed the shows and all the things to do on the cruise ship. Seeing Alaska was great too, but we know we didn’t see nearly enough so you bet we’ll be back someday!
  3. Driving border to border on the coast in Oregon. It was so cool to watch Gunner run on the beaches and see the boys pull up a trap full of crab. We stayed at state parks that looked like rainforests. We had tasty craft beer and regional ciders. Plus the goonies you know!
  4. Big Bend National Park in Texas. Perhaps it is my favorite because it was the first big Park we visited on this trip and the amazement of beauty was still fresh and new. But honestly, it was just so neat, so in the middle of no-where, and the rock walls were huge on the Rio Grande. Our mini-visit from there onto a row boat to cross the Rio Grande, then ride a burro into a tiny Mexican village for lunch and some Mexican candy and then back – telephoning the boarder patrol in El Paso to be let back into the country was one of the most unique things we did on the trip. Almost like it was just a dream.
  5. Being with my husband, kids and dog 24-7. We went to bed when we were tired and woke up when we’d had a good nights sleep. We saw all the sights together. We had all these experiences together. The boys didn’t ask for much and went along with the flow for everything. They never complained about the traveling time between stops. We played board games and card games. We hiked together and watched Wheel of Fortune together. We shared our meals with each other when we went out to eat. We told really funny inside jokes and we always laughed over funny things Gunner would do. When Gunner got sick (which he did a couple of times) we had the serious talk that this might be “his time” but we always helped nurse him back to health. Everyone needs a Gunner in their life.

I certainly hope Jesse gets a job soon, but if the time just isn’t right this time around, I’ve got a couple east coast road trips in mind for the fall – haha! (MT)

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is the first National Park that we’ve visited on this trip that we’ve actually been to before. 10 years ago, we visited with Jesse’s sister Lindsey and our foreign exchange student from Denmark, Karianne Nielsen. Woody was only 1 so he doesn’t remember any of it so it was all new to him. I have to admit, the weather today was probably the worst of our whole trip. It was chilly, overcast, rainy and even a bit snowy at a point! We still got to see all the wonderful views of the park though. It is such a unique area, from the geysers to mountains to waterfalls.

As Woody was finishing his Junior Ranger booklet, we brought it to the same visitors center that we had visited 10 years ago when Andy did the Junior Ranger program. In my head, I remembered a picture of Andy and the Ranger that gave him the oath. AND I SWEAR I SAW HIM THERE! I tried my hardest to pull up the picture on my phone but internet access was super slow. As Woody was with another Ranger getting checked out, I made small talk with the older ranger and sure enough, he had been there for 17 years! As we were talking he made the funny joke that he totally remembered Andy! I asked for another picture of the group and days later, when I could finally find the picture, sure enough it was the same ranger! What a fun memory!

Of course we had to visit Old Faithful, who wasn’t so faithful. The weather had gotten much nicer throughout the afternoon, but once we got ready to watch OF, it started to rain. And rain. And the wind started to blow. And Old Faithful’s “faithful” time came and went. And went. And it rained harder. And then, it stopped raining(meanwhile, i’d say 50% of the group watching had left!) and a couple minutes later Old Faithful erupted. It was great but we were extremely wet and cold. But after a hot chocolate and big bowl of chili that we shared, we warmed up and headed home after a full day at Yellowstone. (MT)

Grand Tetons National Park

Part of the “thrill” of looking for free federal land to set up shop at, is that you don’t know what’s available until you’re there! After a beautiful but extremely hilly drive from Idaho into Wyoming, we arrived into the outdoorsy town of Jackson. From there we got a great look at the Grand Teton mountain ridge and where we’d be staying for a couple of days. We drove a couple miles up a dirt road, driving from the Grand Teton National Park to the Bridger-Teton National Forest. We were with a couple of other RV’s and campers on a ridge directly overlooking the beautiful mountain. This was another great spot, private with good views, and a big forest behind us, down a steep hill that the boys liked to explore. Woody found a unique tree in the forest that he could lay in to read and took advantage of that in the mornings.

We didn’t see or hear them, but we felt Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s presence on our first night. They were there with a contingent of record executives and other celebrities for Kanye’s album release party. Apparently he likes this place a lot! Anywho, they all had to cross the road near our campsite to get from the ranch they were at back to Jackson to celebrate at the honkytonk in town. I didn’t get an invite, so I’ll probably protest the album.

Some of the fun things we did in the Grand Teton National Park was visit the Jackson Lake lodge. It was exactly what a NP lodge should be like with a huge main room with big windows that framed the mountains. Woody noticed they were selling huckleberry milkshakes. There’s not much the boys will use their Christmas money for, but this is important and memorable for them!

We had beautiful weather here for a couple of days, and the reflection of the peaks off the lakes was amazing. We were totally taking our time here, and Jesse took an off the beaten path dirt road that eventually lead to a lake shore. It was private, with only a couple of other people there so we felt it ok to let Gunner off leash to jump and play in the lake. It was so cold, but you could tell Gunner was loving it all! He played fetch for what seemed forever, and we could have stayed there much longer had it not been for annoying mosquitos.

On another back road, we happened to catch a moose 20 feet off the road munching on some food in a stream. It was pretty cool to witness such an animal! There were plenty of opportunities to see bison and antelope. We even saw “Mormon Row”, which were some preserved farmsteads that a group of Mormon’s set up in the early 1900’s. It’s great to see history in beautiful places like this!

We spent some time in Jackson as well, checking out their downtown. There is a “local” ski hill called Snow King and it is literally blocks from downtown! We drove over just to check it out, and ended up on alpine slides and an alpine coaster! The boys even did a fun outdoor maze, something they hadn’t done in ages. We finished off the afternoon at the Snake River Brewery, Jesse wasn’t afraid of this beer! There was even a “touch a truck” event going on in town. We saw it from afar, but it brought back good memories of all the similar events we’ve taken the boys to in the past! (MT)

Big Hole National Battlefield

Today we had a pleasant drive through the Bitterroot Valley in Montana. We could totally see the large amount of devastation a forest fire left a couple of years ago. It totally changes the landscape and the burn was miles and miles long. The water in the nearby rivers and creeks were very high from the snow melt runoff as well.

Right near the Idaho boarder we stopped at the Big Hole National Battlefield. This is our first “National Battlefield” as there really aren’t a whole lot, many other battlefields are historical sites instead. This was a very pretty and open valley. In 1877, many Nez Perce Native Americans were killed in a surprise morning attack by the US Government troops. The Government wanted to round them up to a reservation in Idaho, but the Native Americans wanted to flee to Canada, where they believed they would be treated differently and could unite with Sitting Bull and the Lakota Band there. But the predawn attack took them by surprise and killed 60-90 Nez Perce and 28 US forces.

There are still tepees on the battlefield site that are maintained by families of those in the battle which is super neat. This just so happens to be where Woody’s favorite Junior Ranger pin is from too – it’s a unique gold and silver badge! (MT)

Hamilton, Montana

One of my oldest cousins, (and my Godfather!) Dave Exner moved here to Hamilton, just south of Missoula more then 20 years ago, and we figured we haven’t seen each other since! We found one of our favorite campsites to date at the Bitterroot National Forest that was close by their house and set up camp near a raging creek. It wasn’t big, but it was mighty! This area is called the Yosemite of Montana partly because of the huge rock wall that we were situated up next to and for the beauty of the valley we were in.

We had Dave and his wife Jana over for a couple hours in the evening to catch up and it was the perfect night. They even brought their St. Bernard named Roscoe – man he makes Gunner look small! Dave showed the boys how to use a real metal detector(not like the toy one we bought Woody years ago) and they were able to find a couple of old nails and bottle caps. No diamond rings this time around! Both Dave and Jana’s kids have graduated and moved out, with one in Chicago and the other in Bozeman. It was fun to see Dave and Jana again and hear their voices and their stories and tell a couple of our own. (MT)

North Cascades National Park

We have made the decision to travel back to the MN lakes for the summer. Originally, we thought we’d go up through Vancouver, to Whistler and then to Banff, but when we started looking at timing and a couple of National Parks we still had to visit out west, we decided to come back through the US. Our first stop leaving Kristi and Bruce’s in Poulsbo was to get on a ferry – trailer and all! Doing this meant we would have to pay a little bit of money but we passed up on all the traffic in Seattle and Tacoma which was fine and dandy with us!

The North Cascades National Park is on the northern border of Washington. It is a huge mountain range with lots of lakes and dams that supply energy to much of Seattle. The colors were so pretty of the water and trees. We walked across a bridge with Gunner that had metal grates that you could see through, and it was very funny watching Gunner carefully cross. Not sure if it was the feeling of the metal or the fact that he could see directly down that he didn’t like!

I know we’ve said this before, but National Parks are not very dog friendly. What was unique about North Cascades, is that in the main Cascade Highway that intersects the park, the area around it is actually a National Recreation Area, not the National Park. So, a lot of the trails along the road are dog friendly! We took a big 3-mile hike up to a viewing area of Diablo Lake, and it was nice to see other pups using the trail responsibly as well!

This park must have amazing camping as well, because we’ve never seen so many campers leaving the park as they were today (it was Monday of Memorial Day)! We were amazed that they just kept coming and coming!

We kept driving east out of the park, enroute to Spokane/Coeur d’Alene. We passed many small towns, and even stopped at a cidery for supper (thanks Jesse!). At one point, we started going though Washington Apple Land! There were not only a ton of orchards, but a literal ton of apple boxes/bins. It was very pretty land, we followed rolling hills and the Columbia river for a while. It would be fun to go back in the fall and pick some ourselves!

Our eventual stop was earlier then we’d like it after we discovered a busted fuse that led to the trailer’s running lights not working. But we found a rest stop that worked perfect for us and was right in line with our challenge to not pay for any overnight stays on the way home. BLM land, rest stops, and friends and family’s houses are our goal! Onward Tischers! (MT)

Alaska Cruise

Super fun week on our last minute Alaskan cruise! A couple of takeaways: Alaska is huge and beautiful and total wilderness. But that’s what makes it so amazing! Thinking about those following the gold rush in the cold desolate areas for 100’s of miles is crazy. Thinking about those who made the railroads up there is crazy. Seeing glaciers and then watching a huge iceberg chunk fall off is truly amazing. Watching whales swimming by your ship was unreal. And visiting Victoria, BC on a sunny spring day with float planes coming in and out of the bay, water taxis driving from stop to stop and seeing Andy in a glorious mood in V’s Chinatown was top.

Jesse and I have always been a bit leery to go on a cruise. A couple days (1 1/2) of big waves made me extremely nervous that I’d be sick the whole time, but being prepared helped(I have a great nausea/shocker bracelet!) and calm seas helped too. Customer service on the ship was top notch. Seems like these employees work for 7 month cycles with no days off, only a couple hours off at ports. The boys were in awe that our waiters and stateroom attendant knew our names and figured out what we needed before we knew we needed it.

5 months and counting on this roadtrip, and there were lots of firsts this week. First time I wore makeup in like forever and I wore it 7 nights in a row! The boys dressed up every night (read:no t-shirts or shorts or athletic shorts! They looked so different with collared shirts and khakis on!) and we all enjoyed the 4-course suppers every night without any technology. Lots of good conversation and discovery of new and über fancy foods! Andy’s only gripe was that we finish our suppers with enough time for him to race upstairs to the buffet for a 2nd supper. This teenager totally got his money worth! Among other things, we played trivia a ton this week and even won once, and Woody won a wii bowling tournament. The boys used the “flowrider” and all the pools and hot tubs this week, a couple times watching a whole movie in the hot tub! Jesse and I hopped in a couple times too, the heated water felt quite nice! We can all say we ice skated on the Pacific too!

There are so many ways to spend $ on a cruise ship. They really pushed(like hard push) for you to buy jewelry both on and off the ship, there were like 3 art auctions, paying more for different dining experiences-we had amazing food in the main dining room so why would we?! And buying excursions through them was so overpriced versus right off the dock. We’re very happy we didn’t get any drink packages. We’d be hanging our head by the toilet for the week if we did, I already felt loopy with the wave action!

Our room was small but the bathroom was actually bigger then our campers so jackpot!🎰 The boys’ bunks were bigger and more spacious then theirs in the camper too so that made them happy. We had an interior room which I always wondered why people would get, but now I know they get it bc it’s cheaper-haha, but no worries you really are not in it very long. Plus a pitch dark room helps everyone get a good night’s sleep.

Speaking of jackpot, there was a casino with tons of gambling going on, plus lots of smoking so with our bad luck and aversion to smoke we tried to steer clear of there. But we did overhear someone say he earns about 2 free cruises a year just by gambling thousands and thousands of dollars on slots(!) on cruise ships and that scares the crap out of us.

All in all it was a very exciting week with practically no down time. I didn’t open a book once but didn’t feel overworked either. A perfect break from our on the road lifestyle! (MT)

Whidbey Island

Our family took a quick day trip to dreamlike Whidbey Island which was just north of where we were staying. We took a ferry there (truck and all) and loved checking out the island and the Ebby Landing National Historic Preserve that was there. It truly was a cool spot for both Native Americans and early settlers as the views are fantastic and the weather was very mild. They could farm crops, fish for fish and hunt right here on this island.

We stopped at a PBY airplane museum in Oak Harbor, near the Whidbey Naval Air Station. The boys, as always, enjoy a good air museum. This one was not very big but was very interesting. They even had a PBY for us to look at. My dad had an uncle that learned how to fly a PBY here, and flew in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as well.

We also drove to Deception Pass, which were 2 bridges that linked 3 islands together. The CCC had made these amazing structures that were super tall. We walked end to end and saw a couple boats go under us and some seals playing in the water. We never get sick of seeing seals!

We took the ferry back to Port Townsend where we could drive back to our home base, but before we left we were instructed to check out Fort Worden in Port Townsend. It was not being used by the military but looked as if it was being used as apartments, art museums, classrooms, theaters, campgrounds and even a brewery. It was pretty cool to see it’s 2nd life! We also checked out it’s lighthouse which always reminds us of my mom. Another plus of checking out the town, was that they were having their annual Rhodie Festival that weekend, so the rhododendrons were all in full bloom all around town! (MT)

Snoqualmie Falls

Mother’s Day this year was spent with Jesse’s Aunt and Uncle Rollie and Ginger Grant at their house in Kent, WA, just outside Seattle. Rollie took the boys to the Boeing Air Museum, and Ginger and I went shopping to treat ourselves. The best part about visiting this time of year is all the color in the trees and bushes and flowers. Tulips have passed by now, but huge Rhododendron bushes are full of huge flowers! Ginger liked to call them “rhodies” and we all picked up saying that too! Ginger had a ton of rhodies in her yard, as did Kristi back in Poulsbo. We even went through a small town with a Rhodie Festival. Perfect timing for that one!

The day after Mother’s Day, Rollie and Ginger took us to Snoqualmie Falls which was near their house. It was a huge waterfall in a beautiful area. Parts of that area were filmed in the TV show Twin Peaks too so that was interesting. It was a hot day too, you know we never got rainy weather the whole time we were in the Seattle area?! I remember visiting the falls on our last visit here, 15 years ago, and I hope to be back to visit them again sooner than later.

Nearby, Jesse’s cousin Josh works on an organic educational farm. We stopped by for a quick visit to check it all out! They do a ton of school field trips and sell their crops to fancy restaurants in the city. They do more then that, but that’s a quick overview! Josh is an awesome farmer and loved showing us around. The boys loved the snakes that kept popping up but I could take a hard pass on that. (MT)

Tulips! and Mt. St. Helens / Mt. Rainier

I should be starting out with the 2 National Parks we visited today, but instead here are some amazing pictures of a tulip field we passed by today. Jesse saw the twinkle in my eye and stopped the truck, made a u-turn and drove right to the fields for my a-ha moment of the day/week/month/trip!

We actually started our day learning about the Mount St. Helen National Volcanic Monument and its infamous eruption in 1980. Jesse and I were just babies then so we don’t have any memory of it, but it was crazy to see the stories of what happened in the weeks leading up to the eruption and months/years afterward. We could see most of MSH today, but the top was clouded a bit.

We decided to check out Mt. Rainier because it was only about 90 miles away. On the way we saw tulips. Did I mention that they are my favorite?! Most of Mt. Rainier is closed due to snow still (it’s May 4th!) but we did see and get a feel for the park. Mt. Rainier itself was clouded, it only got clouded more and more as the day went on even though it was a nice sunny day! We did a quick hike to a waterfall and saw a couple more views before heading home. It sure looks like if we visited in the summer we could stay there all week. We love the tall trees and north woodsy feeling here! (MT)