Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Incredible Journey (Part 9)

I have been hoping to get back to regular blog posts soon, but I just have to catch up with myself first. So much has happened...

We are getting settled into our home here in Washington. I love it. I mean, I really, really love it here! It's beautiful and it is such a refreshing change from life in Georgia. I'm not a fan of rainy, gray days but the cloudless days make up for it. When the sky is clear you can see Mount Rainier from our neighborhood. When I go running there is a bridge on the trail that has the most beautiful view at sunset. I love it. (Have I mentioned that I love it?)

It's been such an amazing transition to travel from the east coast out to the west coast, enjoying everything in between.

Here are some highlights from the middle part of our trip...
As we left North Dakota the kids were begging to see buffalo. We did see a few, but nothing like what we would see a little bit later.
I had to cut a week off of our trip because I got a call from Jason saying he was coming home early. As it turned out, we did a quick stop in Montana before staying for a few days in South Dakota.

And true to form, I ran into trouble. The road I was on suddenly turned into dirt. It was deep, loose dirt too. It's not very fun to drive through dirt when towing a 26-foot camper. I was sliding all over the place and the road construction went on for miles and miles. Seriously.
The kids must have asked me 6 million times when they would get to see Granddad With No Hair. I must have answered 6 million times that we were on our way. Kids have no concept of mileage or how long it takes Mommy to drive 6,000 miles.
I'm not sure whether we lived in the camper more, or the van. Probably the van. At least it felt that way.
And our poor van was a mess. There were dozens of little yellow butterflies squished into the front end and bug guts splattered all across the van and camper.
Inside the camper door hangs a little memento that Jason mailed to us this spring. Good times.
Once we got to South Dakota, we really wanted to see two sights: Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park. We accomplished both.

Custer State Park was amazing. We drove with huge buffalo just inches from our van. Even Nathan and Ryan were shouting "buff-lo" from the back seat. It was incredible. The kids still talk about it!

This huge guy was brushing up against the van. We were just crawling along because there was a long line of cars and because the buffalo were everywhere in the road. Some guy in a pickup truck was in a rush and was trying to pass a bunch of cars. He wasn't getting anywhere because of the herd of buffalo, which was pretty funny. The guy was being a jerk and revving his diesel engine to scare the buffalo. Suddenly, a large male turned and rammed his horns into the back of the guy's pickup truck. It was hilarious! Lesson learned: Don't mess with the buffalo!

There were a lot of babies drinking "milkies" and my kids got a kick out of that.

After we passed the buffalo herd, we stopped for lunch. I made a little picnic lunch and then we got out to see the burros out in the field near us. There were a lot of people feeding them, even though I'm sure you aren't supposed to do it. The kids begged to go out and see the burros, so we did.
And I swear that this little guy (Ryan, I think?) was not really that close to getting a swift kick. I was keeping a close eye on the kids but the little boys just kept wanting to touch the burros. I had to drop the camera and grab them a few times!
Here's a terribly unflattering (but totally real) photo of us, taken by Matthew. Everyone was tired at this point and it was just about nap time.

(Did I mention that I figured out the secret to getting more hours in the day? Just drive west.)

On our way out of the park, we drove on a road that has been dubbed "Matthew's favorite road ever." It was curvy and narrow, with 6 stone tunnels and numerous wooden bridges and switchbacks. My heart was pounding as I drove through one tunnel with only 2.5 inches of space between my side mirrors and the stone walls. I did not scrape anything and we made it through, although I was sure we would not fit.
See? That road was insane!!!
We got to Mount Rushmore and took a few pictures. It was just as breathtaking as you would imagine it to be. The kids asked a ton of questions and I am sure we all learned a lot.

Back home in the camper, we played Uno. There wasn't much else to do. The Air Force base in South Dakota didn't accept reservations and was completely full of retirees. We had to go out to a remote spot behind the flight line, with no water or sewer hookups. Seven people and no water or sewer? Gross.

The night before we left I decided to take pictures of the camper towing equipment. So many people had asked me how I managed to handle it myself, but it was really no big deal once I did it a few times.
First I had to jack up the camper and back up my van and line it up so that the ball was right under the receiver on the camper. This part was fun because I had Matthew direct me so I knew when I was lined up and far enough back. Sometimes it was downright entertaining!

Once I was lined up, I had to lower the camper onto the ball and lock it. Then I'd jack it up again, lifting the entire rear of the van up too.

Then I hooked up the chains and plugged in the electric plug for the camper tail lights. This was the easy part.
Next, I had to attach the weight distributing bars. These suckers are heavy (40 lbs, maybe?) and have to be slid into the hitch on the back of the van. Once they're in, I had to use a metal pole to lift the lever that holds the chain on the other end of the bars. One time I slammed it into my hand and got a nasty bruise. The chain is really tight and there's a lot of weight and tension in the lever. I had to make sure the clips were in and that it was secure.
Then I attached the sway control bar and adjusted it. This was really important when driving across the plains with the gusty winds.

Once it was all attached, I lowered the camper and van and removed the wheel under the jack. I always double-checked my work, and then checked the lights before driving. It was quite a process!
(And it was all done without the use of my index finger... which, by the way, had the splint removed yesterday but is still swollen and discolored today.)
The sunset over the Black Hills was breathtaking.
First thing in the morning, we line up the babies for "milkies." Just kidding! Ok, I was a little bit serious.
Sunrises were breathtaking too.
Leaving South Dakota, we passed a veteran's cemetary and my heart skipped a beat. Little reminders of war, military life, deployment, and the reason we were on this crazy journey in the first place...
We made it to Wyoming and detoured a bit to stop by Devil's Tower.
It was worth the detour. Ever since I saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" as a kid, I have always sculpted Devil's Tower out of my mashed potatoes. Seriously.

The drive from Devil's Tower, WY to Denver, CO was long and lonely. It took me all day to get there and I was exhausted and sore by the time we arrived at my dad's house. Once I was there, I knew we would have a fun break. (And we did!)
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